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FrRevol_151-200.indd 49 3/16/12 1:05 PM CHAPTER VI Ofthe Different Parties Conspicuous in the Constituent Assembly. 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. When the influence of an assembly ceases to be confined within the limits of legislating, and when a great share of the public patronage falls into its hands, the danger in any country, but particularly in France, is that general views and principles generate only sophisms, which make general truths dexterouslysubservient to the purposes of individuals. The aristocratic part of the Assembly, called the right side (coti droit), was composed almost entirely ofnobles, prelates, and members ofthe old parliament: scarcely thirty members of the Third Estate had joined them. This party, which had protested against all the resolutions ofthe Assembly, continued to attend it only from motives ofprudence: all that passed there appeared to it insolent and unimportant; so ridiculous did they think that discovery of the eighteenth century-a nation-while, till then, nothing had been heard of but nobility, priests, and people. When the members of the right side condescended to drop their ironical strain, it was to treat as impious every encroachment made on old institutions; as if the social order alone, in the course of nature, ought to be doomed to the double infirmity of infancy and old age, and to pass from the formlessness of youth to the decrepitude of old age without receiving any real strength from the knowledge acquired over time. The privileged orders made use of religion as a safeguard for the interest of their caste; and it was by thus l99 FrRevol_151-200.indd 50 3/16/12 1:05 PM PART II confounding privileges and dogmas that they greatly impaired the influence of true Christianity in France. The orator of the nobles, as I have already remarked, was M. de Casales , who had been ennobled within the last twenty-five years; for most of the men of talent among the families of real antiquity had sided with the popular party. The Abbe Maury, the orator of the clergy, often supported the good cause, because he was on the side of the vanquished, a circumstance which contributed more to his success than even his talents. The Archbishop of Aix, the Abbe de Montesquiou, and other acute defenders of their orders sometimes endeavored, like Casales, to win the favor of their adversaries, that they might obtain, not an acquiescence in their opinions but a vote of confidence on their talents. The other aristocrats were in the habit of using abusive language to the deputies of the people; and, always unwilling to yield to circumstances, imagined that they were doing good when they were only aggravating the evil. Wholly occupied in justifying their reputation as prophets, they even desired misfortune , that they might enjoy the satisfaction of having predicted truly.1 The two extreme parties in the assembly were in the habit of placing themselves as at the two ends of an amphitheater, and of occupying the highest seats on each side. On the right side,2 coming down, were the party called la plaine, or le marais; that is, the moderates, for the most part advocates of the English constitution. I have already named their chiefs, Malouet, Lally, and Mounier;3 they were the most conscientious men in the Assembly. But although Lally possessed the most impressive eloquence , though Mounier was a political writer of the greatest judgment, and Malouet a practical man of first rate energy; although out of doors they were supported by ministers, with M. Necker at their head, and although in the Assembly several men oftalent rallied under their opinions, 1. On the role of Maury and Casali~s in the constitutional debates of 1789, see Acton, Lectures on the French Revolution, 95· Acton rightly reproached the conservatives for their refusal of bicameralism out of fear that an upper chamber would be used as a reward for those who defected their ranks (106). 2. This is the origin of the terms "left" and "right," which originally designated the progressive and conservative groups, respectively, in the Assembly. 3· Acton held a similar view; see, especially, Lectures on the French Revolution, 98-103. 200 FrRevol_201-250.indd 1 3/16/12 1:05 PM...


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