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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Drawn up under the eye of Turgot


It

is to the honor of Louis XVI. that the virtuous men who served him, often with sorrow and without hoping anything from their efforts, always preserved their confidence in his intentions. "It is quite encouraging," wrote M. Turgot to one of his friends, "to have to serve a king who is really an honest and a well-meaning man." The burden of the necessary reforms was beyond the strength of the minister as well as of the sovereign; the violence of opposing currents was soon about to paralyze their genuine efforts and their generous hopes.

M. Turgot set to work at once. Whilst governing his district of Limoges, he had matured numerous plans and shaped extensive theories. He belonged to his times and to the school of the philosophers as regarded his contempt for tradition and history; it was to natural rights alone, to the innate and primitive requirements of mankind, that he traced back his principles and referred as the basis for all his attempts. "The rights of associated men are not founded upon their history but upon their nature," says the _Memoire au Roi sur les Municipalites,_ drawn up under the eye of Turgot. By this time he desired no more to reform old France; he wanted a new France. "Before ten years are over," he would say, "the nation will not be recognizable, thanks to enlightenment. This chaos will have assumed a distinct form. Your Majesty will have quite a new people, and the first of peoples." A profound error, which was

that of the whole Revolution, and the consequences of which would have been immediately fatal; if the powerful instinct of conservatism and of natural respect for the past had not maintained between the regimen which was crumbling away and the new fabric connections more powerful and more numerous than their friends as well as their enemies were aware of.

Two fundamental principles regulated the financial system of M. Turgot, economy in expenditure and freedom in trade; everywhere he ferreted out abuses, abolishing useless offices and payments, exacting from the entire administration that strict probity of which he set the example. Louis XVI. supported him conscientiously at that time in all his reforms; the public made fun of it. "The king," it was said, "when he considers himself an abuse, will be one no longer." At the same time, a decree of September 13, 1774, re-established at home that freedom of trade in grain which had been suspended by Abbe Terray, and the edict of April, 1776, founded freedom of trade in wine. "It is by trade alone, and by free trade, that the inequality of harvests can be corrected," said the minister in the preamble of his decree. "I have just read M. Turgot's masterpiece," wrote Voltaire to D'Alembert "it seems to reveal to us new heavens and a new earth." It was on account of his financial innovations that the comptroller-general particularly dreaded the return of the old Parliament, with which he saw himself threatened every day. "I fear opposition from the Parliament," he said to the king. "Fear nothing," replied the king warmly, "I will stand by you;" and, passing over the objections of the best politician amongst his ministers, he yielded to M. de Maurepas, who yielded to public opinion. On the 12th of November, 1774, the old Parliament was formally restored.


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