OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 25

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 <25> 26 27 28 29 30 31

The abbé Maury was chosen to introduce this motion. He said the new organisation of the kingdom was complete; the nation had assumed its sovereignty, and he asked by what right the assembly put themselves in the place of the nation, and prolonged powers that were but temporary. By what right they had invested themselves with sovereign attributes? It was replied that they continued to sit in a legislative capacity, and to complete the constitution; but Maury said that legislative and constitutional power were only the same, unless there was no other government in a country. If they were a sovereign convention, then they had only to depose the king, and declare the throne vacant. A vociferous indignation drowned the voice of the speaker at these words, and Mirabeau arose. "We are asked," he said, " since what time the deputies of the people have become a national convention? I answer, from the day when, finding the entrance to their seats encompassed by soldiers, they went and met in the first place where they could assemble, to save or to perish rather than betray and abandon the rights of the nation. On that day, the nature of our powers, whatever they were, was changed. Be the powers that we have exercised what they may, our efforts, our labours, have legitimated them. The adhesion of the whole nation has sanctified them. All of you recollect the expression of that great man of antiquity, who had neglected the legal forms for saving the country. Called upon by a factious tribune to say if he had observed the laws, he replied, 'I swear that I have saved the country!' Gentlemen," continued Mirabeau, "I swear that you have saved France!"

At this magnificent oath, says Ferneres, the whole assembly, as if under the influence of a sudden inspiration, closed the discussion, and resolved that the electoral body should not proceed to the new election of deputies. The scheme for putting an end to the present assembly was thus frustrated, but it was by a most dangerous and unwarranted assumption. The assembly had voted itself, in fact, independent of the people. Such things can be done only in revolutions, for at any other period they would constitute a revolution. It was thus that the Long Parliament of England acted; and the national assembly could only have done it from the consciousness that they should receive the full sanction of the people at large, which was equally bent on violating all forms and all rights but the right to establish their freedom in defiance of the schemes of the aristocracy.

But there was another power which threatened to transcend even the assembly in the favour of the most revolutionary of the populace, and this was the Jacobin Club, which sate almost constantly in the Rue St. Honore, close to the Grande Salle de Manege, or Riding School, to which the assembly had now transferred itself. This, as we have said, was founded on the Breton club, but it had now embraced determined revolutionists of all parts of France. The Lameths were at the head of it, but numbers of the most outre electors and of the members of the assembly itself were its regular frequenters. Robespierre was a constant attendant, and Mirabeau was as often at the club as at the assembly. The president had his fauteuil, and his hand-bell to ring for order, just like the president of the assembly, and the club had its journal to record all its transactions and its speeches. In fact, it was a self- elected and hotter assembly, acting as a spur to that body, and possessing more of the esteem of the mob, from whom it drew its animus. La Fayette and Bailly, to neutralise its formidable influence, established another club, called the club of the Feuillans, from sitting in the convent of the monks of that order. The members of this club were men whom La Fayette and Bailly deemed the most enlightened - that is, they were men of moderate and constitutional principles. But they sought in vain to win the favour of the multitude, who were accustomed to higher-seasoned politics and speeches. Soon after the establishment of the Feuillans, they celebrated their foundation and the 17th of June together, that being the day on which the states-general declared itself a national assembly. They had a grand dinner in the Palais Royal, and amongst them were Sieyes, Talleyrand, Chapelier, count Mirabeau, the brother of the orator, Bailly, La Fayette, and general Paoli, the Corsican patriot. They sate with open windows, so that the people in the Palais Royal might hear the music and the speeches; and they presented themselves on the balcony, and bowed to the people, and received a deputation of the dames de la halle. But all this would not do; the tone of the populace, which ruled the country, was far ahead of their politics, and the Feuillans died gradually out.

On the other hand, a still more fervid club than even the Jacobins grew and won the popular regard universally. This was the club of the Cordeliers, also taking its name from the convent of the monks of that order, where it sate. At this club Desmoulins frenzied with revolutionary fire Danton, at the commencement of the revolution a briefless barrister, but who had now, by his harangues in the Palais Royale, shown that he possessed a robust eloquence and great talents for agitation. He was of almost gigantic stature and frame, with a countenance nearly as ugly as that of Mirabeau himself, and a voice only exceeded in stentorian power by that of St. Hurugue, which was compared to the bellowing of a bull. He was, in fact, a coarser sort of Mirabeau, but far surpassing Mirabeau in the democratic fury of his temper and doctrines, and destined to become one of the most sanguinary wretches of the revolution, and to fall under the sentence of the only man who surpassed him in bloody prodigality, Robespierre. Besides Danton, there figured at the Cordeliers Pare, who was president, Danton being ex-president, Fabre d'Eglantine, a man who had been an actor, a literary man, a music-master, and other things, and was now, like Camille Desmoulins, a journalist, and destined to become firmly prominent, Dufournoy de Villiers, and others. The Cordehers received deputations of women, and allowed them occasionally to address them as individuals. Desmoulins, in his newspaper, has preserved a speech made them by mademoiselle Theroigne, the courtezan who rode on the cannon to Versailles, in which she recommended the people of Paris to build a magnificent hall for the national assembly, and not allow the king to occupy the finest palace in the universe, and the assembly, on which, she said, the Supreme Being looked down with pleasure, to meet in a riding-school.

To reduce the power of the districts, the national assembly decreed that, instead of sixty districts, Paris should be divided into forty-eight sections, properly dependent on the municipal body, and sitting at the Hotel de Ville; for the sixty separate district assemblies were becoming so many independent republics. Robespierre, Maury, &c., in the assembly, Danton, Desmoulins, and the other ultra-revolutionists in the clubs, violently opposed this change; but the measure was passed.

The attitude of foreign nations, who looked with great suspicion on the progress of the French revolution, and some reports eagerly propagated that the mutinies amongst the sailors in the ports of Toulon and Brest were the work of England - though the English minister denied the charge, and no such attempts on the part of England at this time have ever been discovered - led to the idea of equipping fifteen sail of the line. The management of such matters, as well as the declaration of peace or war, had always, as in England, been left to the crown and the executive; but when the king notified to the assembly his intention to equip these vessels, it led immediately to the discussion of the question whether this power should reside in the king or the assembly. The question was of great importance, and as being almost the only question of prerogative to be discussed, excited great interest, both within the assembly and out of doors. It was vehemently discussed at the Jacobin and the Cordeliers clubs; and, could they have decided, not a vestige of prerogative would have been left to the king. The debate continued in the assembly for six days, and every day the hall was surrounded by tumultuous mobs, so that La Fayette was obliged to keep all the national guards under arms in the neighbourhood of the Tuileries and the Salle de Manege. Robespierre contended that the king was but the servant and delegate of the nation - le commis et le delegue de la nation; that it belonged to the supreme government, which was invested by the people in the national assembly, "to execute the sublime charge of the general will;" and that, if the power of the sword were taken from the king and given to the people, there would be an end of wars for ever.

But there was a second object in this debate scarcely less interesting to the revolutionary party than the main one - that of crushing Mirabeau by it. It was well known, as we shall soon have to show, that Mirabeau was now in the pay of the court, and that he would argue in favour of the royal prerogative. It was hoped that this would destroy his popularity; and the Larneths induced Barnave to argue for the investment of the assembly with this prerogative. All sides were watching for the eventful moment when Mirabeau should declare himself. On the sixth day he rose. He contended that wars were often unforeseen, and that it was necessary to act in a moment; the proper power to do this was the executive. So also in case of treaties; they were frequently necessary to be instituted suddenly, and conducted for a time with secresy. This, too, made it more proper for the action of the executive, than of the deliberative power. But that, in both cases, the assembly should have the right to approve or disapprove, to continue or to stop, the war or the treaty. Barnave, as it was agreed, instantly rose on Mirabeau being seated. He declared that there would be an end of all liberty if Mirabeau's proposition was carried; that though the executive was bound to apprise the assembly of the necessity of declaration of war or of treaty, it belonged to the assembly to undertake either proceeding. Barnave was vehemently applauded, and was carried home on the shoulders of the mob; whilst Mirabeau was denounced as a traitor, who had sold himself to the court; and a pamphlet was issued, entitled "The Great Treason of Count Mirabeau.'7 In this he was declared to have sold himself to the court for four hundred thousand francs a-year. All Paris was in a violent ferment; numbers of furious fellows told the deputies, as they entered the assembly the next day, that they had pistols ready loaded for Mirabeau, if he did not alter his tone.

But Mirabeau, confident of his power over the people, undauntedly mounted the tribune, declaring that he would descend from it dead or victorious. "I, too, have been carried in triumph, and yet to-day they are hawking through the streets 'The Great Treason of the Count de Mirabeau.' I needed not this example to learn that it is but a step from the capitol to the Tarpeian rock. Yet these strokes from below shall not stop me in my career!" He then declared that the whole difference betwixt his proposition and that of Barnave was a mere difference of words; for that he gave to the assembly the right of disapproving a war and requiring peace, and. although Barnave nominally argued for allowing the assembly to declare both, yet, in either case, the assembly was made the deciding power, and Barnave allowed it no more right than he did. He then flung back the charge of being in the pay of the court on his adversaries, as though he himself were most innocent, " Barnave," he said, "has boasted of those who share his opinions. I will boast of mine. They are those sound and moderate men who talked to the French of liberty, when my base calumniators" [meaning the Lameths] "were sucking the milk of courts." He then turned the tables on Barnave. " Explain yourself," he said. " You have, in your opinion, limited the king to the notification of hostilities, and you have given to the assembly alone the right to declare the national will on that point. There I stop you, and recall you to your principles, which share the expression of the national will between the assembly and the king. In attributing it to the assembly alone you have violated the constitution. I call you to order. You answer not? I shall continue."

He continued, amid the loudest applause, to thunder against Barnave, and descended from the tribune triumphant. Barnave was not allowed to reply; but the assembly decided, in the moment of its fervour, on a modified motion by Chapelier, which was, in fact, the same as Mirabeau's. The disposal of the forces was left with the king, who was to notify the commencement of hostilities to the assembly, which then, on deliberation, was to assent or dissent, and the king was to accept its decision. But, though the matter was decided according to the idea of Mirabeau, the ultra- revolutionists out of doors continued to rave in the most murderous terms against him. Such men as Freron, in his paper, L'Orateur du Peuple, and Marat in his L'Ami du Peuple - men destined to a most ferocious notoriety - cried vehemently, " Mirabeau ä la lanterne!" In fact, the people were become only too ready to suspend people from the lanterne. They complained that the chatelet was too slow in condemning people, and that they let people off that ought to be hanged. They therefore took justice into their own hands. They broke into the houses of aristocrats and priests who were adverse to the revolution, and would have hanged them, if they caught them. The abbé Maury was threatened. They attacked printers and booksellers who sold anything that did not agree with their notions. On one occasion they seized three thieves, and hanged them on the spot, saying it was no use sending them to the chatelet. La Fayette had enough to do to keep peace. Bailly issued an order severely condemning this usurpation of justice - or injustice - by the mob; but, at the same time, he appeared to excuse the French themselves, by assuming that vagabond foreigners were the instigators of these bloody actions.

The month of July was approaching, when it would be a year since the people had taken all power into its hands, and had exercised it through the assembly, and was with difficulty restrained from exercising it without assembly, court of judicature, or magistrate. The provinces and towns had set the example of confederating, and it was deemed proper that the 14th of July, the anniversary of the taking of the Bastillo, should be celebrated by a grand fete, and by a grand confederation of the whole nation, by the deputies of all the national guards, and of all the corps of the army in the heart of Paris, in the Champ de Mars. The municipality ordered it, and the whole nation was in a ferment of delight. No sooner was this determined than certain members of the assembly resolved to carry the principles of revolution still further before this happy day arrived. Suddenly, on the 19th of June, M. Lambel, deputy from Villefranche de Rovergue, mounted the tribune, and moved that they abolish all hereditary titles, and prohibit liveries. The motion was seconded by Charles Lameth, a man of noble birth, and La Fayette supported it, declaring, at the same time, that the motion was so consistent with reason and liberty, and so essentially necessary, that he did not believe it required any support, but he announced it with all his heart. Then arose a furious commotion. The nobles denounced the motion as madness, and destructive of the monarchy. The abbé Maury declared that nobility was constitutional; that, should they destroy it, monarchy must speedily follow. He was hooted and hissed, and clamoured down for a moment, but he stood his ground, and he shouted that nobility was older than the monarchy, that it existed amongst the Gauls, in Csesar's time; that,so far from proceeding from feudalism, as they argued, it was two hundred years older than feudalism; but all was in vain. La Fayette snubbed M. Goupil, who proposed that the title of monseigneur should be left to the princes of the blood-royal. "What!" exclaimed La Fayette; "in a free country where there are only citizens and officers." The motion was passed amid a tempest of confusion; the marquis de Noailles exclaiming, "Let us no longer acknowledge any other distinctions than virtue, wisdom, and valour. We do not say marquis Franklin, count Washington, baron Fox, but plain Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Charles James Fox." The decree being passed, that no titles of monseigneur, or count, or baron, or any other such term, should henceforth be borne, nor any man be condemned to wear livery, nor any coat of arms or escutcheon be used, it was sent off in haste to the king, who signed it as a matter of course, for he had made up his mind to sign everything proceeding from the assembly, knowing that it was useless to refuse, and that, if he refused to consent to the abolition of titles, there would soon be no title, nor office, even of king. Thiers says that La Fayette was favourable to any one being allowed to use the title if he liked, and that he sent in haste to the king to request him to delay signing the decree till this permission was annexed to it, but that Louis signed it without a moment's pause.

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 <25> 26 27 28 29 30 31

Pictures for The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 25

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About