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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Propounded the question of verification of powers


It

was in this state of feeble indecision as regarded the great questions, and with this minuteness of detail in secondary matters, that M. Necker presented himself on the 5th of May before the three orders at the opening of the session in the palace of Versailles by King Louis XVI. The royal procession had been saluted by the crowd with repeated and organized shouts of "Hurrah for the Duke of Orleans!" which had disturbed and agitated the queen. "The king," says Marmontel, "appeared with simple dignity, without pride, without timidity, wearing on his features the impress of the goodness which he had in his heart, a little affected by the spectacle and by the feelings with which the deputies of a faithful nation ought to inspire in its king." His speech was short, dignified, affectionate, and without political purport. With more of pomp and detail, the minister confined himself within the same limits. "Aid his Majesty," said he, "to establish the prosperity of the kingdom on solid bases, seek for them, point them out to your sovereign, and you will find on his part the most generous assistance." The mode of action corresponded with this insufficient language. Crushed beneath the burden of past defaults and errors, the government tendered its abdication, in advance, into the hands of that mightily bewildered Assembly it had just convoked. The king had left the verification of powers to the States- general themselves. M. Necker confined himself to pointing out the possibility
of common action between the three orders, recommending the deputies to examine those questions discreetly. "The king is anxious about your first deliberations," said the minister, throwing away at haphazard upon leaders as yet unknown the direction of those discussions which he with good reason dreaded. "Never did political assembly combine so great a number of remarkable men," says M. Malouet, "without there being a single one whose superiority was decided and could command the respect of the others. Such abundance of stars rendered this assembly unmanageable, as they will always be in France when there is no man conspicuous in authority and in force of character to seize the helm of affairs or to have the direction spontaneously surrendered to him. Fancy, then, the state of a meeting of impassioned men, without rule or bridle, equally dangerous from their bad and their good qualities, because they nearly all lacked experience and a just appreciation of the gravity of the circumstances under which they were placed; insomuch that the good could do no good, and the bad, from levity, from violence, did nearly always more harm than they intended."

It was amidst such a chaos of passions, wills, and desires, legitimate or culpable, patriotic or selfish, that there was, first of all, propounded the question of verification of powers. Prompt and peremptory on the part of the noblesse, hesitating and cautions on the part of the clergy, the opposition of the two upper orders to any common action irritated the third estate; its appeals had ended in nothing but conferences broken off, then resumed at the king's desire, and evidently and painfully to no purpose. "By an inconceivable oversight on the part of M. Necker in the


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