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It is not their interest to cherish
ignorance, but to dispel it. They are not in the case of a ministerial
or an opposition party in England, who, though they are opposed, are
still united to keep up the common mystery. The National Assembly must
throw open a magazine of light. It must show man the proper character of
man; and the nearer it can bring him to that standard, the stronger the
National Assembly becomes.

In contemplating the French Constitution, we see in it a rational order
of things. The principles harmonise with the forms, and both with their
origin. It may perhaps be said as an excuse for bad forms, that they
are nothing more than forms; but this is a mistake. Forms grow out of
principles, and operate to continue the principles they grow from. It
is impossible to practise a bad form on anything but a bad principle.
It cannot be ingrafted on a good one; and wherever the forms in any
government are bad, it is a certain indication that the principles are
bad also.

I will here finally close this subject. I began it by remarking that Mr.
Burke had voluntarily declined going into a comparison of the English
and French Constitutions. He apologises (in page 241) for not doing it,
by saying that he had not time. Mr. Burke's book was upwards of eight
months in hand, and is extended to a volume of three hundred and
sixty-six pages. As his omission does injury to his cause, his apology
makes it worse; and men on the English side of the water will begin to
consider, whether there is not some radical defect in what is called the
English constitution, that made it necessary for Mr. Burke to suppress
the comparison, to avoid bringing it into view.

As Mr. Burke has not written on constitutions so neither has he written
on the French Revolution. He gives no account of its commencement or its
progress. He only expresses his wonder. "It looks," says he, "to me, as
if I were in a great crisis, not of the affairs of France alone, but
of all Europe, perhaps of more than Europe. All circumstances taken
together, the French Revolution is the most astonishing that has
hitherto happened in the world."

As wise men are astonished at foolish things, and other people at
wise ones, I know not on which ground to account for Mr. Burke's
astonishment; but certain it is, that he does not understand the French
Revolution. It has apparently burst forth like a creation from a chaos,
but it is no more than the consequence of a mental revolution priorily
existing in France. The mind of the nation had changed beforehand,
and the new order of things has naturally followed the new order of
thoughts. I will here, as concisely as I can, trace out the growth of
the French Revolution, and mark the circumstances that have contributed
to produce it.

The despotism of Louis XIV., united with the gaiety of his Court, and
the gaudy ostentation of his character, had so humbled, and at the same
time so fascinated the mind of France, that the people appeared to have
lost all sense of their own dignity, in contemplating that of their
Grand Monarch; and the whole reign of Louis XV., remarkable only for
weakness and effeminacy, made no other alteration than that of spreading
a sort of lethargy over the nation, from which it showed no disposition
to rise.

The only signs which appeared to the spirit of Liberty during those
periods, are to be found in the writings of the French philosophers.
Montesquieu, President of the Parliament of Bordeaux, went as far as a
writer under a despotic government could well proceed; and being obliged
to divide himself between principle and prudence, his mind often appears
under a veil, and we ought to give him credit for more than he has
expressed.

Voltaire, who was both the flatterer and the satirist of despotism, took
another line. His forte lay in exposing and ridiculing the superstitions
which priest-craft, united with state-craft, had interwoven with
governments. It was not from the purity of his principles, or his love
of mankind (for satire and philanthropy are not naturally concordant),
but from his strong capacity of seeing folly in its true shape, and his
irresistible propensity to expose it, that he made those attacks. They
were, however, as formidable as if the motive had been virtuous; and he
merits the thanks rather than the esteem of mankind.

On the contrary, we find in the writings of Rousseau, and the Abbe
Raynal, a loveliness of sentiment in favour of liberty, that excites
respect, and elevates the human faculties; but having raised this
animation, they do not direct its operation, and leave the mind in love
with an object, without describing the means of possessing it.

The writings of Quesnay, Turgot, and the friends of those authors, are
of the serious kind; but they laboured under the same disadvantage with
Montesquieu; their writings abound with moral maxims of government, but
are rather directed to economise and reform the administration of the
government, than the government itself.

But all those writings and many others had their weight; and by the
different manner in which they treated the subject of government,
Montesquieu by his judgment and knowledge of laws, Voltaire by his wit,
Rousseau and Raynal by their animation, and Quesnay and Turgot by their
moral maxims and systems of economy, readers of every class met with
something to their taste, and a spirit of political inquiry began
to diffuse itself through the nation at the time the dispute between
England and the then colonies of America broke out.

In the war which France afterwards engaged in, it is very well known
that the nation appeared to be before-hand with the French ministry.
Each of them had its view; but those views were directed to different
objects; the one sought liberty, and the other retaliation on England.
The French officers and soldiers who after this went to America, were
eventually placed in the school of Freedom, and learned the practice as
well as the principles of it by heart.

As it was impossible to separate the military events which took place in
America from the principles of the American Revolution, the publication
of those events in France necessarily connected themselves with the
principles which produced them. Many of the facts were in themselves
principles; such as the declaration of American Independence, and the
treaty of alliance between France and America, which recognised the
natural rights of man, and justified resistance to oppression.

The then Minister of France, Count Vergennes, was not the friend of
America; and it is both justice and gratitude to say, that it was the
Queen of France who gave the cause of America a fashion at the French
Court. Count Vergennes was the personal and social friend of Dr.
Franklin; and the Doctor had obtained, by his sensible gracefulness,
a sort of influence over him; but with respect to principles Count
Vergennes was a despot.

The situation of Dr. Franklin, as Minister from America to France,
should be taken into the chain of circumstances. The diplomatic
character is of itself the narrowest sphere of society that man can
act in. It forbids intercourse by the reciprocity of suspicion; and
a diplomatic is a sort of unconnected atom, continually repelling and
repelled. But this was not the case with Dr. Franklin. He was not the
diplomatic of a Court, but of Man. His character as a philosopher
had been long established, and his circle of society in France was
universal.

Count Vergennes resisted for a considerable time the publication in
France of American constitutions, translated into the French language:
but even in this he was obliged to give way to public opinion, and
a sort of propriety in admitting to appear what he had undertaken to
defend. The American constitutions were to liberty what a grammar is
to language: they define its parts of speech, and practically construct
them into syntax.

The peculiar situation of the then Marquis de la Fayette is another link
in the great chain. He served in America as an American officer under a
commission of Congress, and by the universality of his acquaintance was
in close friendship with the civil government of America, as well as
with the military line. He spoke the language of the country, entered
into the discussions on the principles of government, and was always a
welcome friend at any election.

When the war closed, a vast reinforcement to the cause of Liberty spread
itself over France, by the return of the French officers and soldiers.
A knowledge of the practice was then joined to the theory; and all
that was wanting to give it real existence was opportunity. Man cannot,
properly speaking, make circumstances for his purpose, but he always has
it in his power to improve them when they occur, and this was the case
in France.

M. Neckar was displaced in May, 1781; and by the ill-management of
the finances afterwards, and particularly during the extravagant
administration of M. Calonne, the revenue of France, which was nearly
twenty-four millions sterling per year, was become unequal to the
expenditure, not because the revenue had decreased, but because the
expenses had increased; and this was a circumstance which the nation
laid hold of to bring forward a Revolution. The English Minister, Mr.
Pitt, has frequently alluded to the state of the French finances in his
budgets, without understanding the subject. Had the French Parliaments
been as ready to register edicts for new taxes as an English Parliament
is to grant them, there had been no derangement in the finances, nor yet
any Revolution; but this will better explain itself as I proceed.

It will be necessary here to show how taxes were formerly raised in
France. The King, or rather the Court or Ministry acting under the use
of that name, framed the edicts for taxes at their own discretion,
and sent them to the Parliaments to be registered; for until they were
registered by the Parliaments they were not operative. Disputes had long
existed between the Court and the Parliaments with respect to the extent
of the Parliament's authority on this head.



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