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The Court insisted that the
authority of Parliaments went no farther than to remonstrate or show
reasons against the tax, reserving to itself the right of determining
whether the reasons were well or ill-founded; and in consequence
thereof, either to withdraw the edict as a matter of choice, or to order
it to be unregistered as a matter of authority. The Parliaments on their
part insisted that they had not only a right to remonstrate, but to
reject; and on this ground they were always supported by the nation.

But to return to the order of my narrative. M. Calonne wanted money: and
as he knew the sturdy disposition of the Parliaments with respect to new
taxes, he ingeniously sought either to approach them by a more gentle
means than that of direct authority, or to get over their heads by a
manoeuvre; and for this purpose he revived the project of assembling a
body of men from the several provinces, under the style of an "Assembly
of the Notables," or men of note, who met in 1787, and who were either
to recommend taxes to the Parliaments, or to act as a Parliament
themselves. An Assembly under this name had been called in 1617.

As we are to view this as the first practical step towards the
Revolution, it will be proper to enter into some particulars respecting
it. The Assembly of the Notables has in some places been mistaken for
the States-General, but was wholly a different body, the States-General
being always by election. The persons who composed the Assembly of the
Notables were all nominated by the king, and consisted of one hundred
and forty members. But as M. Calonne could not depend upon a majority of
this Assembly in his favour, he very ingeniously arranged them in such
a manner as to make forty-four a majority of one hundred and forty;
to effect this he disposed of them into seven separate committees, of
twenty members each. Every general question was to be decided, not by a
majority of persons, but by a majority of committee, and as eleven votes
would make a majority in a committee, and four committees a majority of
seven, M. Calonne had good reason to conclude that as forty-four would
determine any general question he could not be outvoted. But all his
plans deceived him, and in the event became his overthrow.

The then Marquis de la Fayette was placed in the second committee, of
which the Count D'Artois was president, and as money matters were the
object, it naturally brought into view every circumstance connected with
it. M. de la Fayette made a verbal charge against Calonne for selling
crown lands to the amount of two millions of livres, in a manner
that appeared to be unknown to the king. The Count D'Artois (as if to
intimidate, for the Bastille was then in being) asked the Marquis if he
would render the charge in writing? He replied that he would. The Count
D'Artois did not demand it, but brought a message from the king to that
purport. M. de la Fayette then delivered in his charge in writing, to
be given to the king, undertaking to support it. No farther proceedings
were had upon this affair, but M. Calonne was soon after dismissed by
the king and set off to England.

As M. de la Fayette, from the experience of what he had seen in America,
was better acquainted with the science of civil government than the
generality of the members who composed the Assembly of the Notables
could then be, the brunt of the business fell considerably to his share.
The plan of those who had a constitution in view was to contend with the
Court on the ground of taxes, and some of them openly professed their
object. Disputes frequently arose between Count D'Artois and M. de
la Fayette upon various subjects. With respect to the arrears already
incurred the latter proposed to remedy them by accommodating the
expenses to the revenue instead of the revenue to the expenses; and as
objects of reform he proposed to abolish the Bastille and all the State
prisons throughout the nation (the keeping of which was attended with
great expense), and to suppress Lettres de Cachet; but those matters
were not then much attended to, and with respect to Lettres de Cachet, a
majority of the Nobles appeared to be in favour of them.

On the subject of supplying the Treasury by new taxes the Assembly
declined taking the matter on themselves, concurring in the opinion that
they had not authority. In a debate on this subject M. de la Fayette
said that raising money by taxes could only be done by a National
Assembly, freely elected by the people, and acting as their
representatives. Do you mean, said the Count D'Artois, the
States-General? M. de la Fayette replied that he did. Will you, said
the Count D'Artois, sign what you say to be given to the king? The other
replied that he would not only do this but that he would go farther,
and say that the effectual mode would be for the king to agree to the
establishment of a constitution.

As one of the plans had thus failed, that of getting the Assembly to act
as a Parliament, the other came into view, that of recommending. On
this subject the Assembly agreed to recommend two new taxes to be
unregistered by the Parliament: the one a stamp-tax and the other a
territorial tax, or sort of land-tax. The two have been estimated
at about five millions sterling per annum. We have now to turn our
attention to the Parliaments, on whom the business was again devolving.

The Archbishop of Thoulouse (since Archbishop of Sens, and now a
Cardinal), was appointed to the administration of the finances soon
after the dismission of Calonne. He was also made Prime Minister, an
office that did not always exist in France. When this office did
not exist, the chief of each of the principal departments transacted
business immediately with the King, but when a Prime Minister was
appointed they did business only with him. The Archbishop arrived to
more state authority than any minister since the Duke de Choiseul, and
the nation was strongly disposed in his favour; but by a line of conduct
scarcely to be accounted for he perverted every opportunity, turned out
a despot, and sunk into disgrace, and a Cardinal.

The Assembly of the Notables having broken up, the minister sent
the edicts for the two new taxes recommended by the Assembly to the
Parliaments to be unregistered. They of course came first before the
Parliament of Paris, who returned for answer: "that with such a revenue
as the nation then supported the name of taxes ought not to be mentioned
but for the purpose of reducing them"; and threw both the edicts
out.*[8] On this refusal the Parliament was ordered to Versailles,
where, in the usual form, the King held what under the old government
was called a Bed of justice; and the two edicts were unregistered
in presence of the Parliament by an order of State, in the manner
mentioned, earlier. On this the Parliament immediately returned to
Paris, renewed their session in form, and ordered the enregistering to
be struck out, declaring that everything done at Versailles was illegal.
All the members of the Parliament were then served with Lettres de
Cachet, and exiled to Troyes; but as they continued as inflexible in
exile as before, and as vengeance did not supply the place of taxes,
they were after a short time recalled to Paris.

The edicts were again tendered to them, and the Count D'Artois undertook
to act as representative of the King. For this purpose he came from
Versailles to Paris, in a train of procession; and the Parliament were
assembled to receive him. But show and parade had lost their influence
in France; and whatever ideas of importance he might set off with,
he had to return with those of mortification and disappointment. On
alighting from his carriage to ascend the steps of the Parliament House,
the crowd (which was numerously collected) threw out trite expressions,
saying: "This is Monsieur D'Artois, who wants more of our money to
spend." The marked disapprobation which he saw impressed him with
apprehensions, and the word Aux armes! (To arms!) was given out by the
officer of the guard who attended him. It was so loudly vociferated,
that it echoed through the avenues of the house, and produced a
temporary confusion. I was then standing in one of the apartments
through which he had to pass, and could not avoid reflecting how
wretched was the condition of a disrespected man.

He endeavoured to impress the Parliament by great words, and opened his
authority by saying, "The King, our Lord and Master." The Parliament
received him very coolly, and with their usual determination not to
register the taxes: and in this manner the interview ended.

After this a new subject took place: In the various debates and contests
which arose between the Court and the Parliaments on the subject of
taxes, the Parliament of Paris at last declared that although it had
been customary for Parliaments to enregister edicts for taxes as a
matter of convenience, the right belonged only to the States-General;
and that, therefore, the Parliament could no longer with propriety
continue to debate on what it had not authority to act. The King after
this came to Paris and held a meeting with the Parliament, in which he
continued from ten in the morning till about six in the evening, and, in
a manner that appeared to proceed from him as if unconsulted upon
with the Cabinet or Ministry, gave his word to the Parliament that the
States-General should be convened.

But after this another scene arose, on a ground different from all
the former. The Minister and the Cabinet were averse to calling
the States-General. They well knew that if the States-General were
assembled, themselves must fall; and as the King had not mentioned any
time, they hit on a project calculated to elude, without appearing to
oppose.

For this purpose, the Court set about making a sort of constitution
itself. It was principally the work of M. Lamoignon, the Keeper of the
Seals, who afterwards shot himself. This new arrangement consisted in
establishing a body under the name of a Cour Pleniere, or Full Court,
in which were invested all the powers that the Government might have
occasion to make use of.



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