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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Brienne presented to the Parliament the law scheme


was this grievous impotence more painfully striking than in Holland. Supported by England, whose slavish instrument he had been for so long, the stadtholder William V. was struggling, with the help of the mob, against the patriotic, independent, and proud patricians. For the last sixty years the position of Holland had been constantly declining in Europe. "She is afraid of everything," said Count de Broglie in 1773; "she puts up with everything, grumbles at everything, and secures herself against nothing." "Holland might pay all the armies of Europe," people said in 1787, "she couldn't manage to hold her own against any one of them." The civil war imminent in her midst and fomented by England had aroused the solicitude of M. de Calonne; he had prepared the resources necessary for forming a camp near Givet; his successor diverted the funds to another object. When the Prussians entered Dutch territory, being summoned to the stadtholder's aid by his wife, sister of the young King Frederick William II., the French government afforded no assistance to its ally; it confined itself to offering an asylum to the Dutch patriots, long encouraged by its diplomatists, and now vanquished in their own country, which was henceforth under the yoke of England. "France has fallen, I doubt whether she will get up again," said the Emperor Joseph II. "We have been caught napping," wrote M. de La Fayette to Washington; "the King of Prussia has been ill advised, the Dutch are ruined, and England
finds herself the only power which has gained in the bargain."

The echo of humiliations abroad came to swell the dull murmur of public discontent. Disturbance was arising everywhere. "From stagnant chaos France has passed to tumultuous chaos," wrote Mirabeau, already an influential publicist, despite the irregularity of his morals and the small esteem excited by his life; "there may, there should come a creation out of it." The Parliament had soon resumed its defiant attitude; like M. de La Fayette at the Assembly of notables, it demanded the convocation of the States-general at a fixed epoch, in 1792; it was the date fixed by M. de Brienne in a vast financial scheme which he had boldly proposed for registration by the court. By means of a series of loans which were to reach the enormous total of four hundred and twenty millions, the States-general, assembled on the conclusion of this vast operation, and relieved from all pecuniary embarrassment, would be able to concentrate their thoughts on the important interests of the future. At the same time with the loan-edict, Brienne presented to the Parliament the law-scheme, for so long a time under discussion, on behalf of Protestants.

The king had repaired in person to the palace in royal session; the keeper of the seals, Lamoignon, expounded the necessity of the edicts. "To the monarch alone," he repeated, "belongs the legislative power, without dependence and without partition." This was throwing down the gauntlet to the whole assembly as well as to public opinion. Abbe Sabatier and Councillor Freteau had already spoken, when Robert de St. Vincent rose, an old Jansenist and an old member of Parliament, accustomed to express his thoughts roughly. "Who, without dismay, can hear loans still talked of?" he exclaimed "and for what sum? four hundred and twenty millions! A plan is being formed for five years? But, since your Majesty's reign began, have the same views ever directed the administration of finance for five years in succession? Can you be ignorant, sir (here he addressed himself to the comptroller-general), that each minister, as he steps into his place, rejects the system of his predecessor in order to substitute that which he has devised? Within only eight months, you are the fourth minister of finance, and yet you are forming a plan which cannot be accomplished in less than five years! The remedy, sir, for the wounds of the state has been pointed out by your Parliament: it is the convocation of the Statesgeneral. Their convocation, to be salutary, must be prompt. Your ministers would like to avoid this assembly whose surveillance they dread. Their hope is vain. Before two years are over, the necessities of the state will force you to convoke the States-general."

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