1 These notes are by Arthur Young except when specified.—ED.
Arthur Young's Travels in France During the Years 1787, 1788, 1789
THE gross infamy which attended lettres de cachet and the Bastile, during the whole reign of Louis XV. made them esteemed in England, by people not well informed, as the most prominent features of the despotism of France. They were certainly carried to an access hardly credible; to the length of being sold, with blanks, to be filled up with names at the pleasure of the purchaser; who was thus able, in the gratification of private revenge, to tear a man from the bosom of his family, and bury him in a dungeon, where he would exist forgotten, and die unknown!*1—But such excesses could not be common in any country; and they were reduced almost to nothing, from the accession of the present King. The great mass of the people, by which I mean the lower and middle ranks, could suffer very little from such engines, and as few of them are objects of jealousy, had there been nothing else to complain of, it is not probable they would ever have been brought to take arms. The abuses attending the levy of taxes were heavy and universal. The kingdom was parcelled into generalities, with an intendant at the head of each, into whose hands the whole power of the crown was delegated for every thing except the military authority; but particularly for all affairs of finance. The generalities were subdivided into elections, at the head of which was a sub-de-legué, appointed by the intendant. The rolls of the taille, capitation, vingtiêmes, and other taxes, were distributed among districts, parishes, and individuals, at the pleasure of the intendant, who could exempt, change, add, or diminish, at pleasure. Such an enormous power, constantly acting, and from which no man was free, might in the nature of things, degenerate in many cases into absolute tyranny. It must be obvious, that the friends, acquaintances, and dependents of the intendant, and of all his sub-delegués, and the friends of these friends, to a long chain of dependence, might be favoured in taxation at the expence of their miserable neighbours; and that noblemen, in favour at court, to whose protection the intendant himself would naturally look up, could find little difficulty in throwing much of the weight of their taxes on others, without a similar support. Instances, and even gross ones, have been reported to me in many parts of the kingdom, that made me shudder at the oppression to which numbers must have been condemned, by the undue favours granted to such crooked influence. But, without recurring to such cases, what must have been the state of the poor people paying heavy taxes, from which the nobility and clergy were exempted? A cruel aggravation of their misery, to see those who could best afford to pay, exempted because able! —The inrolments for the militia, which the cahiers call an injustice without example,*2 were another dreadful scourge on the peasantry; and, as married men were exempted from it, occasioned in some degree that mischievous population, which brought beings into the world, in order for little else than to be starved. The corvées, or police of the roads, were annually the ruin of many hundreds of farmers; more than 300 were reduced to beggary in filling up one vale in Loraine: all these oppressions fell on the tiers état only; the nobility and clergy having been equally exempted from tailles, militia, and corvées. The penal code of finance makes one shudder at the horrors of punishment inadequate to the crime.*3 A few features will sufficiently characterize the old government of France.
1. Smugglers of salt, armed and assembled to the number of five, in Provence, a fine of 500 liv. and nine years gallies;—in all the rest of the kingdom, death.
2. Smugglers armed, assembled, but in number under five, a fine of 300 liv. and three years gallies. Second offence, death.
3. Smugglers, without arms, but with horses, carts, or boats; a fine of 300 liv. if not paid, three years gallies. Second offence, 400 liv. and nine years gallies.—In Dauphiné, second offence, gallies for life. In Provence, five years gallies.
5. Women, married and single, smugglers, first offence, a fine of 100 liv. Second, 300 liv. Third, flogged, and banished the kingdom for life. Husbands responsible both in fine and body.
6. Children smugglers, the same as women.—Fathers and mothers responsible; and for defect of payment flogged.
7. Nobles, if smugglers, deprived of their nobility; and their houses rased to the ground.
8. Any persons in employment (I suppose in the saltworks or the revenue), if smugglers, death. And such as assist in the theft of salt in the transport, hanged.
9. Soldiers smuggling, with arms, are hanged; without arms, gallies for life.
10. Buying smuggled salt to resell it, the same punishments as for smuggling.
11. Persons in the salt employments, empowered if two, or one with two witnesses, to enter and examine houses even of the privileged orders.
12. All families, and persons liable to the taille, in the provinces of the Grandes Gabelles inrolled, and their consumption of salt for the pot and saliére (that is the daily consumption, exclusive of salting meat, &c. &c.) estimated at 7lb. a head per annum, which quantity they are forced to buy whether they want it or not, under the pain of various fines according to the case.
The Capitaineries were a dreadful scourge on all the occupiers of land. By this term, is to be understood the paramountship of certain districts, granted by the king, to princes of the blood, by which they were put in possession of the property of all game, even on lands not belonging to them; and, what is very singular, on manors granted long before to individuals; so that the erecting of a district into a capitainerie, was an annihilation of all manorial rights to game within it. This was a trifling business, in comparison to other circumstances; for, in speaking of the preservation of the game in these capitaineries, it must be observed, that by game it must be understood whole droves of wild boars, and herds of deer not confined by any wall or pale, but wandering, at pleasure, over the whole country, to the destruction of crops; and to the peopling of the gallies by the wretched peasants, who presumed to kill them, in order to save that food which was to support their helpless children. The game in the capitainerie of Montceau, in four parishes only, did mischief to the amount of 184,263 liv. per annum.*4 No wonder then that we should find the people asking, "Nous demandons à grand cris la destruction des capitaineries & celle de toute sorte de gibier."*5 And what are we to think of demanding, as a favour, the permission—"De nettoyer ses grains, de faucher les prés artificiels, & d'enlever ses chaumes sans égard pour la perdrix on tout autre gibier."*6 Now, an English reader will scarcely understand it without being told, that there were numerous edicts for preserving the game which prohibited weeding and hoeing, lest the young partridges should be disturbed; steeping seed, lest it should injure the game; manuring with night soil, lest the flavour of the partridges should be injured by feeding on the corn so produced; mowing hay, &c. before a certain time, so late as to spoil many crops; and taking away the stubble, which would deprive the birds of shelter. The tyranny exercised in these capitaineries, which extended over 400 leagues of country, was so great, that many cahiers demanded the utter suppression of them.*7 Such were the exertions of arbitrary power which the lower orders felt directly from the royal authority; but, heavy as they were, it is a question whether the others, suffered circuitously through the nobility and the clergy, were not yet more oppressive? Nothing can exceed the complaints made in the cahiers under this head. They speak of the dispensation of justice in the manorial courts, as comprizing every species of despotism: the districts indeterminate—appeals endless—irreconcileable to liberty and prosperity—and irrevocably proscribed in the opinion of the public*8—augmenting litigations—favouring every species of chicane—ruining the parties—not only by enormous expences on the most petty objects, but by a dreadful loss of time. The judges commonly ignorant pretenders, who hold their courts in cabarets, and are absolutely dependent on the seigneurs, in consequence of their feudal powers. They are "vexations qui sont le plus grand fléau des peuples.*9—Esclavage affligeant*10—Ce régime desastreuse.*11—That the feodalité be for ever abolished. The countryman is tyrannically enslaved by it. Fixed and heavy rents; vexatious processes to secure them; appreciated unjustly to augment: rents, solidaires, and revenchables; rents, chéantes, and levantes, fumages. Fines at every change of the property, in the direct as well as collateral line; feudal redemption (retraite); fines on sale, to the 8th and even the 6th penny; redemptions (rachats) injurious in their origin, and still more so in their extension; banalité of the mill,*12 of the oven, and of the wine and cyder-press; corveés by custom; corveés by usage of the fief; corveés established by unjust decrees; corveés arbitrary, and even phantastical; servitudes; prestations, extravagant and burthensome: collections by assessments incollectible; aveux, minus, impunissemens; litigations ruinous and without end: the rod of seigneural finance for ever shaken over our heads; vexation, ruin, outrage, violence, and destructive servitude, under which the peasants, almost on a level with Polish slaves, can never but be miserable, vile, and oppressed.*13 They demand also, that the use of hand-mills be free; and hope that posterity if possible, may be ignorant that feudal tyranny in Bretagne, armed with the judicial power, has not blushed even in these times, at breaking hand-mills, and at selling annually to the miserable, the faculty of bruising between two stones a measure of buck-wheat or barley.*14 The very terms of these complaints are unknown in England, and consequently untranslatable: they have probably arisen long since the feudal system ceased in this kingdom. What are these tortures of the peasantry in Bretagne, which they call chevauchés,*15 quintaines, soule, saut de poisson, baiser de marieés;*16 chansons; transporte d'œuf sur un charette; silence des grenouilles;*17 corvée à misericorde; milods; leide; couponage; cartelage; barage;*18 fouage;*19 marechaussé; banvin;*20 ban d'aôut; trousses; gelinage; civerage; taillabilité; vingtain;*21 sterlage; bordelage;*22 minage;*23 ban de vendanges; droit d'accapte.*24 In passing through many of the French provinces, I was struck with the various and heavy complaints of the farmers and little proprietors of the feudal grievances, with the weight of which their industry was burthened; but I could not then conceive the multiplicity of the shackles which kept them poor and depressed. I understood it better afterwards, from the conversation and complaints of some grand seigneurs, as the revolution advanced; and I then learned, that the principal rental of many estates consisted in services and feudal tenures; by the baneful influence of which the industry of the people was almost exterminated. In regard to the oppressions of the clergy, as to tythes, I must do that body a justice, to which a claim cannot be laid in England. Though the ecclesiastical tenth was levied in France more severely than usual in Italy, yet was it never exacted with such horrid greediness as is at present the disgrace of England. When taken in kind, no such thing was known in any part of France, where I made inquiries, as a tenth; it was always a twelfth, or a thirteenth, or even a twentieth of the produce. And in no part of the kingdom did a new article of culture pay any thing; thus turnips, cabbages, clover, chicorée, potatoes, &c. &c. paid nothing. In many parts, meadows were exempted. Silk worms nothing. Olives in some places paid—in more they did not. Cows nothing. Lambs from the 12th to the 21st. Wool nothing.—Such mildness, in the levy of this odious tax, is absolutely unknown in England. But mild as it was, the burthen to people groaning under so many other oppressions, united to render their situation so bad that no change could be for the worse. But these were not all the evils with which the people struggled. The administration of justice was partial, venal, infamous. I have, in conversation with many very sensible men, in different parts of the kingdom, met with something of content with their government, in all other respects than this; but upon the question of expecting justice to be really and fairly administered, every one confessed there was no such thing to be looked for. The conduct of the parliaments was profligate and atrocious. Upon almost every cause that came before them, interest was openly made with the judges: and woe betided the man who, with a cause to support, had no means of conciliating favour, either by the beauty of a handsome wife, or by other methods. It has been said, by many writers, that property was as secure under the old government of France as it is in England; and the assertion might possibly be true, as far as any violence from the King, his ministers, or the great was concerned: but for all that mass of property, which comes in every country to be litigated in courts of justice, there was not even the shadow of security, unless the parties were totally and equally unknown, and totally and equally honest; in every other case, he who had the best interest with the judges, was sure to be the winner. To reflecting minds, the cruelty and abominable practice attending such courts are sufficiently apparent. There was also a circumstance in the constitution of these parliaments, but little known in England, and which, under such a government as that of France, must be considered as very singular. They had the power, and were in the constant practice of issuing decrees, without the consent of the crown, and which had the force of laws through the whole of their jurisdiction; and of all other laws, these were sure to be the best obeyed; for as all infringements of them were brought before sovereign courts, composed of the same persons who had enacted these laws (a horrible system of tyranny!) they were certain of being punished with the last severity. It must appear strange, in a government so despotic in some respects as that of France, to see the parliaments in every part of the kingdom making laws without the King's consent, and even in defiance of his authority. The English, whom I met in France in 1789, were surprized to see some of these bodies issuing arrêts against the export of corn out out of the provinces subject to their jurisdiction, into the neighbouring provinces, at the same time that the King, through the organ of so popular a minister as Mons. Necker, was decreeing an absolutely free transport of corn throughout the kingdom, and even at the requisition of the National Assembly itself. But this was nothing new; it was their common practice. The parliament of Rouen passed an arrêt against killing of calves; it was a preposterous one, and opposed by administration; but it had its full force; and had a butcher dared to offend against it, he would have found, by the rigour of his punishment, who was his master. Innoculation was favoured by the court in Louis XV.'s time; but the parliament of Paris passed an arrêt against it, much more effective in prohibiting, than the favour of the court in encouraging that practice. Instances are innumerable, and I may remark, that the bigotry, ignorance, false principles, and tyranny of these bodies were generally conspicuous; and that the court (taxation excepted), never had a dispute with a parliament, but the parliament was sure to be wrong. Their constitution, in respect to the administration of justice, was so truly rotten, that the members sat as judges, even in causes of private property, in which they were themselves the parties, and have, in this capacity, been guilty of oppressions and cruelties, which the crown has rarely dared to attempt.
It is impossible to justify the excesses of the people on their taking up arms; they were certainly guilty of cruelties; it is idle to deny the facts, for they have been proved too clearly to admit of a doubt. But is it really the people to whom we are to impute the whole?—Or to their oppressors who had kept them so long in a state of bondage? He who chooses to be served by slaves, and by ill-treated slaves, must know that he holds both his property and life by a tenure far different from those who prefer the service of well treated freemen; and he who dines to the music of groaning sufferers, must not, in the moment of insurrection, complain that his daughters are ravished, and then destroyed; and that his sons' throats are cut. When such evils happen, they surely are more imputable to the tyranny of the master, than to the cruelty of the servant. The analogy holds with the French peasants—the murder of a seigneur, or a chateau in flames, is recorded in every newspaper; the rank of the person who suffers, attracts notice; but where do we find the register of that seigneur's oppressions of his peasantry, and his exactions of feudal services, from those whose children were dying around them for want of bread?*25 Where do we find the minutes that assigned these starving wretches to some vile petty-fogger, to be fleeced by impositions, and a mockery of justice, in the seigneural courts? Who gives us the awards of the intendant and his sub-delegués, which took off the taxes of a man of fashion, and laid them with accumulated weight, on the poor, who were so unfortunate as to be his neighbours? Who has dwelt sufficiently upon explaining all the ramifications of despotism, regal, aristocratical, and ecclesiastical, pervading the whole mass of the people; reaching, like a circulating fluid, the most distant capillary tubes of poverty and wretchedness? In these cases, the sufferers are too ignoble to be known; and the mass too indiscriminate to be pitied. But should a philosopher feel and reason thus? should he mistake the cause for the effect? and giving all his pity to the few, feel no compassion for the many, because they suffer in his eyes not individually, but by millions? The excesses of the people cannot, I repeat, be justified; it would undoubtedly have done them credit, both as men and christians, if they had possessed their new acquired power with moderation. But let it be remembered, that the populace in no country ever use power with moderation; excess is inherent in their aggregate constitution: and as every government in the world knows, that violence infallibly attends power in such hands, it is doubly bound in common sense, and for common safety, so to conduct itself, that the people may not find an interest in public confusions. They will always suffer much and long, before they are effectually roused; nothing, therefore, can kindle the flame, but such oppressions of some classes or order in the society, as give able men the opportunity of seconding the general mass; discontent will soon diffuse itself around; and if the government take not warning in time, it is alone answerable for all the burnings, and plunderings, and devastation, and blood that follow. The true judgment to be formed of the French revolution, must surely be gained, from an attentive consideration of the evils of the old government: when these are well understood—and when the extent and universality of the oppression under which the people groaned—oppression which bore upon them from every quarter, it will scarcely be attempted to be urged, that a revolution was not absolutely necessary to the welfare of the kingdom. Not one opposing voice*26 can, with reason, be raised against this assertion: abuses ought certainly to be corrected, and corrected effectually: this could not be done without the establishment of a new form of government; whether the form that has been adopted were the best, is another question absolutely distinct. But that the above-mentioned detail of enormities practised on the people required some great change is sufficiently apparent; and I cannot better conclude such a list of detestable oppressions, than in the words of the Tiers Etat of Nivernois, who hailed the approaching day of liberty, with an eloquence worthy of the subject.
"Les plaintes du peuple se sont long-tems perdues dans l'espace immense qui le sépare du trône: cette classe la plus nombreuse & la plus intéressante de la societé; cette classe qui mérite les premiers soins du gouvernement, puisqu' elle alimente toutes les autres; cette classe à laquelle on doit & les arts nécessaires à la vie, & ceux qui en embellissent le cours; cette classe enfin qui en recueillent moins a toujours payé davantage, peut elle apres tant de siècles d'oppression & de misére compter aujourdhui sur un sort plus heureux? Ce seroit pour ainsi dire blasphémer l'autorité tutélaire sous laquelle nous vivons que d'én douter un seul moment. Un respect aveugle pour les abus établis ou par la violence ou par la superstition, une ignorance profonde des conditions du pacte social voilà ce qui a perpétué jusq' à nous la servitude dans laquelle ont gemi nos pères. Un jour plus pur est près d'éclorre: le roi a manifesté le desir de trouver des sujets capables de lui dire la vérité; une des ses loix, l'edit de création des assemblées provinciales du moi de Juin 1787, annonce que le vœu le plus pressant de son cœur sera toujours celui qui tendra au soulagement & au bonheur de ses peuples: une autre loi qui a retenti du centre du Royaume à ses dernières extrémités, nous a promis la restitution de tous nos droits, dont nous n'avions perdu, & dont nous ne pouvions perdre que l'exercice puisque le fond de ces mêmes droits est inaliénable & imprescriptible. Osons done secouer le joug des anciennes erreurs: osons dire tout ce qui est vrai, tout ce qui est utile; osons réclamer les droits essentiels & primitifs de l'homme: la raison, l'équité, l'opinion générale, la bienfaisance connue de notre auguste souverain tout concours à assurer le succès de nos doléances."
Having seen the propriety, or rather the necessity, of some change in the government, let us next briefly inquire into the effects of the revolution on the principal interests in the kingdom.
In respect to all the honours, power, and profit derived to the nobility from the feudal system, which was of an extent in France beyond any thing known in England since the revolution, or long parliament of 1640, all is laid in the dust, without a rag or remnant being spared:*27 the importance of these, both in influence and revenue, was so great, that the result is all but ruin to numbers. However, as these properties were really tyrannies; as they rendered the possession of one spot of land ruinous to all round it—and equally subversive of agriculture, and the common rights of mankind, the utter destruction brought on all this species of property, does not ill deserve the epithet they are so fond of in France; it is a real regeneration of the people to the privileges of human nature. No man of common feelings can regret the fall of all of that abominable system, which made a whole parish slaves to the lord of the manor. But the effects of the revolution have gone much farther; and have been attended with consequences not equally justifiable. The rents of land, which are as legal under the new government as they were under the old, are no longer paid with regularity. I have been lately informed (August 1791), on authority not to be doubted, that associations among tenantry, to a great amount and extent, have been formed, even within fifty miles of Paris, for the non-payment of rent; saying, in direct terms, we are strong enough to detain the rent, and you are not strong enough to enforce the payment. In a country where such things are possible, property of every kind it must be allowed, is in a dubious situation. Very evil consequences will result from this; arrears will accumulate too great for landlords to lose, or for the peasants to pay, who will not easily be brought to relish that order and legal government, which must necessarily secure these arrears to their right owners. In addition to all the rest, by the new system of taxation, there is laid a land-tax of 300 millions, or not to exceed 4s. in the pound; but, under the old government, their vingtiemes did not amount to the seventh part of such an impost. In whatever light, therefore, the case of French landlords is viewed, it will appear, that they have suffered immensely by the revolution.—That many of them deserved it, cannot, however, be doubted, since we see their cahiers demanding steadily, that all their feudal rights should be confirmed:*28 that the carrying of arms should be strictly prohibited to every body but noblemen:*29 that the infamous arrangements of the militia should remain on its old footing:*30 that breaking up wastes, and inclosing commons, should be prohibited:*31 that the nobility alone should be eligible to enter into the army, church, &c.:*32 that lettres de cachet should continue:*33 that the press should not be free:*34 and, in fine. that there should be no free corn trade.*35
To the clergy, the revolution has been yet more fatal. One word will dispatch this inquiry. The revolution was a decided benefit to all the lower clergy of the kingdom; but it was destructive of all the rest. It is not easy to know what they lost on the one hand, or what the national account will gain on the other. Mons. Necker calculates their revenue at 130,000,000 liv. of which only 42,500,000 liv. were in the hands of the curés of the kingdom. Their wealth has been much exaggerated: a late writer says, they possessed half the kingdom.*36 Their number was as little known as their revenue; one writer makes them 400,000:*37 another 81,400;*38 a third 80,000.*39
The clergy in France have been supposed, by many persons in England, to merit their fate from their peculiar profligacy. But the idea is not accurate: that so large a body of men, possessed of very great revenues, should be free from vice, would be improbable, or rather impossible; but they preserved, what is not always preserved in England, an exterior decency of behaviour.—One did not find among them poachers or fox-hunters, who, having spent the morning in scampering after hounds, dedicate the evening to the bottle, and reel from inebriety to the pulpit. Such advertisements were never seen in France, as I have heard of in England:—Wanted a curacy in a good sporting country, where the duty is light and the neighbourhood convivial. The proper exercise for a country clergyman, is the employment of agriculture, which demands strength and activity—and which, vigorously followed, will fatigue enough to give ease its best relish. A sportsman parson may be, as as he often is in England, a good sort of man, and an honest fellow; but certainly this pursuit, and the resorting to obscene comedies, and kicking their heels in the jig of an assembly, are not the occupations for which we can suppose tythes are given.*40 Whoever will give any attention to the demands of the clergy in their cahiers, will see, that there was, on many topics, an ill spirit in that body. They maintain, for instance, that the liberty of the press ought rather to be restrained than extended:*41 that the laws against it should be renewed and executed:*42 that admission into religious orders should be, as formerly, at sixteen years of age:*43 that lettres de cachet are useful, and even necessary.*44 They solicit to prohibit all division of commons;*45—to revoke the edict allowing inclosures;*46 that the export of corn be not allowed;46 and that public granaries be established.*47
The ill effects of the revolution have been felt more severely by the manufacturers of the kingdom, than by any other class of the people. The rivalry of the English fabrics in 1787 and 1788, was strong and successful; and the confusions that followed in all parts of the kingdom, had the effect of lessening the incomes of so many landlords, clergy, and men in public employments; and such numbers fled from the kingdom, that the general mass of the consumption of national fabrics sunk perhaps three-fourths. The men, whose incomes were untouched, lessened their consumption greatly, from an apprehension of the unsettled state of things: the prospects of a civil war, suggested to every man, that his safety, perhaps his future bread, depended on the money which he could hoard. The inevitable consequence, was turning absolutely out of employment immense numbers of workmen. I have, in the diary of the journey, noticed the misery to which I was a witness at Lyons, Abbeville, Amiens, &c. and by intelligence, I understood that it was still worse at Rouen: the fact could hardly be otherwise. This effect, which was absolute death, by starving many thousands of families, was a result, that, in my opinion, might have been avoided. It flowed only from carrying things to extremities—from driving the nobility out of the kingdom, and seizing, instead of regulating, the whole regal authority. These violences were not necessary to liberty; they even destroyed true liberty, by giving the government of the kingdom, in too great a degree, to Paris, and to the populace of every town.
The effect of the revolution, to the small proprietors of the kingdom, must, according to common nature of events, be, in the end, remarkably happy; and had the new government adopted any principles of taxation, except those of the œconomistes, establishing at the same time an absolute freedom in the business of inclosure, and in the police of corn, the result would probably have been advantageous, even at this recent period. The committee of imposts*48 mention (and I doubt not their accuracy), the prosperity of agriculture, in the same page in which they lament the depression of every other brance of the national industry. Upon a moderate calculation, there remained, in the hands of the classes depending on land, on the account of taxes in the years 1789 and 1790, at least 300,000,000 liv.; the execution of corvées was as lax as the payment of taxes. To this we are to add two years' tythe, which I cannot estimate at less than 300,000,000 liv. more. The abolition of all feudal rents, and payments of every sort during those two years, could not be less than 100,000,000 liv. including services. But all these articles, great as they were, amounting to near 800,000,000 liv. were less than the immense sums that came into the hands of the farmers by the high price of corn throughout the year 1789; a price arising almost entirely from Mons. Necker's fine operations in the corn trade, as it has been proved at large; it is true there is a deduction to be made on account of the unavoidable diminution of consumption in every article of land produce, not essentially necessary to life: every object of luxury, or tending to it, is lessened greatly. But after this discount is allowed, the balance, in favour of the little proprietor farmers, must be very great. The benefit of such a sum being added, as it is to the capital of husbandry, needs no explanation. Their agriculture must be invigorated by such wealth—by the freedom enjoyed by its its professors; by the destruction of its innumerable shackles; and even by the distresses of other employments, occasioning new and great investments of capital in land: and these leading facts will appear in a clearer light, when the prodigious division of landed property in France is well considered; probably half, perhaps two-thirds, of the kingdom are in the possession of little proprietors, who paid quit-rents, and feudal duties, for the spots they farmed. Such men are placed at once in comparative affluence; and as ease is thus acquired by at least half the kingdom, it must not be set down as a point of trifling importance. Should France escape a civil war, she will, in the prosperity of these men, find a resource which politicians at a distance do not calculate. With rents the case is certainly different; for, beyond all doubt, landlords will, sooner or later, avail themselves of these circumstances, by advancing their rents; acting in this respect, as in every other country, is common; but they will find it impossible to deprive the tenantry of a vast advantage, necessarily flowing from their emancipation.
The confusion, which has since arisen in the finances, owing almost entirely to the mode of taxation adopted by the assembly, has had the effect of continuing to the present moment (1791), a freedom from all impost to the little proprietors, which, however dreadful its general effects on the national affairs, has tended strongly to enrich this class.
The effects of the revolution, not on any particular class of cultivators, but on agriculture in general, is with me, I must confess, very questionable; I see no benefits flowing, particularly to agriculture (liberty applies equally to all classes, and is not yet sufficiently established for the protection of property), except the case of tythes; but I see the rise of many evils; restrictions and prohibitions on the trade of corn—a varying land-tax—and impeded inclosures, are mischiefs on principle, that may have a generative faculty; and will prove infinite drawbacks from the prosperity, which certainly was attainable. It is to be hoped, that the good sense of the assembly will reverse this system by degrees; for, if it is not reversed, AGRICULTURE CANNOT FLOURISH.
The effect of the revolution, on the public revenue, is one great point on which Mons. de Calonne lays considerable stress; and it has been since urged in France, that the ruin of 30,000 families, thrown absolutely out of employment, and consequently out of bread, in the collection of taxes on salt and tobacco only, has had a powerful influence in spreading universal distress and misery. The public revenue sunk, in one year, 175 millions: this was not a loss of that sum; the people to whom assignats were paid on that account lost no more than the discount; the loss, therefore, to the people to whom that revenue was paid, could amount to no more than from 5 to 10 per cent.*49 But was it a loss to the miserable subjects who formerly paid those taxes; and who paid them by the sweat of their brows, at the expence of the bread out of their children's mouths, assessed with tyranny, and levied in blood. Do they feel a loss in having 175 millions in their pockets in 1789, more than they had in 1788? and in possessing other 175 millions more in 1790, and the inheritance in future? Is not such a change ease, wealth, life, and animation to those classes, who, while the pens of political satirists slander all innovations, are every moment reviving, by inheriting from that revolution something which the old government assuredly did not give? The revenue of the clergy may be called the revenue of the public:—those to whom the difference between the present payment of one hundred and forty millions, and the old tythes, are a deduction of all revenue, are, beyond doubt, in great distress; but what say the farmers throughout the kingdom, from whom the detestable burthen of those taxes were extorted? Do not they find their culture lightened, their industry freed, their products their own? Go to the aristocratical politician at Paris, or at London, and you hear only of the ruin of France—go to the cottage of the métayer, or the house of the farmer, and demand of him what the result has been—there will be but one voice from Calais to Bayonne. If tythes were to be at one stroke abolished in England,*50 no doubt the clergy would suffer, but would not the agriculture of the kingdom, with every man dependent on it, rise with a vigour never before experienced?
It would betray no inconsiderable presumption to attempt to predict what will be the event of the revolution now passing in France; I am not so imprudent. But there are considerations that may be offered to the attention of those who love to speculate on future events better than I do. There are three apparent benefits in an aristocracy forming the part of a constitution; first, the fixed, consolidated, and hereditary importance of the great nobility, is, for the most part, a bar to the dangerous pretensions, and illegal views, of a victorious and highly popular king, president, or leader. Assemblies, so elected, as to be swayed absolutely by the opinion of the people, would frequently, under such a prince, be ready to grant him much more than a well constituted aristocratic senate. Secondly, such popular assemblies, as I have just described, are sometimes led to adopt decisions too hastily, and too imprudently; and particularly in the case of wars with neighbouring nations; in the free countries, we have known the commonalty have been too apt to call lightly for them. An aristocracy, not unduly influenced by the crown, stands like a rock against such phrenzies, and hath a direct interest in the encouragement and support of peaceable maxims. The remark is applicable to many other subjects, in which mature deliberation is wanted to ballast the impetuosity of the people. I always suppose the aristocratic body well constituted, upon the basis of a sufficient property, and at the same time no unlimited power in the crown, to throw all the property of the kingdom into the same scale, which is the case in England. Thirdly, whatever benefits may arise from the existence of an executive power, distinct from the legislative, must absolutely depend on some intermediate and independent body between the people and the executive power. Every one must grant, that if there be no such body, the people are enabled, when they please, to annihilate the executive authority,—and assign it, as in the case of the long parliament, to committees of their own representatives; or, which is the same thing, they may appear, as they did at Versailles, armed before the King, and insist on his consent to any propositions they bring him: in these cases, the seeming advantages derived from a distinct executive power are lost. And it must be obvious, that in such a constitution as the present one of France, the kingly office can be put down as easily, and a readily, as a secretary can be reprimanded for a false entry in the journals. If a constitution be good, all great changes in it should be esteemed a matter of great difficulty and hazard: it is in bad ones only that alterations should not be looked upon in a formidable light.
That these circumstances may prove advantages in an aristocratical portion of a legislature, there is reason to believe; the inquiry is, whether they be counter-balanced by possible or probable evils. May there not come within this description, the danger of an aristocracy uniting with crown against the people? that is to say, influencing by weight of property and power, a great mass of the people dependent—against the rest of the people who are independent? Do we not see this to be very much the case in England at this moment? To what other part of our constitution is it imputable that we have been infamously involved in perpetual wars, from which none reap any benefit but that tribe of vermin which thrive most when a nation most declines; contractors, victuallers, paymasters, stock-jobbers, and money-scriveners: a set by whom ministers are surrounded; and in favour of whom whole classes amongst the people are beggared and ruined. Those who will assert a constitution can be good*51 which suffers these things, ought at least to agree, that such an one as would not suffer them would be much better.*52
If an aristocracy have thus its advantages and disadvantages, it is natural to inquire, whether the French nation be likely to establish something of a senate, that shall have the advantages without the evils. If there should be none, no popular representatives will ever be brought, with the consent of their constituents, to give up a power in their own possession and enjoyment. It is experience alone, and long experience, that can satisfy the doubts which every one must entertain on this subject. What can be know, experimentally, of a government which has not stood the brunt of unsuccessful and of successful wars? The English constitution has stood this test, and has been found deficient; or rather, as far as this test can decide any thing, has been proved worthless; since in a single century, it has involved the nation in a debt of so vast*53 a magnitude, that every blessing which might otherwise have been perpetuated is put to the stake; so that if the nation do not make some change in its constitution, it is much to be dreaded that the constitution will ruin the nation. Where practice and experience have so utterly failed, it would be vain to reason from theory: and especially on a subject on which a very able writer has seen his own prediction, so totally erroneous: "In the monarchical states of Europe, it is highly improbable that any form of properly equal government should be established for many ages; the people, in general, and especially in France, being proud of their monarchs, even when they are oppressed by them."*54
In regard to the future consequences of this singular revolution, as an example to other nations, there can be no doubt but the spirit which has produced it, will, sooner or later, spread throughout Europe, according to the different degrees of illumination amongst the common people; and it will prove either mischievous or beneficial, in proportion to the previous steps taken by governments. It is unquestionably the subject of all others the most interesting to every class, and even to every individual of a modern state; the great line of division, into which the people divides, is, 1st, those that have property; and, 2d, others that have none. The events that have taken place in France, in many respects, have been subversive of property; and have been effected by the lower people, in direct opposition to the nominal legislature; yet their constitution began its establishment with a much greater degree of regularity, by a formal election of representatives, than there is any probability of seeing in other countries. Revolutions will there be blown up from riotous mobs—from the military called out to quell them, but refusing obedience, and joining the insurgents. Such a flame, spreading rapidly through a country, must prove more hostile, and more fatal to property, than any thing that has prevailed in France. The probability of such events, every one must allow to be not inconsiderable; the ruin that must attend them cannot be doubted; for they would tend not to produce, a National Assembly, and a free constitution, but an universal anarchy and confusion. The first attempt towards a democracy in England would be the common people demanding an admission and voice in the vestries, and voting to themselves whatever rates they thought proper to appropriate; which, in fact, would be an agrarian law. Can there be so much supineness in the present governments of Europe, as to suppose that old principles and maxims will avail any longer? Can such ignorance of the human heart, and such blindness to the natural course of events be found, as the plan of rejecting all innovations lest they should lead to greater? There is no government to be found, that does not depend, in the last resort, on a military power; and if that fail them, is not the consequence easily seen? A new policy must either be adopted, or all the governments we know will be swept from their very foundations. This policy must consist, first, in making it the interest, as much as possible, of every class in the state, except those absolutely without property,*55 to support the established government; and also to render it as palatable, as the security of property will allow, even to these; farther than this, none can look; for it is so directly the interest of the people, without property, to divide with those who have it, that no government can be established, which shall give the poor an equal interest in it with the rich;*56—the visible tangible interest of the poor (if I may use the expressions), and not the ultimate and remote which they will never voluntarily regard, is a pure democracy, and a consequent division of property, the sure path to anarchy and despotism. The means of making a government respected and beloved are, in England, obvious; taxes must be immensely reduced; assessments on malt, leather, candles, soap, salt, and windows, must be abolished or lightened; the funding system, the parent of taxation, annihilated for ever, by taxing the interest of the public debt—the constitution that admits a debt, carries in its vitals the seeds of its destruction; tythes*57 and tests abolished; the representation of parliament reformed, and its duration shortened; not to give the people, without property, a predominancy, but to prevent that corruption, in which our debts and taxes have originated; the utter destruction of all monopolies, and, among them, of all charters and corporations; game-made property, and belonging to the possessor of one acre, as much as to him who has a thousand; and, lastly, the laws, both criminal and civil to be thoroughly reformed.—These circumstances include the great evils of the British constitution; if they be remedied, it may enjoy even a Venetian longevity; but if they be allowed, like cancerous humours to prey on the nobler parts of the political system, this boasted fabric may not exist even twenty years. To guard property effectually, and to give permanency to the new system, the militia laws ought all to be repealed. When we see, as in all the monarchies of Europe, the government only armed, despotism is established. When those who have property alone are armed, how secure the people from oppression?—When those who have no property are armed, how prevent their seizing the property of others?—Perhaps the best method of guarding against these contrary evils, is to embody, in a national militia, all who have property; and, at the same time, to allow arms (unembodied) to all citizens indiscriminately: we see, in the case of Berne, that the people being armed, keeps an aristocracy in such order, that great oppressions are unknown. An army was always dangerous; and, in the probable state of Europe, it may be doubly so; discipline preserved, it cemented despotism; undisciplined, it may unite with the people of no property, and produce anarchy and ruin. There seems to be no sufficient guard upon it, but a national militia, formed of every man that possesses a certain degree of property, rank and file as well as officers.*58 Such a force, in this island, would probably amount to above 100,000 men; and would be amply sufficient for repressing all those riots, whose object might be, immediately or ultimately, the democratic mischief of transferring property.*59 This for a free government:—despotic ones, that would wish to escape destruction, must emancipate their subjects, because no military conformation can long secure the obedience of ill treated slaves; and while such governments are giving to their people a constitution worth preserving, they should, by an absolute renunciation of all the views of conquest, make a small army as efficient for good purposes, as a large force for ambitious ones: this new-modelled military should consist, rank and file, of men interested in the preservation of property and order: were this army to consist merely of nobility, it would form a military aristocracy, as dangerous to the prince as to the people; it should be composed, indiscriminately, of individuals, drawn from all classes, but possessing a given property.—A good government, thus supported, may be durable; bad ones will be shivered to pieces by the new spirit that ferments in Europe. The candid reader will, I trust, see, that in whatever I have ventured to advance on so critical a subject as this great and unexampled revolution, I have assigned the merit I think due to it, which is the destruction of the old government, and not the establishment of the new. All that I saw, and much that I heard, in France, gave me the clearest conviction, that a change was necessary for the happiness of the people; a change, that should limit the royal authority; that should restrain the feudal tyranny of the nobility; that should reduce the church to the level of good citizens; that should correct the abuses of finance; that should give purity to the administration of justice; and that should place the people in a state of ease, and give them weight enough to secure this blessing. Thus far I must suppose every friend of mankind agreed. But whether, in order to effect thus much, all France were to be overthrown, ranks annihilated, property attacked, the monarchy abolished, and the king and royal family trampled upon; and above all the rest, the whole effect of the revolution, good or bad, put on the issue of a conduct which, to speak in the mildest language, made a civil war probable:—this is a question absolutely distinct. In my private opinion, these extremities were not necessary; France might have been free without violence; a necessitous court, a weak ministry, and a timid prince, could have refused nothing to the demands of the states, essential to public happiness. The power of the purse would have done all that ought to have been done. The weight of the commons would have been predominant; but it would have had checks and a controul, without which power is not CONSTITUTION, but tyranny.—While, however, I thus venture to think that the revolution might have been accomplished upon better principles, because probably more durable ones, I do not therefore assign the first National Assembly in the gross to that total condemnation, they have received from some very intemperate pens, and for this plain reason, because it is certain that they have not done much which was not called for by the people.
Before the revolution is condemned in the gross, it should be considered what extent of liberty was demanded by the three orders in their cahiers; and this in particular is necessary, since those very cahiers are quoted to show the mischievous proceedings of the National Assembly. Here are a few of the ameliorations demanded; to have the trial by jury, and the habeas corpus of England;*60 to deliberate by head, and not by order, demanded by the nobility themselves;*61 to declare all taxes illegal and suppressed—but to grant them anew for a year; to establish for ever the capitaineries;*62 to establish a caisse nationale separée inaccessible à toute influence du pouvoir executiff;*63 that all the intendants should be suppressed:*64 that no treaties of commerce should be made but with the consent of the states:*65 that the orders of begging monks be suppressed:*66 that all monks be suppressed, and their goods and estates sold:*67 that tythes be for ever suppressed:*68 that all feudal right, duties, payments, and services be abolished:*69 that salaries (traitement pécuniare), be paid to the deputies:*70 that the permanence of the National Assembly is a necessary part of its existence:*71 that the Bastile be demolished:*72 that the duties of aides, on wine, brandy, tobacco, salt, leather, paper, iron, oil, and soap, be suppressed:*73 that the apanages be abolished:*74 that the domaines of the king be alienated:*75 that the king's studs (haras), be suppressed:*76 that the pay of the soldiers be augmented:*77 that the kingdom be divided into districts, and the elections proportioned to population and to contributions:*78 that all citizens paying a determinate quota of taxes vote in the parochial assemblies:*79 that it is indispensable in the states-general to consult the Rights of Man:*80 that the deputies shall accept of no place, pension, grace, or favour.*81
From this detail of the instructions given by the nation, I will not assert that every thing which the National Assembly has decreed is justifiable; but it may be very fairly concluded, that much the greater part of their arrets, and many that have been the most violently arraigned, are here expressly demanded. To reply that these demands are not those of the nation at large, but of particular bodies only, is very wide from the argument; especially as the most virulent enemies of the revolution, and particularly Mess. Burke and De Calonne, have, from these cahiers, deduced such conclusions as suited their purpose; and if they are made authority for condemning the transactions in that kingdom, they certainly are equal authority for supporting those transactions. I shall make but one observation on these demands. The assemblies that drew them up, most certainly never demanded, in express terms, the abolition of the monarchy, or the transfer of all the regal authority to the deputies; but let it be coolly considered, what sort of a monarchy must necessarily remain, while an assembly is permanent, with power to abolish tythes; to suppress the intendants; not only to vote, but to keep the public money: to alienate the king's domains; and to suppress his studs: to abolish the capitaineries, and destroy the bastile:—the assembly that is called upon to do all this, is plainly meant to be a body solely possessing the legislative authority: it is evidently not meant to petition the king to do it; because they would have used, in this case, the form of expression so common in other parts of the cahiers, that his majesty will have the goodness, &c.
The result of the whole inquiry, cannot but induce temperate men to conclude, that the abolition of tythe, of feudal services and payments, of the gabelle, or salt-tax, of that on tobacco, of the entreés, of all excises on manufacturers, and of all duties on transit, of the infamous proceedings in the old courts of justice, of the despotic practices of the old monarchy, of the militia regulations, of the monasteries and nunneries, and of numberless other abuses; I say, that temperate men must conclude, that the advantages derived to the nation are of the very first importance, and such as must inevitably secure to it, as long as they continue, an uncommon degree of prosperity. The men who deny the benefit of such events, must have something sinister in their views, or muddy in their understandings. On the other hand, the extensive and unnecessary ruin brought on so many thousands of families, of all descriptions, by violence, plunder, terror, and injustice, to an amount that is shewn in the utter want of the precious metals, the stagnation of industry, and the poverty and misery found amongst many, is an evil of too great a magnitude to be palliated. The nourishment of the most pernicious cancer in the state, public credit: the deluge of paper money; the violent and frivolous extinction of rank;*82 the new system of taxation, apparently so hurtful to landed property; and a restricted corn trade; all these are great deductions from public felicity, and weigh the heavier in the scale, because unnecessary to effect the revolution. Of the nature and durableness of the constitution established, prudent men will not be eager to prophesy: it is a new experiment,*83 and cannot be tried or examined on old ideas; but the EFFECTS, good and bad, here arranged, in opposition to each other, are visible to every eye; the advantages are recognized; the evils are felt. On these circumstances we are competent to reason.*84
Notes for this chapter
An anecdote, which I have from an authority to be depended on, will explain the profligacy of government, in respect to these arbitrary imprisonments. Lord Albemarle, when ambassador in France, about the year 1753, negotiating the fixing of the limits of the American colonies, which, three years after, produced the war, calling one day on the minister for foreign affairs, was introduced, for a few minutes, into his cabinet, while he finished a short conversation in the apartment in which he usually received those who conferred with him. As his lordship walked backwards and forwards, in a very small room (a French cabinet is never a large one), he could not help seeing a paper lying on the table, written in a large legible hand, and containing a list of the prisoners in the Bastile, in which the first name was Gordon. When the minister entered, lord Albemarle apologized for his involuntarily remarking the paper; the other replied, that it was not of the least consequence, for they made no secret of the names. Lord A. then said, that he had seen the name of Gordon first in the list, and he begged to know, as in all probability the person of this name was a British subject, on what account he had been put into the Bastile. The minister told him, that he knew nothing of the matter, but would make the proper inquiries. The next time he saw lord Albemarle, he informed him, that, on inquiring into the case of Gordon, he could find no person who could give him the least information; on which he had Gordon himself interrogated, who solemnly affirmed, that he had not the smallest knowledge, or even suspicion, of the cause of his imprisonment, but that he had been confined 30 years; however, added the minister, I ordered him to be immediately released, and he is now at large. Such a case wants no comment.1
1 These notes are by Arthur Young except when specified.—ED.
"Nob. Briey," p. 6, &c. &c.
It is calculated by a writer ("Recherches et Consid. par M. le Baron de Cormeré," tom. ii. p. 187) very well informed on every subject of finance, that, upon an average, there were annually taken up and sent to prison or the gallies, Men, 2340. Women, 896. Children, 201. Total, 3437. 300 of these to the gallies (tom. i. p. 112). The salt confiscated from these miserable people amounted to 12,633 quintals, which, at the mean price of 8 liv. are,......101,064 liv.
"Cahier du tiers état de Meaux," p. 49.
"De Mantes" and "Meulan," p. 38.
Ibid. p. 40.—Also "Nob. & Tiers Etat de Peronne," p. 42. "De Trois ordres de Monfort," p. 28.
"Clergé de Provins & Montereau," p. 35.—"Clergé de Paris," p. 25.—"Clergé de Mantes & Meulan," pp. 45, 46.—"Clergé de Laon," p. 11.—"Nob. de Nemours," p. 17.—"Nob. de Paris," p. 22.—"Nob. d'Arras," p. 29.
"Rennes," art. 12.
"Nevernois," art. 43.
"Tiers Etat de Vannes," p. 24.
"T. Etat Clermont Ferrand," p. 52.
11. "T. Etat Auxerre," art. 6.
By this horrible law, the people are bound to grind their corn at the mill of the seigneur only; to press their grapes at his press only; and to bake their bread in his oven; by which means the bread is often spoiled, and more especially wine, since in Champagne those grapes which, pressed immediately, would make white wine, will, by waiting for the press, which often happens, make red wine only.
Whilst the guest of a Vendean gentleman in 1876, at Montaign (Vendée), I saw one of these seigneurial mills.—ED.
"Tiers Etat de Rennes," p. 159.
"Rennes," p. 57.
Chevauchés, obligation substituted for the corvée during royal progresses.
See, concerning the horrible privilege of la Marquette, M. Henri Martin's "Histoire de la France," vol. 5, éclaircissemens. The right alluded to by Arthur Young had existed therefore in other parts of France.—ED.
This is a curious article; when the lady of the seigneur lies in, the people are obliged to beat the waters in marshy districts, to keep the frogs silent, that she may not be disturbed; this duty, a very oppressive one, is commuted into a pecuniary fine.
Bardage, a kind of turnpike duty.
Seigneurial tax upon fires.
Seigneurial right of selling wine exclusively in his parish.
Vingtaine, seigneurial right to the twentieth of produce. See De Tocqueville's Ancien Régime. Appendix for Feudal Rights.
Bordelage, seigneurial right of the Nivernais, a kind of legacy duty.
Seigneurial tax upon each mine or half sétier of corn (Littré).
"Resumé des cahiers," tom. iii. pp. 316, 317.
Compare this passage with Carlyle's, book i. chap. iii. "Such are the shepherds of the people," &c.—ED.
Many opposing voices have been raised; but so little to their credit, that I leave the passage as it was written long ago. The abuses that are rooted in all the old governments of Europe, give such numbers of men a direct interest in supporting, cherishing, and defending abuses, that no wonder advocates for tyranny, of every species, are found in every country, and almost in every company. What a mass of people, in every part of England, are some way or other interested in the present representation of the people, tythes, charters, corporations, monopolies, and taxation! and not merely to the things themselves, but to all the abuses attending them; and how many are there who derive their profit or their consideration in life, not merely from such institutions, but from the evils they engender! The great mass of the people, however, is free from such influence, and will be enlightened by degrees; assuredly they will find out, in every country of Europe, that by combinations, on the principles of liberty and property, aimed equally against regal, aristocratical, and mobbish tyranny, they will be able to resist successfully, that variety of combination, which, on principles of plunder and despotism, is every where at work to enslave them.
It is to be observed, that the orders of knighthood were at first preserved; when the National Assembly, with a forbearance that did them honour, refused to abolish those orders, because personal, of merit, and not hereditary, they were guilty of one gross error. They ought immediately to have addressed the King, to institute a new order of knighthood—KNIGHTS OF THE PLOUGH. There are doubtless little souls that will smile at this, and think a thistle, a garter, or an eagle more significant, and more honourable; I say nothing of orders, that exceed common sense and common chronology, such as St. Esprit, St. Andrew, and St. Patrick, leaving them to such as venerate most what they least understand. But that prince, who should first institute this order of rural merit, will reap no vulgar honour: Leopold, whose twenty years, of steady and well earned Tuscan fame gives him a good right to do it with propriety, might, as Emperor, institute it with most effect. In him, such an action would have in it nothing of affectation. But I had rather THE PLOUGH had thus been honoured by a free assembly. It would have been a trait, that marked the philosophy of a new age, and a new system.
"Evreux," p. 32.—"Bourbonnois," p. 14.—"Artois," p. 22.—"Bazas," p. 8.—"Nivernois," p. 7.—"Poitou," p. 13.—"Saintonge," p. 5.—"Orleans," p. 19.—"Chaumont," p. 7.
"Vermandois," p. 41.—"Quesnoy," p. 19.—"Sens," p. 25.—"Evreux," p. 36.—"Sézanne," p. 17.—"Bar sur Seine," p. 6.—"Beauvais," p. 13.—"Bugey," p. 34.—"Clermont Ferand," p. 11.
"Limoges," p. 36.
"Cambray," p. 19.—"Pont à Mousson," p. 38.
"Lyon," p. 13.—"Touraine," p. 32.—"Angoumois," p. 13.—"Auxerre," p. 13. The author of the "Historical Sketch of the French Revolution," 8vo. 1792, says, p. 68, "the worst enemies of nobility have not yet brought to light any cahier, in which the nobles insisted on their exclusive right to military preferments."—In the same page, this gentleman says, it is impossible for any Englishman to study four or five hundred cahiers. It is evident, however, from this mistake, how necessary it is to examine them before writing on the revolution.
"Vermandois," p. 23.—"Chalons-sur-Marne," p. 6.—"Gien," p. 9.
"Crépy," p. 10.
"St. Quintin," p. 9.
"De l'Autorité de Montesquieu dans la revolution presente," 8vo. 1789, p. 61.
"Etats Géneraux convoqués, par Louis XVI." par M. Target, prem. suite, p. 7.
"Qu'est ce-que le Tiers Etat," 3d edit. par M. l'Abbé Sieyès. 8vo. p. 51.
"Bibliothèque de l'homme publique," par M. Condorcet, &c. tom, iii.
Nothing appears so scandalous to all the clergy of Europe, as their brethren in England dancing at public assemblies; and a bishop's wife engaged in the same amusement, seems to them as preposterous as a bishop, in his lawn sleeves, following the same diversion would to us. Probably both are wrong.
"Saintonge," p. 24.—"Limoges," p. 6.
"Lyon," p. 13.—"Dourdon" (Seine and Oise), p. 5.
"Saintonge," p. 26.—"Montargis," p. 10.
"Limoges," p. 22.
"Troyes," p. 11.
"Metz," p. 11.
"Rouen," p. 24.
47 "Laon," p. 11.—"Dourdon," p. 17.
"Rapport du 6 Decembre 1790, sur les moyens de pourvoir aux depenses pour 1791," p. 4.
Since this was written, assignats fell in December 1791, and January 1792, to 34 to 38 per cent. paid in silver, and 42 to 50 paid in gold, arising from great emissions; from the quantity of private paper issued; from forged ones being common, and from the prospect of a war.
It is an error in France to suppose, that the revenue of the church is small in England. The Royal Society of Agriculture at Paris states that revenue at 210,000l.; it cannot be stated at less than five millions sterling. "Mem. presenté par la S. R. d'Ag. a l'Assemblée Nationale," 1789, p. 52.—One of the greatest and wisest men we have in England, persists in asserting it to be much less than two millions. From very numerous inquiries, which I am still pursuing, I have reason to believe this opinion to be founded on insufficient data.
It ought not to be allowed even tolerable, for this plain reason, such public extravagance engenders taxes to an amount that will sooner or later force the people into resistance, which is always the destruction of a constitution; and surely that must be admitted bad, which carries to the most careless eye the seeds of its own destruction. Two hundred and forty millions of public debt in a century, is in a ratio impossible to be supported; and therefore evidently ruinous.
"The direct power of the king of England," says Mr. Burke, "is considerable. His indirect is great indeed. When was it that a king of England wanted wherewithal to make him respected, courted, or perhaps even feared in every state in Europe?" It is in such passages as these, that this elegant writer lays himself open to the attacks, formidable, because just, of men who have not an hundredth part of his talents. Who questions, or can question, the power of a prince that in less than a century has expended above 1000 millions, and involved his people in a debt of 240! The point in debate is not the existence of power, but its excess. What is the constitution that generates or allows of such expences? The very mischief complained of is here wrought into a merit, and brought in argument to prove that poison is salutary.
This debt, and our enormous taxation, are the best answer the National Assembly gives to those who would have had the English government, with all its faults on its head, adopted in France; nor was it without reason said by a popular writer, that a government, formed like the English, obtains more revenue than it could do, either by direct despotism, or in a full state of freedom.
Dr. Priestly's "Lectures on Hist." 4to. 1788, p. 917.
The representation of mere population is as gross a violation of sense, reason, and theory, as it is found pernicious in practice; it gives to ignorance to govern knowledge; to uncultivated intellect the lead of intelligence; to savage force the guide of law and justice; and to folly the governance of wisdom. Knowledge, intelligence, information, learning, and wisdom ought to govern nations; and these are all found to reside most in the middle classes of mankind; weakened by the habits and prejudices of the great, and stifled by the ignorance of the vulgar.
Those who have not attended much to French affairs, might easily mistake the representation of territory and contribution in the French constitution, as something similar to what I contend for—but nothing is more remote; the number chosen is of little consequence, while persons without property are the electors. Yet Mr. Christie says, vol. i. p. 196, that property is a base on which representation ought to be founded; and it is plain he thinks that property is represented, though the representatives of the property are elected by men that do not possess a shilling! It is not that the proprietors of property should have voices in the election proportioned to their property, but that men who have a direct interest in the plunder or division of property should be kept at a distance from power. Here lies the great difficulty of modern legislation, to secure property, and at the same time secure freedom to those that have no property. In England there is much of this effected for the small portion of every man's income that is left to him after public plunder is satiated (the poor, the parson, and the king take 50 to 60 per cent. of every man's rent)—but the rest is secure. In America the poor, the parson, and the king take nothing (or next to nothing), and the whole is secure. In France ALL seems to be at the mercy of the populace.
The exaction of tythes is so absurd and tyrannical an attack on the property of mankind, that it is almost impossible for them to continue in any country in the world half a century longer. To pay a man by force 1000l. a year, for doing by deputy what would be much better done for 100l. is too gross an imposition to be endured. To levy that 1000l. in the most pernicious method that can wound both property and liberty, are circumstances congenial to the tenth century, but not to the eighteenth. Italy, France, and America have set noble examples for the imitation of mankind; and those countries that do not follow them, will soon be as inferior in cultivation as they are in policy.
The late riots at Birmingham [riots against persons commemorating the French Revolution, July, 1791.—ED.] ought to convince every man, who looks to the preservation of peace, that a militia of property is absolutely necessary; had it existed at that town, no such infamous transactions could have taken place, to the disgrace of the age and nation. Those riots may convince us how insecure our property really is in England, and how very imperfect that POLITICAL SYSTEM, which could, twice in twelve years, see two of the greatest towns in England at the mercy of a vile mob. The military must, in relation to the greater part of the kingdom, be always at a distance; but a militia is on the spot, and easy to be collected, by previous regulations, at a moment's warning.
The class of writers who wish to spread the taste of revolutions, and make them every where the order of the day, affect to confound the governments of France and America, as if established on the same principles; if so, it is a remarkable fact that the result should, to appearance, turn out so differently: but a little examination will convince us, that there is scarcely any thing in common between those governments, except the general principle of being free. In France, the populace are electors, and to so low a degree that the exclusions are of little account; and the qualifications for a seat in the provincial assemblies, and in the national one, are so low that the whole chain may be completed, from the first elector to the legislator, without a single link of what merits the name of property. The very reverse is the case in America, there is not a single state in which voters must not have a qualification of property: in Massachussets and New Hampshire, a freehold of 3l. a year, or other estate of 60l. value: Connecticut is a country of substantial freeholders, and the old government remains: In New York, electors of the senate must have a property of 100l. free from debts; and those of the assembly freeholds of 40s. a year, rated and paying taxes: in Pensylvania, payment of taxes is necessary: in Maryland, the possession of 50 acres of land, or other estate worth 30l.: in Virginia, 25 cultivated acres, with a house on it: in North Carolina, for the senate 50 acres, and for the assembly payment of taxes: and in all the states there are qualifications much more considerable, necessary for being eligible to be elected. In general it should be remembered, that taxes being so very few, the qualification of paying them excludes vastly more voters than a similar regulation in Europe. In constituting the legislatures also, the states all have two houses, except Pensylvania. And Congress itself meets in the same form. Thus a ready explanation is found of that order and regularity, and security of property, which strikes every eye in America; a contrast to the spectacle which France has exhibited, where confusion of every sort has operated, in which property is very far from safe; in which the populace legislate and then execute, not laws of their representatives, but of their own ambulatory wills; in which, at this moment (March 1792), they are a scene of anarchy, with every sign of a civil war commencing. These two great experiments, as far as they have gone, ought to pour conviction in every mind, that order and property never can be safe if the right of election is personal, instead of being attached to property: and whenever propositions for the reformation of our representation shall be seriously considered, which is certainly necessary, nothing ought to be in contemplation but taking power from the crown and the aristocracy—not to give it to the mob, but to the middle classes of moderate fortune. The proprietor of an estate of 50l. a year is as much interested, in the preservation of order and of property, as the possessor of fifty thousand; but the people without property have a direct and positive interest in public confusion, and the consequent division of that property, of which they are destitute. Hence the necessity, a pressing one in the present moment, of a militia rank and file, of property; the essential counterpoise to assemblies in ale-house kitchens, clubbing their pence to have the Rights of Man read to them, by which should be understood (in Europe, not in America) the RIGHT TO PLUNDER. Let the state of France at present be coolly considered, and it will be found to originate absolutely in population, without property being represented: it exhibits scenes such as can never take place in America. See the National Assembly of a great empire, at the crisis of its fate, listening to the harrangues of the Paris populace, the female populace of St. Antoine, and the president formally answering and flattering them! Will such spectacles ever be seen in the American Congress? Can that be a well constituted government, in which the most precious moments are so consumed? The place of assembling (Paris) is alone sufficient to endanger the constitution.
"Nob. Auxois," p. 23. "Artois," p. 13. "T. Etat de Peronne," p. 15. "Nob. Dauphiné" p. 119.
"Nob. Touraine," p. 4. "Nob. Senlis," p. 46. "Nob. Pays de Labour" (Labourd, Pyrenees, ED.), p. 3. "Nob. Quesnoy," p. 6. "Nob. Sens," p. 3. "Nob. Thimerais," p. 3. "Clergé du Bourbonnois," p. 6. "Clergé du Bas Limosin," p. 10.
Too numerous to quote, of both Nobility and Tiers.
Many; Nobility as well as Tiers.
"Nob. Sezanne," p. 14. "T. Etat Metz," p. 42. "T. Etat de Auvergne," p. 9. "T. Etat de Riom," p. 23.
"Nob. Nivernois," p. 25.
"Nob. Bas Limosin," p. 12.
"T. Etat du Haut Vivarais," p. 18. "Nob. Rheims," p. 16. "Nob. Auxerre," p. 41.
"Nob. Toulon," p. 18.
Too many to quote.
"Nob. Nomery en Loraine," p. 10.
"Nob. Mantes & Meulan," p. 16. "Provins & Montereaux," art. 1. "Rennes," art. 19.
"Nob. Paris," p. 14.
"Nob. Vitry le François," MS. "Nob. Lyon," p. 16. "Nob. Bugey," p. 28. "Nob. Paris," p. 22.
"Nob. Ponthieu," p. 32. "Nob. Chartres," p. 19. "Nob. Auxerre," art. 74.
"Nob. Bugey," p. 11. "Nob. Montargis," p. 18. "Nob. Paris," 16. "Nob. Bourbonnois," p. 12. "Nob. Nancy," p. 23. "Nob. Angoumois," p. 20. "Nob. Pays de Labour," fol. 9.
"Nob. Beauvois," p. 18. "Nob. Troyes," p. 25.
"Nob. Limoges," p. 31.
"T. Etat de Lyon," p. 7. "Nismes," p. 13. "Cotentin," art. 7.
"T. Etat Rennes," art. 15.
"T. Etat Nismes," p. 11.
"T. Etat Pont à Mousson," p. 17. Mr. Burke says, "When the several orders, in their several bailliages, had met in the year 1789, to chuse and instruct their representatives, they were the people of France; whilst they were in that state, in no one of their instructions did they charge, or even hint at any of those things which have drawn upon the usurping assembly the detestation of the rational part of mankind."
It is so because the inequality remains as great as if titles had remained, but built on its worst basis, wealth. The nobility were bad, but not so bad as Mr. Christie makes them; they did not wait till the Etats Generaux before they agreed to renounce their pecuniary privileges, "Letters on the Revolution of France," vol. i. p. 74. The first meeting of the states was May 5, 1789; but the nobility assembled at the Louvre, Dec. 20, 1788, addressed the king, declaring that intention.
After all that has been said of late years, on the subject of constitutions and governments by various writers in England, but more especially in France, one circumstance must strike any attentive reader; it is, that none of the writers who have pushed the most forward in favour of new systems, have said any thing to convince the unprejudiced part of mankind, that experiment is not as necessary a means of knowledge in relation to government, as in agriculture, or any other branch of natural philosophy. Much has been said in favour of the American government, and I believe with perfect justice, reasoning as far as the experiment extends; but it is fair to consider it as an imperfect experiment, extending no further than the energy of personal virtue, seconded by the moderation attendant on a circulation not remarkably active. We learn, by Mr. Payne, that General Washington accepted no salary as commander of their troops, nor any as president of their legislature—an instance that does honour to their government, their country, and to human nature; but it may be doubted, whether any such instances will occur two hundred years hence? The exports of the United States now amount to 20 millions of dollars; when they amount to 500 millions, when great wealth, vast cities, a rapid circulation, and, by consequence, immense private fortunes are formed, will such spectacles be found? Will their government then be as faultless as it appears at present? It may, Probably it will still be found excellent; but we have no convictions, no proof; it is in the womb of time—THE EXPERIMENT IS NOT MADE. Such remarks, however, ought always to be accompanied with the admission, that the British government has been experimented.—With what result?—Let a debt of 240 millions—let seven wars—let Bengal and Gibraltar—let 30 millions sterling of national burthens, taxes, rates, tythes, and monopolies—let these answer.
The gross abuse which has been thrown on the French nation, and particularly on their assemblies, in certain pamphlets, and without interruption, in several of our newspapers, ought to be deprecated by every man who feels for the future interests of this country. It is in some instances carried to so scandalous an excess, that we must necessarily give extreme disgust to thousands of people, who may hereafter have an ample opportunity to vote and act under the influence of impressions unfavourable towards a country, that, unprovoked, has loaded them with so much contumely; for a nation groaning under a debt of 240 millions, that deadens the very idea of future energy, this seems, to use the mildest language, to be at least very imprudent.
End of Notes
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