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FrRevol_251-300.indd 31 3/16/12 1:07 PM CHAPTER XXIII Acceptance ofthe Constitution, Called the Constitution ofZJ9Z. Thus ended that famous Assembly which united so much knowledge to so many errors, which was the cause ofpermanent good but ofgreat immediate evil, the remembrance of which will long serve as a pretext for attacks by the enemies of liberty. Behold, say they, the result ofthe deliberations ofthe most enlightened men in France. But we may say to them in reply: consider what must be the situation of men who, never having exercised any political right, find themselves all at once in posession of that which is so ruinous to everyone -unlimited power: they will be long before they are aware that injustice suffered by any individual citizen, whether a friend or enemy of liberty, recoils on the head ofall; they will be long before they understand the theory of liberty, which is so simple when one is born in a country where the laws and manners teach it, so difficult when one has lived under an arbitrary government in which everything is decided by circumstances, and principles always rendered subservient to them. Finally, at all times and in every country, to make a nation pass from the government of a court to the government of law is a crisis of the greatest difficulty, even when public opinion renders it unavoidable. History should then consider the Constituent Assembly under a double point of view: the abuses which it destroyed, and the institutions which it created. Under the former it has great claims on the gratitude ofmankind; under the latter it may be reproached with the most serious errors. On the proposition ofM. de laFayette, a general amnesty was granted to all those who had participated in the King's journey or committedwhat could be called political offenses. He obtained likewise a decree enabling 28z FrRevol_251-300.indd 32 3/16/12 1:07 PM PART II every individual to leave France, and return, without a passport. The emigration was already begun. In the next chapter I shall point out the distinction between the emigration prompted by political views and that unavoidable emigration which was of later date. But that which should fix our attention is that the Constituent Assembly rejected every measure proposed to it that would have impeded civil liberty. The minority ofthe nobility was actuated by that spirit of justice which is inseparable from disinterestedness. Among the deputies of the Third Estate, Dupont de Nemours,' who survived in spite ofhis courage, Thouret, Barnave, Chapelier , and so many others who fell the victims oftheir excellent principles certainly brought none but the purest intentions into their deliberations; but a tumultuous and ignorant majority carried their point in the decrees relative to the constitution. There was a sufficient store of knowledge in France in whatever related to the judicial branch and the details ofadministration ; but the theory ofpowers required more profound information. It was thus, then, the most painful of intellectual spectacles to see the blessings of civil liberty committed to the safeguard of a political liberty that had neither moderation nor strength. This ill-fated constitution, so good in its foundation and so bad in its superstructure, was presented to the acceptance ofthe King.2 He certainly could not refuse it, as it put an end to his captivity; but the public flattered itself that his consent was voluntary. Fetes were held as if for a season of happiness; rejoicings were ordered that people might persuade themselves that the danger was over; the words "King," "Representative Assembly," "Constitutional Monarchy" corresponded to the real wishes of all the 1. Dupont de Nemours (1739-1817) was a prominent member of the Third Estate. Arrested during the Terror, he immigrated to the United States after September 4, 1797 (18 Fructidor). Madame de Stael's correspondence with him was translated into English as De Stae"l-Dupont Letters. Correspondence ofMadame de Stael and Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours and ofOther Members ofthe Necker and duPont Families. For more information on Stael's views on America, see Hawkins, Madame de Stae"! and the United States. 2. From the very beginning, the relations between the monarch and the Legislative Assembly were extremely tense. Reluctant to endorse some of the Assembly's decisions, the King unwisely decided to veto them. This was the case, for example, with the Assembly's decree that the emigres assembled on the frontiers should be liable to the penalties of death...


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