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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

De Maurepas was still powerful


style="text-align: justify;"> CHAPTER LVIII.----LOUIS XVI.--FRANCE AT HOME.--MINISTRY OF M. NECKER. 1776-1781.

We have followed the course of good and bad fortune; we have exhibited France engaged abroad in a policy at the same time bold and generous, proceeding from rancor as well as from the sympathetic enthusiasm of the nation; we have seen the war, at first feebly waged, soon extending over every sea and into the most distant colonies of the belligerents, though the European continent was not attacked at any point save the barren rock of Gibraltar; we have seen the just cause of the United States triumphant and freedom established in the New World: it is time to inquire what new shocks had been undergone by France whilst she was supporting far away the quarrel of the revolted colonies, and what new burdens had come to be added to the load of difficulties and deceptions which she had seemed to forget whilst she was fighting England at so many different points. It was not without great efforts that France had acquired the generous fame of securing to her allies blessings which she did not herself yet possess to their full extent; great hopes, and powers fresh and young had been exhausted in the struggle: at the close of the American war M. Necker was played out politically as well as M. Turgot.

It was not to supersede the great minister who had fallen that the Genevese banker had been called to office. M.

de Maurepas was still powerful, still up and doing; he loved power, in spite of his real levity and his apparent neglectfulness. M. Turgot had often galled him, had sometimes forced his hand; M. de Clugny, who took the place of the comptroller-general, had no passion for reform, and cared for nothing but leading, at the treasury's expense, a magnificently scandalous life; M. de Malesherbes had been succeeded in the king's household by Marquis Amelot. "At any rate," said M. de Maurepas, "nobody will accuse me of having picked him out for his wits."

Profoundly shocked at the irreligious tendencies of the philosophers, the court was, nevertheless, aweary of the theoricians and of their essays in reform; it welcomed the new ministers with delight; without fuss, and as if by a natural recurrence to ancient usage, the edict relative to forced labor was suspended, the anxieties of the noblesse and of the clergy subsided; the peasantry knew nothing yet of M. Turgot's fall, but they soon found out that the evils from which they had imagined they were delivered continued to press upon them with all their weight. For their only consolation Clugny opened to them the fatal and disgraceful chances of the lottery, which became a royal institution. To avoid the remonstrances of Parliament, the comptroller-general established the new enterprise by a simple decree of the council. "The entries being voluntary, the lottery is no tax and can dispense with enregistration," it was said. It was only seventy-five years later, in 1841, under the government of King Louis Philippe and the ministry of M. Humann, that the lottery was abolished, and this scandalous source of revenue forbidden to the treasury.

So much moral weakness and political changeableness, so much poltroonery or indulgence towards evil and blind passions disquieted serious minds, and profoundly shook the public credit. The Dutch refused to carry out the loan for sixty millions which they had negotiated with M. Turgot; the discount-fund (_caisse d'escompte_) founded by him brought in very slowly but a moderate portion of the assets required to feed it; the king alone was ignorant of the prodigalities and irregularities of his minister. M. de Maurepas began to be uneasy at the public discontent, he thought of superseding the comptroller-general: the latter had been ill for some time, on the 22d of October he died. By the advice of M. de Maurepas, the king sent for M. Necker.


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