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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 21

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Mirabeau, disgusted, like Mounier, Lally-Tollendal, and others, with the excesses of the people, had too much personal ambition and necessities too pressing to withdraw from the conflict. He must have his pleasures and the means of procuring them, and, though he would not sell himself to the duke of Orleans, or to any party contrary to his principles, he was ready enough to sell his services, in accordance with his own views, for a very good price. The court was aware of this, and took measures to secure him. Hopes were held out through certain persons that, if he would give all the support that he could by his eloquence in the assembly to the king, he might become minister. Mirabeau listened eagerly to these hints. These proposals were equally acceptable on account of his ambition and his need of money. As a minister, deprived of his opportunities for oratorical display, Mirabeau would have been ruined for ever; for there is every reason to believe that he would have made as indifferent a minister as he was eminent as an orator. He was an orator by nature, but he had not the careful calculation and the many qualities necessary for a successful minister. The court, however, soon made advances, and Mirabeau immediately projected the abrogation of the bill which excluded ministers from the assembly.

The first act towards the introduction of Mirabeau into the service of the court was put in motion by Malouet, a friend of Necker, who introduced Mirabeau to the minister. Mirabeau met Necker with the full expectation that he was to receive some proposal from him; but either Necker was not fully instructed in the object of the introduction, or did not feel disposed, on closer acquaintance, to contribute to Mirabeau's elevation. He made no overture, and Mirabeau retired, indignantly muttering, " The minister shall hear of me." But the court now employed a more adroit agent. This was a foreign prince, connected with men of all parties. Mirabeau made it clearly known that he would make no sacrifice of principles; that, in fact, it would be ruinous to himself to do so, and useless to the king; but that, if the government would adhere to the constitution - which was every way the best thing for both court and people - Mirabeau would stanchly support these objects, and through them the security and best interests of the crown. He made it, at the same time, plain that, for him to be able to do this effectively, he must be placed at his ease; his debts must be paid, and he must receive a handsome salary. It was therefore arranged that his conditions should be accepted, and that his pension should be twenty thousand francs, or eight hundred pounds a-month; but these terms were not finally settled till a few months later, that is, at the commencement of the year 1790.

Meantime, while still appearing to oppose the court, Mirabeau endeavoured to procure the alteration of the law excluding ministers from the assembly. The popular party immediately took the alarm; the motion of Mirabeau was rejected, and Lanjuinis seized the opportunity to push the restriction further, and to make it illegal for any existing deputy to become minister. Mirabeau saw that the measure was aimed directly at him, and proposed, as an amendment, that the restriction should apply to no deputy but himself. This extraordinary mode of showing the assembly that he understood the drift of the proposal, did not prevent the passing of the decree, and thus Mirabeau had only more completely closed the way to his ministry, except by the forfeiture of his place in the assembly, which was to ruin himself utterly with the people; in fact, the object of his attempt in the assembly becoming soon known, did him infinite mischief with the public. The idea of his becoming minister could not be endured. It appeared to the people sheer treason against their cause, and Mirabeau fell greatly, in consequence, in their opinion.

The assembly now settled at Paris, and strengthened in its popular unity by the flight or retirement of so many aristocrats, prosecuted the formation of the constitution with increased rapidity. All the financial schemes of Necker had failed. The state was destitute of funds; but it could not be considered bankrupt, for it had large assets not only in the right of taxation, but in crown and church lands. The assembly had abolished the feudal system; it determined now to sell the church property, and give salaries instead to the clergy. It is remarkable that the proposition came from a churchman and a bishop - from Talleyrand, bishop of Autun - but what a bishop! Talleyrand was of an old and illustrious house, and had already displayed the shrewdness and sagacity which afterwards led him to the highest place in the diplomacy of the age, and terminated in his receiving rank as a prince, after having been alternately bishop, representative in the assembly, and merchant in America. Mirabeau had already discovered his profound talents, and his instinctive insight into character, and had foretold his diplomatic eminence. Talleyrand was the only bishop ever appointed by the choice and at the request of the clergy of France. Notwithstanding his high birth, Louis XVI. hesitated to make him a bishop; but the general assembly of the clergy made a direct request to the king, and the then abbé of Perigord became the bishop of Autun. Little did the clergy foresee what he would do. The outcry of the clergy at Talleyrand's proposition was wild and fierce. The abbé Maury denounced what he termed this sacrilegious robbery with all his eloquence, and warned the aristocracy that it was but the prelude to their destruction. Talleyrand, on the other hand, proved the justice and propriety of the measure, and showed the great advantages that would result from it to the state. The clergy made a vigorous resistance, but in vain; Talleyrand, Thouret, and Mirabeau demolished all their arguments, and the assembly, on the 2nd of December, decreed the appropriation and sale of all ecclesiastical property. From that moment the hatred of the clergy, hitherto partly concealed, in the hope of preserving its wealth, broke forth in full display against the new regime. Salaries were appointed to the cures, which were not to be less than twelve hundred francs, with a parsonage and garden. All conventual vows were declared null, the property of all monastic establishments confiscated, and the inmates were to be pensioned. Political pensions were also reduced to a low standard, and many abolished.

Another churchman, the abbé Sieyes, then proposed a very important topographical alteration. This was to abolish the ancient names and boundaries of provinces which were associated with old feudal principles, and with laws, privileges, and customs contrary to each other, and to the new ideas and constitution. This was to annihilate all the ancient demarcations of the provinces, and re-divide the kingdom into departments, which should all have the same laws, the departments being subdivided into districts, and the districts into municipalities. Each of these divisions was to be governed by their councils, which were to be elective, and subordinate one to the other. The department was to make the assessment of taxes upon the districts, the districts on the municipalities or communes, and the communes on individuals. This was carried, and was one of the many benefits conferred by Sieyes on his country through the revolution. Some of our historians have represented Sieyes as a formal dreamer and fanatic; but the historians of France entertain a very different opinion of him. Mignet says, " Sieyes was one of those men who, in ages of enthusiasm, found a sect, and in ages of intelligence, exercise the ascendency of a powerful understanding. Solitude and philosophic speculation had ripened it for a happy moment. His ideas were new, vigorous, various, but little systematic. Society had in particular been the object of his observation; he had followed its progress, and decomposed its machinery. The nature of government appeared to him less a question of right than a question of epoch. Although cool and deliberate, Sieyes had the ardour which inspires the investigation of truth, and the fearlessness to insist on its promulgation. Thus he was absolute in his notions, despising the ideas of others, because he found them incomplete, and, in his eyes, embodying only half the truth, which was error. Contradiction irritated him; he was little communicative, he would have wished to make himself thoroughly understood, but he could not succeed with all the world. His disciples transmitted his system to others - a circumstance which gave him a certain air of mysteriouness, and rendered him the object of a sort of adoration. He had the authority which complete political science bestows, and the constitution could have sprung from his head all armed, like the Minerva of Jupiter, or the legislation of the ancients, if, in our times, every one had not wished to assist in it, or to judge of it. Nevertheless, with some modifications, his plans were generally adopted, and he had in the committees far more disciples than fellow-labourers."

The assembly determined next the franchise, and all political rights of the citizen. These were included in the simple payment of one silver mark on arriving at the age of twenty-five. This payment made, a man of full age was qualified to vote for a member of any body, from the commune to the national assembly, and he was equally eligible as a candidate. Such was the basis laid for all political action; and the nobles and clergy now exercised their liberty in obstructing the business of the assembly. They supported the military commandants against the people, the slave-traders against the negro slaves; they opposed the admission of protestants and Jews to the enjoyment of equal rights. We cannot give a more lively picture of the state of parties in the national assembly, and of the conduct of the clergy, at the close of the year 1789, than that drawn by M. Ferrieres: "In the national assembly there were not more than about three hundred really upright men exempt from party spirit, not belonging to any club, wishing what was right, wishing it for its own sake, independently of the interest of orders or of bodies, always ready to embrace the most just and the most beneficial proposal, no matter from what quarter it came, or by whom it was supported. These were the men worthy of the honourable function to which they had been called, who made the few good laws that proceeded from the constituent assembly; it was they who prevented all the mischief which was not done by it. As for the nobles and clergy, they aimed only to dissolve the assembly, to throw discredit on its operations; instead of opposing mischievous measures, they manifested an indifference on this point which is inconceivable. When the president stated the question they quitted the hall, inviting the deputies of their party to follow them; or, if they stayed, they called out to them to take no part in the deliberation. The clubbists, forming through this dereliction of duty a majority of the assembly, carried every resolution that they pleased. The bishops and nobles, firmly believing that the new order of things would not last, hastened, with a sort of impatience as if determined to accelerate both the ruin of the monarchy and their own. With this senseless conduct they combined an insulting disdain, both of the assembly and the people who attended the sittings. Instead of listening, they laughed and talked aloud, thus confirming the people in the unfavourable opinion which it had conceived of them; and, instead of striving to recover its confidence and esteem, they strove only to gain its hatred and contempt. All these follies arose solely from the mistaken notions of the bishops arid nobles, who could not persuade themselves that the revolution had long been effected in the opinion and in the heart of every Frenchman. By this impolitic obstinacy they forced the revolutionists beyond the goal which they had set up for themselves. The nobles and bishops then exclaimed against tyranny and injustice. They talked of the antiquity and legitimacy of their rights to men who had sapped the foundation of all rights."

Nor were their exertions confined to the assembly out of doors, but throughout the whole of the kingdom they maintained the inveterate opposition. The Breton Club, which, at the time that the king and the assembly had removed to Paris, had taken possession of the great hall of the convent of the Jacobins, in the Rue St. Honore, and there assumed the name of the u Jacobin Club," was in renewed activity, and took every advantage of the schism betwixt the popular deputies and the clergy and noblesse in the assembly. By this division, and their own daring, they soon subjected the assembly to the club, to the Palais Royal, and to the mob. The mob found that having the king in their keeping did not produce any increase of bread, and they continued as turbulent as ever. The discontented nobles and clergy fomented the discontent of the people. The officers of the army, who belonged to the aristocracy, were easily influenced, and violent quarrels took place betwixt them and the soldiers who belonged to the people; and the soldiers frequently gave up the officers to the mob, who murdered them. In the provinces the leaven of priestly and aristocratic influence produced demonstrations in the parliaments against the national assembly. Such was the case at Rouen, Nantes, Rennes, Metz, and other places. They deplored the ruin of the ancient monarchy, the restraint put upon the king, and the violation of the ancient laws. The king appeared to favour this policy. The queen complained that the king was not free, and that the life-guards were sent away from their proper duty, and that that was done by the national guards. La Fayette promised that the life-guards should be restored, and procured an order from the municipality for this purpose; but the king would not have the life-guards back, lest, as he said, they should be murdered; but, undoubtedly, from the true reason, that he wished to appear a captive.

The national assembly having laid their hands on the enormous church property, thought they should easily dispose of it; but this was not the case. Probably, in the unsettled state of everything, capitalists thought there might yet be some reverse turn of the wheel, and that the church might again reclaim its own. At all events, there were few purchasers; but the greater part of those who farmed the church lands were both indisposed to purchase it, or to pay rent for it. Probably, like the capitalists at large, they feared that if they paid the rent to the assembly, the church might ere long be in a position to demand it a second time. Under these circumstances, the municipality of Paris ventured to bid for large quantities of these church lands. They had themselves but small funds, but they issued paper money in payment, to be redeemed when they should sell the lands. Provincial municipalities took the hint, and purchased in like manner, paying by local notes, which government circulated in payment of demands upon it - these demands for the coming year amounting to four hundred millions of livres. The government, also taking this hint, issued national notes, called assignats. They struck off assignats to the required sum for the year 1790, some four hundred millions of livres, and made the church property security for the repayment. Thus the seizure of the church property introduced the famous assignats. The abbé Maury, the determined and eloquent champion of the church, made a violent resistance to this measure, but in vain. The only effect was to make him so obnoxious to the populace, that he was obliged to carry loaded pistols whenever he appeared abroad for self-defence, and, indeed, many of the anti-popular members of the assembly did the same.

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