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The persons composing this Court were to be
nominated by the King; the contended right of taxation was given up
on the part of the King, and a new criminal code of laws and law
proceedings was substituted in the room of the former. The thing, in
many points, contained better principles than those upon which the
Government had hitherto been administered; but with respect to the Cour
Pleniere, it was no other than a medium through which despotism was to
pass, without appearing to act directly from itself.

The Cabinet had high expectations from their new contrivance. The people
who were to compose the Cour Pleniere were already nominated; and as it
was necessary to carry a fair appearance, many of the best characters in
the nation were appointed among the number. It was to commence on May
8, 1788; but an opposition arose to it on two grounds the one as to
principle, the other as to form.

On the ground of Principle it was contended that Government had not a
right to alter itself, and that if the practice was once admitted it
would grow into a principle and be made a precedent for any future
alterations the Government might wish to establish: that the right
of altering the Government was a national right, and not a right of
Government. And on the ground of form it was contended that the Cour
Pleniere was nothing more than a larger Cabinet.

The then Duke de la Rochefoucault, Luxembourg, De Noailles, and many
others, refused to accept the nomination, and strenuously opposed the
whole plan. When the edict for establishing this new court was sent to
the Parliaments to be unregistered and put into execution, they
resisted also. The Parliament of Paris not only refused, but denied the
authority; and the contest renewed itself between the Parliament and the
Cabinet more strongly than ever. While the Parliament were sitting in
debate on this subject, the Ministry ordered a regiment of soldiers to
surround the House and form a blockade. The members sent out for beds
and provisions, and lived as in a besieged citadel: and as this had no
effect, the commanding officer was ordered to enter the Parliament House
and seize them, which he did, and some of the principal members were
shut up in different prisons. About the same time a deputation of
persons arrived from the province of Brittany to remonstrate against the
establishment of the Cour Pleniere, and those the archbishop sent to the
Bastille. But the spirit of the nation was not to be overcome, and
it was so fully sensible of the strong ground it had taken--that of
withholding taxes--that it contented itself with keeping up a sort of
quiet resistance, which effectually overthrew all the plans at that time
formed against it. The project of the Cour Pleniere was at last obliged
to be given up, and the Prime Minister not long afterwards followed its
fate, and M. Neckar was recalled into office.

The attempt to establish the Cour Pleniere had an effect upon the nation
which itself did not perceive. It was a sort of new form of government
that insensibly served to put the old one out of sight and to unhinge
it from the superstitious authority of antiquity. It was Government
dethroning Government; and the old one, by attempting to make a new one,
made a chasm.

The failure of this scheme renewed the subject of convening the
State-General; and this gave rise to a new series of politics. There was
no settled form for convening the States-General: all that it positively
meant was a deputation from what was then called the Clergy, the
Noblesse, and the Commons; but their numbers or their proportions had
not been always the same. They had been convened only on extraordinary
occasions, the last of which was in 1614; their numbers were then in
equal proportions, and they voted by orders.

It could not well escape the sagacity of M. Neckar, that the mode of
1614 would answer neither the purpose of the then government nor of the
nation. As matters were at that time circumstanced it would have been
too contentious to agree upon anything. The debates would have been
endless upon privileges and exemptions, in which neither the wants of
the Government nor the wishes of the nation for a Constitution would
have been attended to. But as he did not choose to take the decision
upon himself, he summoned again the Assembly of the Notables and
referred it to them. This body was in general interested in the
decision, being chiefly of aristocracy and high-paid clergy, and they
decided in favor of the mode of 1614. This decision was against the
sense of the Nation, and also against the wishes of the Court; for
the aristocracy opposed itself to both and contended for privileges
independent of either. The subject was then taken up by the Parliament,
who recommended that the number of the Commons should be equal to the
other two: and they should all sit in one house and vote in one body.
The number finally determined on was 1,200; 600 to be chosen by the
Commons (and this was less than their proportion ought to have been when
their worth and consequence is considered on a national scale), 300 by
the Clergy, and 300 by the Aristocracy; but with respect to the mode of
assembling themselves, whether together or apart, or the manner in which
they should vote, those matters were referred.*[9]

The election that followed was not a contested election, but an animated
one. The candidates were not men, but principles. Societies were formed
in Paris, and committees of correspondence and communication established
throughout the nation, for the purpose of enlightening the people, and
explaining to them the principles of civil government; and so orderly
was the election conducted, that it did not give rise even to the rumour
of tumult.

The States-General were to meet at Versailles in April 1789, but did not
assemble till May. They situated themselves in three separate chambers,
or rather the Clergy and Aristocracy withdrew each into a separate
chamber. The majority of the Aristocracy claimed what they called the
privilege of voting as a separate body, and of giving their consent
or their negative in that manner; and many of the bishops and the
high-beneficed clergy claimed the same privilege on the part of their
Order.

The Tiers Etat (as they were then called) disowned any knowledge of
artificial orders and artificial privileges; and they were not only
resolute on this point, but somewhat disdainful. They began to consider
the Aristocracy as a kind of fungus growing out of the corruption of
society, that could not be admitted even as a branch of it; and from the
disposition the Aristocracy had shown by upholding Lettres de Cachet,
and in sundry other instances, it was manifest that no constitution
could be formed by admitting men in any other character than as National
Men.

After various altercations on this head, the Tiers Etat or Commons (as
they were then called) declared themselves (on a motion made for that
purpose by the Abbe Sieyes) "The Representative Of The Nation; and that
the two Orders could be considered but as deputies of corporations, and
could only have a deliberate voice when they assembled in a national
character with the national representatives." This proceeding
extinguished the style of Etats Generaux, or States-General, and erected
it into the style it now bears, that of L'Assemblee Nationale, or
National Assembly.

This motion was not made in a precipitate manner. It was the result of
cool deliberation, and concerned between the national representatives
and the patriotic members of the two chambers, who saw into the folly,
mischief, and injustice of artificial privileged distinctions. It was
become evident, that no constitution, worthy of being called by that
name, could be established on anything less than a national ground.
The Aristocracy had hitherto opposed the despotism of the Court, and
affected the language of patriotism; but it opposed it as its rival (as
the English Barons opposed King John) and it now opposed the nation from
the same motives.

On carrying this motion, the national representatives, as had been
concerted, sent an invitation to the two chambers, to unite with them in
a national character, and proceed to business. A majority of the clergy,
chiefly of the parish priests, withdrew from the clerical chamber, and
joined the nation; and forty-five from the other chamber joined in
like manner. There is a sort of secret history belonging to this last
circumstance, which is necessary to its explanation; it was not judged
prudent that all the patriotic members of the chamber styling itself the
Nobles, should quit it at once; and in consequence of this arrangement,
they drew off by degrees, always leaving some, as well to reason the
case, as to watch the suspected. In a little time the numbers increased
from forty-five to eighty, and soon after to a greater number;
which, with the majority of the clergy, and the whole of the national
representatives, put the malcontents in a very diminutive condition.

The King, who, very different from the general class called by that
name, is a man of a good heart, showed himself disposed to recommend
a union of the three chambers, on the ground the National Assembly had
taken; but the malcontents exerted themselves to prevent it, and began
now to have another project in view. Their numbers consisted of a
majority of the aristocratical chamber, and the minority of the clerical
chamber, chiefly of bishops and high-beneficed clergy; and these men
were determined to put everything to issue, as well by strength as by
stratagem. They had no objection to a constitution; but it must be such
a one as themselves should dictate, and suited to their own views and
particular situations. On the other hand, the Nation disowned knowing
anything of them but as citizens, and was determined to shut out all
such up-start pretensions. The more aristocracy appeared, the more it
was despised; there was a visible imbecility and want of intellects in
the majority, a sort of je ne sais quoi, that while it affected to be
more than citizen, was less than man.



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