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FrRevol_151-200.indd 28 3/16/12 1:04 PM CHAPTER II Ofthe Constituent Assembly Afier the z4th ofjuly. The Third Estate, and the minority ofthe nobility and clergy, formed the majority of the Constituent Assembly; and this Assembly disposed ofthe fate of France. After the 14th ofJuly, nothing could be more striking than the sight of twelve hundred deputies, listened to by numerous spectators, and stirred up at the very name of those great truths which have occupied the human mind since the origin of society on earth. This Assembly partook of the passions of the people; but no collection of men could present such an imposing mass of information.' Thoughts were communicated there with electric rapidity, because the action of man on man is irresistible , and because nothing appealed more strongly to the imagination than that unarmed will bursting the ancient chains, forged originally by conquest and now suddenly disappearing before the simplicity of reason. We must carry ourselves back to 1789, when prejudice had been the only cause ofmischief, and when unsullied liberty was the idol ofenlightened minds. With what enthusiasm did one contemplate such a number of persons of 1. The reader might find it interesting to compare Madame de Stael's views on this issue with Burke's. Stael opposed the idea that the representatives of the people are depositories of a power without limits. Burke argued: "That Assembly, since the destruction of the orders , has no fundamental law, no strict convention, no respected usage to restrain it. ... Nothing in heaven or upon earth can serve as a control on them." (Reflections, 135) Benjamin Constant insisted that since "no authority upon earth is unlimited," even the authority of the democratically elected representatives ofthe people must be properly limited. He added: "The abstract limitation of sovereignty is not sufficient. We must find for political institutions which combine the interest of the different holders of power." (Principles ofPolitics, 18o, 182) Taine's judgment on this issue can be found in Taine, The French Revolution, vol. I, 159-216. FrRevol_151-200.indd 29 3/16/12 1:04 PM CHAPTER I I. Constituent Assembly After z4]uly different classes, some coming to make sacrifices, others to enter on the possession oftheir rights. Yet there were symptoms ofa certain arrogance of power among those sovereigns of a new kind, who considered themselves depositories of a power without limits, the power of the people. The English had proceeded slowly in forming anew political constitution; the French, seeing it had stood its ground firmly for more than a century, ought to have been satisfied with its imitation. Mounier, Lally, Malouet, Clermont-Tonnerre, came forward insupport of the royal prerogative as soon as the Revolution had disarmed the partisans ofthe 0 ld Regime.2 This course was dictated not only by reflection, but by that involuntary sympathy which we feel for the powerful in a state ofmisfortune, particularly when surrounded by august recollections. This generous feeling would have been that of the French at large, if the necessity ofapplause did not with them rise pre-eminent to every other impulse ; and the spirit of the time inspired the maxims of demagogues into those very persons who were afterward to become the apologists of despotism. A man of talent said some time ago, "Whoever may be named finance minister, may consider me beforehand as his friend, and even as, in some degree, his relative." In France, on the other hand, it is a duty to befriend the vanquished party, be it what it may; for the possession ofpower produces a more depraving effect on the French than on any other nation. The habit of living at court, or the desire of getting there, forms their minds to vanity; and in an arbitrary government, people have no idea of any doctrine but that of success. It was the faults generated and brought forth by servility which were the cause of the excesses of licentiousness. Every town, every village, sent its congratulations to the Assembly; and whoever had composed one ofthese forty thousand addresses began to think himself a rival to Montesquieu. The crowd of spectators admitted into the galleries stimulated the speakers to such a degree that each endeavored to obtain a share in those 2. According to Acton, "Mounier, with some ofhis friends, deserves to be remembered among the men, not so common as they say, who loved liberty sincerely; I mean, who desired it, not for any good it might do them...


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