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FrRevol_201-250.indd 7 3/16/12 1:05 PM CHAPTER VII Ofthe Errors ofthe Constituent Assembly in Matters ofAdministration. The whole power ofgovernment had fallen into the hands ofthe 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 ofthe King, or rather of the court, prevented him from being invested with the means necessary to re-establish order; and the leaders of the Assembly took no trouble to counteract this distrust, that they might have a pretext for exercising a close inspection on ministers. M. Necker was the natural intermediary between the royal authority and the Assembly. It was well known that he would betray the rights ofneither; but the deputies, who continued attached to him notwithstanding his political moderation, believed that the aristocrats were deceiving him and pitied him for being their dupe. This, however, was by no means the case: M. Necker had as much penetration of mind as rectitude of conduct, and he perfectly knew that the privileged orders would be less backward in reconciling themselves to any party than to that ofthe early friends ofliberty. But he performed his duty by endeavoring to restore strength to the government, for a free constitution can never be the result of a general relaxation ofties: the probable consequence is despotism. The action ofthe executive power being stopped by several decrees of the Assembly, the ministers could do nothing without being authorized by it. The taxes were no longer discharged, because the people imagined that the Revolution so joyously welcomed was to bring with it the gratification ofpaying nothing. Public credit, even wiser than public opinion, although apparently dependent on it, was shaken by the faults committed 2 07 FrRevol_201-250.indd 8 3/16/12 1:05 PM PART II by the Assembly. That body had much more strength than was necessary to bring the finances into order and to facilitate the purchase of corn, rendered necessary by the scarcity with which France was again threatened . But it replied with indifference to the reiterated applications of M. Necker on these points, because it did not wish to be considered, like the old Estates General, assembled merely for financial purposes; it was to constitutional discussions that it attached the highest interest. So far the Assembly was right; but by neglecting the objects of administration it caused disorder throughout the kingdom, and by that disorder all the misfortunes of which it bore itself the pressure. At a time when France had both famine and bankruptcy to dread, the deputies used to make speeches in which they asserted that "every man has from nature a right and a wish to enjoy happiness; that society began by the father and the son," with other philosophic truths much fitter for discussion in books than in the midst of an assembly. But if the people stood in need ofbread, the speakers stood in need ofapplause, and a scarcity in that respect would have seemed to them very hard to bear. The Assembly, by a solemn decree, placed the public debt under the safeguard of the honor and loyalty of Frenchmen; but still it took no step to give a substantial effect to these fine words. M. Necker proposed a loan, at an interest offive percent; the Assembly discovered that four and a half was less than five: it reduced the interest accordingly; and the loan failed, for the plain reason that an assembly cannot, like a minister, possess the tact which shows how far the confidence of capitalists may be carried. Credit, in money matters, is almost as delicate as style in literary productions ; a single word may disfigure a sentence, as a slight circumstance may overturn a speculation. The matter, it will be said, is in substance the same; but in the one way you captivate the imagination of men, and in the other it escapes from your hold. M. Necker proposed voluntary gifts, and was the first to pour, by way of example, roo,ooo francs of his own fortune into the treasury, although he had been already obliged to dispose of a million of his property in annuities to meet, by increased income, his expense as minister; for in his second, as in his first ministry, he refused all salary. The Constituent Assembly praised his disinterestedness but still declined to take financial mat208 FrRevol_201-250.indd 9 3/16...


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