“Or, Monsieur Morris, trop aristocrate,” said the Marquis, with a bitter smile on his disturbed countenance, for his vanity, which was becoming inordinate, could not brook unfriendly criticism.
“’Tis strange,” said the Vicomte d’Azay, “to hear an American arguing against those principles which have won for him so lately his freedom and his glory! As for me, I think with Mr. Jefferson and the Marquis, and, thinking so, I have sided with the people, which is, after all, the nation.”
“Yes,” broke in Mr. Jefferson with animation and speaking to d’Azay, “you have found the vital truth. ’Tis no king, but the sovereign people, which is the state. It has been my firm belief that with a great people, set in the path of civil and religious liberty, freedom and power in their grasp, let the executive be as limited as may be, that nation will still prosper. A strong people and a weak government make a great nation.”
“But who shall say that the French are a strong people?” demands Mr. Morris, impetuously, and turning to the company. “You are lively, imaginative, witty, charming, talented, but not substantial or persevering. Inconstancy is mingled in your blood, marrow, and very essence. Constancy is the phenomenon. The great mass of the common people have no religion but their priests, no law but their superiors, no morals but their interests. And how shall we expect a people to suddenly become wise and self-governing who are ignorant of statecraft, who have existed for centuries under a despotism? Never having felt the results of a weak executive, they do not know the dangers of unlimited power. No man is more republican in sentiment than I am, but I think it no less than a crime to foist a republic upon a people in no way fitted for it, and all those who abandon the King in this hour of danger, who do not uphold his authority to the fullest extent, are participants in that crime and are helping to bring on those events which I fear will shortly convulse this country.”
“Mr. Morris is no optimist either in regard to French character or the progress of public affairs,” said Lafayette, bitingly. “But I can assure him that if the French are inconstant, ignorant, and immoral, they are also energetic, lively, and easily aroused by noble examples. Moreover, the public mind has been instructed lately to an astonishing point by the political pamphlets issued in such numbers, and ’tis my opinion that these facts will bring us, after no great lapse of time, to an adequate representation and participation in public affairs, and that without the convulsion which Mr. Morris so acutely dreads.”