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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

The noblesse refused to deliberate


For

a moment, and almost without consideration, the king was tempted to expand his wings and take the government into his own hands; he had a liking for and confidence in M. de Vergennes; but the latter, a man of capacity in the affairs of his own department and much esteemed in Europe, was timid, devoid of ambition and always disposed to shift responsibility into the hands of absolute power. Notwithstanding some bolder attempts, the death of M. de Maurepas did not seriously augment his authority. The financial difficulties went on getting worse; on principle and from habit, the new comptroller-general, like M. de Vergennes, was favorable to the traditional maxims and practices of the old French administration; he was, however, dragged into the system of loans by the necessities of the state, as well as by the ideas impressed upon men's minds by M. Necker. To loans succeeded imposts; the dues and taxes were increased uniformly, without regard for privileges and the burdens of different provinces; the Parliament of Paris, in the body of which the comptroller-general counted many relatives and friends, had enregistered the new edicts without difficulty; the Parliament of Besangon protested, and its resistance went so far as to place the comptroller-general on his defence. "All that is done in my name is done by my orders," replied Louis XVI. to the deputation from Franche-Comte. The deputation required nothing less than the convocation of the States-general. On all sides the nation
was clamoring after this ancient remedy for their woes; the most clear-sighted had hardly a glimmering of the transformation which had taken place in ideas as well as manners; none had guessed what, in the reign of Louis XVI., those States-general would be which had remained dumb since the regency of Mary de Medici.

Still more vehement and more proud than the Parliamentarians, the states of Brittany, cited to elect the deputies indicated by the governor, had refused any subsidy. "Obey," said the king to the deputies; "my orders have nothing in them contrary to the privileges which my predecessors were graciously pleased to grant to my province of Brittany." Scarcely had the Bretons returned to the states, when M. Amelot, who had charge of the affairs of Brittany, received a letter which he did not dare to place before the king's eyes. "Sir," said the states of Brittany, "we are alarmed and troubled when we see our franchises and our liberties, conditions essential to the contract which gives you Brittany, regarded as mere privileges, founded upon a special concession. We cannot hide from you, Sir, the direful consequences of expressions so opposed to the constant principles of our national code. You are the father of your people, and exercise no sway but that of the laws; they rule by you and you by them. The conditions which secure to you our allegiance form a part of the positive laws of your realm." Contrary to all received usages during the session of the states, the royal troops marched into Rennes; the noblesse refused to deliberate, so long as the assembly had not recovered its independence. The governor applied to the petty nobles who preponderated in their order; ignorant and poor as they were, they allowed themselves to be bought, their votes carried the day, and the subsidies were at last voted, notwithstanding the opposition on the part of the most weighty of the noblesse; a hundred of them persistently staid away.


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