DEMOCRATIC AND REPUBLICAN IDEAS AT THE OUTSET OF THE REVOLUTION
THE first events of the Revolution did not immediately result in the formation of a republican or a democratic party. But, although the French were not at the time fully conscious of the fact, these first episodes set the nation upon a road which led inevitably to democracy and a republic. We shall see how the nation engaged in such a course when it was, in its own eyes, taking the opposite course; and first we must roughly picture the circumstances under which the monarchy and the bourgeoisie then existed .
PEASANT AND BOURGEOIS
We have seen that in 1789 there appeared to be two Frances; the enlightened France and the ignorant France, a rich France and a poor France. As for the political rights which the publicists of the day were demanding, it was only for the well-to-do and the educated that these rights were claimed. Owners of property were to be "active citizens"; they alone having the right to vote. Those without property were to be "passive citizens". In short, "the nation is the bourgeoisie".
Between the bourgeoisie and the people there is a gulf. The richer classes exaggerate the stupidity and obliviousness of the people above all, of the rural masses. There is ill-feeling and misunderstanding between the two classes. To clear up this misunderstanding will require a conference, a general meeting and mingling of the middle classes with the people as a whole.
Such a result will follow the convocation of the Estates-General.
At the Parish Assemblies the Third Estate is admitted almost without exception, under a slight property restriction, to fulfil the condition of being "included in the roll of taxpayers". This is very nearly universal suffrage.
Had royalty established this suffrage, so contrary to the ideas of the century, for the very reasons that induced the philosophers and the writers in favour of reform to reject it? Did the King hope, in the poor and ignorant masses, to find an element of resistance against the new and revolutionary ideas of the middle class? I have not found any documentary evidence which will allow me to answer this question precisely, but to me it does not seem impossible that the King did have some confused idea of appealing to universal suffrage against the opposition of the middle class, to darkness against light.
If such a calculation did really exist, it was disproved by the event.
To be sure, the cahiers are more timid than the books and pamphlets of the time; but as a general thing they demand a Constitution, and a Constitution is the end of absolutism it is, to some extent, the Revolution.
Moreover, there are cahiers which are bold in the extreme.
However, neither the hopes of royalty nor the fears of the bourgeoisie were realised supposing that such hopes and fears existed. In any case, we must note how the misunderstanding between the bourgeoisie and the people was dissipated or diminished on the occasion of convocation and the drawing up of the cahiers.
Collaboration took place between the bourgeoisie and the people in the drafting of the cahiers of the first degree, or the parish cahiers; and in general we must not, in the case of rural communities, regard these cahiers as the personal work of peasants. It was usually a man of the middle classes who held the pen, and in most localities, even in the most rustic, there were a few educated men. The majority of the parish cahiers that we possess testify to a considerable amount of culture a culture higher than that of the provincial middle classes of today.
If the cahier is not dictated by peasants, it is at least read to and approved by them. There is an assembly at which peasants and middle classes mingle together, chat with one another, and publicly discuss and debate. It is the first time such a colloquy has taken place; the occasion is a fraternal one, and the classes are quickly in agreement. The middle-class man sees that the peasant is more intelligent or less imbecile than he had supposed; that, by what obscure channels who knows?, the spirit of the times has touched him. The peasants, once they have met together, soon rise to the idea of a common interest; they have the sense that they are many and powerful, and they obtain, from the middle classes, a percep- tion of their rights. For them this Parish Assembly is a civic apprenticeship.
We must not picture the whole peasantry rising at once to the revolutionary idea of the mother-country. But they take the Convocation seriously; they feel that it will bring about an event which will be beneficial to themselves, and they conceive an image of the King, an image which is a reflection of the idea of country. To them, it appears in deadly earnest that the King is going to concern himself with the cure of the ills which afflict them; it is in earnest that they recount these ills, or, rather, accept the account of them that the gentlemen of the village write for them; and when they sign with a cross at the bottom of the document, they have no fear that this cross will subject them to surcharges of taxation and the nuisance of collectors. By no means; their signature is an act of confidence and hope.
We have here no longer the vile populace, slighted and feared by Mably, Rousseau, and Condorcet. But it is not as yet the sovereign people. They are men who at last are counting on being treated as men; almost candidates for the dignity of citizen; and who, tomorrow, by an electric impulse issuing, at the fall of the Bastille, from Paris, will feel themselves animated by an impetus of union and agglomeration from which will issue the new nation, the new France.
Let us repeat that the middle classes also have found somewhat to learn at these assemblies namely, to be less scornful of the poor and the ignorant. It is true that men will still declaim against the populace, and the middle class will even establish itself as a caste politically privileged. But enlightened Frenchmen will no longer, after this royal experiment in universal suffrage, be unanimous in declaring the unlettered to be incapable of exercising political rights. A democratic party is about to declare itself, and will soon be fully formed. The method of convening the Third Estate at the Estates-General allows us almost to foretell the advent of universal suffrage, and, as a consequence, the establishment of the Republic, the national form of Democracy.
KING AND NOBLES
If the King had hoped that the deputies of the Third Estate, elected by the universal suffrage of the ignorant, would not dare to undertake any serious attacks upon despotism, he was very quickly undeceived.
The Court, no doubt, believed that these delegates, elected by so many different peoples, bearers of vague or discordant mandates, and often instructed to procure the preservation of local privileges, whether of country or town, would be hopelessly divided by their particularist tendencies; that, for example, between these Provençals and those Bretons, this southern and that western people, there would be rivalries and quarrels. And the cahiers lead us to expect such dissensions.
It so fell out, on the contrary, that once met together in a single chamber at Versailles, during the long period of marking time which lasted from May 5, 1789, until the middle days of June, there sprang up among these deputies of the Third Estate a sense of solidarity. Better than this : in looking at one another, speaking one with the other, touching hands, these delegates of the different peoples of France began to feel that they were citizens of a single nation, Frenchmen before all else, and they give voice to this feeling, and men perceive it at work, and the sentiment of a united patriotism begins to spread through France.
This nation, suddenly brought to birth in the Salle des Menus, is one, and its desire also is one : to govern itself.
The King felt himself threatened, in so far as he was King according to the ancien régime. The nobility and the higher clergy felt the threat also, for they held their privileges according to the ancien régime.
The nobles and the Crown, formerly enemies, effected an immediate reconciliation, without preface, without phrases, without reason given. The common danger brought them together. An intelligent King who had inherited the spirit of Henri IV had evaded the perilous embraces of his "faithful nobles", instantly making the necessary concessions to his "faithful commons", and had remained King after the new fashion; King, it is true, in another sense, but King nevertheless, and a King even more powerful than ever before, supported as he would have been by the people which was the nation. Louis XVI was drawn by the Court into an alliance with the old state of things, an alliance which was to end in the overthrow of royalty.
At the very outset he had, by a humiliating ceremony, wounded the Third Estate, who came to him full of affection.
By his very first words, on the other hand, he contradicted himself, and denied his promises of reform; denied the royal programme contained in the Report of Council of December 27, 1788, in which he had approved of the views and principles of the Report of Necker, that is to say, a complete revolution, pacific and controlled, which, had it taken place in time, would have prevented a violent and perilous revolt.
This, officially, was the opinion and the policy of the King. In reality he had no opinion, no programme. He allowed promises to be wrested from him because he needed money, and because Necker, in that matter, was the indispensable, influential man.
This absolute King has neither initiative nor effective power. Men harass him, wring concessions from him; Parliament, Necker, the Court, press upon him in turn. He contradicts himself incessantly, breaking his engagements under the stress of the moment. Every one is aware of this; sensible folk do not regard his promises seriously. He seems to have no personal, individual existence. It is on this very impersonality of the King that the partisans of the Revolution found their hopes; they think that in order to succeed they have only to advise the King with consistency and overwhelming insistence.
Reasonable, this; but there are permanent councillors who cannot be removed the Queen and the Comte d'Artois, the Royal Family, the Court. Always at hand, the permanent influence is theirs, and it is retrograde. The King, who agrees with no one, feels entirely at one with them. His instincts are kindly, but he is, in his own way, as jealous of his absolute power as was ever Louis XIV. At heart, he wishes to maintain royalty by Divine right precisely as it is, and he is as great an absolutist as he is a pietist. But there is no visible sign of this policy of conservation. He dodges, manoeuvres, shilly-shallies, from day to day. He is a hypocrite because he is weak. Mallet du Pan, as early as December, 1787, wrote in his private diary :
"From one day to the next they change their ideas and systems of politics at Versailles. No rules, no principles. The sun never rises three days at Versailles to shine on the same intention. The uncertainty of weakness and total incapacity".
The promises of the Report of Council had a very definite air. They were rendered from the first unrealisable, by the care which was taken to decide nothing definite as to the manner in which the Estates-General should deliberate. Although in the Provincial Assemblies the deputies voted per head, this method of voting was not prescribed for the National Assembly, yet no other was prescribed. The Estates will decide. Or rather, they will not decide; they will quarrel over the matter, and their lack of harmony will annihilate them. Yes; but in this case there will be no subsidies, and it was to obtain these that the Estates were convoked. What then? What was desired it is impossible to say; perhaps it was not known; perhaps they counted on chance.
Then, in the opening session of May 5, 1789, when there is an opportunity of striking an important blow, of assuming the direction of men's minds and of wants of orientating the course of evolution, as we should say the King no longer speaks of his promises of reform, but of his rights. He declares that he commands the nation, that he will maintain intact his authority and the principles of the monarchy. He wishes for the welfare of his subjects, but the latter need hope for nothing but sentiments. It was thus that recently, when the Parliament said Justice, he replied, Mercy.
And the Estates had the pleasure of hearing a diffuse and tedious Report of Necker's, from which the Court had forced him to discard the essentials of the programme of December 27th.
Then commenced those long preparatory speeches between the three Orders, on the question of voting per head, with reference to the verification of their powers. We know how the Third grew bolder, feeling that it was the Nation; while the Nobles girded themselves for the defence of their privileges and of the Clergy; the majority of the cures and several bishops made common cause with the Third Estate.
On June i7th the Third Estate declared itself the National Assembly. Since we are recounting the origins of the Republic, we must here recall the unconciously repubican manner in which this Assembly immediately performed an act of sovereignty in the name of the Nation. It consented provisionally that the imposts and "contributions", however illegally established and collected, should continue to be raised in the same manner as before, but this only until the day when the Assembly should separate. Then it announced its intention of dealing with the question of finances, but only after it should, in concert with his Majesty, have fixed the principles of the national regeneration. And setting to work at once, it named, on the 19th, four Committees.
Whatever might be thought of the insolence of these words, hear and enact, nothing should have prevented the King, who had heard many insolent words, from accepting the accomplished fact and turning it to his profit, by ordering the two privileged Orders from henceforward to join the National Assembly. It was to the interest of the King, who would thus become the director and regulator of the new order of things, to shake off the aristocracy, his historic enemy, and to procure himself, along with an enormous popularity, the means of being a free and active King, in place of remaining the oppressed and impotent monarch that he had hitherto been.
But, despite all this, following on the day of June 17th, there was sealed the unexpected, and, if we may say so, the anti-historic alliance of the King and the Nobles. The retreat of Louis XVI at Marly, after the death of the Dauphin, had delivered him over absolutely to the influence of the Queen and the Comte d'Artois. He yielded to the supplications of the Nobles, and also (we know how great was his piety) to those of the Archbishop of Paris, and decided to resist the Third Estate, to annul the resolution of the 17th, and to order the separation of the Orders in the Estates-General.
A Royal Session was announced; but instead of prompt action there was delay. The Hall of the Third Estate was closed for the preparations for the Session. This led to the Oath of the Tennis Court (June 20th), which apparently was refused by none of the twenty-four deputies who had voted against the resolution of June 17th an oath of resistance, an oath to create a Constitution in spite of all.
And on the 22nd the majority of the Clergy joined the Third Estate. The Royal Session took place on the 23rd. The King made important concessions, which, before his alliance with the Nobles, would perhaps have been welcomed with enthusiasm. But he speaks as an absolute monarch giving orders, annuls the edict of the 17th, and forbids the three Orders to vote per head, except on insignificant matters. Finally he bids the deputies separate at once, in separate Orders.
Will the King be obeyed? Here is a portentous moment! But men had by now formed quite a habit of disobeying the King; and the "beds of justice" had not overcome the resistance of the Parliaments. Men knew by experience that a "No", if spoken firmly enough, would make the King retreat; his defeat of 1788 was in the memory of all. Were the repre- sentatives of the Nation to show less energy than the councillors of the Parliament? Hence the speech of Mirabeau, the "bayonet speech"; hence the unanimous declaration of the Assembly that it will persist in its suppressed precedents, and the decree making inviolable the persons of the deputies.
What was the King to do? He had given his orders in such a tone that it seemed he could do nothing but order out his troops. He does nothing at all. The Abbé Jallet tells us that on being notified of the attitude of the Assembly, he cried, "Oh, well, confound it, let them stick where they are!"
Four days later, on June 27th, he commanded the Nobles to rejoin the National Assembly, and thus himself solemnly consecrated the decree of June 17th, which he had solemnly annulled on the 23rd.
In this manner he proclaimed himself defeated in a most undignified manner, and put himself in the train of the Revolution of which he might have been the leader. The shrewder minds saw plainly from that moment what a mortal blow royalty had received. tienne Dumont heard Mirabeau exclaim : "This is how kings are led to the scaffold!". And, according to Malouet, Mirabeau already foresaw "the invasion of the democracy", that is to say, the Republic.
THE ASSEMBLY IN DANGER
The decree of June 27th was regarded, not as a rupture of the alliance between the King and the Nobles, but as an expedient, a forced concession, a means of marking time. There was an appearance of surrender; but troops were recalled from the frontiers.
The deputies hastened to fulfil their functions. They considered they had received from their constituents an imperative mandate to the effect that they should not grant a penny of subsidy until they had established a Constitution. No later than July 6th they nominated a Committee of Constitution (of thirty members). On the 9th, in the name of this Committee, Mounier brought forward a draft proposal, divided into clauses, in which he undertook to define precisely the rights of the nation and those of the King; firstly, by a Declaration of Rights (of which La Fayette, in his own name, presented a first draft on the 11th); and, secondly, by an exposition of "the constitutional principles of the monarchy".
The Court, on their side, hastened to prepare for the coup d'état, with a view to dissolving the National Assembly. An army of foreign mercenaries, with ample artillery, blockaded the Assembly, cutting it off from Paris.
The Assembly, on July 8th and 9th, demands that the King shall dismiss the troops. The King refuses, haughtily (July 11th), and ironically proposes to the Assembly that it should be transferred to Noyon or to Soissons; then, throwing off the mask, dismisses Necker and forms a Ministry by a coup d'état.
The Assembly takes up an excellent position, declaring that the dismissed ministers take with them its esteem and regrets; "that the ministers and the civil and military agents of authority are responsible for any undertaking contrary to the rights of the nation and the decrees of this Assembly"; thus placing the responsibility on the King's present ministers and councillors, "no matter of what rank they may be"; and it further proclaims that it insists upon the decrees of June 17th, 2Oth, and 23rd, and demands once more the dismissal of the troops.
War is declared. On the one hand is the King, resting on his privileges; on the other, the National Assembly, which represents the nation. In this duel between Might and Right, or, if it be preferred, between the Past and the Future, between the politics of the status quo and the politics of progress and evolution, the cause of the Right seems defeated in advance.
The King has only to give the word to the foreign mercenaries, to imprison the heads of the Assembly, and to send the others home to their provinces. What resistance could the members have offered? A Roman attitude, a historic phrase, had been powerless to turn aside a bayonet.
But the dispersal of the Assembly would not have met with the approval of France, and this approval was indispensable if Royalty were to obtain the money which it had not, and without which it could not exist. The King would have been compelled, later on, to convoke another Estates-General. But in the meantime the old state of things continued; the Revolution adjourned.
A kind of miracle was required before the National Assembly could extricate itself from this dangerous position; an army was needed to oppose the army of the King. This miracle, we know, took place, in the shape of the spontaneous intervention of Paris.
The Court was scarcely on its guard against Paris, since it had convoked the Assembly in the nearest town. Paris, which lived on the luxury of the ancien régime, was Paris, thought the Court, likely to rise in aid of a revolution that might perhaps be its ruin? And if there were an insurrection, would it be serious? What could be hoped or feared from this insolent populace, ready, so they said, to scatter in flight before a handful of halberdiers, a populace despised by the very philosophers? The agitators of the Palais Royal, the hare-brained, bawling, unarmed mobs how should such as these drive back the seasoned Royal troops? To the wits of the Court, Paris appeared, as we have said, as a negligible quantity.
Ah, well! Paris rose as one man; armed herself; took the Bastille; threw up breastworks; formed an armed camp, an insurgent commune; and the King was beaten, and forced to make submission; if not sincere, at least complete. The whole history of France was changed by the intervention of Paris, Paris, followed by the whole of France.
I need not here relate in detail the story of the Revolution (municipal in form) which the taking of the Bastille brought about, in July and August, 1789, , first in the cities and then in the country. I will only pont out that it was a capital factor among the factors which prepared the advent of democracy and the Republic.
It is true that the municipal revolution is not effected to the sound of "Long live the Republic!". No such cry is heard, either in Paris or in the provinces. On the contrary, the cry that is often feard is "Long live the King", even when the peasants are attacking the chateaux. Everywhere it is believed that the King will profit by the downfall of "feudal despotism", the scourge of the country districts, and of "ministerial despotism", the scourge of the cities. The masses are unaware that the King has betrayed the "nation" for the sake of the alliance with the Nobles, and the educated classes, who are not unaware of the fact, remain royalists nevertheless. The King is still, in the eyes of all men, the personification of the nation into which the thirty thousand communes are incorporated. But in reality the King is not the director of this movement; it takes place irrespective of the King. What could be more essentially republican than the act of this nation, which, having turned the old state of things upside down, sets to work at governing itself, the whole nation up and in arms?
The situation has changed indeed. In place of an Assembly blockaded by an army of mercenaries, an Assembly protected by millions of armed Frenchmen! Yesterday its tone was one of mournful dignity and a kind of hopeless courage. Today it speaks as a sovereign body; its acts are sovereign; it forms a Committee of Inquiry and a Committee of Reports, which are, as it were, rough drafts of the Committees of Public Welfare and of General Security. Even the idea of the Revolutionary Tribunal is already apparent in the proposal to form a tribunal for judging crimes against the nation, which in the meantime the Assembly itself will judge.
The old privileged institutions all bow before the majesty of the new sovereign : the Parliament of Paris, the Court of Accounts, the Chambers of Excise, the University, all defile before the Bar of the Assembly, bringing, as it were, the homage of the Past. And the cities of France come also to bring the homage of the Future.
Despite all this, would the Assembly have dared or desired to make a clean sweep of the old rule? Such a course was contrary to the views of the philosophers, all of whom had disapproved of a radical revolution. The Assembly even debated the question of taking measures of repression against the partial insurrections which it heard had broken out here and there, when it learned that these insurrections were all along the line victorious, and that the feudal system had fallen to the ground.
Then the tide of enthusiasm and revolt, which, coming first from Paris, had swept all France, broke on the Assembly itself; and on the night of August 4, 1789, ratifying the accomplished fact, it declared the feudal system abolished.
And the nation which had done these things, the nation of whom the Assembly was no more than the interpreter, was still, as Grégoire had stated at the session of July 14th, the "idolater of its King". And the members had no more idea of destroying royalty after the municipal revolution than they had had before it. The declarations of August 4th proclaimed Louis XVI the restorer of French liberty.
Another proclamation, that of August loth, consecrated the municipal revolution, and submitted the royal power to a new and serious check, breaking the very sword of the King. The Assembly decided, among other matters :
"That the soldiers shall swear, in the presence of the entire regiment under arms, never to abandon their colours, and to be faithful to the Nation, the King, and the Law;
"That the officers shall swear, before the municipal authorities, in the presence of their troops, to remain faithful to the Nation, the King, and the Law, and never to employ those who shall be under their orders against the citizens, except at the requisition of the civil and municipal authorities, which requisition shall always be read to the assembled troops."
THE DECLARATION OF RIGHTS
Such were the principal events which, at the outset of the Revolution, caused the supreme power to slip from the hands of the King into those of the nation; and which, through the municipal revolution, established in France a republican condition of things : not thirty thousand independent republics, not an anarchy, but thirty thousand communes, united to form a nation under the actual sovereignty of the French people : in other words, a kind of united republic in process of formation, in which the King would no longer have more than a nominal authority.
The Constituent Assembly had partially ratified this state of things by the declarations of August 4th and 10th. It ratified it also by the Declaration of Rights; then modified it, in a conservative, or rather reactionary, manner, by organising the monarchy and by establishing the bourgeoisie as a politically privileged class.
We will first examine the Declaration of Rights, which is the most remarkable fact in the history of the growth of democratic and republican ideas. A new Committee of Constitution of eight members was nominated on July 14th. It made its first two reports on July 27th and 28th, through the medium of Champion de Cicé and Mourner. The public debate began on August 1st, the question being whether or no a Declaration should precede the Constitution. Here we may usefully recall the fact that every one was unanimously agreed that the way must be cleared by a "declaration of rights of man and citizen". This was a matter of proclaiming, in the French tongue, the same principles that the Anglo-Americans had proclaimed.
No one, or scarcely a soul, contested the truth of these principles, in favour of which there was a wide and profound current of opinion.
It was by no means by a piece of puerile pedantry that the Committee of Constitution proposed to inscribe these principles before the Constitution. It was a political move and an act of war. To proclaim them at this moment was to settle the principles from which the Constitution should issue. It was to strike the supreme blow at absolute power. It was to consecrate, to ratify the Revolution.
Nor was it only in puerile pedantry that a few defenders of the royal authority proposed an adjournment; they knew that the American Revolution had begun in this manner, and that the Revolution had ended by the Americans ridding themselves of their King.
Was the sovereignty to pass from the King to the people by law, as it had done in fact? This was the burning question of the moment; it was, indeed, the question of the whole Revolution.
The royalist drafters of the Declaration were in no way dismayed by the republican character of the Declaration. One of the reporters of the Committee of Constitution took care to point out that it was an imitation of the American Declaration; he was the Archbishop of Bordeaux. Did he, personally, approve of the basis of the Declaration, a basis not merely republican, but philosophical, rationalistic? Yes; since in his report he says : "The members of your Committee are all taken up with this important Declaration of Rights. Essentially, they scarcely differ; superficially, they differ considerably".
We must understand, however, that even if all were agreed to accept, or, at least, not to contest, the principles of the Declaration, some would certainly inquire, above all at the outset, while they were not completely certain that the municipal revolution had triumphed through all the land, whether it were prudent to proclaim these principles as a body of doctrine. The opinion of the Assembly was at first uncertain in this respect; and the discussions in the committee-rooms and corners would have led one even to foresee a decision in the negative. Gaultier de Biauzat wrote to his constituents, on July 29th : "We decided, in my study, this evening, that it would be useless and dangerous to insert a Declaration of the Rights of Man in a Constitution". And Barère, at first himself undecided, printed in his paper, the Point da Jour: "The first day of the debates it appeared doubtful if they would adopt even the idea of a Declaration of Rights separate from the Constitution".
Many of the bourgeoisie, then on the eve of granting themselves political privileges, hesitated to proclaim the rights of the proletariat. They did not contest these rights; they did think it imprudent to shout them in the ears of the proletariat, for the reason that they were willing only for the partial application of these rights, reserving the political exercise of them for themselves.
It was the nobles who carried the Assembly with them, the young and enthusiastic nobles. The Comte de Montmorency says (August 1, 1759) :
"... The object of every political constitution, as of all social unions, can only be the conservation of the rights of the man and the citizen. The representatives of the people owe to themselves that they may more clearly perceive their path; they owe to their constituents, who must know and judge their motives; their successors, who will enjoy the results of their work while perfecting it, and other nations, who can appreciate their example, and use it to their own advantage; they owe, finally, to their native land, as an indispensable preliminary of the Constitution, a Declaration of the Rights of the Man and the Citizen. It is a truth in support of which the thought of America immediately presents itself ..."
The Comte de Castellane sees in the Declaration the true weapon to be used against the royal caprices and the system of lettres de cachet:
"Gentlemen, we cannot doubt that this detestable invention has come into being solely through the state of ignorance in which the people are plunged concerning their rights. We know they have never sanctioned such a thing. Never have the French run mad all at the same time and said to their King: 'We give you an arbitrary power over our persons; we wish to be free only till the moment it suits you to make slaves of us, and our children too shall be slaves of your children; you may, at your will, tear us from our families, immure us in your prisons, where we shall be confided to the care of a jailer chosen by you, who, mighty in his infamy, will himself be above the reach of the law. If despair, or the interest of your mistress, or one of your favourites, turns this abode of horror into our tomb, no one will hear our dying voice; your will, actual or supposed, will have rendered all just: you alone will be our accuser, our judge, and executioner'."
Laws against despotism can only be enforced by the people. Therefore the rights of the people must be proclaimed. If the objection be raised that "at this very moment the multitude is committing excesses, Castellane replies that the best means of arresting licence is to lay the foundations of Liberty".
Republican language indeed! And we must not suppose tnat such deputies as were hostile to a Declaration spoke in a different tone; for the Bishop of Langres went so far as to say that the subject of a monarchy and the citizen of a republic had the same rights.
And the adversaries of any Declaration whatever : what were they saying? Let us see how the Courrier de Provence sums up their opinion :
"Messieurs Crénière and Grandin, the Duc de Levis, and the Bishop of Langres have strongly insisted on the inconveniences which would, according to them, follow an exposition of the rights of the man and the citizen in a monarchy, in which the present state of things is so often in direct opposition to such rights that the people might abuse them. Here is a curtain which it would be imprudent to raise of a sudden. Here is a secret which must be kept from the people, until a good Constitution shall have altered their condition so that they may understand without danger. A wise man does not awaken a sleep-walker who is passing between two precipices, for instead of saving he would risk destroying him. These gentlemen have not expressed themselves in these words; but we give the sense of such objections as have struck us," &c.
And Malouet says during the session of August 3rd :
"Why transport a man to the summit of a mountain, there to show him all the kingdom of his rights, when we are obliged, afterwards, to make him descend, to assign him boundaries, and to cast him back into the real world, where he will find obstacles at every step?"
When the Assembly learned, on August 4th, that the Revolution was victorious on all hands, it ceased to give ear to these objections, and, ratifying the popular victory, it decreed, a few hours before voting the abolition of the feudal system, that the Constitution should be preceded by a Declaration of Rights, and that there would not be a Declaration of Duties.
From La Fayette, Siéyès, Mounier, Target, &c., there emanated several proposals, dissimilar in outward form, but similar as regards their principles. On August 12th the Assembly named a Committee of five members whose duty it was to reduce these proposals to one single project. On the 17th the Committee presented its report through the medium of Mirabeau, a report which seemed very badly drawn up. Mirabeau, secretly hostile to any Declaration whatever, proposed to adjourn it until after the promulgation of the Constitution. On the 18th it was sent to the various departments of the executive of the Assembly, and each bureau prepared a draft proposal. On the 19th the Assembly took as basis the proposal of the sixth bureau, on which it voted, with important amendments, from the 2Oth to the 26th.
The result was practically a new draft, far better than the text of the sixth bureau or the other proposals. We are met, indeed, with an almost incredible phenomenon : that these twelve hundred deputies, of whom, when quietly at work, whether alone or in little groups, we may fairly say that a concise and luminous expression was beyond them, should find the true phrases -dignified, brief, noble- in the tumult of a public discussion; and that it was by means of improvised strokes of amendment that the edifice of the Declaration of Rights was elaborated in the course of a week. Thus, the very Mounier who, whether in his personal project for a Declaration, or in the proposal which he presented in the name of the Committee of July 28th, could only find the feeblest phrases, was able in full and public session of the Assembly to improvise and to obtain the acceptance of the powerful phrases of the preamble and the first three Articles. He is no longer merely Mounier the lawyer, isolated, inharmonious, uncertain of the success of the Revolution, and labouring, by the light of his lamp, to draw his thoughts from his mind; he is the member of a powerful body; he represents a victorious nation, and finds himself the interpreter of life and reality.
Other amendments were improvised with no less success by Alexandra de Lameth, Lally-Tollendal, and Talleyrand.
As a rule, these amendments were attempts to be more concise. Sometimes, however, they were attempts at explanation, not for reasons of taste or rhetoric, but for reasons of fact and historical truth.
For instance, Article 14 of the draft of the sixth bureau, which served as the basis of the discussion, was conceived in these terms :
"No citizen shall be accused or disturbed in the use of his property, nor hindered in the enjoyment of his liberty, except by virtue of the law, according to the forms prescribed and in the cases foreseen by the law.
This, as against an arbitrary despotism rendered so powerful and so many-sided by use and wont and the inherited habit of suffering, was little enough. The Assembly, inspired by the victories of the nation, felt the need of a more explicit wording, and the final wording, unanimously adopted, sprang as it were spontaneously from the shock of twenty amendments. The result is in Articles 7, 8, and 9 of the Declaration (voted August 21, 1789).
In reading this discussion in the contemporary reports, one gains an impression of a nation, which by its spontaneous acts has become sovereign, dictating the Declaration to its representatives.
This Declaration, inspired by a monarchist nation, drafted by monarchist deputies, is almost wholly republican. No question is raised concerning royalty; there is not the slightest allusion to the royal power, nor even to the utility of the monarchy. On the contratry, everything about it is entirely anti-monarchical; firstly, the very, factthat there is a Declaration : American, republican in its nature; the formula of a recent and successful republican revolt; finally, and above all, the affirmation that the nation is the preponderating party; that it governs itself, not only in reality, but by law. One might say that here the fact preceded the law, and legitimised it, historically speaking; the law legitimised the fact from the rational point of view.
I have said that the Declaration is almost entirely republican. It is not republican in one point, an one point only : in the matter of the liberty of the conscience, in which the drafters of the Declaration were not guided by purely rationalistic principles.
It is well known that, in the preamble, a Supreme Being is invoked : ..." In the presence of and under the auspices of the Supreme Being ' . . ."
The draft of the sixth bureau: "In the presence of the Supreme Legislator of the Universe". Laborde de Mereville (August 2oth) declared that there was no question of the Deity : "Man", he says, "holds his rights from Nature; he does not receive them from any one". But the National Assembly invoked the Supreme Being, without any opposition save that of Laborde de Mereville. This, it would seem, for three principal reasons. Firstly, because almost all Frenchmen of the time, even if anti-Christian, were deists; secondly, because the mass of the people was sincerely Catholic; thirdly, because this mystic formula, in the preamble of the great revolutionary proclamation, was the price of the collaboration of the clergy in the Declaration of Rights.
It is true that on August 25th the Assembly refused to vote for the motion of the Abbé d'Eymar, declaring the Roman Catholic religion to be the State religion; but on occasion it declared itself Catholic probably to please the "patriot priests" among its members, and also with regard to the sentiment of the masses, especially the rural population. It did not think proper even to place the Catholic religion on a par with other religions, and Voulland was allowed to speak at the tribune, without contradiction, of the convenience of having a "dominant religion", and to represent the Catholic religion as being "founded on an ethic too pure ever to hold anything but the first place". For these reasons, instead of proclaiming the liberty of the conscience, it limited itself to proclaiming toleration (August 23rd), by means of Article 10, in the following words : "No man shall be troubled on account of his opinions, even his religious opinions, provided that their manifestation does not disturb the public order as established by the law".
Mirabeau, on August 22nd, had spoken eloquently against this tolerance: "I am not going to preach toleration; the most illimitable religious liberty is, in my eyes, a right so sacred that the word tolerance, which is intended to express it, seems to me in a certain sense to be itself tyrannical, since the existence of the authority which has the power to tolerate is oppressive to the liberty of thought, by the very fact that it tolerates, and therefore would be capable of not tolerating."
When the clause had been voted, the Courrier de Provence exclaimed :
"We cannot conceal our sorrow that the National Assembly, instead of stifling the germ of intolerance, has placed it in reserve, as it were, in a Declaration of the Rights of Man."
And the journalist (is it perhaps Mirabeau himself?) shows that this clause would permit the refusal of public worship top non-catholic.
However, except for the fact that it does not proclaim liberty of conscience, the Declaration of Rights is definitely republican and democratic.
FIRST PRINCIPLES FORSAKEN
The Declaration may be considered from two points s destroying the past, or as constructing the future.
Today, in retrospection, we consider it especially from the second point of view, that is to say, "as the political and social programme of France from the year 1789. The men of the Revolution considered it especially from the first point of view, as the notification of the decease of the old style of goverment; and, as the preamble infers, as a safeguard against the possible resurrection of the old style, just as the Americans had drawn up their Declaration of Rights as an engine of war against the King of England and the despotic system.
As to the other point of view, from which the Declaration is regarded as the programme of a reorganisation of society, the members of the Assembly left it purposely in semi-obscurity, because it was to some extent inconsistent with the middle-class government they were about to establish.
The principle of the equality of rights is democracy; it is universal sufffage, to speak of the political effects of the principle alone, and the Assembly was about to establish a property-owners' suffrage.
The principle of the sovereignty of the nation is republicanism, and the Assembly intended to maintain the monarchy.
These consequences were foreseen, not by the masses, but by the members of the Assembly and by educated folk. And it was precisely on this account that the middle class hesitated to issue a Declaration of Rights. Once made, it was masked by a "veil" according to the word then popular, and there existed a "politics of the veil". "I am going to tear the veil!" was often cried by an excited orator, such as from time to time made himself a tribune of the people. But this was the exception. There was at first no organised party which demandedthe inmediate application of the essential principle of the Declaration, which comes back to the statement that there was at the outset neither a Republican nor a Democratic party.
When the faults of the King had torn the "veil", when the pact between the nation and the King was definitely broken, experience led the French to apply the consequences of the Declaration, by means of the régime of 1792-3, that is to say, by means of Democracy and the Republic.
The men of 1792 and 1793 have been called renegades with respect to the principles of 1789. They certainly violated, for the time being, the liberty of the press and of the ndividual, and the guarantees of legal and normal justice. They did so because the Revolution was in a state of war against Europe; they did it for the sake of the new order, and as against the old; they did so to save the essential principles of the Declaration. But what has been forgotten is that they were the first of all to apply these essential principles. equality of rights and the sovereignty of the nation. by establishing universal suffrage and the Republic, and by organising and putting in working order a democracy which, outside the limits of the country, realised the royal dream by the acquisition of the left bank of the Rhine, and which in the country itself proclaimed the liberty of conscience, separated Church and State, and sought to govern according to the lights of reason and justice.
The backsliders from the principles of 1789 were not the men of 1793, who, on the contrary, applied these principles. (And was it not just because they applied them that the fine flower of the reactionaries branded them with the epithet "renegades"?) Logically, there would seem to be no reason why we should not rather apply the term to the men of 1789, who, after having proclaimed the equality of rights, divided the nation into "citizens active and citizens passive", and replaced the ancient ranks of the privi- leged by a new privileged class, the middle class or bourgeoisie.
But it is nearer the truth to say that there were no renegades; only worthy Frenchmen who acted for the best, in different circumstances, and at different moments in our political revolution.
So far I have spoken only of the political consequences of the Declaration of Rights. There were also economic and social consequences, which must be examined and depicted, not with the eloquence and feeling of a party man, but with the impersonality of a historian.
These consequences, which later will be known by the name of Socialism, remained obscure far longer than the political consequences; and even today only a minority of Frenchmen have torn this "veil", which the majority seek, on the other hand, to bind more firmly and thickly with sentiments of religious respect and fear.
What is it precisely, this principle or dogma of equality, the object of the first clause of the Declaration?
Did the drafters of the clause wish to say that all men are born equally endowed as to mind and body? No : this absurdity was only attributed to them, later on, by absurd adversaries.
Did they wish to say that it is desirable that institutions should correct, as far as possible, the inequalities of nature, that is, tend to restore all men to an average type of physical and intellectual force? This would be to lower the level, to check evolution. This interpretation was claimed, but later on, by others.
The evident sense of this clause is this : that to natural inequalities it is not fair and equitable that institutions should add artificial inequalities. One man is born more vigorous, more intelligent, than another. Is it just that he should also find, in his cradle as it were, a sum of money or a landed property, which doubles or trebles through life his force of attack and defence in the struggle for life? Is it just that a man born imbecile or evilly disposed should inherit means which will render his imbecility or his wickedness still more maleficent? Is it just that there should be, by act of law, men rich by birth and men poor by birth? (Article 2, while establishing the rights of property, did not say that property should be unequally divided.)
Take the bourgeois, the man who received, at his birth, an economic privilege and a political privilege; in 1792 the people will strip him of his political privilege. Would it not be logical to relieve him of his economic privilege as well?
Such an idea scarcely occurred, at first, to any one. A first revolution, social and economic, had taken place, or was about to do so, through the destruction of the feudal system, the abolition of the right of primo- geniture, the sale of the national properties, and a less unjust constitution and partition of property. The generality of Frenchmen were satisfied with this revolution, and saw no farther; the most crying injustice, their more serious complaints, having just been righted.
It was when other sufferings, born of the new order of things, began to make themselves felt, that men began to think of demanding the completest consequences of the Declaration of Rights. And as it was a minority which actually suffered -workmen of the towns, reduced to poverty by the economic conditions produced by the continuation of the war- it was a minority which demanded such consequences and attempted to rebel; the more so because the bourgeoisie, in the year III, had resumed their political powers. Babeuf preached communism, and, representing only a minority, was easily defeated.
How, later on, the development of machinery, the changed relations of capital and labour, were to bring about the movement known as Socialism, a movement which has not yet come to a head, because it has not had the assent of the mass of the nation this is a subject we cannot at this moment discuss.
What I do wish to demonstrate is that one is wrong in opposing socialism with the principles of 1789. It is the same sort of mistake which confounds the Declaration of Rights with the monarchical and middle- class Constitution of 1789. Socialism, to be sure, is in violent contradiction to the social system established in 1789; but it was the consequence, the logical, extreme, (and, if you will, dangerous) consequence of the principles of 1789, which was demanded by Babeuf, the theorician of equality. In any case the democratic and social republic is to be found in the Declaration; all the principles of which have not even yet been applied, and of which the future programme passes far beyond the limits of our generation, and it may be of many generations yet to follow.