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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Necker did not belong to the court


Notwithstanding

this unusual tolerance on the part of Christopher de Beaumont, his Protestantism often placed M. Necker in an awkward position. "The title of liberator of your Protestant brethren would be a flattering one for you," said one of the pamphlets of the day, "and it would be yours forever, if you could manage to obtain for them a civil existence, to procure for them the privileges of a citizen, liberty and tolerance. You are sure of a diminution in the power of the clergy. Your vigorous edict regarding hospitals will pave the way for the ruin of their credit and their wealth; you have opened the trenches against them, the great blow has been struck. All else will not fail to succumb; you will put all the credit of the state and all the money of France in the hands of Protestant bankers, Genevese, English, and Dutch. Contempt will be the lot of the clergy, your brethren will be held in consideration. These points of view are full of genius, you will bring great address to bear upon them." M. Necker was at the same time accused of being favorable to England. "M. Necker is our best and our last friend on the Continent," Burke had said in the House of Commons. Knowing better than anybody the burdens which the war imposed upon the state, and which he alone had managed to find the means of supporting, M. Necker desired peace. It was for Catholics and philosophers that the honor was reserved of restoring to Protestants the first right of citizens, recognition of their marriages and
a civil status for their children. The court, the parliaments, and the financiers were leagued against M. Necker. "Who, pray, is this adventurer," cried the fiery Epremesnil, "who is this charlatan who dares to mete out the patriotism of the French magistracy, who dares to suppose them lukewarm in their attachments and to denounce them to a young king?" The assessment of the twentieths (tax) had raised great storms; the mass of citizens were taxed rigorously, but the privileged had preserved the right of themselves making a declaration of their possessions; a decree of the council ordered verification of the income from properties. The Parliaments burst out into remonstrances. "Every owner of property has the right to grant subsidies by himself or by his representatives," said the Parliament of Paris; "if he do not exercise this right as a member of a national body, it must be reverted to indirectly, otherwise he is no longer master of his own, he is no longer undisturbed owner." Confidence in personal declarations, then, is the only indemnity for the right, which the nation has not exercised but has not lost, of itself granting and assessing the twentieths. A bold principle, even in a free state, and one on which the income-tax rests in England, but an untenable principle, without absolute equality on the part of all citizens and a common right to have their consent asked to the imposts laid upon them.

M. Necker did not belong to the court; he had never lived there, he did not set foot therein when he became minister. A while ago Colbert and Louvois had founded families and taken rank among the great lords who were jealous of their power and their wealth. Under Louis XVI., the court itself was divided, and one of the queen's particular friends, Baron do Besenval, said, without mincing the matter, in his Memoires: "I grant that the depredations of the great lords who are at the head of the king's household are enormous, revolting. . . . Necker has on his side the depreciation into which the great lords have fallen; it is such that they are certainly not to be dreaded, and that their opinion does not deserve to be taken into consideration in any political speculation."


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