Page images

lication being taken into the confideration of the parliament and peers on the thirteenth, they came to a refolution ftill more ftrongly expreffive of their determined oppofition to these measures. They declared that the publication (though the edict were exprefsly mentioned to be regiftered in a bed of justice, and though the printed minutes contained the parliamentary refolution of the fifth inftant) was calculated to deceive; that the compulfory prefence of the parliament in a scene to whic'. they had brought nothing but their filent affliction and regrets, and the empty form of directing the keeper of the feals to collect the opinion of an affembly where no man gave his voice, could not give authenticity to the register, or confer upon the king a legal right of taxation. They therefore declared, what they ftyled the clandeftine diftribution of thefe edicts, null and illegal, and of confequence incapable to deprive the nation of its rights, and authorise a fubfidy which would be contrary to all the principles maxims and practices of the kingdom. Befide thefe declarations, the refolution reiterated in its body the objections to the new impofts, which objections were remarked by the adverfaries of the parliament to partake of an ariftocratical fpirit, as they dwelled with great emphasis on the fuppofed injuftice of obliging a gentleman to pay a tax upon his country house and adjoining fields, while they over looked fimilar or nearly fimilar remarks that would have applied to the citizen and the farmer. The perfons who principally distinguished themselves in thefe debates, appear to have been the abbé Sabatier de la Cabre, who firft noved the queftion upon the ftatesgeneral, and Mr. d'Efpremefnil, who particularly engroffed the idolatry of

the common people and the enthufiaftic friends of the parliamentary cause.

On the fourteenth the king annulled the resolution which had been voted by the parliament againft Mr. de Calonne, evoking the queftion to be heard before himself in council; and on the following day letters patent and lettres de cachet were executed against the parliament of Paris and its members, tranflating their fittings to Troyes in Champagne, about one hundred miles from Paris. The. letters patent were registered in parliament on the twenty-fecond, upon which occafion they recapitulated a part of the principles upon which they profeffed to have acted, and refolved to fend circular letters to the princes and peers to notify their intention of refuming their deliberations. On the twenty-feventh they accordingly proceeded to a ftill farther refolution, in which, after again ftating the neceffity of having recourfe to the ftates-general, they remarked, that the French monarchy would be reduced to a state of defpotifm, if it were true that minifters, abufing the authority of the king, might difpofe of men's perfons by lettres de cachet, of their property by beds of juftice, of caufes civil and criminal by annullings and evocations, and fufpend the course of juftice by particular exiles or arbitrary tranflation. They added, that they perfifted in the principles they had maintained, and would not ceafe to watch, at the expence individually of their lives and fortunes, over all fuch concerns as might intereft the fervice of the king and the tranquillity of his fubjects.

It prefently appeared that the parliament had not been miftaken in the policy they adopted. 'All France feemed to intereft itself in their difgrace. It was not in vain


that they had departed from the fyftem of their apparent intereft, and claimed the convocation of the ftatesgeneral. The defire which they expreffed appears to have been the wifh of a great majority of the nation; and their countrymen in general were deeply impreffed with gratitude for their exertions and admiration of their heroism. But, befide these general confiderations, there were Ipecific circumstances, which rendered them fecure of a refpectable fupport. The parliament of Paris conftitutes as it were a common head to various courts of great antiquity resident in the capital, as well as to the different parliaments and courts of law diftributed in the feveral provinces of the kingdom. It was reasonable to expect that thefe corps would not defert their principal in the great caufe in which it was embarked, or suffer the prefent opportunity to escape them of acquiring additional weight and importance to all the law officers of the kingdom. The abfence of the parliament from the capital was a real grievance, and a ferious impediment to the adminiitration of justice. If this fhould even be deemed a flight inconvenience to perfons having recourfe to legal redress, it was not however felt to be fuch by the members of the feffion, whofe fees and emoluments were by this circumftance entirely fufpended.


The firft fymptoms of this fpirit appeared in the chamber of accounts and the court of aids, when monfieur and the count d'Artois went refpectively, on the feventeenth of Auguft, to enter in a fummary way the two celebrated edicts in the regifters of thefe bodies. Upon this occafion the first prefidents of each of the courts declared the diffent of their colleagues from the meafures


purfued, and complained of the irregularity of the procedure in regiftering laws, which, at the fame time that they had not been communicated to them for any previous examination, were already before the public through the medium of the prefs. The chamber of accounts came to a refolution that very afternoon, in which, in imitation of the parliament, they declared the regiftry null and illegal, and expreffed their determination to folicit the recall of that body by the fovereign. The court of aids adopted on the following day, by an unanimous vote, a fimilar refolution. The Châtelet, the mint, and the board for adminiftering the royal forefts, alfo folicited the recal of the parliament.

No longer period of time elapfed than the refpective diftances of place made neceflary, before a majority of the rural parliaments appeared to adopt the fentiments of the metropolitan, and that in fome cafes in language more vehement and unqualified than had been employed in the former inftance. The parliaments of Rennes and Rouen refolved to addrefs the king to recal the parliament of Paris, and expreffed a general approbation of the conduct of that body. The former of them was not contented with this, but proceeded to cenfure a performance which had been published in favour of the fentiments of adminiftration, and ordered it to be burned by the common hangman.

The parliament of Grenoble in Dauphiné was particularly diftinguished for the energy of its ftyle, and the intrepidity of its affertions. They ftated, that the contributions of the people of France already exceed, ed two thirds of the whole income of her foil, that no remedy


could be found to the prefent derangement of her finances but economy, and that this remedy impartially applied would be amply fufficient. They afferted, that the rights of property were equally facred and fecured by the fame laws as the right of the king to the throne; and that, till within a period of one hundred and fifty years, the principle of the French conftitution had conftantly been, that, "no fubfidy could be impofed or levied upon the people, even in cafes of neceffity or utility, but by the grant of the ftates-general." They quoted the Compte Rendu of Mr. Necker to prove that in 1781 the ordinary expenditure fell fhort of the revenue; and concluded, that fince that time a malevolent genius had loaded the people with an additional burthen of 10,000,000/.iterling; that a vicious administration had inflicted upon the ftate a deeper wound than the longeft and most unfortunate war would have produced; and that the incredible fruit of a momentary diffipation exceeded all that Louis the Fourteenth had impofed in a magnificent, a warlike, and, in one part, a calamitous reign of feventy-two years. It would be difficult, in collecting all the dilapidations of fourteen centuries from the erection of the monarchy, to compofe a fum fo enormous as that which had thus difappeared in a period of lefs than four years. From all these confiderations they determined to request the king to recal his parliament of Paris, that they might continue their judicial functions, and particularly the profecution they had commenced against Mr. de Calonne, and immediately to affemble the ftates-general, fubjoining the impoffibility under which the courts laboured, of pro

ceeding to regifter any new taxes, till they had first obtained the confent of the nation.

The parliament of Touloufe and the parliament of Befançon expreffed the fame fentiments, each of them occafionally rifing upon the model that had been afforded them by the parliament of Grenoble. The latter, in condemning the emiffion of lettres de cachet, which they declared contrary to the ordinances of the kingdom, obferved, that the Parifian magiftrates ought to have yielded no fort of obedience to them. The parliament of Toulouse eftimated the exiting taxes at three fourths of the landed income of the kingdom; and fpoke of Mr. de Calonne as a man deftitute of honour and fhame, an impoftor and a robber, whofe punishment ought to be made an example to all future defaulters. The fentiments they expreffed on the fubject of liberty are entitled to applaufe. They declared, that the kings of France had never pretended to adorn their sceptre with the extorted privileges of the nation; that at all events force and violence could never be made the foundation of right; that, property being the effential poffeffion of a free people, arbitrary taxation was to be regarded as the fymbol of vaffalage; that to affume it, would be to exchange the glorious title of king of the Franks for that of a king of flaves; that it could not enter into the heart of the fovereign, after having broken the chains of a foreign people, to forge them for his own; that it could not even be his intereft to reign over a people, whofe condition would be fo much the more unfortunate, as they would have a mafter uncharged with the care of their fubfiftence, and would


be at once exposed to the inconveniences of liberty and the miferies of fervitude.

While the parliament of Paris was engaged in opposing certain unpopular taxes, and many other courts of juftice difperfed through the kingdom deemed it incumbent upon them to vindicate the principles which had occafioned its exile, the parliament of Bourdeaux, from a very different caufe, was involved in a fimilar fate. It was natural for these assemblies to regard with a jealous eye the inftitution of other adminiftrations in their neighbourhood, and to fear left these new eftablishments might detract from their prerogatives, or participate in their credit. In other places how ever a respect for the general welfare, or a politic conformity to general opinion, filenced the reclamations of private intereft, and the edict for the introduction of provincial affemblies was registered with little or no difficulty. The parliament of Bourdeaux feems in this inftance to have fallen fhort of the prudence and fagacity of the other courts, and to have half withdrawn the mafk, with which they might be expected to have concealed their motives from common obfervers. They declined to regifter the edict for the prefent, alledging that they could form no fufficient judgment of its character, till the regulations, promifed in the body of the law, and which would confiderably influence the nature of the inftitution, were made public.

In this fituation the tranfaction remained till the eighth day of Auguft. In the mean time the provincial affembly was on the point of affembling at Limoges, and the farther provifions for regulating the form of thefe adminiltrations were


paffed in the council of flate on the fifth. They are understood however not yet to have reached Bourdeaux, when the parliament on the day we have mentioned came to a refolution, prohibiting all perfons, of whatever order, to form themselves into a provincial affembly within its jurifdiction, till the edict creating those affemblies had been duly registered. This was deemed too flagrant an inftance of contempt for the civil adminiftration to pafs without cenfure. Their refolution was annulled by an act of the king in council on the twelfth, and letters patent and lettres de cachet were soon after expedited, transferring their fittings from Bourdeaux to Libourne. In the act of council it was alledged, that it was fufficient in any cafe for the royal pleasure to be known, to prevent any affemblies meeting in purfuance of that pleasure from being deemed illegal. On the part of the parliament it was argued, in their refolution of the eighteenth of Auguft, immediately after the arrival of the letters patent, and previous to their removal to Libourne, that it was altogether unprecedented for an edict to be carried into execution while the queftion of its regiftry was actually depending, and that they were bound to refift fo irregular a proceeding. They declared the letters of exile iffued against them furreptitious, the confent of the fovereign to them having been fraudulently obtained; and they acknowledged that they ought not to have yielded obedience to them. They declared themfelves in the highest degree friendly to the inftitution of provincial affemblies in general, and demanded from the fovereign the convocation of the ftates general of the kingdom. They afferted their exile to have been intended merely as a po


litical ftratagem, to prevent them from difcuffing the odious taxes that were attempted to be impofed upon the people. They declared before hand the forcible regifter, which they understood was to be made of the letters patent by the count de Brienne, commandant of the province, to be null and illegal; and they reiterated this declaration after the register, which took place on the fifth of September. It was upon this occafion that government thought proper to quiet a part of the alarms of the parliament, by declaring, that it was never intended to take advantage of the inftitution of provincial affemblies, as a means to deprive the courts of juftice of their privilege in the register of


The mutual hoftilities of adminiftration on the one part, and of the people of France under the aufpices of the parliaments on the other, had reached their crifis previously to the æra of thefe tranfactions. It is difficult to say what had been precifely the expectations of the archbishop of Touloufe: but, whatever was their complexion, they were completely difappointed. The parliament of Paris was not moved by his threats and his feverities. The other par liaments caught the infection; the fame of oppofition and difaffection increafed every moment; and the prelate was too fagacious or too timid fo much as to think of levying his taxes in the face of the unanimous difapprobation that discovered itself against them. The fame warinefs however prevented him from adopting a spirited, a decifive, and a graceful mode of proceeding in the contrary direction. He hefitated; he wavered. Alternately he betrayed an inclination to recede, and an inclination to perfift. This

irrefolution ferved only to place in a more ftriking light the imbecility of government, and to encourage every projector to wreft the helm of affairs by violence from the feeble and nervelefs hand by which it was conducted.

The firft difcovery that was made of the difpofition of government to relax in its pretenfions is to be found in the royal answer to the addrefs of the court of aids, of the twentyfifth of Auguft. Upon this occafion the king declared his refufal to convoke the ftates-general, and juftified his feverity to the parliament of Paris. He observed, that, if the taxes proposed were attended with inconveniences, that body had none but themselves to reproach, they having refused to enter into a regu lar and fyftematical examination of the edicts. He was however ready to listen to the obfervations of the corps that at present addressed him; and he encouraged them to hope every thing from his juftice and his love for the people. In his answer to their renewed fupplication of the fecond of September, the king went ftill farther. He mildly reproached them for not having presented him with a more extenfive series of obfervations upon the edicts; but at the fame time promised to suffer them to remain in their present state of non-execution, till the renewal of their fittings in the month of November.

The inconfiftence and inftability, that characterised the prefent adminitration, appeared in all their proceedings. The chamber of accounts adopted nearly at the fame time a meature fimilar to that of the court of aids, and their refolution was not merely not received with the for bearance and kindness which had appeared in the former instance, but


« PreviousContinue »