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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

De Calonne had hit upon to strengthen his shaky position


'Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domino.'"

This mysterious plan, which was to produce results as desirable as rare, and which M. de Calonne had hit upon to strengthen his shaky position, was the same which, in 1628, had occurred to Cardinal Richelieu, when he wanted to cover his responsibility in regard to the court of Rome. In view of the stress at the treasury, of growing discontent, of vanished illusions, the comptroller-general meditated convoking the Assembly of Notables, the feeble resource of the old French kingship before the days of pure monarchy, an expedient more insufficient and more dangerous than the most far-seeing divined after the lessons of the philosophers and the continuous abasement of the kingly Majesty.

The convocation of the Notables was the means upon which M. de Calonne relied; the object was the sanctioning of a financial system new in practice but old in theory. When the comptroller-general proposed to the king to abolish privileges, and assess the impost equally, renouncing the twentieths, diminishing the gabel, suppressing custom-houses in the interior and establishing provincial assemblies, Louis XVI. recognized an echo of his illustrious ministers. "This is sheer Necker!" he exclaimed. "In the condition in which things are, Sir, it is the best that can be done," replied M. de Calonne. He had explained his reasons to the king in an intelligent and able note.

style="text-align: justify;">"Such a plan," said the comptroller-general, after having unfolded his projects, "demands undoubtedly the most solemn examination and the most authentic sanction. It must be presented in the form most calculated. to place it beyond reach of any retardation and to acquire for it unassailable strength by uniting all the suffrages of the nation. Now, there is nothing but an assembly of notables that can fulfil this aim. It is the only means of preventing all parliamentary resistance, imposing silence on the clergy, and so clinching public opinion that no special interest dare raise a voice against the overwhelming evidence of the general interest. Assemblies of notables were held in 1558, in 1583, in 1596, in 1617, and in 1626; none was convoked for objects so important as those in question now, and never were circumstances' more favorable to success; as the situation requires strong measures, so it permits of the employment of strong means."

The king hesitated, from instinctive repugnance and the traditions of absolutism, at anything that resembled an appeal to the people. He was won, however, by the precedent of Henry IV. and by the frank honesty of the project. The secret was strictly kept. The general peace was threatened afresh by the restless ambition of Joseph II. and by the constant encroachments of the Empress Catherine. The Great Frederick was now dead. After being for a long while the selfish disturber of Europe, he had ended by becoming its moderator, and his powerful influence was habitually exerted on behalf of peace. The future was veiled and charged with clouds. M. de Vergennes, still possessing Louis XVI.'s confidence, regarded with dread the bold reforms proposed by M. de Calonne; he had yielded to the comptroller-general's representations, but he made all haste to secure for France some support in Europe; he concluded with England the treaty of commerce promised at the moment of signing the peace. There was a lively debate upon it in the English Parliament. Mr. Fox, then in opposition, violently attacked the provisions of the treaty; Mr. Pitt, quite young as yet, but already established in that foremost rank among orators and statesmen which he was to occupy to his last hour, maintained the great principles of European policy. "It is a very false maxim," said he, "to assert that France and England are not to cease to be hostile because they have been so heretofore. My mind revolts at so monstrous a principle, which is an outrage upon the constitution of societies as well as upon the two nations. Situated as we are in respect of France, it is expedient, it is a matter of urgency for the welfare of the two countries, to terminate this constant enmity which has been falsely said to be the basis of the true sentiments felt by the two nations towards each other. This treaty tends to augment the means of making war and to retard its coming."


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