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FrRevol_201-250.indd 42 3/16/12 1:06 PM CHAPTER XIV Ofthe Suppression ofTitles ofNohility. The clergy are perhaps still the less unpopular ofthe two privileged orders in France; for equality being the moving principle of the Revolution, the nation felt itselfless hurt by the prejudices ofthe priests than by the claims of the nobles. Yet we cannot too often repeat that nothing is more unfortunate than the political influence of ecclesiastics in a country, while hereditary magistracy, of which the recollections of birth constitute a part, is an indispensable element in every limited monarchy. But the hatred of the people toward nobles having burst forth in the earliest days of the Revolution, the minority of the nobility in the Constituent Assembly wished to destroy this germ ofenmity, and to form a complete union with the nation. One evening then, in a moment of heat, a member proposed the abolition ofall titles.1 No nobleman, of those who had joined the popular party, could refuse to support this without showing ridiculous vanity; yet it would have been very desirable that the former titles should not have been suppressed without being replaced by a peerage, and by the distinctions which emanate from it. A great English writer2 has said, with truth, that "whenever there exists in a country any principle oflife whatever , a legislature ought to take advantage of it." In fact, since nothing is so difficult as to create, it is generally found necessary to engraft one institution on another. The Constituent Assembly treated France like a colony in which there was no "past";3 but wherever "a past" has existed, it is impossible to prer . On June 19, 1790. 2. That writer is Burke. 3. For a similar critique, see Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, especially 124-26: "You had all these advantages in your antient states; but you chose to act as if you FrRevol_201-250.indd 43 3/16/12 1:06 PM CHAPTER X I v. Suppression ofTitles ofNobility vent it from having influence. The French nation was tired ofthe second order ofnobility, but it had, and always will have, respect for the families distinguished in history. It was this feeling which ought to have been used in establishing an upper house, and endeavoring by degrees to consign to disuse all those denominations of Counts and Marquisses which, when they are connected neither with recollection ofthe past nor with political employments, sound more like nicknames than titles. One ofthe most singular propositions ofthis day was that ofrenouncing the names of estates, which many families had borne for ages, and obliging them to resume their patronymic appellations. In this way the Montmorencies would have been called Bouchard;La Fayette, Mottii; Miraheau , Riquetti. This would have been stripping France ofher history; and no man, howsoever democratic, either would or ought to renounce in this manner the memory ofhis ancestors. The day after this decree was passed, the newspaper writers printed in their accounts of the meeting Riquetti the elder instead of Comte de Miraheau: he went up in a rage to the reporters who were taking notes of the debates in the Assembly, and said to them, "You have by your Riqueui puzzled Europe for three days." This effusion encouraged everyone to resume the name borne by his father; a course that could not be prevented without resorting to an inquisition quite contrary to the principles of the Assembly, for we should always remember that it never made use ofthe expedients ofdespotism to establish liberty. M. Necker, alone among the members ofcouncil, proposed to the King to refuse his sanction to the decree which put an end to nobility without establishing a patrician body in its stead; and his opinion not having been adopted, he had the courage to publish it. The King had determined on sanctioning indiscriminately all the decrees ofthe Assembly: his plan was to be considered by others, after the 6th of October, as being in a state of captivity; and it was only in compliance with his religious scruples that had never been moulded into civil society, and had everything to begin anew. You began ill because you began by despising everything that belonged to you. You set up your trade without a capital." (Reflections on the Revolution in France, 124) 243 FrRevol_201-250.indd 44 3/16/12 1:06 PM PART II he did not in the sequel affix his name to the decrees which proscribed those of the...


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