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FrRevol_051-100.indd 33 3/16/12 1:02 PM CHAPTER IX The Circumstances That Led to the Assembling ofthe Estates GeneraLMinistry ofM. de Calonne. M. Turgot and M. Necker owed their loss ofplace in a great degree to the influence ofthe parliaments, who were adverse both to the suppression of exemptions from taxes and to the establishment ofprovincial assemblies. This made the King think ofchoosing a finance minister from among the members of the parliament, as a method of disarming the opposition of that body when new taxes came under discussion. The consequence was the appointment, successively, ofM. Joly de Fleury and M. d'Ormesson; but neither of these had the least idea of finance business, and their ministries may be considered, in this respect, as periods of anarchy. Yet the circumstances in which they were placed were much more favorable than those with which M. Necker had had to struggle. M. de Maurepas was no more, and the war had been brought to a close. What improvements would not M. Necker have made under such auspicious circumstances! But it was part of the character of these men, or rather of the body to which they belonged, to admit of no improvements of any kind. Representatives ofthe people receive information every year, and particularly at each election, from the progress that knowledge makes in all directions; but the Parlement ofParis was, and would always have been, unacquainted with new ideas. The reason is perfectly plain; a privileged body derives its patent from history; it possesses strength today only because it has existed for ages. The consequence is, that it attaches itselfto the past and is suspicious of innovation. The case is quite different with elected deputies, who participate in the revived and increasing spirit of the nation which they represent. FrRevol_051-100.indd 34 3/16/12 1:02 PM PART I The choice of finance ministers from among the Parlement ofParis not having succeeded, the only remaining field for selection was from among the intendants, or provincial administrators appointed by the King. M. Senac de Meilhan, a superficial writer, whose only depth lay in his vanity, could not pardon M. Necker for having been appointed to his situation , for he considered the finance ministry as his right; but it was in vain that he cherished hatred or indulged in calumny; he did not succeed in drawing the public opinion to himself. Among the candidates, there was only one that had the reputation ofgreat talent-M. de Calonne: the world gave him credit for great abilities, because he treated with levity things of the greatest importance, including virtue. The French are but too apt to fall into the great mistake of ascribing wonderful powers to immoral men. Faults caused by passion may often be taken as a sign of distinguished faculties; but a disposition to venality and intrigue belongs to a kind of mediocrity, the possessor of which can be useful in nothing but for his own good. We should be nearer the truth in setting down as incapable ofpublic business any man who has devoted his life to an artful management ofpersons and circumstances. Such was M. de Calonne; and, even in this light, the frivolity ofhis character followed him, for when he meant to do mischief, he did not do it with ability.1 His reputation, founded on the report of the women in whose society he was in the habit of passing his time, pointed him out for the ministry. The King was long averse to an appointment at variance with his conscientious feelings; the Queen, although surrounded by persons ofa very different way of thinking, partook ofher husband's repugnance; and one is almost tempted to say that both had a presentiment of the misfortunes into which such a character was likely to involve them. No single man, I repeat it, can be considered the author of the French Revolution; but if we want to attribute a certain worldly event to a particular individual, then the blame should rest with M. de Calonne's actions. His object was to make himself acceptable at court by lavishing the public money; he 1. Calonne became controller general of finances in November r783 and held this position until April1787. For more information on Calonne, see Doyle, Origins ofthe French Revolution, 4)-)3. FrRevol_051-100.indd 35 3/16/12 1:02 PM cHAPTER I X . Assembling ofEstates General encouraged the King, the Queen, and the princes to dismiss...


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