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( April, 1805.) Mémoires d'un Temoin de la Révolution; ou Journal des faits qui se sont passé sous ses yeux, et
qui ont preparé et fixé la Constitution Française. Ouvrage Posthume de Jean Sylvain BAILLY, Premier Président de l'Assemblée Nationale Constituant, Premier Maire de Paris, et Membre des Trois Académies. 8vo. 3 tomes. Paris : 1804.*
Among the many evils which the French characters of those who were connected with Revolution has inflicted on mankind, the most those memorable occurrences. The tide of deplorable, perhaps, both in point of extent popular favour, which ran at one time with a and of probable duration, consists in the in- dangerous and' headlong violence to the side jury which it has done to the cause of rational of innovation and political experiment, has freedom, and the discredit in which it has in- now set, perhaps too strongly, in an opposite volved the principles of political philosophy. direction; and the same misguiding passions The warnings which may be derived from that placed factious and selfish men on a the misfortunes of that country, and the les- level with patriots and heroes, has now sons which may still be read in the tragical ranked the blameless and the enlightened in consequences of her temerity, are memorable, the herd of murderers and madmen. no doubt, and important: But they are such There are two classes of men, in particular, as are presented to us by the history of every to whom it appears to us that the Revolution period of the world; and the emotions by has thus done injustice; and who have been which they have been impressed, are in this made to share in some measure the infamy case too violent to let their import and appli- of its most detestable agents, in consequence cation be properly distinguished. From the of venial errors, and in spite of extraordinary miscarriage of a scheme of frantic innovation, merits. There are none indeed who made a we have conceived an unreasonable and un- figure in its more advanced stages, that may discriminating dread of all alteration or re- not be left, without any great breach of charity, form. The bad success of an attempt to make to the vengeance of public opinion: and both government perfect, has reconciled us to im- the descriptions of persons to whom we have perfections that might easily be removed ; and alluded only existed, accordingly, at the period the miserable consequences of treating every of its commencement. These were the phithing as prejudice and injustice, which could losophers or speculative men who inculcated not be reconciled to a system of fantastic a love of liberty and a desire of reform by equality, has given strength to prejudices, their writings and conversation ; and the virand sanction to abuses, which were gradually tuous and moderate, who attempted to act wearing away before the progress of reason upon these principles at the outset of the and philosophy. The French Revolution, in Revolution, and countenanced or suggested short, has thrown us back half a century in those measures by which the ancient frame the course of political improvement; and of the government was eventually dissolved. driven many among us to cling once more, To confound either of these classes of men with superstitious terror, to those idols from with the monsters by whom they were sucwhich we had been nearly reclaimed by the ceeded, it would be necessary to forget that lessons of a milder philosophy. When we they were in reality their most strenuous oplook round on the wreck and ruin which the ponents—and their earliest victims! If they whirlwind has scattered over the prospect were instrumental in conjuring up the tembefore us, we tremble at the rising gale, and pest, we may at least presume that their coshrink even from the wholesome air that stirs operation was granted in ignorance, since the fig-leaf on our porch. Terrified and dis- they were the first to fall before it; and can gusted with the brawls and midnight murders scarcely be supposed to have either foreseen which proceed from intoxication, we are al- or intended those consequences in which most inclined to deny ourselves the pleasures their own ruin was so inevitably involved. of a generous hospitality; and scarcely venture That they are chargeable with imprudence to diffuse the comforts of light or of warmth and with presumption, may be affirmed, perin our dwellings, when we turn our eyes on haps, without fear of contradiction ; though, the devastation which the flames have com- with regard to many of them, it would be no mitted around us.
easy task, perhaps, to point out by what conThe same circumstances which have thus duct they could have avoided such an impuled us to confound what is salutary with tation; and this charge, it is manifest, ought what is pernicious in our establishments, at any rate to be kept carefully separate from have also perverted our judgments as to the that of guilt or atrocity. Benevolent inten
tions, though alloyed by vanity, and mis* I have been tempted to let this be reprinted guided by ignorance, can never become the (though sensible enough of vices in the style) to objects of the highest moral reprobation ; and character of the French Revolution, and its first enthusiasm itself, though it does the work of effects on other countries, were adopted—which the demons, ought still to be distinguished from have not since received much modification. treachery or malice. The knightly adven
turer, who broke the chains of the galley- tion to the schemes of the court, the clergy slaves, purely that they might enjoy their de- and the nobility, appears to us to have been liverance from bondage, will always be re- as impolitic with a view to their ultimate garded with other feelings than the robber success, as it was suspicious perhaps as to who freed them to recruit the ranks of his their immediate motives. The parade which banditti.
they made of their popularity; the support We have examined in a former article the which they submitted to receive from the extent of the participation which can be fairly menaces and acclamations of the mob; the imputed to the philosophers, in the crimes and joy which they testified at the desertion of miseries of the Revolution, and endeavoured the royal armies; and the anomalous milito ascertain in how far they may be said to tary force, of which they patronized the forhave made themselves responsible for its mation in the city of Paris, were so many consequences, or to have deserved censure for preparations for actual hostility, and led altheir exertions: And, acquitting the greater most inevitably to that appeal to force, by part of any mischievous intention, we found which all prospect of establishing an equitareason, upon that occasion, to conclude, that ble government was finally cut off. Santhere was nothing in the conduct of the ma- guine as the patriots of that assembly unjority which should expose them to blame, or doubtedly, were, they might still have redeprive them of the credit which they would membered the most obvious and important have certainly enjoyed, but for consequences lesson in the whole volume of history, That which they could not foresee. For those who, the nation which has recourse to arms for with intentions equally blameless, attempted the settlement of its internal affairs, necesto carry into execution the projects which had sarily falls under the iron yoke of a military been suggested by the others, and actually government in the end ; and that nothing engaged in measures which could not fail to but the most evident necessity can justify terminate in important changes, it will not be the lovers of freedom in forcing it from the easy, we are afraid, to make so satisfactory hands of their governors. In France, there an apology. What is written may be cor- certainly was no such necessity. The whole rected; but what is done cannot be recalled; weight and strength of the nation was bent a rash and injudicious publication naturally upon political improvement and reform.calls forth an host of answers; and where the There was no possibility of their being ultisubject of discussion is such as excites a very mately resisted; and the only danger that powerful interest, the cause of truth is not was to be apprehended was, ihat their proalways least effectually served by her oppo- gress would be too rapid. After the Statesnents. But the errors of cabinets and of legis- General were once fairly granted, indeed, it latures have other consequences and other appears to us that the victory of the friends confutations. They are answered by insur- to liberty was certain. They could not have rections, and confuted by conspiracies. A gone too slow afterwards; they could not paradox which might have been maintained have been satisfied with too little. The by an author, without any other loss than that great object, then, should have been to exof a little leisure, and ink and paper, can clude the agency of force, and to leave no only be supported by a minister at the ex- pretext for an appeal to violence. Nothing pense of the lives and the liberties of a na- could have stood against the force of reason, tion. It is evident, therefore, that the pre- which ought to have given way; and from cipitation of a legislator can never admit of a monarch of the character of Louis XIV. the same excuse with that of a speculative there was no reason to apprehend any atinquirer; that the same confidence in his tempt to regain, by violence, what he had opinions, which justifies the former in main- yielded from principles of philanthropy and taining them to the world, will never justify conviction. The Third Estate would have the other in suspending the happiness of his grown into power, instead of usurping it; country on the issue of their truth ; and that and would have gradually compressed the he, in particular, subjects himself to a tre other orders into their proper dimensions, mendous responsibility, who voluntarily takes instead of displacing them by a violence upon himself the new-modelling of an ancient that could never be forgiven. Even if the constitution.
Orders had deliberated separately, (as it apWe are very much inclined to do justice pears to us they ought clearly to have done,) to the virtuous and enlightened men who the commons were sure of an ultimate preabounded in the Constituent Assembly of ponderance, and the government of a perFrance. We believe that the motives of manent and incalculable amelioration. Ĉonmany of them were pure, and their patriot- vened in a legislative assembly, and engrossism unaffected: their talents are still more ing almost entirely the respect and affections indisputable: But we cannot acquit them of of the nation, they would have enjoyed the blameable presumption and inexcusable im- unlimited liberty of political discussion, and prudence. There are three points, it appears gradually impressed on the government the to us, in particular, in which they were bound character of their peculiar principles. By to have foreseen the consequences of their the restoration of the legislative function to proceedings.
the commons of the kingdom, the system In the first place, the spirit of exasperation, was rendered complete, and required only to defiance, and intimidation, with which from be put into action in order to assume all those the beginning they carried on their opposi- improvements which necessarily resulted from
the increased wealth and intelligence of its | and to expose even those which were salutary representatives.
to misapprehension and miscarriage. From of this fair chance of amelioration, the a scheme of reformation so impetuous, and nation was disappointed, chiefly, we are in an impatience so puerile, nothing permanent clined to think, by the needless asperity and or judicious could be reasonably expected. injudicious menaces of the popular party. In legislating for their country, they seem to They relied openly upon the strength of their have forgotten that they were operating on a adherents among the populace. If they did living and sentient substance, and not on an not actually encourage them to threats and to inert and passive mass, which they might acts of violence, they availed themselves at model and compound according to their pleasleast of those which were committed, to in- ure or their fancy. Human society, however, timidate and depress their opponents; for it is not like a piece of mechanism which may is indisputably certain, that the unconditional be safely taken to pieces, and put together by compliance of the court with all the demands the hands of an ordinary artist. It is the of the Constituent Assembly, was the result work of Nature, and not of man; and has either of actual force, or the dread of its im- received, from the hands of its Author, an mediate application. This was the inaus- organization that cannot be destroyed withpicious commencement of the sins and the out danger to its existence, and certain propsufferings of the Revolution. Their progress erties and powers that cannot be altered or and termination were natural and necessary. suspended by those who may have been enThe multitude, once allowed to overawe the trusted with its management. By studying old government with threats, soon subjected those properties, and directing those powers, the new government to the same degradation; it may be modified and altered to a very conand, once permitted to act in arms, came siderable extent. But they must be allowed speedily to dictate to those who were assem- to develope themselves by their internal enbled to deliberate. As soon as an appeal was ergy, and to familiarize themselves with their made to force, the decision came to be with new channel of exertion. A child cannot be those by whom force could at all times be stretched out by engines to the stature of a commanded. Reason and philosophy were man ; or a man compelled, in a morning, to discarded ; and mere terror and brute vio- excel in all the exercises of an athlete. Those lence, in the various forms of proscriptions, into whose hands the destinies of a great insurrections, massacres, and military execu: nation are committed, should bestow on its tions, harassed and distracted the misguided reformation at least as much patient observe nation, till, by a natural consummation, they ance and as much tender precaution as are fell under the despotic sceptre of a military displayed by a skilful gardener in his treatusurper. These consequences, we conceive, ment of a sickly plant. He props up the were obvious, and might have been easily for- branches that are weak or overloaded, and
Nearly half a century had elapsed gradually prunes and reduces those that are since they were pointed out in those memo- too luxuriant: he cuts away what is absolutely rable words of the most profound and philo- rotten and distempered: he stirs the earth sophical of historians. "By recent, as well about the root, and sprinkles it with water. as by ancient example, it was become evi- and waits for the coming spring! He trains dent, that illegal violence, with whatever the young branches to the right hand or to the preténces it may be covered, and whatever left; and leads it, by a gradual and sponta. object it may pursue, must inevitably end at neous progress, to expand or exalı itself, sealast in the arbitrary and despotic government son after season, in the direction which he of a single person.'
had previously determined: and thus, in the The second inexcusable blunder, of which course of a few summers, he brings it, with. the Constituent Assembly, was guilty, was out injury or compulsion, into that form and one equally obvious, and has been more fre- proportion which could not with safety have quently noticed. It was the extreme rest- been imposed upon it in a shorter time. The lessness and precipitation with which they reformers of France applied no such gentle proceeded to accomplish, in a few weeks, the solicitations, and would not wait for the effects legislative labours of a century. Their con- of any such preparatory measures, or volunstitution was struck out at a heat; and their tary developments. They forcibly broke its measures of reform proposed and adopted like lofty boughs asunder, and endeavoured to toasts at an election dinner. Within less straighten its crooked joints by violence : they than six months from the period of their first tortured it into symmetry in vain, and shed convocation, they declared the illegality of all its life-blood on the earth, in the middle of its the subsisting taxes; they abolished the old scattered branches. constitution of the States-General; they set- The third great danger, against which we iled the limits of the Royal prerogative, their think it was the duty of the intelligent and own inviolability, and ihe responsibility of virtuous part of the Deputies to have provided, ministers. Before they put any one of their was that which arose from the sudden transprojects to the test of experiment, they had ference of power to the hands of men who adopted such an enormous multitude, as en- had previously no natural or individual influ. tirely to innovate the condition of the country, ence in the community. This was an evil
indeed, which arose necessarily, in some deHume's History, chapter 1x. at the end. The whole passage is deserving of the most profound and from the novelty of the situation in which
from the defects of the old government,
the country was placed by the convocation | Parliament, after it was purged by the Indeof the States-General; but it was materially pendents, and the assemblies that met under aggravated by the presumption and improvi- that name, during the Protectorate of Cromdence of those enthusiastic legislators, and well, held the place, and enjoyed all the form tended powerfully to produce those disasters of power that had belonged to their predecesby which they were ultimately overwhelmed. sors: But as they no longer contained those
No representative legislature, it appears to individuals who were able to sway and influus, can ever be respectable or secure, unless ence the opinion of the body of the people, it contain within itself a great proportion of they were without respect or authority, and those who form the natural aristocracy of the speedily came to be the objects of public dericountry, and are able, as individuals, to influ- sion and contempt. ence the conduct and opinions of the greater As the power and authority of a legislature part of its inhabitants. Unless the power and thus constituted, is perfectly secure and inweight and authority of the assembly, in alienable, on the one hand, so, on the other, the short, be really made up of the power and moderation of its proceedings is guaranteed weight and authority of the individuals who by a consciousness of the basis upon which compose it, the factitious dignity they may this authority is founded. Every individual derive from their situation can never be of being aware of the extent to which his owu long endurance; and the dangerous power influence is likely to reach among his constitwith which they may be invested, will be- uents and dependants, is anxious that the come the subject of scrambling and conten- mandates of the body shall never pass beyond tion among the factions of the metropolis, and that limit, within which obedience may be be employed for any purpose but the general easily secured. He will not hazard the loss good of the community.
of his own power, therefore, by any attempt In England, the House of Commons is made to enlarge that of the legislature; and feelup of the individuals who, by birth, by for- ing, at every step, the weight and resistance tune, or by talents, possess singly the greatest of the people, the whole assembly proceeds influence over the rest of the people. The with a due regard to their opinions and premost certain and the most permanent influ- judices, and can never do any thing very inence, is that of rank and of riches; and these jurious or very distasteful to ihe majority: – are the qualifications, accordingly, which re- From the very nature of the authority with turn the greatest number of members. Men which they are invested, they are in fact consubmit to be governed by the united will of substantiated with the people for whom they those, to whose will, as individuals, the greater are to legislate. They do not sit loose upon part of them have been previously accustomed them, like riders on inferior animals; nor to submit themselves; and an act of parlia- speculate nor project experiments upon their ment is reverenced and obeyed, not because welfare, like operators upon a foreign subthe people are impressed with a constitutional stance.' They are the natural organs, in fact, veneration for an institution called a parlia- of a great living body; and are not only ment, but because it has been passed by the warned, by their own feelings, of any injury authority of those who are recognised as their which they may be tempted to inflict on it, natural superiors, and by whose influence, as but would become incapable of performing individuals, the same measures might have their functions, if they were to proceed far in been enforced over the greater part of the debilitating the general system. kingdom. Scarcely any new power is ac- Such, it appears to us, though delivered quired, therefore, by the combination of those perhaps in too abstract and elementary a form, persons into a legislature: They carry each is the just conception of a free representative their share of influence and authority into the legislature. Neither the English House of senate along with them; and it is by adding Commons, indeed, nor any assembly of any the items of it together, that the influence other nation, ever realized it in all its perfecand authority of the senate itself is made up. tion : But it is in their approximation to such From such a senate, therefore, it is obvious a standard, we conceive, that their excellence that their power can never be wrested, and and utility will be found to consist; and where that it would not even attach to those who the conditions upon which we have insisted might succeed in supplanting them in the are absolutely wanting, the sudden institution legislature, by violence or intrigue; or by any of a representative legislature will only be a other means than those by which they them- step to the most frightful disorders. Where selves had originally secured their nomination. it has grown up in a country in which perIn such a state of representation, in short, the sonal liberty and property are tolerably secure, influence of the representatives is not borrow- it naturally assumes that form which is most ed from their office, but the influence of the favourable to its beneficial influence, and has office is supported by that which is personal a tendency to perpetual improvement, and to to its members; and parliament is chiefly the constant amelioration of the condition of regarded as the great depository of all the the whole society. The difference between authority which formerly existed, in a scat- a free government and a tyrannical one, contered state, among its members. This author- sists entirely in the different proportions of ity, therefore, belonging to the men, and not the people ihat are influenced by their opinto their places, can neither be lost by them, ions, or subjugated by intimidation or force. if they are forced from their places, nor found in a large society, opinions can only be reby those who may supplant them. The Long united by means of representations; and the natural representative is the individual whose that has existed in modern times, it is not to example and authority can influence the opin- be wondered at if they forgot the slender ties ions of the greater part of those in whose by which they were bound to their constitubehalf he is delegated. This is the natural ents. The powers to which they had sucaristocracy of a civilized nation; and its legis- ceeded were so infinitely beyond any thing lature is then upon the best possible footing, that they had enjoyed in their individual when it is in the hands of those who answer capacity, that it is not surprising if they never to that description. The whole people are thought of exerting them with the same conthen governed by the laws, exactly as each sideration and caution. Instead of the great clan or district of them would have been by bases of rank and property, which cannot be the patriarchal authority of an elective and transferred by the clamours of the factious, unarmed chieftain ; and the lawgivers are not or the caprice of the inconstant, and which only secure of their places while they can serve to ballast and steady the vessel of the maintain their individual influence over the state in all its wanderings and perils, the people, but are withheld from any rash or assembly possessed only the basis of talent injurious measure by the consciousness and or reputation ; qualities which depend upon feeling of their dependence on this voluntary opinion and opportunity, and which may be deference and submaission.
aitributed in the same proportion to an inconIf this be at all a just representation of the venient multitude at once. The whole legis. conditions upon which the respectability and lature may be considered, therefore, as comsecurity of a representative legislature must poed of adventurers, who had already attained always depend, it will not be difficult to ex- a situation incalculably above their original plain how the experiment miscarried so com- pretensions, and were now tempted to push pletely, in the case of the French Constituent their fortune by every means that held out Assembly. That assembly, which the enthu- the promise of immediate success. They siasm of the public, and the misconduct of had nothing, comparatively speaking, to lose, the privileged orders, soon enabled to engross but their places in that assembly, or the intluthe whole power of the country, consisted ence which they possessed within its walls; almost entirely of persons without name or and as the authority of the assembly itself individual influence'; who owed the whole of depended altogether upon the popularity of their consequence to the situation to which its measures, and not upon the intrinsic authey had been elevated, and were not able, thority of its members, so it was only to be as individuals, to have influenced the opinions maintained by a succession of brilliant and of one-fiftieth_part of their countrymen.- imposing resolutions, and by satisfying or outThere was in France, indeed, at this time, no doing the extravagant wishes and expectations legitimate, wholesome, or real aristocracy.- of the most extravagant and sanguine populace The noblesse, who were persecuted for bear- that ever existed. For a man to get a lead in ing that name, were quite disconnected from such an assembly, it was by no means necesthe people. Their habits of perpetual resi- sary that he should have previously possessed dence in the capital, and their total independ- any influence or authority in the community; ence of the good opinion of their vassals, that he should be connected with powerful had deprived them of any real influence over families, or supported by great and extensive the minds of the lower orders; and the or- associations: If he could dazzle and overawe ganization of society had not yet enabled the in debate ; if he could obtain the acclamations rich manufacturers or proprietors to assume of the mob of Versailles, and make himself such an influence. The persons sent as de- familiar to the eyes and the ears of the asputies to the States-General, therefore, were sembly and its galleries, he was in a fair train those chiefly who, by intrigue and boldness, for having a great share in the direction of an and by professions of uncommon zeal for what assembly
exercising absolute sovereignty over were then the great objects of popular pursuit, thirty millions of men. The prize was too had been enabled to carry the votes of the tempting not to attract a multitude of comelectors. A notion of talent, and an opinion petitors; and the assembly for many months that they would be loud and vehement in was governed by those who outvied their supporting those requests upon which the associates in the impracticable extravagance people had already come to a decision, were of their patriotism, and sacrificed most protheir passports into that assembly. They fusely the real interests of the people at the were sent there to express the particular shrine of a precarious popularity. demands of the people, and not to give a In this way, the assembly, from the inherent general pledge of their acquiescence in what vices of its constitution, ceased to be respectmight there be enacted. They were not the able or useful. The same causes speedily hereditary patrons of the people, but their put an end to its security, and converted it hired advocates for a particular pleading.- into an instrument of destruction. They had no general trust or authority over Mere popularity was at first the instrument them, but were chosen as their special mes by which this unsteady legislature was gorsengers, out of a multitude whose influence erned: But when it became apparent, that and pretensions were equally powerful. whoever could obtain the direction or com
When these men found themselves, as it mand of it, must possess the whole authority were by accident, in possession of the whole of the state; parties became less scrupulous power of the state, and invested with the about the means they employed for that purabsolute government of the greatest nation pose, and soon found out that violence and