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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

The districts generalites of Grenoble


It

was those reforms, for which the English orator gave credit to M. Necker and Louis XVI., that rendered the minister's fall more imminent every day. He had driven into coalition against him the powerful influences of the courtiers, of the old families whose hereditary destination was office in the administration, and of the parliament everywhere irritated and anxious. He had lessened the fortunes and position of the two former classes, and his measures tended to strip the magistracy of the authority whereof they were so jealous. "When circumstances require it," M. Necker had said in the Report, "the augmentation of imposts is in the hands of the king, for it is the power to order them which constitutes sovereign greatness;" and, in a secret Memoire which saw publicity by perfidious means: "The imposts are at their height, and minds are more than ever turned towards administrative subjects. The result is a restless and confused criticism which adds constant fuel to the desire felt by the parliaments to have a hand in the matter. This feeling on their part becomes more and more manifest, and they set to work, like all those bodies that wish to acquire power, by speaking in the name of the people, calling themselves defenders of the nation's rights; there can be no doubt but that, though they are strong neither in knowledge nor in pure love for the well-being of the state, they will put themselves forward on all occasions as long as they believe that they are supported by public
opinion. It is necessary, therefore, either to take this support away from them, or to prepare for repeated contests which will disturb the tranquillity of your Majesty's reign, and will lead successively either to a degradation of authority or to extreme measures of which one cannot exactly estimate the consequences."

In order to apply a remedy to the evils he demonstrated as well as to those which he foresaw, M. Necker had borrowed some shreds from the great system of local assemblies devised by M. Turgot; he had proposed to the king and already organized in Berry the formation of provincial assemblies, recruited in every district (_generalite_) from among the three orders of the noblesse, the clergy, and the third estate. A part of the members were to be chosen by the king; these were commissioned to elect their colleagues, and the assembly was afterwards to fill up its own vacancies as they occurred. The provincial administration was thus confided almost entirely to the assemblies. That of Berry had already abolished forced labor, and collected two hundred thousand livres by voluntary contribution for objects of public utility. The assembly of Haute-Guyenne was in course of formation. The districts (_generalites_) of Grenoble, Montauban, and Moulins claimed the same privilege. The parliaments were wroth to see this assault upon their power. Louis XVI. had hesitated a long while before authorizing the attempt. "The presidents-born, the councillors, the members of the states-districts (_pays d'etats_), do not add to the happiness of Frenchmen in the districts which are under their administration," wrote the king in his marginal notes to M. Necker's scheme. "Most certainly Brittany, with its states, is not happier than Normandy which happens to be without them. The most just and most natural among the powers of the parliaments is that of hanging robbers of the finances. In the event of provincial administrations, it must not be taken away. It concerns and appertains to the repose of my people to preserve privileges."


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