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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Incompetent to authorize the collection of imposts


king summoned the Parliament to Versailles, and on the 6th of August, 1787, the edicts touching the stamp-tax and territorial subvention were enregistered in bed of justice. The Parliament had protested in advance against this act of royal authority, which it called "a phantom of deliberation." On the 13th of August, the court declared "the registration of the edicts null and without effect, incompetent to authorize the collection of imposts, opposed to all principles;" this resolution was sent to all the seneschalties and bailiwicks in the district. It was in the name of the privilege of the two upper orders that the Parliament of Paris contested the royal edicts and made appeal to the supreme jurisdiction of the States-general; the people did not see it, they took out the horses of M. d'Espremesnil, whose fiery eloquence had won over a great number of his colleagues, and he was carried in triumph. On the 15th of August the Parliament was sent away to Troyes.

Banishment far away from the capital, from the ferment of spirits, and from the noisy centre of their admirers, had more than once brought down the pride of the members of Parliament; they were now sustained by the sympathy ardently manifested by nearly all the sovereign courts. "Incessantly repeated stretches of authority," said the Parliament of Besanccon, "forced registrations, banishments, constraint and severity instead of justice, are astounding in an enlightened age, wound a

nation that idolizes its kings, but is free and proud, freeze the heart and might break the ties which unite sovereign to subjects and subjects to sovereign." The Parliament of Paris declared that it needed no authority for its sittings, considering that it rendered justice wherever it happened to be assembled. "The monarchy would be transfigured into a despotic form," said the decree, "if ministers could dispose of persons by sealed letters (_lettres de cachet_), property by beds of justice, criminal matters by change of venue (_evocation_) or cassation, and suspend the course of justice by special banishments or arbitrary removals."

Negotiations were going on, however; the government agreed to withdraw the new imposts which it had declared to be indispensable; the Parliament, which had declared itself incompetent as to the establishment of taxes, prorogued for two years the second twentieth. "We left Paris with glory upon us, we shall return with mud," protested M. d'Espremesnil in vain; more moderate, but not less resolute, Duport, Robert de St. Vincent, and Freteau sought to sustain by their speeches the wavering resolution of their colleagues. The Parliament was recalled to Paris on the 19th of September, 1787.

The state of Europe inclined men's minds to reciprocal concessions; a disquieting good understanding appeared to be growing up between Russia and Austria. The Emperor Joseph II. had just paid a visit to the Crimea with the czarina. "I fancy I am still dreaming," wrote the Prince of Ligne, who had the honor of being in the trip, "when in a carriage with six places, which is a real triumphal car adorned with ciphers in precious stones, I find myself seated between two persons on whose shoulders the heat often sets me dozing, and I hear, as I wake up, one of my comrades say to the other 'I have thirty' millions of subjects, they say, counting males only.' 'And I twenty-two,' replies the other, 'all included.' 'I require,' adds the former, 'an army of at least six hundred thousand men between Kamtchatka and Riga.' 'With half that,' replies the other, 'I have just what I require.' God knows how we settle all the states and great personages. 'Rather than sign the separation of thirteen provinces, like my brother George,' says Catherine II. sweetly, 'I would have put a bullet through my head.' 'And rather than give in my resignation like my brother and brother-in-law, by convoking and assembling the nation to talk over abuses, I don't know what I wouldn't have done,' says Joseph II." Before the two allies could carry out their designs against Turkey, that ancient power, enfeebled as it was, had taken the offensive at the instigation of England; the King of Sweden, on his side, invaded Russia; war burst out in all directions. The traditional influence of France remained powerless in the East to maintain peace; the long weakness of the government was everywhere bearing fruit.

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