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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 3


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Clugny assumed the arduous post of Turgot, as comptroller of the finances, but held it only for six months. Then came the celebrated Necker. James Necker had made a large fortune as a banker, first in the house of Thellusson, and then in one in which himself and his brother had been the chief partners. After his retirement from trade, he continued to reside in Paris, and employed himself in writing on matters of political economy. His work, " Sur la Legislation et le Commerce de Grain," procured him a great reputation, which was increased by another treatise on the affairs of the French East India Company. Necker's reputation was not a little advanced by the dinners and entertainments which he gave to the most distinguished men in Paris, including the new school of literati and philosophers, and in which his charming and intellectual wife, who was, like himself, a native of Switzerland, made his company very attractive. Madame Necker, who had been the object of the attachment of Gibbon, the historian, when living at Lausanue, was herself an authoress, having written " Reflections on Divorce," and other things; and, by the additional attractions of their more celebrated daughter, Madame de Stšel, the Neckers were raised to a wonderful reputation for ability of one kind or another. Ambitious of the fame of a great financier, M. Necker seized the opportunity, after the retirement of Turgot and the failure of Clugny, to present to the bewildered Maurepas a scheme for rescuing the finances from their gigantic difficulties. Maurepas caught at the proposal as a drowning man clutches at a straw. There were, however, formidable obstacles to the acceptance of Necker as a financial saviour, in the then bigoted notions of the French monarch and his courtiers. Necker was neither a Frenchman nor a catholic. But the need of some rescue was imminent: Necker demanded no salary or emoluments of office; he demanded the opportunity of saving France from ruin and disgrace. He was reluctantly permitted to undertake this herculean labour, but without being admitted to a seat in the council. At first, he was not even honoured with the title of comptroller, but merely of director of the treasury, under Taboureau de Reaux, the comptroller - general, and afterwards was favoured with the title of director-general.

The scheme of Necker, however, seems to have consisted in little more than in endeavouring to introduce a more accurate system of bookkeeping, and in avoiding impossible draughts on the purses of the tiers etat, by resorting to loans. Loan after loan was contracted, and the evil day thus, for a time, was put off; but in 1781 Necker published his famous Comptes Rendus, or statement of the finances of the kingdom. This, which he expected to give him great credit, certainly procured him much applause from the new school of reformers, but it was because, for the first time, it threw the blaze of daylight on the almost unfathomable gulph of debt, and corruption, and extravagance, which had hitherto been shrouded in impenetrable darkness. But the same cause brought down upon him the cries and maledictions of the whole race of placemen, pensioners, contractors, and sinecurists, who were fattening on the unfortunate nation till this moment in secrecy. It was felt by the revolutionists that this was a step in advance towards their object; the whole fearful condition of the national finances was before the public, and there could be no further mystification. To enable him to cope with his aristocratic assailants, Necker demanded a seat at the council board; but this was refused, on account of his not being a catholic. He threatened to resign, and his resignation was not only accepted, but he was ordered to retire to his country seat. He thereupon returned to Switzerland, purchased the barony of Copet, and published his work, the " Administration des Finances de la France," in three volumes octavo, and eighty thousand copies of it were sold in a few days. This raised his reputation still higher, and drew strong censures on the court, which had sacrificed the services of such a man to etiquette and church prejudice. Poor old Maurepas soon afterwards died, and was succeeded by the count de Vergennes.

Vergennes was an able diplomatist, and all his skill and experience were demanded to carry on the war in America on an empty exchequer. For a time, the attention of the country was agreeably diverted from domestic difficulties to the pleasing prospect of completing the downfall of England, which Lafayette, who was campaigning in the United States, assured the minister would be the certain result of the severance of those States. The desired object was achieved so far as America was concerned, but by the ruin of France rather than of England. The guns which had been fired had fulfilled Turgot's prophecy, and the revolution was by many degrees nearer to the door. France had accumulated an enormous amount of fresh debts, and the whole monarchy lay in a condition of irredeemable prostration; and, as if the court despaired itself of any ultimate escape from utter bankruptcy, the choice was made of a minister, who professed an ability to carry on the diseased government without any retrenchments at all, but solely on the strength of loans, so long as these could be procured. This minister, who succeeded Necker in 1783, was the gay and brilliant Charles Alexander de Calonne. It is difficult to imagine that Calonne was fully aware of the desperate condition of the finances, or of the plainest principles of human nature. He went gaily through the routine of his office, as though he had coffers crammed - with wealth. He professed that there was no need of the extreme economy insisted upon by Turgot and Necker. He encouraged rather than restrained the expensive gaieties of the court, and was always ready to listen to the solicitations of the princes, peers, and ladies about the court, for money and favours. This career, under the circumstances, could not be long, and when he was completely brought to a stand by his necessities, he proposed the summoning an Assembly of Notables. With the same shallow ignorance of men as of business, he thought that these notables, on most of whom he had conferred favours whilst he could, would be ready to listen to the absolute need of taxing themselves, as it was impossible to tax the people any further. The notables consisted of one hundred and fourteen persons, of whom seven were princes of the blood, and the rest nobles, ministers of the crown, high dignitaries of the church, great officers of the law and the army, deputies of the Pays d'Etats, and magistrates from various towns. From such persons, accustomed to tax and screw the people on all occasions to the utmost, and to pay nothing themselves, Calonne fondly imagined that he could draw the necessary revenue for carrying on the government. He was speedily undeceived. He laid before them, with great confidence, his plan for a subvention territoriale, ox land-tax, from which no class was to be exempt. The notables, who had lauded Calonne to the skies, in their individual persons, so long as he did not trouble them, but, on the contrary, was ever ready to oblige them, received his proposals with indignant astonishment, and refused to contribute a penny to the public needs. He explained to them the impossibility of resorting further to the people, and the tremendous deficiencies in the treasury, but to no purpose; the princes, nobles, and great dignitaries, declared that they were exempt by their ancient charters and grants from the crown, and that it was impossible for them to violate their own sacred immunities. They were now as ready to denounce Calonne as they had been to praise him before. They declared that they were his own thoughtlessness and extravagance which had plunged him into difficulties, and did not hesitate to accuse him of peculation. It was clear enough that nothing but the irresistible tempest of a revolution would ever force from these selfish classes their fair quota of public tax, and, spite of the zealous support of the queen, Calonne was driven from office, poorer than when he entered it.

The next person to attempt the impossible in the vain endeavour to keep the vessel of the old French monarchy afloat with all its leaks and rottenness, was the archbishop of Toulouse, Lomenie de Brienne. He had vigorously opposed Calonne; but there was no way of raising the necessary revenue, but to adopt some of the very proposals of Calonne, and tax the privileged classes, or to endeavour to draw something still from the exhausted people. As the least difficult experiment of the two, he was compelled to cast his eyes towards the property of the nobles and the church; but he found the nobles and the clergy as ready to sacrifice him as they had been to sacrifice Calonne. When one or two of the more pliant or more enlightened members of those classes ventured to remark on the vast amount of untaxed property, and particularly of tithes, there was an actual tempest of fury raised. Tithes were declared to be the voluntary offerings of the piety of the faithful, and therefore not to be touched. At which the duke de Rochefoucauld exclaimed, " The voluntary offerings of the faithful, about which forty thousand law-suits are now pending!" As further loans were out of the question, some one ventured to assert that the only means of solving the difficulty was to assemble the states-general. " You would convoke the states-general?" said the minister, in consternation. " Yes," replied Lafayette, who was bent on revolutionising France, as he had helped to revolutionise America - " yes, and something more than that!" These words were taken down as most exceptionable and dangerous. All that the assembly of notables could be brought to do was to confirm the abolition of the corvee, and to pass a stamp act. They would not move a step further, and they were dismissed by the king on the 25th of May, 1787.

The dismissal of the notables, or not-ables, as Lafayette called them, by no means improved the situation of Brienne, who now was advanced to the richer archbishopric of Sens. He now entertained the idea of continuing the old plan of taxing the tiers stat; but the parliament of Paris not only refused to sanction such taxation, but also refused to register the stamp act passed by the notables. They presented in July an address to the king, demanding a statement of the real condition of the finances, and this the king declined to furnish. Whereupon the parliament, at the instigation of Rochefoucauld and d'Espremenil, who were not prescient enough to see that they were calling for the utter extinction of their own order, and with it of the monarchy itself, issued a strong remonstrance, declaring that neither king, nor parliament, nor any other body, except the states-general, which comprised the three estates of the kingdom, had the power of making laws, and they /demanded that this body should be summoned, as it had been in former times. This demand carried consternation throughout the court, and still further excited the expectations of the people. The king refused to call the states together; and, to compel the registry of the stamp act, he decided to summon a bed of justice for that purpose.

The bed of justice was held at Versailles on the 6th of August, 1787, and the parliament of Paris was, as a matter of course, obliged to attend it; but it took care, before going, to enter a protest against any measure which might be passed there contrary to the laws of the kingdom; and no sooner did the parliament return to the Palais de Justice at Paris than they issued a protest, declaring that they had not given their consent to the registration, and that therefore the edict was null and void; and that every person endeavouring to carry the stamp-tax into effect should be judged a traitor. The excitement of the public was intense, and this was kept up by the press, which poured forth all sorts of attacks and libels on the king, queen, and government. The parliament, on the other hand, was extolled to the skies as the only defenders of the people. Jefferson, Governeur Morris, and many other Americans, were still in Paris. Jefferson, being the minister of the United States there, must have been strongly reminded of the days of the stamp act in his own country. It was clear that the revolution was beginning. Jefferson wrote home: - "All the tongues of Paris - and it is said in France - have been let loose; and never was a licence of speaking against the government exercised in London more freely or more universally. Caricatures, placards, bon-mots, have been indulged in by all ranks of people, and I know of no well- attested instance of a single punishment. For some time mobs of ten, twenty, and thirty thousand people have collected daily, surrounded the parliament house, huzzaed the members, even entered the doors and examined into their conduct" (a liberty that they afterwards were in the habit of taking with the National Assembly and the Convention), "have taken the horses out of the carriages of those who did well, and drawn them home." He adds, " The queen, going to the theatre at Versailles with madame de Polignac, was received with a general hiss. The king, long in the habit of drowning his cares in wine, plunges deeper and deeper," &c.

The count d'Artois, the younger brother of the king, told the members of the parliament, that, were he king, he would soon make them obedient, and was mobbed and insulted in the streets in consequence. It was now determined to employ force to compel the people to quietness, and the parliament to submission. Twelve thousand troops were assembled in Paris, and, whilst these paraded the streets, an officer of the guards, with a posse of soldiers, waited, very early in the morning, on each member of the parliament at his house, and ordered him to enter his carriage, and proceed to Troyes. This was easily effected; but no sooner was the fact known, than there was the wildest commotion, which the soldiers, however, managed to put down. But the excitement was spread by the active exertions and representations of numbers of the active patriots. Amongst these, Lafayette was particularly conspicuous. He appeared in the highest delight at the visible elements of a new revolution in action. He wrote to his quondam friends in America that notions of liberty had come with them from the United States, and had been spreading ever since; that the combustible materials had been kindled by the notables and the parlements, and that liberty was cantering and prancing from one end of the kingdom to the other.

And this was true. The new minister, De Brienne, was completely paralysed. All that he could do was to cause the troops to keep the streets quiet, and to order the suppression of the political clubs. But the discussions on the unpopular measure of carrying off the parliament, went on just as vehemently in other places - in all places - and the same excitement was almost universal in the provinces. Open insurrections broke out in Dauphiny, Brittany, Provence, Languedoc, and French Flanders. The provincial states demanded <, the recall of the parliament of Paris, and the summoning of the states-general. All ranks now seemed to regard this as necessary. Archbishop Brienne, the minister, called together a body of the clergy at Versailles, in order to endeavour to procure an advance of money from them, but they not only refused, but drew up a memorial to the king, desiring him to refrain from beds of justice, and to assemble the states-general, as the only body capable of coping with the terrible evils which overwhelmed the nation. The Paris chamber of accounts, the court of aid - the two bodies next in rank to the parliament - and various other public bodies, sent in similar addresses. At the same time, the press teemed with papers, in which the woful condition of the kingdom was depicted in the most vivid colours, and the necessity of a thorough and searching reform was insisted on.

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