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FrRevol_001-050.indd 45 3/16/12 1:01 PM CHAPTER III On the State ofPuhlic Opinion in France at the Accession ofLouis XVI. There is extant a letter ofLouis XV to the Duchess ofChoiseul, 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." In fact, in following the course of events during the eighteenth century, we easily perceive that it was the aristocratic bodies in France that first attacked the royal power; not from any intention of overturning the throne, but from being pressed forward by public opinion, which acts on men without their knowing it, and often leads them on in contradiction to their interest. Louis XV bequeathed to his successor a general spirit ofdiscontent among his subjects, the necessary consequence of his endless errors. The finances had been kept up only by bankrupt expedients: the quarrels of the Jesuits and Jansenists had brought the clergy into disrepute. Banishments and imprisonments, incessantly repeated , had failed in subduing the opposition of theparlement, and it had been necessary to substitute for that body, whose resistance was supported by public opinion, a magistracy without respectability, and under the presidency ofa disreputable chancellor, M. de Maupeou.1 The nobility, so submissive under Louis XIV, now took part in the general discontent. The great lords, and even the princes of the blood, showed attention toM. de I. Maupeou (1714- 92), chancellor ofFrance 1768- 74, was instrumental in helping King Louis XV assert his domination over the parlements that opposed the fiscal measures proposed by the monarch. In I77I, Maupeou dissolved theparlements and exiled the magistrates from Paris, creating in their place a new high court and a system of superior courts. The nobles came to dislike Maupeou and eventually convinced Louis XVI to dismiss him and restore the old parlements. FrRevol_001-050.indd 46 3/16/12 1:01 PM PART I Choiseul,Z exiled on account ofhis resistance to the despicable ascendancy ofa royal mistress. Modifications ofthe political organization were desired by all orders of the state; and never had the evils ofarbitrary power been more severely felt than under a reign which, without being tyrannical, presented a perpetual succession ofinconsistencies. No course ofreasoning can so fully demonstrate the misery of depending on a government which is influenced in the first instance by mistresses, and afterward by favorites and relations of mistresses, down to the lowest class of society. The process against the existing state of things in France commenced under Louis XV in the most regular form before the eyes ofthe public; and whatever might be the virtues of the next sovereign, it would have been difficult for him to alter the opinion of reflecting men that France should be relieved by fixed institutions from the hazards attending hereditarysuccession . The more conducive hereditary succession is to the public welfare , the more necessary it is that the stability oflaw, under a representative government, should preserve a nation from the political changes which would otherwise be the unavoidable results of the different character of each king, and still more of each minister. Certainly if it were necessary to commit entirely the fate of a nation to the will of a sovereign, Louis XVI merited more than anyone else that which no man can deserve. But there was reason to hope that a prince, so scrupulously conscientious, would feel a pleasure in associating the nation in some way or other with himself in the management of public affairs. Such would doubtless have been all along his way of thinking, if, on the one hand, the opposition had begun in a more respectful form, and if, on the other, in every age, certain writers had not been willing to make kings consider their authority as sacred as their creed. The opponents of philosophy endeavor to invest royal despotism with all the sacredness of a religious dogma, in order to avoid submitting their political views to the test of reasoning; the most effectual way certainly to avoid it. The Queen, Marie Antoinette, was one of the most amiable and gracious persons who ever occupied a throne: there was no reason why she 2. Etienne-Fran~ois, Duke of Choiseul (1719-85), French military officer, diplomat, and statesman. FrRevol_001-050.indd 47 3/16/12 1:01 PM CHAPTER III. Accession ofLouis XVI should not preserve the love of the French, for...


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