IT MAY NOT BE UNNECESSARY toinform the reader that the following Reflections had their origin in acorrespondence between the Author and a very young gentleman at Paris, who didhim the honor of desiring his opinion upon the important transactions whichthen, and ever since, have so much occupied the attention of all men. An answerwas written some time in the month of October 1789, but it was kept back uponprudential considerations. That letter is alluded to in the beginning of thefollowing sheets. It has been since forwarded to the person to whom it wasaddressed. The reasons for the delay in sending it were assigned in a shortletter to the same gentleman. This produced on his part a new and pressingapplication for the Author's sentiments.
The Author began a second and more full discussion on the subject. This hehad some thoughts of publishing early in the last spring; but, the mattergaining upon him, he found that what he had undertaken not only far exceededthe measure of a letter, but that its importance required rather a moredetailed consideration than at that time he had any leisure to bestow upon it.However, having thrown down his first thoughts in the form of a letter, and,indeed, when he sat down to write, having intended it for a private letter, hefound it difficult to change the form of address when his sentiments had growninto a greater extent and had received another direction. A different plan, heis sensible, might be more favorable to a commodious division and distributionof his matter.
You are pleased to call again, and with some earnestness, for my thoughts onthe late proceedings in France. I will not give you reason to imagine that Ithink my sentiments of such value as to wish myself to be solicited about them.They are of too little consequence to be very anxiously either communicated orwithheld. It was from attention to you, and to you only, that I hesitated atthe time when you first desired to receive them. In the first letter I had thehonor to write to you, and which at length I send, I wrote neither for, norfrom, any description of men, nor shall I in this. My errors, if any, are myown. My reputation alone is to answer for them.
You see, Sir, by the long letter I have transmitted to you, that though I domost heartily wish that France may be animated by a spirit of rational liberty,and that I think you bound, in all honest policy, to provide a permanent bodyin which that spirit may reside, and an effectual organ by which it may act, itis my misfortune to entertain great doubts concerning several material pointsin your late transactions.
YOU IMAGINED, WHEN YOU WROTELAST, that I might possibly be reckoned among the approvers of certainproceedings in France, from the solemn public seal of sanction they havereceived from two clubs of gentlemen in London, called the ConstitutionalSociety and the Revolution Society.
I certainly have the honor to belong to more clubs than one, in which theconstitution of this kingdom and the principles of the glorious Revolution areheld in high reverence, and I reckon myself among the most forward in my zealfor maintaining that constitution and those principles in their utmost purityand vigor. It is because I do so, that I think it necessary for me that thereshould be no mistake. Those who cultivate the memory of our Revolution andthose who are attached to the constitution of this kingdom will take good carehow they are involved with persons who, under the pretext of zeal toward theRevolution and constitution, too frequently wander from their true principlesand are ready on every occasion to depart from the firm but cautious anddeliberate spirit which produced the one, and which presides in the other.Before I proceed to answer the more material particulars in your letter, Ishall beg leave to give you such information as I have been able to obtain ofthe two clubs which have thought proper, as bodies, to interfere in theconcerns of France, first assuring you that I am not, and that I have neverbeen, a member of either of those societies.
The first, calling itself the Constitutional Society, or Society forConstitutional Information, or by some such title, is, I believe, of seven oreight years standing. The institution of this society appears to be of acharitable and so far of a laudable nature; it was intended for thecirculation, at the expense of the members, of many books which few otherswould be at the expense of buying, and which might lie on the hands of thebooksellers, to the great loss of an useful body of men. Whether the books, socharitably circulated, were ever as charitably read is more than I know.Possibly several of them have been exported to France and, like goods not inrequest here, may with you have found a market. I have heard much talk of thelights to be drawn from books that are sent from hence. What improvements theyhave had in their passage (as it is said some liquors are meliorated bycrossing the sea) I cannot tell; but I never heard a man of common judgment orthe least degree of information speak a word in praise of the greater part ofthe publications circulated by that society, nor have their proceedings beenaccounted, except by some of themselves, as of any serious consequence.
Your National Assembly seems to entertain much the same opinion that I do ofthis poor charitable club. As a nation, you reserved the whole stock of youreloquent acknowledgments for the Revolution Society, when their fellows in theConstitutional were, in equity, entitled to some share. Since you have selectedthe Revolution Society as the great object of your national thanks and praises,you will think me excusable in making its late conduct the subject of myobservations. The National Assembly of France has given importance to thesegentlemen by adopting them; and they return the favor by acting as a committeein England for extending the principles of the National Assembly. Henceforwardwe must consider them as a kind of privileged persons, as no inconsiderablemembers in the diplomatic body. This is one among the revolutions which havegiven splendor to obscurity, and distinction to undiscerned merit. Until verylately I do not recollect to have heard of this club. I am quite sure that itnever occupied a moment of my thoughts, nor, I believe, those of any person outof their own set. I find, upon inquiry, that on the anniversary of theRevolution in 1688, a club of dissenters, but of what denomination I know not,have long had the custom of hearing a sermon in one of their churches; and thatafterwards they spent the day cheerfully, as other clubs do, at the tavern. ButI never heard that any public measure or political system, much less that themerits of the constitution of any foreign nation, had been the subject of aformal proceeding at their festivals, until, to my inexpressible surprise, Ifound them in a sort of public capacity, by a congratulatory address, giving anauthoritative sanction to the proceedings of the National Assembly in France.
In the ancient principles and conduct of the club, so far at least as theywere declared, I see nothing to which I could take exception. I think it veryprobable that for some purpose new members may have entered among them, andthat some truly Christian politicians, who love to dispense benefits but arecareful to conceal the hand which distributes the dole, may have made them theinstruments of their pious designs. Whatever I may have reason to suspectconcerning private management, I shall speak of nothing as of a certainty butwhat is public.
For one, I should be sorry to be thought, directly or indirectly, concernedin their proceedings. I certainly take my full share, along with the rest ofthe world, in my individual and private capacity, in speculating on what hasbeen done or is doing on the public stage in any place ancient or modern; inthe republic of Rome or the republic of Paris; but having no generalapostolical mission, being a citizen of a particular state and being bound up,in a considerable degree, by its public will, I should think it at leastimproper and irregular for me to open a formal public correspondence with theactual government of a foreign nation, without the express authority of thegovernment under which I live.
I should be still more unwilling to enter into that correspondence underanything like an equivocal description, which to many, unacquainted with ourusages, might make the address, in which I joined, appear as the act of personsin some sort of corporate capacity acknowledged by the laws of this kingdom andauthorized to speak the sense of some part of it. On account of the ambiguityand uncertainty of unauthorized general descriptions, and of the deceit whichmay be practiced under them, and not from mere formality, the House of Commonswould reject the most sneaking petition for the most trifling object, underthat mode of signature to which you have thrown open the folding doors of yourpresence chamber, and have ushered into your National Assembly with as muchceremony and parade, and with as great a bustle of applause, as if you havebeen visited by the whole representative majesty of the whole English nation.If what this society has thought proper to send forth had been a piece ofargument, it would have signified little whose argument it was. It would beneither the more nor the less convincing on account of the party it came from.But this is only a vote and resolution. It stands solely on authority; and inthis case it is the mere authority of individuals, few of whom appear. Theirsignatures ought, in my opinion, to have been annexed to their instrument. Theworld would then have the means of knowing how many they are; who they are; andof what value their opinions may be, from their personal abilities, from theirknowledge, their experience, or their lead and authority in this state. To me,who am but a plain man, the proceeding looks a little too refined and tooingenious; it has too much the air of a political strategem adopted for thesake of giving, under a high-sounding name, an importance to the publicdeclarations of this club which, when the matter came to be closely inspected,they did not altogether so well deserve. It is a policy that has very much thecomplexion of a fraud.
I flatter myself that I love a manly, moral, regulated liberty as well asany gentleman of that society, be he who he will; and perhaps I have given asgood proofs of my attachment to that cause in the whole course of my publicconduct. I think I envy liberty as little as they do to any other nation. But Icannot stand forward and give praise or blame to anything which relates tohuman actions, and human concerns, on a simple view of the object, as it standsstripped of every relation, in all the nakedness and solitude of metaphysicalabstraction. Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give inreality to every political principle its distinguishing color anddiscriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil andpolitical scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind. Abstractedly speaking,government, as well as liberty, is good; yet could I, in common sense, tenyears ago, have felicitated France on her enjoyment of a government (for shethen had a government) without inquiry what the nature of that government was,or how it was administered? Can I now congratulate the same nation upon itsfreedom? Is it because liberty in the abstract may be classed amongst theblessings of mankind, that I am seriously to felicitate a madman, who hasescaped from the protecting restraint and wholesome darkness of his cell, onhis restoration to the enjoyment of light and liberty? Am I to congratulate ahighwayman and murderer who has broke prison upon the recovery of his naturalrights? This would be to act over again the scene of the criminals condemned tothe galleys, and their heroic deliverer, the metaphysic Knight of the SorrowfulCountenance.
When I see the spirit of liberty in action, I see a strong principle atwork; and this, for a while, is all I can possibly know of it. The wild gas,the fixed air, is plainly broke loose; but we ought to suspend our judgmentuntil the first effervescence is a little subsided, till the liquor is cleared,and until we see something deeper than the agitation of a troubled and frothysurface. I must be tolerably sure, before I venture publicly to congratulatemen upon a blessing, that they have really received one. Flattery corrupts boththe receiver and the giver, and adulation is not of more service to the peoplethan to kings. I should, therefore, suspend my congratulations on the newliberty of France until I was informed how it had been combined withgovernment, with public force, with the discipline and obedience of armies,with the collection of an effective and well-distributed revenue, with moralityand religion, with the solidity of property, with peace and order, with civiland social manners. All these (in their way) are good things, too, and withoutthem liberty is not a benefit whilst it lasts, and is not likely to continuelong. The effect of liberty to individuals is that they may do what theyplease; we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we riskcongratulations which may be soon turned into complaints. Prudence woulddictate this in the case of separate, insulated, private men, but liberty, whenmen act in bodies, is power. Considerate people, before they declarethemselves, will observe the use which is made of power and particularly of sotrying a thing as new power in new persons of whose principles, tempers, anddispositions they have little or no experience, and in situations where thosewho appear the most stirring in the scene may possibly not be the real movers.
ALL these considerations,however, were below the transcendental dignity of the Revolution Society.Whilst I continued in the country, from whence I had the honor of writing toyou, I had but an imperfect idea of their transactions. On my coming to town, Isent for an account of their proceedings, which had been published by theirauthority, containing a sermon of Dr. Price, with the Duke de Rochefoucault'sand the Archbishop of Aix's letter, and several other documents annexed. Thewhole of that publication, with the manifest design of connecting the affairsof France with those of England by drawing us into an imitation of the conductof the National Assembly, gave me a considerable degree of uneasiness. Theeffect of that conduct upon the power, credit, prosperity, and tranquility ofFrance became every day more evident. The form of constitution to be settledfor its future polity became more clear. We are now in a condition to discern,with tolerable exactness, the true nature of the object held up to ourimitation. If the prudence of reserve and decorum dictates silence in somecircumstances, in others prudence of a higher order may justify us in speakingour thoughts. The beginnings of confusion with us in England are at presentfeeble enough, but, with you, we have seen an infancy still more feeble growingby moments into a strength to heap mountains upon mountains and to wage warwith heaven itself. Whenever our neighbor's house is on fire, it cannot beamiss for the engines to play a little on our own. Better to be despised fortoo anxious apprehensions than ruined by too confident a security.
Solicitous chiefly for the peace of my own country, but by no meansunconcerned for yours, I wish to communicate more largely what was at firstintended only for your private satisfaction. I shall still keep your affairs inmy eye and continue to address myself to you. Indulging myself in the freedomof epistolary intercourse, I beg leave to throw out my thoughts and express myfeelings just as they arise in my mind, with very little attention to formalmethod. I set out with the proceedings of the Revolution Society, but I shallnot confine myself to them. Is it possible I should? It appears to me as if Iwere in a great crisis, not of the affairs of France alone, but of all Europe,perhaps of more than Europe. All circumstances taken together, the Frenchrevolution is the most astonishing that has hitherto happened in the world. Themost wonderful things are brought about, in many instances by means the mostabsurd and ridiculous, in the most ridiculous modes, and apparently by the mostcontemptible instruments. Everything seems out of nature in this strange chaosof levity and ferocity, and of all sorts of crimes jumbled together with allsorts of follies. In viewing this monstrous tragicomic scene, the most oppositepassions necessarily succeed and sometimes mix with each other in the mind:alternate contempt and indignation, alternate laughter and tears, alternatescorn and horror.
It cannot, however, be denied that to some this strange scene appeared inquite another point of view. Into them it inspired no other sentiments thanthose of exultation and rapture. They saw nothing in what has been done inFrance but a firm and temperate exertion of freedom, so consistent, on thewhole, with morals and with piety as to make it deserving not only of thesecular applause of dashing Machiavellian politicians, but to render it a fittheme for all the devout effusions of sacred eloquence.
On the forenoon of the fourth of November last, Doctor Richard Price, anon-conforming minister of eminence, preached, at the dissenting meeting houseof the Old Jewry, to his club or society, a very extraordinary miscellaneoussermon, in which there are some good moral and religious sentiments, and notill expressed, mixed up in a sort of porridge of various political opinions andreflections; but the Revolution in France is the grand ingredient in thecauldron. I consider the address transmitted by the Revolution Society to theNational Assembly, through Earl Stanhope, as originating in the principles ofthe sermon and as a corollary from them. It was moved by the preacher of thatdiscourse. It was passed by those who came reeking from the effect of thesermon without any censure or qualification, expressed or implied. If, however,any of the gentlemen concerned shall wish to separate the sermon from theresolution, they know how to acknowledge the one and to disavow the other. Theymay do it: I cannot.
For my part, I looked on that sermon as the public declaration of a man muchconnected with literary caballers and intriguing philosophers, with politicaltheologians and theological politicians both at home and abroad. I know theyset him up as a sort of oracle, because, with the best intentions in the world,he naturally philippizes and chants his prophetic song in exact unison withtheir designs.
That sermon is in a strain which I believe has not been heard in thiskingdom, in any of the pulpits which are tolerated or encouraged in it, sincethe year 1648, when a predecessor of Dr. Price, the Rev. Hugh Peters, made thevault of the king's own chapel at St. James's ring with the honor and privilegeof the saints, who, with the "high praises of God in their mouths, and atwo-edged sword in their hands, were to execute judgment on the heathen, andpunishments upon the people; to bind their kings with chains, and their nobleswith fetters of iron". Fewharangues from the pulpit, except in the days of your league in France or inthe days of our Solemn League and Covenant in England, have ever breathed lessof the spirit of moderation than this lecture in the Old Jewry. Supposing,however, that something like moderation were visible in this political sermon,yet politics and the pulpit are terms that have little agreement. No soundought to be heard in the church but the healing voice of Christian charity. Thecause of civil liberty and civil government gains as little as that of religionby this confusion of duties. Those who quit their proper character to assumewhat does not belong to them are, for the greater part, ignorant both of thecharacter they leave and of the character they assume. Wholly unacquainted withthe world in which they are so fond of meddling, and inexperienced in all itsaffairs on which they pronounce with so much confidence, they have nothing ofpolitics but the passions they excite. Surely the church is a place where oneday's truce ought to be allowed to the dissensions and animosities of mankind.
This pulpit style, revived after so long a discontinuance, had to me
the airof novelty, and of a novelty not wholly without danger. I do not
charge thisdanger equally to every part of the discourse. The hint
given to a noble andreverend lay divine, who is supposed high in office
in one of our universities, and
other lay divines "of rank andliterature" may be proper and seasonable,
though somewhat new. If thenoble Seekers should find nothing to satisfy
their pious fancies in the oldstaple of the national church, or in all
the rich variety to be found in thewell-assorted warehouses of the
dissenting congregations, Dr. Price advisesthem to improve upon
non-conformity and to set up, each of them, a separatemeeting house
upon his own particular principles.
BUT I may say of our preacher"utinam nugis tota illa dedisset tempora saevitiae". — Allthings in this his fulminating bull are not of so innoxious a tendency. Hisdoctrines affect our constitution in its vital parts. He tells the RevolutionSociety in this political sermon that his Majesty "is almost the onlylawful king in the world because the only one who owes his crown to the choiceof his people." As to the kings of the world, all of whom (except one)this archpontiff of the rights of men, with all the plenitude and with morethan the boldness of the papal deposing power in its meridian fervor of thetwelfth century, puts into one sweeping clause of ban and anathema andproclaims usurpers by circles of longitude and latitude, over the whole globe,it behooves them to consider how they admit into their territories theseapostolic missionaries who are to tell their subjects they are not lawfulkings. That is their concern. It is ours, as a domestic interest of somemoment, seriously to consider the solidity of the only principle upon whichthese gentlemen acknowledge a king of Great Britain to be entitled to theirallegiance.
This doctrine, as applied to the prince now on the British throne, either isnonsense and therefore neither true nor false, or it affirms a most unfounded,dangerous, illegal, and unconstitutional position. According to this spiritualdoctor of politics, if his Majesty does not owe his crown to the choice of hispeople, he is no lawful king. Now nothing can be more untrue than that thecrown of this kingdom is so held by his Majesty. Therefore, if you follow theirrule, the king of Great Britain, who most certainly does not owe his highoffice to any form of popular election, is in no respect better than the restof the gang of usurpers who reign, or rather rob, all over the face of this ourmiserable world without any sort of right or title to the allegiance of theirpeople. The policy of this general doctrine, so qualified, is evident enough.The propagators of this political gospel are in hopes that their abstractprinciple (their principle that a popular choice is necessary to the legalexistence of the sovereign magistracy) would be overlooked, whilst the king ofGreat Britain was not affected by it. In the meantime the ears of theircongregations would be gradually habituated to it, as if it were a firstprinciple admitted without dispute. For the present it would only operate as atheory, pickled in the preserving juices of pulpit eloquence, and laid by forfuture use. Condo et compono quae mox depromere possim. By this policy, whilstour government is soothed with a reservation in its favor, to which it has noclaim, the security which it has in common with all governments, so far asopinion is security, is taken away.
Thus these politicians proceed whilst little notice is taken of theirdoctrines; but when they come to be examined upon the plain meaning of theirwords and the direct tendency of their doctrines, then equivocations andslippery constructions come into play. When they say the king owes his crown tothe choice of his people and is therefore the only lawful sovereign in theworld, they will perhaps tell us they mean to say no more than that some of theking's predecessors have been called to the throne by some sort of choice, andtherefore he owes his crown to the choice of his people. Thus, by a miserablesubterfuge, they hope to render their proposition safe by rendering itnugatory. They are welcome to the asylum they seek for their offense, sincethey take refuge in their folly. For if you admit this interpretation, how doestheir idea of election differ from our idea of inheritance?
And how does the settlement of the crown in the Brunswick line derived fromJames the First come to legalize our monarchy rather than that of any of theneighboring countries? At some time or other, to be sure, all the beginners ofdynasties were chosen by those who called them to govern. There is groundenough for the opinion that all the kingdoms of Europe were, at a remoteperiod, elective, with more or fewer limitations in the objects of choice. Butwhatever kings might have been here or elsewhere a thousand years ago, or inwhatever manner the ruling dynasties of England or France may have begun, theking of Great Britain is, at this day, king by a fixed rule of successionaccording to the laws of his country; and whilst the legal conditions of thecompact of sovereignty are performed by him (as they are performed), he holdshis crown in contempt of the choice of the Revolution Society, who have not asingle vote for a king amongst them, either individually or collectively,though I make no doubt they would soon erect themselves into an electoralcollege if things were ripe to give effect to their claim. His Majesty's heirsand successors, each in his time and order, will come to the crown with thesame contempt of their choice with which his Majesty has succeeded to that hewears.
Whatever may be the success of evasion in explaining away the gross error offact, which supposes that his Majesty (though he holds it in concurrence withthe wishes) owes his crown to the choice of his people, yet nothing can evadetheir full explicit declaration concerning the principle of a right in thepeople to choose; which right is directly maintained and tenaciously adheredto. All the oblique insinuations concerning election bottom in this propositionand are referable to it. Lest the foundation of the king's exclusive legaltitle should pass for a mere rant of adulatory freedom, the political divineproceeds dogmatically to assert that, bythe principles of the Revolution, the people of England have acquired threefundamental rights, all which, with him, compose one system and lie together inone short sentence, namely, that we have acquired a right:
This new and hitherto unheard-of bill of rights, though made in the name ofthe whole people, belongs to those gentlemen and their faction only. The bodyof the people of England have no share in it. They utterly disclaim it. Theywill resist the practical assertion of it with their lives and fortunes. Theyare bound to do so by the laws of their country made at the time of that veryRevolution which is appealed to in favor of the fictitious rights claimed bythe Society which abuses its name.
THESE GENTLEMEN OF THE OLDJEWRY, in all their reasonings on the Revolution of 1688, have arevolution which happened in England about forty years before and the lateFrench revolution, so much before their eyes and in their hearts that they areconstantly confounding all the three together. It is necessary that we shouldseparate what they confound. We must recall their erring fancies to the acts ofthe Revolution which we revere, for the discovery of its true principles. Ifthe principles of the Revolution of 1688 are anywhere to be found, it is in thestatute called the Declaration of Right. In that most wise, sober, andconsiderate declaration, drawn up by great lawyers and great statesmen, and notby warm and inexperienced enthusiasts, not one word is said, nor one suggestionmade, of a general right "to choose our own governors, to cashier them formisconduct, and to form a government for ourselves".
This Declaration of Right (the act of the 1st of William and Mary, sess. 2,ch. 2) is the cornerstone of our constitution as reinforced, explained,improved, and in its fundamental principles for ever settled. It is called,"An Act for declaring the rights and liberties of the subject, and forsettling the succession of the crown". You will observe that these rightsand this succession are declared in one body and bound indissolubly together.
A few years after this period, a second opportunity offered for asserting aright of election to the crown. On the prospect of a total failure of issuefrom King William, and from the Princess, afterwards Queen Anne, theconsideration of the settlement of the crown and of a further security for theliberties of the people again came before the legislature. Did they this secondtime make any provision for legalizing the crown on the spurious revolutionprinciples of the Old Jewry? No. They followed the principles which prevailedin the Declaration of Right, indicating with more precision the persons whowere to inherit in the Protestant line. This act also incorporated, by the samepolicy, our liberties and an hereditary succession in the same act. Instead ofa right to choose our own governors, they declared that the succession in thatline (the Protestant line drawn from James the First), was absolutely necessary"for the peace, quiet, and security of the realm", and that it wasequally urgent on them "to maintain a certainty in the succession thereof,to which the subjects may safely have recourse for their protection". Boththese acts, in which are heard the unerring, unambiguous oracles of revolutionpolicy, instead of countenancing the delusive, gipsy predictions of a"right to choose our governors", prove to a demonstration how totallyadverse the wisdom of the nation was from turning a case of necessity into arule of law.
Unquestionably, there was at the Revolution, in the person of King William,a small and a temporary deviation from the strict order of a regular hereditarysuccession; but it is against all genuine principles of jurisprudence to draw aprinciple from a law made in a special case and regarding an individual person.Privilegium non transit in exemplum. If ever there was a time favorable forestablishing the principle that a king of popular choice was the only legalking, without all doubt it was at the Revolution. Its not being done at thattime is a proof that the nation was of opinion it ought not to be done at anytime. There is no person so completely ignorant of our history as not to knowthat the majority in parliament of both parties were so little disposed toanything resembling that principle that at first they were determined to placethe vacant crown, not on the head of the Prince of Orange, but on that of hiswife Mary, daughter of King James, the eldest born of the issue of that king,which they acknowledged as undoubtedly his. It would be to repeat a very tritestory, to recall to your memory all those circumstances which demonstrated thattheir accepting King William was not properly a choice; but to all those whodid not wish, in effect, to recall King James or to deluge their country inblood and again to bring their religion, laws, and liberties into the perilthey had just escaped, it was an act of necessity, in the strictest moral sensein which necessity can be taken.
In the very act in which for a time, and in a single case, parliamentdeparted from the strict order of inheritance in favor of a prince who, thoughnot next, was, however, very near in the line of succession, it is curious toobserve how Lord Somers, who drew the bill called the Declaration of Right, hascomported himself on that delicate occasion. It is curious to observe with whataddress this temporary solution of continuity is kept from the eye, whilst allthat could be found in this act of necessity to countenance the idea of anhereditary succession is brought forward, and fostered, and made the most of,by this great man and by the legislature who followed him. Quitting the dry,imperative style of an act of parliament, he makes the Lords and Commons fallto a pious, legislative ejaculation and declare that they consider it "asa marvellous providence and merciful goodness of God to this nation to preservetheir said Majesties' royal persons most happily to reign over us on the throneof their ancestors, for which, from the bottom of their hearts, they returntheir humblest thanks and praises". — The legislature plainly had inview the act of recognition of the first of Queen Elizabeth, chap. 3rd, and ofthat of James the First, chap. 1st, both acts strongly declaratory of theinheritable nature of the crown; and in many parts they follow, with a nearlyliteral precision, the words and even the form of thanksgiving which is foundin these old declaratory statutes.
The two Houses, in the act of King William, did not thank God that
they hadfound a fair opportunity to assert a right to choose their own
governors, muchless to make an election the only lawful title to the
crown. Their having beenin a condition to avoid the very appearance of
it, as much as possible, was bythem considered as a providential
escape. They threw a politic, well-wroughtveil over every circumstance
tending to weaken the rights which in themeliorated order of succession
they meant to perpetuate, or which might furnisha precedent for any
future departure from what they had then settled forever.Accordingly,
that they might not relax the nerves of their monarchy, and thatthey
might preserve a close conformity to the practice of their ancestors,
asit appeared in the declaratory statutes of Queen Mary
They knew that a doubtful title of succession would but too much resemble anelection, and that an election would be utterly destructive of the "unity,peace, and tranquillity of this nation", which they thought to beconsiderations of some moment. To provide for these objects and, therefore, toexclude for ever the Old Jewry doctrine of "a right to choose our owngovernors", they follow with a clause containing a most solemn pledge,taken from the preceding act of Queen Elizabeth, as solemn a pledge as ever wasor can be given in favor of an hereditary succession, and as solemn arenunciation as could be made of the principles by this Society imputed tothem: The Lords spiritual and temporal, and Commons, do, in the name of all thepeople aforesaid, most humbly and faithfully submit themselves, their heirs andposterities for ever; and do faithfully promise that they will stand tomaintain, and defend their said Majesties, and also the limitation of thecrown, herein specified and contained, to the utmost of their powers, etc. etc.
So far is it from being true that we acquired a right by the Revolution toelect our kings that, if we had possessed it before, the English nation did atthat time most solemnly renounce and abdicate it, for themselves and for alltheir posterity forever.
These gentlemen may value themselves as much as they please on their whigprinciples, but I never desire to be thought a better whig than Lord Somers, orto understand the principles of the Revolution better than those, by whom itwas brought about, or to read in the Declaration of Right any mysteries unknownto those whose penetrating style has engraved in our ordinances, and in ourhearts, the words and spirit of that immortal law.
It is true that, aided with the powers derived from force and opportunity,the nation was at that time, in some sense, free to take what course it pleasedfor filling the throne, but only free to do so upon the same grounds on whichthey might have wholly abolished their monarchy and every other part of theirconstitution. However, they did not think such bold changes within theircommission. It is indeed difficult, perhaps impossible, to give limits to themere abstract competence of the supreme power, such as was exercised byparliament at that time, but the limits of a moral competence subjecting, evenin powers more indisputably sovereign, occasional will to permanent reason andto the steady maxims of faith, justice, and fixed fundamental policy, areperfectly intelligible and perfectly binding upon those who exercise anyauthority, under any name or under any title, in the state. The House of Lords,for instance, is not morally competent to dissolve the House of Commons, no,nor even to dissolve itself, nor to abdicate, if it would, its portion in thelegislature of the kingdom. Though a king may abdicate for his own person, hecannot abdicate for the monarchy. By as strong, or by a stronger reason, theHouse of Commons cannot renounce its share of authority. The engagement andpact of society, which generally goes by the name of the constitution, forbidssuch invasion and such surrender. The constituent parts of a state are obligedto hold their public faith with each other and with all those who derive anyserious interest under their engagements, as much as the whole state is boundto keep its faith with separate communities. Otherwise competence and powerwould soon be confounded and no law be left but the will of a prevailing force.On this principle the succession of the crown has always been what it now is,an hereditary succession by law; in the old line it was a succession by thecommon law; in the new, by the statute law operating on the principles of thecommon law, not changing the substance, but regulating the mode and describingthe persons. Both these descriptions of law are of the same force and arederived from an equal authority emanating from the common agreement andoriginal compact of the state, communi sponsione reipublicae, and as such areequally binding on king and people, too, as long as the terms are observed andthey continue the same body politic.
It is far from impossible to reconcile, if we do not suffer ourselves to beentangled in the mazes of metaphysic sophistry, the use both of a fixed ruleand an occasional deviation: the sacredness of an hereditary principle ofsuccession in our government with a power of change in its application in casesof extreme emergency. Even in that extremity (if we take the measure of ourrights by our exercise of them at the Revolution), the change is to be confinedto the peccant part only, to the part which produced the necessary deviation;and even then it is to be effected without a decomposition of the whole civiland political mass for the purpose of originating a new civil order out of thefirst elements of society.
A state without the means of some change is without the means of itsconservation. Without such means it might even risk the loss of that part ofthe constitution which it wished the most religiously to preserve. The twoprinciples of conservation and correction operated strongly at the two criticalperiods of the Restoration and Revolution, when England found itself without aking. At both those periods the nation had lost the bond of union in theirancient edifice; they did not, however, dissolve the whole fabric. On thecontrary, in both cases they regenerated the deficient part of the oldconstitution through the parts which were not impaired. They kept these oldparts exactly as they were, that the part recovered might be suited to them.They acted by the ancient organized states in the shape of their oldorganization, and not by the organic moleculae of a disbanded people. At notime, perhaps, did the sovereign legislature manifest a more tender regard tothat fundamental principle of British constitutional policy than at the time ofthe Revolution, when it deviated from the direct line of hereditary succession.The crown was carried somewhat out of the line in which it had before moved,but the new line was derived from the same stock. It was still a line ofhereditary descent, still an hereditary descent in the same blood, though anhereditary descent qualified with Protestantism. When the legislature alteredthe direction, but kept the principle, they showed that they held itinviolable.
On this principle, the law of inheritance had admitted some amendment in theold time, and long before the era of the Revolution. Some time after theConquest, great questions arose upon the legal principles of hereditarydescent. It became a matter of doubt whether the heir per capita or the heirper stirpes was to succeed; but whether the heir per capita gave way when theheirdom per stirpes took place, or the Catholic heir when the Protestant waspreferred, the inheritable principle survived with a sort of immortalitythrough all transmigrations — multosque per annos stat fortuna domus, etavi numerantur avorum. This is the spirit of our constitution, not only in itssettled course, but in all its revolutions. Whoever came in, or however he camein, whether he obtained the crown by law or by force, the hereditary successionwas either continued or adopted.
The gentlemen of the Society for Revolution see nothing in that of 1688 butthe deviation from the constitution; and they take the deviation from theprinciple for the principle. They have little regard to the obviousconsequences of their doctrine, though they must see that it leaves positiveauthority in very few of the positive institutions of this country. When suchan unwarrantable maxim is once established, that no throne is lawful but theelective, no one act of the princes who preceded this era of fictitiouselection can be valid. Do these theorists mean to imitate some of theirpredecessors who dragged the bodies of our ancient sovereigns out of the quietof their tombs? Do they mean to attaint and disable backward all the kings thathave reigned before the Revolution, and consequently to stain the throne ofEngland with the blot of a continual usurpation? Do they mean to invalidate,annul, or to call into question, together with the titles of the whole line ofour kings, that great body of our statute law which passed under those whomthey treat as usurpers, to annul laws of inestimable value to our liberties ?of as great value at least as any which have passed at or since the period ofthe Revolution? If kings who did not owe their crown to the choice of theirpeople had no title to make laws, what will become of the statute de tallagionon concedendo? — of the petition of right? — of the act of habeascorpus? Do these new doctors of the rights of men presume to assert that KingJames the Second, who came to the crown as next of blood, according to therules of a then unqualified succession, was not to all intents and purposes alawful king of England before he had done any of those acts which were justlyconstrued into an abdication of his crown? If he was not, much trouble inparliament might have been saved at the period these gentlemen commemorate. ButKing James was a bad king with a good title, and not an usurper. The princeswho succeeded, according to the act of parliament which settled the crown onthe Electress Sophia and on her descendants, being Protestants, came in as muchby a title of inheritance as King James did. He came in according to the law asit stood at his accession to the crown; and the princes of the House ofBrunswick came to the inheritance of the crown, not by election, but by the lawas it stood at their several accessions of Protestant descent and inheritance,as I hope I have shown sufficiently.
The law by which this royal family is specifically destined to thesuccession is the act of the 12th and 13th of King William. The terms of thisact bind "us and our heirs, and our posterity, to them, their heirs, andtheir posterity", being Protestants, to the end of time, in the same wordsas the Declaration of Right had bound us to the heirs of King William and QueenMary. It therefore secures both an hereditary crown and an hereditaryallegiance. On what ground, except the constitutional policy of forming anestablishment to secure that kind of succession which is to preclude a choiceof the people forever, could the legislature have fastidiously rejected thefair and abundant choice which our country presented to them and searched instrange lands for a foreign princess from whose womb the line of our futurerulers were to derive their title to govern millions of men through a series ofages?
The Princess Sophia was named in the act of settlement of the 12th and 13thof King William for a stock and root of inheritance to our kings, and not forher merits as a temporary administratrix of a power which she might not, and infact did not, herself ever exercise. She was adopted for one reason, and forone only, because, says the act, "the most excellent Princess Sophia,Electress and Duchess Dowager of Hanover, is daughter of the most excellentPrincess Elizabeth, late Queen of Bohemia, daughter of our late sovereign lordKing James the First, of happy memory, and is hereby declared to be the next insuccession in the Protestant line etc., etc., and the crown shall continue tothe heirs of her body, being Protestants." This limitation was made byparliament, that through the Princess Sophia an inheritable line not only wasto be continued in future, but (what they thought very material) that throughher it was to be connected with the old stock of inheritance in King James theFirst, in order that the monarchy might preserve an unbroken unity through allages and might be preserved (with safety to our religion) in the old approvedmode by descent, in which, if our liberties had been once endangered, they hadoften, through all storms and struggles of prerogative and privilege, beenpreserved. They did well. No experience has taught us that in any other courseor method than that of an hereditary crown our liberties can be regularlyperpetuated and preserved sacred as our hereditary right.
An irregular, convulsive movement may be necessary to throw off anirregular, convulsive disease. But the course of succession is the healthyhabit of the British constitution. Was it that the legislature wanted, at theact for the limitation of the crown in the Hanoverian line, drawn through thefemale descendants of James the First, a due sense of the inconveniences ofhaving two or three, or possibly more, foreigners in succession to the Britishthrone? No! — they had a due sense of the evils which might happen fromsuch foreign rule, and more than a due sense of them. But a more decisive proofcannot be given of the full conviction of the British nation that theprinciples of the Revolution did not authorize them to elect kings at theirpleasure, and without any attention to the ancient fundamental principles ofour government, than their continuing to adopt a plan of hereditary Protestantsuccession in the old line, with all the dangers and all the inconveniences ofits being a foreign line full before their eyes and operating with the utmostforce upon their minds.
A few years ago I should be ashamed to overload a matter so capable ofsupporting itself by the then unnecessary support of any argument; but thisseditious, unconstitutional doctrine is now publicly taught, avowed, andprinted. The dislike I feel to revolutions, the signals for which have so oftenbeen given from pulpits; the spirit of change that is gone abroad; the totalcontempt which prevails with you, and may come to prevail with us, of allancient institutions when set in opposition to a present sense of convenienceor to the bent of a present inclination: all these considerations make it notunadvisable, in my opinion, to call back our attention to the true principlesof our own domestic laws; that you, my French friend, should begin to know, andthat we should continue to cherish them. We ought not, on either side of thewater, to suffer ourselves to be imposed upon by the counterfeit wares whichsome persons, by a double fraud, export to you in illicit bottoms as rawcommodities of British growth, though wholly alien to our soil, in orderafterwards to smuggle them back again into this country, manufactured after thenewest Paris fashion of an improved liberty.
The people of England will not ape the fashions they have never tried, norgo back to those which they have found mischievous on trial. They look upon thelegal hereditary succession of their crown as among their rights, not as amongtheir wrongs; as a benefit, not as a grievance; as a security for theirliberty, not as a badge of servitude. They look on the frame of theircommonwealth, such as it stands, to be of inestimable value, and they conceivethe undisturbed succession of the crown to be a pledge of the stability andperpetuity of all the other members of our constitution.
I shall beg leave, before I go any further, to take notice of some paltryartifices which the abettors of election, as the only lawful title to thecrown, are ready to employ in order to render the support of the justprinciples of our constitution a task somewhat invidious. These sophisterssubstitute a fictitious cause and feigned personages, in whose favor theysuppose you engaged whenever you defend the inheritable nature of the crown. Itis common with them to dispute as if they were in a conflict with some of thoseexploded fanatics of slavery, who formerly maintained what I believe nocreature now maintains, "that the crown is held by divine hereditary andindefeasible right". — These old fanatics of single arbitrary powerdogmatized as if hereditary royalty was the only lawful government in theworld, just as our new fanatics of popular arbitrary power maintain that apopular election is the sole lawful source of authority. The old prerogativeenthusiasts, it is true, did speculate foolishly, and perhaps impiously too, asif monarchy had more of a divine sanction than any other mode of government;and as if a right to govern by inheritance were in strictness indefeasible inevery person who should be found in the succession to a throne, and under everycircumstance, which no civil or political right can be. But an absurd opinionconcerning the king's hereditary right to the crown does not prejudice one thatis rational and bottomed upon solid principles of law and policy. If all theabsurd theories of lawyers and divines were to vitiate the objects in whichthey are conversant, we should have no law and no religion left in the world.But an absurd theory on one side of a question forms no justification foralleging a false fact or promulgating mischievous maxims on the other.
THE second claim of theRevolution Society is "a right of cashiering their governors formisconduct". Perhaps the apprehensions our ancestors entertained offorming such a precedent as that "of cashiering for misconduct" wasthe cause that the declaration of the act, which implied the abdication of KingJames, was, if it had any fault, rather too guarded and toocircumstantial. But all this guard andall this accumulation of circumstances serves to show the spirit of cautionwhich predominated in the national councils in a situation in which menirritated by oppression, and elevated by a triumph over it, are apt to abandonthemselves to violent and extreme courses; it shows the anxiety of the greatmen who influenced the conduct of affairs at that great event to make theRevolution a parent of settlement, and not a nursery of future revolutions.
No government could stand a moment if it could be blown down with anythingso loose and indefinite as an opinion of "misconduct". They who ledat the Revolution grounded the virtual abdication of King James upon no suchlight and uncertain principle. They charged him with nothing less than adesign, confirmed by a multitude of illegal overt acts, to subvert theProtestant church and state, and their fundamental, unquestionable laws andliberties; they charged him with having broken the original contract betweenking and people. This was more than misconduct. A grave and overrulingnecessity obliged them to take the step they took, and took with infinitereluctance, as under that most rigorous of all laws. Their trust for the futurepreservation of the constitution was not in future revolutions. The grandpolicy of all their regulations was to render it almost impracticable for anyfuture sovereign to compel the states of the kingdom to have again recourse tothose violent remedies. They left the crown what, in the eye and estimation oflaw, it had ever been-perfectly irresponsible. In order to lighten the crownstill further, they aggravated responsibility on ministers of state. By thestatute of the 1st of King William, sess. 2nd, called "the act fordeclaring the rights and liberties of the subject, and for settling thesuccession of the crown", they enacted that the ministers should serve thecrown on the terms of that declaration. They secured soon after the frequentmeetings of parliament, by which the whole government would be under theconstant inspection and active control of the popular representative and of themagnates of the kingdom. In the next great constitutional act, that of the 12thand 13th of King William, for the further limitation of the crown and bettersecuring the rights and liberties of the subject, they provided "that nopardon under the great seal of England should be pleadable to an impeachment bythe Commons in parliament". The rule laid down for government in theDeclaration of Right, the constant inspection of parliament, the practicalclaim of impeachment, they thought infinitely a better security, not only fortheir constitutional liberty, but against the vices of administration, than thereservation of a right so difficult in the practice, so uncertain in the issue,and often so mischievous in the consequences, as that of "cashiering theirgovernors".
Dr. Price, in this sermon, condemnsvery properly the practice of gross, adulatory addresses to kings. Instead ofthis fulsome style, he proposes that his Majesty should be told, on occasionsof congratulation, that "he is to consider himself as more properly theservant than the sovereign of his people". For a compliment, this new formof address does not seem to be very soothing. Those who are servants in name,as well as in effect, do not like to be told of their situation, their duty,and their obligations. The slave, in the old play, tells his master, "Haeccommemoratio est quasi exprobatio". It is not pleasant as compliment; itis not wholesome as instruction. After all, if the king were to bring himselfto echo this new kind of address, to adopt it in terms, and even to take theappellation of Servant of the People as his royal style, how either he or weshould be much mended by it I cannot imagine. I have seen very assumingletters, signed "Your most obedient, humble servant". The proudestdenomination that ever was endured on earth took a title of still greaterhumility than that which is now proposed for sovereigns by the Apostle ofLiberty. Kings and nations were trampled upon by the foot of one callinghimself "the Servant of Servants"; and mandates for deposingsovereigns were sealed with the signet of "the Fisherman".
I should have considered all this as no more than a sort of flippant, vaindiscourse, in which, as in an unsavory fume, several persons suffer the spiritof liberty to evaporate, if it were not plainly in support of the idea and apart of the scheme of "cashiering kings for misconduct". In thatlight it is worth some observation.
Kings, in one sense, are undoubtedly the servants of the people becausetheir power has no other rational end than that of the general advantage; butit is not true that they are, in the ordinary sense (by our constitution, atleast), anything like servants; the essence of whose situation is to obey thecommands of some other and to be removable at pleasure. But the king of GreatBritain obeys no other person; all other persons are individually, andcollectively too, under him and owe to him a legal obedience. The law, whichknows neither to flatter nor to insult, calls this high magistrate not ourservant, as this humble divine calls him, but "our sovereign Lord theking"; and we, on our parts, have learned to speak only the primitivelanguage of the law, and not the confused jargon of their Babylonian pulpits.
As he is not to obey us, but as we are to obey the law in him, ourconstitution has made no sort of provision toward rendering him, as a servant,in any degree responsible. Our constitution knows nothing of a magistrate likethe Justicia of Aragon, nor of any court legally appointed, nor of any processlegally settled, for submitting the king to the responsibility belonging to allservants. In this he is not distinguished from the Commons and the Lords, who,in their several public capacities, can never be called to an account for theirconduct, although the Revolution Society chooses to assert, in directopposition to one of the wisest and most beautiful parts of our constitution,that "a king is no more than the first servant of the public, created byit, and responsible to it"
Ill would our ancestors at the Revolution have deserved their fame forwisdom if they had found no security for their freedom but in rendering theirgovernment feeble in its operations, and precarious in its tenure; if they hadbeen able to contrive no better remedy against arbitrary power than civilconfusion. Let these gentlemen state who that representative public is to whomthey will affirm the king, as a servant, to be responsible. It will then betime enough for me to produce to them the positive statute law which affirmsthat he is not.
The ceremony of cashiering kings, of which these gentlemen talk so much attheir ease, can rarely, if ever, be performed without force. It then becomes acase of war, and not of constitution. Laws are commanded to hold their tonguesamongst arms, and tribunals fall to the ground with the peace they are nolonger able to uphold. The Revolution of 1688 was obtained by a just war, inthe only case in which any war, and much more a civil war, can be just. Justabella quibus necessaria. The question of dethroning or, if these gentlemen likethe phrase better, "cashiering kings" will always be, as it hasalways been, an extraordinary question of state, and wholly out of the law— a question (like all other questions of state) of dispositions and ofmeans and of probable consequences rather than of positive rights. As it wasnot made for common abuses, so it is not to be agitated by common minds. Thespeculative line of demarcation where obedience ought to end and resistancemust begin is faint, obscure, and not easily definable. It is not a single act,or a single event, which determines it. Governments must be abused andderanged, indeed, before it can be thought of; and the prospect of the futuremust be as bad as the experience of the past. When things are in thatlamentable condition, the nature of the disease is to indicate the remedy tothose whom nature has qualified to administer in extremities this critical,ambiguous, bitter potion to a distempered state. Times and occasions andprovocations will teach their own lessons. The wise will determine from thegravity of the case; the irritable, from sensibility to oppression; thehigh-minded, from disdain and indignation at abusive power in unworthy hands;the brave and bold, from the love of honorable danger in a generous cause; but,with or without right, a revolution will be the very last resource of thethinking and the good.
THE third head of right,asserted by the pulpit of the Old Jewry, namely, the "right to form agovernment for ourselves", has, at least, as little countenance fromanything done at the Revolution, either in precedent or principle, as the twofirst of their claims. The Revolution was made to preserve our ancient,indisputable laws and liberties and that ancient constitution of governmentwhich is our only security for law and liberty. If you are desirous of knowingthe spirit of our constitution and the policy which predominated in that greatperiod which has secured it to this hour, pray look for both in our histories,in our records, in our acts of parliament, and journals of parliament, and notin the sermons of the Old Jewry and the after-dinner toasts of the RevolutionSociety. In the former you will find other ideas and another language. Such aclaim is as ill-suited to our temper and wishes as it is unsupported by anyappearance of authority. The very idea of the fabrication of a new governmentis enough to fill us with disgust and horror. We wished at the period of theRevolution, and do now wish, to derive all we possess as an inheritance fromour forefathers. Upon that body and stock of inheritance we have taken care notto inoculate any cyon alien to the nature of the original plant. All thereformations we have hitherto made have proceeded upon the principle ofreverence to antiquity; and I hope, nay, I am persuaded, that all those whichpossibly may be made hereafter will be carefully formed upon analogicalprecedent, authority, and example.
Our oldest reformation is that of Magna Charta. You will see that Sir EdwardCoke, that great oracle of our law, and indeed all the great men who followhim, to Blackstone, are industrious toprove the pedigree of our liberties. They endeavor to prove that the ancientcharter, the Magna Charta of King John, was connected with another positivecharter from Henry I, and that both the one and the other were nothing morethan a reaffirmance of the still more ancient standing law of the kingdom. Inthe matter of fact, for the greater part these authors appear to be in theright; perhaps not always; but if the lawyers mistake in some particulars, itproves my position still the more strongly, because it demonstrates thepowerful prepossession toward antiquity, with which the minds of all ourlawyers and legislators, and of all the people whom they wish to influence,have been always filled, and the stationary policy of this kingdom inconsidering their most sacred rights and franchises as an inheritance.
In the famous law of the 3rd of Charles I, called the Petition of Right, theparliament says to the king, "Your subjects have inherited thisfreedom", claiming their franchises not on abstract principles "asthe rights of men", but as the rights of Englishmen, and as a patrimonyderived from their forefathers. Selden and the other profoundly learned men whodrew this Petition of Right were as well acquainted, at least, with all thegeneral theories concerning the "rights of men" as any of thediscoursers in our pulpits or on your tribune; full as well as Dr. Price or asthe Abbe Sieyes. But, for reasons worthy of that practical wisdom whichsuperseded their theoretic science, they preferred this positive, recorded,hereditary title to all which can be dear to the man and the citizen, to thatvague speculative right which exposed their sure inheritance to be scrambledfor and torn to pieces by every wild, litigious spirit.
The same policy pervades all the laws which have since been made for
thepreservation of our liberties. In the 1st of William and Mary, in
the famousstatute called the Declaration of Right, the two Houses utter
not a syllable of"a right to frame a government for themselves". You
will see thattheir whole care was to secure the religion, laws, and
liberties that had beenlong possessed, and had been lately endangered.
You will observe that from Magna Charta to the Declaration of Right it hasbeen the uniform policy of our constitution to claim and assert our libertiesas an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers, and to betransmitted to our posterity — as an estate specially belonging to thepeople of this kingdom, without any reference whatever to any other moregeneral or prior right. By this means our constitution preserves a unity in sogreat a diversity of its parts. We have an inheritable crown, an inheritablepeerage, and a House of Commons and a people inheriting privileges, franchises,and liberties from a long line of ancestors.
This policy appears to me to be the result of profound reflection, or ratherthe happy effect of following nature, which is wisdom without reflection, andabove it. A spirit of innovation is generally the result of a selfish temperand confined views. People will not look forward to posterity, who never lookbackward to their ancestors. Besides, the people of England well know that theidea of inheritance furnishes a sure principle of conservation and a sureprinciple of transmission, without at all excluding a principle of improvement.It leaves acquisition free, but it secures what it acquires. Whateveradvantages are obtained by a state proceeding on these maxims are locked fastas in a sort of family settlement, grasped as in a kind of mortmain forever. Bya constitutional policy, working after the pattern of nature, we receive, wehold, we transmit our government and our privileges in the same manner in whichwe enjoy and transmit our property and our lives. The institutions of policy,the goods of fortune, the gifts of providence are handed down to us, and fromus, in the same course and order. Our political system is placed in a justcorrespondence and symmetry with the order of the world and with the mode ofexistence decreed to a permanent body composed of transitory parts, wherein, bythe disposition of a stupendous wisdom, molding together the great mysteriousincorporation of the human race, the whole, at one time, is never old ormiddle-aged or young, but, in a condition of unchangeable constancy, moves onthrough the varied tenor of perpetual decay, fall, renovation, and progression.Thus, by preserving the method of nature in the conduct of the state, in whatwe improve we are never wholly new; in what we retain we are never whollyobsolete. By adhering in this manner and on those principles to ourforefathers, we are guided not by the superstition of antiquarians, but by thespirit of philosophic analogy. In this choice of inheritance we have given toour frame of polity the image of a relation in blood, binding up theconstitution of our country with our dearest domestic ties, adopting ourfundamental laws into the bosom of our family affections, keeping inseparableand cherishing with the warmth of all their combined and mutually reflectedcharities our state, our hearths, our sepulchres, and our altars.
Through the same plan of a conformity to nature in our artificialinstitutions, and by calling in the aid of her unerring and powerful instinctsto fortify the fallible and feeble contrivances of our reason, we have derivedseveral other, and those no small, benefits from considering our liberties inthe light of an inheritance. Always acting as if in the presence of canonizedforefathers, the spirit of freedom, leading in itself to misrule and excess, istempered with an awful gravity. This idea of a liberal descent inspires us witha sense of habitual native dignity which prevents that upstart insolence almostinevitably adhering to and disgracing those who are the first acquirers of anydistinction. By this means our liberty becomes a noble freedom.
It carries an imposing and majestic aspect. It has a pedigree andillustrating ancestors. It has its bearings and its ensigns armorial. It hasits gallery of portraits, its monumental inscriptions, its records, evidences,and titles. We procure reverence to our civil institutions on the principleupon which nature teaches us to revere individual men: on account of their ageand on account of those from whom they are descended. All your sophisterscannot produce anything better adapted to preserve a rational and manly freedomthan the course that we have pursued, who have chosen our nature rather thanour speculations, our breasts rather than our inventions, for the greatconservatories and magazines of our rights and privileges.
YOU MIGHT, IF YOU PLEASED,have profited of our example and have given to your recovered freedom acorrespondent dignity. Your privileges, though discontinued, were not lost tomemory. Your constitution, it is true, whilst you were out of possession,suffered waste and dilapidation; but you possessed in some parts the walls andin all the foundations of a noble and venerable castle. You might have repairedthose walls; you might have built on those old foundations. Your constitutionwas suspended before it was perfected, but you had the elements of aconstitution very nearly as good as could be wished. In your old states youpossessed that variety of parts corresponding with the various descriptions ofwhich your community was happily composed; you had all that combination and allthat opposition of interests; you had that action and counteraction which, inthe natural and in the political world, from the reciprocal struggle ofdiscordant powers, draws out the harmony of the universe. These opposed andconflicting interests which you considered as so great a blemish in your oldand in our present constitution interpose a salutary check to all precipitateresolutions. They render deliberation a matter, not of choice, but ofnecessity; they make all change a subject of compromise, which naturally begetsmoderation; they produce temperaments preventing the sore evil of harsh, crude,unqualified reformations, and rendering all the headlong exertions of arbitrarypower, in the few or in the many, for ever impracticable. Through thatdiversity of members and interests, general liberty had as many securities asthere were separate views in the several orders, whilst, by pressing down thewhole by the weight of a real monarchy, the separate parts would have beenprevented from warping and starting from their allotted places.
You had all these advantages in your ancient states, but you chose to act asif you had never been molded into civil society and had everything to beginanew. You began ill, because you began by despising everything that belonged toyou. You set up your trade without a capital. If the last generations of yourcountry appeared without much luster in your eyes, you might have passed themby and derived your claims from a more early race of ancestors. Under a piouspredilection for those ancestors, your imaginations would have realized in thema standard of virtue and wisdom beyond the vulgar practice of the hour; and youwould have risen with the example to whose imitation you aspired. Respectingyour forefathers, you would have been taught to respect yourselves. You wouldnot have chosen to consider the French as a people of yesterday, as a nation oflowborn servile wretches until the emancipating year of 1789. In order tofurnish, at the expense of your honor, an excuse to your apologists here forseveral enormities of yours, you would not have been content to be representedas a gang of Maroon slaves suddenly broke loose from the house of bondage, andtherefore to be pardoned for your abuse of the liberty to which you were notaccustomed and ill fitted. Would it not, my worthy friend, have been wiser tohave you thought, what I, for one, always thought you, a generous and gallantnation, long misled to your disadvantage by your high and romantic sentimentsof fidelity, honor, and loyalty; that events had been unfavorable to you, butthat you were not enslaved through any illiberal or servile disposition; thatin your most devoted submission you were actuated by a principle of publicspirit, and that it was your country you worshiped in the person of your king?Had you made it to be understood that in the delusion of this amiable error youhad gone further than your wise ancestors, that you were resolved to resumeyour ancient privileges, whilst you preserved the spirit of your ancient andyour recent loyalty and honor; or if, diffident of yourselves and not clearlydiscerning the almost obliterated constitution of your ancestors, you hadlooked to your neighbors in this land who had kept alive the ancient principlesand models of the old common law of Europe meliorated and adapted to itspresent state — by following wise examples you would have given newexamples of wisdom to the world. You would have rendered the cause of libertyvenerable in the eyes of every worthy mind in every nation. You would haveshamed despotism from the earth by showing that freedom was not onlyreconcilable, but, as when well disciplined it is, auxiliary to law. You wouldhave had an unoppressive but a productive revenue. You would have had aflourishing commerce to feed it. You would have had a free constitution, apotent monarchy, a disciplined army, a reformed and venerated clergy, amitigated but spirited nobility to lead your virtue, not to overlay it; youwould have had a liberal order of commons to emulate and to recruit thatnobility; you would have had a protected, satisfied, laborious, and obedientpeople, taught to seek and to recognize the happiness that is to be found byvirtue in all conditions; in which consists the true moral equality of mankind,and not in that monstrous fiction which, by inspiring false ideas and vainexpectations into men destined to travel in the obscure walk of laborious life,serves only to aggravate and embitter that real inequality which it never canremove, and which the order of civil life establishes as much for the benefitof those whom it must leave in a humble state as those whom it is able to exaltto a condition more splendid, but not more happy. You had a smooth and easycareer of felicity and glory laid open to you, beyond anything recorded in thehistory of the world, but you have shown that difficulty is good for man.
COMPUTE your gains: see whatis got by those extravagant and presumptuous speculations which have taughtyour leaders to despise all their predecessors, and all their contemporaries,and even to despise themselves until the moment in which they become trulydespicable. By following those false lights, France has bought undisguisedcalamities at a higher price than any nation has purchased the most unequivocalblessings! France has bought poverty by crime! France has not sacrificed hervirtue to her interest, but she has abandoned her interest, that she mightprostitute her virtue. All other nations have begun the fabric of a newgovernment, or the reformation of an old, by establishing originally or byenforcing with greater exactness some rites or other of religion. All otherpeople have laid the foundations of civil freedom in severer manners and asystem of a more austere and masculine morality. France, when she let loose thereins of regal authority, doubled the license of a ferocious dissoluteness inmanners and of an insolent irreligion in opinions and practice, and hasextended through all ranks of life, as if she were communicating some privilegeor laying open some secluded benefit, all the unhappy corruptions that usuallywere the disease of wealth and power. This is one of the new principles ofequality in France.
France, by the perfidy of her leaders, has utterly disgraced the tone oflenient council in the cabinets of princes, and disarmed it of its most potenttopics. She has sanctified the dark, suspicious maxims of tyrannous distrust,and taught kings to tremble at (what will hereafter be called) the delusiveplausibilities of moral politicians. Sovereigns will consider those who advisethem to place an unlimited confidence in their people as subverters of theirthrones, as traitors who aim at their destruction by leading their easygood-nature, under specious pretenses, to admit combinations of bold andfaithless men into a participation of their power. This alone (if there werenothing else) is an irreparable calamity to you and to mankind. Remember thatyour parliament of Paris told your king that, in calling the states together,he had nothing to fear but the prodigal excess of their zeal in providing forthe support of the throne. It is right that these men should hide their heads.It is right that they should bear their part in the ruin which their counselhas brought on their sovereign and their country. Such sanguine declarationstend to lull authority asleep; to encourage it rashly to engage in perilousadventures of untried policy; to neglect those provisions, preparations, andprecautions which distinguish benevolence from imbecility, and without which noman can answer for the salutary effect of any abstract plan of government or offreedom. For want of these, they have seen the medicine of the state corruptedinto its poison. They have seen the French rebel against a mild and lawfulmonarch with more fury, outrage, and insult than ever any people has been knownto rise against the most illegal usurper or the most sanguinary tyrant. Theirresistance was made to concession, their revolt was from protection, their blowwas aimed at a hand holding out graces, favors, and immunities.
This was unnatural. The rest is in order. They have found their punishmentin their success: laws overturned; tribunals subverted; industry without vigor;commerce expiring; the revenue unpaid, yet the people impoverished; a churchpillaged, and a state not relieved; civil and military anarchy made theconstitution of the kingdom; everything human and divine sacrificed to the idolof public credit, and national bankruptcy the consequence; and, to crown all,the paper securities of new, precarious, tottering power, the discredited papersecurities of impoverished fraud and beggared rapine, held out as a currencyfor the support of an empire in lieu of the two great recognized species thatrepresent the lasting, conventional credit of mankind, which disappeared andhid themselves in the earth from whence they came, when the principle ofproperty, whose creatures and representatives they are, was systematicallysubverted.
Were all these dreadful things necessary? Were they the inevitable resultsof the desperate struggle of determined patriots, compelled to wade throughblood and tumult to the quiet shore of a tranquil and prosperous liberty? No!nothing like it. The fresh ruins of France, which shock our feelings whereverwe can turn our eyes, are not the devastation of civil war; they are the sadbut instructive monuments of rash and ignorant counsel in time of profoundpeace. They are the display of inconsiderate and presumptuous, becauseunresisted and irresistible, authority. The persons who have thus squanderedaway the precious treasure of their crimes, the persons who have made thisprodigal and wild waste of public evils (the last stake reserved for theultimate ransom of the state) have met in their progress with little or ratherwith no opposition at all. Their whole march was more like a triumphalprocession than the progress of a war. Their pioneers have gone before them anddemolished and laid everything level at their feet. Not one drop of their bloodhave they shed in the cause of the country they have ruined. They have made nosacrifices to their projects of greater consequence than their shoebuckles,whilst they were imprisoning their king, murdering their fellow citizens, andbathing in tears and plunging in poverty and distress thousands of worthy menand worthy families. Their cruelty has not even been the base result of fear.It has been the effect of their sense of perfect safety, in authorizingtreasons, robberies, rapes, assassinations, slaughters, and burnings throughouttheir harassed land. But the cause of all was plain from the beginning.
THIS unforced choice, thisfond election of evil, would appear perfectly unaccountable if we did notconsider the composition of the National Assembly. I do not mean its formalconstitution, which, as it now stands, is exceptionable enough, but thematerials of which, in a great measure, it is composed, which is of tenthousand times greater consequence than all the formalities in the world. If wewere to know nothing of this assembly but by its title and function, no colorscould paint to the imagination anything more venerable. In that light the mindof an inquirer, subdued by such an awful image as that of the virtue and wisdomof a whole people collected into a focus, would pause and hesitate incondemning things even of the very worst aspect. Instead of blamable, theywould appear only mysterious. But no name, no power, no function, no artificialinstitution whatsoever can make the men of whom any system of authority iscomposed any other than God, and nature, and education, and their habits oflife have made them. Capacities beyond these the people have not to give.Virtue and wisdom may be the objects of their choice, but their choice confersneither the one nor the other on those upon whom they lay their ordaininghands. They have not the engagement of nature, they have not the promise ofrevelation, for any such powers.
After I had read over the list of the persons and descriptions elected intothe Tiers Etat, nothing which they afterwards did could appear astonishing.Among them, indeed, I saw some of known rank, some of shining talents; but ofany practical experience in the state, not one man was to be found. The bestwere only men of theory. But whatever the distinguished few may have been, itis the substance and mass of the body which constitutes its character and mustfinally determine its direction. In all bodies, those who will lead must also,in a considerable degree, follow. They must conform their propositions to thetaste, talent, and disposition of those whom they wish to conduct; therefore,if an assembly is viciously or feebly composed in a very great part of it,nothing but such a supreme degree of virtue as very rarely appears in theworld, and for that reason cannot enter into calculation, will prevent the menof talent disseminated through it from becoming only the expert instruments ofabsurd projects! If, what is the more likely event, instead of that unusualdegree of virtue, they should be actuated by sinister ambition and a lust ofmeretricious glory, then the feeble part of the assembly, to whom at first theyconform, becomes in its turn the dupe and instrument of their designs. In thispolitical traffic, the leaders will be obliged to bow to the ignorance of theirfollowers, and the followers to become subservient to the worst designs oftheir leaders.
To secure any degree of sobriety in the propositions made by the leaders inany public assembly, they ought to respect, in some degree perhaps to fear,those whom they conduct. To be led any otherwise than blindly, the followersmust be qualified, if not for actors, at least for judges; they must also bejudges of natural weight and authority. Nothing can secure a steady andmoderate conduct in such assemblies but that the body of them should berespectably composed, in point of condition in life or permanent property, ofeducation, and of such habits as enlarge and liberalize the understanding.
In the calling of the States-General of France, the first thing that struckme was a great departure from the ancient course. I found the representationfor the Third Estate composed of six hundred persons. They were equal in numberto the representatives of both the other orders. If the orders were to actseparately, the number would not, beyond the consideration of the expense, beof much moment. But when it became apparent that the three orders were to bemelted down into one, the policy and necessary effect of this numerousrepresentation became obvious. A very small desertion from either of the othertwo orders must throw the power of both into the hands of the third. In fact,the whole power of the state was soon resolved into that body. Its duecomposition became therefore of infinitely the greater importance.
Judge, Sir, of my surprise when I found that a very great proportion of theassembly (a majority, I believe, of the members who attended) was composed ofpractitioners in the law. It was composed, not of distinguished magistrates,who had given pledges to their country of their science, prudence, andintegrity; not of leading advocates, the glory of the bar; not of renownedprofessors in universities; — but for the far greater part, as it must insuch a number, of the inferior, unlearned, mechanical, merely instrumentalmembers of the profession. There were distinguished exceptions, but the generalcomposition was of obscure provincial advocates, of stewards of petty localjurisdictions, country attornies, notaries, and the whole train of theministers of municipal litigation, the fomenters and conductors of the pettywar of village vexation. From the moment I read the list, I saw distinctly, andvery nearly as it has happened, all that was to follow.
The degree of estimation in which any profession is held becomes thestandard of the estimation in which the professors hold themselves. Whateverthe personal merits of many individual lawyers might have been, and in many itwas undoubtedly very considerable, in that military kingdom no part of theprofession had been much regarded except the highest of all, who often unitedto their professional offices great family splendor, and were invested withgreat power and authority. These certainly were highly respected, and even withno small degree of awe. The next rank was not much esteemed; the mechanicalpart was in a very low degree of repute.
Whenever the supreme authority is vested in a body so composed, it mustevidently produce the consequences of supreme authority placed in the hands ofmen not taught habitually to respect themselves, who had no previous fortune incharacter at stake, who could not be expected to bear with moderation, or toconduct with discretion, a power which they themselves, more than any others,must be surprised to find in their hands. Who could flatter himself that thesemen, suddenly and, as it were, by enchantment snatched from the humblest rankof subordination, would not be intoxicated with their unprepared greatness? Whocould conceive that men who are habitually meddling, daring, subtle, active, oflitigious dispositions and unquiet minds would easily fall back into their oldcondition of obscure contention and laborious, low, unprofitable chicane? Whocould doubt but that, at any expense to the state, of which they understoodnothing, they must pursue their private interests, which they understand buttoo well? It was not an event depending on chance or contingency. It wasinevitable; it was necessary; it was planted in the nature of things. They mustjoin (if their capacity did not permit them to lead) in any project which couldprocure to them a litigious constitution; which could lay open to them thoseinnumerable lucrative jobs which follow in the train of all great convulsionsand revolutions in the state, and particularly in all great and violentpermutations of property. Was it to be expected that they would attend to thestability of property, whose existence had always depended upon whateverrendered property questionable, ambiguous, and insecure? Their objects would beenlarged with their elevation, but their disposition and habits, and mode ofaccomplishing their designs, must remain the same.
Well! but these men were to be tempered and restrained by otherdescriptions, of more sober and more enlarged understandings. Were they then tobe awed by the supereminent authority and awful dignity of a handful of countryclowns who have seats in that assembly, some of whom are said not to be able toread and write, and by not a greater number of traders who, though somewhatmore instructed and more conspicuous in the order of society, had never knownanything beyond their counting house? No! Both these descriptions were moreformed to be overborne and swayed by the intrigues and artifices of lawyersthan to become their counterpoise. With such a dangerous disproportion, thewhole must needs be governed by them. To the faculty of law was joined a prettyconsiderable proportion of the faculty of medicine. This faculty had not, anymore than that of the law, possessed in France its just estimation. Itsprofessors, therefore, must have the qualities of men not habituated tosentiments of dignity. But supposing they had ranked as they ought to do, andas with us they do actually, the sides of sickbeds are not the academies forforming statesmen and legislators. Then came the dealers in stocks and funds,who must be eager, at any expense, to change their ideal paper wealth for themore solid substance of land. To these were joined men of other descriptions,from whom as little knowledge of, or attention to, the interests of a greatstate was to be expected, and as little regard to the stability of anyinstitution; men formed to be instruments, not controls. Such in general wasthe composition of the Tiers Etat in the National Assembly, in which wasscarcely to be perceived the slightest traces of what we call the naturallanded interest of the country.
We know that the British House of Commons, without shutting its doors to anymerit in any class, is, by the sure operation of adequate causes, filled witheverything illustrious in rank, in descent, in hereditary and in acquiredopulence, in cultivated talents, in military, civil, naval, and politicdistinction that the country can afford. But supposing, what hardly can besupposed as a case, that the House of Commons should be composed in the samemanner with the Tiers Etat in France, would this dominion of chicane be bornewith patience or even conceived without horror? God forbid I should insinuateanything derogatory to that profession which is another priesthood,administering the rights of sacred justice. But whilst I revere men in thefunctions which belong to them, and would do as much as one man can do toprevent their exclusion from any, I cannot, to flatter them, give the lie tonature. They are good and useful in the composition; they must be mischievousif they preponderate so as virtually to become the whole. Their very excellencein their peculiar functions may be far from a qualification for others. Itcannot escape observation that when men are too much confined to professionaland faculty habits and, as it were, inveterate in the recurrent employment ofthat narrow circle, they are rather disabled than qualified for whateverdepends on the knowledge of mankind, on experience in mixed affairs, on acomprehensive, connected view of the various, complicated, external andinternal interests which go to the formation of that multifarious thing calleda state.
After all, if the House of Commons were to have a wholly professional andfaculty composition, what is the power of the House of Commons, circumscribedand shut in by the immovable barriers of laws, usages, positive rules ofdoctrine and practice, counterpoised by the House of Lords, and every moment ofits existence at the discretion of the crown to continue, prorogue, or dissolveus? The power of the House of Commons, direct or indirect, is indeed great; andlong may it be able to preserve its greatness and the spirit belonging to truegreatness at the full; and it will do so as long as it can keep the breakers oflaw in India from becoming the makers of law for England. The power, however,of the House of Commons, when least diminished, is as a drop of water in theocean, compared to that residing in a settled majority of your NationalAssembly. That assembly, since the destruction of the orders, has nofundamental law, no strict convention, no respected usage to restrain it.Instead of finding themselves obliged to conform to a fixed constitution, theyhave a power to make a constitution which shall conform to their designs.Nothing in heaven or upon earth can serve as a control on them. What ought tobe the heads, the hearts, the dispositions that are qualified or that dare, notonly to make laws under a fixed constitution, but at one heat to strike out atotally new constitution for a great kingdom, and in every part of it, from themonarch on the throne to the vestry of a parish? But — "fools rush inwhere angels fear to tread". In such a state of unbounded power forundefined and undefinable purposes, the evil of a moral and almost physicalinaptitude of the man to the function must be the greatest we can conceive tohappen in the management of human affairs.
Having considered the composition of the Third Estate as it stood in itsoriginal frame, I took a view of the representatives of the clergy. There, too,it appeared that full as little regard was had to the general security ofproperty or to the aptitude of the deputies for the public purposes, in theprinciples of their election. That election was so contrived as to send a verylarge proportion of mere country curates to the great and arduous work ofnew-modeling a state: men who never had seen the state so much as in a picture— men who knew nothing of the world beyond the bounds of an obscurevillage; who, immersed in hopeless poverty, could regard all property, whethersecular or ecclesiastical, with no other eye than that of envy; among whom mustbe many who, for the smallest hope of the meanest dividend in plunder, wouldreadily join in any attempts upon a body of wealth in which they could hardlylook to have any share except in a general scramble. Instead of balancing thepower of the active chicaners in the other assembly, these curates mustnecessarily become the active coadjutors, or at best the passive instruments,of those by whom they had been habitually guided in their petty villageconcerns. They, too, could hardly be the most conscientious of their kind who,presuming upon their incompetent understanding, could intrigue for a trustwhich led them from their natural relation to their flocks and their naturalspheres of action to undertake the regeneration of kingdoms. Thispreponderating weight, being added to the force of the body of chicane in theTiers Etat, completed that momentum of ignorance, rashness, presumption, andlust of plunder, which nothing has been able to resist.
To observing men it must have appeared from the beginning that the majorityof the Third Estate, in conjunction with such a deputation from the clergy as Ihave described, whilst it pursued the destruction of the nobility, wouldinevitably become subservient to the worst designs of individuals in thatclass. In the spoil and humiliation of their own order these individuals wouldpossess a sure fund for the pay of their new followers. To squander away theobjects which made the happiness of their fellows would be to them no sacrificeat all. Turbulent, discontented men of quality, in proportion as they arepuffed up with personal pride and arrogance, generally despise their own order.One of the first symptoms they discover of a selfish and mischievous ambitionis a profligate disregard of a dignity which they partake with others. To beattached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to insociety, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. Itis the first link in the series by which we proceed toward a love to ourcountry and to mankind. The interest of that portion of social arrangement is atrust in the hands of all those who compose it; and as none but bad men wouldjustify it in abuse, none but traitors would barter it away for their ownpersonal advantage.
There were in the time of our civil troubles in England (I do not knowwhether you have any such in your assembly in France) several persons, like thethen Earl of Holland, who by themselves or their families had brought an odiumon the throne by the prodigal dispensation of its bounties toward them, whoafterwards joined in the rebellions arising from the discontents of which theywere themselves the cause; men who helped to subvert that throne to which theyowed, some of them, their existence, others all that power which they employedto ruin their benefactor. If any bounds are set to the rapacious demands ofthat sort of people, or that others are permitted to partake in the objectsthey would engross, revenge and envy soon fill up the craving void that is leftin their avarice. Confounded by the complication of distempered passions, theirreason is disturbed; their views become vast and perplexed; to othersinexplicable, to themselves uncertain. They find, on all sides, bounds to theirunprincipled ambition in any fixed order of things. Both in the fog and haze ofconfusion all is enlarged and appears without any limit.
When men of rank sacrifice all ideas of dignity to an ambition without adistinct object and work with low instruments and for low ends, the wholecomposition becomes low and base. Does not something like this now appear inFrance? Does it not produce something ignoble and inglorious — a kind ofmeanness in all the prevalent policy, a tendency in all that is done to loweralong with individuals all the dignity and importance of the state? Otherrevolutions have been conducted by persons who, whilst they attempted oraffected changes in the commonwealth, sanctified their ambition by advancingthe dignity of the people whose peace they troubled. They had long views. Theyaimed at the rule, not at the destruction, of their country. They were men ofgreat civil and great military talents, and if the terror, the ornament oftheir age. They were not like Jew brokers, contending with each other who couldbest remedy with fraudulent circulation and depreciated paper the wretchednessand ruin brought on their country by their degenerate councils. The complimentmade to one of the great bad men of the old stamp (Cromwell) by his kinsman, afavorite poet of that time, shows what it was he proposed, and what indeed to agreat degree he accomplished, in the success of his ambition:
Still as you rise, the state exalted too,
Finds no distemper whilst 'tis changed by you;
Changed like the world's great scene, when without noise
The rising sun night's vulgar lights destroys.
These disturbers were not so much like men usurping power as asserting theirnatural place in society. Their rising was to illuminate and beautify theworld. Their conquest over their competitors was by outshining them. The handthat, like a destroying angel, smote the country communicated to it the forceand energy under which it suffered. I do not say (God forbid), I do not saythat the virtues of such men were to be taken as a balance to their crimes; butthey were some corrective to their effects. Such was, as I said, our Cromwell.Such were your whole race of Guises, Condes, and Colignis. Such the Richelieus,who in more quiet times acted in the spirit of a civil war. Such, as bettermen, and in a less dubious cause, were your Henry the Fourth and your Sully,though nursed in civil confusions and not wholly without some of their taint.It is a thing to be wondered at, to see how very soon France, when she had amoment to respire, recovered and emerged from the longest and most dreadfulcivil war that ever was known in any nation. Why? Because among all theirmassacres they had not slain the mind in their country. A conscious dignity, anoble pride, a generous sense of glory and emulation was not extinguished. Onthe contrary, it was kindled and inflamed. The organs also of the state,however shattered, existed. All the prizes of honor and virtue, all therewards, all the distinctions remained. But your present confusion, like apalsy, has attacked the fountain of life itself. Every person in your country,in a situation to be actuated by a principle of honor, is disgraced anddegraded, and can entertain no sensation of life except in a mortified andhumiliated indignation. But this generation will quickly pass away. The nextgeneration of the nobility will resemble the artificers and clowns, andmoney-jobbers usurers, and Jews, who will be always their fellows, sometimestheir masters.
BELIEVE ME, SIR, those whoattempt to level, never equalize. In all societies, consisting of variousdescriptions of citizens, some description must be uppermost. The levelers,therefore, only change and pervert the natural order of things; they load theedifice of society by setting up in the air what the solidity of the structurerequires to be on the ground. The association of tailors and carpenters, ofwhich the republic (of Paris, for instance) is composed, cannot be equal to thesituation into which by the worst of usurpations — an usurpation on theprerogatives of nature — you attempt to force them.
The Chancellor of France, at the opening of the states, said, in a
tone oforatorical flourish, that all occupations were honorable. If he
meant only thatno honest employment was disgraceful, he would not have
gone beyond the truth.But in asserting that anything is honorable, we
imply some distinction in itsfavor. The occupation of a hairdresser or
of a working tallow-chandler cannotbe a matter of honor to any person —
to say nothing of a number of othermore servile employments. Such
descriptions of men ought not to sufferoppression from the state; but
the state suffers oppression if such as they,either individually or
collectively, are permitted to rule. In this you thinkyou are combating
prejudice, but you are at war with nature.
I do not determine whether this book be canonical, as the Gallican church(till lately) has considered it, or apocryphal, as here it is taken. I am sureit contains a great deal of sense and truth.
I do not, my dear Sir, conceive you to be of that sophistical, captiousspirit, or of that uncandid dulness, as to require, for every generalobservation or sentiment, an explicit detail of the correctives and exceptionswhich reason will presume to be included in all the general propositions whichcome from reasonable men. You do not imagine that I wish to confine power,authority, and distinction to blood and names and titles. No, Sir. There is noqualification for government but virtue and wisdom, actual or presumptive.Wherever they are actually found, they have, in whatever state, condition,profession, or trade, the passport of Heaven to human place and honor. Woe tothe country which would madly and impiously reject the service of the talentsand virtues, civil, military, or religious, that are given to grace and toserve it, and would condemn to obscurity everything formed to diffuse lusterand glory around a state. Woe to that country, too, that, passing into theopposite extreme, considers a low education, a mean contracted view of things,a sordid, mercenary occupation as a preferable title to command. Everythingought to be open, but not indifferently, to every man. No rotation; noappointment by lot; no mode of election operating in the spirit of sortition orrotation can be generally good in a government conversant in extensive objects.Because they have no tendency, direct or indirect, to select the man with aview to the duty or to accommodate the one to the other. I do not hesitate tosay that the road to eminence and power, from obscure condition, ought not tobe made too easy, nor a thing too much of course. If rare merit be the rarestof all rare things, it ought to pass through some sort of probation. The templeof honor ought to be seated on an eminence. If it be opened through virtue, letit be remembered, too, that virtue is never tried but by some difficulty andsome struggle.
Nothing is a due and adequate representation of a state that does notrepresent its ability as well as its property. But as ability is a vigorous andactive principle, and as property is sluggish, inert, and timid, it never canbe safe from the invasion of ability unless it be, out of all proportion,predominant in the representation. It must be represented, too, in great massesof accumulation, or it is not rightly protected. The characteristic essence ofproperty, formed out of the combined principles of its acquisition andconservation, is to be unequal. The great masses, therefore, which excite envyand tempt rapacity must be put out of the possibility of danger. Then they forma natural rampart about the lesser properties in all their gradations. The samequantity of property, which is by the natural course of things divided amongmany, has not the same operation. Its defensive power is weakened as it isdiffused. In this diffusion each man's portion is less than what, in theeagerness of his desires, he may flatter himself to obtain by dissipating theaccumulations of others. The plunder of the few would indeed give but a shareinconceivably small in the distribution to the many. But the many are notcapable of making this calculation; and those who lead them to rapine neverintend this distribution.
The power of perpetuating our property in our families is one of the mostvaluable and interesting circumstances belonging to it, and that which tendsthe most to the perpetuation of society itself. It makes our weaknesssubservient to our virtue, it grafts benevolence even upon avarice. Thepossessors of family wealth, and of the distinction which attends hereditarypossession (as most concerned in it), are the natural securities for thistransmission. With us the House of Peers is formed upon this principle. It iswholly composed of hereditary property and hereditary distinction, and made,therefore, the third of the legislature and, in the last event, the sole judgeof all property in all its subdivisions. The House of Commons, too, though notnecessarily, yet in fact, is always so composed, in the far greater part. Letthose large proprietors be what they will — and they have their chance ofbeing amongst the best — they are, at the very worst, the ballast in thevessel of the commonwealth. For though hereditary wealth and the rank whichgoes with it are too much idolized by creeping sycophants and the blind, abjectadmirers of power, they are too rashly slighted in shallow speculations of thepetulant, assuming, short-sighted coxcombs of philosophy. Some decent,regulated preeminence, some preference (not exclusive appropriation) given tobirth is neither unnatural, nor unjust, nor impolitic.
IT is said that twenty-fourmillions ought to prevail over two hundred thousand. True; if the constitutionof a kingdom be a problem of arithmetic. This sort of discourse does wellenough with the lamp-post for its second; to men who may reason calmly, it isridiculous. The will of the many and their interest must very often differ, andgreat will be the difference when they make an evil choice. A government offive hundred country attornies and obscure curates is not good for twenty-fourmillions of men, though it were chosen by eight and forty millions, nor is itthe better for being guided by a dozen of persons of quality who have betrayedtheir trust in order to obtain that power. At present, you seem in everythingto have strayed out of the high road of nature. The property of France does notgovern it. Of course, property is destroyed and rational liberty has noexistence. All you have got for the present is a paper circulation and astock-jobbing constitution; and as to the future, do you seriously think thatthe territory of France, upon the republican system of eighty-three independentmunicipalities (to say nothing of the parts that compose them), can ever begoverned as one body or can ever be set in motion by the impulse of one mind?When the National Assembly has completed its work, it will have accomplishedits ruin. These commonwealths will not long bear a state of subjection to therepublic of Paris. They will not bear that this body should monopolize thecaptivity of the king and the dominion over the assembly calling itselfnational. Each will keep its own portion of the spoil of the church to itself,and it will not suffer either that spoil, or the more just fruits of theirindustry, or the natural produce of their soil to be sent to swell theinsolence or pamper the luxury of the mechanics of Paris. In this they will seenone of the equality, under the pretense of which they have been tempted tothrow off their allegiance to their sovereign as well as the ancientconstitution of their country. There can be no capital city in such aconstitution as they have lately made. They have forgot that, when they frameddemocratic governments, they had virtually dismembered their country. Theperson whom they persevere in calling king has not power left to him by thehundredth part sufficient to hold together this collection of republics. Therepublic of Paris will endeavor, indeed, to complete the debauchery of thearmy, and illegally to perpetuate the assembly, without resort to itsconstituents, as the means of continuing its despotism. It will make efforts,by becoming the heart of a boundless paper circulation, to draw everything toitself; but in vain. All this policy in the end will appear as feeble as it isnow violent.
IF this be your actualsituation, compared to the situation to which you were called, as it were, bythe voice of God and man, I cannot find it in my heart to congratulate you onthe choice you have made or the success which has attended your endeavors. Ican as little recommend to any other nation a conduct grounded on suchprinciples, and productive of such effects. That I must leave to those who cansee farther into your affairs than I am able to do, and who best know how faryour actions are favorable to their designs. The gentlemen of the RevolutionSociety, who were so early in their congratulations, appear to be strongly ofopinion that there is some scheme of politics relative to this country in whichyour proceedings may, in some way, be useful. For your Dr. Price, who seems tohave speculated himself into no small degree of fervor upon this subject,addresses his auditory in the following very remarkable words: "I cannotconclude without recalling particularly to your recollection a considerationwhich I have more than once alluded to, and which probably your thoughts havebeen all along anticipating; a consideration with which my mind is impressedmore than I can express. I mean the consideration of the favourableness of thepresent times to all exertions in the cause of liberty."
It is plain that the mind of this political preacher was at the time bigwith some extraordinary design; and it is very probable that the thoughts ofhis audience, who understood him better than I do, did all along run before himin his reflection and in the whole train of consequences to which it led.
Before I read that sermon, I really thought I had lived in a free country;and it was an error I cherished, because it gave me a greater liking to thecountry I lived in. I was, indeed, aware that a jealous, ever-waking vigilanceto guard the treasure of our liberty, not only from invasion, but from decayand corruption, was our best wisdom and our first duty. However, I consideredthat treasure rather as a possession to be secured than as a prize to becontended for. I did not discern how the present time came to be so veryfavorable to all exertions in the cause of freedom. The present time differsfrom any other only by the circumstance of what is doing in France. If theexample of that nation is to have an influence on this, I can easily conceivewhy some of their proceedings which have an unpleasant aspect and are not quitereconcilable to humanity, generosity, good faith, and justice are palliatedwith so much milky good-nature toward the actors, and borne with so much heroicfortitude toward the sufferers. It is certainly not prudent to discredit theauthority of an example we mean to follow. But allowing this, we are led to avery natural question: What is that cause of liberty, and what are thoseexertions in its favor to which the example of France is so singularlyauspicious? Is our monarchy to be annihilated, with all the laws, all thetribunals, and all the ancient corporations of the kingdom? Is every landmarkof the country to be done away in favor of a geometrical and arithmeticalconstitution? Is the House of Lords to be voted useless? Is episcopacy to beabolished? Are the church lands to be sold to Jews and jobbers or given tobribe new-invented municipal republics into a participation in sacrilege? Areall the taxes to be voted grievances, and the revenue reduced to a patrioticcontribution or patriotic presents? Are silver shoebuckles to be substituted inthe place of the land tax and the malt tax for the support of the navalstrength of this kingdom? Are all orders, ranks, and distinctions to beconfounded, that out of universal anarchy, joined to national bankruptcy, threeor four thousand democracies should be formed into eighty-three, and that theymay all, by some sort of unknown attractive power, be organized into one?
For this great end, is the army to be seduced from its discipline and itsfidelity, first, by every kind of debauchery and, then, by the terribleprecedent of a donative in the increase of pay? Are the curates to be seducedfrom their bishops by holding out to them the delusive hope of a dole out ofthe spoils of their own order? Are the citizens of London to be drawn fromtheir allegiance by feeding them at the expense of their fellow subjects? Is acompulsory paper currency to be substituted in the place of the legal coin ofthis kingdom? Is what remains of the plundered stock of public revenue to beemployed in the wild project of maintaining two armies to watch over and tofight with each other? If these are the ends and means of the RevolutionSociety, I admit that they are well assorted; and France may furnish them forboth with precedents in point.
I see that your example is held out to shame us. I know that we are supposeda dull, sluggish race, rendered passive by finding our situation tolerable, andprevented by a mediocrity of freedom from ever attaining to its fullperfection. Your leaders in France began by affecting to admire, almost toadore, the British constitution; but as they advanced, they came to look uponit with a sovereign contempt. The friends of your National Assembly amongst ushave full as mean an opinion of what was formerly thought the glory of theircountry. The Revolution Society has discovered that the English nation is notfree. They are convinced that the inequality in our representation is a"defect in our constitution so gross and palpable as to make it excellentchiefly in form and theory". Thata representation in the legislature of a kingdom is not only the basis of allconstitutional liberty in it, but of "all legitimate government; thatwithout it a government is nothing but an usurpation"; — that"when the representation is partial, the kingdom possesses liberty onlypartially; and if extremely partial, it gives only a semblance; and if not onlyextremely partial, but corruptly chosen, it becomes a nuisance". Dr. Priceconsiders this inadequacy of representation as our fundamental grievance; andthough, as to the corruption of this semblance of representation, he hopes itis not yet arrived to its full perfection of depravity, he fears that"nothing will be done towards gaining for us this essential blessing,until some great abuse of power again provokes our resentment, or some greatcalamity again alarms our fears, or perhaps till the acquisition of a pure andequal representation by other countries, whilst we are mocked with the shadow,kindles our shame." To this he subjoins a note in these words. "Arepresentation chosen chiefly by the treasury, and a few thousands of the dregsof the people, who are generally paid for their votes".
You will smile here at the consistency of those democratists who, when theyare not on their guard, treat the humbler part of the community with thegreatest contempt, whilst, at the same time, they pretend to make them thedepositories of all power. It would require a long discourse to point out toyou the many fallacies that lurk in the generality and equivocal nature of theterms "inadequate representation". I shall only say here, in justiceto that old-fashioned constitution under which we have long prospered, that ourrepresentation has been found perfectly adequate to all the purposes for whicha representation of the people can be desired or devised. I defy the enemies ofour constitution to show the contrary. To detail the particulars in which it isfound so well to promote its ends would demand a treatise on our practicalconstitution. I state here the doctrine of the Revolutionists only that you andothers may see what an opinion these gentlemen entertain of the constitution oftheir country, and why they seem to think that some great abuse of power orsome great calamity, as giving a chance for the blessing of a constitutionaccording to their ideas, would be much palliated to their feelings; you seewhy they are so much enamored of your fair and equal representation, whichbeing once obtained, the same effects might follow. You see they consider ourHouse of Commons as only "a semblance", "a form", "atheory", "a shadow", "a mockery", perhaps "anuisance".
These gentlemen value themselves on being systematic, and not withoutreason. They must therefore look on this gross and palpable defect ofrepresentation, this fundamental grievance (so they call it) as a thing notonly vicious in itself, but as rendering our whole government absolutelyillegitimate, and not at all better than a downright usurpation. Anotherrevolution, to get rid of this illegitimate and usurped government, would ofcourse be perfectly justifiable, if not absolutely necessary. Indeed, theirprinciple, if you observe it with any attention, goes much further than to analteration in the election of the House of Commons; for, if popularrepresentation, or choice, is necessary to the legitimacy of all government,the House of Lords is, at one stroke, bastardized and corrupted in blood. ThatHouse is no representative of the people at all, even in "semblance or inform". The case of the crown is altogether as bad. In vain the crown mayendeavor to screen itself against these gentlemen by the authority of theestablishment made on the Revolution. The Revolution which is resorted to for atitle, on their system, wants a title itself. The Revolution is built,according to their theory, upon a basis not more solid than our presentformalities, as it was made by a House of Lords, not representing any one butthemselves, and by a House of Commons exactly such as the present, that is, asthey term it, by a mere "shadow and mockery" of representation.
Something they must destroy, or they seem to themselves to exist for nopurpose. One set is for destroying the civil power through the ecclesiastical;another, for demolishing the ecclesiastic through the civil. They are awarethat the worst consequences might happen to the public in accomplishing thisdouble ruin of church and state, but they are so heated with their theoriesthat they give more than hints that this ruin, with all the mischiefs that mustlead to it and attend it, and which to themselves appear quite certain, wouldnot be unacceptable to them or very remote from their wishes. A man amongstthem of great authority and certainly of great talents, speaking of a supposedalliance between church and state, says, "perhaps we must wait for thefall of the civil powers before this most unnatural alliance be broken.Calamitous no doubt will that time be. But what convulsion in the politicalworld ought to be a subject of lamentation if it be attended with so desirablean effect?" You see with what a steady eye these gentlemen are prepared toview the greatest calamities which can befall their country.
IT is no wonder, therefore,that with these ideas of everything in their constitution and government athome, either in church or state, as illegitimate and usurped, or at best as avain mockery, they look abroad with an eager and passionate enthusiasm. Whilstthey are possessed by these notions, it is vain to talk to them of the practiceof their ancestors, the fundamental laws of their country, the fixed form of aconstitution whose merits are confirmed by the solid test of long experienceand an increasing public strength and national prosperity. They despiseexperience as the wisdom of unlettered men; and as for the rest, they havewrought underground a mine that will blow up, at one grand explosion, allexamples of antiquity, all precedents, charters, and acts of parliament. Theyhave "the rights of men". Against these there can be no prescription,against these no agreement is binding; these admit no temperament and nocompromise; anything withheld from their full demand is so much of fraud andinjustice. Against these their rights of men let no government look forsecurity in the length of its continuance, or in the justice and lenity of itsadministration. The objections of these speculatists, if its forms do notquadrate with their theories, are as valid against such an old and beneficentgovernment as against the most violent tyranny or the greenest usurpation. Theyare always at issue with governments, not on a question of abuse, but aquestion of competency and a question of title. I have nothing to say to theclumsy subtilty of their political metaphysics. Let them be their amusement inthe schools. — "Illa se jactet in aula Aeolus, et clauso ventorumcarcere regnet". — But let them not break prison to burst like aLevanter to sweep the earth with their hurricane and to break up the fountainsof the great deep to overwhelm us.
Far am I from denying in theory, full as far is my heart from withholding inpractice (if I were of power to give or to withhold) the real rights of men. Indenying their false claims of right, I do not mean to injure those which arereal, and are such as their pretended rights would totally destroy. If civilsociety be made for the advantage of man, all the advantages for which it ismade become his right. It is an institution of beneficence; and law itself isonly beneficence acting by a rule. Men have a right to live by that rule; theyhave a right to do justice, as between their fellows, whether their fellows arein public function or in ordinary occupation. They have a right to the fruitsof their industry and to the means of making their industry fruitful. They havea right to the acquisitions of their parents, to the nourishment andimprovement of their offspring, to instruction in life, and to consolation indeath. Whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing upon others, hehas a right to do for himself; and he has a right to a fair portion of allwhich society, with all its combinations of skill and force, can do in hisfavor. In this partnership all men have equal rights, but not to equal things.He that has but five shillings in the partnership has as good a right to it ashe that has five hundred pounds has to his larger proportion. But he has not aright to an equal dividend in the product of the joint stock; and as to theshare of power, authority, and direction which each individual ought to have inthe management of the state, that I must deny to be amongst the direct originalrights of man in civil society; for I have in my contemplation the civil socialman, and no other. It is a thing to be settled by convention.
If civil society be the offspring of convention, that convention must be itslaw. That convention must limit and modify all the descriptions of constitutionwhich are formed under it. Every sort of legislative, judicial, or executorypower are its creatures. They can have no being in any other state of things;and how can any man claim under the conventions of civil society rights whichdo not so much as suppose its existence — rights which are absolutelyrepugnant to it? One of the first motives to civil society, and which becomesone of its fundamental rules, is that no man should be judge in his own cause.By this each person has at once divested himself of the first fundamental rightof uncovenanted man, that is, to judge for himself and to assert his own cause.He abdicates all right to be his own governor. He inclusively, in a greatmeasure, abandons the right of self-defense, the first law of nature. Mencannot enjoy the rights of an uncivil and of a civil state together. That hemay obtain justice, he gives up his right of determining what it is in pointsthe most essential to him. That he may secure some liberty, he makes asurrender in trust of the whole of it.
Government is not made in virtue of natural rights, which may and do existin total independence of it, and exist in much greater clearness and in a muchgreater degree of abstract perfection; but their abstract perfection is theirpractical defect. By having a right to everything they want everything.Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. Menhave a right that these wants should be provided for by this wisdom. Amongthese wants is to be reckoned the want, out of civil society, of a sufficientrestraint upon their passions. Society requires not only that the passions ofindividuals should be subjected, but that even in the mass and body, as well asin the individuals, the inclinations of men should frequently be thwarted,their will controlled, and their passions brought into subjection. This canonly be done by a power out of themselves, and not, in the exercise of itsfunction, subject to that will and to those passions which it is its office tobridle and subdue. In this sense the restraints on men, as well as theirliberties, are to be reckoned among their rights. But as the liberties and therestrictions vary with times and circumstances and admit to infinitemodifications, they cannot be settled upon any abstract rule; and nothing is sofoolish as to discuss them upon that principle.
The moment you abate anything from the full rights of men, each to governhimself, and suffer any artificial, positive limitation upon those rights, fromthat moment the whole organization of government becomes a consideration ofconvenience. This it is which makes the constitution of a state and the duedistribution of its powers a matter of the most delicate and complicated skill.It requires a deep knowledge of human nature and human necessities, and of thethings which facilitate or obstruct the various ends which are to be pursued bythe mechanism of civil institutions. The state is to have recruits to itsstrength, and remedies to its distempers. What is the use of discussing a man'sabstract right to food or medicine? The question is upon the method ofprocuring and administering them. In that deliberation I shall always advise tocall in the aid of the farmer and the physician rather than the professor ofmetaphysics.
The science of constructing a commonwealth, or renovating it, or reformingit, is, like every other experimental science, not to be taught a priori. Noris it a short experience that can instruct us in that practical science,because the real effects of moral causes are not always immediate; but thatwhich in the first instance is prejudicial may be excellent in its remoteroperation, and its excellence may arise even from the ill effects it producesin the beginning. The reverse also happens: and very plausible schemes, withvery pleasing commencements, have often shameful and lamentable conclusions. Instates there are often some obscure and almost latent causes, things whichappear at first view of little moment, on which a very great part of itsprosperity or adversity may most essentially depend. The science of governmentbeing therefore so practical in itself and intended for such practical purposes— a matter which requires experience, and even more experience than anyperson can gain in his whole life, however sagacious and observing he may be— it is with infinite caution that any man ought to venture upon pullingdown an edifice which has answered in any tolerable degree for ages the commonpurposes of society, or on building it up again without having models andpatterns of approved utility before his eyes.
These metaphysic rights entering into common life, like rays of light whichpierce into a dense medium, are by the laws of nature refracted from theirstraight line. Indeed, in the gross and complicated mass of human passions andconcerns the primitive rights of men undergo such a variety of refractions andreflections that it becomes absurd to talk of them as if they continued in thesimplicity of their original direction. The nature of man is intricate; theobjects of society are of the greatest possible complexity; and, therefore, nosimple disposition or direction of power can be suitable either to man's natureor to the quality of his affairs. When I hear the simplicity of contrivanceaimed at and boasted of in any new political constitutions, I am at no loss todecide that the artificers are grossly ignorant of their trade or totallynegligent of their duty. The simple governments are fundamentally defective, tosay no worse of them. If you were to contemplate society in but one point ofview, all these simple modes of polity are infinitely captivating. In effecteach would answer its single end much more perfectly than the more complex isable to attain all its complex purposes. But it is better that the whole shouldbe imperfectly and anomalously answered than that, while some parts areprovided for with great exactness, others might be totally neglected or perhapsmaterially injured by the over-care of a favorite member.
The pretended rights of these theorists are all extremes; and in proportionas they are metaphysically true, they are morally and politically false. Therights of men are in a sort of middle, incapable of definition, but notimpossible to be discerned. The rights of men in governments are theiradvantages; and these are often in balances between differences of good, incompromises sometimes between good and evil, and sometimes between evil andevil. Political reason is a computing principle: adding, subtracting,multiplying, and dividing, morally and not metaphysically or mathematically,true moral denominations.
By these theorists the right of the people is almost always sophisticallyconfounded with their power. The body of the community, whenever it can come toact, can meet with no effectual resistance; but till power and right are thesame, the whole body of them has no right inconsistent with virtue, and thefirst of all virtues, prudence. Men have no right to what is not reasonable andto what is not for their benefit; for though a pleasant writer said, liceatperire poetis, when one of them, in cold blood, is said to have leaped into theflames of a volcanic revolution, ardentem frigidus Aetnam insiluit, I considersuch a frolic rather as an unjustifiable poetic license than as one of thefranchises of Parnassus; and whether he was a poet, or divine, or politicianthat chose to exercise this kind of right, I think that more wise, because morecharitable, thoughts would urge me rather to save the man than to preserve hisbrazen slippers as the monuments of his folly.
The kind of anniversary sermons to which a great part of what I writerefers, if men are not shamed out of their present course in commemorating thefact, will cheat many out of the principles, and deprive them of the benefits,of the revolution they commemorate. I confess to you, Sir, I never liked thiscontinual talk of resistance and revolution, or the practice of making theextreme medicine of the constitution its daily bread. It renders the habit ofsociety dangerously valetudinary; it is taking periodical doses of mercurysublimate and swallowing down repeated provocatives of cantharides to our loveof liberty.
This distemper of remedy, grown habitual, relaxes and wears out, by a vulgarand prostituted use, the spring of that spirit which is to be exerted on greatoccasions. It was in the most patient period of Roman servitude that themes oftyrannicide made the ordinary exercise of boys at school — cum perimitsaevos classis numerosa tyrannos. In the ordinary state of things, it producesin a country like ours the worst effects, even on the cause of that libertywhich it abuses with the dissoluteness of an extravagant speculation. Almostall the high-bred republicans of my time have, after a short space, become themost decided, thorough-paced courtiers; they soon left the business of atedious, moderate, but practical resistance to those of us whom, in the prideand intoxication of their theories, they have slighted as not much better thanTories. Hypocrisy, of course, delights in the most sublime speculations, for,never intending to go beyond speculation, it costs nothing to have itmagnificent. But even in cases where rather levity than fraud was to besuspected in these ranting speculations, the issue has been much the same.These professors, finding their extreme principles not applicable to caseswhich call only for a qualified or, as I may say, civil and legal resistance,in such cases employ no resistance at all. It is with them a war or arevolution, or it is nothing. Finding their schemes of politics not adapted tothe state of the world in which they live, they often come to think lightly ofall public principle, and are ready, on their part, to abandon for a verytrivial interest what they find of very trivial value. Some, indeed, are ofmore steady and persevering natures, but these are eager politicians out ofparliament who have little to tempt them to abandon their favorite projects.They have some change in the church or state, or both, constantly in theirview. When that is the case, they are always bad citizens and perfectly unsureconnections. For, considering their speculative designs as of infinite value,and the actual arrangement of the state as of no estimation, they are at bestindifferent about it. They see no merit in the good, and no fault in thevicious, management of public affairs; they rather rejoice in the latter, asmore propitious to revolution. They see no merit or demerit in any man, or anyaction, or any political principle any further than as they may forward orretard their design of change; they therefore take up, one day, the mostviolent and stretched prerogative, and another time the wildest democraticideas of freedom, and pass from one to the other without any sort of regard tocause, to person, or to party.
IN FRANCE, you are now in thecrisis of a revolution and in the transit from one form of government toanother — you cannot see that character of men exactly in the samesituation in which we see it in this country. With us it is militant; with youit is triumphant; and you know how it can act when its power is commensurate toits will. I would not be supposed to confine those observations to anydescription of men or to comprehend all men of any description within them— No! far from it. I am as incapable of that injustice as I am of keepingterms with those who profess principles of extremities and who, under the nameof religion, teach little else than wild and dangerous politics. The worst ofthese politics of revolution is this: they temper and harden the breast inorder to prepare it for the desperate strokes which are sometimes used inextreme occasions. But as these occasions may never arrive, the mind receives agratuitous taint; and the moral sentiments suffer not a little when nopolitical purpose is served by the depravation. This sort of people are sotaken up with their theories about the rights of man that they have totallyforgotten his nature. Without opening one new avenue to the understanding, theyhave succeeded in stopping up those that lead to the heart. They have pervertedin themselves, and in those that attend to them, all the well-placed sympathiesof the human breast.
This famous sermon of the Old Jewry breathes nothing but this spirit throughall the political part. Plots, massacres, assassinations seem to some people atrivial price for obtaining a revolution. Cheap, bloodless reformation, aguiltless liberty appear flat and vapid to their taste. There must be a greatchange of scene; there must be a magnificent stage effect; there must be agrand spectacle to rouse the imagination grown torpid with the lazy enjoymentof sixty years' security and the still unanimating repose of public prosperity.The preacher found them all in the French Revolution. This inspires a juvenilewarmth through his whole frame. His enthusiasm kindles as he advances; and whenhe arrives at his peroration it is in a full blaze. Then viewing, from thePisgah of his pulpit, the free, moral, happy, flourishing and glorious state ofFrance as in a bird's-eye landscape of a promised land, he breaks out into thefollowing rapture: What an eventful period is this! I am thankful that I havelived to it; I could almost say, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart inpeace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation. — I have lived to see adiffusion of knowledge, which has undermined superstition and error. — Ihave lived to see the rights of men better understood than ever; and nationspanting for liberty which seemed to have lost the idea of it. — I havelived to see thirty millions of people, indignant and resolute, spurning atslavery, and demanding liberty with an irresistible voice. Their king led intriumph and an arbitrary monarch surrendering himself to his subjects.
Before I proceed further, I have to remark that Dr. Price seems rather toovervalue the great acquisitions of light which he has obtained and diffused inthis age. The last century appears to me to have been quite as muchenlightened. It had, though in a different place, a triumph as memorable asthat of Dr. Price; and some of the great preachers of that period partook of itas eagerly as he has done in the triumph of France. On the trial of the Rev.Hugh Peters for high treason, it was deposed that, when King Charles wasbrought to London for his trial, the Apostle of Liberty in that day conductedthe triumph. "I saw", says the witness, "his Majesty in thecoach with six horses, and Peters riding before the king, triumphing". Dr.Price, when he talks as if he had made a discovery, only follows a precedent,for after the commencement of the king's trial this precursor, the same Dr.Peters, concluding a long prayer at the Royal Chapel at Whitehall (he had verytriumphantly chosen his place), said, "I have prayed and preached thesetwenty years; and now I may say with old Simeon, Lord, now lettest thou thyservant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation". Peters had not the fruits of hisprayer, for he neither departed so soon as he wished, nor in peace. He became(what I heartily hope none of his followers may be in this country) himself asacrifice to the triumph which he led as pontiff.
They dealt at the Restoration, perhaps, too hardly with this poor good man.But we owe it to his memory and his sufferings that he had as much illuminationand as much zeal, and had as effectually undermined all the superstition anderror which might impede the great business he was engaged in, as any whofollow and repeat after him in this age, which would assume to itself anexclusive title to the knowledge of the rights of men and all the gloriousconsequences of that knowledge.
After this sally of the preacher of the Old Jewry, which differs only inplace and time, but agrees perfectly with the spirit and letter of the raptureof 1648, the Revolution Society, the fabricators of governments, the heroicband of cashierers of monarchs, electors of sovereigns, and leaders of kings intriumph, strutting with a proud consciousness of the diffusion of knowledge ofwhich every member had obtained so large a share in the donative, were in hasteto make a generous diffusion of the knowledge they had thus gratuitouslyreceived. To make this bountiful communication, they adjourned from the churchin the Old Jewry to the London Tavern, where the same Dr. Price, in whom thefumes of his oracular tripod were not entirely evaporated, moved and carriedthe resolution or address of congratulation transmitted by Lord Stanhope to theNational Assembly of France.
I find a preacher of the gospel profaning the beautiful and propheticejaculation, commonly called "nunc dimittis", made on the firstpresentation of our Saviour in the Temple, and applying it with an inhuman andunnatural rapture to the most horrid, atrocious, and afflicting spectacle thatperhaps ever was exhibited to the pity and indignation of mankind. This"leading in triumph", a thing in its best form unmanly andirreligious, which fills our preacher with such unhallowed transports, mustshock, I believe, the moral taste of every well-born mind. Several English werethe stupefied and indignant spectators of that triumph. It was (unless we havebeen strangely deceived) a spectacle more resembling a procession of Americansavages, entering into Onondaga after some of their murders called victoriesand leading into hovels hung round with scalps their captives, overpowered withthe scoffs and buffets of women as ferocious as themselves, much more than itresembled the triumphal pomp of a civilized martial nation — if acivilized nation, or any men who had a sense of generosity, were capable of apersonal triumph over the fallen and afflicted.
THIS, MY DEAR SIR, was not thetriumph of France. I must believe that, as a nation, it overwhelmed you withshame and horror. I must believe that the National Assembly find themselves ina state of the greatest humiliation in not being able to punish the authors ofthis triumph or the actors in it, and that they are in a situation in which anyinquiry they may make upon the subject must be destitute even of the appearanceof liberty or impartiality. The apology of that assembly is found in theirsituation; but when we approve what they must bear, it is in us the degeneratechoice of a vitiated mind.
With a compelled appearance of deliberation, they vote under the dominion ofa stern necessity. They sit in the heart, as it were, of a foreign republic:they have their residence in a city whose constitution has emanated neitherfrom the charter of their king nor from their legislative power. There they aresurrounded by an army not raised either by the authority of their crown or bytheir command, and which, if they should order to dissolve itself, wouldinstantly dissolve them. There they sit, after a gang of assassins had drivenaway some hundreds of the members, whilst those who held the same moderateprinciples, with more patience or better hope, continued every day exposed tooutrageous insults and murderous threats. There a majority, sometimes real,sometimes pretended, captive itself, compels a captive king to issue as royaledicts, at third hand, the polluted nonsense of their most licentious and giddycoffeehouses. It is notorious that all their measures are decided before theyare debated. It is beyond doubt that, under the terror of the bayonet and thelamp-post and the torch to their houses, they are obliged to adopt all thecrude and desperate measures suggested by clubs composed of a monstrous medleyof all conditions, tongues, and nations. Among these are found persons, incomparison of whom Catiline would be thought scrupulous and Cethegus a man ofsobriety and moderation. Nor is it in these clubs alone that the publicmeasures are deformed into monsters. They undergo a previous distortion inacademies, intended as so many seminaries for these clubs, which are set up inall the places of public resort. In these meetings of all sorts every counsel,in proportion as it is daring and violent and perfidious, is taken for the markof superior genius. Humanity and compassion are ridiculed as the fruits ofsuperstition and ignorance. Tenderness to individuals is considered as treasonto the public. Liberty is always to be estimated perfect, as property isrendered insecure. Amidst assassination, massacre, and confiscation,perpetrated or meditated, they are forming plans for the good order of futuresociety. Embracing in their arms the carcasses of base criminals and promotingtheir relations on the title of their offences, they drive hundreds of virtuouspersons to the same end, by forcing them to subsist by beggary or by crime.
The Assembly, their organ, acts before them the farce of deliberation withas little decency as liberty. They act like the comedians of a fair before ariotous audience; they act amidst the tumultuous cries of a mixed mob offerocious men, and of women lost to shame, who, according to their insolentfancies, direct, control, applaud, explode them, and sometimes mix and taketheir seats amongst them, domineering over them with a strange mixture ofservile petulance and proud, presumptuous authority. As they have invertedorder in all things, the gallery is in the place of the house. This assembly,which overthrows kings and kingdoms, has not even the physiognomy and aspect ofa grave legislative body — nec color imperii, nec frons ulla senatus. Theyhave a power given to them, like that of the evil principle, to subvert anddestroy, but none to construct, except such machines as may be fitted forfurther subversion and further destruction.
WHO is it that
admires, andfrom the heart is attached to, national representative
assemblies, but mustturn with horror and disgust from such a profane
burlesque, and abominableperversion of that sacred institute? Lovers of
monarchy, lovers of republicsmust alike abhor it. The members of your
assembly must themselves groan underthe tyranny of which they have all
the shame, none of the direction, and littleof the profit. I am sure
many of the members who compose even the majority ofthat body must feel
as I do, notwithstanding the applauses of the RevolutionSociety.
Miserable king! miserable assembly! How must that assembly be
silentlyscandalized with those of their members who could call a day
which seemed toblot the sun out of heaven "un beau jour!"
This address was made with much good nature and affection, to be sure. Butamong the revolutions in France must be reckoned a considerable revolution intheir ideas of politeness. In England we are said to learn manners atsecond-hand from your side of the water, and that we dress our behavior in thefrippery of France. If so, we are still in the old cut and have not so farconformed to the new Parisian mode of good breeding as to think it quite in themost refined strain of delicate compliment (whether in condolence orcongratulation) to say, to the most humiliated creature that crawls upon theearth, that great public benefits are derived from the murder of his servants,the attempted assassination of himself and of his wife, and the mortification,disgrace, and degradation that he has personally suffered. It is a topic ofconsolation which our ordinary of Newgate would be too humane to use to acriminal at the foot of the gallows. I should have thought that the hangman ofParis, now that he is liberalized by the vote of the National Assembly and isallowed his rank and arms in the herald's college of the rights of men, wouldbe too generous, too gallant a man, too full of the sense of his new dignity toemploy that cutting consolation to any of the persons whom the lese nationmight bring under the administration of his executive power.
A man is fallen indeed when he is thus flattered. The anodyne draught ofoblivion, thus drugged, is well calculated to preserve a galling wakefulnessand to feed the living ulcer of a corroding memory. Thus to administer theopiate potion of amnesty, powdered with all the ingredients of scorn andcontempt, is to hold to his lips, instead of "the balm of hurtminds", the cup of human misery full to the brim and to force him to drinkit to the dregs.
Yielding to reasons at least as forcible as those which were so delicatelyurged in the compliment on the new year, the king of France will probablyendeavor to forget these events and that compliment. But history, who keeps adurable record of all our acts and exercises her awful censure over theproceedings of all sorts of sovereigns, will not forget either those events orthe era of this liberal refinement in the intercourse of mankind. History willrecord that on the morning of the 6th of October, 1789, the king and queen ofFrance, after a day of confusion, alarm, dismay, and slaughter, lay down, underthe pledged security of public faith, to indulge nature in a few hours ofrespite and troubled, melancholy repose. From this sleep the queen was firststartled by the sentinel at her door, who cried out to her to save herself byflight — that this was the last proof of fidelity he could give —that they were upon him, and he was dead. Instantly he was cut down. A band ofcruel ruffians and assassins, reeking with his blood, rushed into the chamberof the queen and pierced with a hundred strokes of bayonets and poniards thebed, from whence this persecuted woman had but just time to fly almost naked,and, through ways unknown to the murderers, had escaped to seek refuge at thefeet of a king and husband not secure of his own life for a moment.
This king, to say no more of him, and this queen, and their infant children(who once would have been the pride and hope of a great and generous people)were then forced to abandon the sanctuary of the most splendid palace in theworld, which they left swimming in blood, polluted by massacre and strewed withscattered limbs and mutilated carcasses. Thence they were conducted into thecapital of their kingdom.
Two had been selected from the unprovoked, unresisted, promiscuousslaughter, which was made of the gentlemen of birth and family who composed theking's body guard. These two gentlemen, with all the parade of an execution ofjustice, were cruelly and publicly dragged to the block and beheaded in thegreat court of the palace. Their heads were stuck upon spears and led theprocession, whilst the royal captives who followed in the train were slowlymoved along, amidst the horrid yells, and shrilling screams, and franticdances, and infamous contumelies, and all the unutterable abominations of thefuries of hell in the abused shape of the vilest of women. After they had beenmade to taste, drop by drop, more than the bitterness of death in the slowtorture of a journey of twelve miles, protracted to six hours, they were, undera guard composed of those very soldiers who had thus conducted them throughthis famous triumph, lodged in one of the old palaces of Paris, now convertedinto a bastille for kings.
Is this a triumph to be consecrated at altars? to be commemorated withgrateful thanksgiving? to be offered to the divine humanity with fervent prayerand enthusiastic ejaculation? ? These Theban and Thracian orgies, acted inFrance and applauded only in the Old Jewry, I assure you, kindle propheticenthusiasm in the minds but of very few people in this kingdom, although asaint and apostle, who may have revelations of his own and who has socompletely vanquished all the mean superstitions of the heart, may incline tothink it pious and decorous to compare it with the entrance into the world ofthe Prince of Peace, proclaimed in a holy temple by a venerable sage, and notlong before not worse announced by the voice of angels to the quiet innocenceof shepherds.
At first I was at a loss to account for this fit of unguarded transport. Iknew, indeed, that the sufferings of monarchs make a delicious repast to somesort of palates. There were reflections which might serve to keep this appetitewithin some bounds of temperance. But when I took one circumstance into myconsideration, I was obliged to confess that much allowance ought to be madefor the Society, and that the temptation was too strong for common discretion— I mean, the circumstance of the Io Paean of the triumph, the animatingcry which called "for all the BISHOPS to be hangedon the lampposts", might wellhave brought forth a burst of enthusiasm on the foreseen consequences of thishappy day. I allow to so much enthusiasm some little deviation from prudence. Iallow this prophet to break forth into hymns of joy and thanksgiving on anevent which appears like the precursor of the Millennium and the projectedfifth monarchy in the destruction of all church establishments.
There was, however, (as in all human affairs there is) in the midst
of thisjoy something to exercise the patience of these worthy gentlemen
and to try thelong-suffering of their faith. The actual murder of the
king and queen, andtheir child, was wanting to the other auspicious
circumstances of this"beautiful day". The actual murder of the bishops,
though called forby so many holy ejaculations, was also wanting. A
group of regicide andsacrilegious slaughter was indeed boldly sketched,
but it was only sketched. Itunhappily was left unfinished in this great
history-piece of the massacre ofinnocents. What hardy pencil of a great
master from the school of the rights ofman will finish it is to be seen
hereafter. The age has not yet the completebenefit of that diffusion of
knowledge that has undermined superstition anderror; and the king of
France wants another object or two to consign tooblivion, in
consideration of all the good which is to arise from his ownsufferings
and the patriotic crimes of an enlightened age.
EXTRACT of M. de LallyTollendal's Second Letter to a Friend.
"Parlons du parti que j'ai pris; il est bien justifie dansma conscience. — Ni cette ville coupable, ni cette assemblee plus coupableencore, ne meritoient que je me justifie; mais j'ai a coeur que vous, et lespersonnes qui pensent comme vous, ne me condamnent pas. — Ma sante, jevous jure, me rendoit mes fonctions impossibles; mais meme en les mettant decote il a ete au-dessus de mes forces de supporter plus long-tems l'horreur queme causoit ce sang, — ces tetes — cette reine presque egorgee, —ce roi, — amene esclave, — entrant a Paris, au milieu de sesassassins, et precede des tetes de ses malheureux gardes. — Ces perfidesjannissaires, ces assassins, ces femmes cannibales, ce cri de,
TOUS LES EVEQUES A LA LANTERNE, dans le moment ou le roi entresa capitale avec deux eveques de son conseil dans sa voiture. Un coup de fusil,que j'ai vu tirer dans un des carosses de la reine. M. Bailly appellant cela unbeau jour. L'assemblee ayant declare froidement le matin, qu'il n'etoit pas desa dignite d'aller toute entiere environner le roi. M. Mirabeau disantimpunement dans cette assemblee, que le vaisseau de l'etat, loin d'etre arretedans sa course, s'elanceroit avec plus de rapidite que jamais vers saregeneration. M. Barnave, riant avec lui, quand des flots de sang couloientautour de nous. Le vertueux Mounierechappant par miracle a vingt assassins, qui avoient voulu faire de sa tete untrophee de plus.
"Voila ce qui me fit jurer de ne plus mettre le pied dans cette caverned'Antropophages ou je n'avois plus de force d'elever la voix, ou depuis sixsemaines je l'avois elevee en vain. Moi, Mounier, et tous les honnetes gens,ont le dernier effort a faire pour le bien etoit (sic) d'en sortir. Aucune ideede crainte ne s'est approchee de moi. Je rougirois de m'en defendre. J'avoisencore recu sur la route de la part de ce peuple, moins coupable que ceux quil'ont enivre de fureur, des acclamations, et des applaudissements, dontd'autres auroient ete flattes, et qui m'ont fait fremir. C'est a l'indignation,c'est a l'horreur, c'est aux convulsions physiques, que se seul aspect du sangme fait eprouver que j'ai cede. On brave une seule mort; on la brave plusieursfois, quand elle peut etre utile. Mais aucune puissance sous le Ciel, maisaucune opinion publique ou privee n'ont le droit de me condamner a souffririnutilement mille supplices par minute, et a perir de desespoir, de rage, aumilieu des triomphes, du crime que je n'ai pu arreter. Ils me proscriront, ilsconfisqueront mes biens. Je labourerai la terre, et je ne les verrai plus.— Voila ma justification. Vous pouvez la lire, la montrer, la laissercopier; tant pis pour ceux qui ne la comprendront pas; ce ne sera alors moi quiauroit eu tort de la leur donner".
This military man had not so good nerves as the peaceable gentleman of theOld Jewry. — See Mons. Mounier's narrative of these transactions; a manalso of honour and virtue, and talents, and therefore a fugitive.
Although this work of our new light and knowledge did not go to the lengththat in all probability it was intended it should be carried, yet I must thinkthat such treatment of any human creatures must be shocking to any but thosewho are made for accomplishing revolutions. But I cannot stop here. Influencedby the inborn feelings of my nature, and not being illuminated by a single rayof this new-sprung modern light, I confess to you, Sir, that the exalted rankof the persons suffering, and particularly the sex, the beauty, and the amiablequalities of the descendant of so many kings and emperors, with the tender ageof royal infants, insensible only through infancy and innocence of the crueloutrages to which their parents were exposed, instead of being a subject ofexultation, adds not a little to any sensibility on that most melancholyoccasion.
I hear that the august person who was the principal object of our preacher'striumph, though he supported himself, felt much on that shameful occasion. As aman, it became him to feel for his wife and his children, and the faithfulguards of his person that were massacred in cold blood about him; as a prince,it became him to feel for the strange and frightful transformation of hiscivilized subjects, and to be more grieved for them than solicitous forhimself. It derogates little from his fortitude, while it adds infinitely tothe honor of his humanity. I am very sorry to say it, very sorry indeed, thatsuch personages are in a situation in which it is not unbecoming in us topraise the virtues of the great.
I hear, and I rejoice to hear, that the great lady, the other object of thetriumph, has borne that day (one is interested that beings made for sufferingshould suffer well), and that she bears all the succeeding days, that she bearsthe imprisonment of her husband, and her own captivity, and the exile of herfriends, and the insulting adulation of addresses, and the whole weight of heraccumulated wrongs, with a serene patience, in a manner suited to her rank andrace, and becoming the offspring of a sovereign distinguished for her piety andher courage; that, like her, she has lofty sentiments; that she feels with thedignity of a Roman matron; that in the last extremity she will save herselffrom the last disgrace; and that, if she must fall, she will fall by no ignoblehand.
It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the queen of France, thenthe dauphiness, at Versailles, and surely never lighted on this orb, which shehardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above thehorizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in— glittering like the morning star, full of life and splendor and joy. Oh!what a revolution! and what a heart must I have to contemplate without emotionthat elevation and that fall! Little did I dream when she added titles ofveneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she shouldever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in thatbosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallenupon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honor and ofcavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbardsto avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalryis gone.
That of sophisters, economists; and calculators has succeeded; and the gloryof Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more shall we behold thatgenerous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignifiedobedience, that subordination of the heart which kept alive, even in servitudeitself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, the cheapdefense of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise, isgone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor whichfelt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity,which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half itsevil by losing all its grossness.
THIS mixed system of opinion and sentiment had its origin in the ancientchivalry; and the principle, though varied in its appearance by the varyingstate of human affairs, subsisted and influenced through a long succession ofgenerations even to the time we live in. If it should ever be totallyextinguished, the loss I fear will be great. It is this which has given itscharacter to modern Europe. It is this which has distinguished it under all itsforms of government, and distinguished it to its advantage, from the states ofAsia and possibly from those states which flourished in the most brilliantperiods of the antique world. It was this which, without confounding ranks, hadproduced a noble equality and handed it down through all the gradations ofsocial life. It was this opinion which mitigated kings into companions andraised private men to be fellows with kings. Without force or opposition, itsubdued the fierceness of pride and power, it obliged sovereigns to submit tothe soft collar of social esteem, compelled stern authority to submit toelegance, and gave a domination, vanquisher of laws, to be subdued by manners.
But now all is to be changed. All the pleasing illusions which made powergentle and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life,and which, by a bland assimilation, incorporated into politics the sentimentswhich beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this newconquering empire of light and reason. All the decent drapery of life is to berudely torn off. All the super-added ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of amoral imagination, which the heart owns and the understanding ratifies asnecessary to cover the defects of our naked, shivering nature, and to raise itto dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as a ridiculous, absurd,and antiquated fashion.
On this scheme of things, a king is but a man, a queen is but a woman; awoman is but an animal, and an animal not of the highest order. All homage paidto the sex in general as such, and without distinct views, is to be regarded asromance and folly. Regicide, and parricide, and sacrilege are but fictions ofsuperstition, corrupting jurisprudence by destroying its simplicity. The murderof a king, or a queen, or a bishop, or a father are only common homicide; andif the people are by any chance or in any way gainers by it, a sort of homicidemuch the most pardonable, and into which we ought not to make too severe ascrutiny.
On the scheme of this barbarous philosophy, which is the offspring of coldhearts and muddy understandings, and which is as void of solid wisdom as it isdestitute of all taste and elegance, laws are to be supported only by their ownterrors and by the concern which each individual may find in them from his ownprivate speculations or can spare to them from his own private interests. Inthe groves of their academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but thegallows. Nothing is left which engages the affections on the part of thecommonwealth. On the principles of this mechanic philosophy, our institutionscan never be embodied, if I may use the expression, in persons, so as to createin us love, veneration, admiration, or attachment. But that sort of reasonwhich banishes the affections is incapable of filling their place. These publicaffections, combined with manners, are required sometimes as supplements,sometimes as correctives, always as aids to law. The precept given by a wiseman, as well as a great critic, for the construction of poems is equally trueas to states: — Non satis est pulchra esse poemata, dulcia sunto. Thereought to be a system of manners in every nation which a well-informed mindwould be disposed to relish. To make us love our country, our country ought tobe lovely.
But power, of some kind or other, will survive the shock in which mannersand opinions perish; and it will find other and worse means for its support.The usurpation which, in order to subvert ancient institutions, has destroyedancient principles will hold power by arts similar to those by which it hasacquired it. When the old feudal and chivalrous spirit of fealty, which, byfreeing kings from fear, freed both kings and subjects from the precautions oftyranny, shall be extinct in the minds of men, plots and assassinations will beanticipated by preventive murder and preventive confiscation, and that longroll of grim and bloody maxims which form the political code of all power notstanding on its own honor and the honor of those who are to obey it.
Kings will be tyrants from policy when subjects are rebels from principle.
When ancient opinions and rules of life are taken away, the loss cannotpossibly be estimated. From that moment we have no compass to govern us; norcan we know distinctly to what port we steer. Europe, undoubtedly, taken in amass, was in a flourishing condition the day on which your revolution wascompleted. How much of that prosperous state was owing to the spirit of our oldmanners and opinions is not easy to say; but as such causes cannot beindifferent in their operation, we must presume that on the whole theiroperation was beneficial.
We are but too apt to consider things in the state in which we find
them,without sufficiently adverting to the causes by which they have
been producedand possibly may be upheld. Nothing is more certain than
that our manners, ourcivilization, and all the good things which are
connected with manners and withcivilization have, in this European
world of ours, depended for ages upon twoprinciples and were, indeed,
the result of both combined: I mean the spirit ofa gentleman and the
spirit of religion. The nobility and the clergy, the one byprofession,
the other by patronage, kept learning in existence, even in themidst of
arms and confusions, and whilst governments were rather in theircauses
than formed. Learning paid back what it received to nobility and
topriesthood, and paid it with usury, by enlarging their ideas and by
furnishingtheir minds. Happy if they had all continued to know their
indissoluble unionand their proper place! Happy if learning, not
debauched by ambition, had beensatisfied to continue the instructor,
and not aspired to be the master! Alongwith its natural protectors and
guardians, learning will be cast into the mireand trodden down under
the hoofs of a swinish
If, as I suspect, modern letters owe more than they are always willing toown to ancient manners, so do other interests which we value full as much asthey are worth. Even commerce and trade and manufacture, the gods of oureconomical politicians, are themselves perhaps but creatures, are themselvesbut effects which, as first causes, we choose to worship. They certainly grewunder the same shade in which learning flourished. They, too, may decay withtheir natural protecting principles. With you, for the present at least, theyall threaten to disappear together. Where trade and manufactures are wanting toa people, and the spirit of nobility and religion remains, sentiment supplies,and not always ill supplies, their place; but if commerce and the arts shouldbe lost in an experiment to try how well a state may stand without these oldfundamental principles, what sort of a thing must be a nation of gross, stupid,ferocious, and, at the same time, poor and sordid barbarians, destitute ofreligion, honor, or manly pride, possessing nothing at present, and hoping fornothing hereafter?
I wish you may not be going fast, and by the shortest cut, to that horribleand disgustful situation. Already there appears a poverty of conception, acoarseness, and a vulgarity in all the proceedings of the Assembly and of alltheir instructors. Their liberty is not liberal. Their science is presumptuousignorance. Their humanity is savage and brutal.
It is not clear whether in England we learned those grand and decorousprinciples and manners, of which considerable traces yet remain, from you orwhether you took them from us. But to you, I think, we trace them best. Youseem to me to be gentis incunabula nostrae. France has always more or lessinfluenced manners in England; and when your fountain is choked up andpolluted, the stream will not run long, or not run clear, with us or perhapswith any nation. This gives all Europe, in my opinion, but too close andconnected a concern in what is done in France. Excuse me, therefore, if I havedwelt too long on the atrocious spectacle of the 6th of October, 1789, or havegiven too much scope to the reflections which have arisen in my mind onoccasion of the most important of all revolutions, which may be dated from thatday — I mean a revolution in sentiments, manners, and moral opinions. Asthings now stand, with everything respectable destroyed without us, and anattempt to destroy within us every principle of respect, one is almost forcedto apologize for harboring the common feelings of men.
WHY do I feel so differentlyfrom the Reverend Dr. Price and those of his lay flock who will choose to adoptthe sentiments of his discourse? — For this plain reason: because it isnatural I should; because we are so made as to be affected at such spectacleswith melancholy sentiments upon the unstable condition of mortal prosperity andthe tremendous uncertainty of human greatness; because in those naturalfeelings we learn great lessons; because in events like these our passionsinstruct our reason; because when kings are hurled from their thrones by theSupreme Director of this great drama and become the objects of insult to thebase and of pity to the good, we behold such disasters in the moral as weshould behold a miracle in the physical order of things. We are alarmed intoreflection; our minds (as it has long since been observed) are purified byterror and pity, our weak, unthinking pride is humbled under the dispensationsof a mysterious wisdom. Some tears might be drawn from me if such a spectaclewere exhibited on the stage. I should be truly ashamed of finding in myselfthat superficial, theatric sense of painted distress whilst I could exult overit in real life. With such a perverted mind I could never venture to show myface at a tragedy. People would think the tears that Garrick formerly, or thatSiddons not long since, have extorted from me were the tears of hypocrisy; Ishould know them to be the tears of folly.
Indeed, the theatre is a better school of moral sentiments than churches,where the feelings of humanity are thus outraged. Poets who have to deal withan audience not yet graduated in the school of the rights of men and who mustapply themselves to the moral constitution of the heart would not dare toproduce such a triumph as a matter of exultation. There, where men follow theirnatural impulses, they would not bear the odious maxims of a Machiavellianpolicy, whether applied to the attainments of monarchical or democratictyranny. They would reject them on the modern as they once did on the ancientstage, where they could not bear even the hypothetical proposition of suchwickedness in the mouth of a personated tyrant, though suitable to thecharacter he sustained. No theatric audience in Athens would bear what has beenborne in the midst of the real tragedy of this triumphal day: a principal actorweighing, as it were, in scales hung in a shop of horrors, so much actual crimeagainst so much contingent advantage; and after putting in and out weights,declaring that the balance was on the side of the advantages. They would notbear to see the crimes of new democracy posted as in a ledger against thecrimes of old despotism, and the book-keepers of politics finding democracystill in debt, but by no means unable or unwilling to pay the balance. In thetheater, the first intuitive glance, without any elaborate process ofreasoning, will show that this method of political computation would justifyevery extent of crime. They would see that on these principles, even where thevery worst acts were not perpetrated, it was owing rather to the fortune of theconspirators than to their parsimony in the expenditure of treachery and blood.They would soon see that criminal means once tolerated are soon preferred. Theypresent a shorter cut to the object than through the highway of the moralvirtues. Justifying perfidy and murder for public benefit, public benefit wouldsoon become the pretext, and perfidy and murder the end, until rapacity,malice, revenge, and fear more dreadful than revenge could satiate theirinsatiable appetites. Such must be the consequences of losing, in the splendorof these triumphs of the rights of men, all natural sense of wrong and right.
But the reverend pastor exults in this "leading in triumph",because truly Louis the Sixteenth was "an arbitrary monarch"; thatis, in other words, neither more nor less than because he was Louis theSixteenth, and because he had the misfortune to be born king of France, withthe prerogatives of which a long line of ancestors and a long acquiescence ofthe people, without any act of his, had put him in possession. A misfortune ithas indeed turned out to him that he was born king of France. But misfortune isnot crime, nor is indiscretion always the greatest guilt. I shall never thinkthat a prince the acts of whose whole reign was a series of concessions to hissubjects, who was willing to relax his authority, to remit his prerogatives, tocall his people to a share of freedom not known, perhaps not desired, by theirancestors — such a prince, though he should be subjected to the commonfrailties attached to men and to princes, though he should have once thought itnecessary to provide force against the desperate designs manifestly carrying onagainst his person and the remnants of his authority — though all thisshould be taken into consideration, I shall be led with great difficulty tothink he deserves the cruel and insulting triumph of Paris and of Dr. Price. Itremble for the cause of liberty from such an example to kings. I tremble forthe cause of humanity in the unpunished outrages of the most wicked of mankind.But there are some people of that low and degenerate fashion of mind, that theylook up with a sort of complacent awe and admiration to kings who know to keepfirm in their seat, to hold a strict hand over their subjects, to assert theirprerogative, and, by the awakened vigilance of a severe despotism, to guardagainst the very first approaches to freedom. Against such as these they neverelevate their voice. Deserters from principle, listed with fortune, they neversee any good in suffering virtue, nor any crime in prosperous usurpation.
If it could have been made clear to me that the king and queen of France(those I mean who were such before the triumph) were inexorable and crueltyrants, that they had formed a deliberate scheme for massacring the NationalAssembly (I think I have seen something like the latter insinuated in certainpublications), I should think their captivity just. If this be true, much moreought to have been done, but done, in my opinion, in another manner. Thepunishment of real tyrants is a noble and awful act of justice; and it has withtruth been said to be consolatory to the human mind. But if I were to punish awicked king, I should regard the dignity in avenging the crime. Justice isgrave and decorous, and in its punishments rather seems to submit to anecessity than to make a choice. Had Nero, or Agrippina, or Louis the Eleventh,or Charles the Ninth been the subject; if Charles the Twelfth of Sweden, afterthe murder of Patkul, or his predecessor Christina, after the murder ofMonaldeschi, had fallen into your hands, Sir, or into mine, I am sure ourconduct would have been different.
If the French king, or king of the French (or by whatever name he is knownin the new vocabulary of your constitution), has in his own person and that ofhis queen really deserved these unavowed, but unavenged, murderous attempts andthose frequent indignities more cruel than murder, such a person would illdeserve even that subordinate executory trust which I understand is to beplaced in him, nor is he fit to be called chief in a nation which he hasoutraged and oppressed. A worse choice for such an office in a new commonwealththan that of a deposed tyrant could not possibly be made. But to degrade andinsult a man as the worst of criminals and afterwards to trust him in yourhighest concerns as a faithful, honest, and zealous servant is not consistentto reasoning, nor prudent in policy, nor safe in practice. Those who could makesuch an appointment must be guilty of a more flagrant breach of trust than anythey have yet committed against the people. As this is the only crime in whichyour leading politicians could have acted inconsistently, I conclude that thereis no sort of ground for these horrid insinuations. I think no better of allthe other calumnies.
IN ENGLAND, we give no creditto them. We are generous enemies; we are faithful allies. We spurn from us withdisgust and indignation the slanders of those who bring us their anecdotes withthe attestation of the flower-de-luce on their shoulder. We have Lord GeorgeGordon fast in Newgate; and neither his being a public proselyte to Judaism,nor his having, in his zeal against Catholic priests and all sorts ofecclesiastics, raised a mob (excuse the term, it is still in use here) whichpulled down all our prisons, have preserved to him a liberty of which he didnot render himself worthy by a virtuous use of it. We have rebuilt Newgate andtenanted the mansion. We have prisons almost as strong as the Bastille forthose who dare to libel the queens of France. In this spiritual retreat, letthe noble libeller remain. Let him there meditate on his Talmud until he learnsa conduct more becoming his birth and parts, and not so disgraceful to theancient religion to which he has become a proselyte; or until some persons fromyour side of the water, to please your new Hebrew brethren, shall ransom him.He may then be enabled to purchase with the old boards of the synagogue and avery small poundage on the long compound interest of the thirty pieces ofsilver (Dr. Price has shown us what miracles compound interest will perform in1790 years,), the lands which are lately discovered to have been usurped by theGallican church. Send us your Popish archbishop of Paris, and we will send youour Protestant Rabbin. We shall treat the person you send us in exchange like agentleman and an honest man, as he is; but pray let him bring with him the fundof his hospitality, bounty, and charity, and, depend upon it, we shall neverconfiscate a shilling of that honorable and pious fund, nor think of enrichingthe treasury with the spoils of the poor-box.
To tell you the truth, my dear Sir, I think the honor of our nation to besomewhat concerned in the disclaimer of the proceedings of this society of theOld Jewry and the London Tavern. I have no man's proxy. I speak only for myselfwhen I disclaim, as I do with all possible earnestness, all communion with theactors in that triumph or with the admirers of it. When I assert anything elseas concerning the people of England, I speak from observation, not fromauthority, but I speak from the experience I have had in a pretty extensive andmixed communication with the inhabitants of this kingdom, of all descriptionsand ranks, and after a course of attentive observations begun early in life andcontinued for nearly forty years. I have often been astonished, consideringthat we are divided from you but by a slender dyke of about twenty-four miles,and that the mutual intercourse between the two countries has lately been verygreat, to find how little you seem to know of us. I suspect that this is owingto your forming a judgment of this nation from certain publications which dovery erroneously, if they do at all, represent the opinions and dispositionsgenerally prevalent in England. The vanity, restlessness, petulance, and spiritof intrigue, of several petty cabals, who attempt to hide their total want ofconsequence in bustle and noise, and puffing, and mutual quotation of eachother, makes you imagine that our contemptuous neglect of their abilities is amark of general acquiescence in their opinions. No such thing, I assure you.Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with theirimportunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadowof the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that thosewho make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; that, of course, theyare many in number, or that, after all, they are other than the little,shrivelled, meager, hopping, though loud and troublesome, insects of the hour.
I almost venture to affirm that not one in a hundred amongst us participatesin the "triumph" of the Revolution Society. If the king and queen ofFrance, and their children, were to fall into our hands by the chance of war,in the most acrimonious of all hostilities (I deprecate such an event, Ideprecate such hostility), they would be treated with another sort of triumphalentry into London. We formerly have had a king of France in that situation; youhave read how he was treated by the victor in the field, and in what manner hewas afterwards received in England. Four hundred years have gone over us, but Ibelieve we are not materially changed since that period. Thanks to our sullenresistance to innovation, thanks to the cold sluggishness of our nationalcharacter, we still bear the stamp of our forefathers. We have not (as Iconceive) lost the generosity and dignity of thinking of the fourteenthcentury, nor as yet have we subtilized ourselves into savages. We are not theconverts of Rousseau; we are not the disciples of Voltaire; Helvetius has madeno progress amongst us. Atheists are not our preachers; madmen are not ourlawgivers. We know that we have made no discoveries, and we think that nodiscoveries are to be made in morality, nor many in the great principles ofgovernment, nor in the ideas of liberty, which were understood long before wewere born, altogether as well as they will be after the grace has heaped itsmold upon our presumption and the silent tomb shall have imposed its law on ourpert loquacity. In England we have not yet been completely embowelled of ournatural entrails; we still feel within us, and we cherish and cultivate, thoseinbred sentiments which are the faithful guardians, the active monitors of ourduty, the true supporters of all liberal and manly morals. We have not beendrawn and trussed, in order that we may be filled, like stuffed birds in amuseum, with chaff and rags and paltry blurred shreds of paper about the rightsof men. We preserve the whole of our feelings still native and entire,unsophisticated by pedantry and infidelity. We have real hearts of flesh andblood beating in our bosoms. We fear God; we look up with awe to kings, withaffection to parliaments, with duty to magistrates, with reverence to priests,and with respect to nobility. Why?Because when such ideas are brought before our minds, it is natural to be soaffected; because all other feelings are false and spurious and tend to corruptour minds, to vitiate our primary morals, to render us unfit for rationalliberty, and, by teaching us a servile, licentious, and abandoned insolence, tobe our low sport for a few holidays, to make us perfectly fit for, and justlydeserving of, slavery through the whole course of our lives.
YOU see, Sir, that in thisenlightened age I am bold enough to confess that we are generally men ofuntaught feelings, that, instead of casting away all our old prejudices, wecherish them to a very considerable degree, and, to take more shame toourselves, we cherish them because they are prejudices; and the longer theyhave lasted and the more generally they have prevailed, the more we cherishthem. We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stockof reason, because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and thatthe individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank andcapital of nations and of ages. Many of our men of speculation, instead ofexploding general prejudices, employ their sagacity to discover the latentwisdom which prevails in them. If they find what they seek, and they seldomfail, they think it more wise to continue the prejudice, with the reasoninvolved, than to cast away the coat of prejudice and to leave nothing but thenaked reason; because prejudice, with its reason, has a motive to give actionto that reason, and an affection which will give it permanence. Prejudice is ofready application in the emergency; it previously engages the mind in a steadycourse of wisdom and virtue and does not leave the man hesitating in the momentof decision skeptical, puzzled, and unresolved. Prejudice renders a man'svirtue his habit, and not a series of unconnected acts. Through just prejudice,his duty becomes a part of his nature.
Your literary men and your politicians, and so do the whole clan of theenlightened among us, essentially differ in these points. They have no respectfor the wisdom of others, but they pay it off by a very full measure ofconfidence in their own. With them it is a sufficient motive to destroy an oldscheme of things because it is an old one. As to the new, they are in no sortof fear with regard to the duration of a building run up in haste, becauseduration is no object to those who think little or nothing has been done beforetheir time, and who place all their hopes in discovery. They conceive, verysystematically, that all things which give perpetuity are mischievous, andtherefore they are at inexpiable war with all establishments. They think thatgovernment may vary like modes of dress, and with as little ill effect; thatthere needs no principle of attachment, except a sense of present convenience,to any constitution of the state. They always speak as if they were of opinionthat there is a singular species of compact between them and their magistrateswhich binds the magistrate, but which has nothing reciprocal in it, but thatthe majesty of the people has a right to dissolve it without any reason but itswill. Their attachment to their country itself is only so far as it agrees withsome of their fleeting projects; it begins and ends with that scheme of politywhich falls in with their momentary opinion.
These doctrines, or rather sentiments, seem prevalent with your newstatesmen. But they are wholly different from those on which we have alwaysacted in this country.
I hear it is sometimes given out in France that what is doing among you isafter the example of England. I beg leave to affirm that scarcely anything donewith you has originated from the practice or the prevalent opinions of thispeople, either in the act or in the spirit of the proceeding. Let me add thatwe are as unwilling to learn these lessons from France as we are sure that wenever taught them to that nation. The cabals here who take a sort of share ofyour transactions as yet consist of but a handful of people. If, unfortunately,by their intrigues, their sermons, their publications, and by a confidencederived from an expected union with the counsels and forces of the Frenchnation, they should draw considerable numbers into their faction, and inconsequence should seriously attempt anything here in imitation of what hasbeen done with you, the event, I dare venture to prophesy, will be that, withsome trouble to their country, they will soon accomplish their own destruction.This people refused to change their law in remote ages from respect to theinfallibility of popes, and they will not now alter it from a pious implicitfaith in the dogmatism of philosophers, though the former was armed with theanathema and crusade, and though the latter should act with the libel and thelamp-iron.
Formerly, your affairs were your own concern only. We felt for them as men,but we kept aloof from them because we were not citizens of France. But when wesee the model held up to ourselves, we must feel as Englishmen, and feeling, wemust provide as Englishmen. Your affairs, in spite of us, are made a part ofour interest, so far at least as to keep at a distance your panacea, or yourplague. If it be a panacea, we do not want it. We know the consequences ofunnecessary physic. If it be a plague, it is such a plague that the precautionsof the most severe quarantine ought to be established against it.
I hear on all hands that a cabal calling itself philosophic receives theglory of many of the late proceedings, and that their opinions and systems arethe true actuating spirit of the whole of them. I have heard of no party inEngland, literary or political, at any time, known by such a description. It isnot with you composed of those men, is it, whom the vulgar in their blunt,homely style commonly call atheists and infidels? If it be, I admit that we,too, have had writers of that description who made some noise in their day. Atpresent they repose in lasting oblivion. Who, born within the last forty years,has read one word of Collins, and Toland, and Tindal, and Chubb, and Morgan,and that whole race who called themselves Freethinkers? Who now readsBolingbroke? Who ever read him through? Ask the booksellers of London what isbecome of all these lights of the world. In as few years their few successorswill go to the family vault of "all the Capulets". But whatever theywere, or are, with us, they were and are wholly unconnected individuals. Withus they kept the common nature of their kind and were not gregarious. Theynever acted in corps or were known as a faction in the state, nor presumed toinfluence in that name or character, or for the purposes of such a faction, onany of our public concerns. Whether they ought so to exist and so be permittedto act is another question. As such cabals have not existed in England, soneither has the spirit of them had any influence in establishing the originalframe of our constitution or in any one of the several reparations andimprovements it has undergone. The whole has been done under the auspices, andis confirmed by the sanctions, of religion and piety. The whole has emanatedfrom the simplicity of our national character and from a sort of nativeplainness and directness of understanding, which for a long time characterizedthose men who have successively obtained authority amongst us. This dispositionstill remains, at least in the great body of the people.
WE KNOW, AND WHAT IS BETTER,we feel inwardly, that religion is the basis of civil society and the source ofall good and of all comfort. InEngland we are so convinced of this, that there is no rust of superstition withwhich the accumulated absurdity of the human mind might have crusted it over inthe course of ages, that ninety-nine in a hundred of the people of Englandwould not prefer to impiety. We shall never be such fools as to call in anenemy to the substance of any system to remove its corruptions, to supply itsdefects, or to perfect its construction. If our religious tenets should everwant a further elucidation, we shall not call on atheism to explain them. Weshall not light up our temple from that unhallowed fire. It will be illuminatedwith other lights. It will be perfumed with other incense than the infectiousstuff which is imported by the smugglers of adulterated metaphysics. If ourecclesiastical establishment should want a revision, it is not avarice orrapacity, public or private, that we shall employ for the audit, or receipt, orapplication of its consecrated revenue. Violently condemning neither the Greeknor the Armenian, nor, since heats are subsided, the Roman system of religion,we prefer the Protestant, not because we think it has less of the Christianreligion in it, but because, in our judgment, it has more. We are Protestants,not from indifference, but from zeal.
We know, and it is our pride to know, that man is by his constitution areligious animal; that atheism is against, not only our reason, but ourinstincts; and that it cannot prevail long. But if, in the moment of riot andin a drunken delirium from the hot spirit drawn out of the alembic of hell,which in France is now so furiously boiling, we should uncover our nakedness bythrowing off that Christian religion which has hitherto been our boast andcomfort, and one great source of civilization amongst us and amongst many othernations, we are apprehensive (being well aware that the mind will not endure avoid) that some uncouth, pernicious, and degrading superstition might takeplace of it.
For that reason, before we take from our establishment the natural, humanmeans of estimation and give it up to contempt, as you have done, and in doingit have incurred the penalties you well deserve to suffer, we desire that someother may be presented to us in the place of it. We shall then form ourjudgment.
On these ideas, instead of quarrelling with establishments, as some do whohave made a philosophy and a religion of their hostility to such institutions,we cleave closely to them. We are resolved to keep an established church, anestablished monarchy, an established aristocracy, and an established democracy,each in the degree it exists, and in no greater. I shall show you presently howmuch of each of these we possess.
It has been the misfortune (not, as these gentlemen think it, the glory) ofthis age that everything is to be discussed as if the constitution of ourcountry were to be always a subject rather of altercation than enjoyment. Forthis reason, as well as for the satisfaction of those among you (if any suchyou have among you) who may wish to profit of examples, I venture to troubleyou with a few thoughts upon each of these establishments. I do not think theywere unwise in ancient Rome who, when they wished to new-model their laws, setcommissioners to examine the best constituted republics within their reach.
First, I beg leave to speak of our church establishment, which is the firstof our prejudices, not a prejudice destitute of reason, but involving in itprofound and extensive wisdom. I speak of it first. It is first and last andmidst in our minds. For, taking ground on that religious system of which we arenow in possession, we continue to act on the early received and uniformlycontinued sense of mankind. That sense not only, like a wise architect, hathbuilt up the august fabric of states, but, like a provident proprietor, topreserve the structure from profanation and ruin, as a sacred temple purgedfrom all the impurities of fraud and violence and injustice and tyranny, hathsolemnly and forever consecrated the commonwealth and all that officiate in it.This consecration is made that all who administer the government of men, inwhich they stand in the person of God himself, should have high and worthynotions of their function and destination, that their hope should be full ofimmortality, that they should not look to the paltry pelf of the moment nor tothe temporary and transient praise of the vulgar, but to a solid, permanentexistence in the permanent part of their nature, and to a permanent fame andglory in the example they leave as a rich inheritance to the world.
Such sublime principles ought to be infused into persons of exaltedsituations, and religious establishments provided that may continually reviveand enforce them. Every sort of moral, every sort of civil, every sort ofpolitic institution, aiding the rational and natural ties that connect thehuman understanding and affections to the divine, are not more than necessaryin order to build up that wonderful structure Man, whose prerogative it is tobe in a great degree a creature of his own making, and who, when made as heought to be made, is destined to hold no trivial place in the creation. Butwhenever man is put over men, as the better nature ought ever to preside, inthat case more particularly, he should as nearly as possible be approximated tohis perfection.
The consecration of the state by a state religious establishment isnecessary, also, to operate with a wholesome awe upon free citizens, because,in order to secure their freedom, they must enjoy some determinate portion ofpower. To them, therefore, a religion connected with the state, and with theirduty toward it, becomes even more necessary than in such societies where thepeople, by the terms of their subjection, are confined to private sentimentsand the management of their own family concerns. All persons possessing anyportion of power ought to be strongly and awfully impressed with an idea thatthey act in trust, and that they are to account for their conduct in that trustto the one great Master, Author, and Founder of society.
This principle ought even to be more strongly impressed upon the
minds ofthose who compose the collective sovereignty than upon those of
single princes.Without instruments, these princes can do nothing.
Whoever uses instruments, infinding helps, finds also impediments.
Their power is, therefore, by no meanscomplete, nor are they safe in
extreme abuse. Such persons, however elevated byflattery, arrogance,
and self-opinion, must be sensible that, whether coveredor not by
positive law, in some way or other they are accountable even here
forthe abuse of their trust. If they are not cut off by a rebellion of
theirpeople, they may be strangled by the very janissaries kept for
their securityagainst all other rebellion. Thus we have seen the king
of France sold by hissoldiers for an increase of pay. But where popular
authority is absolute andunrestrained, the people have an infinitely
greater, because a far betterfounded, confidence in their own power.
They are themselves, in a greatmeasure, their own instruments. They are
nearer to their objects. Besides, theyare less under responsibility to
one of the greatest controlling powers on theearth, the sense of fame
and estimation. The share of infamy that is likely tofall to the lot of
each individual in public acts is small indeed, theoperation of opinion
being in the inverse ratio to the number of those whoabuse power. Their
own approbation of their own acts has to them the appearanceof a public
judgment in their favor. A perfect democracy is, therefore, themost
shameless thing in the world. As it is the most shameless, it is also
themost fearless. No man apprehends in his person that he can be made
subject topunishment. Certainly the people at large never ought, for as
all punishmentsare for example toward the conservation of the people at
large, the people atlarge can never become the subject of punishment by
any human hand.
When the people have emptied themselves of all the lust of selfish will,which without religion it is utterly impossible they ever should, when they areconscious that they exercise, and exercise perhaps in a higher link of theorder of delegation, the power, which to be legitimate must be according tothat eternal, immutable law in which will and reason are the same, they will bemore careful how they place power in base and incapable hands. In theirnomination to office, they will not appoint to the exercise of authority as toa pitiful job, but as to a holy function, not according to their sordid,selfish interest, nor to their wanton caprice, nor to their arbitrary will, butthey will confer that power (which any man may well tremble to give or toreceive) on those only in whom they may discern that predominant proportion ofactive virtue and wisdom, taken together and fitted to the charge, such as inthe great and inevitable mixed mass of human imperfections and infirmities isto be found.
When they are habitually convinced that no evil can be acceptable, either inthe act or the permission, to him whose essence is good, they will be betterable to extirpate out of the minds of all magistrates, civil, ecclesiastical,or military, anything that bears the least resemblance to a proud and lawlessdomination.
But one of the first and most leading principles on which the commonwealthand the laws are consecrated is, lest the temporary possessors and life-rentersin it, unmindful of what they have received from their ancestors or of what isdue to their posterity, should act as if they were the entire masters, thatthey should not think it among their rights to cut off the entail or commitwaste on the inheritance by destroying at their pleasure the whole originalfabric of their society, hazarding to leave to those who come after them a ruininstead of an habitation — and teaching these successors as little torespect their contrivances as they had themselves respected the institutions oftheir forefathers. By this unprincipled facility of changing the state asoften, and as much, and in as many ways as there are floating fancies orfashions, the whole chain and continuity of the commonwealth would be broken.No one generation could link with the other. Men would become little betterthan the flies of a summer.
And first of all, the science of jurisprudence, the pride of the humanintellect, which with all its defects, redundancies, and errors is thecollected reason of ages, combining the principles of original justice with theinfinite variety of human concerns, as a heap of old exploded errors, would beno longer studied. Personal self-sufficiency and arrogance (the certainattendants upon all those who have never experienced a wisdom greater thantheir own) would usurp the tribunal. Of course, no certain laws, establishinginvariable grounds of hope and fear, would keep the actions of men in a certaincourse or direct them to a certain end. Nothing stable in the modes of holdingproperty or exercising function could form a solid ground on which any parentcould speculate in the education of his offspring or in a choice for theirfuture establishment in the world. No principles would be early worked into thehabits. As soon as the most able instructor had completed his laborious courseof institution, instead of sending forth his pupil, accomplished in a virtuousdiscipline, fitted to procure him attention and respect in his place insociety, he would find everything altered, and that he had turned out a poorcreature to the contempt and derision of the world, ignorant of the truegrounds of estimation. Who would insure a tender and delicate sense of honor tobeat almost with the first pulses of the heart when no man could know whatwould be the test of honor in a nation continually varying the standard of itscoin? No part of life would retain its acquisitions. Barbarism with regard toscience and literature, unskilfulness with regard to arts and manufactures,would infallibly succeed to the want of a steady education and settledprinciple; and thus the commonwealth itself would, in a few generations,crumble away, be disconnected into the dust and powder of individuality, and atlength dispersed to all the winds of heaven.
To avoid, therefore, the evils of inconstancy and versatility, ten thousandtimes worse than those of obstinacy and the blindest prejudice, we haveconsecrated the state, that no man should approach to look into its defects orcorruptions but with due caution, that he should never dream of beginning itsreformation by its subversion, that he should approach to the faults of thestate as to the wounds of a father, with pious awe and trembling solicitude. Bythis wise prejudice we are taught to look with horror on those children oftheir country who are prompt rashly to hack that aged parent in pieces and puthim into the kettle of magicians, in hopes that by their poisonous weeds andwild incantations they may regenerate the paternal constitution and renovatetheir father's life.
SOCIETY is indeed a contract.Subordinate contracts for objects of mere occasional interest may be dissolvedat pleasure — but the state ought not to be considered as nothing betterthan a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, calico, ortobacco, or some other such low concern, to be taken up for a little temporaryinterest, and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties. It is to be lookedon with other reverence, because it is not a partnership in things subservientonly to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature. It isa partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in everyvirtue and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot beobtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between thosewho are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and thosewho are to be born. Each contract of each particular state is but a clause inthe great primeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with thehigher natures, connecting the visible and invisible world, according to afixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical andall moral natures, each in their appointed place. This law is not subject tothe will of those who by an obligation above them, and infinitely superior, arebound to submit their will to that law. The municipal corporations of thatuniversal kingdom are not morally at liberty at their pleasure, and on theirspeculations of a contingent improvement, wholly to separate and tear asunderthe bands of their subordinate community and to dissolve it into an unsocial,uncivil, unconnected chaos of elementary principles. It is the first andsupreme necessity only, a necessity that is not chosen but chooses, a necessityparamount to deliberation, that admits no discussion and demands no evidence,which alone can justify a resort to anarchy. This necessity is no exception tothe rule, because this necessity itself is a part, too, of that moral andphysical disposition of things to which man must be obedient by consent orforce; but if that which is only submission to necessity should be made theobject of choice, the law is broken, nature is disobeyed, and the rebelliousare outlawed, cast forth, and exiled from this world of reason, and order, andpeace, and virtue, and fruitful penitence, into the antagonist world ofmadness, discord, vice, confusion, and unavailing sorrow.
These, my dear Sir, are, were, and, I think, long will be the sentiments ofnot the least learned and reflecting part of this kingdom. They who areincluded in this description form their opinions on such grounds as suchpersons ought to form them. The less inquiring receive them from an authoritywhich those whom Providence dooms to live on trust need not be ashamed to relyon. These two sorts of men move in the same direction, though in a differentplace. They both move with the order of the universe.
They all know or feel this great ancient truth: Quod illi principi etpraepotenti Deo qui omnem hunc mundum regit, nihil eorum quae quidem fiant interris acceptius quam concilia et coetus hominum jure sociati quae civitatesappellantur. They take this tenet of the head and heart, not from the greatname which it immediately bears, nor from the greater from whence it isderived, but from that which alone can give true weight and sanction to anylearned opinion, the common nature and common relation of men. Persuaded thatall things ought to be done with reference, and referring all to the point ofreference to which all should be directed, they think themselves bound, notonly as individuals in the sanctuary of the heart or as congregated in thatpersonal capacity, to renew the memory of their high origin and cast, but alsoin their corporate character to perform their national homage to the institutorand author and protector of civil society; without which civil society mancould not by any possibility arrive at the perfection of which his nature iscapable, nor even make a remote and faint approach to it. They conceive that Hewho gave our nature to be perfected by our virtue willed also the necessarymeans of its perfection. He willed therefore the state — He willed itsconnection with the source and original archetype of all perfection. They whoare convinced of this His will, which is the law of laws and the sovereign ofsovereigns, cannot think it reprehensible that this our corporate fealty andhomage, that this our recognition of a seigniory paramount, I had almost saidthis oblation of the state itself as a worthy offering on the high altar ofuniversal praise, should be performed as all public, solemn acts are performed,in buildings, in music, in decoration, in speech, in the dignity of persons,according to the customs of mankind taught by their nature; that is, withmodest splendor and unassuming state, with mild majesty and sober pomp. Forthose purposes they think some part of the wealth of the country is as usefullyemployed as it can be in fomenting the luxury of individuals. It is the publicornament. It is the public consolation. It nourishes the public hope. Thepoorest man finds his own importance and dignity in it, whilst the wealth andpride of individuals at every moment makes the man of humble rank and fortunesensible of his inferiority and degrades and vilifies his condition. It is forthe man in humble life, and to raise his nature and to put him in mind of astate in which the privileges of opulence will cease, when he will be equal bynature, and may be more than equal by virtue, that this portion of the generalwealth of his country is employed and sanctified.
I assure you I do not aim at singularity. I give you opinions which havebeen accepted amongst us, from very early times to this moment, with acontinued and general approbation, and which indeed are worked into my mindthat I am unable to distinguish what I have learned from others from theresults of my own meditation.
It is on some such principles that the majority of the people of England,far from thinking a religious national establishment unlawful, hardly think itlawful to be without one. In France you are wholly mistaken if you do notbelieve us above all other things attached to it, and beyond all other nations;and when this people has acted unwisely and unjustifiably in its favor (as insome instances they have done most certainly), in their very errors you will atleast discover their zeal.
This principle runs through the whole system of their polity. They do notconsider their church establishment as convenient, but as essential to theirstate, not as a thing heterogeneous and separable, something added foraccommodation, what they may either keep or lay aside according to theirtemporary ideas of convenience. They consider it as the foundation of theirwhole constitution, with which, and with every part of which, it holds anindissoluble union. Church and state are ideas inseparable in their minds, andscarcely is the one ever mentioned without mentioning the other.
Our education is so formed as to confirm and fix this impression. Oureducation is in a manner wholly in the hands of ecclesiastics, and in allstages from infancy to manhood. Even when our youth, leaving schools anduniversities, enter that most important period of life which begins to linkexperience and study together, and when with that view they visit othercountries, instead of old domestics whom we have seen as governors to principalmen from other parts, three-fourths of those who go abroad with our youngnobility and gentlemen are ecclesiastics, not as austere masters, nor as merefollowers, but as friends and companions of a graver character, and not seldompersons as well-born as themselves. With them, as relations, they mostconstantly keep a close connection through life. By this connection we conceivethat we attach our gentlemen to the church, and we liberalize the church by anintercourse with the leading characters of the country.
So tenacious are we of the old ecclesiastical modes and fashions ofinstitution that very little alteration has been made in them since thefourteenth or fifteenth century; adhering in this particular, as in all thingselse, to our old settled maxim, never entirely nor at once to depart fromantiquity. We found these old institutions, on the whole, favorable to moralityand discipline, and we thought they were susceptible of amendment withoutaltering the ground. We thought that they were capable of receiving andmeliorating, and above all of preserving, the accessions of science andliterature, as the order of Providence should successively produce them. Andafter all, with this Gothic and monkish education (for such it is in thegroundwork) we may put in our claim to as ample and as early a share in all theimprovements in science, in arts, and in literature which have illuminated andadorned the modern world, as any other nation in Europe. We think one maincause of this improvement was our not despising the patrimony of knowledgewhich was left us by our forefathers.
It is from our attachment to a church establishment that the English nationdid not think it wise to entrust that great, fundamental interest of the wholeto what they trust no part of their civil or military public service, that is,to the unsteady and precarious contribution of individuals. They go further.They certainly never have suffered, and never will suffer, the fixed estate ofthe church to be converted into a pension, to depend on the treasury and to bedelayed, withheld, or perhaps to be extinguished by fiscal difficulties, whichdifficulties may sometimes be pretended for political purposes, and are in factoften brought on by the extravagance, negligence, and rapacity of politicians.The people of England think that they have constitutional motives, as well asreligious, against any project of turning their independent clergy intoecclesiastical pensioners of state. They tremble for their liberty, from theinfluence of a clergy dependent on the crown; they tremble for the publictranquillity from the disorders of a factious clergy, if it were made to dependupon any other than the crown. They therefore made their church, like theirking and their nobility, independent.
From the united considerations of religion and constitutional policy, fromtheir opinion of a duty to make sure provision for the consolation of thefeeble and the instruction of the ignorant, they have incorporated andidentified the estate of the church with the mass of private property, of whichthe state is not the proprietor, either for use or dominion, but the guardianonly and the regulator. They have ordained that the provision of thisestablishment might be as stable as the earth on which it stands, and shouldnot fluctuate with the Euripus of funds and actions.
The men of England, the men, I mean, of light and leading in England, whosewisdom (if they have any) is open and direct, would be ashamed, as of a sillydeceitful trick, to profess any religion in name which, by their proceedings,they appear to contemn.
If by their conduct (the only language that rarely lies) they seemed toregard the great ruling principle of the moral and the natural world as a mereinvention to keep the vulgar in obedience, they apprehend that by such aconduct they would defeat the politic purpose they have in view. They wouldfind it difficult to make others believe in a system to which they manifestlygive no credit themselves. The Christian statesmen of this land would indeedfirst provide for the multitude, because it is the multitude, and is therefore,as such, the first object in the ecclesiastical institution, and in allinstitutions. They have been taught that the circumstance of the gospel's beingpreached to the poor was one of the great tests of its true mission. Theythink, therefore, that those do not believe it who do not take care it shouldbe preached to the poor. But as they know that charity is not confined to anyone description, but ought to apply itself to all men who have wants, they arenot deprived of a due and anxious sensation of pity to the distresses of themiserable great. They are not repelled through a fastidious delicacy, at thestench of their arrogance and presumption, from a medicinal attention to theirmental blotches and running sores. They are sensible that religious instructionis of more consequence to them than to any others — from the greatness ofthe temptation to which they are exposed; from the important consequences thatattend their faults; from the contagion of their ill example; from thenecessity of bowing down the stubborn neck of their pride and ambition to theyoke of moderation and virtue; from a consideration of the fat stupidity andgross ignorance concerning what imports men most to know, which prevails atcourts, and at the head of armies, and in senates as much as at the loom and inthe field.
The English people are satisfied that to the great the consolations ofreligion are as necessary as its instructions. They, too, are among theunhappy. They feel personal pain and domestic sorrow. In these they have noprivilege, but are subject to pay their full contingent to the contributionslevied on mortality. They want this sovereign balm under their gnawing caresand anxieties, which, being less conversant about the limited wants of animallife, range without limit, and are diversified by infinite combinations, in thewild and unbounded regions of imagination. Some charitable dole is wanting tothese our often very unhappy brethren to fill the gloomy void that reigns inminds which have nothing on earth to hope or fear; something to relieve in thekilling languor and overlabored lassitude of those who have nothing to do;something to excite an appetite to existence in the palled satiety whichattends on all pleasures which may be bought where nature is not left to herown process, where even desire is anticipated, and therefore fruition defeatedby meditated schemes and contrivances of delight; and no interval, no obstacle,is interposed between the wish and the accomplishment.
The people of England know how little influence the teachers of religion arelikely to have with the wealthy and powerful of long standing, and how muchless with the newly fortunate, if they appear in a manner no way assorted tothose with whom they must associate, and over whom they must even exercise, insome cases, something like an authority. What must they think of that body ofteachers if they see it in no part above the establishment of their domesticservants? If the poverty were voluntary, there might be some difference. Stronginstances of self-denial operate powerfully on our minds, and a man who has nowants has obtained great freedom and firmness and even dignity. But as the massof any description of men are but men, and their poverty cannot be voluntary,that disrespect which attends upon all lay poverty will not depart from theecclesiastical. Our provident constitution has therefore taken care that thosewho are to instruct presumptuous ignorance, those who are to be censors overinsolent vice, should neither incur their contempt nor live upon their alms,nor will it tempt the rich to a neglect of the true medicine of their minds.For these reasons, whilst we provide first for the poor, and with a parentalsolicitude, we have not relegated religion (like something we were ashamed toshow) to obscure municipalities or rustic villages. No! we will have her toexalt her mitred front in courts and parliaments. We will have her mixedthroughout the whole mass of life and blended with all the classes of society.The people of England will show to the haughty potentates of the world, and totheir talking sophisters, that a free, a generous, an informed nation honorsthe high magistrates of its church; that it will not suffer the insolence ofwealth and titles, or any other species of proud pretension, to look down withscorn upon what they looked up to with reverence; nor presume to trample onthat acquired personal nobility which they intend always to be, and which oftenis, the fruit, not the reward (for what can be the reward?) of learning, piety,and virtue. They can see, without pain or grudging, an archbishop precede aduke. They can see a bishop of Durham, or a bishop of Winchester, in possessionof ten thousand pounds a year, and cannot conceive why it is in worse handsthan estates to the like amount in the hands of this earl or that squire,although it may be true that so many dogs and horses are not kept by the formerand fed with the victuals which ought to nourish the children of the people. Itis true, the whole church revenue is not always employed, and to everyshilling, in charity, nor perhaps ought it, but something is generallyemployed. It is better to cherish virtue and humanity by leaving much to freewill, even with some loss to the object, than to attempt to make men meremachines and instruments of a political benevolence. The world on the wholewill gain by a liberty without which virtue cannot exist.
When once the commonwealth has established the estates of the church asproperty, it can, consistently, hear nothing of the more or the less. "Toomuch" and "too little" are treason against property. What evilcan arise from the quantity in any hand whilst the supreme authority has thefull, sovereign superintendence over this, as over all property, to preventevery species of abuse, and, whenever it notably deviates, to give to it adirection agreeable to the purposes of its institution?
In England most of us conceive that it is envy and malignity toward thosewho are often the beginners of their own fortune, and not a love of theself-denial and mortification of the ancient church, that makes some lookaskance at the distinctions, and honors, and revenues which, taken from noperson, are set apart for virtue. The ears of the people of England aredistinguishing. They hear these men speak broad. Their tongue betrays them.Their language is in the patois of fraud, in the cant and gibberish ofhypocrisy. The people of England must think so when these praters affect tocarry back the clergy to that primitive, evangelic poverty which, in thespirit, ought always to exist in them (and in us, too, however we may like it),but in the thing must be varied when the relation of that body to the state isaltered — when manners, when modes of life, when indeed the whole order ofhuman affairs has undergone a total revolution. We shall believe thosereformers, then, to be honest enthusiasts, not, as now we think them, cheatsand deceivers, when we see them throwing their own goods into common andsubmitting their own persons to the austere discipline of the early church.
With these ideas rooted in their minds, the commons of Great Britain, in thenational emergencies, will never seek their resource from the confiscation ofthe estates of the church and poor. Sacrilege and proscription are not amongthe ways and means of our committee of supply. The Jews in Change Alley havenot yet dared to hint their hopes of a mortgage on the revenues belonging tothe see of Canterbury. I am not afraid that I shall be disavowed when I assureyou that there is not one public man in this kingdom whom you would wish toquote, no, not one, of any party or description, who does not reprobate thedishonest, perfidious, and cruel confiscation which the National Assembly hasbeen compelled to make of that property which it was their first duty toprotect.
It is with the exultation of a little national pride I tell you that thoseamongst us who have wished to pledge the societies of Paris in the cup of theirabominations have been disappointed. The robbery of your church has proved asecurity to the possession of ours. It has roused the people. They see withhorror and alarm that enormous and shameless act of proscription. It hasopened, and will more and more open, their eyes upon the selfish enlargement ofmind and the narrow liberality of sentiment of insidious men, which, commencingin close hypocrisy and fraud, have ended in open violence and rapine. At homewe behold similar beginnings. We are on our guard against similar conclusions.
I HOPE WE SHALL NEVER be sototally lost to all sense of the duties imposed upon us by the law of socialunion as, upon any pretext of public service, to confiscate the goods of asingle unoffending citizen. Who but a tyrant (a name expressive of everythingwhich can vitiate and degrade human nature) could think of seizing on theproperty of men unaccused, unheard, untried, by whole descriptions, by hundredsand thousands together? Who that had not lost every trace of humanity couldthink of casting down men of exalted rank and sacred function, some of them ofan age to call at once for reverence and compassion, of casting them down fromthe highest situation in the commonwealth, wherein they were maintained bytheir own landed property, to a state of indigence, depression, and contempt?
The confiscators truly have made some allowance to their victims from thescraps and fragments of their own tables from which they have been so harshlydriven, and which have been so bountifully spread for a feast to the harpies ofusury. But to drive men from independence to live on alms is itself greatcruelty. That which might be a tolerable condition to men in one state of life,and not habituated to other things, may, when all these circumstances arealtered, be a dreadful revolution, and one to which a virtuous mind would feelpain in condemning any guilt except that which would demand the life of theoffender. But to many minds this punishment of degradation and infamy is worsethan death. Undoubtedly it is an infinite aggravation of this cruel sufferingthat the persons who were taught a double prejudice in favor of religion, byeducation and by the place they held in the administration of its functions,are to receive the remnants of their property as alms from the profane andimpious hands of those who had plundered them of all the rest; to receive (ifthey are at all to receive), not from the charitable contributions of thefaithful but from the insolent tenderness of known and avowed atheism, themaintenance of religion measured out to them on the standard of the contempt inwhich it is held, and for the purpose of rendering those who receive theallowance vile and of no estimation in the eyes of mankind.
But this act of seizure of property, it seems, is a judgment in law, and nota confiscation. They have, it seems, found out in the academies of the PalaisRoyal and the Jacobins that certain men had no right to the possessions whichthey held under law, usage, the decisions of courts, and the accumulatedprescription of a thousand years. They say that ecclesiastics are fictitiouspersons, creatures of the state, whom at pleasure they may destroy, and ofcourse limit and modify in every particular; that the goods they possess arenot properly theirs but belong to the state which created the fiction; and weare therefore not to trouble ourselves with what they may suffer in theirnatural feelings and natural persons on account of what is done toward them inthis their constructive character. Of what import is it under what names youinjure men and deprive them of the just emoluments of a profession, in whichthey were not only permitted but encouraged by the state to engage, and uponthe supposed certainty of which emoluments they had formed the plan of theirlives, contracted debts, and led multitudes to an entire dependence upon them?
You do not imagine, Sir, that I am going to compliment this miserabledistinction of persons with any long discussion. The arguments of tyranny areas contemptible as its force is dreadful. Had not your confiscators, by theirearly crimes, obtained a power which secures indemnity to all the crimes ofwhich they have since been guilty or that they can commit, it is not thesyllogism of the logician, but the lash of the executioner, that would haverefuted a sophistry which becomes an accomplice of theft and murder. Thesophistic tyrants of Paris are loud in their declamations against the departedregal tyrants, who in former ages have vexed the world. They are thus bold,because they are safe from the dungeons and iron cages of their old masters.Shall we be more tender of the tyrants of our own time, when we see them actingworse tragedies under our eyes? Shall we not use the same liberty that they do,when we can use it with the same safety — when to speak honest truth onlyrequires a contempt of the opinions of those whose actions we abhor?
This outrage on all the rights of property was at first covered with what,on the system of their conduct, was the most astonishing of all pretexts —a regard to national faith. The enemies to property at first pretended a mosttender, delicate, and scrupulous anxiety for keeping the king's engagementswith the public creditor. These professors of the rights of men are so busy inteaching others that they have not leisure to learn anything themselves;otherwise they would have known that it is to the property of the citizen, andnot to the demands of the creditor of the state, that the first and originalfaith of civil society is pledged. The claim of the citizen is prior in time,paramount in title, superior in equity. The fortunes of individuals, whetherpossessed by acquisition or by descent or in virtue of a participation in thegoods of some community, were no part of the creditor's security, expressed orimplied. They never so much as entered into his head when he made his bargain.He well knew that the public, whether represented by a monarch or by a senate,can pledge nothing but the public estate; and it can have no public estateexcept in what it derives from a just and proportioned imposition upon thecitizens at large. This was engaged, and nothing else could be engaged, to thepublic creditor. No man can mortgage his injustice as a pawn for his fidelity.
It is impossible to avoid some observation on the contradictions caused bythe extreme rigor and the extreme laxity of this new public faith whichinfluenced in this transaction, and which influenced not according to thenature of the obligation, but to the description of the persons to whom it wasengaged. No acts of the old government of the kings of France are held valid inthe National Assembly except its pecuniary engagements: acts of all others ofthe most ambiguous legality. The rest of the acts of that royal government areconsidered in so odious a light that to have a claim under its authority islooked on as a sort of crime. A pension, given as a reward for service to thestate, is surely as good a ground of property as any security for moneyadvanced to the state. It is better; for money is paid, and well paid, toobtain that service. We have, however, seen multitudes of people under thisdescription in France who never had been deprived of their allowances by themost arbitrary ministers in the most arbitrary times, by this assembly of therights of men robbed without mercy. They were told, in answer to their claim tothe bread earned with their blood, that their services had not been rendered tothe country that now exists.
This laxity of public faith is not confined to those unfortunate persons.The Assembly, with perfect consistency it must be owned, is engaged in arespectable deliberation how far it is bound by the treaties made with othernations under the former government, and their committee is to report which ofthem they ought to ratify, and which not. By this means they have put theexternal fidelity of this virgin state on a par with its internal.
It is not easy to conceive upon what rational principle the royal governmentshould not, of the two, rather have possessed the power of rewarding serviceand making treaties, in virtue of its prerogative, than that of pledging tocreditors the revenue of the state, actual and possible. The treasure of thenation, of all things, has been the least allowed to the prerogative of theking of France or to the prerogative of any king in Europe. To mortgage thepublic revenue implies the sovereign dominion, in the fullest sense, over thepublic purse. It goes far beyond the trust even of a temporary and occasionaltaxation. The acts, however, of that dangerous power (the distinctive mark of aboundless despotism) have been alone held sacred. Whence arose this preferencegiven by a democratic assembly to a body of property deriving its title fromthe most critical and obnoxious of all the exertions of monarchical authority?Reason can furnish nothing to reconcile inconsistency, nor can partial favor beaccounted for upon equitable principles. But the contradiction and partialitywhich admit no justification are not the less without an adequate cause; andthat cause I do not think it difficult to discover.
By the vast debt of France a great monied interest had insensibly grown up,and with it a great power. By the ancient usages which prevailed in thatkingdom, the general circulation of property, and in particular the mutualconvertibility of land into money, and of money into land, had always been amatter of difficulty. Family settlements, rather more general and more strictthan they are in England, the jus retractus, the great mass of landed propertyheld by the crown, and, by a maxim of the French law, held unalienably, thevast estates of the ecclesiastical corporations — all these had kept thelanded and monied interests more separated in France, less miscible, and theowners of the two distinct species of property not so well disposed to eachother as they are in this country.
The monied property was long looked on with rather an evil eye by thepeople. They saw it connected with their distresses, and aggravating them. Itwas no less envied by the old landed interests, partly for the same reasonsthat rendered it obnoxious to the people, but much more so as it eclipsed, bythe splendor of an ostentatious luxury, the unendowed pedigrees and nakedtitles of several among the nobility. Even when the nobility which representedthe more permanent landed interest united themselves by marriage (whichsometimes was the case) with the other description, the wealth which saved thefamily from ruin was supposed to contaminate and degrade it. Thus the enmitiesand heartburnings of these parties were increased even by the usual means bywhich discord is made to cease and quarrels are turned into friendship. In themeantime, the pride of the wealthy men, not noble or newly noble, increasedwith its cause. They felt with resentment an inferiority, the grounds of whichthey did not acknowledge. There was no measure to which they were not willingto lend themselves in order to be revenged of the outrages of this rival prideand to exalt their wealth to what they considered as its natural rank andestimation. They struck at the nobility through the crown and the church. Theyattacked them particularly on the side on which they thought them the mostvulnerable, that is, the possessions of the church, which, through thepatronage of the crown, generally devolved upon the nobility.
The bishoprics and the great commendatory abbeys were, with few exceptions,held by that order.
In this state of real, though not always perceived, warfare between thenoble ancient landed interest and the new monied interest, the greatest,because the most applicable, strength was in the hands of the latter. Themonied interest is in its nature more ready for any adventure, and itspossessors more disposed to new enterprises of any kind. Being of a recentacquisition, it falls in more naturally with any novelties. It is therefore thekind of wealth which will be resorted to by all who wish for change.
Along with the monied interest, a new description of men had grown up withwhom that interest soon formed a close and marked union — I mean thepolitical men of letters. Men of letters, fond of distinguishing themselves,are rarely averse to innovation. Since the decline of the life and greatness ofLouis the Fourteenth, they were not so much cultivated, either by him or by theregent or the successors to the crown, nor were they engaged to the court byfavors and emoluments so systematically as during the splendid period of thatostentatious and not impolitic reign. What they lost in the old courtprotection, they endeavored to make up by joining in a sort of incorporation oftheir own; to which the two academies of France, and afterwards the vastundertaking of the Encyclopedia, carried on by a society of these gentlemen,did not a little contribute.
The literary cabal had some years ago formed something like a regular planfor the destruction of the Christian religion. This object they pursued with adegree of zeal which hitherto had been discovered only in the propagators ofsome system of piety. They were possessed with a spirit of proselytism in themost fanatical degree; and from thence, by an easy progress, with the spirit ofpersecution according to their means.What was not to be done toward their great end by any direct or immediate actmight be wrought by a longer process through the medium of opinion. To commandthat opinion, the first step is to establish a dominion over those who directit. They contrived to possess themselves, with great method and perseverance,of all the avenues to literary fame. Many of them indeed stood high in theranks of literature and science. The world had done them justice and in favorof general talents forgave the evil tendency of their peculiar principles. Thiswas true liberality, which they returned by endeavoring to confine thereputation of sense, learning, and taste to themselves or their followers. Iwill venture to say that this narrow, exclusive spirit has not been lessprejudicial to literature and to taste than to morals and true philosophy.These atheistical fathers have a bigotry of their own, and they have learned totalk against monks with the spirit of a monk. But in some things they are menof the world. The resources of intrigue are called in to supply the defects ofargument and wit. To this system of literary monopoly was joined an unremittingindustry to blacken and discredit in every way, and by every means, all thosewho did not hold to their faction. To those who have observed the spirit oftheir conduct it has long been clear that nothing was wanted but the power ofcarrying the intolerance of the tongue and of the pen into a persecution whichwould strike at property, liberty, and life.
The desultory and faint persecution carried on against them, more
fromcompliance with form and decency than with serious resentment,
neither weakenedtheir strength nor relaxed their efforts. The issue of
the whole was that, whatwith opposition, and what with success, a
violent and malignant zeal, of a kindhitherto unknown in the world, had
taken an entire possession of their mindsand rendered their whole
conversation, which otherwise would have been pleasingand instructive,
perfectly disgusting. A spirit of cabal, intrigue, andproselytism
pervaded all their thoughts, words, and actions. And ascontroversial
zeal soon turns its thoughts on force, they began to
insinuatethemselves into a correspondence with foreign princes, in
hopes through theirauthority, which at first they flattered, they might
bring about the changesthey had in view. To them it was indifferent
whether these changes were to beaccomplished by the thunderbolt of
despotism or by the earthquake of popularcommotion. The correspondence
between this cabal and the late king of Prussiawill throw no small
light upon the spirit of all their proceedings.
Writers, especially when they act in a body and with one direction, havegreat influence on the public mind; the alliance, therefore, of these writerswith the monied interest had no smalleffect in removing the popular odium and envy which attended that species ofwealth. These writers, like the propagators of all novelties, pretended to agreat zeal for the poor and the lower orders, whilst in their satires theyrendered hateful, by every exaggeration, the faults of courts, of nobility, andof priesthood. They became a sort of demagogues. They served as a link tounite, in favor of one object, obnoxious wealth to restless and desperatepoverty.
As these two kinds of men appear principal leaders in all the latetransactions, their junction and politics will serve to account, not upon anyprinciples of law or of policy, but as a cause, for the general fury with whichall the landed property of ecclesiastical corporations has been attacked; andthe great care which, contrary to their pretended principles, has been taken ofa monied interest originating from the authority of the crown. All the envyagainst wealth and power was artificially directed against other descriptionsof riches. On what other principle than that which I have stated can we accountfor an appearance so extraordinary and unnatural as that of the ecclesiasticalpossessions, which had stood so many successions of ages and shocks of civilviolences, and were girded at once by justice and by prejudice, being appliedto the payment of debts comparatively recent, invidious, and contracted by adecried and subverted government?
WAS the public estate a sufficient stake for the public debts? Assume thatit was not, and that a loss must be incurred somewhere. — When the onlyestate lawfully possessed, and which the contracting parties had incontemplation at the time in which their bargain was made, happens to fail, whoaccording to the principles of natural and legal equity ought to be thesufferer? Certainly it ought to be either the party who trusted or the partywho persuaded him to trust, or both, and not third parties who had no concernwith the transaction. Upon any insolvency they ought to suffer who are weakenough to lend upon bad security, or they who fraudulently held out a securitythat was not valid. Laws are acquainted with no other rules of decision. But bythe new institute of the rights of men, the only persons who in equity ought tosuffer are the only persons who are to be saved harmless: those are to answerthe debt who neither were lenders nor borrowers, mortgagers nor mortgagees.
What had the clergy to do with these transactions? What had they to do withany public engagement further than the extent of their own debt? To that, to besure, their estates were bound to the last acre. Nothing can lead more to thetrue spirit of the Assembly, which sits for public confiscation, with its newequity and its new morality, than an attention to their proceeding with regardto this debt of the clergy. The body of confiscators, true to that moniedinterest for which they were false to every other, have found the clergycompetent to incur a legal debt. Of course, they declared them legally entitledto the property which their power of incurring the debt and mortgaging theestate implied, recognizing the rights of those persecuted citizens in the veryact in which they were thus grossly violated.
If, as I said, any persons are to make good deficiencies to the publiccreditor, besides the public at large, they must be those who managed theagreement. Why, therefore, are not the estates of all the comptrollers-generalconfiscated? Why not those of the longsuccession of ministers, financiers, and bankers who have been enriched whilstthe nation was impoverished by their dealings and their counsels? Why is notthe estate of M. Laborde declared forfeited rather than of the archbishop ofParis, who has had nothing to do in the creation or in the jobbing of thepublic funds? Or, if you must confiscate old landed estates in favor of themoney-jobbers, why is the penalty confined to one description? I do not knowwhether the expenses of the Duke de Choiseul have left anything of the infinitesums which he had derived from the bounty of his master during the transactionsof a reign which contributed largely by every species of prodigality in war andpeace to the present debt of France. If any such remains, why is not thisconfiscated? I remember to have been in Paris during the time of the oldgovernment. I was there just after the Duke d'Aiguillon had been snatched (asit was generally thought) from the block by the hand of a protecting despotism.
He was a minister and had some concern in the affairs of that prodigalperiod. Why do I not see his estate delivered up to the municipalities in whichit is situated? The noble family of Noailles have long been servants(meritorious servants I admit) to the crown of France, and have had, of course,some share in its bounties. Why do I hear nothing of the application of theirestates to the public debt? Why is the estate of the Duke de Rochefoucault moresacred than that of the Cardinal de Rochefoucault? The former is, I doubt not,a worthy person, and (if it were not a sort of profaneness to talk of the use,as affecting the title to the property) he makes a good use of his revenues;but it is no disrespect to him to say, what authentic information well warrantsme in saying, that the use made of a property equally valid by his brother,(2) the cardinal archbishop of Rouen,was far more laudable and far more public-spirited. Can one hear of theproscription of such persons and the confiscation of their effects withoutindignation and horror? He is not a man who does not feel such emotions on suchoccasions. He does not deserve the name of a freeman who will not express them.
Few barbarous conquerors have ever made so terrible a revolution inproperty. None of the heads of the Roman factions, when they establishedcrudelem illam hastam in all their auctions of rapine, have ever set up to salethe goods of the conquered citizen to such an enormous amount. It must beallowed in favor of those tyrants of antiquity that what was done by them couldhardly be said to be done in cold blood. Their passions were inflamed, theirtempers soured, their understandings confused with the spirit of revenge, withthe innumerable reciprocated and recent inflictions and retaliations of bloodand rapine. They were driven beyond all bounds of moderation by theapprehension of the return of power, with the return of property, to thefamilies of those they had injured beyond all hope of forgiveness.
These Roman confiscators, who were yet only in the elements of tyranny, andwere not instructed in the rights of men to exercise all sorts of cruelties oneach other without provocation, thought it necessary to spread a sort of colorover their injustice.
They considered the vanquished party as composed of traitors who had bornearms, or otherwise had acted with hostility, against the commonwealth. Theyregarded them as persons who had forfeited their property by their crimes. Withyou, in your improved state of the human mind, there was no such formality. Youseized upon five millions sterling of annual rent and turned forty or fiftythousand human creatures out of their houses, because "such was yourpleasure". The tyrant Harry the Eighth of England, as he was not betterenlightened than the Roman Mariuses and Sullas, and had not studied in your newschools, did not know what an effectual instrument of despotism was to be foundin that grand magazine of offensive weapons, the rights of men. When heresolved to rob the abbeys, as the club of the Jacobins have robbed all theecclesiastics, he began by setting on foot a commission to examine into thecrimes and abuses which prevailed in those communities. As it might beexpected, his commission reported truths, exaggerations, and falsehoods. Buttruly or falsely, it reported abuses and offenses. However, as abuses might becorrected, as every crime of persons does not infer a forfeiture with regard tocommunities, and as property, in that dark age, was not discovered to be acreature of prejudice, all those abuses (and there were enough of them) werehardly thought sufficient ground for such a confiscation as it was for hispurpose to make. He, therefore, procured the formal surrender of these estates.All these operose proceedings were adopted by one of the most decided tyrantsin the rolls of history as necessary preliminaries before he could venture, bybribing the members of his two servile houses with a share of the spoil andholding out to them an eternal immunity from taxation, to demand a confirmationof his iniquitous proceedings by an act of Parliament. Had fate reserved him toour times, four technical terms would have done his business and saved him allthis trouble; he needed nothing more than one short form of incantation —"Philosophy, Light, Liberality, the Rights of Men".
I can say nothing in praise of those acts of tyranny which no voice hashitherto ever commended under any of their false colors, yet in these falsecolors an homage was paid by despotism to justice. The power which was aboveall fear and all remorse was not set above all shame. Whilst shame keeps itswatch, virtue is not wholly extinguished in the heart, nor will moderation beutterly exiled from the minds of tyrants.
I believe every honest man sympathizes in his reflections with our politicalpoet on that occasion, and will pray to avert the omen whenever these acts ofrapacious despotism present themselves to his view or his imagination: —
May no such storm
Fall on our times, where ruin must reform.
Tell me (my Muse) what monstrous dire offense,
What crimes could any Christian king incense
To such a rage? Was't luxury, or lust?
Was he so temperate, so chaste, so just?
Were these their crimes? they were his own much more,
But wealth is crime enough to him that's poor.
This same wealth, which is at all times treason and lese nation to indigentand rapacious despotism, under all modes of polity, was your temptation toviolate property, law, and religion, united in one object. But was the state ofFrance so wretched and undone that no other recourse but rapine remained topreserve its existence? On this point I wish to receive some information. Whenthe states met, was the condition of the finances of France such that, aftereconomizing on principles of justice and mercy through all departments, no fairrepartition of burdens upon all the orders could possibly restore them? If suchan equal imposition would have been sufficient, you well know it might easilyhave been made. M. Necker, in the budget which he laid before the ordersassembled at Versailles, made a detailed exposition of the state of the Frenchnation.
If we give credit to him, it was not necessary to have recourse to any newimpositions whatsoever to put the receipts of France on a balance with itsexpenses. He stated the permanent charges of all descriptions, including theinterest of a new loan of four hundred millions, at 531,444,000 livres; thefixed revenue at 475,294,000, making the deficiency 56,150,000, or short of�2,200,000 sterling. But to balance it, he brought forward savings andimprovements of revenue (considered as entirely certain) to rather more thanthe amount of that deficiency; and he concludes with these emphatical words (p.39), "Quel pays, Messieurs, que celui, ou, sans impots et avec de simplesobjets inappercus, on peut faire disparoitre un deficit qui a fait tant debruit en Europe". As to the reimbursement, the sinking of debt, and theother great objects of public credit and political arrangement indicated inMons. Necker's speech, no doubt could be entertained but that a very moderateand proportioned assessment on the citizens without distinction would haveprovided for all of them to the fullest extent of their demand.
If this representation of Mons. Necker was false, then the Assembly are inthe highest degree culpable for having forced the king to accept as hisminister and, since the king's deposition, for having employed as theirminister a man who had been capable of abusing so notoriously the confidence ofhis master and their own, in a matter, too, of the highest moment and directlyappertaining to his particular office. But if the representation was exact (ashaving always, along with you, conceived a high degree of respect for M.Necker, I make no doubt it was), then what can be said in favor of those who,instead of moderate, reasonable, and general contribution, have in cold blood,and impelled by no necessity, had recourse to a partial and cruel confiscation?
Was that contribution refused on a pretext of privilege, either on the partof the clergy or on that of the nobility? No, certainly. As to the clergy, theyeven ran before the wishes of the third order. Previous to the meeting of thestates, they had in all their instructions expressly directed their deputies torenounce every immunity which put them upon a footing distinct from thecondition of their fellow subjects. In this renunciation the clergy were evenmore explicit than the nobility.
But let us suppose that the deficiency had remained at the fifty-sixmillions (or �2,200,000 sterling), as at first stated by M. Necker. Let usallow that all the resources he opposed to that deficiency were impudent andgroundless fictions, and that the Assembly (or their lords of articles at the Jacobins) were from thencejustified in laying the whole burden of that deficiency on the clergy —yet allowing all this, a necessity of �2,200,000 sterling will not supporta confiscation to the amount of five millions. The imposition of�2,200,000 on the clergy, as partial, would have been oppressive andunjust, but it would not have been altogether ruinous to those on whom it wasimposed, and therefore it would not have answered the real purpose of themanagers.
Perhaps persons unacquainted with the state of France, on hearing the clergyand the noblesse were privileged in point of taxation, may be led to imaginethat, previous to the Revolution, these bodies had contributed nothing to thestate. This is a great mistake. They certainly did not contribute equally witheach other, nor either of them equally with the commons. They both, however,contributed largely. Neither nobility nor clergy enjoyed any exemption from theexcise on consumable commodities, from duties of custom, or from any of theother numerous indirect impositions, which in France, as well as here, make sovery large a proportion of all payments to the public. The noblesse paid thecapitation. They paid also a land-tax, called the twentieth penny, to theheight sometimes of three, sometimes of four, shillings in the pound —both of them direct impositions of no light nature and no trivial produce. Theclergy of the provinces annexed by conquest to France (which in extent makeabout an eighth part of the whole, but in wealth a much larger proportion) paidlikewise to the capitation and the twentieth penny, at the rate paid by thenobility. The clergy in the old provinces did not pay the capitation, but theyhad redeemed themselves at the expense of about 24 millions, or a little morethan a million sterling. They were exempted from the twentieths; but then theymade free gifts, they contracted debts for the state, and they were subject tosome other charges, the whole computed at about a thirteenth part of theirclear income. They ought to have paid annually about forty thousand pounds moreto put them on a par with the contribution of the nobility.
When the terrors of this tremendous proscription hung over the clergy, theymade an offer of a contribution through the archbishop of Aix, which, for itsextravagance, ought not to have been accepted. But it was evidently andobviously more advantageous to the public creditor than anything which couldrationally be promised by the confiscation. Why was it not accepted? The reasonis plain: there was no desire that the church should be brought to serve thestate. The service of the state was made a pretext to destroy the church. Intheir way to the destruction of the church they would not scruple to destroytheir country; and they have destroyed it. One great end in the project wouldhave been defeated if the plan of extortion had been adopted in lieu of thescheme of confiscation. The new landed interest connected with the newrepublic, and connected with it for its very being, could not have beencreated. This was among the reasons why that extravagant ransom was notaccepted.
THE madness of the project ofconfiscation, on the plan that was first pretended, soon became apparent. Tobring this unwieldy mass of landed property, enlarged by the confiscation ofall the vast landed domain of the crown, at once into market was obviously todefeat the profits proposed by the confiscation by depreciating the value ofthose lands and, indeed, of all the landed estates throughout France. Such asudden diversion of all its circulating money from trade to land must be anadditional mischief What step was taken? Did the Assembly, on becoming sensibleof the inevitable ill effects of their projected sale, revert to the offers ofthe clergy? No distress could oblige them to travel in a course which wasdisgraced by any appearance of justice. Giving over all hopes from a generalimmediate sale, another project seems to have succeeded. They proposed to takestock in exchange for the church lands. In that project great difficultiesarose in equalizing the objects to be exchanged. Other obstacles also presentedthemselves, which threw them back again upon some project of sale. Themunicipalities had taken an alarm. They would not hear of transferring thewhole plunder of the kingdom to the stockholders in Paris. Many of thosemunicipalities had been (upon system) reduced to the most deplorable indigence.Money was nowhere to be seen. They were, therefore, led to the point that wasso ardently desired. They panted for a currency of any kind which might revivetheir perishing industry. The municipalities were then to be admitted to ashare in the spoil, which evidently rendered the first scheme (if ever it hadbeen seriously entertained) altogether impracticable. Public exigencies pressedupon all sides. The minister of finance reiterated his call for supply with amost urgent, anxious, and boding voice. Thus pressed on all sides, instead ofthe first plan of converting their bankers into bishops and abbots, instead ofpaying the old debt, they contracted a new debt at 3 per cent, creating a newpaper currency founded on an eventual sale of the church lands. They issuedthis paper currency to satisfy in the first instance chiefly the demands madeupon them by the bank of discount, the great machine, or paper-mill, of theirfictitious wealth.
The spoil of the church was now become the only resource of all theiroperations in finance, the vital principle of all their politics, the solesecurity for the existence of their power. It was necessary by all, even themost violent means, to put every individual on the same bottom, and to bind thenation in one guilty interest to uphold this act and the authority of those bywhom it was done. In order to force the most reluctant into a participation oftheir pillage, they rendered their paper circulation compulsory in allpayments. Those who consider the general tendency of their schemes to this oneobject as a center, and a center from which afterwards all their measuresradiate, will not think that I dwell too long upon this part of the proceedingsof the National Assembly.
To cut off all appearance of connection between the crown and publicjustice, and to bring the whole under implicit obedience to the dictators inParis, the old independent judicature of the parliaments, with all its meritsand all its faults, was wholly abolished. Whilst the parliaments existed, itwas evident that the people might some time or other come to resort to them andrally under the standard of their ancient laws. It became, however, a matter ofconsideration that the magistrates and officers, in the courts now abolished,had purchased their places at a very high rate, for which, as well as for theduty they performed, they received but a very low return of interest. Simpleconfiscation is a boon only for the clergy; to the lawyers some appearances ofequity are to be observed, and they are to receive compensation to an immenseamount. Their compensation becomes part of the national debt, for theliquidation of which there is the one exhaustless fund. The lawyers are toobtain their compensation in the new church paper, which is to march with thenew principles of judicature and legislature. The dismissed magistrates are totake their share of martyrdom with the ecclesiastics, or to receive their ownproperty from such a fund, and in such a manner, as all those who have beenseasoned with the ancient principles of jurisprudence and had been the swornguardians of property must look upon with horror. Even the clergy are toreceive their miserable allowance out of the depreciated paper, which isstamped with the indelible character of sacrilege and with the symbols of theirown ruin, or they must starve. So violent an outrage upon credit, property, andliberty as this compulsory paper currency has seldom been exhibited by thealliance of bankruptcy and tyranny, at any time or in any nation.
In the course of all these operations, at length comes out the grand arcanum— that in reality, and in a fair sense, the lands of the church (so far asanything certain can be gathered from their proceedings) are not to be sold atall. By the late resolutions of the National Assembly, they are, indeed, to bedelivered to the highest bidder. But it is to be observed that a certainportion only of the purchase money is to be laid down. A period of twelve yearsis to be given for the payment of the rest. The philosophic purchasers aretherefore, on payment of a sort of fine, to be put instantly into possession ofthe estate. It becomes in some respects a sort of gift to them — to beheld on the feudal tenure of zeal to the new establishment. This project isevidently to let in a body of purchasers without money. The consequence will bethat these purchasers, or rather grantees, will pay, not only from the rents asthey accrue, which might as well be received by the state, but from the spoilof the materials of buildings, from waste in woods, and from whatever money, byhands habituated to the gripings of usury, they can wring from the miserablepeasant. He is to be delivered over to the mercenary and arbitrary discretionof men who will be stimulated to every species of extortion by the growingdemands on the growing profits of an estate held under the precarioussettlement of a new political system.
When all the frauds, impostures, violences, rapines, burnings, murders,confiscations, compulsory paper currencies, and every description of tyrannyand cruelty employed to bring about and to uphold this Revolution have theirnatural effect, that is, to shock the moral sentiments of all virtuous andsober minds, the abettors of this philosophic system immediately strain theirthroats in a declamation against the old monarchical government of France. Whenthey have rendered that deposed power sufficiently black, they then proceed inargument as if all those who disapprove of their new abuses must of course bepartisans of the old, that those who reprobate their crude and violent schemesof liberty ought to be treated as advocates for servitude. I admit that theirnecessities do compel them to this base and contemptible fraud. Nothing canreconcile men to their proceedings and projects but the supposition that thereis no third option between them and some tyranny as odious as can be furnishedby the records of history, or by the invention of poets. This prattling oftheirs hardly deserves the name of sophistry. It is nothing but plainimpudence. Have these gentlemen never heard, in the whole circle of the worldsof theory and practice, of anything between the despotism of the monarch andthe despotism of the multitude? Have they never heard of a monarchy directed bylaws, controlled and balanced by the great hereditary wealth and hereditarydignity of a nation, and both again controlled by a judicious check from thereason and feeling of the people at large acting by a suitable and permanentorgan? Is it then impossible that a man may be found who, without criminal illintention or pitiable absurdity, shall prefer such a mixed and temperedgovernment to either of the extremes, and who may repute that nation to bedestitute of all wisdom and of all virtue which, having in its choice to obtainsuch a government with ease, or rather to confirm it when actually possessed,thought proper to commit a thousand crimes and to subject their country to athousand evils in order to avoid it? Is it then a truth so universallyacknowledged that a pure democracy is the only tolerable form into which humansociety can be thrown, that a man is not permitted to hesitate about its meritswithout the suspicion of being a friend to tyranny, that is, of being a foe tomankind?
I do not know under what description to class the present ruling authorityin France. It affects to be a pure democracy, though I think it in a directtrain of becoming shortly a mischievous and ignoble oligarchy. But for thepresent I admit it to be a contrivance of the nature and effect of what itpretends to. I reprobate no form of government merely upon abstract principles.There may be situations in which the purely democratic form will becomenecessary. There may be some (very few, and very particularly circumstanced)where it would be clearly desirable. This I do not take to be the case ofFrance or of any other great country. Until now, we have seen no examples ofconsiderable democracies. The ancients were better acquainted with them. Notbeing wholly unread in the authors who had seen the most of thoseconstitutions, and who best understood them, I cannot help concurring withtheir opinion that an absolute democracy, no more than absolute monarchy, is tobe reckoned among the legitimate forms of government. They think it rather thecorruption and degeneracy than the sound constitution of a republic. If Irecollect rightly, Aristotle observes that a democracy has many striking pointsof resemblance with a tyranny. Of thisI am certain, that in a democracy the majority of the citizens is capable ofexercising the most cruel oppressions upon the minority whenever strongdivisions prevail in that kind of polity, as they often must; and thatoppression of the minority will extend to far greater numbers and will becarried on with much greater fury than can almost ever be apprehended from thedominion of a single scepter. In such a popular persecution, individualsufferers are in a much more deplorable condition than in any other. Under acruel prince they have the balmy compassion of mankind to assuage the smart oftheir wounds; they have the plaudits of the people to animate their generousconstancy under their sufferings; but those who are subjected to wrong undermultitudes are deprived of all external consolation. They seem deserted bymankind, overpowered by a conspiracy of their whole species.
BUT ADMITTING DEMOCRACY not tohave that inevitable tendency to party tyranny, which I suppose it to have, andadmitting it to possess as much good in it when unmixed as I am sure itpossesses when compounded with other forms, does monarchy, on its part, containnothing at all to recommend it? I do not often quote Bolingbroke, nor have hisworks in general left any permanent impression on my mind. He is a presumptuousand a superficial writer. But he has one observation which, in my opinion, isnot without depth and solidity. He says that he prefers a monarchy to othergovernments because you can better ingraft any description of republic on amonarchy than anything of monarchy upon the republican forms. I think himperfectly in the right. The fact is so historically, and it agrees well withthe speculation.
I know how easy a topic it is to dwell on the faults of departed greatness.By a revolution in the state, the fawning sycophant of yesterday is convertedinto the austere critic of the present hour. But steady, independent minds,when they have an object of so serious a concern to mankind as government undertheir contemplation, will disdain to assume the part of satirists anddeclaimers. They will judge of human institutions as they do of humancharacters. They will sort out the good from the evil, which is mixed in mortalinstitutions, as it is in mortal men.
YOUR government in France,though usually, and I think justly, reputed the best of the unqualified orill-qualified monarchies, was still full of abuses. These abuses accumulated ina length of time, as they must accumulate in every monarchy not under theconstant inspection of a popular representative. I am no stranger to the faultsand defects of the subverted government of France, and I think I am notinclined by nature or policy to make a panegyric upon anything which is a justand natural object of censure. But the question is not now of the vices of thatmonarchy, but of its existence. Is it, then, true that the French governmentwas such as to be incapable or undeserving of reform, so that it was ofabsolute necessity that the whole fabric should be at once pulled down and thearea cleared for the erection of a theoretic, experimental edifice in itsplace? All France was of a different opinion in the beginning of the year 1789.The instructions to the representatives to the States-General, from everydistrict in that kingdom, were filled with projects for the reformation of thatgovernment without the remotest suggestion of a design to destroy it. Had sucha design been even insinuated, I believe there would have been but one voice,and that voice for rejecting it with scorn and horror. Men have been sometimesled by degrees, sometimes hurried, into things of which, if they could haveseen the whole together, they never would have permitted the most remoteapproach. When those instructions were given, there was no question but thatabuses existed, and that they demanded a reform; nor is there now. In theinterval between the instructions and the revolution things changed theirshape; and in consequence of that change, the true question at present is,Whether those who would have reformed or those who have destroyed are in theright?
To hear some men speak of the late monarchy of France, you would imaginethat they were talking of Persia bleeding under the ferocious sword of TahmasKouli Khan, or at least describing the barbarous anarchic despotism of Turkey,where the finest countries in the most genial climates in the world are wastedby peace more than any countries have been worried by war, where arts areunknown, where manufactures languish, where science is extinguished, whereagriculture decays, where the human race itself melts away and perishes underthe eye of the observer. Was this the case of France? I have no way ofdetermining the question but by reference to facts. Facts do not support thisresemblance. Along with much evil there is some good in monarchy itself, andsome corrective to its evil from religion, from laws, from manners, fromopinions the French monarchy must have received, which rendered it (though byno means a free, and therefore by no means a good, constitution) a despotismrather in appearance than in reality.
AMONG the standards upon whichthe effects of government on any country are to be estimated, I must considerthe state of its population as not the least certain. No country in whichpopulation flourishes and is in progressive improvement can be under a verymischievous government. About sixty years ago, the Intendants of thegeneralities of France made, with other matters, a report of the population oftheir several districts. I have not the books, which are very voluminous, byme, nor do I know where to procure them (I am obliged to speak by memory, andtherefore the less positively), but I think the population of France was bythem, even at that period, estimated at twenty-two millions of souls. At theend of the last century it had been generally calculated at eighteen. On eitherof these estimations, France was not ill peopled. M. Necker, who is anauthority for his own time, at least equal to the Intendants for theirs,reckons, and upon apparently sure principles, the people of France in the year1780 at twenty-four millions six hundred and seventy thousand. But was this theprobable ultimate term under the old establishment? Dr. Price is of opinionthat the growth of population in France was by no means at its acme in thatyear. I certainly defer to Dr. Price's authority a good deal more in thesespeculations than I do in his general politics. This gentleman, taking groundon M. Necker's data, is very confident that since the period of that minister'scalculation the French population has increased rapidly — so rapidly thatin the year 1789 he will not consent to rate the people of that kingdom at alower number than thirty millions. After abating much (and much I think oughtto be abated) from the sanguine calculation of Dr. Price, I have no doubt thatthe population of France did increase considerably during this later period;but supposing that it increased to nothing more than will be sufficient tocomplete the twenty-four millions six hundred and seventy thousand totwenty-five millions, still a population of twenty-five millions, and that inan increasing progress, on a space of about twenty-seven thousand squareleagues is immense. It is, for instance, a good deal more than theproportionable population of this island, or even than that of England, thebest peopled part of the United Kingdom.
It is not universally true that France is a fertile country. Considerabletracts of it are barren and labor under other natural disadvantages. In theportions of that territory where things are more favorable, as far as I am ableto discover, the numbers of the people correspond to the indulgence of nature. The Generality of Lisle (this I admitis the strongest example) upon an extent of four hundred and four leagues and ahalf, about ten years ago, contained seven hundred and thirty-four thousand sixhundred souls, which is one thousand seven hundred and seventy-two inhabitantsto each square league. The middle term for the rest of France is about ninehundred inhabitants to the same admeasurement.
I do not attribute this population to the deposed government, because I donot like to compliment the contrivances of men with what is due in a greatdegree to the bounty of Providence. But that decried government could not haveobstructed, most probably it favored, the operation of those causes (whateverthey were), whether of nature in the soil or habits of industry among thepeople, which has produced so large a number of the species throughout thatwhole kingdom and exhibited in some particular places such prodigies ofpopulation. I never will suppose that fabric of a state to be the worst of allpolitical institutions which, by experience, is found to contain a principlefavorable (however latent it may be) to the increase of mankind.
The wealth of a country is another, and no contemptible, standard by
whichwe may judge whether, on the whole, a government be protecting or
destructive.France far exceeds England in the multitude of her people,
but I apprehend thather comparative wealth is much inferior to ours,
that it is not so equal in thedistribution, nor so ready in the
circulation. I believe the difference in theform of the two governments
to be amongst the causes of this advantage on theside of England. I
speak of England, not of the whole British dominions, which,if compared
with those of France, will, in some degree, weaken the comparativerate
of wealth upon our side. But that wealth, which will not endure
acomparison with the riches of England, may constitute a very
respectable degreeof opulence. M. Necker's book, published in 1785,
It is impossible that M. Necker should be mistaken in the amount of thebullion which has been coined in the mint. It is a matter of official record.The reasonings of this able financier, concerning the quantity of gold andsilver which remained for circulation, when he wrote in 1785, that is, aboutfour years before the deposition and imprisonment of the French king, are notof equal certainty, but they are laid on grounds so apparently solid that it isnot easy to refuse a considerable degree of assent to his calculation. Hecalculates the numeraire, or what we call "specie", then actuallyexisting in France at about eighty-eight millions of the same English money. Agreat accumulation of wealth for one country, large as that country is! M.Necker was so far from considering this influx of wealth as likely to cease,when he wrote in 1785, that he presumes upon a future annual increase of twoper cent upon the money brought into France during the periods from which hecomputed.
Some adequate cause must have originally introduced all the money coined atits mint into that kingdom, and some cause as operative must have kept at home,or returned into its bosom, such a vast flood of treasure as M. Neckercalculates to remain for domestic circulation. Suppose any reasonabledeductions from M. Necker's computation, the remainder must still amount to animmense sum. Causes thus powerful to acquire, and to retain, cannot be found indiscouraged industry, insecure property, and a positively destructivegovernment. Indeed, when I consider the face of the kingdom of France, themultitude and opulence of her cities, the useful magnificence of her spacioushigh roads and bridges, the opportunity of her artificial canals andnavigations opening the conveniences of maritime communication through a solidcontinent of so immense an extent; when I turn my eyes to the stupendous worksof her ports and harbors, and to her whole naval apparatus, whether for war ortrade; when I bring before my view the number of her fortifications,constructed with so bold and masterly a skill and made and maintained at soprodigious a charge, presenting an armed front and impenetrable barrier to herenemies upon every side; when I recollect how very small a part of thatextensive region is without cultivation, and to what complete perfection theculture of many of the best productions of the earth have been brought inFrance; when I reflect on the excellence of her manufactures and fabrics,second to none but ours, and in some particulars not second; when I contemplatethe grand foundations of charity, public and private; when I survey the stateof all the arts that beautify and polish life; when I reckon the men she hasbred for extending her fame in war, her able statesmen, the multitude of herprofound lawyers and theologians, her philosophers, her critics, her historiansand antiquaries, her poets and her orators, sacred and profane — I beholdin all this something which awes and commands the imagination, which checks themind on the brink of precipitate and indiscriminate censure, and which demandsthat we should very seriously examine what and how great are the latent vicesthat could authorize us at once to level so spacious a fabric with the ground.I do not recognize in this view of things the despotism of Turkey. Nor do Idiscern the character of a government that has been, on the whole, sooppressive or so corrupt or so negligent as to be utterly unfit for allreformation. I must think such a government well deserved to have itsexcellence heightened, its faults corrected, and its capacities improved into aBritish constitution.
Whoever has examined into the proceedings of that deposed government forseveral years back cannot fail to have observed, amidst the inconstancy andfluctuation natural to courts, an earnest endeavor toward the prosperity andimprovement of the country; he must admit that it had long been employed, insome instances wholly to remove, in many considerably to correct, the abusivepractices and usages that had prevailed in the state, and that even theunlimited power of the sovereign over the persons of his subjects,inconsistent, as undoubtedly it was, with law and liberty, had yet been everyday growing more mitigated in the exercise. So far from refusing itself toreformation, that government was open, with a censurable degree of facility, toall sorts of projects and projectors on the subject. Rather too muchcountenance was given to the spirit of innovation, which soon was turnedagainst those who fostered it, and ended in their ruin. It is but cold, and novery flattering, justice to that fallen monarchy to say that, for many years,it trespassed more by levity and want of judgment in several of its schemesthan from any defect in diligence or in public spirit. To compare thegovernment of France for the last fifteen or sixteen years with wise andwell-constituted establishments during that, or during any period, is not toact with fairness. But if in point of prodigality in the expenditure of money,or in point of rigor in the exercise of power, it be compared with any of theformer reigns, I believe candid judges will give little credit to the goodintentions of those who dwell perpetually on the donations to favorites, or onthe expenses of the court, or on the horrors of the Bastille in the reign ofLouis the Sixteenth.
WHETHER the system, if itdeserves such a name, now built on the ruins of that ancient monarchy will beable to give a better account of the population and wealth of the country whichit has taken under its care, is a matter very doubtful. Instead of improving bythe change, I apprehend that a long series of years must be told before it canrecover in any degree the effects of this philosophic revolution, and beforethe nation can be replaced on its former footing. If Dr. Price should thinkfit, a few years hence, to favor us with an estimate of the population ofFrance, he will hardly be able to make up his tale of thirty millions of souls,as computed in 1789, or the Assembly's computation of twenty-six millions ofthat year, or even M. Necker's twenty-five millions in 1780. I hear that thereare considerable emigrations from France, and that many, quitting thatvoluptuous climate and that seductive Circean liberty, have taken refuge in thefrozen regions, and under the British despotism, of Canada.
In the present disappearance of coin, no person could think it the
samecountry in which the present minister of the finances has been able
to discoverfourscore millions sterling in specie. From its general
aspect one wouldconclude that it had been for some time past under the
special direction of thelearned academicians of Laputa and Balnibarbi.
They are contriving at once a vigorous police on this subject and, for thefirst time, the imposition of a tax to maintain the poor, for whose presentrelief great sums appear on the face of the public accounts of the year.(3) In the meantime the leaders of thelegislative clubs and coffee-houses are intoxicated with admiration at theirown wisdom and ability. They speak with the most sovereign contempt of the restof the world. They tell the people, to comfort them in the rags with which theyhave clothed them, that they are a nation of philosophers; and sometimes by allthe arts of quackish parade, by show, tumult, and bustle, sometimes by thealarms of plots and invasions, they attempt to drown the cries of indigence andto divert the eyes of the observer from the ruin and wretchedness of the state.A brave people will certainly prefer liberty accompanied with a virtuouspoverty to a depraved and wealthy servitude. But before the price of comfortand opulence is paid, one ought to be pretty sure it is real liberty which ispurchased, and that she is to be purchased at no other price. I shall always,however, consider that liberty as very equivocal in her appearance which hasnot wisdom and justice for her companions and does not lead prosperity andplenty in her train.
When I sent this book to the press, I entertained some doubt concerning thenature and extent of the last article in the above accounts, which is onlyunder a general head, without any detail. Since then I have seen M. deCalonne's work. I must think it a great loss to me that I had not thatadvantage earlier. M. de Calonne thinks this article to be on account ofgeneral subsistence; but as he is not able to comprehend how so great a loss asupwards of �1,661,000 sterling could be sustained on the differencebetween the price and the sale of grain, he seems to attribute this enormoushead of charge to secret expenses of the Revolution. I cannot say anythingpositively on that subject. The reader is capable of judging, by the aggregateof these immense charges, on the state and condition of France; and the systemof public economy adopted in that nation. These articles of account produced noinquiry or discussion in the National Assembly.
THE advocates for thisRevolution, not satisfied with exaggerating the vices of their ancientgovernment, strike at the fame of their country itself by painting almost allthat could have attracted the attention of strangers, I mean their nobility andtheir clergy, as objects of horror. If this were only a libel, there had notbeen much in it. But it has practical consequences. Had your nobility andgentry, who formed the great body of your landed men and the whole of yourmilitary officers, resembled those of Germany at the period when the Hansetownswere necessitated to confederate against the nobles in defense of theirproperty; had they been like the Orsini and Vitelli in Italy, who used to sallyfrom their fortified dens to rob the trader and traveller; had they been suchas the Mamelukes in Egypt or the Nayres on the coast of Malabar, I do admitthat too critical an inquiry might not be advisable into the means of freeingthe world from such a nuisance. The statues of Equity and Mercy might be veiledfor a moment. The tenderest minds, confounded with the dreadful exigency inwhich morality submits to the suspension of its own rules in favor of its ownprinciples, might turn aside whilst fraud and violence were accomplishing thedestruction of a pretended nobility which disgraced, whilst it persecuted,human nature. The persons most abhorrent from blood, and treason, and arbitraryconfiscation might remain silent spectators of this civil war between thevices.
But did the privileged nobility who met under the king's precept atVersailles, in 1789, or their constituents, deserve to be looked on as theNayres or Mamelukes of this age, or as the Orsini and Vitelli of ancient times?If I had then asked the question I should have passed for a madman. What havethey since done that they were to be driven into exile, that their personsshould be hunted about, mangled, and tortured, their families dispersed, theirhouses laid in ashes, and that their order should be abolished and the memoryof it, if possible, extinguished by ordaining them to change the very names bywhich they were usually known? Read their instructions to theirrepresentatives. They breathe the spirit of liberty as warmly and theyrecommend reformation as strongly as any other order. Their privileges relativeto contribution were voluntarily surrendered, as the king, from the beginning,surrendered all pretense to a right of taxation. Upon a free constitution therewas but one opinion in France. The absolute monarchy was at an end. It breathedits last, without a groan, without struggle, without convulsion. All thestruggle, all the dissension arose afterwards upon the preference of a despoticdemocracy to a government of reciprocal control. The triumph of the victoriousparty was over the principles of a British constitution.
I have observed the affectation which for many years past has prevailed inParis, even to a degree perfectly childish, of idolizing the memory of yourHenry the Fourth. If anything could put one out of humor with that ornament tothe kingly character, it would be this overdone style of insidious panegyric.The persons who have worked this engine the most busily are those who haveended their panegyrics in dethroning his successor and descendant, a man asgood-natured, at the least, as Henry the Fourth, altogether as fond of hispeople, and who has done infinitely more to correct the ancient vices of thestate than that great monarch did, or we are sure he ever meant to do. Well itis for his panegyrists that they have not him to deal with. For Henry ofNavarre was a resolute, active, and politic prince. He possessed, indeed, greathumanity and mildness, but a humanity and mildness that never stood in the wayof his interests. He never sought to be loved without putting himself first ina condition to be feared. He used soft language with determined conduct. Heasserted and maintained his authority in the gross, and distributed his acts ofconcession only in the detail. He spent the income of his prerogative nobly,but he took care not to break in upon the capital, never abandoning for amoment any of the claims which he made under the fundamental laws, nor sparingto shed the blood of those who opposed him, often in the field, sometimes uponthe scaffold. Because he knew how to make his virtues respected by theungrateful, he has merited the praises of those whom, if they had lived in histime, he would have shut up in the Bastille and brought to punishment alongwith the regicides whom he hanged after he had famished Paris into a surrender.
If these panegyrists are in earnest in their admiration of Henry the Fourth,they must remember that they cannot think more highly of him than he did of thenoblesse of France, whose virtue, honor, courage, patriotism, and loyalty werehis constant theme.
But the nobility of France are degenerated since the days of Henry theFourth. This is possible. But it is more than I can believe to be true in anygreat degree. I do not pretend to know France as correctly as some others, butI have endeavored through my whole life to make myself acquainted with humannature, otherwise I should be unfit to take even my humble part in the serviceof mankind. In that study I could not pass by a vast portion of our nature asit appeared modified in a country but twenty-four miles from the shore of thisisland. On my best observation, compared with my best inquiries, I found yournobility for the greater part composed of men of high spirit and of a delicatesense of honor, both with regard to themselves individually and with regard totheir whole corps, over whom they kept, beyond what is common in othercountries, a censorial eye. They were tolerably well bred, very officious,humane, and hospitable; in their conversation frank and open; with a goodmilitary tone, and reasonably tinctured with literature, particularly of theauthors in their own language. Many had pretensions far above this description.I speak of those who were generally met with.
As to their behavior to the inferior classes, they appeared to me to comportthemselves toward them with good nature and with something more nearlyapproaching to familiarity than is generally practiced with us in theintercourse between the higher and lower ranks of life. To strike any person,even in the most abject condition, was a thing in a manner unknown and would behighly disgraceful. Instances of other ill-treatment of the humble part of thecommunity were rare; and as to attacks made upon the property or the personalliberty of the commons, I never heard of any whatsoever from them; nor, whilstthe laws were in vigor under the ancient government, would such tyranny insubjects have been permitted. As men of landed estates, I had no fault to findwith their conduct, though much to reprehend and much to wish changed in manyof the old tenures. Where the letting of their land was by rent, I could notdiscover that their agreements with their farmers were oppressive; nor whenthey were in partnership with the farmer, as often was the case, have I heardthat they had taken the lion's share. The proportions seemed not inequitable.There might be exceptions, but certainly they were exceptions only. I have noreason to believe that in these respects the landed noblesse of France wereworse than the landed gentry of this country, certainly in no respect morevexatious than the landholders, not noble, of their own nation. In cities thenobility had no manner of power, in the country very little. You know, Sir,that much of the civil government, and the police in the most essential parts,was not in the hands of that nobility which presents itself first to ourconsideration. The revenue, the system and collection of which were the mostgrievous parts of the French government, was not administered by the men of thesword, nor were they answerable for the vices of its principle or thevexations, where any such existed, in its management.
Denying, as I am well warranted to do, that the nobility had anyconsiderable share in the oppression of the people in cases in which realoppression existed, I am ready to admit that they were not without considerablefaults and errors. A foolish imitation of the worst part of the manners ofEngland, which impaired their natural character without substituting in itsplace what, perhaps, they meant to copy, has certainly rendered them worse thanformerly they were. Habitual dissoluteness of manners, continued beyond thepardonable period of life, was more common amongst them than it is with us; andit reigned with the less hope of remedy, though possibly with something of lessmischief by being covered with more exterior decorum. They countenanced toomuch that licentious philosophy which has helped to bring on their ruin. Therewas another error amongst them more fatal. Those of the commons who approachedto or exceeded many of the nobility in point of wealth were not fully admittedto the rank and estimation which wealth, in reason and good policy, ought tobestow in every country, though I think not equally with that of othernobility. The two kinds of aristocracy were too punctiliously kept asunder,less so, however, than in Germany and some other nations.
This separation, as I have already taken the liberty of suggesting to you, Iconceive to be one principal cause of the destruction of the old nobility. Themilitary, particularly, was too exclusively reserved for men of family. But,after all, this was an error of opinion, which a conflicting opinion would haverectified. A permanent assembly in which the commons had their share of powerwould soon abolish whatever was too invidious and insulting in thesedistinctions, and even the faults in the morals of the nobility would have beenprobably corrected by the greater varieties of occupation and pursuit to whicha constitution by orders would have given rise.
All this violent cry against the nobility I take to be a mere work of art.To be honored and even privileged by the laws, opinions, and inveterate usagesof our country, growing out of the prejudice of ages, has nothing to provokehorror and indignation in any man. Even to be too tenacious of those privilegesis not absolutely a crime. The strong struggle in every individual to preservepossession of what he has found to belong to him and to distinguish him is oneof the securities against injustice and despotism implanted in our nature. Itoperates as an instinct to secure property and to preserve communities in asettled state. What is there to shock in this? Nobility is a graceful ornamentto the civil order. It is the Corinthian capital of polished society. Omnesboni nobilitati semper favemus, was the saying of a wise and good man. It isindeed one sign of a liberal and benevolent mind to incline to it with somesort of partial propensity. He feels no ennobling principle in his own heartwho wishes to level all the artificial institutions which have been adopted forgiving a body to opinion, and permanence to fugitive esteem. It is a sour,malignant, envious disposition, without taste for the reality or for any imageor representation of virtue, that sees with joy the unmerited fall of what hadlong flourished in splendor and in honor. I do not like to see anythingdestroyed, any void produced in society, any ruin on the face of the land. Itwas, therefore, with no disappointment or dissatisfaction that my inquiries andobservations did not present to me any incorrigible vices in the noblesse ofFrance, or any abuse which could not be removed by a reform very short ofabolition. Your noblesse did not deserve punishment; but to degrade is topunish.
IT WAS WITH THE SAMESATISFACTION I found that the result of my inquiry concerning yourclergy was not dissimilar. It is no soothing news to my ears that great bodiesof men are incurably corrupt. It is not with much credulity I listen to anywhen they speak evil of those whom they are going to plunder. I rather suspectthat vices are feigned or exaggerated when profit is looked for in theirpunishment. An enemy is a bad witness; a robber is a worse. Vices and abusesthere were undoubtedly in that order, and must be. It was an old establishment,and not frequently revised. But I saw no crimes in the individuals that meritedconfiscation of their substance, nor those cruel insults and degradations, andthat unnatural persecution which have been substituted in the place ofmeliorating regulation.
If there had been any just cause for this new religious persecution, theatheistic libellers, who act as trumpeters to animate the populace to plunder,do not love anybody so much as not to dwell with complacency on the vices ofthe existing clergy. This they have not done. They find themselves obliged torake into the histories of former ages (which they have ransacked with amalignant and profligate industry) for every instance of oppression andpersecution which has been made by that body or in its favor in order tojustify, upon very iniquitous, because very illogical, principles ofretaliation, their own persecutions and their own cruelties. After destroyingall other genealogies and family distinctions, they invent a sort of pedigreeof crimes. It is not very just to chastise men for the offenses of theirnatural ancestors, but to take the fiction of ancestry in a corporatesuccession as a ground for punishing men who have no relation to guilty acts,except in names and general descriptions, is a sort of refinement in injusticebelonging to the philosophy of this enlightened age. The Assembly punishes men,many, if not most, of whom abhor the violent conduct of ecclesiastics in formertimes as much as their present persecutors can do, and who would be as loud andas strong in the expression of that sense, if they were not well aware of thepurposes for which all this declamation is employed.
Corporate bodies are immortal for the good of the members, but not for theirpunishment. Nations themselves are such corporations. As well might we inEngland think of waging inexpiable war upon all Frenchmen for the evils whichthey have brought upon us in the several periods of our mutual hostilities. Youmight, on your part, think yourselves justified in falling upon all Englishmenon account of the unparalleled calamities brought on the people of France bythe unjust invasions of our Henries and our Edwards. Indeed, we should bemutually justified in this exterminatory war upon each other, full as much asyou are in the unprovoked persecution of your present countrymen, on account ofthe conduct of men of the same name in other times.
We do not draw the moral lessons we might from history. On the contrary,without care it may be used to vitiate our minds and to destroy our happiness.In history a great volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing thematerials of future wisdom from the past errors and infirmities of mankind. Itmay, in the perversion, serve for a magazine furnishing offensive and defensiveweapons for parties in church and state, and supplying the means of keepingalive or reviving dissensions and animosities, and adding fuel to civil fury.History consists for the greater part of the miseries brought upon the world bypride, ambition, avarice, revenge, lust, sedition, hypocrisy, ungoverned zeal,and all the train of disorderly appetites which shake the public with the same
— troublous storms that toss
The private state, and render life unsweet.
These vices are the causes of those storms. Religion, morals, laws,prerogatives, privileges, liberties, rights of men are the pretexts. Thepretexts are always found in some specious appearance of a real good. You wouldnot secure men from tyranny and sedition by rooting out of the mind theprinciples to which these fraudulent pretexts apply? If you did, you would rootout everything that is valuable in the human breast. As these are the pretexts,so the ordinary actors and instruments in great public evils are kings,priests, magistrates, senates, parliaments, national assemblies, judges, andcaptains. You would not cure the evil by resolving that there should be no moremonarchs, nor ministers of state, nor of the gospel; no interpreters of law; nogeneral officers; no public councils. You might change the names. The things insome shape must remain. A certain quantum of power must always exist in thecommunity in some hands and under some appellation. Wise men will apply theirremedies to vices, not to names; to the causes of evil which are permanent, notto the occasional organs by which they act, and the transitory modes in whichthey appear. Otherwise you will be wise historically, a fool in practice.Seldom have two ages the same fashion in their pretexts and the same modes ofmischief. Wickedness is a little more inventive. Whilst you are discussingfashion, the fashion is gone by. The very same vice assumes a new body. Thespirit transmigrates, and, far from losing its principle of life by the changeof its appearance, it is renovated in its new organs with a fresh vigor of ajuvenile activity. It walks abroad, it continues its ravages, whilst you aregibbeting the carcass or demolishing the tomb. You are terrifying yourselveswith ghosts and apparitions, whilst your house is the haunt of robbers. It isthus with all those who, attending only to the shell and husk of history, thinkthey are waging war with intolerance, pride, and cruelty, whilst, under colorof abhorring the ill principles of antiquated parties, they are authorizing andfeeding the same odious vices in different factions, and perhaps in worse.
Your citizens of Paris formerly had lent themselves as the ready instrumentsto slaughter the followers of Calvin, at the infamous massacre of St.Bartholomew. What should we say to those who could think of retaliating on theParisians of this day the abominations and horrors of that time? They areindeed brought to abhor that massacre. Ferocious as they are, it is notdifficult to make them dislike it, because the politicians and fashionableteachers have no interest in giving their passions exactly the same direction.Still, however, they find it their interest to keep the same savagedispositions alive. It was but the other day that they caused this verymassacre to be acted on the stage for the diversion of the descendants of thosewho committed it. In this tragic farce they produced the cardinal of Lorrainein his robes of function, ordering general slaughter. Was this spectacleintended to make the Parisians abhor persecution and loathe the effusion ofblood? — No; it was to teach them to persecute their own pastors; it wasto excite them, by raising a disgust and horror of their clergy, to an alacrityin hunting down to destruction an order which, if it ought to exist at all,ought to exist not only in safety, but in reverence. It was to stimulate theircannibal appetites (which one would think had been gorged sufficiently) byvariety and seasoning; and to quicken them to an alertness in new murders andmassacres, if it should suit the purpose of the Guises of the day. An assembly,in which sat a multitude of priests and prelates, was obliged to suffer thisindignity at its door. The author was not sent to the galleys, nor the playersto the house of correction. Not long after this exhibition, those players cameforward to the Assembly to claim the rites of that very religion which they haddared to expose, and to show their prostituted faces in the senate, whilst thearchbishop of Paris, whose function was known to his people only by his prayersand benedictions, and his wealth only by his alms, is forced to abandon hishouse and to fly from his flock (as from ravenous wolves) because, truly, inthe sixteenth century, the cardinal of Lorraine was a rebel and a murderer.
Such is the effect of the perversion of history by those who, for the samenefarious purposes, have perverted every other part of learning. But those whowill stand upon that elevation of reason which places centuries under our eyeand brings things to the true point of comparison, which obscures little namesand effaces the colors of little parties, and to which nothing can ascend butthe spirit and moral quality of human actions, will say to the teachers of thePalais Royal: The cardinal of Lorraine was the murderer of the sixteenthcentury, you have the glory of being the murderers in the eighteenth, and thisis the only difference between you. But history in the nineteenth century,better understood and better employed, will, I trust, teach a civilizedposterity to abhor the misdeeds of both these barbarous ages. It will teachfuture priests and magistrates not to retaliate upon the speculative andinactive atheists of future times the enormities committed by the presentpractical zealots and furious fanatics of that wretched error, which, in itsquiescent state, is more than punished whenever it is embraced. It will teachposterity not to make war upon either religion or philosophy for the abusewhich the hypocrites of both have made of the two most valuable blessingsconferred upon us by the bounty of the universal Patron, who in all thingseminently favors and protects the race of man.
If your clergy, or any clergy, should show themselves vicious beyond thefair bounds allowed to human infirmity, and to those professional faults whichcan hardly be separated from professional virtues, though their vices never cancountenance the exercise of oppression, I do admit that they would naturallyhave the effect of abating very much of our indignation against the tyrants whoexceed measure and justice in their punishment. I can allow in clergymen,through all their divisions, some tenaciousness of their own opinion, someoverflowings of zeal for its propagation, some predilection to their own stateand office, some attachment to the interests of their own corps, somepreference to those who listen with docility to their doctrines, beyond thosewho scorn and deride them. I allow all this, because I am a man who has to dealwith men, and who would not, through a violence of toleration, run into thegreatest of all intolerance. I must bear with infirmities until they festerinto crimes.
Undoubtedly, the natural progress of the passions, from frailty to vice,ought to be prevented by a watchful eye and a firm hand. But is it true thatthe body of your clergy had passed those limits of a just allowance? From thegeneral style of your late publications of all sorts one would be led tobelieve that your clergy in France were a sort of monsters, a horriblecomposition of superstition, ignorance, sloth, fraud, avarice, and tyranny. Butis this true? Is it true that the lapse of time, the cessation of conflictinginterests, the woeful experience of the evils resulting from party rage havehad no sort of influence gradually to meliorate their minds? Is it true thatthey were daily renewing invasions on the civil power, troubling the domesticquiet of their country, and rendering the operations of its government feebleand precarious? Is it true that the clergy of our times have pressed down thelaity with an iron hand and were in all places lighting up the fires of asavage persecution? Did they by every fraud endeavor to increase their estates?Did they use to exceed the due demands on estates that were their own? Or,rigidly screwing up right into wrong, did they convert a legal claim into avexatious extortion? When not possessed of power, were they filled with thevices of those who envy it? Were they inflamed with a violent, litigious spiritof controversy? Goaded on with the ambition of intellectual sovereignty, werethey ready to fly in the face of all magistracy, to fire churches, to massacrethe priests of other descriptions, to pull down altars, and to make their wayover the ruins of subverted governments to an empire of doctrine, sometimesflattering, sometimes forcing the consciences of men from the jurisdiction ofpublic institutions into a submission of their personal authority, beginningwith a claim of liberty and ending with an abuse of power?
These, or some of these, were the vices objected, and not wholly withoutfoundation, to several of the churchmen of former times who belonged to the twogreat parties which then divided and distracted Europe.
If there was in France, as in other countries there visibly is, a greatabatement rather than any increase of these vices, instead of loading thepresent clergy with the crimes of other men and the odious character of othertimes, in common equity they ought to be praised, encouraged, and supported intheir departure from a spirit which disgraced their predecessors, and forhaving assumed a temper of mind and manners more suitable to their sacredfunction.
When my occasions took me into France, toward the close of the late reign,the clergy, under all their forms, engaged a considerable part of my curiosity.So far from finding (except from one set of men, not then very numerous, thoughvery active) the complaints and discontents against that body, which somepublications had given me reason to expect, I perceived little or no public orprivate uneasiness on their account. On further examination, I found theclergy, in general, persons of moderate minds and decorous manners; I includethe seculars and the regulars of both sexes. I had not the good fortune to knowa great many of the parochial clergy, but in general I received a perfectlygood account of their morals and of their attention to their duties. With someof the higher clergy I had a personal acquaintance, and of the rest in thatclass a very good means of information. They were, almost all of them, personsof noble birth. They resembled others of their own rank; and where there wasany difference, it was in their favor. They were more fully educated than themilitary noblesse, so as by no means to disgrace their profession by ignoranceor by want of fitness for the exercise of their authority. They seemed to me,beyond the clerical character, liberal and open, with the hearts of gentlemenand men of honor, neither insolent nor servile in their manners and conduct.They seemed to me rather a superior class, a set of men amongst whom you wouldnot be surprised to find a Fenelon. I saw among the clergy in Paris (many ofthe description are not to be met with anywhere) men of great learning andcandor; and I had reason to believe that this description was not confined toParis. What I found in other places I know was accidental, and therefore to bepresumed a fair example. I spent a few days in a provincial town where, in theabsence of the bishop, I passed my evenings with three clergymen, hisvicars-general, persons who would have done honor to any church. They were allwell informed; two of them of deep, general, and extensive erudition, ancientand modern, oriental and western, particularly in their own profession. Theyhad a more extensive knowledge of our English divines than I expected, and theyentered into the genius of those writers with a critical accuracy. One of thesegentlemen is since dead, the Abbe Morangis. I pay this tribute, withoutreluctance, to the memory of that noble, reverend, learned, and excellentperson; and I should do the same with equal cheerfulness to the merits of theothers who, I believe, are still living, if I did not fear to hurt those whom Iam unable to serve.
Some of these ecclesiastics of rank are by all titles persons deserving ofgeneral respect. They are deserving of gratitude from me and from many English.If this letter should ever come into their hands, I hope they will believethere are those of our nation who feel for their unmerited fall and for thecruel confiscation of their fortunes with no common sensibility. What I say ofthem is a testimony, as far as one feeble voice can go, which I owe to truth.Whenever the question of this unnatural persecution is concerned, I will payit. No one shall prevent me from being just and grateful. The time is fittedfor the duty, and it is particularly becoming to show our justice and gratitudewhen those who have deserved well of us and of mankind are laboring underpopular obloquy and the persecutions of oppressive power.
You had before your Revolution about a hundred and twenty bishops. A few ofthem were men of eminent sanctity, and charity without limit. When we talk ofthe heroic, of course we talk of rare virtue. I believe the instances ofeminent depravity may be as rare amongst them as those of transcendentgoodness. Examples of avarice and of licentiousness may be picked out, I do notquestion it, by those who delight in the investigation which leads to suchdiscoveries. A man as old as I am will not be astonished that several, in everydescription, do not lead that perfect life of self-denial, with regard towealth or to pleasure, which is wished for by all, by some expected, but bynone exacted with more rigor than by those who are the most attentive to theirown interests, or the most indulgent to their own passions. When I was inFrance, I am certain that the number of vicious prelates was not great. Certainindividuals among them, not distinguishable for the regularity of their lives,made some amends for their want of the severe virtues in their possession ofthe liberal, and were endowed with qualities which made them useful in thechurch and state. I am told that, with few exceptions, Louis the Sixteenth hadbeen more attentive to character, in his promotions to that rank, than hisimmediate predecessor; and I believe (as some spirit of reform has prevailedthrough the whole reign) that it may be true. But the present ruling power hasshown a disposition only to plunder the church. It has punished all prelates,which is to favor the vicious, at least in point of reputation. It has made adegrading pensionary establishment to which no man of liberal ideas or liberalcondition will destine his children. It must settle into the lowest classes ofthe people. As with you the inferior clergy are not numerous enough for theirduties; as these duties are, beyond measure, minute and toilsome; as you haveleft no middle classes of clergy at their ease, in future nothing of science orerudition can exist in the Gallican church. To complete the project without theleast attention to the rights of patrons, the Assembly has provided in futurean elective clergy, an arrangement which will drive out of the clericalprofession all men of sobriety, all who can pretend to independence in theirfunction or their conduct, and which will throw the whole direction of thepublic mind into the hands of a set of licentious, bold, crafty, factious,flattering wretches, of such condition and such habits of life as will maketheir contemptible pensions (in comparison of which the stipend of an excisemanis lucrative and honorable) an object of low and illiberal intrigue. Thoseofficers whom they still call bishops are to be elected to a provisioncomparatively mean, through the same arts (that is, electioneering arts), bymen of all religious tenets that are known or can be invented. The newlawgivers have not ascertained anything whatsoever concerning theirqualifications relative either to doctrine or to morals, no more than they havedone with regard to the subordinate clergy; nor does it appear but that boththe higher and the lower may, at their discretion, practice or preach any modeof religion or irreligion that they please. I do not yet see what thejurisdiction of bishops over their subordinates is to be, or whether they areto have any jurisdiction at all.
In short, Sir, it seems to me that this new ecclesiastical establishment isintended only to be temporary and preparatory to the utter abolition, under anyof its forms, of the Christian religion, whenever the minds of men are preparedfor this last stroke against it, by the accomplishment of the plan for bringingits ministers into universal contempt. They who will not believe that thephilosophical fanatics who guide in these matters have long entertained such adesign are utterly ignorant of their character and proceedings. Theseenthusiasts do not scruple to avow their opinion that a state can subsistwithout any religion better than with one, and that they are able to supply theplace of any good which may be in it by a project of their own — namely,by a sort of eduction they have imagined, founded in a knowledge of thephysical wants of men, progressively carried to an enlightened self-interestwhich, when well understood, they tell us, will identify with an interest moreenlarged and public. The scheme of this education has been long known. Of latethey distinguish it (as they have got an entirely new nomenclature of technicalterms) by the name of a Civic Education.
I hope their partisans in England (to whom I rather attribute veryinconsiderate conduct than the ultimate object in this detestable design) willsucceed neither in the pillage of the ecclesiastics, nor in the introduction ofa principle of popular election to our bishoprics and parochial cures. This, inthe present condition of the world, would be the last corruption of the church,the utter ruin of the clerical character, the most dangerous shock that thestate ever received through a misunderstood arrangement of religion. I knowwell enough that the bishoprics and cures under kingly and seignioralpatronage, as now they are in England, and as they have been lately in France,are sometimes acquired by unworthy methods; but the other mode ofecclesiastical canvass subjects them infinitely more surely and more generallyto all the evil arts of low ambition, which, operating on and through greaternumbers, will produce mischief in proportion.
Those of you who have robbed the clergy think that they shall easilyreconcile their conduct to all Protestant nations, because the clergy, whomthey have thus plundered, degraded, and given over to mockery and scorn, are ofthe Roman Catholic, that is, of their own pretended persuasion. I have no doubtthat some miserable bigots will be found here, as well as elsewhere, who hatesects and parties different from their own more than they love the substance ofreligion, and who are more angry with those who differ from them in theirparticular plans and systems than displeased with those who attack thefoundation of our common hope. These men will write and speak on the subject inthe manner that is to be expected from their temper and character. Burnet saysthat when he was in France, in the year 1683, "the method which carriedover the men of the finest parts to Popery was this — they broughtthemselves to doubt of the whole Christian religion. When that was once done,it seemed a more indifferent thing of what side or form they continuedoutwardly." If this was then the ecclesiastical policy of France, it iswhat they have since but too much reason to repent of. They preferred atheismto a form of religion not agreeable to their ideas. They succeeded indestroying that form; and atheism has succeeded in destroying them. I canreadily give credit to Burnet's story, because I have observed too much of asimilar spirit (for a little of it is "much too much") amongstourselves. The humor, however, is not general.
THE teachers who reformed ourreligion in England bore no sort of resemblance to your present reformingdoctors in Paris. Perhaps they were (like those whom they opposed) rather morethan could be wished under the influence of a party spirit, but they were moresincere believers, men of the most fervent and exalted piety, ready to die (assome of them did die) like true heroes in defense of their particular ideas ofChristianity, as they would with equal fortitude, and more cheerfully, for thatstock of general truth for the branches of which they contended with theirblood. These men would have disavowed with horror those wretches who claimed afellowship with them upon no other titles than those of their having pillagedthe persons with whom they maintained controversies, and their having despisedthe common religion for the purity of which they exerted themselves with a zealwhich unequivocally bespoke their highest reverence for the substance of thatsystem which they wished to reform. Many of their descendants have retained thesame zeal, but (as less engaged in conflict) with more moderation. They do notforget that justice and mercy are substantial parts of religion. Impious men donot recommend themselves to their communion by iniquity and cruelty toward anydescription of their fellow creatures.
We hear these new teachers continually boasting of their spirit oftoleration. That those persons should tolerate all opinions, who think none tobe of estimation, is a matter of small merit. Equal neglect is not impartialkindness. The species of benevolence which arises from contempt is no truecharity. There are in England abundance of men who tolerate in the true spiritof toleration. They think the dogmas of religion, though in different degrees,are all of moment, and that amongst them there is, as amongst all things ofvalue, a just ground of preference. They favor, therefore, and they tolerate.They tolerate, not because they despise opinions, but because they respectjustice. They would reverently and affectionately protect all religions becausethey love and venerate the great principle upon which they all agree, and thegreat object to which they are all directed. They begin more and more plainlyto discern that we have all a common cause, as against a common enemy. Theywill not be so misled by the spirit of faction as not to distinguish what isdone in favor of their subdivision from those acts of hostility which, throughsome particular description, are aimed at the whole corps, in which theythemselves, under another denomination, are included. It is impossible for meto say what may be the character of every description of men amongst us. But Ispeak for the greater part; and for them, I must tell you that sacrilege is nopart of their doctrine of good works; that, so far from calling you into theirfellowship on such title, if your professors are admitted to their communion,they must carefully conceal their doctrine of the lawfulness of theprescription of innocent men; and that they must make restitution of all stolengoods whatsoever. Till then they are none of ours.
You may suppose that we do not approve your confiscation of the
revenues ofbishops, and deans, and chapters, and parochial clergy
possessing independentestates arising from land, because we have the
same sort of establishment inEngland. That objection, you will say,
cannot hold as to the confiscation ofthe goods of monks and nuns and
the abolition of their order. It is true thatthis particular part of
your general confiscation does not affect England, as aprecedent in
point; but the reason implies, and it goes a great way. The
LongParliament confiscated the lands of deans and chapters in England
on the sameideas upon which your Assembly set to sale the lands of the
monastic orders.But it is in the principle of injustice that the danger
lies, and not in thedescription of persons on whom it is first
exercised. I see, in a country verynear us, a course of policy pursued
which sets justice, the common concern ofmankind, at defiance. With the
National Assembly of France possession isnothing, law and usage are
nothing. I see the National Assembly openlyreprobate the doctrine of
When the Anabaptists of Munster, in the sixteenth century, had filledGermany with confusion by their system of leveling and their wild opinionsconcerning property, to what country in Europe did not the progress of theirfury furnish just cause of alarm?
Of all things, wisdom is the most terrified with epidemical
fanaticism,because of all enemies it is that against which she is the
least able tofurnish any kind of resource. We cannot be ignorant of the
spirit ofatheistical fanaticism that is inspired by a multitude of
writings dispersedwith incredible assiduity and expense, and by sermons
delivered in all thestreets and places of public resort in Paris. These
writings and sermons havefilled the populace with a black and savage
atrocity of mind, which supersedesin them the common feelings of nature
as well as all sentiments of morality andreligion, insomuch that these
wretches are induced to bear with a sullenpatience the intolerable
distresses brought upon them by the violentconvulsions and permutations
that have been made in property.
It is not the confiscation of our church property from this example inFrance that I dread, though I think this would be no trifling evil. The greatsource of my solicitude is, lest it should ever be considered in England as thepolicy of a state to seek a resource in confiscations of any kind, or that anyone description of citizens should be brought to regard any of the others astheir proper prey. Nations are wadingdeeper and deeper into an ocean of boundless debt. Public debts, which at firstwere a security to governments by interesting many in the public tranquillity,are likely in their excess to become the means of their subversion. Ifgovernments provide for these debts by heavy impositions, they perish bybecoming odious to the people. If they do not provide for them, they will beundone by the efforts of the most dangerous of all parties — I mean anextensive, discontented monied interest, injured and not destroyed. The men whocompose this interest look for their security, in the first instance, to thefidelity of government; in the second, to its power. If they find the oldgovernments effete, worn out, and with their springs relaxed, so as not to beof sufficient vigor for their purposes, they may seek new ones that shall bepossessed of more energy; and this energy will be derived, not from anacquisition of resources, but from a contempt of justice. Revolutions arefavorable to confiscation; and it is impossible to know under what obnoxiousnames the next confiscations will be authorized. I am sure that the principlespredominant in France extend to very many persons and descriptions of persons,in all countries, who think their innoxious indolence their security. This kindof innocence in proprietors may be argued into inutility; and inutility into anunfitness for their estates. Many parts of Europe are in open disorder. In manyothers there is a hollow murmuring under ground; a confused movement is feltthat threatens a general earthquake in the political world. Alreadyconfederacies and correspondencies of the most extraordinary nature are formingin several countries.(2) In such astate of things we ought to hold ourselves upon our guard. In all mutations (ifmutations must be) the circumstance which will serve most to blunt the edge oftheir mischief and to promote what good may be in them is that they should findus with our minds tenacious of justice and tender of property.
But it will be argued that this confiscation in France ought not to alarmother nations. They say it is not made from wanton rapacity, that it is a greatmeasure of national policy adopted to remove an extensive, inveterate,superstitious mischief. It is with the greatest difficulty that I am able toseparate policy from justice. Justice itself is the great standing policy ofcivil society, and any eminent departure from it, under any circumstances, liesunder the suspicion of being no policy at all.
When men are encouraged to go into a certain mode of life by the existinglaws, and protected in that mode as in a lawful occupation; when they haveaccommodated all their ideas and all their habits to it; when the law had longmade their adherence to its rules a ground of reputation, and their departurefrom them a ground of disgrace and even of penalty — I am sure it isunjust in legislature, by an arbitrary act, to offer a sudden violence to theirminds and their feelings, forcibly to degrade them from their state andcondition and to stigmatize with shame and infamy that character and thosecustoms which before had been made the measure of their happiness and honor. Ifto this be added an expulsion from their habitations and a confiscation of alltheir goods, I am not sagacious enough to discover how this despotic sport,made of the feelings, consciences, prejudices, and properties of men, can bediscriminated from the rankest tyranny.
If the injustice of the course pursued in France be clear, the policy of themeasure, that is, the public benefit to be expected from it, ought to be atleast as evident and at least as important. To a man who acts under theinfluence of no passion, who has nothing in view in his projects but the publicgood, a great difference will immediately strike him between what policy woulddictate on the original introduction of such institutions and on a question oftheir total abolition, where they have cast their roots wide and deep, andwhere, by long habit, things more valuable than themselves are so adapted tothem, and in a manner interwoven with them, that the one cannot be destroyedwithout notably impairing the other. He might be embarrassed if the case werereally such as sophisters represent it in their paltry style of debating. Butin this, as in most questions of state, there is a middle. There is somethingelse than the mere alternative of absolute destruction or unreformed existence.Spartam nactus es; hanc exorna. This is, in my opinion, a rule of profoundsense and ought never to depart from the mind of an honest reformer. I cannotconceive how any man can have brought himself to that pitch of presumption toconsider his country as nothing but carte blanche — upon which he mayscribble whatever he pleases. A man full of warm, speculative benevolence maywish his society otherwise constituted than he finds it, but a good patriot anda true politician always considers how he shall make the most of the existingmaterials of his country. A disposition to preserve and an ability to improve,taken together, would be my standard of a statesman. Everything else is vulgarin the conception, perilous in the execution.
There are moments in the fortune of states when particular men are called tomake improvements by great mental exertion. In those moments, even when theyseem to enjoy the confidence of their prince and country, and to be investedwith full authority, they have not always apt instruments. A politician, to dogreat things, looks for a power what our workmen call a purchase; and if hefinds that power, in politics as in mechanics, he cannot be at a loss to applyit. In the monastic institutions, in my opinion, was found a great power forthe mechanism of politic benevolence. There were revenues with a publicdirection; there were men wholly set apart and dedicated to public purposes,without any other than public ties and public principles; men without thepossibility of converting the estate of the community into a private fortune;men denied to self-interests, whose avarice is for some community; men to whompersonal poverty is honor, and implicit obedience stands in the place offreedom. In vain shall a man look to the possibility of making such things whenhe wants them. The winds blow as they list. These institutions are the productsof enthusiasm; they are the instruments of wisdom. Wisdom cannot creatematerials; they are the gifts of nature or of chance; her pride is in the use.The perennial existence of bodies corporate and their fortunes are thingsparticularly suited to a man who has long views; who meditates designs thatrequire time in fashioning, and which propose duration when they areaccomplished. He is not deserving to rank high, or even to be mentioned in theorder of great statesmen, who, having obtained the command and direction ofsuch a power as existed in the wealth, the discipline, and the habits of suchcorporations, as those which you have rashly destroyed, cannot find any way ofconverting it to the great and lasting benefit of his country. On the view ofthis subject, a thousand uses suggest themselves to a contriving mind. Todestroy any power growing wild from the rank productive force of the human mindis almost tantamount, in the moral world, to the destruction of the apparentlyactive properties of bodies in the material. It would be like the attempt todestroy (if it were in our competence to destroy) the expansive force of fixedair in nitre, or the power of steam, or of electricity, or of magnetism. Theseenergies always existed in nature, and they were always discernible. Theyseemed, some of them unserviceable, some noxious, some no better than a sportto children, until contemplative ability, combining with practic skill, tamedtheir wild nature, subdued them to use, and rendered them at once the mostpowerful and the most tractable agents in subservience to the great views anddesigns of men. Did fifty thousand persons whose mental and whose bodily laboryou might direct, and so many hundred thousand a year of a revenue which wasneither lazy nor superstitious, appear too big for your abilities to wield? Hadyou no way of using them but by converting monks into pensioners? Had you noway of turning the revenue to account but through the improvident resource of aspendthrift sale? If you were thus destitute of mental funds, the proceeding isin its natural course. Your politicians do not understand their trade; andtherefore they sell their tools.
But the institutions savor of superstition in their very principle, and theynourish it by a permanent and standing influence. This I do not mean todispute, but this ought not to hinder you from deriving from superstitionitself any resources which may thence be furnished for the public advantage.You derive benefits from many dispositions and many passions of the human mindwhich are of as doubtful a color, in the moral eye, as superstition itself. Itwas your business to correct and mitigate everything which was noxious in thispassion, as in all the passions. But is superstition the greatest of allpossible vices? In its possible excess I think it becomes a very great evil. Itis, however, a moral subject and, of course, admits of all degrees and allmodifications. Superstition is the religion of feeble minds; and they must betolerated in an intermixture of it, in some trifling or some enthusiastic shapeor other, else you will deprive weak minds of a resource found necessary to thestrongest. The body of all true religion consists, to be sure, in obedience tothe will of the Sovereign of the world, in a confidence in his declarations,and in imitation of his perfections. The rest is our own. It may be prejudicialto the great end; it may be auxiliary. Wise men, who as such are not admirers(not admirers at least of the Munera Terrae), are not violently attached tothese things, nor do they violently hate them. Wisdom is not the most severecorrector of folly. They are the rival follies which mutually wage sounrelenting a war, and which make so cruel a use of their advantages as theycan happen to engage the immoderate vulgar, on the one side or the other, intheir quarrels. Prudence would be neuter, but if, in the contention betweenfond attachment and fierce antipathy concerning things in their nature not madeto produce such heats, a prudent man were obliged to make a choice of whaterrors and excesses of enthusiasm he would condemn or bear, perhaps he wouldthink the superstition which builds to be more tolerable than that whichdemolishes; that which adorns a country, than that which deforms it; that whichendows, than that which plunders; that which disposes to mistaken beneficence,than that which stimulates to real injustice; that which leads a man to refuseto himself lawful pleasures, than that which snatches from others the scantysubsistence of their self-denial. Such, I think, is very nearly the state ofthe question between the ancient founders of monkish superstition and thesuperstition of the pretended philosophers of the hour.
For the present I postpone all consideration of the supposed public profitof the sale, which however I conceive to be perfectly delusive. I shall hereonly consider it as a transfer of property. On the policy of that transfer Ishall trouble you with a few thoughts.
In every prosperous community something more is produced than goes to theimmediate support of the producer. This surplus forms the income of the landedcapitalist. It will be spent by a proprietor who does not labor. But thisidleness is itself the spring of labor; this repose the spur to industry. Theonly concern of the state is that the capital taken in rent from the landshould be returned again to the industry from whence it came, and that itsexpenditure should be with the least possible detriment to the morals of thosewho expend it, and to those of the people to whom it is returned.
In all the views of receipt, expenditure, and personal employment, a soberlegislator would carefully compare the possessor whom he was recommended toexpel with the stranger who was proposed to fill his place. Before theinconveniences are incurred which must attend all violent revolutions inproperty through extensive confiscation, we ought to have some rationalassurance that the purchasers of the confiscated property will be in aconsiderable degree more laborious, more virtuous, more sober, less disposed toextort an unreasonable proportion of the gains of the laborer, or to consume onthemselves a larger share than is fit for the measure of an individual; or thatthey should be qualified to dispense the surplus in a more steady and equalmode, so as to answer the purposes of a politic expenditure, than the oldpossessors, call those possessors bishops, or canons, or commendatory abbots,or monks, or what you please. The monks are lazy. Be it so. Suppose them nootherwise employed than by singing in the choir. They are as usefully employedas those who neither sing nor say; as usefully even as those who sing upon thestage. They are as usefully employed as if they worked from dawn to dark in theinnumerable servile, degrading, unseemly, unmanly, and often most unwholesomeand pestiferous occupations to which by the social economy so many wretches areinevitably doomed. If it were not generally pernicious to disturb the naturalcourse of things and to impede in any degree the great wheel of circulationwhich is turned by the strangely-directed labor of these unhappy people, Ishould be infinitely more inclined forcibly to rescue them from their miserableindustry than violently to disturb the tranquil repose of monastic quietude.Humanity, and perhaps policy, might better justify me in the one than in theother. It is a subject on which I have often reflected, and never reflectedwithout feeling from it. I am sure that no consideration, except the necessityof submitting to the yoke of luxury and the despotism of fancy, who in theirown imperious way will distribute the surplus product of the soil, can justifythe toleration of such trades and employments in a well-regulated state. Butfor this purpose of distribution, it seems to me that the idle expenses ofmonks are quite as well directed as the idle expenses of us lay-loiterers.
When the advantages of the possession and of the project are on a par, thereis no motive for a change. But in the present case, perhaps, they are not upona par, and the difference is in favor of the possession. It does not appear tome that the expenses of those whom you are going to expel do in fact take acourse so directly and so generally leading to vitiate and degrade and rendermiserable those through whom they pass as the expenses of those favorites whomyou are intruding into their houses. Why should the expenditure of a greatlanded property, which is a dispersion of the surplus product of the soil,appear intolerable to you or to me when it takes its course through theaccumulation of vast libraries, which are the history of the force and weaknessof the human mind; through great collections of ancient records, medals, andcoins, which attest and explain laws and customs; through paintings and statuesthat, by imitating nature, seem to extend the limits of creation; through grandmonuments of the dead, which continue the regards and connections of lifebeyond the grave; through collections of the specimens of nature which become arepresentative assembly of all the classes and families of the world that bydisposition facilitate and, by exciting curiosity, open the avenues to science?If by great permanent establishments all these objects of expense are bettersecured from the inconstant sport of personal caprice and personalextravagance, are they worse than if the same tastes prevailed in scatteredindividuals? Does not the sweat of the mason and carpenter, who toil in orderto partake of the sweat of the peasant, flow as pleasantly and as salubriouslyin the construction and repair of the majestic edifices of religion as in thepainted booths and sordid sties of vice and luxury; as honorably and asprofitably in repairing those sacred works which grow hoary with innumerableyears as on the momentary receptacles of transient voluptuousness; in operahouses, and brothels, and gaming houses, and clubhouses, and obelisks in theChamp de Mars? Is the surplus product of the olive and the vine worse employedin the frugal sustenance of persons whom the fictions of a pious imaginationraise to dignity by construing in the service of
God, than in pampering the innumerable multitude of those who are degradedby being made useless domestics, subservient to the pride of man? Are thedecorations of temples an expenditure less worthy a wise man than ribbons, andlaces, and national cockades, and petit maisons, and petit soupers, and all theinnumerable fopperies and follies in which opulence sports away the burden ofits superfluity?
We tolerate even these, not from love of them, but for fear of worse. Wetolerate them because property and liberty, to a degree, require thattoleration. But why proscribe the other, and surely, in every point of view,the more laudable, use of estates? Why, through the violation of all property,through an outrage upon every principle of liberty, forcibly carry them fromthe better to the worse?
This comparison between the new individuals and the old corps is made upon asupposition that no reform could be made in the latter. But in a question ofreformation I always consider corporate bodies, whether sole or consisting ofmany, to be much more susceptible of a public direction by the power of thestate, in the use of their property and in the regulation of modes and habitsof life in their members, than private citizens ever can be or, perhaps, oughtto be; and this seems to me a very material consideration for those whoundertake anything which merits the name of a politic enterprise. — So faras to the estates of monasteries.
With regard to the estates possessed by bishops and canons and commendatoryabbots, I cannot find out for what reason some landed estates may not be heldotherwise than by inheritance. Can any philosophic spoiler undertake todemonstrate the positive or the comparative evil of having a certain, and thattoo a large, portion of landed property passing in succession through personswhose title to it is, always in theory and often in fact, an eminent degree ofpiety, morals, and learning — a property which, by its destination, intheir turn, and on the score of merit, gives to the noblest families renovationand support, to the lowest the means of dignity and elevation; a property thetenure of which is the performance of some duty (whatever value you may chooseto set upon that duty), and the character of whose proprietors demands, atleast, an exterior decorum and gravity of manners; who are to exercise agenerous but temperate hospitality; part of whose income they are to consideras a trust for charity; and who, even when they fail in their trust, when theyslide from their character and degenerate into a mere common secular noblemanor gentleman, are in no respect worse than those who may succeed them in theirforfeited possessions? Is it better that estates should be held by those whohave no duty than by those who have one? — by those whose character anddestination point to virtues than by those who have no rule and direction inthe expenditure of their estates but their own will and appetite? Nor are theseestates held together in the character or with the evils supposed inherent inmortmain. They pass from hand to hand with a more rapid circulation than anyother. No excess is good; and, therefore, too great a proportion of landedproperty may be held officially for life; but it does not seem to me ofmaterial injury to any commonwealth that there should exist some estates thathave a chance of being acquired by other means than the previous acquisition ofmoney.
THIS LETTER HAS GROWN to agreat length, though it is, indeed, short with regard to the infinite extent ofthe subject. Various avocations have from time to time called my mind from thesubject. I was not sorry to give myself leisure to observe whether, in theproceedings of the National Assembly, I might not find reasons to change or toqualify some of my first sentiments. Everything has confirmed me more stronglyin my first opinions. It was my original purpose to take a view of theprinciples of the National Assembly with regard to the great and fundamentalestablishments, and to compare the whole of what you have substituted in theplace of what you have destroyed with the several members of our Britishconstitution. But this plan is of a greater extent than at first I computed,and I find that you have little desire to take the advantage of any examples.At present I must content myself with some remarks upon your establishments,reserving for another time what I proposed to say concerning the spirit of ourBritish monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, as practically they exist.
I have taken a view of what has been done by the governing power in France.I have certainly spoken of it with freedom. Those whose principle it is todespise the ancient, permanent sense of mankind and to set up a scheme ofsociety on new principles must naturally expect that such of us who thinkbetter of the judgment of the human race than of theirs should consider boththem and their devices as men and schemes upon their trial. They must take itfor granted that we attend much to their reason, but not at all to theirauthority. They have not one of the great influencing prejudices of mankind intheir favor. They avow their hostility to opinion. Of course, they must expectno support from that influence which, with every other authority, they havedeposed from the seat of its jurisdiction.
I can never consider this Assembly as anything else than a voluntaryassociation of men who have availed themselves of circumstances to seize uponthe power of the state. They have not the sanction and authority of thecharacter under which they first met. They have assumed another of a verydifferent nature and have completely altered and inverted all the relations inwhich they originally stood. They do not hold the authority they exercise underany constitutional law of the state. They have departed from the instructionsof the people by whom they were sent, which instructions, as the Assembly didnot act in virtue of any ancient usage or settled law, were the sole source oftheir authority. The most considerable of their acts have not been done bygreat majorities; and in this sort of near divisions, which carry only theconstructive authority of the whole, strangers will consider reasons as well asresolutions.
If they had set up this new experimental government as a necessarysubstitute for an expelled tyranny, mankind would anticipate the time ofprescription which, through long usage, mellows into legality governments thatwere violent in their commencement. All those who have affections which leadthem to the conservation of civil order would recognize, even in its cradle,the child as legitimate which has been produced from those principles of cogentexpediency to which all just governments owe their birth, and on which theyjustify their continuance. But they will be late and reluctant in giving anysort of countenance to the operations of a power which has derived its birthfrom no law and no necessity, but which, on the contrary, has had its origin inthose vices and sinister practices by which the social union is often disturbedand sometimes destroyed. This Assembly has hardly a year's prescription. Wehave their own word for it that they have made a revolution. To make arevolution is a measure which, prima fronte, requires an apology. To make arevolution is to subvert the ancient state of our country; and no commonreasons are called for to justify so violent a proceeding. The sense of mankindauthorizes us to examine into the mode of acquiring new power, and to criticizeon the use that is made of it, with less awe and reverence than that which isusually conceded to a settled and recognized authority.
In obtaining and securing their power the Assembly proceeds upon principlesthe most opposite to those which appear to direct them in the use of it. Anobservation on this difference will let us into the true spirit of theirconduct. Everything which they have done, or continue to do. in order to obtainand keep their power is by the most common arts. They proceed exactly as theirancestors of ambition have done before them. — Trace them through alltheir artifices, frauds, and violences, you can find nothing at all that isnew. They follow precedents and examples with the punctilious exactness of apleader. They never depart an iota from the authentic formulas of tyranny andusurpation. But in all the regulations relative to the public good, the spirithas been the very reverse of this. There they commit the whole to the mercy ofuntried speculations; they abandon the dearest interests of the public to thoseloose theories to which none of them would choose to trust the slightest of hisprivate concerns. They make this difference, because in their desire ofobtaining and securing power they are thoroughly in earnest; there they travelin the beaten road. The public interests, because about them they have no realsolicitude, they abandon wholly to chance; I say to chance, because theirschemes have nothing in experience to prove their tendency beneficial.
We must always see with a pity not unmixed with respect the errors of thosewho are timid and doubtful of themselves with regard to points wherein thehappiness of mankind is concerned. But in these gentlemen there is nothing ofthe tender, parental solicitude which fears to cut up the infant for the sakeof an experiment. In the vastness of their promises and the confidence of theirpredictions, they far outdo all the boasting of empirics. The arrogance oftheir pretensions in a manner provokes and challenges us to an inquiry intotheir foundation.
I AM convinced that there aremen of considerable parts among the popular leaders in the National Assembly.Some of them display eloquence in their speeches and their writings. Thiscannot be without powerful and cultivated talents. But eloquence may existwithout a proportionable degree of wisdom. When I speak of ability, I amobliged to distinguish. What they have done toward the support of their systembespeaks no ordinary men. In the system itself, taken as the scheme of arepublic constructed for procuring the prosperity and security of the citizen,and for promoting the strength and grandeur of the state, I confess myselfunable to find out anything which displays in a single instance the work of acomprehensive and disposing mind or even the provisions of a vulgar prudence.Their purpose everywhere seems to have been to evade and slip aside fromdifficulty. This it has been the glory of the great masters in all the arts toconfront, and to overcome; and when they had overcome the first difficulty, toturn it into an instrument for new conquests over new difficulties, thus toenable them to extend the empire of their science and even to push forward,beyond the reach of their original thoughts, the landmarks of the humanunderstanding itself. Difficulty is a severe instructor, set over us by thesupreme ordinance of a parental Guardian and Legislator, who knows us betterthan we know ourselves, as he loves us better, too. Pater ipse colendi haudfacilem esse viam voluit. He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves andsharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper. This amicable conflict withdifficulty obliges us to an intimate acquaintance with our object and compelsus to consider it in all its relations. It will not suffer us to besuperficial. It is the want of nerves of understanding for such a task, it isthe degenerate fondness for tricking shortcuts and little fallacious facilitiesthat has in so many parts of the world created governments with arbitrarypowers.
They have created the late arbitrary monarchy of France. They have createdthe arbitrary republic of Paris. With them defects in wisdom are to be suppliedby the plenitude of force. They get nothing by it. Commencing their labors on aprinciple of sloth, they have the common fortune of slothful men. Thedifficulties, which they rather had eluded than escaped, meet them again intheir course; they multiply and thicken on them; they are involved, through alabyrinth of confused detail, in an industry without limit and withoutdirection; and, in conclusion, the whole of their work becomes feeble, vicious,and insecure.
It is this inability to wrestle with difficulty which has obliged thearbitrary Assembly of France to commence their schemes of reform with abolitionand total destruction. But is it indestroying and pulling down that skill is displayed? Your mob can do this aswell at least as your assemblies. The shallowest understanding, the rudest handis more than equal to that task. Rage and frenzy will pull down more in half anhour than prudence, deliberation, and foresight can build up in a hundredyears.
The errors and defects of old establishments are visible and palpable. Itcalls for little ability to point them out; and where absolute power is given,it requires but a word wholly to abolish the vice and the establishmenttogether. The same lazy but restless disposition which loves sloth and hatesquiet directs the politicians when they come to work for supplying the place ofwhat they have destroyed. To make everything the reverse of what they have seenis quite as easy as to destroy. No difficulties occur in what has never beentried. Criticism is almost baffled in discovering the defects of what has notexisted; and eager enthusiasm and cheating hope have all the wide field ofimagination in which they may expatiate with little or no opposition.
At once to preserve and to reform is quite another thing. When the usefulparts of an old establishment are kept, and what is superadded is to be fittedto what is retained, a vigorous mind, steady, persevering attention, variouspowers of comparison and combination, and the resources of an understandingfruitful in expedients are to be exercised; they are to be exercised in acontinued conflict with the combined force of opposite vices, with theobstinacy that rejects all improvement and the levity that is fatigued anddisgusted with everything of which it is in possession. But you may object— "A process of this kind is slow. It is not fit for an assemblywhich glories in performing in a few months the work of ages. Such a mode ofreforming, possibly, might take up many years". Without question it might;and it ought. It is one of the excellences of a method in which time is amongstthe assistants, that its operation is slow and in some cases almostimperceptible. If circumspection and caution are a part of wisdom when we workonly upon inanimate matter, surely they become a part of duty, too, when thesubject of our demolition and construction is not brick and timber but sentientbeings, by the sudden alteration of whose state, condition, and habitsmultitudes may be rendered miserable. But it seems as if it were the prevalentopinion in Paris that an unfeeling heart and an undoubting confidence are thesole qualifications for a perfect legislator. Far different are my ideas ofthat high office. The true lawgiver ought to have a heart full of sensibility.He ought to love and respect his kind, and to fear himself. It may be allowedto his temperament to catch his ultimate object with an intuitive glance, buthis movements toward it ought to be deliberate. Political arrangement, as it isa work for social ends, is to be only wrought by social means. There mind mustconspire with mind. Time is required to produce that union of minds which alonecan produce all the good we aim at. Our patience will achieve more than ourforce. If I might venture to appeal to what is so much out of fashion in Paris,I mean to experience, I should tell you that in my course I have known and,according to my measure, have co-operated with great men; and I have never yetseen any plan which has not been mended by the observation of those who weremuch inferior in understanding to the person who took the lead in the business.By a slow but well-sustained progress the effect of each step is watched; thegood or ill success of the first gives light to us in the second; and so, fromlight to light, we are conducted with safety through the whole series. We seethat the parts of the system do not clash. The evils latent in the mostpromising contrivances are provided for as they arise. One advantage is aslittle as possible sacrificed to another. We compensate, we reconcile, webalance. We are enabled to unite into a consistent whole the various anomaliesand contending principles that are found in the minds and affairs of men. Fromhence arises, not an excellence in simplicity, but one far superior, anexcellence in composition. Where the great interests of mankind are concernedthrough a long succession of generations, that succession ought to be admittedinto some share in the councils which are so deeply to affect them. If justicerequires this, the work itself requires the aid of more minds than one age canfurnish. It is from this view of things that the best legislators have beenoften satisfied with the establishment of some sure, solid, and rulingprinciple in government — a power like that which some of the philosophershave called a plastic nature; and having fixed the principle, they have left itafterwards to its own operation.
To proceed in this manner, that is, to proceed with a presiding principleand a prolific energy is with me the criterion of profound wisdom. What yourpoliticians think the marks of a bold, hardy genius are only proofs of adeplorable want of ability. By their violent haste and their defiance of theprocess of nature, they are delivered over blindly to every projector andadventurer, to every alchemist and empiric. They despair of turning to accountanything that is common. Diet is nothing in their system of remedy. The worstof it is that this their despair of curing common distempers by regular methodsarises not only from defect of comprehension but, I fear, from some malignityof disposition. Your legislators seem to have taken their opinions of allprofessions, ranks, and offices from the declamations and buffooneries ofsatirists; who would themselves be astonished if they were held to the letterof their own descriptions. By listening only to these, your leaders regard allthings only on the side of their vices and faults, and view those vices andfaults under every color of exaggeration. It is undoubtedly true, though it mayseem paradoxical; but in general, those who are habitually employed in findingand displaying faults are unqualified for the work of reformation, becausetheir minds are not only unfurnished with patterns of the fair and good, but byhabit they come to take no delight in the contemplation of those things. Byhating vices too much, they come to love men too little. It is, therefore, notwonderful that they should be indisposed and unable to serve them. From hencearises the complexional disposition of some of your guides to pull everythingin pieces. At this malicious game they display the whole of their quadrimanousactivity. As to the rest, the paradoxes of eloquent writers, brought forthpurely as a sport of fancy to try their talents, to rouse attention and excitesurprise, are taken up by these gentlemen, not in the spirit of the originalauthors, as means of cultivating their taste and improving their style. Theseparadoxes become with them serious grounds of action upon which they proceed inregulating the most important concerns of the state. Cicero ludicrouslydescribes Cato as endeavoring to act, in the commonwealth, upon the schoolparadoxes which exercised the wits of the junior students in the Stoicphilosophy. If this was true of Cato, these gentlemen copy after him in themanner of some persons who lived about his time — pede nudo Catonem. Mr.Hume told me that he had from Rousseau himself the secret of his principles ofcomposition. That acute though eccentric observer had perceived that to strikeand interest the public the marvelous must be produced; that the marvelous ofthe heathen mythology had long since lost its effect; that the giants,magicians, fairies, and heroes of romance which succeeded had exhausted theportion of credulity which belonged to their age; that now nothing was left tothe writer but that species of the marvelous which might still be produced, andwith as great an effect as ever, though in another way; that is, the marvelousin life, in manners, in characters, and in extraordinary situations, givingrise to new and unlooked-for strokes in politics and morals. I believe thatwere Rousseau alive and in one of his lucid intervals, he would be shocked atthe practical frenzy of his scholars, who in their paradoxes are servileimitators, and even in their incredulity discover an implicit faith.
Men who undertake considerable things, even in a regular way, ought to giveus ground to presume ability. But the physician of the state who, not satisfiedwith the cure of distempers, undertakes to regenerate constitutions ought toshow uncommon powers. Some very unusual appearances of wisdom ought to displaythemselves on the face of the designs of those who appeal to no practice, andwho copy after no model. Has any such been manifested? I shall take a view (itshall for the subject be a very short one) of what the Assembly has done withregard, first, to the constitution of the legislature; in the next place, tothat of the executive power; then to that of the judicature; afterwards to themodel of the army; and conclude with the system of finance; to see whether wecan discover in any part of their schemes the portentous ability which mayjustify these bold undertakers in the superiority which they assume overmankind.
IT IS IN THE MODEL of thesovereign and presiding part of this new republic that we should expect theirgrand display. Here they were to prove their title to their proud demands. Forthe plan itself at large, and for the reasons on which it is grounded, I referto the journals of the Assembly of the 29th of September, 1789, and to thesubsequent proceedings which have made any alterations in the plan. So far asin a matter somewhat confused I can see light, the system remains substantiallyas it has been originally framed. My few remarks will be such as regard itsspirit, its tendency, and its fitness for framing a popular commonwealth, whichthey profess theirs to be, suited to the ends for which any commonwealth, andparticularly such a commonwealth, is made. At the same time I mean to considerits consistency with itself and its own principles.
Old establishments are tried by their effects. If the people are happy,united, wealthy, and powerful, we presume the rest. We conclude that to be goodfrom whence good is derived. In old establishments various correctives havebeen found for their aberrations from theory. Indeed, they are the results ofvarious necessities and expediencies. They are not often constructed after anytheory; theories are rather drawn from them. In them we often see the end bestobtained where the means seem not perfectly reconcilable to what we may fancywas the original scheme. The means taught by experience may be better suited topolitical ends than those contrived in the original project. They again reactupon the primitive constitution, and sometimes improve the design itself, fromwhich they seem to have departed. I think all this might be curiouslyexemplified in the British constitution. At worst, the errors and deviations ofevery kind in reckoning are found and computed, and the ship proceeds in hercourse. This is the case of old establishments; but in a new and merelytheoretic system, it is expected that every contrivance shall appear, on theface of it, to answer its ends, especially where the projectors are no wayembarrassed with an endeavor to accommodate the new building to an old one,either in the walls or on the foundations.
The French builders, clearing away as mere rubbish whatever they found and,like their ornamental gardeners, forming everything into an exact level,propose to rest the whole local and general legislature on three bases of threedifferent kinds: one geometrical, one arithmetical, and the third financial;the first of which they call the basis of territory; the second, the basis ofpopulation; and the third, the basis of contribution. For the accomplishment ofthe first of these purposes they divide the area of their country intoeighty-three pieces, regularly square, of eighteen leagues by eighteen. Theselarge divisions are called Departments. These they portion, proceeding bysquare measurement, into seventeen hundred and twenty districts calledCommunes. These again they subdivide, still proceeding by square measurement,into smaller districts called Cantons, making in all 6400.
At first view this geometrical basis of theirs presents not much to admireor to blame. It calls for no great legislative talents. Nothing more than anaccurate land surveyor, with his chain, sight, and theodolite, is requisite forsuch a plan as this. In the old divisions of the country, various accidents atvarious times and the ebb and flow of various properties and jurisdictionssettled their bounds. These bounds were not made upon any fixed system,undoubtedly. They were subject to some inconveniences, but they wereinconveniences for which use had found remedies, and habit had suppliedaccommodation and patience. In this new pavement of square within square, andthis organization and semi-organization, made on the system of Empedocles andBuffon, and not upon any politic principle, it is impossible that innumerablelocal inconveniences, to which men are not habituated, must not arise. Butthese I pass over, because it requires an accurate knowledge of the country,which I do not possess, to specify them.
When these state surveyors came to take a view of their work of measurement,they soon found that in politics the most fallacious of all things wasgeometrical demonstration. They had then recourse to another basis (or ratherbuttress) to support the building, which tottered on that false foundation. Itwas evident that the goodness of the soil, the number of the people, theirwealth, and the largeness of their contribution made such infinite variationsbetween square and square as to render mensuration a ridiculous standard ofpower in the commonwealth, and equality in geometry the most unequal of allmeasures in the distribution of men. However, they could not give it up. Butdividing their political and civil representation into three parts, theyallotted one of those parts to the square measurement, without a single fact orcalculation to ascertain whether this territorial proportion of representationwas fairly assigned, and ought upon any principle really to be a third. Having,however, given to geometry this portion (of a third for her dower) out ofcompliment, I suppose, to that sublime science, they left the other two to bescuffled for between the other parts, population and contribution.
When they came to provide for population, they were not able to proceedquite so smoothly as they had done in the field of their geometry. Here theirarithmetic came to bear upon their juridical metaphysics. Had they stuck totheir metaphysic principles, the arithmetical process would be simple indeed.Men, with them, are strictly equal and are entitled to equal rights in theirown government. Each head, on this system, would have its vote, and every manwould vote directly for the person who was to represent him in the legislature."But soft — by regular degrees, not yet". This metaphysicprinciple to which law, custom, usage, policy, reason were to yield is to yielditself to their pleasure. There must be many degrees, and some stages, beforethe representative can come in contact with his constituent. Indeed, as weshall soon see, these two persons are to have no sort of communion with eachother. First, the voters in the Canton, who compose what they call"primary assemblies", are to have a qualification. What! aqualification on the indefeasible rights of men? Yes; but it shall be a verysmall qualification. Our injustice shall be very little oppressive: only thelocal valuation of three days' labor paid to the public. Why, this is not much,I readily admit, for anything but the utter subversion of your equalizingprinciple. As a qualification it might as well be let alone, for it answers noone purpose for which qualifications are established; and, on your ideas, itexcludes from a vote the man of all others whose natural equality stands themost in need of protection and defense — I mean the man who has nothingelse but his natural equality to guard him. You order him to buy the rightwhich you before told him nature had given to him gratuitously at his birth,and of which no authority on earth could lawfully deprive him. With regard tothe person who cannot come up to your market, a tyrannous aristocracy, asagainst him, is established at the very outset by you who pretend to be itssworn foe.
The gradation proceeds. These primary assemblies of the Canton electdeputies to the Commune; one for every two hundred qualified inhabitants. Hereis the first medium put between the primary elector and the representativelegislator; and here a new turnpike is fixed for taxing the rights of men witha second qualification; for none can be elected into the Commune who does notpay the amount of ten days' labor. Nor have we yet done. There is still to beanother gradation. These Communes,chosen by the Canton, choose to the Department; and the deputies of theDepartment choose their deputies to the National Assembly. Here is a thirdbarrier of a senseless qualification. Every deputy to the National Assemblymust pay, in direct contribution, to the value of a mark of silver. Of allthese qualifying barriers we must think alike — that they are impotent tosecure independence, strong only to destroy the rights of men.
In all this process, which in its fundamental elements affects to consideronly population upon a principle of natural right, there is a manifestattention to property, which, however just and reasonable on other schemes, ison theirs perfectly unsupportable.
When they come to their third basis, that of contribution, we find that theyhave more completely lost sight of their rights of men. This last basis restsentirely on property. A principle totally different from the equality of men,and utterly irreconcilable to it, is thereby admitted; but no sooner is thisprinciple admitted than (as usual) it is subverted; and it is not subverted (aswe shall presently see) to approximate the inequality of riches to the level ofnature. The additional share in the third portion of representation (a portionreserved exclusively for the higher contribution) is made to regard thedistrict only, and not the individuals in it who pay. It is easy to perceive,by the course of their reasonings, how much they were embarrassed by theircontradictory ideas of the rights of men and the privileges of riches. Thecommittee of constitution do as good as admit that they are whollyirreconcilable. "The relation with regard to the contributions is withoutdoubt null (say they) when the question is on the balance of the politicalrights as between individual and individual, without which personal equalitywould be destroyed and an aristocracy of the rich would be established. Butthis inconvenience entirely disappears when the proportional relation of thecontribution is only considered in the great masses, and is solely betweenprovince and province; it serves in that case only to form a just reciprocalproportion between the cities without affecting the personal rights of thecitizens".
Here the principle of contribution, as taken between man and man, isreprobated as null and destructive to equality, and as pernicious, too, becauseit leads to the establishment of an aristocracy of the rich. However, it mustnot be abandoned. And the way of getting rid of the difficulty is to establishthe inequality as between department and department, leaving all theindividuals in each department upon an exact par. Observe that this paritybetween individuals had been before destroyed when the qualifications withinthe departments were settled; nor does it seem a matter of great importancewhether the equality of men be injured by masses or individually. An individualis not of the same importance in a mass represented by a few as in a massrepresented by many. It would be too much to tell a man jealous of his equalitythat the elector has the same franchise who votes for three members as he whovotes for ten.
Now take it in the outer point of view and let us suppose their principle ofrepresentation according to contribution, that is, according to riches, to bewell imagined and to be a necessary basis for their republic. In this theirthird basis they assume that riches ought to be respected, and that justice andpolicy require that they should entitle men, in some mode or other, to a largershare in the administration of public affairs; it is now to be seen how theAssembly provides for the preeminence, or even for the security, of the rich byconferring, in virtue of their opulence, that larger measure of power to theirdistrict which is denied to them personally. I readily admit (indeed I shouldlay it down as a fundamental principle) that in a republican government whichhas a democratic basis the rich do require an additional security above what isnecessary to them in monarchies. They are subject to envy, and through envy tooppression. On the present scheme it is impossible to divine what advantagethey derive from the aristocratic preference upon which the unequalrepresentation of the masses is founded. The rich cannot feel it, either as asupport to dignity or as security to fortune, for the aristocratic mass isgenerated from purely democratic principles, and the preference given to it inthe general representation has no sort of reference to, or connection with, thepersons upon account of whose property this superiority of the mass isestablished. If the contrivers of this scheme meant any sort of favor to therich, in consequence of their contribution, they ought to have conferred theprivilege either on the individual rich or on some class formed of rich persons(as historians represent Servius Tullius to have done in the early constitutionof Rome), because the contest between the rich and the poor is not a strugglebetween corporation and corporation, but a contest between men and men — acompetition not between districts, but between descriptions. It would answerits purpose better if the scheme were inverted: that the vote of the masseswere rendered equal, and that the votes within each mass were proportioned toproperty.
Let us suppose one man in a district (it is an easy supposition) tocontribute as much as a hundred of his neighbors. Against these he has but onevote. If there were but one representative for the mass, his poor neighborswould outvote him by a hundred to one for that single representative. Badenough. But amends are to be made him. How? The district, in virtue of hiswealth, is to choose, say, ten members instead of one; that is to say, bypaying a very large contribution he has the happiness of being outvoted ahundred to one by the poor for ten representatives, instead of being outvotedexactly in the same proportion for a single member. In truth, instead ofbenefiting by this superior quantity of representation, the rich man issubjected to an additional hardship. The increase of representation within hisprovince sets up nine persons more, and as many more than nine as there may bedemocratic candidates, to cabal and intrigue, and to flatter the people at hisexpense and to his oppression. An interest is by this means held out tomultitudes of the inferior sort, in obtaining a salary of eighteen livres a day(to them a vast object) besides the pleasure of a residence in Paris and theirshare in the government of the kingdom. The more the objects of ambition aremultiplied and become democratic, just in that proportion the rich areendangered.
Thus it must fare between the poor and the rich in the province deemedaristocratic, which in its internal relation is the very reverse of thatcharacter. In its external relation, that is, its relation to the otherprovinces, I cannot see how the unequal representation which is given to masseson account of wealth becomes the means of preserving the equipoise and thetranquillity of the commonwealth. For if it be one of the objects to secure theweak from being crushed by the strong (as in all society undoubtedly it is),how are the smaller and poorer of these masses to be saved from the tyranny ofthe more wealthy? Is it by adding to the wealthy further and more systematicalmeans of oppressing them? When we come to a balance of representation betweencorporate bodies, provincial interests, emulations, and jealousies are full aslikely to arise among them as among individuals; and their divisions are likelyto produce a much hotter spirit of dissension, and something leading much morenearly to a war.
I see that these aristocratic masses are made upon what is called theprinciple of direct contribution. Nothing can be a more unequal standard thanthis. The indirect contribution, that which arises from duties on consumption,is in truth a better standard and follows and discovers wealth more naturallythan this of direct contribution. It is difficult, indeed, to fix a standard oflocal preference on account of the one, or of the other, or of both, becausesome provinces may pay the more of either or of both on account of causes notintrinsic, but originating from those very districts over whom they haveobtained a preference in consequence of their ostensible contribution. If themasses were independent, sovereign bodies who were to provide for a federativetreasury by distinct contingents, and that the revenue had not (as it has) manyimpositions running through the whole, which affect men individually, and notcorporately, and which, by their nature, confound all territorial limits,something might be said for the basis of contribution as founded on masses. Butof all things, this representation, to be measured by contribution, is the mostdifficult to settle upon principles of equity in a country which considers itsdistricts as members of a whole. For a great city, such as Bordeaux or Paris,appears to pay a vast body of duties, almost out of all assignable proportionto other places, and its mass is considered accordingly. But are these citiesthe true contributors in that proportion? No. The consumers of the commoditiesimported into Bordeaux, who are scattered through all France, pay the importduties of Bordeaux. The produce of the vintage in Guienne and Languedoc give tothat city the means of its contribution growing out of an export commerce. Thelandholders who spend their estates in Paris, and are thereby the creators ofthat city, contribute for Paris from the provinces out of which their revenuesarise. Very nearly the same arguments will apply to the representative sharegiven on account of direct contributions, because the direct contribution mustbe assessed on wealth, real or presumed; and that local wealth will itselfarise from causes not local, and which therefore in equity ought not to producea local preference.
It is very remarkable that in this fundamental regulation which settles therepresentation of the mass upon the direct contribution, they have not yetsettled how that direct contribution shall be laid, and how apportioned.Perhaps there is some latent policy toward the continuance of the presentAssembly in this strange procedure. However, until they do this, they can haveno certain constitution. It must depend at last upon the system of taxation,and must vary with every variation in that system. As they have contrivedmatters, their taxation does not so much depend on their constitution as theirconstitution on their taxation. This must introduce great confusion among themasses, as the variable qualification for votes within the district must, ifever real contested elections take place, cause infinite internalcontroversies.
To compare together the three bases, not on their political reason, but onthe ideas on which the Assembly works, and to try its consistency with itself,we cannot avoid observing that the principle which the committee call the basisof population does not begin to operate from the same point with the two otherprinciples called the bases of territory and of contribution, which are both ofan aristocratic nature. The consequence is that, where all three begin tooperate together, there is the most absurd inequality produced by the operationof the former on the two latter principles. Every canton contains four squareleagues, and is estimated to contain, on the average, 4000 inhabitants or 680voters in the primary assemblies, which vary in numbers with the population ofthe canton, and send one deputy to the commune for every 200 voters. Ninecantons make a commune.
Now let us take a canton containing a seaport town of trade, or a greatmanufacturing town. Let us suppose the population of this canton to be 12,700inhabitants, or 2193 voters, forming three primary assemblies, and sending tendeputies to the commune.
Oppose to this one canton two others of the remaining eight in the samecommune. These we may suppose to have their fair population of 4000 inhabitantsand 680 voters each, or 8000 inhabitants and 1360 voters, both together. Thesewill form only two primary assemblies and send only six deputies to thecommune.
When the assembly of the commune comes to vote on the basis of territory,which principle is first admitted to operate in that assembly, the singlecanton which has half the territory of the other two will have ten voices tosix in the election of three deputies to the assembly of the department chosenon the express ground of a representation of territory.
This inequality, striking as it is, will be yet highly aggravated if wesuppose, as we fairly may, the several other cantons of the commune to fallproportionably short of the average population, as much as the principal cantonexceeds it. Now as to the basis of contribution, which also is a principleadmitted first to operate in the assembly of the commune. Let us again take onecanton, such as is stated above. If the whole of the direct contributions paidby a great trading or manufacturing town be divided equally among theinhabitants, each individual will be found to pay much more than an individualliving in the country according to the same average. The whole paid by theinhabitants of the former will be more than the whole paid by the inhabitantsof the latter — we may fairly assume one-third more. Then the 12,700inhabitants, or 2193 voters of the canton, will pay as much as 19,050inhabitants, or 3289 voters of the other cantons, which are nearly theestimated proportion of inhabitants and voters of five other cantons. Now the2193 voters will, as I before said, send only ten deputies to the assembly; the3289 voters will send sixteen. Thus, for an equal share in the contribution ofthe whole commune, there will be a difference of sixteen voices to ten invoting for deputies to be chosen on the principle of representing the generalcontribution of the whole commune.
By the same mode of computation we shall find 15,875 inhabitants, or 2741voters of the other cantons, who pay one-sixth LESS tothe contribution of the whole commune, will have three VOICESMORE than the 12,700 inhabitants, or 2193 voters of the one canton.
Such is the fantastical and unjust inequality between mass and mass in thiscurious repartition of the rights of representation arising out of territoryand contribution. The qualifications which these confer are in truth negativequalifications, that give a right in an inverse proportion to the possession ofthem.
In this whole contrivance of the three bases, consider it in any light youplease, I do not see a variety of objects reconciled in one consistent whole,but several contradictory principles reluctantly and irreconcilably brought andheld together by your philosophers, like wild beasts shut up in a cage to clawand bite each other to their mutual destruction.
I am afraid I have gone too far into their way of considering the formationof a constitution. They have much, but bad, metaphysics; much, but bad,geometry; much, but false, proportionate arithmetic; but if it were all asexact as metaphysics, geometry, and arithmetic ought to be, and if theirschemes were perfectly consistent in all their parts, it would make only a morefair and sightly vision. It is remarkable that, in a great arrangement ofmankind, not one reference whatsoever is to be found to anything moral oranything politic, nothing that relates to the concerns, the actions, thepassions, the interests of men. Hominem non sapiunt.
You see I only consider this constitution as electoral, and leading by stepsto the National Assembly. I do not enter into the internal government of thedepartments and their genealogy through the communes and cantons. These localgovernments are, in the original plan, to be as nearly as possible composed inthe same manner and on the same principles with the elective assemblies. Theyare each of them bodies perfectly compact and rounded in themselves.
You cannot but perceive in this scheme that it has a direct and immediatetendency to sever France into a variety of republics, and to render themtotally independent of each other without any direct constitutional means ofcoherence, connection, or subordination, except what may be derived from theiracquiescence in the determinations of the general congress of the ambassadorsfrom each independent republic. Such in reality is the National Assembly, andsuch governments I admit do exist in the world, though in forms infinitely moresuitable to the local and habitual circumstances of their people. But suchassociations, rather than bodies politic, have generally been the effect ofnecessity, not choice; and I believe the present French power is the very firstbody of citizens who, having obtained full authority to do with their countrywhat they pleased, have chosen to dissever it in this barbarous manner.
It is impossible not to observe that, in the spirit of this geometricaldistribution and arithmetical arrangement, these pretended citizens treatFrance exactly like a country of conquest. Acting as conquerors, they haveimitated the policy of the harshest of that harsh race. The policy of suchbarbarous victors, who contemn a subdued people and insult their feelings, hasever been, as much as in them lay, to destroy all vestiges of the ancientcountry, in religion, in polity, in laws, and in manners; to confound allterritorial limits; to produce a general poverty; to put up their properties toauction; to crush their princes, nobles, and pontiffs; to lay low everythingwhich had lifted its head above the level, or which could serve to combine orrally, in their distresses, the disbanded people under the standard of oldopinion. They have made France free in the manner in which those sincerefriends to the rights of mankind, the Romans, freed Greece, Macedon, and othernations. They destroyed the bonds of their union under color of providing forthe independence of each of their cities.
When the members who compose these new bodies of cantons, communes, anddepartments — arrangements purposely produced through the medium ofconfusion — begin to act, they will find themselves in a great measurestrangers to one another. The electors and elected throughout, especially inthe rural cantons, will be frequently without any civil habitudes orconnections, or any of that natural discipline which is the soul of a truerepublic. Magistrates and collectors of revenue are now no longer acquaintedwith their districts, bishops with their dioceses, or curates with theirparishes. These new colonies of the rights of men bear a strong resemblance tothat sort of military colonies which Tacitus has observed upon in the decliningpolicy of Rome. In better and wiser days (whatever course they took withforeign nations) they were careful to make the elements of methodicalsubordination and settlement to be coeval, and even to lay the foundations ofcivil discipline in the military. Butwhen all the good arts had fallen into ruin, they proceeded, as your Assemblydoes, upon the equality of men, and with as little judgment and as little carefor those things which make a republic tolerable or durable. But in this, aswell as almost every instance, your new commonwealth is born and bred and fedin those corruptions which mark degenerated and worn-out republics. Your childcomes into the world with the symptoms of death: the facies Hippocratica formsthe character of its physiognomy, and the prognostic of its fate.
The legislators who framed the ancient republics knew that their
businesswas too arduous to be accomplished with no better apparatus
than themetaphysics of an undergraduate, and the mathematics and
arithmetic of anexciseman. They had to do with men, and they were
obliged to study humannature. They had to do with citizens, and they
were obliged to study theeffects of those habits which are communicated
by the circumstances of civillife. They were sensible that the
operation of this second nature on the firstproduced a new combination;
and thence arose many diversities amongst men,according to their birth,
their education, their professions, the periods oftheir lives, their
residence in towns or in the country, their several ways ofacquiring
and of fixing property, and according to the quality of the
propertyitself — all which rendered them as it were so many different
species ofanimals. From hence they thought themselves obliged to
dispose their citizensinto such classes, and to place them in such
situations in the state, as theirpeculiar habits might qualify them to
fill, and to allot to them suchappropriated privileges as might secure
to them what their specific occasionsrequired, and which might furnish
to each description such force as mightprotect it in the conflict
caused by the diversity of interests that must existand must contend in
all complex society; for the legislator would have beenashamed that the
coarse husbandman should well know how to assort and to usehis sheep,
horses, and oxen, and should have enough of common sense not toabstract
and equalize them all into animals without providing for each kind
anappropriate food, care, and employment, whilst he, the economist,
disposer, andshepherd of his own kindred, subliming himself into an
airy metaphysician, wasresolved to know nothing of his flocks but as
men in general. It is for thisreason that Montesquieu observed very
justly that in their classification ofthe citizens the great
legislators of antiquity made the greatest display oftheir powers, and
even soared above themselves. It is here that your modernlegislators
have gone deep into the negative series, and sunk even below theirown
nothing. As the first sort of legislators attended to the different
kindsof citizens and combined them into one commonwealth, the others,
themetaphysical and alchemistical legislators, have taken the direct
contrarycourse. They have attempted to confound all sorts of citizens,
as well as theycould, into one homogeneous mass; and then they divided
this their amalgamainto a number of incoherent republics. They reduce
men to loose counters,merely for the sake of simple telling, and not to
figures whose power is toarise from their place in the table. The
elements of their own metaphysicsmight have taught them better lessons.
The troll of their categorical tablemight have informed them that there
was something else in the intellectualworld besides substance and
quantity. They might learn from the catechism ofmetaphysics that there
were eight heads more
So far from this able disposition of some of the old republican legislators,which follows with a solicitous accuracy the moral conditions and propensitiesof men, they have leveled and crushed together all the orders which they found,even under the coarse unartificial arrangement of the monarchy, in which modeof government the classing of the citizens is not of so much importance as in arepublic. It is true, however, that every such classification, if properlyordered, is good in all forms of government, and composes a strong barrieragainst the excesses of despotism, as well as it is the necessary means ofgiving effect and permanence to a republic. For want of something of this kind,if the present project of a republic should fail, all securities to a moderatedfreedom fail along with it; all the indirect restraints which mitigatedespotism are removed, insomuch that if monarchy should ever again obtain anentire ascendancy in France, under this or under any other dynasty, it willprobably be, if not voluntarily tempered at setting out by the wise andvirtuous counsels of the prince, the most completely arbitrary power that hasever appeared on earth. This is to play a most desperate game.
The confusion which attends on all such proceedings they even declare to beone of their objects, and they hope to secure their constitution by a terror ofa return of those evils which attended their making it. "By this,"say they, "its destruction will become difficult to authority, whichcannot break it up without the entire disorganization of the whole state."They presume that, if this authority should ever come to the same degree ofpower that they have acquired, it would make a more moderate and chastised useof it, and would piously tremble entirely to disorganize the state in thesavage manner that they have done. They expect, from the virtues of returningdespotism, the security which is to be enjoyed by the offspring of theirpopular vices.
I WISH, Sir, that you
and myreaders would give an attentive perusal to the work of M. de
Calonne on thissubject. It is, indeed, not only an eloquent, but an
able and instructive,performance. I confine myself to what he says
relative to the constitution ofthe new state and to the condition of
the revenue. As to the disputes of thisminister with his rivals, I do
not wish to pronounce upon them. As little do Imean to hazard any
opinion concerning his ways and means, financial orpolitical, for
taking his country out of its present disgraceful and
deplorablesituation of servitude, anarchy, bankruptcy, and beggary. I
cannot speculatequite so sanguinely as he does; but he is a Frenchman,
and has a closer dutyrelative to those objects, and better means of
judging of them, than I canhave. I wish that the formal avowal which he
refers to, made by one of theprincipal leaders in the Assembly
concerning the tendency of their scheme tobring France not only from a
monarchy to a republic, but from a republic to amere confederacy, may
be very particularly attended to. It adds new force to myobservations,
and indeed M. de Calonne's work supplies my deficiencies by manynew and
striking arguments on most of the subjects of this letter.
It is this resolution, to break their country into separate republics, whichhas driven them into the greatest number of their difficulties andcontradictions. If it were not for this, all the questions of exact equalityand these balances, never to be settled, of individual rights, population, andcontribution would be wholly useless. The representation, though derived fromparts, would be a duty which equally regarded the whole. Each deputy to theAssembly would be the representative of France, and of all its descriptions, ofthe many and of the few, of the rich and of the poor, of the great districtsand of the small. All these districts would themselves be subordinate to somestanding authority, existing independently of them, an authority in which theirrepresentation, and everything that belongs to it, originated, and to which itwas pointed. This standing, unalterable, fundamental government would make, andit is the only thing which could make, that territory truly and properly awhole. With us, when we elect popular representatives, we send them to acouncil in which each man individually is a subject and submitted to agovernment complete in all its ordinary functions. With you the electiveAssembly is the sovereign, and the sole sovereign; all the members aretherefore integral parts of this sole sovereignty. But with us it is totallydifferent. With us the representative, separated from the other parts, can haveno action and no existence. The government is the point of reference of theseveral members and districts of our representation. This is the center of ourunity. This government of reference is a trustee for the whole, and not for theparts. So is the other branch of our public council, I mean the House of Lords.With us the king and the lords are several and joint securities for theequality of each district, each province, each city. When did you hear in GreatBritain of any province suffering from the inequality of its representation,what district from having no representation at all? Not only our monarchy andour peerage secure the equality on which our unity depends, but it is thespirit of the House of Commons itself. The very inequality of representation,which is so foolishly complained of, is perhaps the very thing which preventsus from thinking or acting as members for districts. Cornwall elects as manymembers as all Scotland. But is Cornwall better taken care of than Scotland?Few trouble their heads about any of your bases, out of some giddy clubs. Mostof those who wish for any change, upon any plausible grounds, desire it ondifferent ideas.
Your new constitution is the very reverse of ours in its principle; and I amastonished how any persons could dream of holding out anything done in it as anexample for Great Britain. With you there is little, or rather no, connectionbetween the last representative and the first constituent. The member who goesto the National Assembly is not chosen by the people, nor accountable to them.There are three elections before he is chosen; two sets of magistracy intervenebetween him and the primary assembly, so as to render him, as I have said, anambassador of a state, and not the representative of the people within a state.By this the whole spirit of the election is changed, nor can any correctivewhich your constitution-mongers have devised render him anything else than whathe is. The very attempt to do it would inevitably introduce a confusion, ifpossible, more horrid than the present. There is no way to make a connectionbetween the original constituent and the representative, but by the circuitousmeans which may lead the candidate to apply in the first instance to theprimary electors, in order that by their authoritative instructions (andsomething more perhaps) these primary electors may force the two succeedingbodies of electors to make a choice agreeable to their wishes. But this wouldplainly subvert the whole scheme. It would be to plunge them back into thattumult and confusion of popular election which, by their interposed gradationof elections, they mean to avoid, and at length to risk the whole fortune ofthe state with those who have the least knowledge of it and the least interestin it. This is a perpetual dilemma into which they are thrown by the vicious,weak, and contradictory principles they have chosen. Unless the people break upand level this gradation, it is plain that they do not at all substantiallyelect to the Assembly; indeed, they elect as little in appearance as reality.
What is it we all seek for in an election? To answer its real purposes, youmust first possess the means of knowing the fitness of your man; and then youmust retain some hold upon him by personal obligation or dependence. For whatend are these primary electors complimented, or rather mocked, with a choice?They can never know anything of the qualities of him that is to serve them, norhas he any obligation whatsoever to them. Of all the powers unfit to bedelegated by those who have any real means of judging, that most peculiarlyunfit is what relates to a personal choice. In case of abuse, that body ofprimary electors never can call the representative to an account for hisconduct. He is too far removed from them in the chain of representation. If heacts improperly at the end of his two years' lease, it does not concern him fortwo years more. By the new French constitution the best and the wisestrepresentatives go equally with the worst into this Limbus Patrum. Theirbottoms are supposed foul, and they must go into dock to be refitted. Every manwho has served in an assembly is ineligible for two years after. Just as thesemagistrates begin to learn their trade, like chimney sweepers, they aredisqualified for exercising it. Superficial, new, petulant acquisition, andinterrupted, dronish, broken, ill recollection is to be the destined characterof all your future governors. Your constitution has too much of jealousy tohave much of sense in it. You consider the breach of trust in therepresentative so principally that you do not at all regard the question of hisfitness to execute it.
This purgatory interval is not unfavorable to a faithless representative,who may be as good a canvasser as he was a bad governor. In this time he maycabal himself into a superiority over the wisest and most virtuous. As in theend all the members of this elective constitution are equally fugitive andexist only for the election, they may be no longer the same persons who hadchosen him, to whom he is to be responsible when he solicits for a renewal ofhis trust. To call all the secondary electors of the Commune to account isridiculous, impracticable, and unjust; they may themselves have been deceivedin their choice, as the third set of electors, those of the Department, may bein theirs. In your elections responsibility cannot exist.
FINDING NO SORT OF PRINCIPLEof coherence with each other in the nature and constitution of the several newrepublics of France, I considered what cement the legislators had provided forthem from any extraneous materials. Their confederations, their spectacles,their civic feasts, and their enthusiasm I take no notice of; they are nothingbut mere tricks; but tracing their policy through their actions, I think I candistinguish the arrangements by which they propose to hold these republicstogether. The first is the confiscation, with the compulsory paper currencyannexed to it; the second is the supreme power of the city of Paris; the thirdis the general army of the state. Of this last I shall reserve what I have tosay until I come to consider the army as a head by itself.
As to the operation of the first (the confiscation and paper currency)merely as a cement, I cannot deny that these, the one depending on the other,may for some time compose some sort of cement if their madness and folly in themanagement, and in the tempering of the parts together, does not produce arepulsion in the very outset. But allowing to the scheme some coherence andsome duration, it appears to me that if, after a while, the confiscation shouldnot be found sufficient to support the paper coinage (as I am morally certainit will not), then, instead of cementing, it will add infinitely to thedissociation, distraction, and confusion of these confederate republics, bothwith relation to each other and to the several parts within themselves. But ifthe confiscation should so far succeed as to sink the paper currency, thecement is gone with the circulation. In the meantime its binding force will bevery uncertain, and it will straiten or relax with every variation in thecredit of the paper.
One thing only is certain in this scheme, which is an effect seeminglycollateral, but direct, I have no doubt, in the minds of those who conduct thisbusiness, that is, its effect in producing an oligarchy in every one of therepublics. A paper circulation, not founded on any real money deposited orengaged for, amounting already to forty-four millions of English money, andthis currency by force substituted in the place of the coin of the kingdom,becoming thereby the substance of its revenue as well as the medium of all itscommercial and civil intercourse, must put the whole of what power, authority,and influence is left, in any form whatsoever it may assume, into the hands ofthe managers and conductors of this circulation.
In England, we feel the influence of the Bank, though it is only the centerof a voluntary dealing. He knows little indeed of the influence of money uponmankind who does not see the force of the management of a monied concern whichis so much more extensive and in its nature so much more depending on themanagers than any of ours. But this is not merely a money concern. There isanother member in the system inseparably connected with this money management.It consists in the means of drawing out at discretion portions of theconfiscated lands for sale, and carrying on a process of continualtransmutation of paper into land, and land into paper. When we follow thisprocess in its effects, we may conceive something of the intensity of the forcewith which this system must operate. By this means the spirit of money-jobbingand speculation goes into the mass of land itself and incorporates with it. Bythis kind of operation that species of property becomes (as it were)volatilized; it assumes an unnatural and monstrous activity, and thereby throwsinto the hands of the several managers, principal and subordinate, Parisian andprovincial, all the representative of money and perhaps a full tenth part ofall the land in France, which has now acquired the worst and most perniciouspart of the evil of a paper circulation, the greatest possible uncertainty inits value. They have reversed the Latonian kindness to the landed property ofDelos. They have sent theirs to be blown about, like the light fragments of awreck, oras et littora circum.
The new dealers, being all habitually adventurers and without any fixedhabits of local predilections, will purchase to job out again, as the market ofpaper or of money or of land shall present an advantage. For though a holybishop thinks that agriculture will derive great advantages from the"enlightened" usurers who are to purchase the church confiscations,I, who am not a good but an old farmer, with great humility beg leave to tellhis late lordship that usury is not a tutor of agriculture; and if the word"enlightened" be understood according to the new dictionary, as italways is in your new schools, I cannot conceive how a man's not believing inGod can teach him to cultivate the earth with the least of any additional skillor encouragement. "Diis immortalibus sero", said an old Roman, whenhe held one handle of the plough, whilst Death held the other. Though you wereto join in the commission all the directors of the two academies to thedirectors of the Caisse d'Escompte, one old, experienced peasant is worth themall. I have got more information upon a curious and interesting branch ofhusbandry, in one short conversation with an old Carthusian monk, than I havederived from all the Bank directors that I have ever conversed with. However,there is no cause for apprehension from the meddling of money dealers withrural economy. These gentlemen are too wise in their generation. At first,perhaps, their tender and susceptible imaginations may be captivated with theinnocent and unprofitable delights of a pastoral life; but in a little timethey will find that agriculture is a trade much more laborious, and much lesslucrative, than that which they had left. After making its panegyric, they willturn their backs on it like their great precursor and prototype. They may, likehim, begin by singing "Beatus ille" but what will be the end?
Haec ubi locutus foenerator Alphius,
Jam jam futurus rusticus
Omnem redegit idibus pecuniam;
Quaerit calendis ponere.
They will cultivate the Caisse d'Eglise, under the sacred auspices of thisprelate, with much more profit than its vineyards and its cornfields. They willemploy their talents according to their habits and their interests. They willnot follow the plough whilst they can direct treasuries and govern provinces.
Your legislators, in everything new, are the very first who have founded acommonwealth upon gaming, and infused this spirit into it as its vital breath.The great object in these politics is to metamorphose France from a greatkingdom into one great playtable; to turn its inhabitants into a nation ofgamesters; to make speculation as extensive as life; to mix it with all itsconcerns and to divert the whole of the hopes and fears of the people fromtheir usual channels into the impulses, passions, and superstitions of thosewho live on chances. They loudly proclaim their opinion that this their presentsystem of a republic cannot possibly exist without this kind of gaming fund,and that the very thread of its life is spun out of the staple of thesespeculations. The old gaming in funds was mischievous enough, undoubtedly, butit was so only to individuals. Even when it had its greatest extent, in theMississippi and South Sea, it affected but few, comparatively; where it extendsfurther, as in lotteries, the spirit has but a single object. But where thelaw, which in most circumstances forbids, and in none countenances, gaming, isitself debauched so as to reverse its nature and policy and expressly to forcethe subject to this destructive table by bringing the spirit and symbols ofgaming into the minutest matters and engaging everybody in it, and ineverything, a more dreadful epidemic distemper of that kind is spread than yethas appeared in the world. With you a man can neither earn nor buy his dinnerwithout a speculation. What he receives in the morning will not have the samevalue at night. What he is compelled to take as pay for an old debt will not bereceived as the same when he comes to pay a debt contracted by himself, norwill it be the same when by prompt payment he would avoid contracting any debtat all. Industry must wither away. Economy must be driven from your country.Careful provision will have no existence. Who will labor without knowing theamount of his pay? Who will study to increase what none can estimate? Who willaccumulate, when he does not know the value of what he saves? If you abstractit from its uses in gaming, to accumulate your paper wealth would be not theprovidence of a man, but the distempered instinct of a jackdaw.
The truly melancholy part of the policy of systematically making a nation ofgamesters is this, that though all are forced to play, few can understand thegame; and fewer still are in a condition to avail themselves of the knowledge.The many must be the dupes of the few who conduct the machine of thesespeculations. What effect it must have on the country people is visible. Thetownsman can calculate from day to day, not so the inhabitant of the country.When the peasant first brings his corn to market, the magistrate in the townsobliges him to take the assignat at par; when he goes to the shop with hismoney, he finds it seven per cent the worse for crossing the way. This markethe will not readily resort to again. The townspeople will be inflamed; theywill force the country people to bring their corn. Resistance will begin, andthe murders of Paris and St. Denis may be renewed through all France.
What signifies the empty compliment paid to the country by giving it,perhaps, more than its share in the theory of your representation? Where haveyou placed the real power over monied and landed circulation? Where have youplaced the means of raising and falling the value of every man's freehold?Those whose operations can take from, or add ten per cent to, the possessionsof every man in France must be the masters of every man in France. The whole ofthe power obtained by this revolution will settle in the towns among theburghers and the monied directors who lead them. The landed gentleman, theyeoman, and the peasant have, none of them, habits or inclinations orexperience which can lead them to any share in this the sole source of powerand influence now left in France. The very nature of a country life, the verynature of landed property, in all the occupations, and all the pleasures theyafford, render combination and arrangement (the sole way of procuring andexerting influence) in a manner impossible amongst country people. Combine themby all the art you can, and all the industry, they are always dissolving intoindividuality. Anything in the nature of incorporation is almost impracticableamongst them. Hope, fear, alarm, jealousy, the ephemerous tale that does itsbusiness and dies in a day — all these things which are the reins andspurs by which leaders check or urge the minds of followers are not easilyemployed, or hardly at all, amongst scattered people. They assemble, they arm,they act with the utmost difficulty and at the greatest charge. Their efforts,if ever they can be commenced, cannot be sustained. They cannot proceedsystematically. If the country gentlemen attempt an influence through the mereincome of their property, what is it to that of those who have ten times theirincome to sell, and who can ruin their property by bringing their plunder tomeet it at market? If the landed man wishes to mortgage, he falls the value ofhis land and raises the value of assignats. He augments the power of his enemyby the very means he must take to contend with him. The country gentleman,therefore, the officer by sea and land, the man of liberal views and habits,attached to no profession, will be as completely excluded from the governmentof his country as if he were legislatively proscribed. It is obvious that inthe towns all things which conspire against the country gentleman combine infavor of the money manager and director. In towns combination is natural. Thehabits of burghers, their occupations, their diversion, their business, theiridleness continually bring them into mutual contact. Their virtues and theirvices are sociable; they are always in garrison; and they come embodied andhalf disciplined into the hands of those who mean to form them for civil ormilitary action.
All these considerations leave no doubt on my mind that, if this monster ofa constitution can continue, France will be wholly governed by the agitators incorporations, by societies in the towns formed of directors of assignats, andtrustees for the sale of church lands, attorneys, agents, money jobbers,speculators, and adventurers, composing an ignoble oligarchy founded on thedestruction of the crown, the church, the nobility, and the people. Here endall the deceitful dreams and visions of the equality and rights of men. In theSerbonian bog of this base oligarchy they are all absorbed, sunk, and lostforever.
Though human eyes cannot trace them, one would be tempted to think somegreat offenses in France must cry to heaven, which has thought fit to punish itwith a subjection to a vile and inglorious domination in which no comfort orcompensation is to be found in any, even of those false, splendors which,playing about other tyrannies, prevent mankind from feeling themselvesdishonored even whilst they are oppressed. I must confess I am touched with asorrow, mixed with some indignation, at the conduct of a few men, once of greatrank and still of great character, who, deluded with specious names, haveengaged in a business too deep for the line of their understanding to fathom;who have lent their fair reputation and the authority of their high-soundingnames to the designs of men with whom they could not be acquainted, and havethereby made their very virtues operate to the ruin of their country.
So far as to the first cementing principle.
THE second material of cementfor their new republic is the superiority of the city of Paris; and this Iadmit is strongly connected with the other cementing principle of papercirculation and confiscation. It is in this part of the project we must lookfor the cause of the destruction of all the old bounds of provinces andjurisdictions, ecclesiastical and secular, and the dissolution of all ancientcombinations of things, as well as the formation of so many small unconnectedrepublics. The power of the city of Paris is evidently one great spring of alltheir politics. It is through the power of Paris, now become the center andfocus of jobbing, that the leaders of this faction direct, or rather command,the whole legislative and the whole executive government. Everything,therefore, must be done which can confirm the authority of that city over theother republics. Paris is compact; she has an enormous strength, whollydisproportioned to the force of any of the square republics; and this strengthis collected and condensed within a narrow compass. Paris has a natural andeasy connection of its parts, which will not be affected by any scheme of ageometrical constitution, nor does it much signify whether its proportion ofrepresentation be more or less, since it has the whole draft of fishes in itsdragnet. The other divisions of the kingdom, being hackled and torn to pieces,and separated from all their habitual means and even principles of union,cannot, for some time at least, confederate against her. Nothing was to be leftin all the subordinate members but weakness, disconnection, and confusion. Toconfirm this part of the plan, the Assembly has lately come to a resolutionthat no two of their republics shall have the same commander-in-chief.
To a person who takes a view of the whole, the strength of Paris, thusformed, will appear a system of general weakness. It is boasted that thegeometrical policy has been adopted, that all local ideas should be sunk, andthat the people should no longer be Gascons, Picards, Bretons, Normans, butFrenchmen, with one country, one heart, and one Assembly. But instead of beingall Frenchmen, the greater likelihood is that the inhabitants of that regionwill shortly have no country. No man ever was attached by a sense of pride,partiality, or real affection to a description of square measurement. He neverwill glory in belonging to the Chequer No. 71, or to any other badge-ticket. Webegin our public affections in our families. No cold relation is a zealouscitizen. We pass on to our neighborhoods and our habitual provincialconnections. These are inns and resting places. Such divisions of our countryas have been formed by habit, and not by a sudden jerk of authority, were somany little images of the great country in which the heart found somethingwhich it could fill. The love to the whole is not extinguished by thissubordinate partiality. Perhaps it is a sort of elemental training to thosehigher and more large regards by which alone men come to be affected, as withtheir own concern, in the prosperity of a kingdom so extensive as that ofFrance. In that general territory itself, as in the old name of provinces, thecitizens are interested from old prejudices and unreasoned habits, and not onaccount of the geometric properties of its figure. The power and pre-eminenceof Paris does certainly press down and hold these republics together as long asit lasts. But, for the reasons I have already given you, I think it cannot lastvery long.
Passing from the civil creating and the civil cementing principles of thisconstitution to the National Assembly, which is to appear and act as sovereign,we see a body in its constitution with every possible power, and no possibleexternal control. We see a body without fundamental laws, without establishedmaxims, without respected rules of proceeding, which nothing can keep firm toany system whatsoever. Their idea of their powers is always taken at the utmoststretch of legislative competence, and their examples for common cases from theexceptions of the most urgent necessity. The future is to be in most respectslike the present Assembly; but, by the mode of the new elections and thetendency of the new circulations, it will be purged of the small degree ofinternal control existing in a minority chosen originally from variousinterests, and preserving something of their spirit. If possible, the nextAssembly must be worse than the present. The present, by destroying andaltering everything, will leave to their successors apparently nothing popularto do. They will be roused by emulation and example to enterprises the boldestand the most absurd. To suppose such an Assembly sitting in perfect quietude isridiculous.
Your all-sufficient legislators, in their hurry to do everything at once,have forgotten one thing that seems essential, and which I believe never hasbeen before, in the theory or the practice, omitted by any projector of arepublic. They have forgotten to constitute a senate or something of thatnature and character. Never before this time was heard of a body politiccomposed of one legislative and active assembly, and its executive officers,without such a council, without something to which foreign states might connectthemselves; something to which, in the ordinary detail of government, thepeople could look up; something which might give a bias and steadiness andpreserve something like consistency in the proceedings of state. Such a bodykings generally have as a council. A monarchy may exist without it, but itseems to be in the very essence of a republican government. It holds a sort ofmiddle place between the supreme power exercised by the people, or immediatelydelegated from them, and the mere executive. Of this there are no traces inyour constitution, and in providing nothing of this kind your Solons and Numashave, as much as in anything else, discovered a sovereign incapacity.
LET US NOW TURN OUR EYES towhat they have done toward the formation of an executive power. For this theyhave chosen a degraded king. This their first executive officer is to be amachine without any sort of deliberative discretion in any one act of hisfunction. At best he is but a channel to convey to the National Assembly suchmatter as it may import that body to know. If he had been made the exclusivechannel, the power would not have been without its importance, thoughinfinitely perilous to those who would choose to exercise it. But publicintelligence and statement of facts may pass to the Assembly with equalauthenticity through any other conveyance. As to the means, therefore, ofgiving a direction to measures by the statement of an authorized reporter, thisoffice of intelligence is as nothing.
To consider the French scheme of an executive officer, in its two naturaldivisions of civil and political. — In the first, it must be observedthat, according to the new constitution, the higher parts of judicature, ineither of its lines, are not in the king. The king of France is not thefountain of justice. The judges, neither the original nor the appellate, are ofhis nomination. He neither proposes the candidates, nor has a negative on thechoice. He is not even the public prosecutor. He serves only as a notary toauthenticate the choice made of the judges in the several districts. By hisofficers he is to execute their sentence. When we look into the true nature ofhis authority, he appears to be nothing more than a chief of bum bailiffs,sergeants at mace, catchpoles, jailers, and hangmen. It is impossible to placeanything called royalty in a more degrading point of view. A thousand timesbetter had it been for the dignity of this unhappy prince that he had nothingat all to do with the administration of justice, deprived as he is of all thatis venerable and all that is consolatory in that function, without power oforiginating any process, without a power of suspension, mitigation, or pardon.Everything in justice that is vile and odious is thrown upon him. It was notfor nothing that the Assembly has been at such pains to remove the stigma fromcertain offices when they are resolved to place the person who had lately beentheir king in a situation but one degree above the executioner, and in anoffice nearly of the same quality. It is not in nature that, situated as theking of the French now is, he can respect himself or can be respected byothers.
View this new executive officer on the side of his political capacity, as heacts under the orders of the National Assembly. To execute laws is a royaloffice; to execute orders is not to be a king. However, a political executivemagistracy, though merely such, is a great trust. It is a trust indeed that hasmuch depending upon its faithful and diligent performance, both in the personpresiding in it and in all its subordinates. Means of performing this dutyought to be given by regulation; and dispositions toward it ought to be infusedby the circumstances attendant on the trust. It ought to be environed withdignity, authority, and consideration, and it ought to lead to glory. Theoffice of execution is an office of exertion. It is not from impotence we areto expect the tasks of power. What sort of person is a king to commandexecutory service, who has no means whatsoever to reward it? Not in a permanentoffice; not in a grant of land; no, not in a pension of fifty pounds a year;not in the vainest and most trivial title. In France, the king is no more thefountain of honor than he is the fountain of justice. All rewards, alldistinctions are in other hands. Those who serve the king can be actuated by nonatural motive but fear — by a fear of everything except their master. Hisfunctions of internal coercion are as odious as those which he exercises in thedepartment of justice. If relief is to be given to any municipality, theAssembly gives it. If troops are to be sent to reduce them to obedience to theAssembly, the king is to execute the order; and upon every occasion he is to bespattered over with the blood of his people. He has no negative; yet his nameand authority is used to enforce every harsh decree. Nay, he must concur in thebutchery of those who shall attempt to free him from his imprisonment or showthe slightest attachment to his person or to his ancient authority.
Executive magistracy ought to be constituted in such a manner that those whocompose it should be disposed to love and to venerate those whom they are boundto obey. A purposed neglect or, what is worse, a literal but perverse andmalignant obedience must be the ruin of the wisest counsels. In vain will thelaw attempt to anticipate or to follow such studied neglects and fraudulentattentions. To make them act zealously is not in the competence of law. Kings,even such as are truly kings, may and ought to bear the freedom of subjectsthat are obnoxious to them. They may, too, without derogating from themselves,bear even the authority of such persons if it promotes their service. Louis theThirteenth mortally hated the Cardinal de Richelieu, but his support of thatminister against his rivals was the source of all the glory of his reign andthe solid foundation of his throne itself. Louis the Fourteenth, when come tothe throne, did not love the Cardinal Mazarin, but for his interests hepreserved him in power. When old, he detested Louvois, but for years, whilst hefaithfully served his greatness, he endured his person. When George the Secondtook Mr. Pitt, who certainly was not agreeable to him, into his councils, hedid nothing which could humble a wise sovereign. But these ministers, who werechosen by affairs, not by affections, acted in the name of, and in trust for,kings, and not as their avowed, constitutional, and ostensible masters. I thinkit impossible that any king, when he has recovered his first terrors, cancordially infuse vivacity and vigor into measures which he knows to be dictatedby those who, he must be persuaded, are in the highest degree ill affected tohis person. Will any ministers who serve such a king (or whatever he may becalled) with but a decent appearance of respect cordially obey the orders ofthose whom but the other day in his name they had committed to the Bastille?Will they obey the orders of those whom, whilst they were exercising despoticjustice upon them, they conceived they were treating with lenity, and fromwhom, in a prison, they thought they had provided an asylum? If you expect suchobedience amongst your other innovations and regenerations, you ought to make arevolution in nature and provide a new constitution for the human mind.Otherwise, your supreme government cannot harmonize with its executory system.There are cases in which we cannot take up with names and abstractions. You maycall half a dozen leading individuals, whom we have reason to fear and hate,the nation. It makes no other difference than to make us fear and hate them themore. If it had been thought justifiable and expedient to make such arevolution by such means, and through such persons, as you have made yours, itwould have been more wise to have completed the business of the fifth and sixthof October. The new executive officer would then owe his situation to those whoare his creators as well as his masters; and he might be bound in interest, inthe society of crime, and (if in crimes there could be virtues) in gratitude toserve those who had promoted him to a place of great lucre and great sensualindulgence, and of something more; for more he must have received from thosewho certainly would not have limited an aggrandized creature, as they have donea submitting antagonist.
A king circumstanced as the present, if he is totally stupefied by hismisfortunes so as to think it not the necessity but the premium and privilegeof life to eat and sleep, without any regard to glory, can never be fit for theoffice. If he feels as men commonly feel, he must be sensible that an office socircumstanced is one in which he can obtain no fame or reputation. He has nogenerous interest that can excite him to action. At best, his conduct will bepassive and defensive. To inferior people such an office might be matter ofhonor. But to be raised to it, and to descend to it, are different things andsuggest different sentiments. Does he really name the ministers? They will havea sympathy with him. Are they forced upon him? The whole business between themand the nominal king will be mutual counteraction. In all other countries, theoffice of ministers of state is of the highest dignity. In France it is full ofperil, and incapable of glory. Rivals, however, they will have in theirnothingness, whilst shallow ambition exists in the world, or the desire of amiserable salary is an incentive to short-sighted avarice. Those competitors ofthe ministers are enabled by your constitution to attack them in their vitalparts, whilst they have not the means of repelling their charges in any otherthan the degrading character of culprits. The ministers of state in France arethe only persons in that country who are incapable of a share in the nationalcouncils. What ministers! What councils! What a nation! — But they areresponsible. It is a poor service that is to be had from responsibility. Theelevation of mind to be derived from fear will never make a nation glorious.Responsibility prevents crimes. It makes all attempts against the lawsdangerous. But for a principle of active and zealous service, none but idiotscould think of it. Is the conduct of a war to be trusted to a man who may abhorits principle, who, in every step he may take to render it successful, confirmsthe power of those by whom he is oppressed? Will foreign states seriously treatwith him who has no prerogative of peace or war? No, not so much as in a singlevote by himself or his ministers, or by any one whom he can possibly influence.A state of contempt is not a state for a prince; better get rid of him at once.
I know it will be said that these humors in the court and executivegovernment will continue only through this generation, and that the king hasbeen brought to declare the dauphin shall be educated in a conformity to hissituation. If he is made to conform to his situation, he will have no educationat all. His training must be worse, even, than that of an arbitrary monarch. Ifhe reads — whether he reads or not — some good or evil genius willtell him his ancestors were kings. Thenceforward his object must be to asserthimself and to avenge his parents. This you will say is not his duty. That maybe; but it is nature; and whilst you pique nature against you, you do unwiselyto trust to duty. In this futile scheme of polity, the state nurses in itsbosom, for the present, a source of weakness, perplexity, counteraction,inefficiency, and decay; and it prepares the means of its final ruin. In short,I see nothing in the executive force (I cannot call it authority) that has evenan appearance of vigor, or that has the smallest degree of just correspondenceor symmetry, or amicable relation with the supreme power, either as it nowexists or as it is planned for the future government.
You have settled, by an economy as perverted as the policy, two
I hear that the persons who are called ministers have signified an intentionof resigning their places. I am rather astonished that they have not resignedlong since. For the universe I would not have stood in the situation in whichthey have been for this last twelvemonth. They wished well, I take it forgranted, to the revolution. Let this fact be as it may, they could not, placedas they were upon an eminence, though an eminence of humiliation, but be thefirst to see collectively, and to feel each in his own department, the evilswhich have been produced by that revolution. In every step which they took, orforbore to take, they must have felt the degraded situation of their countryand their utter incapacity of serving it. They are in a species of subordinateservitude, in which no men before them were ever seen. Without confidence fromtheir sovereign, on whom they were forced, or from the Assembly, who forcedthem upon him, all the noble functions of their office are executed bycommittees of the Assembly without any regard whatsoever to their personal ortheir official authority. They are to execute, without power; they are to beresponsible, without discretion; they are to deliberate, without choice. Intheir puzzled situations, under two sovereigns, over neither of whom they haveany influence, they must act in such a manner as (in effect, whatever they mayintend) sometimes to betray the one, sometimes the other, and always to betraythemselves. Such has been their situation, such must be the situation of thosewho succeed them. I have much respect and many good wishes for M. Necker. I amobliged to him for attentions. I thought, when his enemies had driven him fromVersailles, that his exile was a subject of most serious congratulations —sed multae urbes et publica vota vicerunt. He is now sitting on the ruins ofthe finances and of the monarchy of France.
A great deal more might be observed on the strange constitution of theexecutory part of the new government, but fatigue must give bounds to thediscussion of subjects which in themselves have hardly any limits.
AS little genius and talent amI able to perceive in the plan of judicature formed by the National Assembly.According to their invariable course, the framers of your constitution havebegun with the utter abolition of the parliaments. These venerable bodies, likethe rest of the old government, stood in need of reform, even though thereshould be no change made in the monarchy. They required several morealterations to adapt them to the system of a free constitution. But they hadparticulars in their constitution, and those not a few, which deservedapprobation from the wise. They possessed one fundamental excellence: they wereindependent. The most doubtful circumstance attendant on their office, that ofits being vendible, contributed however to this independence of character. Theyheld for life. Indeed, they may be said to have held by inheritance. Appointedby the monarch, they were considered as nearly out of his power. The mostdetermined exertions of that authority against them only showed their radicalindependence. They composed permanent bodies politic, constituted to resistarbitrary innovation; and from that corporate constitution, and from most oftheir forms, they were well calculated to afford both certainty and stabilityto the laws. They had been a safe asylum to secure these laws in all therevolutions of humor and opinion. They had saved that sacred deposit of thecountry during the reigns of arbitrary princes and the struggles of arbitraryfactions. They kept alive the memory and record of the constitution. They werethe great security to private property which might be said (when personalliberty had no existence) to be, in fact, as well guarded in France as in anyother country. Whatever is supreme in a state ought to have, as much aspossible, its judicial authority so constituted as not only not to depend uponit, but in some sort to balance it. It ought to give a security to its justiceagainst its power. It ought to make its judicature, as it were, somethingexterior to the state.
These parliaments had furnished, not the best certainly, but someconsiderable corrective to the excesses and vices of the monarchy. Such anindependent judicature was ten times more necessary when a democracy became theabsolute power of the country. In that constitution, elective temporary, localjudges, such as you have contrived, exercising their dependent functions in anarrow society, must be the worst of all tribunals. In them it will be vain tolook for any appearance of justice toward strangers, toward the obnoxious rich,toward the minority of routed parties, toward all those who in the electionhave supported unsuccessful candidates. It will be impossible to keep the newtribunals clear of the worst spirit of faction. All contrivances by ballot weknow experimentally to be vain and childish to prevent a discovery ofinclinations. Where they may the best answer the purposes of concealment, theyanswer to produce suspicion, and this is a still more mischievous cause ofpartiality.
If the parliaments had been preserved, instead of being dissolved at soruinous a charge to the nation, they might have served in this newcommonwealth, perhaps not precisely the same (I do not mean an exact parallel),but nearly the same, purposes as the court and senate of Areopagus did inAthens; that is, as one of the balances and correctives to the evils of a lightand unjust democracy. Every one knows that this tribunal was the great stay ofthat state; every one knows with what care it was upheld, and with what areligious awe it was consecrated. The parliaments were not wholly free fromfaction, I admit; but this evil was exterior and accidental, and not so muchthe vice of their constitution itself, as it must be in your new contrivance ofsexennial elective judicatories. Several English commend the abolition of theold tribunals, as supposing that they determined everything by bribery andcorruption. But they have stood the test of monarchic and republican scrutiny.The court was well disposed to prove corruption on those bodies when the weredissolved in 1771. Those who have again dissolved them would have done the sameif they could, but both inquisitions having failed, I conclude that grosspecuniary corruption must have been rather rare amongst them.
It would have been prudent, along with the parliaments, to preserve theirancient power of registering, and of remonstrating at least upon, all thedecrees of the National Assembly, as they did upon those which passed in thetime of the monarchy. It would be a means of squaring the occasional decrees ofa democracy to some principles of general jurisprudence. The vice of theancient democracies, and one cause of their ruin, was that they ruled, as youdo, by occasional decrees, psephismata. This practice soon broke in upon thetenor and consistency of the laws; it abated the respect of the people towardthem, and totally destroyed them in the end.
Your vesting the power of remonstrance, which, in the time of the monarchy,existed in the parliament of Paris, in your principal executive officer, whom,in spite of common sense, you persevere in calling king, is the height ofabsurdity. You ought never to suffer remonstrance from him who is to execute.This is to understand neither council nor execution, neither authority norobedience. The person whom you call king ought not to have this power, or heought to have more.
Your present arrangement is strictly judicial. Instead of imitating yourmonarchy and seating your judges on a bench of independence, your object is toreduce them to the most blind obedience. As you have changed all things, youhave invented new principles of order. You first appoint judges, who, Isuppose, are to determine according to law, and then you let them know that, atsome time or other, you intend to give them some law by which they are todetermine. Any studies which they have made (if any they have made) are to beuseless to them. But to supply these studies, they are to be sworn to obey allthe rules, orders, and instructions which from time to time they are to receivefrom the National Assembly. These if they submit to, they leave no ground oflaw to the subject. They become complete and most dangerous instruments in thehands of the governing power which, in the midst of a cause or on the prospectof it, may wholly change the rule of decision. If these orders of the NationalAssembly come to be contrary to the will of the people, who locally choosejudges, such confusion must happen as is terrible to think of. For the judgesowe their places to the local authority, and the commands they are sworn toobey come from those who have no share in their appointment. In the meantimethey have the example of the court of Chatelet to encourage and guide them inthe exercise of their functions. That court is to try criminals sent to it bythe National Assembly, or brought before it by other courses of delation. Theysit under a guard to save their own lives. They know not by what law theyjudge, nor under what authority they act, nor by what tenure they hold. It isthought that they are sometimes obliged to condemn at peril of their lives.This is not perhaps certain, nor can it be ascertained; but when they acquit,we know they have seen the persons whom they discharge, with perfect impunityto the actors, hanged at the door of their court.
The Assembly indeed promises that they will form a body of law, which shallbe short, simple, clear, and so forth. That is, by their short laws they willleave much to the discretion of the judge, whilst they have exploded theauthority of all the learning which could make judicial discretion (a thingperilous at best) deserving the appellation of a sound discretion.
It is curious to observe that the administrative bodies are carefullyexempted from the jurisdiction of these new tribunals. That is, those personsare exempted from the power of the laws who ought to be the most entirelysubmitted to them. Those who execute public pecuniary trusts ought of all mento be the most strictly held to their duty. One would have thought that it musthave been among your earliest cares, if you did not mean that thoseadministrative bodies should be real, sovereign, independent states, to form anawful tribunal, like your late parliaments, or like our king's bench, where allcorporate officers might obtain protection in the legal exercise of theirfunctions, and would find coercion if they trespassed against their legal duty.But the cause of the exemption is plain. These administrative bodies are thegreat instruments of the present leaders in their progress through democracy tooligarchy. They must, therefore, be put above the law. It will be said that thelegal tribunals which you have made are unfit to coerce them. They are,undoubtedly. They are unfit for any rational purpose. It will be said, too,that the administrative bodies will be accountable to the General Assembly.This I fear is talking without much consideration of the nature of thatAssembly, or of these corporations. However, to be subject to the pleasure ofthat Assembly is not to be subject to law either for protection or forconstraint.
This establishment of judges as yet wants something to its completion. It isto be crowned by a new tribunal. This is to be a grand state judicature, and itis to judge of crimes committed against the nation, that is, against the powerof the Assembly. It seems as if they had something in their view of the natureof the high court of justice erected in England during the time of the greatusurpation. As they have not yet finished this part of the scheme, it isimpossible to form a right judgment upon it. However, if great care is nottaken to form it in a spirit very different from that which has guided them intheir proceedings relative to state offenses, this tribunal, subservient totheir inquisition, the Committee of Research, will extinguish the last sparksof liberty in France and settle the most dreadful and arbitrary tyranny everknown in any nation. If they wish to give to this tribunal any appearance ofliberty and justice, they must not evoke from or send to it the causes relativeto their own members, at their pleasure. They must also remove the seat of thattribunal out of the republic of Paris.
HAS more wisdom been displayedin the constitution of your army than what is discoverable in your plan ofjudicature? The able arrangement of this part is the more difficult, andrequires the greatest skill and attention, not only as the great concern initself, but as it is the third cementing principle in the new body of republicswhich you call the French nation. Truly it is not easy to divine what that armymay become at last. You have voted a very large one, and on good appointments,at least fully equal to your apparent means of payment. But what is theprinciple of its discipline, or whom is it to obey? You have got the wolf bythe ears, and I wish you joy of the happy position in which you have chosen toplace yourselves, and in which you are well circumstanced for a freedeliberation relatively to that army or to anything else.
The minister and secretary of state for the war department is M. de la Tourdu Pin. This gentleman, like his colleagues in administration, is a mostzealous assertor of the revolution, and a sanguine admirer of the newconstitution which originated in that event. His statement of facts, relativeto the military of France, is important, not only from his official andpersonal authority, but because it displays very clearly the actual conditionof the army in France, and because it throws light on the principles upon whichthe Assembly proceeds in the administration of this critical object. It mayenable us to form some judgment how far it may be expedient in this country toimitate the martial policy of France.
M. de la Tour du Pin, on the fourth of last June, comes to give an accountof the state of his department as it exists under the auspices of the NationalAssembly. No man knows it so well; no man can express it better. Addressinghimself to the National Assembly, he says —
His Majesty has this day sent me to apprise you of themultiplied disorders of which every day he receives the most distressingintelligence. The army (le corps militaire) threatens to fall into the mostturbulent anarchy. Entire regiments have dared to violate at once the respectdue to the laws, to the king, to the order established by your decrees, and tothe oaths which they have taken with the most awful solemnity. Compelled by myduty to give you information of these excesses, my heart bleeds when I considerwho they are that have committed them. Those against whom it is not in my powerto withhold the most grievous complaints are a part of that very soldiery whichto this day have been so full of honor and loyalty, and with whom, for fiftyyears, I have lived the comrade and the friend.
What incomprehensible spirit of delirium and delusion has all at once ledthem astray? Whilst you are indefatigable in establishing uniformity in theempire, and molding the whole into one coherent and consistent body; whilst theFrench are taught by you at once the respect which the laws owe to the rightsof man, and that which the citizens owe to the laws, the administration of thearmy presents nothing but disturbance and confusion. I see in more than onecorps the bonds of discipline relaxed or broken; the most unheard-ofpretensions avowed directly and without any disguise; the ordinances withoutforce; the chiefs without authority; the military chest and the colors carriedoff; the authority of the king himself (risum teneatis?) proudly defied; theofficers despised, degraded, threatened, driven away, and some of themprisoners in the midst of their corps, dragging on a precarious life in thebosom of disgust and humiliation. To fill up the measure of all these horrors,the commandants of places have had their throats cut, under the eyes and almostin the arms of their own soldiers.
These evils are great; but they are not the worst consequences which may beproduced by such military insurrections. Sooner or later they may menace thenation itself. The nature of things requires that the army should never act butas an instrument. The moment that, erecting itself into a deliberative body, itshall act according to its own resolutions, the government, be it what it may,will immediately degenerate into a military democracy — a species ofpolitical monster which has always ended by devouring those who have producedit.
After all this, who must not be alarmed at the irregular consultations andturbulent committees formed in some regiments by the common soldiers andnon-commissioned officers without the knowledge, or even in contempt of theauthority, of their superiors, although the presence and concurrence of thosesuperiors could give no authority to such monstrous democratic assemblies(comices).
It is not necessary to add much to this finished picture — finished asfar as its canvas admits, but, as I apprehend, not taking in the whole of thenature and complexity of the disorders of this military democracy which, theminister at war truly and wisely observes, wherever it exists must be the trueconstitution of the state, by whatever formal appellation it may pass. Forthough he informs the Assembly that the more considerable part of the army havenot cast off their obedience, but are still attached to their duty, yet thosetravelers who have seen the corps whose conduct is the best rather observe inthem the absence of mutiny than the existence of discipline.
I cannot help pausing here for a moment to reflect upon the expressions ofsurprise which this minister has let fall, relative to the excesses he relates.To him the departure of the troops from their ancient principles of loyalty andhonor seems quite inconceivable. Surely those to whom he addresses himself knowthe causes of it but too well. They know the doctrines which they havepreached, the decrees which they have passed, the practices which they havecountenanced. The soldiers remember the 6th of October. They recollect theFrench guards. They have not forgotten the taking of the king's castles inParis and Marseilles. That the governors in both places were murdered withimpunity is a fact that has not passed out of their minds. They do not abandonthe principles laid down so ostentatiously and laboriously of the equality ofmen. They cannot shut their eyes to the degradation of the whole noblesse ofFrance and the suppression of the very idea of a gentleman. The total abolitionof titles and distinctions is not lost upon them. But M. de la Tour du Pin isastonished at their disloyalty, when the doctors of the Assembly have taughtthem at the same time the respect due to laws. It is easy to judge which of thetwo sorts of lessons men with arms in their hands are likely to learn. As tothe authority of the king, we may collect from the minister himself (if anyargument on that head were not quite superfluous) that it is not of moreconsideration with these troops than it is with everybody else. "Theking", says he, "has over and over again repeated his orders to put astop to these excesses; but in so terrible a crisis your (the Assembly's)concurrence is become indispensably necessary to prevent the evils which menacethe state. You unite to the force of the legislative power that of opinionstill more important". To be sure the army can have no opinion of thepower or authority of the king. Perhaps the soldier has by this time learnedthat the Assembly itself does not enjoy a much greater degree of liberty thanthat royal figure.
It is now to be seen what has been proposed in this exigency, one of thegreatest that can happen in a state. The minister requests the Assembly toarray itself in all its terrors, and to call forth all its majesty. He desiresthat the grave and severe principles announced by them may give vigor to theking's proclamation. After this we should have looked for courts, civil andmartial, breaking of some corps, decimating of others, and all the terriblemeans which necessity has employed in such cases to arrest the progress of themost terrible of all evils; particularly, one might expect that a seriousinquiry would be made into the murder of commandants in the view of theirsoldiers. Not one word of all this or of anything like it. After they had beentold that the soldiery trampled upon the decrees of the Assembly promulgated bythe king, the Assembly pass new decrees, and they authorize the king to makenew proclamations. After the secretary at war had stated that the regiments hadpaid no regard to oaths pretes avec la plus imposante solemnite, they propose— what? More oaths. They renew decrees and proclamations as theyexperience their insufficiency, and they multiply oaths in proportion as theyweaken in the minds of men, the sanctions of religion. I hope that handyabridgments of the excellent sermons of Voltaire, d'Alembert, Diderot, andHelvetius, on the Immortality of the Soul, on a particular superintendingProvidence, and on a Future State of Rewards and Punishments are sent down tothe soldiers along with their civic oaths. Of this I have no doubt; as Iunderstand that a certain description of reading makes no inconsiderable partof their military exercises, and that they are full as well supplied with theammunition of pamphlets as of cartridges.
To prevent the mischiefs arising from conspiracies, irregular
consultations,seditious committees, and monstrous democratic assemblies
(comitia, comices) ofthe soldiers, and all the disorders arising from
idleness, luxury, dissipation,and insubordination, I believe the most
astonishing means have been used thatever occurred to men, even in all
the inventions of this prolific age. It is noless than this: the king
has promulgated in circular letters to all theregiments his direct
authority and encouragement that the several corps shouldjoin
themselves with the clubs and confederations in the
severalmunicipalities, and mix with them in their feasts and civic
entertainments!This jolly discipline, it seems, is to soften the
ferocity of their minds, toreconcile them to their bottle companions of
other descriptions, and to mergeparticular conspiracies in more general
Concerning the likelihood of this improvement in discipline by the freeconversation of the soldiers with municipal festive societies, which is thusofficially encouraged by royal authority and sanction, we may judge by thestate of the municipalities themselves, furnished to us by the war minister inthis very speech. He conceives good hopes of the success of his endeavorstoward restoring order for the present from the good disposition of certainregiments, but he finds something cloudy with regard to the future. As topreventing the return of confusion, for this the administration (says he)cannot be answerable to you as long as they see the municipalities arrogate tothemselves an authority over the troops which your institutions have reservedwholly to the monarch. You have fixed the limits of the military authority andthe municipal authority. You have bounded the action which you have permittedto the latter over the former to the right of requisition, but never did theletter or the spirit of your decrees authorize the commons in thesemunicipalities to break the officers, to try them, to give orders to thesoldiers, to drive them from the posts committed to their guard, to stop themin their marches ordered by the king, or, in a word, to enslave the troops tothe caprice of each of the cities or even market towns through which they areto pass.
Such is the character and disposition of the municipal society which is toreclaim the soldiery, to bring them back to the true principles of militarysubordination, and to render them machines in the hands of the supreme power ofthe country! Such are the distempers of the French troops! Such is their cure!As the army is, so is the navy. The municipalities supersede the orders of theAssembly, and the seamen in their turn supersede the orders of themunicipalities. From my heart I pity the condition of a respectable servant ofthe public like this war minister, obliged in his old age to pledge theAssembly in their civic cups, and to enter with a hoary head into all thefantastic vagaries of these juvenile politicians. Such schemes are not likepropositions coming from a man of fifty years' wear and tear amongst mankind.They seem rather such as ought to be expected from those grand compounders inpolitics who shorten the road to their degrees in the state and have a certaininward fanatical assurance and illumination upon all subjects, upon the creditof which one of their doctors has thought fit, with great applause, and greatersuccess, to caution the Assembly not to attend to old men or to any persons whovalued themselves upon their experience. I suppose all the ministers of statemust qualify and take this test — wholly abjuring the errors and heresiesof experience and observation. Every man has his own relish. But I think if Icould not attain to the wisdom, I would at least preserve something of thestiff and peremptory dignity of age. These gentlemen deal in regeneration; butat any price I should hardly yield my rigid fibers to be regenerated by them,nor begin, in my grand climacteric, to squall in their new accents or tostammer, in my second cradle, the elemental sounds of their barbarousmetaphysics. Si isti mihi largiantur utrepuerascam, et in eorum cunis vagiam, valde recusem!
The imbecility of any part of the puerile and pedantic system, which theycall a constitution, cannot be laid open without discovering the utterinsufficiency and mischief of every other part with which it comes in contact,or that bears any the remotest relation to it. You cannot propose a remedy forthe incompetence of the crown without displaying the debility of the Assembly.You cannot deliberate on the confusion of the army of the state withoutdisclosing the worse disorders of the armed municipalities. The military laysopen the civil, and the civil betrays the military, anarchy. I wish everybodycarefully to peruse the eloquent speech (such it is) of M. de la Tour du Pin.He attributes the salvation of the municipalities to the good behavior of someof the troops. These troops are to preserve the well-disposed part of thosemunicipalities, which is confessed to be the weakest, from the pillage of theworst-disposed, which is the strongest. But the municipalities affect asovereignty and will command those troops which are necessary for theirprotection. Indeed they must command them or court them. The municipalities, bythe necessity of their situation, and by the republican powers they haveobtained, must, with relation to the military, be the masters, or the servants,or the confederates, or each successively; or they must make a jumble of alltogether, according to circumstances. What government is there to coerce thearmy but the municipality, or the municipality but the army? To preserveconcord where authority is extinguished, at the hazard of all consequences, theAssembly attempts to cure the distempers by the distempers themselves; and theyhope to preserve themselves from a purely military democracy by giving it adebauched interest in the municipal.
If the soldiers once come to mix for any time in the municipal clubs,cabals, and confederacies, an elective attraction will draw them to the lowestand most desperate part. With them will be their habits, affections, andsympathies. The military conspiracies, which are to be remedied by civicconfederacies; the rebellious municipalities, which are to be rendered obedientby furnishing them with the means of seducing the very armies of the state thatare to keep them in order; all these chimeras of a monstrous and portentouspolicy must aggravate the confusion from which they have arisen. There must beblood. The want of common judgment manifested in the construction of all theirdescriptions of forces and in all their kinds of civil and judicial authoritieswill make it flow. Disorders may be quieted in one time and in one part. Theywill break out in others, because the evil is radical and intrinsic. All theseschemes of mixing mutinous soldiers with seditious citizens must weaken stillmore and more the military connection of soldiers with their officers, as wellas add military and mutinous audacity to turbulent artificers and peasants. Tosecure a real army, the officer should be first and last in the eye of thesoldier; first and last in his attention, observance, and esteem. Officers itseems there are to be, whose chief qualification must be temper and patience.They are to manage their troops by electioneering arts. They must bearthemselves as candidates, not as commanders. But as by such means power may beoccasionally in their hands, the authority by which they are to be nominatedbecomes of high importance.
What you may do finally does not appear, nor is it of much moment whilst thestrange and contradictory relation between your army and all the parts of yourrepublic, as well as the puzzled relation of those parts to each other and tothe whole, remain as they are. You seem to have given the provisionalnomination of the officers in the first instance to the king, with a reserve ofapprobation by the National Assembly. Men who have an interest to pursue areextremely sagacious in discovering the true seat of power. They must soonperceive that those who can negative indefinitely in reality appoint. Theofficers must, therefore, look to their intrigues in that Assembly as the solecertain road to promotion. Still, however, by your new constitution they mustbegin their solicitation at court. This double negotiation for military rankseems to me a contrivance as well adapted, as if it were studied for no otherend, to promote faction in the Assembly itself, relative to this vast militarypatronage, and then to poison the corps of officers with factions of a naturestill more dangerous to the safety of government, upon any bottom on which itcan be placed, and destructive in the end to the efficiency of the army itself.Those officers who lose the promotions intended for them by the crown mustbecome of a faction opposite to that of the Assembly, which has rejected theirclaims, and must nourish discontents in the heart of the army against theruling powers. Those officers, on the other hand, who, by carrying their pointthrough an interest in the Assembly, feel themselves to be at best only secondin the good will of the crown, though first in that of the Assembly, mustslight an authority which would not advance and could not retard theirpromotion. If to avoid these evils you will have no other rule for command orpromotion than seniority, you will have an army of formality; at the same timeit will become more independent and more of a military republic. Not they, butthe king is the machine. A king is not to be deposed by halves. If he is noteverything in the command of an army, he is nothing. What is the effect of apower placed nominally at the head of the army who to that army is no object ofgratitude or of fear? Such a cipher is not fit for the administration of anobject, of all things the most delicate, the supreme command of military men.They must be constrained (and their inclinations lead them to what theirnecessities require) by a real, vigorous, effective, decided, personalauthority. The authority of the Assembly itself suffers by passing through sucha debilitating channel as they have chosen. The army will not long look to anassembly acting through the organ of false show and palpable imposition. Theywill not seriously yield obedience to a prisoner. They will either despise apageant, or they will pity a captive king. This relation of your army to thecrown will, if I am not greatly mistaken, become a serious dilemma in yourpolitics.
It is, besides, to be considered whether an assembly like yours, evensupposing that it was in possession of another sort of organ through which itsorders were to pass, is fit for promoting the obedience and discipline of anarmy. It is known that armies have hitherto yielded a very precarious anduncertain obedience to any senate or popular authority; and they will least ofall yield it to an assembly which is only to have a continuance of two years.The officers must totally lose the characteristic disposition of military menif they see with perfect submission and due admiration the dominion ofpleaders; especially when they find that they have a new court to pay to anendless succession of those pleaders, whose military policy, and the genius ofwhose command (if they should have any), must be as uncertain as their durationis transient. In the weakness of one kind of authority, and in the fluctuationof all, the officers of an army will remain for some time mutinous and full offaction until some popular general, who understands the art of conciliating thesoldiery, and who possesses the true spirit of command, shall draw the eyes ofall men upon himself. Armies will obey him on his personal account. There is noother way of securing military obedience in this state of things. But themoment in which that event shall happen, the person who really commands thearmy is your master — the master (that is little) of your king, the masterof your Assembly, the master of your whole republic.
How came the Assembly by their present power over the army? Chiefly, to besure, by debauching the soldiers from their officers. They have begun by a mostterrible operation. They have touched the central point about which theparticles that compose armies are at repose. They have destroyed the principleof obedience in the great, essential, critical link between the officer and thesoldier, just where the chain of military subordination commences and on whichthe whole of that system depends. The soldier is told he is a citizen and hasthe rights of man and citizen. The right of a man, he is told, is to be his owngovernor and to be ruled only by those to whom he delegates thatself-government. It is very natural he should think that he ought most of allto have his choice where he is to yield the greatest degree of obedience. Hewill therefore, in all probability, systematically do what he does at presentoccasionally; that is, he will exercise at least a negative in the choice ofhis officers. At present the officers are known at best to be only permissive,and on their good behavior. In fact, there have been many instances in whichthey have been cashiered by their corps. Here is a second negative on thechoice of the king — a negative as effectual at least as the other of theAssembly. The soldiers know already that it has been a question, not illreceived in the National Assembly, whether they ought not to have the directchoice of their officers, or some proportion of them? When such matters are indeliberation it is no extravagant supposition that they will incline to theopinion most favorable to their pretensions. They will not bear to be deemedthe army of an imprisoned king whilst another army in the same country, withwhom, too, they are to feast and confederate, is to be considered as the freearmy of a free constitution. They will cast their eyes on the other and morepermanent army; I mean the municipal. That corps, they well know, does actuallyelect its own officers. They may not be able to discern the grounds ofdistinction on which they are not to elect a Marquis de la Fayette (or what ishis new name?) of their own. If this election of a commander-in-chief be a partof the rights of men, why not of theirs? They see elective justices of peace,elective judges, elective curates, elective bishops, elective municipalities,and elective commanders of the Parisian army — why should they alone beexcluded? Are the brave troops of France the only men in that nation who arenot the fit judges of military merit and of the qualifications necessary for acommander-in-chief? Are they paid by the state and do they, therefore, lose therights of men? They are a part of that nation themselves and contribute to thatpay. And is not the king, is not the National Assembly, and are not all whoelect the National Assembly, likewise paid? Instead of seeing all these forfeittheir rights by their receiving a salary, they perceive that in all these casesa salary is given for the exercise of those rights. All your resolutions, allyour proceedings, all your debates, all the works of your doctors in religionand politics have industriously been put into their hands, and you expect thatthey will apply to their own case just as much of your doctrines and examplesas suits your pleasure.
EVERYTHING depends upon thearmy in such a government as yours, for you have industriously destroyed allthe opinions and prejudices and, as far as in you lay, all the instincts whichsupport government. Therefore, the moment any difference arises between yourNational Assembly and any part of the nation, you must have recourse to force.Nothing else is left to you, or rather you have left nothing else toyourselves. You see, by the report of your war minister, that the distributionof the army is in a great measure made with a view of internal coercion. You must rule by an army; and you haveinfused into that army by which you rule, as well as into the whole body of thenation, principles which after a time must disable you in the use you resolveto make of it. The king is to call out troops to act against his people, whenthe world has been told, and the assertion is still ringing in our ears, thattroops ought not to fire on citizens. The colonies assert to themselves anindependent constitution and a free trade. They must be constrained by troops.In what chapter of your code of the rights of men are they able to read that itis a part of the rights of men to have their commerce monopolized andrestrained for the benefit of others? As the colonists rise on you, the Negroesrise on them. Troops again — massacre, torture, hanging! These are yourrights of men! These are the fruits of metaphysic declarations wantonly made,and shamefully retracted! It was but the other day that the farmers of land inone of your provinces refused to pay some sort of rents to the lord of thesoil. In consequence of this, you decree that the country people shall pay allrents and dues, except those which as grievances you have abolished; and ifthey refuse, then you order the king to march troops against them. You lay downmetaphysic propositions which infer universal consequences, and then youattempt to limit logic by despotism. The leaders of the present system tellthem of their rights, as men, to take fortresses, to murder guards, to seize onkings without the least appearance of authority even from the Assembly, whilst,as the sovereign legislative body, that Assembly was sitting in the name of thenation — and yet these leaders presume to order out the troops which haveacted in these very disorders, to coerce those who shall judge on theprinciples, and follow the examples, which have been guaranteed by their ownapprobation.
The leaders teach the people to abhor and reject all feudality as thebarbarism of tyranny, and they tell them afterwards how much of that barbaroustyranny they are to bear with patience. As they are prodigal of light withregard to grievances, so the people find them sparing in the extreme withregard to redress. They know that not only certain quitrents and personalduties, which you have permitted them to redeem (but have furnished no moneyfor the redemption), are as nothing to those burdens for which you have made noprovision at all. They know that almost the whole system of landed property inits origin is feudal; that it is the distribution of the possessions of theoriginal proprietors, made by a barbarous conqueror to his barbarousinstruments; and that the most grievous effects of the conquest are the landrents of every kind, as without question they are.
The peasants, in all probability, are the descendants of these ancientproprietors, Romans or Gauls. But if they fail, in any degree, in the titleswhich they make on the principles of antiquaries and lawyers, they retreat intothe citadel of the rights of men. There they find that men are equal; and theearth, the kind and equal mother of all, ought not to be monopolized to fosterthe pride and luxury of any men, who by nature are no better than themselves,and who, if they do not labor for their bread, are worse. They find that by thelaws of nature the occupant and subduer of the soil is the true proprietor;that there is no prescription against nature; and that the agreements (whereany there are) which have been made with the landlords, during the time ofslavery, are only the effect of duress and force; and that when the peoplereentered into the rights of men, those agreements were made as void aseverything else which had been settled under the prevalence of the old feudaland aristocratic tyranny. They will tell you that they see no differencebetween an idler with a hat and a national cockade and an idler in a cowl or ina rochet. If you ground the title to rents on succession and prescription, theytell you from the speech of M. Camus, published by the National Assembly fortheir information, that things ill begun cannot avail themselves ofprescription; that the title of these lords was vicious in its origin; and thatforce is at least as bad as fraud. As to the title by succession, they willtell you that the succession of those who have cultivated the soil is the truepedigree of property, and not rotten parchments and silly substitutions; thatthe lords have enjoyed their usurpation too long; and that if they allow tothese lay monks any charitable pension, they ought to be thankful to the bountyof the true proprietor, who is so generous toward a false claimant to hisgoods.
When the peasants give you back that coin of sophistic reason on which youhave set your image and superscription, you cry it down as base money and tellthem you will pay for the future with French guards, and dragoons, and hussars.You hold up, to chastise them, the second-hand authority of a king, who is onlythe instrument of destroying, without any power of protecting either the peopleor his own person. Through him it seems you will make yourselves obeyed. Theyanswer: You have taught us that there are no gentlemen, and which of yourprinciples teach us to bow to kings whom we have not elected? We know withoutyour teaching that lands were given for the support of feudal dignities, feudaltitles, and feudal offices. When you took down the cause as a grievance, whyshould the more grievous effect remain? As there are now no hereditary honors,and no distinguished families, why are we taxed to maintain what you tell usought not to exist? You have sent down our old aristocratic landlords in noother character, and with no other title, but that of exactors under yourauthority. Have you endeavored to make these your rent-gatherers respectable tous? No. You have sent them to us with their arms reversed, their shieldsbroken, their impresses defaced; and so displumed, degraded, and metamorphosed,such unfeathered two-legged things, that we no longer know them. They arestrangers to us. They do not even go by the names of our ancient lords.Physically they may be the same men, though we are not quite sure of that, onyour new philosophic doctrines of personal identity. In all other respects theyare totally changed. We do not see why we have not as good a right to refusethem their rents as you have to abrogate all their honors, titles, anddistinctions. This we have never commissioned you to do; and it is oneinstance, among many indeed, of your assumption of undelegated power. We seethe burghers of Paris, through their clubs, their mobs, and their nationalguards, directing you at their pleasure and giving that as law to you which,under your authority, is transmitted as law to us. Through you these burghersdispose of the lives and fortunes of us all. Why should not you attend as muchto the desires of the laborious husbandman with regard to our rent, by which weare affected in the most serious manner, as you do to the demands of theseinsolent burghers, relative to distinctions and titles of honor, by whichneither they nor we are affected at all? But we find you pay more regard totheir fancies than to our necessities. Is it among the rights of man to paytribute to his equals? Before this measure of yours, we might have thought wewere not perfectly equal. We might have entertained some old, habitual,unmeaning prepossession in favor of those landlords; but we cannot conceivewith what other view than that of destroying all respect to them, you couldhave made the law that degrades them. You have forbidden us to treat them withany of the old formalities of respect, and now you send troops to saber and tobayonet us into a submission to fear and force, which you did not suffer us toyield to the mild authority of opinion.
The ground of some of these arguments is horrid and ridiculous to allrational ears, but to the politicians of metaphysics who have opened schoolsfor sophistry and made establishments for anarchy, it is solid and conclusive.It is obvious that, on a mere consideration of the right, the leaders in theAssembly would not in the least have scrupled to abrogate the rents along withthe title and family ensigns. It would be only to follow up the principle oftheir reasonings and to complete the analogy of their conduct. But they hadnewly possessed themselves of a great body of landed property by confiscation.They had this commodity at market; and the market would have been whollydestroyed if they were to permit the husbandmen to riot in the speculationswith which they so freely intoxicated themselves. The only security whichproperty enjoys in any one of its descriptions is from the interests of theirrapacity with regard to some other. They have left nothing but their ownarbitrary pleasure to determine what property is to be protected and whatsubverted.
Neither have they left any principle by which any of their municipalitiescan be bound to obedience, or even conscientiously obliged not to separate fromthe whole to become independent, or to connect itself with some other state.The people of Lyons, it seems, have refused lately to pay taxes. Why shouldthey not? What lawful authority is there left to exact them? The king imposedsome of them. The old states, methodized by orders, settled the more ancient.They may say to the Assembly: who are you, that are not our kings, nor thestates we have elected, nor sit on the principles on which we have elected you?And who are we, that when we see the gabelles, which you have ordered to bepaid, wholly shaken off, when we see the act of disobedience afterwardsratified by yourselves — who are we, that we are not to judge what taxeswe ought or ought not to pay, and are not to avail ourselves of the samepowers, the validity of which you have approved in others? To this the answeris, We will send troops. The last reason of kings is always the first with yourAssembly. This military aid may serve for a time, whilst the impression of theincrease of pay remains, and the vanity of being umpires in all disputes isflattered. But this weapon will snap short, unfaithful to the hand that employsit. The Assembly keep a school where, systematically, and with unremittingperseverance, they teach principles and form regulations destructive to allspirit of subordination, civil and military — and then they expect thatthey shall hold in obedience an anarchic people by an anarchic army.
The municipal army which, according to the new policy, is to balance
thisnational army, if considered in itself only, is of a constitution
much moresimple, and in every respect less exceptionable. It is a mere
democratic body,unconnected with the crown or the kingdom, armed and
trained and officered atthe pleasure of the districts to which the
corps severally belong, and thepersonal service of the individuals who
compose, or the fine in lieu ofpersonal service, are directed by the
Having concluded my few remarks on the constitution of the supreme power,the executive, the judicature, the military, and on the reciprocal relation ofall these establishments, I shall say something of the ability shown by yourlegislators with regard to the revenue.
IN THEIR PROCEEDINGS relativeto this object, if possible, still fewer traces appear of political judgment orfinancial resource. When the states met, it seemed to be the great object toimprove the system of revenue, to enlarge its collection, to cleanse it ofoppression and vexation, and to establish it on the most solid footing. Greatwere the expectations entertained on that head throughout Europe. It was bythis grand arrangement that France was to stand or fall; and this became, in myopinion, very properly the test by which the skill and patriotism of those whoruled in that Assembly would be tried. The revenue of the state is the state.In effect, all depends upon it, whether for support or for reformation. Thedignity of every occupation wholly depends upon the quantity and the kind ofvirtue that may be exerted in it. As all great qualities of the mind whichoperate in public, and are not merely suffering and passive, require force fortheir display, I had almost said for their unequivocal existence, the revenue,which is the spring of all power, becomes in its administration the sphere ofevery active virtue. Public virtue, being of a nature magnificent and splendid,instituted for great things and conversant about great concerns, requiresabundant scope and room and cannot spread and grow under confinement and incircumstances straitened, narrow, and sordid. Through the revenue alone thebody politic can act in its true genius and character, and, therefore, it willdisplay just as much of its collective virtue, and as much of that virtue whichmay characterize those who move it and are, as it were, its life and guidingprinciple, as it is possessed of a just revenue. For from hence not onlymagnanimity, and liberality, and beneficence, and fortitude, and providence,and the tutelary protection of all good arts derive their food and the growthof their organs; but continence, and self-denial, and labor, and vigilance, andfrugality, and whatever else there is in which the mind shows itself above theappetite, are nowhere more in their proper element than in the provision anddistribution of the public wealth. It is, therefore, not without reason thatthe science of speculative and practical finance, which must take to its aid somany auxiliary branches of knowledge, stands high in the estimation not only ofthe ordinary sort but of the wisest and best men; and as this science has grownwith the progress of its object, the prosperity and improvement of nations hasgenerally increased with the increase of their revenues; and they will bothcontinue to grow and flourish as long as the balance between what is left tostrengthen the efforts of individuals and what is collected for the commonefforts of the state bear to each other a due reciprocal proportion and arekept in a close correspondence and communication. And perhaps it may be owingto the greatness of revenues and to the urgency of state necessities that oldabuses in the constitution of finances are discovered and their true nature andrational theory comes to be more perfectly understood: insomuch, that a smallerrevenue might have been more distressing in one period than a far greater isfound to be in another, the proportionate wealth even remaining the same. Inthis state of things, the French Assembly found something in their revenues topreserve, to secure, and wisely to administer, as well as to abrogate andalter. Though their proud assumption might justify the severest tests, yet intrying their abilities on their financial proceedings, I would only considerwhat is the plain obvious duty of a common finance minister, and try them uponthat, and not upon models of ideal perfection.
The objects of a financier are, then, to secure an ample revenue, to imposeit with judgment and equality, to employ it economically, and when necessityobliges him to make use of credit, to secure its foundations in that instance,and forever, by the clearness and candor of his proceedings, the exactness ofhis calculations and the solidity of his funds. On these heads we may take ashort and distinct view of the merits and abilities of those in the NationalAssembly who have taken to themselves the management of this arduous concern.Far from any increase of revenue in their hands, I find, by a report of M.Vernier, from the committee of finances, of the second of August last, that theamount of the national revenue, as compared with its produce before theRevolution, was diminished by the sum of two hundred millions, or eightmillions sterling of the annual income, considerably more than one-third of thewhole.
If this be the result of great ability, never surely was ability displayedin a more distinguished manner or with so powerful an effect. No common folly,no vulgar incapacity, no ordinary official negligence, even no official crime,no corruption, no peculation, hardly any direct hostility which we have seen inthe modern world could in so short a time have made so complete an overthrow ofthe finances and, with them, of the strength of a great kingdom. — Cedoqui vestram rempublicam tantam amisistis tam cito?
The sophisters and declaimers, as soon as the Assembly met, began withdecrying the ancient constitution of the revenue in many of its most essentialbranches, such as the public monopoly of salt. They charged it, as truly asunwisely, with being ill-contrived, oppressive, and partial. Thisrepresentation they were not satisfied to make use of in speeches preliminaryto some plan of reform; they declared it in a solemn resolution or publicsentence, as it were judicially passed upon it; and this they dispersedthroughout the nation. At the time they passed the decree, with the samegravity they ordered the same absurd, oppressive, and partial tax to be paiduntil they could find a revenue to replace it. The consequence was inevitable.The provinces which had been always exempted from this salt monopoly, some ofwhom were charged with other contributions, perhaps equivalent, were totallydisinclined to bear any part of the burden which by an equal distribution wasto redeem the others. As to the Assembly, occupied as it was with thedeclaration and violation of the rights of men, and with their arrangements forgeneral confusion, it had neither leisure nor capacity to contrive, norauthority to enforce, any plan of any kind relative to the replacing the tax orequalizing it, or compensating the provinces, or for conducting their minds toany scheme of accommodation with other districts which were to be relieved.
The people of the salt provinces, impatient under taxes, damned by theauthority which had directed their payment, very soon found their patienceexhausted. They thought themselves as skillful in demolishing as the Assemblycould be. They relieved themselves by throwing off the whole burden. Animatedby this example, each district, or part of a district, judging of its owngrievance by its own feeling, and of its remedy by its own opinion, did as itpleased with other taxes.
We are next to see how they have conducted themselves in contriving equalimpositions, proportioned to the means of the citizens, and the least likely tolean heavy on the active capital employed in the generation of that privatewealth from whence the public fortune must be derived. By suffering the severaldistricts, and several of the individuals in each district, to judge of whatpart of the old revenue they might withhold, instead of better principles ofequality, a new inequality was introduced of the most oppressive kind. Paymentswere regulated by dispositions. The parts of the kingdom which were the mostsubmissive, the most orderly, or the most affectionate to the commonwealth borethe whole burden of the state. Nothing turns out to be so oppressive and unjustas a feeble government. To fill up all the deficiencies in the old impositionsand the new deficiencies of every kind which were to be expected — whatremained to a state without authority? The National Assembly called for avoluntary benevolence: for a fourth part of the income of all the citizens, tobe estimated on the honor of those who were to pay. They obtained somethingmore than could be rationally calculated, but what was far indeed fromanswerable to their real necessities, and much less to their fond expectations.Rational people could have hoped for little from this their tax in the disguiseof a benevolence — a tax weak, ineffective, and unequal; a tax by whichluxury, avarice, and selfishness were screened, and the load thrown uponproductive capital, upon integrity, generosity, and public spirit; a tax ofregulation upon virtue. At length the mask is thrown off, and they are nowtrying means (with little success) of exacting their benevolence by force.
This benevolence, the rickety offspring of weakness, was to be supported byanother resource, the twin brother of the same prolific imbecility. Thepatriotic donations were to make good the failure of the patrioticcontribution. John Doe was to become security for Richard Roe. By this schemethey took things of much price from the giver, comparatively of small value tothe receiver; they ruined several trades; they pillaged the crown of itsornaments, the churches of their plate, and the people of their personaldecorations. The invention of these juvenile pretenders to liberty was inreality nothing more than a servile imitation of one of the poorest resourcesof doting despotism. They took an old, huge, full-bottomed periwig out of thewardrobe of the antiquated frippery of Louis the Fourteenth to cover thepremature baldness of the National Assembly. They produced this old-fashionedformal folly, though it had been so abundantly exposed in the Memoirs of theDuke de St. Simon, if to reasonable men it had wanted any arguments to displayits mischief and insufficiency. A device of the same kind was tried, in mymemory, by Louis the Fifteenth, but it answered at no time. However, thenecessities of ruinous wars were some excuse for desperate projects. Thedeliberations of calamity are rarely wise. But here was a season fordisposition and providence. It was in a time of profound peace, then enjoyedfor five years, and promising a much longer continuance, that they had recourseto this desperate trifling. They were sure to lose more reputation by sporting,in their serious situation, with these toys and playthings of finance, whichhave filled half their journals, than could possibly be compensated by the poortemporary supply which they afforded. It seemed as if those who adopted suchprojects were wholly ignorant of their circumstances or wholly unequal to theirnecessities. Whatever virtue may be in these devices, it is obvious thatneither the patriotic gifts, nor the patriotic contribution, can ever beresorted to again. The resources of public folly are soon exhausted. The whole,indeed, of their scheme of revenue is to make, by any artifice, an appearanceof a full reservoir for the hour, whilst at the same time they cut off thesprings and living fountains of perennial supply. The account not long sincefurnished by M. Necker was meant, without question, to be favorable. He gives aflattering view of the means of getting through the year, but he expresses, asit is natural he should, some apprehension for that which was to succeed. Onthis last prognostic, instead of entering into the grounds of this apprehensionin order, by a proper foresight, to prevent the prognosticated evil, M. Neckerreceives a sort of friendly reprimand from the president of the Assembly.
As to their other schemes of taxation, it is impossible to say anything ofthem with certainty, because they have not yet had their operation; but nobodyis so sanguine as to imagine they will fill up any perceptible part of the widegaping breach which their incapacity had made in their revenues. At present thestate of their treasury sinks every day more and more in cash, and swells moreand more in fictitious representation. When so little within or without is nowfound but paper, the representative not of opulence but of want, the creaturenot of credit but of power, they imagine that our flourishing state in Englandis owing to that bank-paper, and not the bank-paper to the flourishingcondition of our commerce, to the solidity of our credit, and to the totalexclusion of all idea of power from any part of the transaction. They forgetthat, in England, not one shilling of paper money of any description isreceived but of choice; that the whole has had its origin in cash actuallydeposited; and that it is convertible at pleasure, in an instant and withoutthe smallest loss, into cash again. Our paper is of value in commerce, becausein law it is of none. It is powerful on 'Change, because in Westminster Hall itis impotent. In payment of a debt of twenty shillings, a creditor may refuseall the paper of the Bank of England. Nor is there amongst us a single publicsecurity, of any quality or nature whatsoever, that is enforced by authority.In fact, it might be easily shown that our paper wealth, instead of lesseningthe real coin, has a tendency to increase it; instead of being a substitute formoney, it only facilitates its entry, its exit, and its circulation; that it isthe symbol of prosperity, and not the badge of distress. Never was a scarcityof cash and an exuberance of paper a subject of complaint in this nation.
Well! but a lessening of prodigal expenses, and the economy which has beenintroduced by the virtuous and sapient Assembly, make amends for the lossessustained in the receipt of revenue. In this at least they have fulfilled theduty of a financier. Have those who say so looked at the expenses of theNational Assembly itself, of the municipalities, of the city of Paris, of theincreased pay of the two armies, of the new police, of the new judicatures?Have they even carefully compared the present pension list with the former?These politicians have been cruel, not economical. Comparing the expense of theformer prodigal government and its relation to the then revenues with theexpenses of this new system as opposed to the state of its new treasury, Ibelieve the present will be found beyond all comparison more chargeable.
It remains only to consider the proofs of financial ability furnished by thepresent French managers when they are to raise supplies on credit. Here I am alittle at a stand, for credit, properly speaking, they have none. The credit ofthe ancient government was not indeed the best, but they could always, on someterms, command money, not only at home, but from most of the countries ofEurope where a surplus capital was accumulated; and the credit of thatgovernment was improving daily. The establishment of a system of liberty wouldof course be supposed to give it new strength; and so it would actually havedone if a system of liberty had been established. What offers has theirgovernment of pretended liberty had from Holland, from Hamburg, fromSwitzerland, from Genoa, from England for a dealing in their paper? Why shouldthese nations of commerce and economy enter into any pecuniary dealings with apeople who attempt to reverse the very nature of things, amongst whom they seethe debtor prescribing at the point of the bayonet the medium of his solvencyto the creditor, discharging one of his engagements with another, turning hisvery penury into his resource and paying his interest with his rags?
Their fanatical confidence in the omnipotence of church plunder has inducedthese philosophers to overlook all care of the public estate, just as the dreamof the philosopher's stone induces dupes, under the more plausible delusion ofthe hermetic art, to neglect all rational means of improving their fortunes.With these philosophic financiers, this universal medicine made of church mummyis to cure all the evils of the state. These gentlemen perhaps do not believe agreat deal in the miracles of piety, but it cannot be questioned that they havean undoubting faith in the prodigies of sacrilege. Is there a debt whichpresses them? — Issue assignats. Are compensations to be made or amaintenance decreed to those whom they have robbed of their freehold in theiroffice, or expelled from their profession? — Assignats. Is a fleet to befitted out? — Assignats. If sixteen millions sterling of these assignats,forced on the people, leave the wants of the state as urgent as ever —issue, says one, thirty millions sterling of assignats — says another,issue fourscore millions more of assignats. The only difference among theirfinancial factions is on the greater or the lesser quantity of assignats to beimposed on the public sufferance. They are all professors of assignats. Eventhose whose natural good sense and knowledge of commerce, not obliterated byphilosophy, furnish decisive arguments against this delusion conclude theirarguments by proposing the emission of assignats. I suppose they must talk ofassignats, as no other language would be understood. All experience of theirinefficiency does not in the least discourage them. Are the old assignatsdepreciated at market? — What is the remedy? Issue new assignats. —Mais si maladia, opiniatria, non vult se garire, quid illi facere? assignare— postea assignare; ensuita assignare. The word is a trifle altered. TheLatin of your present doctors may be better than that of your old comedy; theirwisdom and the variety of their resources are the same. They have not morenotes in their song than the cuckoo, though, far from the softness of thatharbinger of summer and plenty, their voice is as harsh and as ominous as thatof the raven.
Who but the most desperate adventurers in philosophy and finance could atall have thought of destroying the settled revenue of the state, the solesecurity for the public credit, in the hope of rebuilding it with the materialsof confiscated property? If, however, an excessive zeal for the state shouldhave led a pious and venerable prelate (by anticipation a father of the church) to pillage his own order and, for thegood of the church and people, to take upon himself the place of grandfinancier of confiscation and comptroller-general of sacrilege, he and hiscoadjutors were in my opinion bound to show by their subsequent conduct thatthey knew something of the office they assumed. When they had resolved toappropriate to the Fisc a certain portion of the landed property of theirconquered country, it was their business to render their bank a real fund ofcredit, as far as such a bank was capable of becoming so.
To establish a current circulating credit upon any Land-bank, under anycircumstances whatsoever, has hitherto proved difficult at the very least. Theattempt has commonly ended in bankruptcy. But when the Assembly were led,through a contempt of moral, to a defiance of economical principles, it mightat least have been expected that nothing would be omitted on their part tolessen this difficulty, to prevent any aggravation of this bankruptcy. It mightbe expected that to render your land-bank tolerable, every means would beadopted that could display openness and candor in the statement of the security— everything which could aid the recovery of the demand. To take things intheir most favorable point of view, your condition was that of a man of a largelanded estate which he wished to dispose of for the discharge of a debt and thesupply of certain services. Not being able instantly to sell, you wished tomortgage. What would a man of fair intentions and a commonly clearunderstanding do in such circumstances? Ought he not first to ascertain thegross value of the estate, the charges of its management and disposition, theencumbrances perpetual and temporary of all kinds that affect it, then,striking a net surplus, to calculate the just value of the security? When thatsurplus (the only security to the creditor) had been clearly ascertained andproperly vested in the hands of trustees, then he would indicate the parcels tobe sold, and the time and conditions of sale; after this, he would admit thepublic creditor, if he chose it, to subscribe his stock into this new fund, orhe might receive proposals for an assignat from those who would advance moneyto purchase this species of security.
This would be to proceed like men of business, methodically and rationally,and on the only principles of public and private credit that have an existence.The dealer would then know exactly what he purchased; and the only doubt whichcould hang upon his mind would be the dread of the resumption of the spoil,which one day might be made (perhaps with an addition of punishment) from thesacrilegious gripe of those execrable wretches who could become purchasers atthe auction of their innocent fellow citizens.
AN open and exact statement ofthe clear value of the property and of the time, the circumstances, and theplace of sale were all necessary to efface as much as possible the stigma thathas hitherto been branded on every kind of land-bank. It became necessary onanother principle, that is, on account of a pledge of faith previously given onthat subject, that their future fidelity in a slippery concern might beestablished by their adherence to their first engagement. When they had finallydetermined on a state resource from church booty, they came, on the 14th ofApril, 1790, to a solemn resolution on the subject, and pledged themselves totheir country, "that in the statement of the public charges for each year,there should be brought to account a sum sufficient for defraying the expensesof the R. C. A. religion, the support of the ministers at the altars, therelief of the poor, the pensions to the ecclesiastics, secular as well asregular, of the one and of the other sex, in order that the estates and goodswhich are at the disposal of the nation may be disengaged of all charges andemployed by the representatives, or the legislative body, to the great and mostpressing exigencies of the state." They further engaged, on the same day,that the sum necessary for the year 1791 should be forthwith determined.
In this resolution they admit it their duty to show distinctly the expenseof the above objects which, by other resolutions, they had before engagedshould be first in the order of provision. They admit that they ought to showthe estate clear and disengaged of all charges, and that they should show itimmediately. Have they done this immediately, or at any time? Have they everfurnished a rent-roll of the immovable estates, or given in an inventory of themovable effects which they confiscate to their assignats? In what manner theycan fulfill their engagements of holding out to public service "an estatedisengaged of all charges" without authenticating the value of the estateor the quantum of the charges, I leave it to their English admirers to explain.Instantly upon this assurance, and previously to any one step toward making itgood, they issue, on the credit of so handsome a declaration, sixteen millionssterling of their paper. This was manly. Who, after this masterly stroke, candoubt of their abilities in finance? But then, before any other emission ofthese financial indulgences, they took care at least to make good theiroriginal promise! — If such estimate either of the value of the estate orthe amount of the encumbrances has been made, it has escaped me. I never heardof it.
At length they have spoken out, and they have made a full discovery
of theirabominable fraud in holding out the church lands as a security
for any debts,or any service whatsoever. They rob only to enable them
to cheat, but in a veryshort time they defeat the ends both of the
robbery and the fraud by making outaccounts for other purposes which
blow up their whole apparatus of force and ofdeception. I am obliged to
M. de Calonne for his reference to the documentwhich proves this
extraordinary fact; it had by some means escaped me. Indeedit was not
necessary to make out my assertion as to the breach of faith on
thedeclaration of the 14th of April, 1790. By a report of their
committee it nowappears that the charge of keeping up the reduced
ecclesiastical establishmentsand other expenses attendant on religion,
and maintaining the religious of bothsexes, retained or pensioned, and
the other concomitant expenses of the samenature which they have
brought upon themselves by this convulsion in property,exceeds the
income of the estates acquired by it in the enormous sum of twomillions
sterling annually, besides a debt of seven millions and upwards.
Theseare the calculating powers of imposture! This is the finance of
philosophy!This is the result of all the delusions held out to engage a
miserable peoplein rebellion, murder, and sacrilege, and to make them
prompt and zealousinstruments in the ruin of their country! Never did a
state, in any case,enrich itself by the confiscations of the citizens.
This new experiment hassucceeded like all the rest. Every honest mind,
every true lover of liberty andhumanity, must rejoice to find that
injustice is not always good policy, norrapine the high road to riches.
I subjoin with pleasure, in a note, the ableand spirited observations
of M. de Calonne on this subject.
In order to persuade the world of the bottomless resource of ecclesiasticalconfiscation, the Assembly have proceeded to other confiscations of estates inoffices, which could not be done with any common color without beingcompensated out of this grand confiscation of landed property. They have thrownupon this fund, which was to show a surplus disengaged of all charges, a newcharge — namely, the compensation to the whole body of the disbandedjudicature, and of all suppressed offices and estates, a charge which I cannotascertain, but which unquestionably amounts to many French millions. Another ofthe new charges is an annuity of four hundred and eighty thousand poundssterling, to be paid (if they choose to keep faith) by daily payments, for theinterest of the first assignats. Have they even given themselves the trouble tostate fairly the expense of the management of the church lands in the hands ofthe municipalities to whose care, skill, and diligence, and that of theirlegion of unknown underagents, they have chosen to commit the charge of theforfeited estates, the consequence of which had been so ably pointed out by thebishop of Nancy?
But it is unnecessary to dwell on these obvious heads of encumbrance. Havethey made out any clear state of the grand encumbrance of all, I mean the wholeof the general and municipal establishments of all sorts, and compared it withthe regular income by revenue? Every deficiency in these becomes a charge onthe confiscated estate before the creditor can plant his cabbages on an acre ofchurch property. There is no other prop than this confiscation to keep thewhole state from tumbling to the ground. In this situation they have purposelycovered all that they ought industriously to have cleared with a thick fog, andthen, blindfold themselves, like bulls that shut their eyes when they push,they drive, by the point of the bayonets, their slaves, blindfolded indeed noworse than their lords, to take their fictions for currencies and to swallowdown paper pills by thirty-four millions sterling at a dose. Then they proudlylay in their claim to a future credit, on failure of all their pastengagements, and at a time when (if in such a matter anything can be clear) itis clear that the surplus estates will never answer even the first of theirmortgages, I mean that of the four hundred millions (or sixteen millionssterling) of assignats. In all this procedure I can discern neither the solidsense of plain dealing nor the subtle dexterity of ingenious fraud. Theobjections within the Assembly to pulling up the floodgates for this inundationof fraud are unanswered, but they are thoroughly refuted by a hundred thousandfinanciers in the street. These are the numbers by which the metaphysicarithmeticians compute. These are the grand calculations on which aphilosophical public credit is founded in France. They cannot raise supplies,but they can raise mobs. Let them rejoice in the applauses of the club atDundee for their wisdom and patriotism in having thus applied the plunder ofthe citizens to the service of the state. I hear of no address upon thissubject from the directors of the Bank of England, though their approbationwould be of a little more weight in the scale of credit than that of the clubat Dundee. But, to do justice to the club, I believe the gentlemen who composeit to be wiser than they appear; that they will be less liberal of their moneythan of their addresses; and that they would not give a dog's ear of their mostrumpled and ragged Scotch paper for twenty of your fairest assignats.
Early in this year the Assembly issued paper to the amount of sixteenmillions sterling; what must have been the state into which the Assembly hasbrought your affairs, that the relief afforded by so vast a supply has beenhardly perceptible? This paper also felt an almost immediate depreciation offive per cent, which in a little time came to about seven. The effect of theseassignats on the receipt of the revenue is remarkable. M. Necker found that thecollectors of the revenue who received in coin paid the treasury in assignats.The collectors made seven per cent by thus receiving in money and accounting indepreciated paper. It was not very difficult to foresee that this must beinevitable. It was, however, not the less embarrassing. M. Necker was obliged(I believe, for a considerable part, in the market of London) to buy gold andsilver for the mint, which amounted to about twelve thousand pounds above thevalue of the commodity gained. That minister was of opinion that, whatevertheir secret nutritive virtue might be, the state could not live upon assignatsalone, that some real silver was necessary, particularly for the satisfactionof those who, having iron in their hands, were not likely to distinguishthemselves for patience when they should perceive that, whilst an increase ofpay was held out to them in real money, it was again to be fraudulently drawnback by depreciated paper. The minister, in this very natural distress, appliedto the Assembly that they should order the collectors to pay in specie what inspecie they had received. It could not escape him that if the treasury paidthree per cent for the use of a currency which should be returned seven percent worse than the minister issued it, such a dealing could not very greatlytend to enrich the public. The Assembly took no notice of this recommendation.They were in this dilemma: if they continued to receive the assignats, cashmust become an alien to their treasury; if the treasury should refuse thosepaper amulets or should discountenance them in any degree, they must destroythe credit of their sole resource. They seem then to have made their option,and to have given some sort of credit to their paper by taking it themselves;at the same time in their speeches they made a sort of swaggering declaration,something, I rather think, above legislative competence; that is, that there isno difference in value between metallic money and their assignats. This was agood, stout, proof article of faith, pronounced under an anathema by thevenerable fathers of this philosophic synod. Credat who will — certainlynot Judaeus Apella.
A noble indignation rises in the minds of your popular leaders on hearingthe magic lantern in their show of finance compared to the fraudulentexhibitions of Mr. Law. They cannot bear to hear the sands of his Mississippicompared with the rock of the church on which they build their system. Pray letthem suppress this glorious spirit until they show to the world what piece ofsolid ground there is for their assignats which they have not preoccupied byother charges. They do injustice to that great mother fraud to compare it withtheir degenerate imitation. It is not true that Law built solely on aspeculation concerning the Mississippi. He added the East India trade; he addedthe African trade; he added the farms of all the farmed revenue of France. Allthese together unquestionably could not support the structure which the publicenthusiasm, not he, chose to build upon these bases. But these were, however,in comparison generous delusions. They supposed, and they aimed at, an increaseof the commerce of France. They opened to it the whole range of the twohemispheres. They did not think of feeding France from its own substance. Agrand imagination found in this night of commerce something to captivate. Itwas wherewithal to dazzle the eye of an eagle. It was not made to entice thesmell of a mole nuzzling and burying himself in his mother earth, as yours is.Men were not then quite shrunk from their natural dimensions by a degrading andsordid philosophy, and fitted for low and vulgar deceptions. Above all,remember that in imposing on the imagination the then managers of the systemmade a compliment to the freedom of men. In their fraud there was no mixture offorce. This was reserved to our time, to quench the little glimmerings ofreason which might break in upon the solid darkness of this enlightened age.
On recollection, I have said nothing of a scheme of finance which may beurged in favor of the abilities of these gentlemen, and which has beenintroduced with great pomp, though not yet finally adopted, in the NationalAssembly. It comes with something solid in aid of the credit of the papercirculation; and much has been said of its utility and its elegance. I mean theproject for coining into money the bells of the suppressed churches. This istheir alchemy. There are some follies which baffle argument, which go beyondridicule, and which excite no feeling in us but disgust; and therefore I say nomore upon it.
It is as little worth remarking any further upon all their drawing andre-drawing on their circulation for putting off the evil day, on the playbetween the treasury and the Caisse d'Escompte, and on all these old, explodedcontrivances of mercantile fraud now exalted into policy of state. The revenuewill not be trifled with. The prattling about the rights of men will not beaccepted in payment for a biscuit or a pound of gunpowder. Here then themetaphysicians descend from their airy speculations and faithfully followexamples. What examples? The examples of bankrupts. But defeated, baffled,disgraced, when their breath, their strength, their inventions, their fanciesdesert them, their confidence still maintains its ground. In the manifestfailure of their abilities, they take credit for their benevolence. When therevenue disappears in their hands, they have the presumption, in some of theirlate proceedings, to value themselves on the relief given to the people. Theydid not relieve the people. If they entertained such intentions, why did theyorder the obnoxious taxes to be paid? The people relieved themselves in spiteof the Assembly.
But waiving all discussion on the parties who may claim the merit of thisfallacious relief, has there been, in effect, any relief to the people in anyform? Mr. Bailly, one of the grand agents of paper circulation, lets you intothe nature of this relief. His speech to the National Assembly contained a highand labored panegyric on the inhabitants of Paris for the constancy andunbroken resolution with which they have borne their distress and misery. Afine picture of public felicity! What great courage and unconquerable firmnessof mind to endure benefits and sustain redress! One would think from the speechof this learned lord mayor that the Parisians, for this twelvemonth past, hadbeen suffering the straits of some dreadful blockade, that Henry the Fourth hadbeen stopping up the avenues to their supply, and Sully thundering with hisordnance at the gates of Paris, when in reality they are besieged by no otherenemies than their own madness and folly, their own credulity and perverseness.But Mr. Bailly will sooner thaw the eternal ice of his Atlantic regions thanrestore the central heat to Paris whilst it remains "smitten with thecold, dry, petrific mace" of a false and unfeeling philosophy. Some timeafter this speech, that is, on the thirteenth of last August, the samemagistrate, giving an account of his government at the bar of the sameAssembly, expresses himself as follows:
In the month of July, 1789, (the period of everlastingcommemoration) the finances of the city of Paris were yet in good order; theexpenditure was counterbalanced by the receipt; and she had at that time amillion (forty thousand pounds sterling) in bank.
The expenses which she has been constrained to incur, subsequent to theRevolution, amount to 2,500,000 livres. From these expenses, and the greatfalling off in the product of the free gifts, not only a momentary, but atotal, want of money has taken place.
This is the Paris upon whose nourishment, in the course of the last year,such immense sums, drawn from the vitals of all France, have been expended. Aslong as Paris stands in the place of ancient Rome, so long she will bemaintained by the subject provinces. It is an evil inevitably attendant on thedominion of sovereign democratic republics. As it happened in Rome, it maysurvive that republican domination which gave rise to it. In that casedespotism itself must submit to the vices of popularity.
Rome, under her emperors, united the evils of both systems; and thisunnatural combination was one great cause of her ruin.
To tell the people that they are relieved by the dilapidation of theirpublic estate is a cruel and insolent imposition. Statesmen, before they valuedthemselves on the relief given to the people by the destruction of theirrevenue, ought first to have carefully attended to the solution of this problem— whether it be more advantageous to the people to pay considerably and togain in proportion, or to gain little or nothing and to be disburdened of allcontribution? My mind is made up to decide in favor of the first proposition.Experience is with me, and, I believe, the best opinions also. To keep abalance between the power of acquisition on the part of the subject and thedemands he is to answer on the part of the state is the fundamental part of theskill of a true politician. The means of acquisition are prior in time and inarrangement. Good order is the foundation of all good things. To be enabled toacquire, the people, without being servile, must be tractable and obedient. Themagistrate must have his reverence, the laws their authority. The body of thepeople must not find the principles of natural subordination by art rooted outof their minds. They must respect that property of which they cannot partake.They must labor to obtain what by labor can be obtained; and when they find, asthey commonly do, the success disproportioned to the endeavour, they must betaught their consolation in the final proportions of eternal justice. Of thisconsolation, whoever deprives them deadens their industry and strikes at theroot of all acquisition as of all conservation. He that does this is the crueloppressor, the merciless enemy of the poor and wretched, at the same time thatby his wicked speculations he exposes the fruits of successful industry and theaccumulations of fortune to the plunder of the negligent, the disappointed, andthe unprosperous.
Too many of the financiers by profession are apt to see nothing in revenuebut banks, and circulations, and annuities on lives, and tontines, andperpetual rents, and all the small wares of the shop. In a settled order of thestate, these things are not to be slighted, nor is the skill in them to be heldof trivial estimation. They are good, but then only good when they assume theeffects of that settled order and are built upon it. But when men think thatthese beggarly contrivances may supply a resource for the evils which resultfrom breaking up the foundations of public order, and from causing or sufferingthe principles of property to be subverted, they will, in the ruin of theircountry, leave a melancholy and lasting monument of the effect of preposterouspolitics and presumptuous, short-sighted, narrow-minded wisdom.
The effects of the incapacity shown by the popular leaders in all the greatmembers of the commonwealth are to be covered with the "all-atoningname" of liberty. In some people I see great liberty indeed; in many, ifnot in the most, an oppressive, degrading servitude. But what is libertywithout wisdom and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils;for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint. Those whoknow what virtuous liberty is cannot bear to see it disgraced by incapableheads on account of their having high-sounding words in their mouths. Grand,swelling sentiments of liberty I am sure I do not despise. They warm the heart;they enlarge and liberalize our minds; they animate our courage in a time ofconflict. Old as I am, I read the fine raptures of Lucan and Corneille withpleasure. Neither do I wholly condemn the little arts and devices ofpopularity. They facilitate the carrying of many points of moment; they keepthe people together; they refresh the mind in its exertions; and they diffuseoccasional gaiety over the severe brow of moral freedom. Every politician oughtto sacrifice to the graces, and to join compliance with reason. But in such anundertaking as that in France, all these subsidiary sentiments and artificesare of little avail. To make a government requires no great prudence. Settlethe seat of power, teach obedience, and the work is done. To give freedom isstill more easy. It is not necessary to guide; it only requires to let go therein. But to form a free government, that is, to temper together these oppositeelements of liberty and restraint in one consistent work, requires muchthought, deep reflection, a sagacious, powerful, and combining mind. This I donot find in those who take the lead in the National Assembly. Perhaps they arenot so miserably deficient as they appear. I rather believe it. It would putthem below the common level of human understanding. But when the leaders chooseto make themselves bidders at an auction of popularity, their talents, in theconstruction of the state, will be of no service. They will become flatterersinstead of legislators, the instruments, not the guides, of the people. If anyof them should happen to propose a scheme of liberty, soberly limited anddefined with proper qualifications, he will be immediately outbid by hiscompetitors who will produce something more splendidly popular. Suspicions willbe raised of his fidelity to his cause. Moderation will be stigmatized as thevirtue of cowards, and compromise as the prudence of traitors, until, in hopesof preserving the credit which may enable him to temper and moderate, on someoccasions, the popular leader is obliged to become active in propagatingdoctrines and establishing powers that will afterwards defeat any sober purposeat which he ultimately might have aimed.
But am I so unreasonable as to see nothing at all that deserves commendationin the indefatigable labors of this Assembly? I do not deny that, among aninfinite number of acts of violence and folly, some good may have been done.They who destroy everything certainly will remove some grievance. They who makeeverything new have a chance that they may establish something beneficial. Togive them credit for what they have done in virtue of the authority they haveusurped, or which can excuse them in the crimes by which that authority hasbeen acquired, it must appear that the same things could not have beenaccomplished without producing such a revolution. Most assuredly they might,because almost every one of the regulations made by them which is not veryequivocal was either in the cession of the king, voluntarily made at themeeting of the states, or in the concurrent instructions to the orders. Someusages have been abolished on just grounds, but they were such that if they hadstood as they were to all eternity, they would little detract from thehappiness and prosperity of any state. The improvements of the NationalAssembly are superficial, their errors fundamental.
Whatever they are, I wish my countrymen rather to recommend to our neighborsthe example of the British constitution than to take models from them for theimprovement of our own. In the former, they have got an invaluable treasure.They are not, I think, without some causes of apprehension and complaint, butthese they do not owe to their constitution but to their own conduct. I thinkour happy situation owing to our constitution, but owing to the whole of it,and not to any part singly, owing in a great measure to what we have leftstanding in our several reviews and reformations as well as to what we havealtered or superadded. Our people will find employment enough for a trulypatriotic, free, and independent spirit in guarding what they possess fromviolation. I would not exclude alteration neither, but even when I changed, itshould be to preserve. I should be led to my remedy by a great grievance. Inwhat I did, I should follow the example of our ancestors. I would make thereparation as nearly as possible in the style of the building. A politiccaution, a guarded circumspection, a moral rather than a complexional timiditywere among the ruling principles of our forefathers in their most decidedconduct. Not being illuminated with the light of which the gentlemen of Francetell us they have got so abundant a share, they acted under a strong impressionof the ignorance and fallibility of mankind. He that had made them thusfallible rewarded them for having in their conduct attended to their nature.Let us imitate their caution if we wish to deserve their fortune or to retaintheir bequests. Let us add, if we please, but let us preserve what they haveleft; and, standing on the firm ground of the British constitution, let us besatisfied to admire rather than attempt to follow in their desperate flightsthe aeronauts of France.
I have told you candidly my sentiments. I think they are not likely to alteryours. I do not know that they ought. You are young; you cannot guide but mustfollow the fortune of your country. But hereafter they may be of some use toyou, in some future form which your commonwealth may take. In the present itcan hardly remain; but before its final settlement it may be obliged to pass,as one of our poets says, "through great varieties of untried being",and in all its transmigrations to be purified by fire and blood.
I have little to recommend my opinions but long observation and muchimpartiality. They come from one who has been no tool of power, no flatterer ofgreatness; and who in his last acts does not wish to belie the tenor of hislife. They come from one almost the whole of whose public exertion has been astruggle for the liberty of others; from one in whose breast no anger, durableor vehement, has ever been kindled but by what he considered as tyranny; andwho snatches from his share in the endeavors which are used by good men todiscredit opulent oppression the hours he has employed on your affairs; and whoin so doing persuades himself he has not departed from his usual office; theycome from one who desires honors, distinctions, and emoluments but little, andwho expects them not at all; who has no contempt for fame, and no fear ofobloquy; who shuns contention, though he will hazard an opinion; from one whowishes to preserve consistency, but who would preserve consistency by varyinghis means to secure the unity of his end, and, when the equipoise of the vesselin which he sails may be endangered by overloading it upon one side, isdesirous of carrying the small weight of his reasons to that which may preserveits equipoise.
1. Psalm CXLIX.
2. Discourse on the Love of ourCountry, Nov. 4, 1789, by Dr. Richard Price, 3d ed., pp. 17, 18.
3(2). "Those who dislike that mode ofworship which is prescribed by public authority, ought, if they can find noworship out of thechurch which they approve, to set up a separate worshipforthemselves; and by doing this, and giving an example of a rational and manlyworship, men of weight from their rank and literature may do the greatestservice to society and the world". — P 18, Dr. Price's Sermon.
4. Discourse on the Love of ourCountry, by Dr. Price, p. 34.
5. 1st Mary, sess. 3, ch. 1.
6. "That King James the Second, havingendeavored to subvert the constitution of the kingdom by breaking the originalcontract between king and people, and, by the advice of Jesuits and otherwicked persons, having violated the fundamental laws, and having withdrawnhimself out of the kingdom, hath abdicated the Government, and the throne isthereby vacant".
7. Pp. 22-24.
8. See Blackstone's Magna Charta, printedat Oxford, 1759.
9. W. and M.
10. Ecclesiasticus, chap. xxxviii. verses24, 25. "The wisdom of a learned man cometh by pportunity of leisure; andhe that hath little business shall become wise". — "How can heget wisdom that holdeth the plough, and that glorieth in the goad; that drivethoxen; and is occupied in their labours; and whose talk is ofbullocks"?
Ver. 27. "So every carpenter and work-master thatlaboureth night and day", etc.
Ver. 33. "They shall not be sought for in publiccounsel, nor sit high in the congregation: they shall not sit on the judge'sseat, nor understand the sentence of judgment; they cannot declare justice andjudgment, and they shall not be found where parables are spoken".
Ver. 34. "But they will maintain the state of theworld".
11. Discourse on the Love of ourCountry, 3d ed., p. 39.
12. Another of these reverend gentlemen,who was witness to some of the spectacles which aris has lately exhibited,expresses himself thus: — "A king dragged in submissive triumph byhis conquering subjects, is one of those appearances of grandeur which seldomrise in the prospect of human affairs, and which, during the remainder of mylife, I shall think of with wonder and gratification". These gentlemenagree marvelously in their feelings.
13. State Trials, vol. ii, pp. 360,363.
14. 6th of October, 1789.
15. "Tous les Eveques a lalanterne".
16. It is proper here to refer to a letterwritten upon this subject by an eye witness. That eye witness was one of themost honest, intelligent, and eloquent members of the National Assembly, one ofthe most active and zealous reformers of the state. He was obliged to secedefrom the Assembly; and he afterwards became a voluntary exile, on account ofthe horrors of this pious triumph and the dispositions of men who, profiting ofcrimes, if not causing them, have taken the lead in public affairs.
17. N.B. Mr. Mounier was then speaker ofthe National Assembly. He has since been obliged to live in exile, though oneof the firmest assertors of liberty.
18. See the fate of Bailly and Condorcet,supposed to be here particularly alluded to. Compare the circumstances of thetrial and execution of the former with this prediction.
19. The English are, I conceive,misrepresented in a letter published in one of the papers, by a gentlemanthought to be a dissenting minister. — When writing to Dr. Price of thespirit which prevails at Paris, he says: "The spirit of the people in thisplace has abolished all the proud distinctions which the king and nobles hadusurped in their minds; whether they talk of the king, the noble, or thepriest, their whole language is that of the most enlightened and liberalamongst the English". If this gentleman means to confine the terms"enlightened" and "liberal" to one set of men in England,it may be true. It is not generally so.
20. Sit igitur hoc ab initio persuasumcivibus, dominos esse omnium rerum ac moderatores, deos; eaque, quae gerantur,eorum geri vi, ditione, ac numine; eosdemque optime de genere hominum mereri;et qualis quisque sit, quid agat, quid in se admittat, qua mente, qua pietatecolat religiones intueri; piorum et impiorum habere rationem. His enim rebusimbutae mentes haud sane abhorrebunt ab utili et a vera sententia. Cic. deLegibus, 1. 2.
21. Quicquid multis peccaturinultum.
22. This (down to the end of the firstsentence in the next paragraph) and some other parts here and there wereinserted, on his reading the manuscript, by my lost Son.
23. I do not choose to shock the feeling ofthe moral reader with any quotation of their vulgar, base, and profanelanguage.
24. Their connection with Turgot and almostall the people of the finance.
25. All have been confiscated in theirturn.
26. Not his brother nor any near relation;but this mistake does not affect the argument.
27. The rest of the passage is this—
"Who having spent the treasures of hiscrown,
Condemns their luxury to feed his own.
And yet this act, to varnish o'er the shame
Of sacrilege, must bear devotion's name.
No crime so bold, but would be understood
A real, or at least a seeming good;
Who fears not to do ill, yet fears the name,
And, free from conscience, is a slave to fame.
Thus he the church at once protects, and spoils;
But princes' swords are sharper than their styles.
And thus to th' ages past he makes amends,
Their charity destroys, their faith defends.
Then did religion in a lazy cell,
In empty aery contemplation dwell;
And, like the block, unmoved lay; but ours,
As much too active, like the stork devours.
Is there no temperate region can be known,
Betwixt their frigid and our torrid zone?
Could we not wake from that lethargic dream,
But to be restless in a worse extreme?
And for that lethargy was there no cure,
But to be cast into a calenture?
Can knowledge have no bound, but must advance
So far, to make us wish for ignorance?
And rather in the dark to grope our way,
Than, led by a false guide, to err by day?
Who sees these dismal heaps, but would demand,
What barbarous invader sacked the land?
But when he hears, no Goth, no Turk did bring
This desolation, but a Christian king;
When nothing, but the name of zeal, appears
'Twixt our best actions and the worst of theirs,
What does he think our sacrilege would spare,
When such th' effects of our devotion are?"
COOPER'S HILL, by S
28. Rapport de Mons. le Directeur-Generaldes Finances, fait par ordre du Roi a Versailles, Mai 5, 1789.
29. In the constitution of Scotland, duringthe Stuart reigns, a committee sat for preparing bills; and none could pass butthose previously approved by them. The committee was called "Lords ofArticles".
30. When I wrote this I quoted from memory,after many years had elapsed from my reading the passage. A learned friend hasfound it, and it is as follows:
To ethos to auto, kai ampho despotika tonbeltionon, kai ta psephismata, osper ekei ta epitagmata kai o demagogos kai okolax, oi autoi kai analogoi kai malista ekateroi par ekaterois ischuousin, oimen kolakes para turannois, oi de demagogoi para tois demois tois toioutois.—
"The ethical character is thesame; both exercise despotism over the better class of citizens; and decreesare in the one, what ordinances and arrets are in the other: the demagogue,too, and the court favorite are not unfrequently the same identical men, andalways bear a close analogy; and these have the principal power, each in theirrespective forms of government, favorites with the absolute monarch, anddemagogues with a people such as I have described". Arist. Politic. lib.iv. cap. 4.
31. De l'Administration des Finances de laFrance, par Mons. Necker, vol. I, p. 288.
32. De l'administration des Finances de laFrance, par M. Necker.
33. Ibid., Vol. III. chap. 8 and chap.9.
34. The world is obliged to M. de Calonnefor the pains he has taken to refute the scandalous exaggerations relative tosome of the royal expenses, and to detect the fallacious account given ofpensions, for the wicked purpose of provoking the populace to all sorts ofcrimes.
35. See Gulliver's Travels for the idea ofcountries governed by philosophers.
36. M. de Calonne states the falling off ofthe population of Paris as far more considerable; and it may be so, since theperiod of M. Necker's calculation.
Travaux de charite pour subvenir au Livres � s. d. manque de travail a Paris et dans les provinces........................... 3,866,920 = 161,121 13 4Destruction de vagabondage et de la mendicite........................... 1,671,417 = 69,642 7 6Primes pour l'importation de grains 5,671,907 = 236,329 9 2Depenses relatives aux subsistances, deduction fait des recouvrements qui ont eu lieu......................... 39,871,790 = 1,661,324 11 8 Total......................... 51,082,034 = �2,128,418 1 8
38. This is on the supposition of the truthof the story, but he was not in France at the time. One name serves as well asanother.
40. Speech of Mr. Camus, published by orderof the National Assembly.
41. Whether the following description isstrictly true, I know not; but it is what the publishers would have pass fortrue in order to animate others. In a letter from Toul, given in one of theirpapers, is the following passage concerning the people of that district:"Dans la Revolution actuelle, ils ont resiste a toutes les seductions dubigotisme, aux persecutions, et aux tracasseries des ennemis de la Revolution.Oubliant leurs plus grands interets pour rendre hommage aux vues d'ordregeneral qui ont determine l'Assemblee Nationale, ils voient, sans se plaindre,supprimer cette foule detablissemens ecclesiastiques par lesquels ilssubsistoient; et meme, en perdant leur siege episcopal, la seule de toutes cesressources qui pouvoit, ou plutot qui devoit, en toute equite, leur etreconservee; condamnes a la plus effrayante misere, sans avoir ete ni pu etreentendus, ils ne murmurent point, ils restent fideles aux principes du plus purpatriotisme; ils sont encore prets a verser leur sang pour le maintien de laConstitution, qui va reduire leur ville a la plus deplorable nullite."These people are not supposed to have endured those sufferings and injusticesin a struggle for liberty, for the same account states truly that they had beenalways free; their patience in beggary and ruin, and their suffering, withoutremonstrance, the most flagrant and confessed injustice, if strictly true, canbe nothing but the effect of this dire fanaticism. A great multitude all overFrance is in the same condition and the same temper.
42(2). See the proceedings of theconfederation at Nantz.
43. "Si plures sunt ii quibus improbedatum est, quam illi quibus injuste ademptum est, idcirco plus etiam valent?Non enim numero haec judicantur sed pondere. Quam autem habet aequitatem, utagrum multis annis, aut etiam saeculis ante possessum, qui nullum habuithabeat; qui autem habuit amittat? Ac, propter hoc injuriae genus, LacedaemoniiLysandrum Ephorum expulerunt: Agin regem (quod nunquam antea apud eosacciderat) necaverunt: exque eo tempore tantae discordiae secutae sunt, ut ettyranni existerint, et optimates exterminarentur, et preclarissime constitutarespublica dilaberetur. Nec vero solum ipsa cecidit, sed etiam reliquamGraeciam evertit contagionibus malorum, quae a Lacedaemoniis profectae manaruntlatius". — After speaking of the conduct of the model of truepatriots, Aratus of Sicyon, which was in a very different spirit, he says,"Sic par est agere cum civibus; non ut bis jam vidimus, hastam in foroponere et bona civium voci subjicere praeconis. At ille Graecus (id quod fuitsapientis et praestantis viri) omnibus consulendum esse putavit: eaque estsumma ratio et sapientia boni civis, commoda civium non divellere, sed omneseadem aequitate continere." Cic. Off. 1. 2.
44(2). See two books entitled, EinigeOriginalschriften des Illuminatenordens. — System und Folgen desIlluminatenordens. Munchen, 1787.
45. A leading member of the Assembly, M.Rabaud de St. Etienne, has expressed the principle of all their proceedings asclearly as possible — Nothing can be more simple: "Tous lesetablissemens en France couronnent le malheur du peuple: pour le rendre heureuxil faut le renouveler; changer ses idees; changer ses loix; changer sesmoeurs;... changer les hommes; changer les choses; changer les mots... toutdetruire; oui, tout detruire; puisque tout est a recreer". This gentlemanwas chosen president in an assembly not sitting at the Quinze-vingt, or thePetits Maisons; and composed of persons giving themselves out to be rationalbeings; but neither his ideas, language, or conduct, differ in the smallestdegree from the discourses, opinions, and actions of those within and withoutthe Assembly, who direct the operations of the machine now at work inFrance.
46. The Assembly, in executing the plan oftheir committee, made some alterations. They have struck out one stage in thesegradations; this removes a part of the objection; but the main objection,namely, that in their scheme the first constituent voter has no connection withthe representative legislator, remains in all its force. There are otheralterations, some possibly for the better, some certainly for the worse; but tothe author the merit or demerit of these smaller alterations appears to be ofno moment where the scheme itself is fundamentally vicious and absurd.
47. Non, ut olim, universae legionesdeducebantur cum tribunis, et centurionibus, et sui cujusque ordinis militibus,ut consensu et caritate rempublicam afficerent; sed ignoti inter se, diversismanipulis, sine rectore, sine affectibus mutuis, quasi ex alio generemortalium, repente in unum collecti, numerus magis quam colonia. Tac. Annal. 1.14, sect. 27. All this will be still more applicable to the unconnected,rotatory, biennial national assemblies, in this absurd and senselessconstitution.
48. Qualitas, relatio, actio, passio, ubi,quando, situs, habitus.
49. See l'Etat de la France, p. 363.
50. In reality three, to reckon theprovincial republican establishments.
51. For further elucidations upon thesubject of all these judicatures, and of the committee of research, see M. deCalonne's work.
52. Comme sa Majeste y a reconnu, non unesysteme d'associations particulieres, mais une reunion de volontes de tous lesFrancois pour la liberte et la prosperite communes, ainsi pour la maintien del'ordre publique; il a pense qu'il convenoit que chaque regiment prit part aces fetes civiques pour multiplier les rapports et reserrer les liens d'unionentre les citoyens et les troupes. — Lest should not be credited, I insertthe words, authorizing the troops to feast with the popularconfederacies.
53. This war minister has since quitted theschool and resigned his office.
54. Courier Francois, 30th July, 1790.Assemblee Nationale, Numero 210.
55. I see by M. Necker's account that thenational guards of Paris have received, over and above the money levied withintheir own city, about �145,000 sterling out of the public treasures.Whether this be an actual payment for the nine months of their existence or anestimate of their yearly charge, I do not clearly perceive. It is of no greatimportance, as certainly they may take whatever they please.
56. The reader will observe that I have butlightly touched (my plan demanded nothing more) on the condition of the Frenchfinances, as connected with the demands upon them. If I had intended to dootherwise, the materials in my hands for such a task are not altogetherperfect. On this subject I refer the reader to M. de Calonne's work; and thetremendous display that he has made of the havoc and devastation in the publicestate, and in all the affairs of France, caused by the presumptuous goodintentions of ignorance and incapacity. Such effects those causes will alwaysproduce. Looking over that account with a pretty strict eye, and, with perhapstoo much rigor, deducting everything which may be placed to the account of afinancier out of place, who might be supposed by his enemies desirous of makingthe most of his cause, I believe it will be found that a more salutary lessonof caution against the daring spirit of innovators than what has been suppliedat the expense of France never was at any time furnished to mankind.
57. La Bruyere of Bossuet.
58. "Ce n'est point a l'assembleeentiere que je m'adresse ici; je ne parle qu'a ceux qui l'egarent, en luicachant sous des gazes seduisantes le but ou ils l'entrainent. C'est a eux queje dis: votre objet, vous n'en disconviendrez pas, c'est d'oter tout espoir auclerge, & de consommer sa ruine; c'est-la, en ne vous soupconnant d'aucunecombinaison de cupidite, d'aucun regard sur le jeu des effets publics, c'est-lace qu'on doit croire que vous avez en vue dans la terrible operation que vousproposez; c'est ce qui doit en etre le fruit. Mais le peuple que vous yinteressez, quel avantage peut-il y trouver? En vous servant sans cesse de lui,que faites vous pour lui? Rien, absolument rien; &, au contraire, vousfaites ce qui ne conduit qu'a l'accabler de nouvelles charges. Vous avezrejete, a son prejudice, une offre de 400 millions, dont l'acceptation pouvoitdevenir un moyen de soulagement en sa faveur; & a cette ressource, aussiprofitable que legitime, vous avez substitue une injustice ruineuse, qui, devotre propre aveu, charge le tresor public, & par consequent le peuple,d'un surcroit de depense annuelle de 50 millions au moins, & d'unremboursement de 150 millions.
"Malheureux peuple, voila ce que vous vaut en dernierresultat l'expropriation de l'Eglise, & la durete des decrets taxateurs dutraitement des ministres d'une religion bienfaisante; & deformais ilsseront a votre charge: leurs charites soulageoient les pauvres; vous allez etreimposes pour subvenir a leur entretien!" — De l'Etat de la France, p.81. See also p. 92, and the following pages.
Text Version | Contents |Liberty Library |
Rendered into HTML by JonRoland of the ConstitutionSociety.
|Original URL: http://www.constitution.org/eb/rev_fran.htm
Maintained: Jon Roland of the Constitution Society
Original date: 1998/10/18 —
|Test King's Updated Cisco Comptia network+ exam certification along with mcitp exam dumps and testking 70-667 training dumps helps you in a fantastic way to pass your exams in highest marks. Our testking ccvp dumps and testking 70-548 exam guide also play a very important role in the IT world.|