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


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But, unfortunately for tolerance, the priests and their adherents showed none. Whilst these debates were proceeding, news every day arrived from La Vendee, Maine-et-Loire, and other departments, of thousands of men and women in arms, breaking open churches with axes, chasing away the sworn priests, or massacreing them before the altars. The mob, pretending to go on pilgrimages, went about committing these excesses; they were besieging and threatening to burn down towns, where the constitutional priests were supported by the public, and there was every symptom of a coming civil war. a See! " exclaimed Isnard, the Girondist, rising for the first time in the assembly - "see whither your tolerance is conducting you! Toleration is always the source of great crimes, and is now the sole cause of the disorganised condition of society. Can we tolerate those who will neither tolerate the constitution nor the laws? Will it be when French blood has stained the waves of the sea that you will become sensible of the dangers of indulgence? It is time that everything should be submitted to the will of the nation; that tiaras, diadems, and censers, should yield to the sceptre of the laws. The facts you have just heard are but the prelude of what is about to occur in the rest of the kingdom. These troubles have sprung out of the defects of the constitution. The system was born there!" pointing to the right; "it is sanctioned at the court of Rome. The priests are privileged brawlers, who ought to be punished more severely than private individuals. Religion is an all-powerful weapon. ' The priest,' says Montesquieu, 'takes the man from the cradle, and accompanies him to the tomb!' Is it then astonishing that he should have so much control over the minds of the people? We must make laws to prevent priests, under pretence of religion, troubling the public peace; and I maintain that the only efficacious law is banishment from the realm."

Isnard, in a long and glowing speech, affirmed that all history - that Holland, England, America - were examples of the sufferings which nations have endured in being too tolerant of rebels; that had Louis XVI. been rigorous in his measures of repression, that assembly would not be sitting there. But the vice of a despot was the virtue of a nation. Elated by his harangue, and by the agitation, the murmurs and acclamations that attended it, he exclaimed, " The law is my God - I have no other; the public good, that is my worship!" He would have every priest who refused to obey the constitution expelled the country; if his deeds demanded more than that, that he should suffer death. Numbers demanded the printing of the speech. The Girondist party went wholly along with it. Lecos, a constitutional bishop, declared that to print that speech was to authorise atheism. He was clamoured down. The debate continued fiercely. It was proposed that all refractory priests should be arrested and tried by the high national court for treason, and punished accordingly. Gensonne read fresh accounts of the outrages in La Vendee, and Goupilleau stated that the inhabitants of the forest of Gene, incited by the priests, had attacked, defeated, and disarmed both the national guards and the troops of the line.

Under these excitements, the assembly, on the 29th of November, decreed that every priest, who had not yet taken the civil oath, should do so in the course of a week, or should, in future, receive no allowance from the treasury; that such non-jurors should be held guilty as suspected of rebellion, and be put under surveillance; that they should be removed from their usual place of abode, and those refusing to go should be imprisoned for two years; that the national churches should not be employed for any other service than that sanctioned by the state; no non-juring priest should officiate in them; but that citizens might hire other chapels or buildings for their worship, provided they did not admit the non-juring priests, suspected of revolt, as ministers. Able writers were invited to produce treatises, in simple language, against fanaticism, which the assembly undertook to print and circulate amongst the peasantry, and, under this stimulus, not only the priests of La Vendee, Maine-et-Loire, &c., but all priests and all religions were satirised; and cheap reprints of the most atheistical works of Voltaire, Diderot, &c., were made. These things, however, had no effect, except additionally to irritate the proscribed priests and their flocks, and extend the revolt of La Vendee. The Girondists were delighted with the opportunity of forcing this decree on the king, whose conscience revolted at it. If he accepted it, he became a schismatic; if he refused, a traitor to the nation. Poor Louis was compelled to accept it, and the Gironde then advanced to their next point of assault upon him - the subject of emigration.

The emigrants had continued to flock to Coblentz, and their number, with their families, now amounted to nearly one hundred thousand of the most wealthy and influential class in France. They continued to make preparations for war, and it is no wonder that the people of France beheld their menacing attitude with uneasiness. Though the king wrote publicly letters to the emigrants, desiring them to return to their country, and employ themselves, as good citizens, under the constitution, there was a prevailing feeling that he privately gave them different advice. That the king did maintain a secret correspondence with some of the insurgents is certain; but it is neither proved, nor does it appear probable, that he sanctioned their intentions of making war on the country. Louis was always averse to the idea of bloodshed, and all his interests pointed towards having the influential royalists in the country, where they might join their efforts with the constitutionalists for the support of his person and throne. But their obstinate absence drove the assembly now to such severe measures against them as compelled Louis to exercise his veto in their favour, and he thus destroyed his popularity with the public, and caused himself to be considered as really in league with the emigrants. Nevertheless, it was the advice of all the king's ministers, as well as it appears to have been his own feeling, that they should return, for they might have added immensely to the influence in favour of the throne. Louis, therefore, again exhorted the emigrants to return; but they continued inflexible. He next wrote to the officers of the army and navy, deploring the information that he had received, that they were quitting the service, and that he could not consider those his friends who did not, like himself, remain at their posts; but this was equally ineffectual, and the minister at war reported to the assembly that one thousand nine hundred officers had deserted. The assembly was greatly incensed; the Girondists deemed it a good opportunity to force the king to deal a blow at the nobility and at his own brothers. On the 20th of October Brissot ascended the tribune, and demanded measures of severity against the emigrants. He declared that it was the mistaken indifference of the late assembly which had left the present menacing body of emigrants on the frontiers. Had there existed a thoroughly plebeian legislature, they would long ago have been dispersed. "Punish the chiefs," he exclaimed, "and emigrations and revolts will cease." He pointed to the attitude of the chief monarchs of the continent, to the late meeting at Pilnitz, and declared that- the emigrants, in league with these enemies of France, were worse robbers and assassins than Cartouche, who had died on the wheel. He then divided the emigrants into three classes - the king's brothers and the prince of Conde; the public functionaries who had abandoned their posts; and the simple citizens, who had followed their example from fear or imitation. Against the first and second class he demanded the severest punishment; the third he would leave to time, which would at length send them home again. He observed that ministers would talk to them of considerations of state, family reasons; they must pay no attention to such arguments. They must address themselves to foreign powers, and compel them to discountenance the emigrants, or to declare themselves. He then considered what causes they had for dreading a conflict with these foreign nations, and concluded that they had none. " Unquestionably," he said, " you have declared to Europe that you will not attempt any more conquests; but you have a right to say to it ' Choose between certain rebels and a nation!'"

This speech placed Brissot at the head of the conspirators of the assembly. Condorcet mounted the tribune, and followed in the same track as Brissot. Dumas, and some other moderate deputies, contended that the doctrine of Brissot was ferocious, and calculated to inflame the passions of the people; that it was not necessary to do more than to order all emigrants to return within three months, on pain of forfeiting their civil rights and citizenship. The assembly ordered Brissot's speech to be printed and sent to the departments.

On the 25th of October Vergniaud, the orator of the Girondists, ascended the tribune. Vergniaud professed to despise all the efforts of the combined emigrants and foreign powers against France, into which, he said, philosophy had infused the breath of liberty till there were no Pyrenees; that the tyrants trembled lest, on the day of battle, the two armies ready to combat should be converted into a band of brethren united against the despots. Vergniaud might therefore have well recommended them to leave the emigrants in deserved contempt. But, no! he was as fierce as Brissot himself against them. He demanded that they should forestall their enemies, and crush this swarm of insects ready to drink the nation's blood; that they should confiscate all their property; and as for the officers who had deserted, let them suffer the death and infamy prescribed by the penal code. Men, he said, talked of the profound grief this would occasion the king, on account of his brothers; but Brutus had immolated his guilty offspring at the shrine of his country, and the heart of Louis would not be put to so severe a trial.

M. Pastoret recommended moderate and gradual measures against the emigrants; but Isnard, another Girondist, defended the proceedings of the assembly, which had ordered the printing and distribution of the speeches of Condorcet and Vergniaud as well as of that of Brissot. He fully supported their views. At the close of the debate a decree was passed requiring the king's brothers to return to France within three months, on pain of forfeiting all their rights as citizens, and their claims as princes on the succession to the crown. On the 2nd of November a letter was read from a patriot who had acted the spy at Coblentz and other places, and was himself in the gallery of the house to support, if necessary, his statements. He affirmed that thirteen thousand emigrants were ready to invade France; that the priests had assumed arms; that an active correspondence was carried on betwixt these emigrants and the king's regiments near the frontiers; he charged Delauney, a relation of the late governor of the Bastille, and commandant of the volunteer guard at Longwy, of being in league with the emigrants, and not only he, but the king's war minister, Duportail, a friend of La Fayette. All this information, so well calculated to excite the passions of the assembly, and aid the object of the jacobins and Girondists, was received as gospel, and the man called to the bar of the house and publicly thanked. On the 9th of November a second decree was passed, declaring that a'rl Frenchmen assembled on the frontiers were suspected of conspiracy against this country; that all such as should continue there till the 1st of January should be treated as traitors; princes and public functionaries were pronounced amenable to the same punishments; that the incomes of all such emigrants, from lands, moneys, or offices, should from the present moment be sequestrated; that a court should be appointed in January to try them; and that any Frenchman, after this, crossing the frontiers, or found guilty of endeavouring to seduce the people from their allegiance, should be put to death.

These two decrees were a terrible shock to the king and the court. The constitution gave to Louis the veto, but to exercise the veto in defence of the emigrants was to bring down destruction on himself. The Girondists rejoiced in this dilemma; they awaited with impatience the king's decision, which must force him to fly, or place him in their hands. The constitutional members of the late assembly, Desmeuniers, Baumetz, Talleyrand, Larochefoucauld, drew up an address to the king, urging him to refuse his sanction to the decree against the non-juring priests, and a petition was presented from the directory of Paris urging the same resistance to the decrees against the emigrants. Louis was in a cruel strait. On the 12th of November the minister of justice announced to the assembly that his majesty sanctioned the decree against his brothers, but required time to consider the one against the emigrants at large. The minister was proceeding to give the king's reasons for this demur, but he was stopped, and informed that he could deliver the king's message, but that the constitution did not allow a minister to speak in his own person in the assembly. The minister then proposed to read to the assembly two letters which the king had addressed to his brothers, and a proclamation addressed to the emigrants generally; but he was informed that this was equally inadmissible, and he was compelled to withdraw. In the letters the king, with an air of great sincerity, declared that the constitution was finished, that he had sworn to it, and was determined to maintain it; that they could not do him a greater injury than by continuing abroad and keeping all France in agitation. He concluded by saying, "Your proper place is by my side; your interests, your sentiments alike urge you to come and resume it; I invite you, and, if I may, I order you to do so." The proclamation was in a similar tone and terms. These measures, however, had no effect. The princes replied that they considered the king as acting under compulsion, and declined to return, and the assembly was incensed at the king substituting these inoperative addresses for their vigorous decree; still worse was it for the king's popularity that he followed the advice of the constitutional members of the late assembly, and exercised his veto upon the decree against the priests of La Vendee. When this was announced to the assembly on the 19th of December, a violent effervescence took place. Delcher, a jacobin lawyer, called on the assembly to carry their decrees into execution in spite of royal vetoes. He told them that they were the representatives of the French people, and to them that people had intrusted the sovereignty. This was to set the king aside at once, and great commotion arose amongst the more moderate members. Delcher demanded that they should appeal to the nation to support the assembly; but several voices cried out, " This is preaching sedition!" and the assembly, amid much tumult, passed to the order of the day.

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

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