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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Installed officially in the statesroom

local apportionment of the building

appointed for the assembly of the States-general, there was the throne-room or room of the three orders, a room for the noblesse, one for the clergy, and none for the commons, who remained, quite naturally, established in the states-room, the largest, the most ornate, and all fitted up with tribunes for the spectators who took possession of the public boxes (_loges communes_) in the room. When it was perceived that this crowd of strangers and their plaudits only excited the audacity of the more violent speakers, all the consequences of this installation were felt. Would anybody believe," continues M. Malouet, "that M. Necker had an idea of inventing a ground-slip, a falling-in of the cellars of the Menus, and of throwing down during the night the carpentry of the grand room, in order to remove and install the three orders separately? It was to me myself that he spoke of it, and I had great difficulty in dissuading him from the notion, by pointing out to him all the danger of it." The want of foresight and the nervous hesitation of the ministers had placed the third estate in a novel and a strong situation. Installed officially in the statesroom, it seemed to be at once master of the position, waiting for the two upper orders to come to it. Mirabeau saw this with that rapid insight into effects and consequences which constitutes, to a considerable extent, the orator's genius. The third estate had taken possession, none could henceforth dispute with it its privileges, and
it was the defence of a right that had been won which was to inspire the fiery orator with his mighty audacity, when on the 23d of June, towards evening, after the miserable affair of the royal session, the Marquis of Dreux-Breze came back into the room to beg the deputies of the third estate to withdraw. The king's order was express, but already certain nobles and a large number of ecclesiastics had joined the deputies of the commons; their definitive victory on the 27th of June, and the fusion of the three orders, were foreshadowed; Mirabeau rose at the entrance of the grand-master of the ceremonies. "Go," he shouted, "and tell those who send you, that we are here by the will of the people, and that we shall not budge save at the point of the bayonet." This was the beginning of revolutionary violence.

On the 12th of June the battle began; the calling over of the bailiwicks took place in the states-room. The third estate sat alone. At each province, each chief place, each roll (_proces-verbal_), the secretaries repeated in a loud voice, "Gentlemen of the clergy? None present. Gentlemen of the noblesse? None present." Certain parish priests alone had the courage to separate from their order and submit their powers for verification. All the deputies of the third (estate) at once gave them precedence. The day of persecution was not yet come.

Legality still stood; the third estate maintained a proud moderation, the border was easily passed, a name was sufficient.

The title of States-general was oppressive to the new assembly, it recalled the distinction between the orders as well as the humble posture of the third estate heretofore. "This is the only true name," exclaimed Abbe Sieyes; "assembly of acknowledged and verified representatives of the nation." This was a contemptuous repudiation of the two upper orders. Mounier replied with another definition "legitimate assembly of the majority amongst the deputies of the nation, deliberating in the absence of the duly invited minority." The subtleties of metaphysics and politics are powerless to take the popular fancy. Mirabeau felt it. "Let us call ourselves representatives of the people!" he shouted. For this ever fatal name he claimed the kingly sanction. "I hold the king's veto so necessary," said the great orator, "that, if he had it not, I would rather live at Constantinople than in France. Yes, I protest, I know of nothing more terrible than a sovereign aristocracy of six hundred persons, who, having the power to declare themselves to-morrow irremovable and the next day hereditary, would end, like the aristocracies of all countries in the world, by swooping down upon everything."

An obscure deputy here suggested during the discussion the name of National Assembly, often heretofore employed to designate the States- general; Sieyes took it up, rejecting the subtle and carefully prepared definitions. "I am for the amendment of M. Legrand," said he, "and I propose the title of National Assembly." Four hundred and ninety-one voices against ninety adopted this simple and superb title. In contempt of the two upper orders of the state, the national assembly was constituted. The decisive step was taken towards the French Revolution.

During the early days, in the heat of a violent discussion, Barrere had exclaimed, "You are summoned to recommence history." It was an arrogant mistake. For more than eighty years modern France has been prosecuting laboriously and in open day the work which had been slowly forming within the dark womb of olden France. In the almighty hands of eternal God a people's history is interrupted and recommenced never.

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