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92 THE THIRD INVITES THE OTHER ORDERS TO UNITE.
was the first time Paris interfered in general affairs. The great and capital question of the liberty of the press was thus carried in a trice. The court might now bring together its cannon and its armies; a more powerful artillery, that of the press, was henceforth thundering in the ears of the people; and all the kingdom heard it.
On the 7th of May, the Third, on the proposal of Malouet and Mounier, permitted some of its members to invite the clergy and the nobility to come and take their seats. The nobility went on and formed themselves into an assembly. The clergy, more divided and more timorous, wanted to see what course things would take; the prelates, moreover, believing that, in time, they should gain votes among the curates.
Six days lost. On the 12th of May, Rabaud de SaintEtienne, a Protestant deputy from Nimes, and the son of the old Martyr of Cévennes, proposed a conference to bring about the union. To which the Breton Chapelier wished to have substituted "a notification of the astonishment of the ThirdEstate at the absence of the other orders, of the impossibility of conferring elsewhere than in a common union, and of the interest and right that every deputy had to judge of the validity of the title of all; the States being once opened, there is no longer any deputy of order or province, but representatives of the nation; the deputies of privilege gain by it, their functions being aggrandized.'
Rabaut's motion was carried, as being the more moderate. Conferences took place; but they only served to embitter things. On the 27th of May, Mirabeau reproduced a motion that he had already brought forward, to attempt to detach the clergy from the nobility, and invite them to the union “in the name of the God of peace." The motion was one of good policy; a number of curés were waiting impatiently for an opportunity to unite. This new invitation nearly carried away the whole order. With great difficulty, the prelates obtained a delay. In the evening, they ran to the castle, to the Polignac party. By means of the queen,* they got from the king a letter in
* Droz, ii., 189.-The testimony of M. Droz has often the weight of a contemporary authority; he frequently transmits to us the verbal information and revelation of Malouet and other important actors of the Revolution.
INACTION OF THE ASSEMBLY.
which he declared "that he desired that the conferences might be resumed in presence of the keeper of the seals and a royal commission." The king thus impeded the union of the clergy with the Third, and made himself visibly the agent of the privileged classes.
This letter was a snare unworthy of royalty. If the Third Estate accepted, the king, arbiter of the conferences, could quash the question by a decree of the council, and the orders remained divided. If the Third alone refused and the other orders accepted, it bore alone the odium of the common inaction; it alone, at that moment of misery and famine, would not take one step to succour the nation. Mirabeau, in pointing out the snare, advised the assembly to appear duped, to accept the conferences, whilst protesting by an address.
Another snare. In these conferences, Necker made an appeal to sentiment, generosity, and confidence. He advised that each order should intrust the validity of its elective returns to the others; and, in case of difference of opinion, the king should judge. The clergy accepted without hesitation. If the nobility had accepted, the Third remained alone against two. Who drew it out of this danger? The nobility themselves, mad, and running headlong to their ruin. The Polignac committee would not accept an expedient proposed by their enemy, Necker. Even before reading the king's letter, the nobility had decided in order to bar every chance of conciliation, that deliberation by orders and the veto of each order on the decisions of the others, were constituent principles of the monarchy. Necker's plan tempted many moderate nobles; two new nobles of great talent, only violent and weak-headed, Cazalès and d'Eprémesnil, embroiled the question and contrived to elude this last means of salvation,-to reject the plank which the king presented to them in their shipwreck (June 6th).
A month lost, after the delay of the three adjournments which the convocation had suffered ! One month, in open famine! Observe, that in this long expectation, the rich kept themselves motionless, and postponed every kind of expenditure. Work had ceased. He who had but his hands, his daily labour, to supply the day, went to look for work, found none, begged, got nothing, robbed. Starving gangs overran the country; wherever they found any resistance, they became furious,
killed, and burned. Horror spread far and near; communications ceased, and famine went on increasing. A thousand absurd stories were in circulation. They were said to be brigands paid by the court. And the court flung back the
accusation on the Duke of Orleans.
The position of the Assembly was difficult. It was obliged to sit inactive, when every remedy that could be hoped for was in action. It was obliged to shut its ears, in a manner, to the painful ery of France, in order to save France herself, and found her liberty!
The clergy aggravated that cruel position, and contrived a truly Phariseean invention against the Third Estate. A prelate came into the Assembly, to weep over the poor people and the misery of the rural districts. Before the four thousand persons present at that meeting, he drew from his pocket a hideous lump of black bread: Such, said he, "is the bread of the peasant." The clergy proposed to act, to form a commission to confer together on the question of food and the misery of the poor. A dangerous snare. Either the Assembly yielded, became active, and thus consecrated the separation of the orders, or else it declared itself insensible to public misfortunes. The responsibility of the disorder which was everywhere beginning, fell on it at once. The usual orators however remained silent on this compromising question. But some obscure deputies, MM. Populus and Robespierre, expressed forcibly and with talent the general sentiment. They invited the clergy to come into the common hall to deliberate on these public calamities by which the Assembly was no less touched than they.
This answer did not lessen the danger. How easy was it henceforth for the court, the nobles, and the priests, to turn the people? What a fine text was a proud, ambitious assembly of advocates, that had promised to save France, and let her die of misery, rather than give up any of their unjust pretensions!
The court seized this weapon with avidity, and expected to
* Robespierre retorted happily. He said, very cleverly: "The ancient canons authorise, for the relief of the poor, to sell even the sacred vases." The Moniteur, incomplete and inexact, as it so often is, needs to be completed here by Etienne Dumont.--Souvenirs, p. 60.
destroy the Assembly. The king said to the president of the clergy, who came to submit to him the charitable proposal of his order on the question of food: "That he should see with pleasure a commission formed of the States-General that could assist him with its counsels."
Thus, the clergy were thinking of the people, and so was the king; nothing prevented the nobility from uttering the same words. And then, the Third would be quite alone. It was about to be stated, that everybody desired the welfare of the people except the Third Estate.
Last Summons of the Third on the 10th of June.-It assumes the name of Communes. The Communes take the Title of National Assembly on the 17th of June.-They Assume the right of Taxation.-The King orders the Hall to be shut up.-The Assembly at the Tennis-Court (Jeu de Paume), June 20th, 1789.
ON the 10th of June, Sieyes said, on entering the Assembly: "Let us cut the cable; it is time." Since that day, the vessel of the Revolution, in spite of storms and calms, delayed, but never stopped, sails onwards to the future.
That great theorician, who had beforehand calculated so exactly, showed himself here truly a statesman; he had said what ought to be done, and he did it at the right moment.
Everything has its right moment. Here, it was the 10th of June, neither sooner nor later. Sooner, the nation was not sufficiently convinced of the hard-heartedness of the privileged classes; it required a month for them to display clearly all their ill-will. Subsequently, two things were to be feared, either that the people, driven to extremity, might abandon their freedom for a bit of bread, and the privileged finish all, by renouncing their exemption from taxes; or else, that the nobility, uniting with the clergy, might form (as they were advised) an upper chamber. Such a chamber, which, in our own days, has no part to play but that of being a machine convenient to royalty, would, in '89, have been a power by itself: it would
LAST SUMMONS OF THIRD ESTATE.
have assembled together those who then possessed the half or the two-thirds of the lands in the kingdom, those who, by their agents, tenants, and innumerable servants, had so many means of influencing the rural districts. The Netherlands had just given an example of the concord of those two orders, which had led away the people, driven out the Austrians, and dispossessed the emperor.
On Wednesday, the 10th of June, 1789, Sieyes proposed to summon the clergy and nobility for the last time, to warn them that the call would be made in an hour, and that default would be the sentence for non-appearance.
This summons in the judiciary form, was an unexpected blow. The deputies of the commons were taking, towards those who contested equality with them, a superior position, somewhat like that of judges.
This was wise; for there was too much risk in waiting; but it was also bold. It has often been said, that they who had a whole people behind them, and a city like Paris, had nothing to fear that they were the stronger party, and advanced without any danger. After the event, and everything having succeeded, the thesis may be supported. Doubtless, they who took that step felt themselves very strong; but this strength was by no means organised; the people were not military as they became at a later period. An army surrounded Versailles, partly of Germans and Swiss (nine regiments at least out of fifteen); a battery of cannon was before the Assembly. The glory of the great logician who reduced the national mind to a formula, and the glory of the Assembly that accepted the formula, was to see nothing of that, but to believe in logic, and to advance in their faith.
The court, very irresolute, could do nothing but assume a disdainful silence. Twice the king avoided receiving the president of the commons; he was out hunting, so they said, or else, he was too much afflicted at the recent death of the Dauphin. But it was known that he received every day the prelates, nobles, and parlementaires. They were beginning to be alarmed, and now came to offer themselves to the king. The court listened to them and then bargained and speculated on their fears. However, it was evident that the king being besieged by them, and their prisoner to a certain degree, would