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who were accustomed to an eighteen months credit, had large fums of the public money in their hands. They repeated their recommendation of an efficient council of finances; and urged an annual publication of the accounts of government, in preference to a triennial one, which they professed to be apprehenfive would be found a nugatory measure.
Befide thefe confiderations immediately relative to the fubject of their meeting, a motion was about this time offered to one of the bureaux by the duke de Rochefoucault, tending to the melioration of the ftate of the French proteftants, and the reform of the fyftem of criminal law; but the motion was rejected. A propofition by the marquis de la Fayette to one of the other bureaux was more favourably received, they having refolved, at his inftigation, to requeft the king to grant a civil establishment to the proteftants of the kingdom.
The notables having now anfwer ed, as far as they could be induced to anfwer, the purposes for which they had been affembled by government, were diffolved by the fovereign on the twenty-fifth of May. In his fpeech upon this occafion, he commended their exertions, and particularly thanked them for having prepared the measure, which he fo ardently defired, of producing a level between the receipt and the expenditure. They had afcertained the existence and amount of the deficit, given authenticity to the propofed retrenchments and reforms, and recognised the neceffity of impofing fuch additional taxes as the circumftances might require.
The affembly was alfo addreffed by the keeper of the feals, and the archbishop of Toulouse, prefident of the council of finances. The latter
of thefe entered into a copious review of the tranfactions of the notables. Upon the fubject of provin cial affemblies, he condemned the levelling principles that had been introduced by Mr. de Calonne. He congratulated the affembly upon their magnanimous fuperiority to the idea of an intereft in particular orders feparate from the intereft of the whole. They had admitted that all exemptions in taxation were to be regarded as the mifchievous remains of feudality and villanage, and ought to be abolished. On the other hand, the king and the nation were far from wishing to annihilate the privileges and diftinctions of rank, and aiming at a vain equality that was incompatible with the monarchy. The three orders of the ftate ought undoubtedly to have their reprefentatives in the provincial affemblies, and precedency ought conftantly to be attributed to elevation of rank. The clergy and the nobleffe had generoufly confented to unite their interefts, and of confequence the third eftate would be allowed as many reprefentatives as the other two taken together. The king was refolved to give fubftance and efficiency to this provifion, by. directing that the voices fhould be collected not in feparate divifions, but as from the members of one general affembly. The greatest benefit might also be expected from the other meafures fanctioned by the notables, the abolition of the corvée, and the freedom of the commerce of grain. The removal of the barriers and internal taxation between province and province would be found a moft effential change. It had been thought that this could not be effected, confiftently with the prefervation, in any form, of the impoft of the gabelle. The fublime
idea of its total annihilation had been firft fuggefted to the affembly by monfieur, brother of the king. It has been eagerly adopted by them, and had given rife to a hope in the royal mind, which it would be the greatest happiness of his life to be enabled to fulfil.
operations of finance, should be con», certed under their infpection. In this council the annual distribution of the public revenue among the different departments of government fhould be made; and, by that institution, the publicity of its refults, the annual publication of the national debt and the funds appropriated to its difcharge, and the other precautions that had been adopted, the king hoped to fecure himself. from the influence of mifreprefentation and mistake. In fine, the prefent crifis would become the epocha of a new fplendour to the French monarchy. Many burthenfome and injurious inflitutions were upon the eve of being abolished; the nation would derive a new principle of life from the provincial affemblies, the public adminiftration would be freed from its embarraffments, and would proceed with fyftem and publicity to the purfuit of the national welfare.
A farther inestimable benefit, faid the archbishop, that had refulted from the labours of the affembly, was the afcertaining the amount of the deficit. Different bureaux had indeed varied in their results upon this head; he should take the average of their different computations, which was 5,830,0004 Out of this fum which it was neceffary to fupply, 2,080,000% were only of temporary demand for the redemption of loans, which by the conditions of the contract had been made redeemable at fixed periods, and these would be difcharged by the intervention of new loans in a diminishing feries. The retrenchments in the royal houf- The fpecch of the president of hold would produce a farther dimi- the finances was immediately followBution of 1,660,000l. and the re-ed by short harangues from monfieur, maining fum of 2,080,000l. would be to be raised by new taxes. Upon the choice of thefe taxes, the notables had declined to decide. The king would govern himself in his own determination, by every confideration that the welfare of his people could fuggeft to him. If it were found neceffary immediately to augment the public revenue, he would not however carry the taxes to the extent which might now feem to be neceffary, till he had published an accurate detail of the receipt and expenditure, which, if poffible, fhould appear at the clofe of the prefent year. This detail fhould undergo a previous difcuffion in the new council of finances which the king intended to inftitute. The joans, the taxes, and all the great,
the king's brother, as the organ of the nobleffe; from the archbishop of Narbonne; the refpective first prefidents of the parliament, the chamber of accounts and the court of aids; the fpeaker of the clergy of the province of Burgundy; the lieutenant civil; and the prévôt des marchands, or chief magiftrate af Paris; all addreffed to the king, and filled with the language of compliment and congratulation. By the prévôt des marchands in particular, it was obferved, that Louis the Sixteenth would have been the exemplar and model upon which Henry the Fourth would have formed himself, if the partial deftiny of the prefent generation of Frenchmen had not referved him to complete their happinels,
Such were the tranfactions of this memorable and intereftingaffembly of notables, the firft affembly poffeffing even the pretence of representing the French nation that they had feen for more than one hundred and fifty ycars. If, while we enquire into the merits of their proceedings, we compare them with the purpofes for which they had been affembled by government, we fhall not beftow upon them confiderable applause. They indeed countenanced, and feemed to give stability, under certain reftrictions, to many beneficial projects. But these projects are fcarcely to be regarded as other than fubordinate, in the confideration of government, to the required level between the revenue and the expenditure. In the mean time, by the pertinacious refufal of the notables to give the fanction of their authority to what was reprefented by Mr. de Calonne as an indirect mode of increafing the revenue, and was treated by his fucceffors as avowed taxation, they rather increased than diminished the difficulties of adminiftration. Minifters expected. to overbear the ftubbornness of the parliaments by the authority of the notables. Inftead of this, the hefitation, the filence of the notables, an aflembly undoubtedly of infinitely greater dignity and weight than any of the courts of law, feemed to authorise their refiftance, while the familiar fpectacle of a fort of national affembly, however imperfect in its conftitution, gave to the people a fyftem of political feelings by no means favourable to the tranquillity of adminiftration,
If, on the other hand, in eftimate ing the merit of the notables of 1787, we recollect the benefits that have flowed in copious ftreams from their labours to the nation at large,
they will ever be remembered by us with the deepest veneration. The projects they adopted of provincial affemblies, the abolition of the corvée, a free corn trade, an unrestrained commerce between the provinces of the kingdom, are fraught with a thousand benefits of energy, profpe rity, and virtue. But the fpirit of citizenship that they diffufed through the kingdom was of ineftimable importance. It was in their affembly that the name of the states-general was first pronounced. It was there that Frenchmen conceived the prac ticability of becoming free. By their abfolute refufal to tax their fellow-citizens, they rendered the meeting of a general reprefentative affembly indifpenfible. The ideas that the intellectual heroes of France, a Rouffeau, an Helvetius, and a Raynal, had conceived, that at the moment they published them they defpaired to fee effectually adopted, and that feemed hitherto to have remained altogether barren, were fertilifed at once. From hence we are to date a long feries of years, in which France and the whole human race are to enter into poffeflion of their liberties, when the ideas of juftice and truth, of intellectual independence and everlafting improvement, are no longer to remain buried in the duft and obfcurity of the clo. fet, or to be brought forth at diftant intervals to be viewed with astonishment, indignation, and contempt, but to be univerfally received, familiar as the light of day, and general as the air we breathe.
It is however rather from the motives by which men are influenced, than from the confequences which they often unintentionally produce, that we are to estimate their merits. Upon this fyftem our judgment of the virtues of this aflembly will be
come moderate, neither wholly darkened with imbecility and vice, nor clevated to the dignity of heroifm. They feem entitled to the praife of diligence and induftry: they had a fincere intention to confer fome benefits upon their country; but they were too deeply anxious to perpetuate their privileges and exclufive diftinctions, to deferve, the name of patriots. It will probably be claffed among their imperfections by impartial posterity, that they perfecuted with fuch unrelenting vehemence Mr. de Calonne., Pofterity will judge between their hero, Mr. Necker, and the object of their bitter invectives. Mean-, while one half of their pertinacious oppofition to the plans fuggefted to: them, one half of the confequences, they produced in reducing the omnipotence of the monarchy, is to be afcribed to their perfonal averfion to the minifter. The conduct they purfucd upon the fubject of taxation, was perhaps the very happiest in its ultimate effects that they could have adopted; but it will fcarcely be fufpected to have been founded in any regular fyftem. What was the
object of their long conteft with anminiftration refpecting the production of documents, a conteft in which they finally proved victorious? If they had a juft claim to thefe documents, why refuse that decifion upon the taxes proposed, which feemed to be the inevitable confequence of their claim? If they were from the firft determined to refuse all active interference with the bufinefs of revenue, by what right did they call for the documents? Ta thefe confiderations it is to be added, that they evidently difplayed before their feparation that felf-interested efprit de corps, by which every comhination of men, feeks to perpetuate its own exiftence. They demanded to be permitted to fit till certain beneficial plans were adequately carried into execution. Could there be a greater folecifm to politics or ta right reafon, than for a body of men, who exprefsly difclaimed all deliberative and legislative authority, at the fame time to endeavour to conftitute themselves the overseers of government and fafeguards of the people?
CHA P. II.
Council of Finances. Stamp Duty. Conduit of the Parliament of Paris.
HE fituation in which the diffolution of the notables left the government, was in the higheft degree arduous. It is probable that, if that affembly had given an unanimous and unqualified approbation to the projects that were fubmitted
to them, all refistance from any other quarter would have been overawed, and the monarchy would, for the prefent, have rather gained an acceffion of Arength, than been weakened by the difficulties it had been obliged to encounter. But the
event had been far otherwife. The notables had at most only recognised the emergency, and had exprefsly withheld their fanction from the measures that were to fupply it.
The refiftance principally to be feared was on the part of the parliaments; for, whatever might have been the fentiments of the nation at large, if they had not found a point of union, if there had not exifted a power in the conftitution, fitted to diffeminate with weight and efficiency the prevailing principles, it must at least have been by very flow degrees that they could be expected to produce their effect. The parliaments were originally courts of law only; and, if the ambition of the Gallic princes of four preceding centuries had not moft violently encroached upon the liberties of their fubjects, fuch they must for ever have remained. France, like the other kingdoms of modern Europe, had originally its ftates general, who were accustomed to be confulted upon all great legiflative queftions, and without whofe participation the prince could not regularly levy subsidies upon his people. The progress of liberty and civilifation advanced by juft degrees; and, as Simon Montfort gave birth to the house of commons in England in the year 1264, fo in France the third eftate was firft fummoned to the states general by Philip the Fair in 1302. It was about the fame time that the name of parliament, which had been hitherto one of the denominations of this affembly, began to be exclufively attached to the cours de palais, or court of king's bench.
As by the crooked policy of Charles the Wife and his fucceffors the ftates general began gradually to fall into disuse, it became neceflary to provide the kingdom with fome ap1789.
parent fubftitute. The mind of man irrefiftibly revolts from the notion of uncontrolable defpotism; and no tyranny, however abfolute, could ever yet render itself permanent, without prefenting to its fubjects a phantom of constitutional restraint. By the defpots of France it was conceived, that a more impotent phantom could not be invented, than that of a parliamentary register of the royal edicts. The parliaments were merely courts of law, the organs and inftruments of the executive power, appointed and removable originally at the pleasure of the crown. They were not the representatives of the nation, they were not even an order in the ftate, their deliberative power in the making of laws was what no political conftitution could recognife, and in its own nature feemed inefficient and nugatory. The abfurdity of the claim was the very caufe to which it was indebted for its eftablishment, no adminiftration being found cautious enough timely to guard against so prepofterous an encroachment.
The nation however seemed to cherish the very shadow of liberty. The parliaments were a permanent corps, and from that circumftance poffeffed an advantage that can never be combined with monarchical power. Equally capable at all times themfelves, they were able to improve to their own advantage the periods of weakness, such as minorities in particular, incident to royalty. Their ef ficiency was alfo increased by incidental circumftances. The judicial places were by the diftreffes or avarice of government gradually rendered venal; and, when men had originally purchased their fituations, it could not be just to difmifs them at the arbitrary will of the party of whom they were purchafed. Another confe B