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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

The elective assembly of Riom was not the most stormy


The

great days were at hand. The whole of France was absorbed in the drawing up of the memorials (_cahiers_) demanded by the government from each order, in each bailiwick. The weather was severe, the harvest had been bad, the suffering was extreme. "Famine and fear of insurrection overthrew M. Necker, the means of providing against them absorbed all his days and nights and the greater part of the money he had at his disposal." Agitators availed themselves ably of the misery as a means of exciting popular passion. The alms-giving was enormous, charity and fear together opened both hearts and purses. The gifts of the Duke of Orleans to the poor of Paris appeared to many people suspicious; but the Archbishop of Paris, M. de Juigne, without any other motive but his pastoral devotion, distributed all he possessed, and got into debt four hundred thousand livres, in order to relieve his flock. The doors of the finest houses were opened to wretches dying of cold; anybody might go in and get warmed in the vast halls. The regulations for the elections had just been published (24th of January, 1789). The number of deputies was set at twelve hundred. The electoral conditions varied according to order and dignity, as well as according to the extent of the bailiwicks; in accordance with the opinion of the Assembly of notables, the simple fact of nationality and of inscription upon the register of taxes constituted electoral rights. No rating (_cens_) was required.

justify;">The preparatory labors had been conducted without combination, the elections could not be simultaneous; no powerful and dominant mind directed that bewildered mass of ignorant electors, exercising for the first time, under such critical circumstances, a right of which they did not know the extent and did not foresee the purport. "The people has more need to be governed and subjected to a protective authority than it has fitness to govern," M. Malouet had said in his speech to the assembly of the three orders in the bailiwick of Riom. The day, however, was coming when the conviction was to be forced upon this people, so impotent and incompetent in the opinion of its most trusty friends, that the sovereign authority rested in its hands, without direction and without control.

"The elective assembly of Riom was not the most stormy," says M. Malouet, who, like M. Mounier at Grenoble, had been elected by acclamation head of the deputies of his own order at Riom, "but it was sufficiently so to verify all my conjectures and cause me to truly regret that I had come to it and had obtained the deputyship. I was on the point of giving in my resignation, when I found some petty burgesses, lawyers, advocates without any information about public affairs, quoting the _Contrat social,_ declaiming vehemently against tyranny, abuses, and proposing a constitution apiece. I pictured to myself all the disastrous consequences which might be produced upon a larger stage by such outrageousness, and I arrived at Paris very dissatisfied with myself, with my fellow-citizens, and with the ministers who were hurrying us into this abyss."

The king had received all the memorials; on some few points the three orders had commingled their wishes in one single memorial. M. Malouet had failed to get this done in Auvergne. "The clergy insist upon putting theology into their memorials," he wrote to M. de Montmorin, on the 24th of March, 1789, "and the noblesse compensations for pecuniary sacrifice. I have exhausted my lungs and have no hope that we shall succeed completely on all points, but the differences of opinion between the noblesse and the third estate are not embarrassing. There is rather more pigheadedness amongst the clergy as to their debt, which they decline to pay, and as to some points of discipline which, after all, are matters of indifference to us; we shall have, all told, three memorials of which the essential articles are pretty similar to those of the third estate. We shall end as we began, peaceably."


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