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Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution

Germaine de Stael

Publication Year: 2012

Few individuals have left as deep an influence on their time as did Germaine de Staël, one of the greatest intellectuals of her age, whose works have influenced entire cultures, eras, and disciplines. Soon after its publication, posthumously in 1818, Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution became a classic of liberal thinking, making a deeply original contribution to an ongoing political and historical debate in early nineteenth-century France and Europe. As a representative of classical liberal opinion, de Staël’s voice, which Napoleon Bonaparte tried to silence by censorship and banishment, is a unique and important contribution to revolutionary historiography. Considerations is considered de Staël’s magnum opus and sheds renewed light on the familiar figures and events of the Revolution, among them, the financier and statesman Jacques Necker, her father. Editor Aurelian Craiutu states that Considerations explores “the prerequisites of liberty, constitutionalism and rule of law, the necessary limits on power, the relation between social order and political order, the dependence of liberty on morality and religion, and the question of the institutional foundations of a free regime.” Madame de Staël’s unique perspective combined a sharp intellect with an elegant style that illustrates the French tradition at its best. Considerations was rightly hailed as a genuine hymn to freedom based on a perceptive understanding of what makes freedom possible and on a subtle analysis of the social, historical, and cultural context within which political rights and political obligation exist. Madame de Staël conceived of this volume in six parts: parts 1 through 4 reflect on the history of France, the state of public opinion in France at the Accession of Louis XVI, and Necker’s plans of finance and administration. Other topics discussed in this section of the book include the conduct of the Third Estate in 1788 and 1789, the fall of the Bastille, the decrees of the Legislative Assembly, the overthrow of the monarchy, the war between France and England, the Terror of 1793–94, the Directory, and the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. Parts 5 and 6 contain a vigorous defense of representative government in France, with a detailed examination of the English political system. Part 6, in particular, offers memorable political insights on liberty and public spirit among the English and discusses the relation between economic prosperity and political freedom and the seminal influence of religion and morals on liberty. Germaine de Staël (1766–1817) rose to fame as a novelist, critic, political thinker, sociologist of literature, and autobiographer. She experienced firsthand many important events of the French Revolution, which she followed closely from Paris and, later, from exile in Switzerland, where she lived between 1792 and 1795. Her salon was famous for hosting Benjamin Constant, August Wilhelm von Schlegel, Lord Byron, and other luminaries, before and after her exile by Napoleon. Aurelian Craiutu is Associate Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington.

Published by: Liberty Fund

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xxiv

Very few individuals have left as deep a trace on their age as Anne Louise Germaine, Baronne de Staël-Holstein (1766-1817). She was one of the greatest intellectuals and writers of her time, and the influence of her works crossed national borders, cultures, and disciplines. ...

Note on the Present Edition

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pp. xxv-xxx

Considerations on the Principal Events of The French Revolution

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pp. 1-2

Notice by the Editors

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pp. 3-4

Advertisement of the Author

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pp. 5-6


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pp. 7-16

Part I

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pp. 17-48

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Chapter I. General Reflections

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pp. 17-25

The Revolution of France is one of the grand eras of social order. Those who consider it as the result of accidental causes have reflected neither on the past nor on the future; they have mistaken the actors for the drama; and, in seeking a solution agreeable to their prejudices, ...

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Chapter II. Considerations on the History of France

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pp. 26-44

Men are seldom familiar with any history but that of their own time; and in reading the declamations so frequent in our days, one would be led to think that the eight centuries of monarchical government which preceded the Revolution had been ages of tranquillity; and that the French nation had reposed during that time on a bed of roses. ...

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Chapter III. On the State of Public Opinion in France at the Accession of Louis XVI

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pp. 45-52

There is extant a letter of Louis XV to the Duchess of Choiseul, in which he says: "I have had a great deal of trouble with the parlements during my reign; but let my grandson be cautious of them, for they may put his crown in danger." ...

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Chapter IV. Of the Character of M. Necker as a Public Man

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pp. 53-57

M. Necker, a citizen of the republic of Geneva, had cultivated literature from his earliest years with great attention; and, when called by circumstances to dedicate himself to business and financial transactions, his earlier taste for literature mixed dignified sentiments and philosophical views with the positive interests of life. ...

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Chapter V. M. Necker's Plans of Finance

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pp. 58-64

The principles adopted by M. Necker in the management of the finances are so simple that their theory is within the reach of every person, although their application be very difficult. It is easy to say to statesmen "be just and firm," as to writers "be ingenious and profound": ...

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Chapter VI. M. Necker's Plans of Administration

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pp. 65-71

A finance minister, before the Revolution, was not confined to the charge of the public treasury; his duties were not restricted to a mere adjustment of receipt and expenditure; the whole administration of the kingdom was in his department; ...

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Chapter VII. Of the American War

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pp. 72-73

In judging of the past from our knowledge of the events that have ensued, most people will be of the opinion that Louis XVI did wrong in interfering between England and America.1 Although the independence of the United States was desired by all liberal minds, the principles of the French monarchy did not permit of encouraging ...

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Chapter VIII. M. Necker's Retirement from Office in 1781

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pp. 74-82

M. Necker had no other object in his first ministry than to prevail on the King to adopt, of his own accord, the measures of public utility required by the nation, and for which it afterward demanded a representative body. This was the only method of preventing a revolution during the life of Louis XVI; ...

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Chapter IX. The Circumstances That Led to the Assembling of the Estates General.—Ministry of M. de Calonne

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pp. 83-90

M. Turgot and M. Necker owed their loss of place in a great degree to the influence of the parliaments, who were adverse both to the suppression of exemptions from taxes and to the establishment of provincial assemblies. This made the King think of choosing a finance minister from among the members of the parliament, ...

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Chapter X. Sequel of the Preceding.—Ministry of the Archbishop of Toulouse

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pp. 91-95

M. de Brienne, Archbishop of Toulouse, had almost as little seriousness of character as M. de Calonne; but his clerical dignity, coupled with a constant ambition to attain a seat in the cabinet, had given him the outward gravity of a statesman; and he had the reputation of one, before he was placed in a situation to undeceive the world. ...

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Chapter XI. Did France Possess a Constitution Before the Revolution?

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pp. 96-111

Of all modern monarchies, France was certainly the one whose political institutions were most arbitrary and fluctuating; and the cause is probably to be sought in the incorporation, at very different periods, of the provinces that compose the kingdom. Each province had different claims and customs; ...

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Chapter XII. On the Recall of M. Necker in 1788

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pp. 112-114

Had M. Necker, when he was minister, proposed to convene the Estates General, he might have been accused of a dereliction of duty, since, with a certain party, it is a settled point that the absolute power of kings is sacred. But at the time when the public opinion obliged the Court to dismiss the Archbishop of Sens, ...

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Chapter XIII. Conduct of the Last Estates General, Held at Paris in 1614

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pp. 115-117

The aristocratical party, in 1789, were perpetually demanding the adoption of ancient usages. The obscurity of time is very favorable to those who are not disposed to enter on a discussion of truth on its own merits. They called out incessantly, "Give us 1614, and our last Estates General; these are our masters, these are our models." ...

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Chapter XIV. The Division of the Estates General into Orders

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pp. 118-127

The Estates General of France were, as I have just mentioned, divided into three orders—the clergy, the nobility, and the Third Estate—and accustomed to deliberate separately, like three distinct nations: each presented its grievances to the King, and each confined itself to its particular interests, ...

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Chapter XV. What Was the Public Feeling of Europe at the Time of Convening the Estates General?

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pp. 128-159

Philosophic views, that is, the appreciation of things from reason, and not from habit, had made so much progress in Europe that the possessors of privileges, whether kings, nobles, or clergy, were the first to confess the unfairness of the advantages they enjoyed. ...

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Chapter XVI. Opening of the Estates General on the 5th of May, 1789

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pp. 129-133

I shall never forget the hour that I saw the twelve hundred deputies of France1 pass in procession to church to hear mass, the day before the opening of the assembly. It was a very imposing sight, and very new to the French; all the inhabitants of Versailles, and many persons attracted by curiosity from Paris, collected to see it. ...

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Chapter XVII. Of the Resistance of the Privileged Orders to the Demands of the Third Estate in 1789

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pp. 134-139

M. de la Luzerne, Bishop of Langres, one of the soundest minds in France, wrote, on the opening of the Estates General, a pamphlet to propose that the three orders should form themselves into two chambers, the higher clergy uniting with the Peers, and the lower with the Commons.1 ...

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Chapter XVIII. Conduct of the Third Estate During the First Two Months of the Session of the Estates General

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pp. 140-143

Several individuals among the nobility and clergy, the first persons in the country, inclined strongly, as we have already said, to the popular party, and there was a great number of intelligent men among the deputies of the Third Estate. We must not form an opinion of the France of that time judging by the France of the present day: ...

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Chapter XIX. Means Possessed by the Crown in 1789 of Opposing the Revolution

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pp. 144-146

The true public opinion, which rises superior to faction, has been the same in France for twenty-seven years; and every other direction given to it, being artificial, could have only a temporary influence. ...

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Chapter XX. The Royal Session of 23d June, 1789

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pp. 147-154

The secret council of the King was altogether different from his ostensible ministry; a few of the latter shared the opinion of the former; but the acknowledged head of administration, M. Necker, was the very person against whom the privileged classes directed their efforts. ...

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Chapter XXI. Events Caused by the Royal Session of 23d June, 1789

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pp. 155-161

The predictions of M. Necker were but too fully realized; and that royal session, against which he had said so much, produced consequences still more unfortunate than he had calculated. Hardly had the King left the hall, when the Third Estate, who had continued there after the other orders had withdrawn, ...

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Chapter XXII. Revolution of the 14th of July (1789)

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pp. 162-164

Two other ministers were removed at the same time as M. Necker, M. de Montmorin, a man personally attached to the King from his infancy, and M. de St. Priest, who was remarkable for the soundness of his judgment. But what will appear almost incredible to posterity is, that in adopting a resolution of such importance, ...

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Chapter XXIII. Return of M. Necker

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pp. 165-172

M. Necker, on arriving at Brussels, remained two days to take rest before proceeding to Switzerland by way of Germany. His greatest subject of disquietude at this time was the scarcity that threatened Paris. In the preceding winter his indefatigable exertions had preserved the capital from the misfortune of famine; ...

Part II

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pp. 173-204

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Chapter I. Mirabeau

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pp. 173-177

One would almost say that in every era of history there are personages who should be considered as the representatives of the good and of the wicked principle. Such, in Rome, were Cicero and Catiline; such, in France, were M. Necker and Mirabeau. ...

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Chapter II. Of the Constituent Assembly After the 14th of July

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pp. 178-181

The Third Estate, and the minority of the nobility and clergy, formed the majority of the Constituent Assembly; and this Assembly disposed of the fate of France. After the 14th of July, nothing could be more striking than the sight of twelve hundred deputies, listened to by numerous spectators, ...

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Chapter III. General La Fayette

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pp. 182-185

M. de Ia Fayette, having fought from his early youth for the cause of America, had early become imbued with the principles of liberty which form the basis of that government. If he made mistakes in regard to the French Revolution, we are to ascribe them all to his admiration of the American institutions, and of Washington , ...

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Chapter IV. Of the Good Effected by the Constituent Assembly

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pp. 186-193

Before entering on the distressing events which have disfigured the French Revolution, and lost, perhaps for a considerable time, the cause of reason and liberty in Europe , let us examine the principles proclaimed by the Constituent Assembly and exhibit a sketch of the advantages which their application has produced, ...

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Chapter V. Liberty of the Press, and State of the Police, During the Time of the Constituent Assembly

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pp. 194-198

Not only does the Constituent Assembly claim the gratitude of the French people for the reform of the abuses by which they were oppressed; but we must render it the further praise of being the only one of the authorities which have governed France before and since the Revolution which allowed, freely and unequivocally, the liberty of the press. ...

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Chapter VI. Of the Different Parties Conspicuous in the Constituent Assembly

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pp. 199-206

There was one general disposition among all the popular party, for all aimed at liberty; but there were particular divisions in the majority as in the minority of the Assembly, and most of these divisions were founded on the personal interests which now began to prevail. ...

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Chapter VII. Of the Errors of the Constituent Assembly in Matters of Administration

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pp. 207-210

The whole power of government had fallen into the hands of the Assembly, which, however, should have possessed only legislative functions; but the division of parties was the unfortunate cause of confusion in the distribution of power. The distrust excited by the intentions of the King, or rather of the court, ...

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Chapter VIII. Of the Errors of the National Assembly in Regard to the Constitution

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pp. 211-215

In the code of liberty we have the means of distinguishing that which is founded on invariable principles from that which belongs to particular circumstances. Imprescriptible rights consist in—equality under the law, individual liberty, the liberty of the press, freedom of religion, the right of admission to public employments, ...

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Chapter IX. Efforts Made by M. Necker with the Popular Party in the Constituent Assembly to Induce It to Establish the English Constitution in France

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pp. 216-219

The King possessing no military strength after the Revolution of the 14th of July, there remained for the minister only the power of persuasion, whether in acting immediately on the deputies, or in finding sufficient support in public opinion to influence the Assembly through that medium. ...

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Chapter X. Did the English Government Give Money to Foment Troubles in France?

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pp. 220-221

As the prevailing opinion of French aristocrats has always been that the greatest changes in social order are to be traced to individual circumstances, they were long converts to the notion which had absurdly gained ground, that the English ministry had excited, by means of money, the troubles of the Revolution. ...

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Chapter XI. Events of the 5th and 6th of October, 1789

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pp. 222-230

Before describing these too disastrous days, we should bring to our recollection that in France at the time of the Revolution, as well as in the rest of Europe, people had enjoyed for nearly a century a kind of tranquillity which conduced, it is true, to relaxation and corruption; ...

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Chapter XII. The Constituent Assembly at Paris

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pp. 231-234

The Constituent Assembly, removed to Paris by an armed force, found itself, in several respects, in the same situation as the King: it no longer enjoyed complete liberty. The 5th and 6th of October were, if one may say so, the first days of the accession of the Jacobins; the Revolution then changed its object and its sphere; ...

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Chapter XIII. Of the Decrees of the Constituent Assembly in Regard to the Clergy

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pp. 235-241

The most serious reproach made to the Constituent Assembly is that it had been indifferent to the maintenance of religion in France: hence the declarations against philosophy which succeeded those formerly directed against superstition. The intentions of the Assembly in this respect are to be justified by examining the motives of its decrees. ...

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Chapter XIV. Of the Suppression of Titles of Nobility

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pp. 242-245

The clergy are perhaps still the less unpopular of the two privileged orders in France; for equality being the moving principle of the Revolution, the nation felt itself less hurt by the prejudices of the priests than by the claims of the nobles. ...

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Chapter XV. Of the Royal Authority As It Was Established by the Constituent Assembly

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pp. 246-248

It was already a very dangerous matter for the public tranquillity to break all at once the strength that resided in the two privileged orders of the state. But had the means given to the executive power been sufficient, it would have been practicable to replace, if I may so express myself, fictitious by real institutions. ...

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Chapter XVI. Federation of 14th July, 1790

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pp. 249-251

Notwithstanding the faults which we have pointed out, the Constituent Assembly had produced so much good, and triumphed over so many misfortunes, that it was adored by almost all France. The deficiencies in the work of the constitution were perceptible only to those intimately acquainted with the principles of political legislation, ...

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Chapter XVII. Of the State of Society in Paris During the Time of the Constituent Assembly

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pp. 252-254

Foreigners can have no idea of the boasted charms and splendor of Parisian society if they have seen France only in the last twenty years; but it may be said with truth that never was that society at once so brilliant and serious as during the first three or four years of the Revolution, reckoning from 1788 to the end of 1791. ...

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Chapter XVIII. The Introduction of Assignats, and Retirement of M. Necker

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pp. 255-259

The members of the Finance Committee proposed to the Constituent Assembly to discharge the public debt by creating nearly ninety million sterling of paper money, to be secured on church lands, and to be of compulsory circulation.1 ...

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Chapter XIX. State of Affairs and of Political Parties in the Winter of 1790-91

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pp. 260-264

The executive power lay dormant, according to an expression of a deputy on the left side of the Assembly, because it hoped, though without foundation, that good might follow from excess even in mischief. The ministers were incessantly complaining of the disorders; ...

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Chapter XX. Death of Mirabeau

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pp. 265-267

A man of great family from Brabant, of a sagacious and penetrating mind,1 acted as the medium between the Court and Mirabeau: he had prevailed on him to correspond secretly with the Marquis de Bouille, the General in whom the royal family had the most confidence. ...

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Chapter XXI. Departure of the King on the 21st of June, 1791

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pp. 268-272

Louis XVI would have cordially accepted the English constitution had it been presented to him with candor and with the respect due to the head of a government; but the Assembly wounded all his affections, particularly by three decrees, which were rather hurtful than useful to the cause of the nation. ...

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Chapter XXII. Revision of the Constitution

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pp. 273-280

The Assembly was constrained, by the popular ferment, to declare that the King should be kept prisoner in the palace of the Tuileries until the constitution had been presented for his acceptance. M. de Ia Fayette, as commander of the National Guards, had the misfortune of being doomed to carry this decree into effect. ...

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Chapter XXIII. Acceptance of the Constitution, Called the Constitution of 1791

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pp. 281-284

Thus ended that famous Assembly which united so much knowledge to so many errors, which was the cause of permanent good but of great immediate evil, the remembrance of which will long serve as a pretext for attacks by the enemies of liberty. ...

Part III

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pp. 285-316

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Chapter I. On the Emigration

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pp. 285-290

It is of importance to make a distinction between the voluntary and the forced emigration. After the overthrow of the throne in 1792 and the commencement of the Reign of Terror, we all emigrated to escape the dangers with which everyone was threatened. ...

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Chapter II. Prediction of M. Necker on the Fate of the Constitution of 1791

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pp. 291-298

During the last fourteen years of his life, M. Necker did not quit his estate of Coppet in Switzerland. He lived in the most complete retirement; but the repose arising from dignity does not exclude activity of mind, and he never ceased to attend, with the greatest solicitude, to every event which occurred in France. ...

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Chapter III. Of the Different Parties Which Composed the Legislative Assembly

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pp. 299-303

We cannot help feeling a sentiment of profound grief on retracing the eras of a Revolution in which a free constitution might have been established in France, and on seeing not only that hope overturned, but the most distressing events taking the place of the most salutary institutions. ...

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Chapter IV. Spirit of the Decrees of the Legislative Assembly

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pp. 304-305

The Constituent Assembly had passed more laws in two years than the English Parliament in fifty; but these laws at least reformed abuses and were founded on general principles. The Legislative Assembly passed an equal number of decrees, although there remained nothing truly useful to be done; ...

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Chapter V. Of the First War Between France and Europe

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pp. 306-310

We need not be surprised that kings and princes never liked the principles of the French Revolution. "To be a royalist is my business," said Joseph II. But as the opinion of the people always makes its way into the cabinet of kings, no sovereign in Europe thought of making war on France to oppose the Revolution at its outset, ...

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Chapter VI. Of the Means Employed in 1792 to Establish the Republic

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pp. 311-315

The French are but little disposed to civil war, and have no talent whatever for conspiracies. They are little disposed to civil war because, among them, the majority almost always draws the minority after it; the party that passes for the stronger soon becomes all-powerful, for everyone joins it. ...

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Chapter VII. Anniversary of 14th July Celebrated in 1792

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pp. 316-318

Addresses from every part of France, which at that time were sincere, because there was danger in signing them, expressed the wish of the great majority of the citizens for the support of the constitution.1 However imperfect it might be, it was a limited monarchy, and such has, all along, been the wish of the French; ...

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Chapter VIII. Manifesto of the Duke of Brunswick

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pp. 319-320

It has been strongly asserted that the terms in which the manifesto of the Duke of Brunswick was expressed were one of the principal causes of the rising of the French nation against the allies in 1792.1 I do not believe this: the first two articles of that manifesto contained what most papers of the kind since the Revolution have expressed; ...

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Chapter IX. Revolution of the 10th of August, 1792—Overthrow of the Monarchy

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pp. 321-323

Public opinion never fails to manifest itself, even in the midst of the factions which oppress it. One revolution only, that of 1789 , was accomplished by the force of this opinion; but since that year, scarcely any crisis which has taken place in France has been desired by the nation. ...

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Chapter X. Private Anecdotes

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pp. 324-332

I cannot find courage to continue such pictures. Yet the 10th of August appeared to have in view the seizing of the reins of government, in order to direct all its efforts against the invasion of foreigners; but the massacres which took place twenty-two days after the overthrow of the throne were only wanton criminal acts. ...

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Chapter XI. The Foreign Troops Driven from France in 1792

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pp. 333-334

The prisoners of Orleans1 had shared the fate of those of Paris,2 the priests had been massacred at the foot of the altars, and the royal family were captives in the temple. M. de Ia Fayette, faithful to the constant desire of the nation, a constitutional monarchy, had quitted his army3 rather than take an oath ...

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Chapter XII. Trial of Louis XVI

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pp. 335-340

In the month of October, 1792, before the horrible trial of the King had begun, before Louis XVI had named his defenders, M. Necker stood forward to receive that noble and perilous charge. He published a memoir2 which posterity will accept as one of the truest and most disinterested testimonies ...

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Chapter XIII. Charles I and Louis XVI

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pp. 341-345

Many persons have attributed the disasters of France to the weakness of the character of Louis XVI; and it has been continually repeated that his stooping to recognize the principles of liberty was one of the essential causes of the Revolution. ...

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Chapter XIV. War Between France and England. Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox

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pp. 346-353

During many centuries the rivalries between France and England have been the source of misery to those two countries. It used to be a contest for power; but the struggle caused by the Revolution cannot be considered under the same aspect. ...

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Chapter XV. Of Political Fanaticism

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pp. 354-356

The events which we have been recalling until this point have been the only kind of history for which we can find examples elsewhere. But an abyss is now about to open under our feet; we do not know what course to pursue in such a gulf, and the mind leaps in fear from disaster to disaster, ...

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Chapter XVI. Of the Government Called the Reign ofTerror

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pp. 357-362

We know not how to approach the fourteen months which followed the proscription of the Gironde on the 31st of May, 1793. We seem as if we were descending, like Dante, from circle to circle, always lower in hell. To the animosity against the nobles and the priests succeeded a feeling of irritation against the landholders, ...

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Chapter XVII. The French Army During the Reign of Terror; the Federalists, and La Vendeé

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pp. 363-366

The conduct of the French army during the period of terror was truly patriotic. No generals were seen violating their oath to the state; they repulsed foreigners while they were themselves threatened with death upon the scaffold, at the slightest suspicion that might be excited against their conduct. ...

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Chapter XVIII. Of the Situation of the Friends of Liberty Out of France During the Reign of Terror

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pp. 367-370

It is difficult to relate the events of these horrible times without recalling one's own impressions in almost their original vivacity: and I know not why one should combat this natural inclination. For the best manner of representing such extraordinary circumstances is to show in what state they placed individuals in the midst of the universal tempest. ...

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Chapter XIX. Fall of Robespierre, and Change of System in the Government

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pp. 371-374

The men and women who were conducted to the scaffold gave proofs of a courage that nothing could shake; the prisons presented the example of the most generous acts of devotion; fathers were seen sacrificing themselves for their sons, wives for their husbands; ...

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Chapter XX. Of the State of Minds at the Moment When the Directorial Republic Was Established in France

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pp. 375-383

The Reign of Terror ought to be ascribed exclusively to the principles of tyranny; one finds them there completely intact. The popular forms adopted by that government were only a sort of ceremonial, which suited these savage despots; ...

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Chapter XXI. Of the Twenty Months During Which the Republic Existed in France, from November 1795 to the 18th of Fructidor (4th of September) 1797

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pp. 384-388

We must do justice to the Directors, and still more to the power of free institutions, in whatever form they are introduced. The first twenty months which followed the establishment of the republic exhibit a period of administration uncommonly remarkable . ...

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Chapter XXII. Two Singular Predictions Drawn from the History of the Revolution by M. Necker

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pp. 389-392

M. Necker never published a political book without braving some danger, either to his fortune or to himself. The circumstances in which he published his history of the Revolution1 might have exposed him to such a variety of fatal accidents that I made many efforts to restrain him from that proceeding. ...

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Chapter XXIII. Of the Army of Italy

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pp. 393-395

The two great armies of the republic, those of the Rhine and of ltaly, were almost constantly victorious, until the treaty of Campo Formio,1 which for a short time suspended the long Continental war. The army of the Rhine, of which Moreau was General, had preserved all the republican simplicity; ...

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Chapter XXIV. Of the Introduction of Military Government into France by the Occurrences of the 18th of Fructidor

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pp. 396-401

No epoch of the Revolution was more disastrous than that which substituted military rule for the well-founded hope of a representative government. I am, however, anticipating events; for the sway of a military chief was not as yet proclaimed when the Directory sent grenadiers to the two Chambers: ...

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Chapter XXV. Private Anecdotes

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pp. 402-406

It is painful to speak of oneself, at a time especially when the most important narratives alone demand the attention of readers. Yet I cannot abstain from refuting an accusation which is injurious to me. The journals whose office it was in 1797 to insult all the friends of liberty have pretended that, from a predilection for a republic, ...

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Chapter XXVI. Treaty of Campo Formio in I797. Arrival of General Bonaparte at Paris

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pp. 407-413

The Directory was disinclined to peace, not that it wished to extend the French dominions beyond the Rhine and the Alps, but because it thought the war useful for the propagation of the republican system. Its plan was to surround France with a belt of republics, like those of Holland, Switzerland, Piedmont,1 Lombardy, and Genoa. ...

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Chapter XXVII. Preparations of General Bonaparte for Proceeding to Egypt. His Opinion on the Invasion of Switzerland

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pp. 414-416

Bonaparte, at this same epoch, the close of 1797, sounded the public opinion with respect to the Directors; he saw that they were not loved, but that a republican sentiment made it impossible for a general to put himself in the place of the civil magistrates. ...

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Chapter XXVIII. The Invasion of Switzerland

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pp. 417-421

As Switzerland was threatened with an approaching invasion, I quitted Paris in the month of January, 1798 , to rejoin my father at Coppet. He was still on the list of emigrants, and a positive law condemned to death emigrants who remained in a country occupied by the French troops. ...

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Chapter XXIX. Of the Termination of the Directory

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pp. 422-424

After the fatal blow which, on the 18th of Fructidor, the military force inflicted on the dignity of the representatives of the people, the Directory, as we have just seen, still maintained itself for two years, without any external change in its organization. ...

Part IV

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pp. 425-456

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Chapter I. News from Egypt: Return of Bonaparte

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pp. 425-427

Nothing was more likely to produce a striking effect on the mind than the Egyptian war; and though the great naval victory gained by Nelson near Aboukir1 had destroyed all its possible advantages, letters dated from Cairo, orders issuing from Alexandria to penetrate to Thebes, on the confines of Ethiopia, ...

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Chapter II. Revolution of the 18th of Brumaire

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pp. 428-435

In the time which had elapsed since Bonaparte's brothers wrote to him in Egypt to advise his return, the face of affairs had undergone a singular change. General Bernadotte had been appointed Minister of War and had in a few months restored the organization of the armies. ...

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Chapter III. Of the Establishment of the Consular Constitution

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pp. 436-440

The most potent charm which Bonaparte employed for the establishment of his power was, as we have said, the terror which the very name of Jacobinism inspired, although every person capable of reflection was aware that this scourge could not revive in France. ...

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Chapter IV. Progress of Bonaparte to Absolute Power

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pp. 441-447

The first symptoms of tyranny cannot be watched too carefully: for when once it has matured to a certain point, it can no longer be stopped. A single man enchains the will of a multitude of individuals, the greater part of whom, taken separately, would wish to be free, ...

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Chapter V. Should England Have Made Peace with Bonaparte at His Accession to the Consulate?

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pp. 448-452

When General Bonaparte was named Consul, people expected peace from him. The nation, fatigued with its long struggle, and at that time sure of confirming its independence with the barrier of the Rhine and the Alps, wished only for tranquillity; but the measures to which it had recourse were certainly ill adapted for the accomplishment of its end. ...

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Chapter VI. Of the Solemn Celebration of the Concordat at Nôtre-Dame

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pp. 453-457

At the epoch of the accession of Bonaparte the sincerest partisans of the Catholic faith, after having long been victims of a political inquisition, aspired to nothing more than perfect religious liberty. The general wish of the nation was limited to this: that all persecution of priests should cease for the future; ...

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Chapter VII. M. Necker's Last Work Under the Consulship of Bonaparte

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pp. 458-467

M. Necker had a conversation with Bonaparte as he passed into Italy by Mount St. Bernard a little time before the battle of Marengo; during this conversation, which lasted two hours, the First Consul made a rather agreeable impression on my father by the confidential way in which he spoke to him of his future plans. ...

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Chapter VIII. Of Exile

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pp. 468-473

Among all the prerogatives of authority, one of the most favorable to tyranny is the power of banishing without trial. The lettres de cachet of the Old Regime had been justly held forth as one of the most urgent motives for effecting a revolution in France: yet it was Bonaparte, the chosen man of the people, ...

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Chapter IX. Of the Last Days of M. Necker

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pp. 474-478

I would not speak of the feeling which the death of my father produced in me were it not an additional means of making him known. When the political opinions of a statesman are still in many respects the subject of debate in the world, we should not neglect to give to his principles the sanction of his character. ...

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Chapter X. Abstract of M. Necker's Principles on Government

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pp. 479-482

It has been often said that religion is necessary for the people; and I think it easy to prove that men of an exalted rank have still more need of it. The same is true of morality in its connections with politics. Men have never been weary of repeating that it suits individuals, and not nations; ...

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Chapter XI. Bonaparte Emperor. The Counter-revolution Effected by him

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pp. 483-490

When Bonaparte, at the close of the last century, put himself at the head of the French people, the whole nation desired a free and constitutional government. The nobles, long exiled from France, aspired only to return in peace to their homes; the Catholic clergy invoked toleration; ...

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Chapter XII. Of the Conduct of Napoleon Toward the Continent of Europe

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pp. 491-494

Two very different plans of conduct presented themselves to Bonaparte when he was crowned Emperor of France. He might confine himself to the barrier of the Rhine and the Alps, which Europe did not dispute with him after the battle of Marengo, and render France, thus enlarged, the most powerful empire in the world. ...

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Chapter XIII. Of the Means Employed by Bonaparte to Attack England

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pp. 495-498

If there is any glimpse of a plan in the truly incoherent proceedings of Bonaparte toward foreign nations, it was that of establishing a universal monarchy, of which he was to be declared the head, giving kingdoms and duchies as fiefs, and re-instituting the feudal system as it was formerly established by conquest. ...

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Chapter XIV. On the Spirit of the French Army

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pp. 499-505

It must not be forgotten that the French army was admirable during the first ten years of the war of the Revolution. The qualities which were wanting in the men employed in the civil career were found in the military: perseverance, devotedness, boldness, and even goodness when their natural disposition was not altered by the impetuosity of attack. ...

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Chapter XV. Of the Legislation and Administration Under Bonaparte

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pp. 506-510

The unlimited despotism and the shameless corruption of the civil government under Bonaparte has not yet been sufficiently delineated. It might be supposed that after the torrent of abuse which is always poured forth in France against the vanquished, there would remain no ill to be spoken against a fallen power ...

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Chapter XVI. Of Literature Under Bonaparte

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pp. 511-514

This very police for which we have not terms contemptuous enough, terms which put a sufficient distance between an honest man and the creature who could enter into such a den, was entrusted by Bonaparte with the charge of directing the public mind in France. ...

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Chapter XVII. A Saying of Bonaparte Printed in the Moniteur

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pp. 515-546

It was not enough that every act of Bonaparte should bear the stamp of a despotism becoming always more audacious; it was further necessary that he himself reveal the secret of his own government, disdainful enough of mankind that he should reveal it openly. ...

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Chapter XVIII. On the Political Doctrine of Bonaparte

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pp. 516-522

One day M. Suard, who more than any other lettered Frenchman united the tact of literature with a knowledge of the great world, was speaking boldly before Bonaparte of the picture of the Roman emperors in Tacitus: "Very well," said Napoléon; "but he ought to have told us why the Roman people suffered, and even liked those bad emperors. ...

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Chapter XIX. Intoxication of Power; Reverses and Abdication of Bonaparte

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pp. 523-536

"I am tired of this old Europe," said Napoleon before his departure for Russia. He met indeed nowhere any obstacle to his will, and the restlessness of his character required a new aliment. Perhaps also the strength and clearness of his judgment were impaired when he saw men and things bending before him ...

Part V

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pp. 537-568

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Chapter I. Of What Constitutes Legitimate Royalty

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pp. 537-541

In considering royalty, as all institutions ought to be judged with reference to the happiness and dignity of nations, I shall say generally, but with due respect to exceptions, that princes of old established families are much more likely to promote the welfare of a country than those princes who have raised themselves to a throne.1 ...

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Chapter II. Of the Political Doctrine of Some French Emigrants and Their Adherents

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pp. 542-548

The opponents of the French Revolution of 1789, whether nobility, clergy, or lawyers, repeated incessantly that no change was necessary in regard to government, because the intermediary bodies which then existed were sufficient to prevent despotic measures; and they now proclaim despotic forms as a re-establishment of the old regime. ...

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Chapter III. Of the Circumstances That Render the Representative Government at This Time More Necessary in France Than in Any Other Country

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pp. 549-552

The resentment of those who have suffered greatly by the Revolution and who cannot flatter themselves with recovering their privileges but by intolerance of religion and despotism of the Crown, is, as has just been said, the greatest danger to which France can be exposed. ...

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Chapter IV. Of the Entry of the Allies into Paris, and the Different Parties Which Then Existed in France

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pp. 553-560

The four great powers, England, Austria, Russia, and Prussia, who formed a coalition in 1813 to repel the aggressions of Bonaparte, had never before acted in union, and no Continental state was able to resist such a mass of force. The French nation might perhaps have still been capable of defending itself before despotism had compressed all its energy; ...

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Chapter V. Of the Circumstances Which Accompanied the First Return of the House of Bourbon in 1814

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pp. 561-564

When the return of the Bourbons was decided on by the European powers, M. de Talleyrand brought forward the principle of legitimacy to serve as a rallying point to the new spirit of party that was about to prevail in France. Doubtless, we cannot too often repeat that hereditary succession to the throne is an excellent pledge for tranquillity and comfort; ...

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Chapter VI. Of the Aspect of France and of Paris During Its First Occupation by the Allies

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pp. 565-568

It would be altogether wrong to feel surprise at the grief experienced by the French on seeing their celebrated capital occupied in r814 by foreign armies. The sovereigns who became masters of it behaved at that time with the greatest equity; but it is a cruel misfortune for a nation to have to express even gratitude to foreigners, ...

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Chapter VII. Of the Constitutional Charter Granted by the King in 1814

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pp. 569-574

I have a pride in here reminding the reader that the declaration signed by Louis XVIII at St. Ouen in 1814 contained almost all the articles in support of liberty proposed by M. Necker to Louis XVI in 1789, before the Revolution of the 14th of July burst forth. ...

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Chapter VIII. Of the Conduct of the Ministry During the First Year of the Restoration

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pp. 575-585

Several English writers on politics advance that history shows the impossibility of getting a constitutional monarchy adopted with sincerity by a race of princes who have enjoyed unlimited authority during several centuries. The French ministry in 1814 had only one method of refuting this opinion: ...

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Chapter IX. Of the Obstacles Which Government Encountered During the First Year of the Restoration

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pp. 586-591

We proceed to state the obstacles which the ministry of the Restoration had to surmount in 1814, and we shall have no fear in expressing our opinion on the system that ought to have been followed to triumph over them; the picture of this era is certainly not yet foreign to the present time. ...

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Chapter X. Of the Influence of Society on Political Affairs in France

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pp. 592-597

Amidst the difficulties which the government had to overcome in 1814, we must place in the first rank the influence which the conversation of the saloons exercised on the fate of France. Bonaparte had resuscitated the old habits of a court and had joined to them, besides, all the faults of the less refined classes. ...

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Chapter XI. Of the System Which Ought to Have Been Followed in 1814, to Maintain the House of Bourbon on the Throne of France

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pp. 598-607

Many people think that if Napoleon had not returned, the Bourbons had nothing to fear. I am not of this opinion; for such a man, it must at least be allowed, was an alarming pretender; and if the House of Hanover could fear Prince Edward,1 it was madness to leave Bonaparte in a position which invited him as it were to form audacious projects. ...

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Chapter XII. What Should Have Been the Conduct of the Friends of Liberty in 1814?

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pp. 608-611

The friends of liberty, we have already said, could alone have contributed in an efficacious manner to the establishment of constitutional monarchy in 1814; but how ought they to have acted at that period? This question, no less important than the former, deserves also to be treated. ...

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Chapter XIII. Return of Bonaparte

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pp. 612-617

No, never shall I forget the moment when I learned from one of my friends, on the morning of the 6th of March, 1815,1 that Bonaparte had disembarked on the coast of France; I had the misfortune to foresee instantly the consequences of that event, such as they have since taken place, and I thought that the earth was about to open under my feet. ...

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Chapter XIV. Of the Conduct of Bonaparte on His Return

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pp. 618-620

If it was a crime to recall Bonaparte, it was silliness to wish to disguise such a man as a constitutional sovereign. From the moment that he was taken back, a military dictatorship should have been conferred on him, the conscription re-established, the nation made to rise in mass so as not to be embarrassed about liberty when independence was compromised. ...

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Chapter XV. Of the Fall of Bonaparte

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pp. 621-625

I have not yet spoken of that warrior who caused the fortune of Bonaparte to fade; of him who pursued him from Lisbon to Waterloo, like that adversary of Macbeth who was to be endowed with supernatural gifts in order to be his conqueror. ...

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Chapter XVI. Of the Declaration of Rights Proclaimed by the Chamber of Representatives, 5th of July, 1815

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pp. 626-628

Bonaparte signed his second abdication on the 22d of June, 1815; and on the 8th of the following month the foreign troops entered the capital. During this very short interval, the partisans of Napoléon lost a great deal of precious time in trying to secure, against the will of the nation, the crown to his son.1 ...

Part VI

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pp. 629-660

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Chapter I. Are Frenchmen Made to Be Free?

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pp. 629-633

Frenchmen are not made to be free, says a certain party composed of Frenchmen who want to do the honors of the nation in such a way as to represent it as the most miserable of all human associations. What indeed is more miserable than to be incapable either of respect for justice, or of love for our country, ...

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Chapter II. Cursory View of the History of England

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pp. 634-648

It is painful to me to represent the English character in a disadvantageous light, even in past times. But this generous nation will listen without pain to all that reminds it that it is to its actual political institutions, to those institutions which it is in the power of other nations to imitate, that it owes its virtues and its splendor. ...

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Chapter III. Of the Prosperity of England, and the Causes by Which It Has Been Hitherto Promoted

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pp. 649-658

In the year 1813, the English had been twenty-one years at war with France, and for some time the whole Continent had been in arms against them. Even America, from political circumstances foreign to the interests of Europe, made a part of this universal coalition.1 ...

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Chapter IV. Of Liberty and Public Spirit Among the English

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pp. 659-676

The first basis of all liberty is individual security; and nothing is finer than English legislation in this respect. A criminal suit is in every country a horrible spectacle. In England the excellence of the procedure, the humanity of the judges, the precautions of every kind taken to secure the life of the innocent man, ...

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Chapter V. Of Knowledge, Religion, and Morals Among the English

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pp. 677-688

What constitutes the knowledge of a nation are sound political ideas spread among all classes and a general instruction in sciences and literature. In the first respect, the English have no rivals in Europe; in the second, I know nothing that can be compared to them, except the Germans of the North. ...

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Chapter VI. Of Society in England, and of lts Connection with Social Order

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pp. 689-701

It is not probable that we shall ever see in any country, not even in France, such a society as we there enjoyed during the first two years of the Revolution and the period that preceded it. Foreigners who flatter themselves with finding anything of the kind in England are much disappointed, for they often get bored there. ...

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Chapter VII. Of the Conduct of the English Government Outside of England

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pp. 702-716

In expressing, as much as I could, my admiration for the English nation, I have never ceased to attribute its superiority over the rest of Europe to its political institutions. It remains for us to offer a sad proof of this assertion: it is that, in things where the constitution does not command, ...

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Chapter VIII. Will Not the English Hereafter Lose Their Liberty?

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pp. 717-722

Many enlightened persons who know to what a height the prosperity of the French nation would rise, were the political institutions of England established among them, are persuaded that the English are actuated by a previous jealousy and throw every obstacle in the way of their rivals obtaining the enjoyment of that liberty ...

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Chapter IX. Can a Limited Monarchy Have Other Foundations Than That of the English Constitution?

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pp. 723-729

We find in Swift's Works a small tract entitled Polite Conversation,1 which comprises all the commonplace ideas that enter into the discourse of the fashionable world. A witty man had a plan of making a similar essay on the political conversations of the present day. "The English constitution is suitable only to Englishmen; ...

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Chapter X. Of the Influence of Arbitrary Power on the Spirit and Character of a Nation

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pp. 730-738

Frederic II, Maria Theresa, and Catherine II inspired so just an admiration by their talents for governing that it is very natural, in the countries where their memory still lives and their system is strictly followed, that the public should feel, less than in France, the necessity of a representative government. ...

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Chapter XI. Of the Mixture of Religion with Politics

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pp. 739-747

It is very often said that France has become irreligious since the Revolution. No doubt at the period of all crimes, the men who committed them must have thrown off the most sacred of restraints. But the general disposition of men at present is not connected with fatal causes, which happily are very remote from us. ...

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Chapter XII. Of the Love of Liberty

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pp. 748-756

The necessity of free governments, that is to say, of limited monarchies in great states and independent republics in those which are small, is so evident that we are tempted to believe no one can refuse sincerely to admit this truth; and yet, when we meet with men of good faith who combat it, ...

Select Bibliography on Madame de Staël

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pp. 757-768


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pp. 769-804

E-ISBN-13: 9781614878636
E-ISBN-10: 1614878633
Print-ISBN-13: 9780865977327

Page Count: 834
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: None

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Subject Headings

  • France -- History -- Revolution, 1789-1799 -- Causes.
  • France -- History -- Revolution, 1789-1799 -- Influence.
  • Staël, Madame de (Anne-Louise-Germaine), 1766-1817 -- Political and social views.
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