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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Convocation of the states general


notables had themselves recognized their own impotence and given in their resignation. A formal closing session took place on the 25th of May, 1787. The keeper of the seals, enumerating the results of the labors of the Assembly, enregistered the royal promises as accomplished facts: "All will be set right without any shock, without any ruin of fortunes, without any alteration in the principles of government, without any of those breaches of faith which should never be so much as mentioned in the presence of the monarch of France.

"The resolved or projected reform of various abuses, and the permanent good for which the way is being paved by new laws concerted with you, gentlemen, are about to co-operate successfully for the present relief of the people.

"Forced labor is proscribed, the gabel (or salt-tax) is revised (_juyee_), the obstacles which hamper home trade are destroyed, and agriculture, encouraged by the free exportation of grain, will become day by day more flourishing.

"The king has solemnly promised that disorder shall not appear again in his finances, and his Majesty is about to take the most effective measures for fulfilling this sacred engagement, of which you are the depositaries.

"The administration of the state will approach nearer and nearer to the government and vigilance of a private family, and a more equitable assessment,

which personal interest will incessantly watch over, will lighten the burden of impositions."

Only the provincial administrations were constituted; the hopes which had been conceived of the Assembly of notables remained more vague than before its convocation: it had failed, like all the attempts at reform made in succession by Louis XVI.'s advisers, whether earnest or frivolous, whether proved patriots or ambitious intriguers. It had, however, revealed to the whole country the deplorable disorder of the finances; it had taught the third estate and even the populace how deep was the repugnance among the privileged classes towards reforms which touched their interests. Whilst spreading, as a letter written to America by M. de La Fayette put it, "the salutary habit of thinking about public affairs," it had at the same time betrayed the impotence of the government, and the feebleness of its means of action. It was a stride, and an immense stride, towards the Revolution.


Thirteen years had rolled by since King Louis XV. had descended to a dishonored grave, and on the mighty current which was bearing France towards reform, whilst dragging her into the Revolution, King Louis XVI., honest and sincere, was still blindly seeking to clutch the helm which was slipping from his feeble hands. Every day his efforts were becoming weaker and more inconsistent, every day the pilot placed at the tiller was less and less deserving of public confidence. From M. Turgot to M. Necker, from Calonne to Lomenie de Brienne, the fall had been rapid and deep. Amongst the two parties which unequally divided the nation, between those who defended the past in its entirety, its abuses as well as its grandeurs, and those who were marching on bewildered towards a reform of which they did not foresee the scope, the struggle underwent certain moments of stoppage and of abrupt reaction towards the old state of things. In 1781, the day after M. Necker's fall, an ordinance of the minister of war, published against the will of that minister himself, had restored to the verified and qualified noblesse (who could show four quarterings)

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