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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Their Rights and the Manner of Convoking them


The

great financial talents of M. Necker, his probity, his courage, had caused illusions as to his political talents; useful in his day and in his degree, the new minister was no longer equal to the task. The distresses of the treasury had powerfully contributed to bring about, to develop the political crisis; the public cry for the States-general had arisen in a great degree from the deficit; but henceforth financial resources did not suffice to conjure away the danger; the discount-bank had resumed payment, the state honored its engagements, the phantom of bankruptcy disappeared from before the frightened eyes of stockholders; nevertheless the agitation did not subside, minds were full of higher and more tenacious concernments. Every gaze was turned towards the States- general. Scarcely was M. Necker in power, when a royal proclamation, sent to the Parliament returning to Paris, announced the convocation of the Assembly for the month of January, 1789.

The States-general themselves had become a topic of the most lively discussion. Amid the embarrassment of his government, and in order to throw a sop to the activity of the opposition, Brienne had declared his doubts and his deficiency of enlightenment as to the form to be given to the deliberations of that ancient assembly, always convoked at the most critical junctures of the national history, and abandoned for one hundred and seventy-five years past. "The researches ordered by the king," said

a decree of the council, "have not brought to light any positive information as to the number and quality of the electors and those eligible, any more than as to the form of the elections: the king will always try to be as close as possible to the old usages; and, when they are unknown, his Majesty will not supply the hiatus till after consulting the wish of his subjects, in order that the most entire confidence may hedge a truly national assembly. Consequently the king requests all the municipalities and all the tribunals to make researches in their archives; he likewise invites all scholars and well-informed persons, and especially those who are members of the Academy of Inscriptions and Literature, to study the question and give their opinion." In the wake of this appeal a flood of tracts and pamphlets had inundated Paris and the provinces: some devoted to the defence of ancient usages; the most part intended to prove that the Constitution of the olden monarchy of France contained in principle all the political liberties which were but asking permission to soar; some, finally, bolder and the most applauded of all, like that of Count d'Entraigues, _Note on the States-General, their Rights and the Manner of Convoking them;_ and that of Abbe Sieyes, _What is the Third Estate?_ Count d'Entraigues' pamphlet began thus: "It was doubtless in order to give the most heroic virtues a home worthy of them that heaven willed the existence of republics, and, perhaps to punish the ambition of men, it permitted great empires, kings, and masters to arise." Sieyes' pamphlet had already sold to the extent of thirty thousand copies; the development of his ideas was an audacious commentary upon his modest title. "What is the third estate?" said that able revolutionist. "Nothing. What ought it to be? Everything?" It was hoisting the flag against the two upper orders. "The deputies of the clergy and of the noblesse have nothing in common with national representation," he said, "and no alliance is possible between the three orders in the States-general."


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