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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 17

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Amid all this confusion, Necker appeared in the assembly demanding supplies, for his coffers were empty. The assembly had met, first, at the suggestion of Necker, to propose some means of creating a revenue; but no sooner had it met than it commenced a struggle with the whole government, which it sought to annihilate, and the struggle was still going on. With the whole country in a state of anarchy and mob rule, how were taxes to be levied? That was the simple question. No matter how able might be the minister of finance, or how ingenious his plans, there lay the difficulty; the revenues could not be drawn from a people which was master of the government itself, and was much fonder of destroying estates than of paying taxes or rents. The whole course of events, since the revolution had broken out, had been to increase the demands on the treasury, and decrease the supplies. Corn had been bought, and sold at a great loss, to obviate famine; the abolition of the gabel, or duty on salt; refusal to pay taxes; the destruction of crops, and driving away of cattle; smuggling on the coast; the destruction of town barriers, and, therefore, of town dues; the burning of the registers, and the murder of the clerks, had made, and kept the public treasury empty. But all this time government expenses were going on, and Necker now demanded a loan of thirty millions of louis. The loan was granted; nothing was so easy; but the interest was reduced to four and a half per. cent, as if moneyed men would lend to such a government at any rate of interest, however exorbitant. Necker had the order for the loan, but it was easy to see that his difficulty was in no way diminished; he would never have the money.

This farce enacted, the assembly fell again to finishing the declaration of the rights of man. Much time was wasted in compiling such fine sentiments as that " Every man is born free and equal." The Americans had done that before, and then proceeded to show how hollow was the fabric, by declaring that negroes were not free, and could not be equal with white men. Mirabeau, heartily ashamed of the whole fustian composition, proposed that they should omit the word rights, and say, "For the interest of all, it has been declared," &c, But the assembly, believing the document very grand and sublime, would not abandon the word rights. Malouet and others pointed out the inevitable mischief of proclaiming to the uneducated people the dogma of utter freedom and equality, but in vain; the declaration was passed, and the people soon showed in what sense they understood it, and, carrying it to the extreme application, proceeded to destroy all ranks, properties, and principles, on the authority of the assembly; and would, in time, havereduced France to a desert, scattered with dead men's bones, had not a military dictator stepped in and stopped their imagined right to do just whatever they pleased.

From the rights of man the assembly passed to the constitution, and entered on the important question, whether there should be two legislative chambers or only one. Mounier, Lally-Tollendal, Rochefoucauld, Liancourt, and a few others, including Necker, were for a second chamber, like the English house of peers. But the absurdity of an upper house, after the declaration of the perfect equality of all men, was too preposterous. Barnave, Duport, and the Lamethes, were opposed to more than one chamber, and Mirabeau was of the same opinion, from his hatred of the aristocracy. It was decided that there should be no second chamber. Then came the question, whether the king should have a veto on decrees sent up to him from the assembly, or only the function of promulgating them, as the executive power. It was soon seen that not a shred of power would be left to the crown; all would be absorbed into the assembly, and used not independently by them, but at the dictation of the sovereign people. The people were declared to be all free and equal, and why should they be hampered by the resolutions of even their own deputies? They were resolved to rule not merely through the assembly, but over the assembly. The very proposal to give the king a veto roused all France. The Palais Royal was in a fiery ferment. There, Camille Desmoulins, and the old marquis St. Huruque, who had been imprisoned for family quarrels, were indignant at the very idea of a veto. They declared that the national guard was becoming an aristocracy; La Fayette, a Cromwell. It was necessary, then, to go to Versailles, and call both the king and the assembly to account. On Sunday, the 30th of August, they met, and accused Mounier, menaced Mirabeau, and set out in march to Versailles. La Fayette pursued them with the national guards, and forced them to come back. But this only the more exasperated the people. The whole of town and country was buzzing like a hive at swarming time, with the excitement against the veto. They imagined that it was only another name for absolutism. They dubbed the king Monsieur Veto. Many of them believed that the veto was an abominable tax of some kind; others, an enemy that ought to be hung on the lamp-post. " Dost thou know," asked one countryman of the other, "what the veto is?" " No, not I." " Well, then, thou hast thy basin full of soup; the king says to thee, ' Spill thy soup,' and thou art forced to spill it."

On the 31st, Mounier, in the assembly, denounced a deputation which had reached him from the Palais Royal, menacing him for supporting the veto, and stating that twenty thousand men were about to march, to compel the enemies of the people to silence on the veto. Mirabeau also read letters, of a most menacing nature, addressed to him. The assembly ordered the arrest of St. Huruque, who had written some of these letters, and the question of the veto was continued. Mirabeau had long before declared that, without the king had a veto on the acts of the assembly, he would rather live in Constantinople than in Paris, and he now maintained the same doctrine; but on the proposal being made that the royal veto should not be absolute, but merely suspensive, Mirabeau conceded to this compromise; and the suspensive veto, to be limited to two sessions, was passed by six hundred and seventy-three votes against three hundred and fifty-five for the absolute veto. The king and the ministers were not particularly averse to the suspensive veto, for they trusted that if a measure were suspended two years, it would not often be revived.

The next questions were the hereditary transmission of the crown and the inviolability of the royal person. These were passed without division; but, on the inviolability of the heir presumptive being proposed, it was rejected, as giving to a disloyal heir immunity in any attempt against the reigning prince. Mirabeau, to ascertain what was the strength of the party of the duke of Orleans in the assembly, proposed that there should be a clause providing that none but a Frenchman should succeed to the throne, nor even be appointed on a regency, as that might open the way to the relatives of the royal family, Spanish or Austrian, and expose the country to foreign domination. There were loud outcries at these words, and Mirabeau noticed carefully the opposers of his motion, for he was certain that they preferred, in case of a regency, an Austrian or Spanish prince to the duke of Orleans. He did not press his motion, for he had attained his object; but he had won by it the firm persuasion in the mind of the public that he was a partisan of the duke, which, in fact, he was not. Mirabeau was familiar with Orleans, as he was with men of all parties, because he was thus enabled to penetrate often into their opinions and designs; but he was properly of no party. The duke was rich, and Mirabeau extremely poor and extravagant; consequently, it was readily believed that he was paid by Orleans; but, on the contrary, Mirabeau continued as poor as ever till his connection with the court.

In the midst of this constitution-making, famine was stalking through the country, and bankruptcy was menacing the exchequer. The first loan of thirty millions had proved a total failure; a second of eighty, according to a fresh plan of Necker's, was equally a blank. " Go on discussing," said M. Degouy D'Arcy, one day, " throw in delays, and at the expiration of those delays, we shall no longer live! I have just heard fearful truths." " Order! order!" exclaimed some. "No! no! Speak!" rejoined others. A deputy rose. " Proceed," he said to M. Degouy, " spread around alarm. What will be the consequence? We shall give part of our fortune, and all will be over." M. Degouy continued: " The loans which you have voted have produced nothing; there are not ten millions in the exchequer!" There arose a wild hubbub. The speaker was surrounded, and reduced to silence. Necker appeared. He confirmed the statements of M. Degouy. He reproached the assembly with doing nothing for the finances for five months. Necker represented that people, alarmed by the state of the country, had concealed vast sums of money; foreigners, for the same reason, had held back from the loan; travellers had ceased to venture into it; and emigrants had carried their cash away with them. The circulating medium had been so much reduced by these means that there was not enough for daily use. The king and queen had been obliged to send their plate to the mint; the treasury was empty, and the members began to wonder where their daily pay was to come from. Necker declared that loans were unattainable, and that it was a stern necessity that one-fourth of the income of every individual, except the poor, should be at once voted and contributed to ward off national bankruptcy. A committee was appointed to examine this plan, and, in three days, reported its full approval.

Meantime, the distresses of the country, as detailed by the minister, had produced a fit of patriotism. French sentiment was touched, and a deputy proposed that every one should offer something at once to his country. The deputies then laid down the money in their pockets; those who had not any took off their buckles from their shoes. All was to be entered in a register, and, vanity aiding sentiment, people flocked in with silver spoons and forks, gold rings, and other ornaments, so that the assembly looked rather like a jeweller's or pawnbroker's shop than a manufactory of laws. The women of the town, from Paris and Versailles, brought in a large proportion of their peculiar earnings, which were accepted without scruple, for, indeed, the very rich and honourable, after all, were not very liberal. One landowner gave a whole forest. Necker gave one hundred thousand livres; but still the fund was but moderate, and the fit was speedily over. Then Mirabeau called on the assembly to pass the demand of Necker without delay or examination. As Necker had been recalled as the only man who could save the country, Mirabeau now ironically insisted that the assembly should agree literally to his plan, and, if it succeeded, should let him have the glory of it. Mirabeau knew that it could not succeed, and that Necker, for whom he had a great contempt, would only expose his incompetence by being permitted to follow his own schemes. There were those who penetrated his object, and M. de Virieu exclaimed, "You murder the minister's plan; you crush him under the whole weight of responsibility!" Mirabeau admitted that he had rather that Necker should show himself a driveller than the assembly should proclaim a national bankruptcy by hesitating to vote the necessary supplies. He then painted the horrors of a national bankruptcy; he represented it as a ruinous tax, which did not reach all, but fell only on some, and crushed them to death; as a gulf into which diving victims might be thrown, but which could neither be filled thus, nor made to close again; " for," he observed, " we owe none the less, even after we have refused to pay." Then, raising his voice to a terrible pitch, " The other day, when a ridiculous motion was made at the Palais Royal, some one exclaimed, 'Catiline is at the gates of Rome! and you deliberate!' but, assuredly, there was neither Catiline, nor danger, nor Rome; but, to-day, hideous bankruptcy is here, threatening to consume you, your honour, your fortunes - and you hesitate!"

The assembly, electrified at the picture which he drew, rose with shouts, and voted the tax. But of what avail? The so-called rich, on whom the burden would chiefly fall, were no longer rich. Their houses had been burned, their estates ravaged; they could truly state their incomes as almost nil; those who had plundered them were not ready to tax their booty to this extent; and this grand scheme failed, as Mirabeau and every thinking man knew from the first that it must. To proclaim that the country was on the verge of bankruptcy was the certain way to induce every man to conceal his money with double diligence.

With the necessities of the government, the necessities of the people kept pace. The whole country was revolutionising instead of working; destroying estates instead of cultivating them. Farmers were afraid of sowing what they might never reap; trade and manufactures were at an end, for there was little money and no confidence. The country was not become unfruitful, but its people had gone mad, and the inevitable consequence was an ever-increasing famine. This, instead of being attributed to the true causes, was ascribed by the mob-orators to all kinds of devilish practices of the court and the aristocracy. Danton, Marat, Desmoulins, in journals and speeches, propagated the most absurd stories. One orator exclaimed, "Three days ago the king got that veto suspensiv and already the aristocrats have brought up all the suspensions, and sent all the corn out of the kingdom." The ignorant audience declared, "Ah! that is it! nothing but that!" Others said the queen was sending all the corn to the Austrian army, to encourage them to invade France; others that the government agents had thrown vast quantities into the Seine. Necker, in his despair, applied to Pitt to send over twenty thousand sacks of English flour. Pitt quietly declined to send it, on the plea of need of it at home, of the prospect of a deficient harvest, &c.; this refusal at such a moment excited a deep feeling of resentment amongst the French. Yet it was nothing more than the French government might have expected after its conduct towards England in her struggle with her American colonies. Nevertheless, at the same time, Necker refused the offer from marshal Bouille of the corn laid up for his troops at Metz.

The authorities at the Hotel de Ville appointed purveyors to hunt out corn, and compel the owners to sell it at a fixed price. This only made dealers the more careful not to bring their supplies into the city. The state of the people became desperate. The national guards were all under arms to prevent their gutting the bakers' and flour dealers' shops and warehouses. But they could not prevent them seizing and hanging the mayor at St. Denis. Bailly employed seventeen thousand men in digging trenches on Montmartre, and exerted ' himself wonderfully to procure flour for them; but it was reported that Bouille, who had already corn enough for his army, and who, spite of Necker's refusal, was delivering part of it for popular consumption, was seizing and laying up all he could find; and, finally, that the king, and queen, and royal family were about to fly to Metz to join Bouille, and there, joined by the Austrians, to raise the standard of civil war. And in this last piece of intelligence they were correct. This was actually in preparation, and, had the king been half as energetic as the queen, would have been already accomplished. D'Estaing, the admiral so much employed in the West Indies, and on the coast of America during the war there, was now commander of the national guard at Versailles. D'Estaing learnt the secret from La Fayette, and wrote to the queen, detailing the whole communication. He implored an interview to counsel her majesty on the importance of the subject; but the queen passed lightly over the matter.

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