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FrRevol_251-300.indd 5 3/16/12 1:06 PM CHAPTER XVIII The Introduction ofAssignats, and Retirement ofM. Necker. The members ofthe Finance Committee proposed to the ConstituentAssembly to discharge the public debt by creating nearly ninety million sterling of paper money, to be secured on church lands, and to be of compulsory circulation.1 This was a very simple method of bringing the finances in order; but the probability was that in thus getting rid of the difficulties which the administration of a great country always presents, an immense capital would be expended in a few years, and the seeds of new revolutions be sown by the disposal of that capital. In fact, without such vast pecuniary resources, neither the interior troubles ofFrance nor the foreign war could have so easily taken place. Several of the deputies who urged the Constituent Assembly to make this enormous emission of paper money were certainly unconscious ofits disastrous effects; but they were fond of the power which the command ofsuch a treasure was about to give them. M. Necker made a strong opposition to the assignat system; first, because , as we have already mentioned, he did not approve of the confiscation of all the church lands and would always, in accordance with his principles, have excepted from it the archbishoprics, bishoprics, and, above all, the smaller benefices (presby teres): for the curates have never been sufficiently paid in France, although, ofall classes ofpriests, they are 1. The first assignatswere issued on December 2r, 1789 (worth 400 million francs). Nine months later, in September 1790, the Assembly decided to limit the assignats to 1.2 million francs. In his Reflections (esp. 348-57), Burke denounced in unambiguous terms this practice , which in his view was both politically irresponsible and financially unsound. FrRevol_251-300.indd 6 3/16/12 1:06 PM PART II the most useful. The effects ofpaper money, its progressive depreciation, and the unprincipled speculations to which that depreciation gave rise were explained in M. Necker's report, with an energy too fully confirmed by the event.2 Lotteries, to which several members ofthe ConstituentAssembly and, in particular, the Bishop ofAutun (Talleyrand), very properly declared themselves adverse, are a mere game ofchance; while the profit resulting from the perpetual fluctuation ofpaper money is founded almost entirely on the art ofdeceiving, at every moment of the day, in regard to the value either of the currency or of the articles purchased with it. The lower class, thus transformed into gamblers, acquire by the facility ofirregular gains a distaste for steady labor; finally, the debtors who discharge themselves in an unfair manner are no longer people of strict probity in any other transaction. M. Necker foretold, in I790, all that has since happened in regard to the assignats-the deterioration of public wealth by the low rate at which the national lands would be sold, and that series of sudden fortunes and sudden failures which necessarily perverts the character ofthose who gain as ofthose who lose; for so great a latitude offear and hope produces agitations too violent for human nature. In opposing the system of paper money M. Necker did not confine himselfto the easy task ofattacking; he proposed, as a counter-expedient, the establishment of a bank on a plan of which the principal parts have since been adopted/ and in which he was to have introduced as a security, a portion of the church lands sufficient to restore the finances to the most prosperous condition. He also insisted strongly, but without effect, that the members of the Board of Treasury should be admitted into the Assembly , that they might discuss questions offinance in the absence of the minister, who had no right to be there. Finally, M. Necker, before quitting office, made use, for the last time, ofthe respect that he inspired in directly 2. Necker's Mimoire du Premier Ministre desfinances lu d l'Assemblie nationale le 6mars Z:J90 and his following Mimoire du z2 mars and Observations sur le rapport fait au nom du Comiti desfinances (March r790) express his deep concern for the financial situation ofthe country and recommend concrete measures to solve the crisis. 3ยท The Bank of France, created under Napoleon in January r8oo. FrRevol_251-300.indd 7 3/16/12 1:06 PM cHAPTER X vI I I . Introduction ofAssignats refusing to the Constituent Assembly, and in particular to Camus, a member , a communication of the "Red Book."4 This book contained the...


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