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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Three edicts touching the trade in grain


the exclusive privilege of

military grades. Without any ordinance, the same regulation had been applied to the clergy. In 1787, the Assembly of notables and its opposition to the king's projects presented by M. de Calonne were the last triumph of the enthusiastic partisans of the past. The privileged classes had still too much influence to be attacked with success by M. de Calonne, who appeared to be in himself an assemblage of all the abuses whereof he desired to be the reformer. A plan so vast, however ably conceived, was sure to go to pieces in the hands of a man who did not enjoy public esteem and confidence; but the triumph of the notables in their own cause was a fresh warning to the people that they would have to defend theirs with more vigor." [_Memoires de Malouet,_ t. i. p. 253]. We have seen how monarchy, in concert with the nation, fought feudality, to reign thenceforth as sovereign mistress over the great lords and over the nation; we have seen how it slowly fell in public respect and veneration, and how it attempted unsuccessfully to respond to the confused wishes of a people that did not yet know its own desires or its own strength; we shall henceforth see it, panting and without sure guidance, painfully striving to govern and then to live. "I saw," says M. Malouet in his _Memoires,_ "under the ministry of the archbishop (of Toulouse, and afterwards of Sens), all the _avant-couriers_ of a revolution in the government. Three parties were already pronounced: the first wanted to take
to itself all the influence of which it despoiled the king, whilst withstanding the pretensions of the third estate; the second proclaimed open war against the two upper orders, and already laid down the bases of a democratic government; the third, which was at that time the most numerous, although it was that of the wisest men, dreaded the ebullience of the other two, wanted compromises, reforms, and not revolution." By their conflicts the two extreme parties were to stifle for a while the party of the wise men, the true exponent of the national aspirations and hopes, which was destined, through a course of cruel vicissitudes and long trials, to yet save and govern the country.

The Assembly of notables had abdicated; contenting itself with a negative triumph, it had left to the royal wisdom and responsibility the burden of decisions which Louis XVI. had hoped to get sanctioned by an old and respected authority. The public were expecting to see all the edicts, successively presented to the notables as integral portions of a vast system, forthwith assume force of law by simultaneous registration of Parliament. The feebleness and inconsistency of governors often stultify the most sensible foresight. M. de Brienne had come into office as a support to the king's desires and intentions, for the purpose of obtaining from the notables what was refused through their aversion for M. de Calonne; as soon as he was free of the notables as well as of M. de Calonne, he hesitated, drew back, waited, leaving time for a fresh opposition to form and take its measures. "He had nothing but bad moves to make," says M. Mignet. Three edicts touching the trade in grain, forced labor, and the provincial assemblies, were first sent up to the Parliament and enregistered without any difficulty; the two edicts touching the stamp-tax and equal assessment of the impost were to meet with more hinderance; the latter at any rate united the sympathies of all the partisans of genuine reforms; the edict touching the stamp-tax was by itself and first submitted for the approval of the magistrates: they rejected it, asking, like the notables, for a communication as to the state of finance. "It is not states of finance we want," exclaimed a councillor, Sabatier de Cabre, "it is States-general." This bold sally became a theme for deliberation in the Parliament. "The nation represented by the States-general," the court declared, "is alone entitled to grant the king subsidies of which the need is clearly demonstrated." At the same time the Parliament demanded the impeachment of M. de Calonne; he took fright and sought refuge in England. The mob rose in Paris, imputing to the court the prodigalities with which the Parliament reproached the late comptroller-general. Sad symptom of the fatal progress of public opinion! The cries heretofore raised against the queen under the name of Austrian were now uttered against Madame Deficit, pending the time when the fearful title of Madame Veto would give place in its turn to the sad name of the woman Capet given to the victim of October 16, 1793.


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