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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Those of verification of powers


Three

great questions were already propounded before the Assembly entered into session; those of verification of powers, of deliberation by the three orders in common, and of vote by poll. The wise men had desired that the king should himself see to the verification of the powers of the deputies, and that they should come to the Assembly confirmed in their mandates. People likewise expected to find, in the speech from the throne or in the minister's report, an expression of the royal opinions on the two other points in dispute. In a letter drawn up by M. Mounier and addressed to the king, the estates of Dauphiny had referred, the year before, to the ancient custom of the States-general. "Before the States held at Orleans in 1569," said this document, "the orders deliberated most frequently together, and, when they broke up, they afterwards met to concert their deliberations; they usually chose only one president, only one speaker for all the orders, generally amongst the members of the clergy. The States of Orleans had the imprudence not to follow the forms previously observed, and the orders broke up. The clergy in vain invited them to have but one common memorial and to choose one single speaker, but they were careful to protest that this innovation would not interfere with the unity and integrity of the body of the States. The clergy's speaker said in his address that the three estates, as heretofore, had but one mouth, one heart, and one spirit. In spite of these protests,
the fatal example set by the States of Orleans was followed by those of Blois and those of 1614. Should it be again imitated, we fear that the States-general will be powerless to do anything for the happiness of the kingdom and the glory of the throne, and that Europe will hear with surprise that the French know neither how to bear servitude nor how to deserve freedom."

An honest but useless appeal to the memories of the far past! Times were changed; whereas the municipal officers representing the third estate used to find themselves powerless in presence of the upper orders combined, the third (estate); now equal to the privileged by extension of its representation, counted numerous adherents amongst the clergy, amongst the country parsons, and even in the ranks of the noblesse. Deliberation in common and vote by poll delivered the two upper orders into its hands; this was easily forgotten by the partisans of a reunion which was desirable and even necessary, but which could not be forced upon the clergy or noblesse, and which they could only effect with a view to the public good and in the wise hope of preserving their influence by giving up their power. All that preparatory labor characteristic of the free, prudent and bold, frank and discreet government, had been neglected by the feebleness or inexperience of the ministers. "This poor government was at grips with all kinds of perils, and the man who had shown his superiority under other difficult circumstances flinched beneath the weight of these. His talents were distempered, his lights danced about, he was, sustained only by the rectitude of his intentions and by vanity born of his hopes, for he had ever in reserve that perspective of confidence and esteem with which he believed the third estate to be impressed towards him; but the promoters of the revolution, those who wanted it complete and subversive of the old government, those men who were so small a matter at the outset, either in weight or in number, had too much interest in annihilating M. Necker not to represent as pieces of perfidy his hesitations, his tenderness towards the two upper orders, and his air of restraint towards the commons" [_Memoires de Malouet,_ t. i. p. 236].


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