History of France eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 109 pages of information about History of France.



1.  Attempts at Reform.—­It was evident that a change must be made. Louis XVI. himself knew it, and slurred over the words in his coronation oath that bound him to extirpate heresy; but he was a slow, dull man, and affairs had come to such a pass that a far abler man than he could hardly have dealt with the dead-lock above, without causing a frightful outbreak of the pent-up masses below.  His queen, Marie Antoinette, was hated for being of Austrian birth, and, though a spotless and noble woman, her most trivial actions gave occasion to calumnies founded on the crimes of the last generation.  Unfortunately, the king, though an honest and well-intentioned man, was totally unfit to guide a country through a dangerous crisis.  His courage was passive, his manners were heavy, dull, and shy, and, though steadily industrious, he was slow of comprehension and unready in action; and reformation was the more difficult because to abolish the useless court offices would have been utter starvation to many of their holders, who had nothing but their pensions to live upon.  Yet there was a general passion for reform; all ranks alike looked to some change to free them from the dead-lock which made improvement impossible.  The Government was bankrupt, while the taxes were intolerable, and the first years of the reign were spent in experiments.  Necker, a Swiss banker, was invited to take the charge of the finances, and large loans were made to Government, for which he contrived to pay interest regularly; some reduction was made in the expenditure; but the king’s old minister, Maurepas, grew jealous of his popularity, and obtained his dismissal.  The French took the part of the American colonies in their revolt from England, and the war thus occasioned brought on an increase of the load of debt, the general distress increased, and it became necessary to devise some mode of taxing which might divide the burthens between the whole nation, instead of making the peasants pay all and the nobles and clergy nothing.  Louis decided on calling together the Notables, or higher nobility; but they were by no means disposed to tax themselves, and only abused his ministers.  He then resolved on convoking the whole States-General of the kingdom, which had never met since the reign of Louis XIII.

2.  The States-General.—­No one exactly knew the limits of the powers of the States-General when it met in 1789.  Nobles, clergy, and the deputies who represented the commonalty, all formed the assembly at Versailles; and though the king would have kept apart these last, who were called the Tiers Etat, or third estate, they refused to withdraw from the great hall of Versailles.  The Count of Mirabeau, the younger son of a noble family, who sat as a deputy, declared that nothing short of bayonets should drive out those who sat by the will of the people, and Louis yielded.  Thenceforth the votes of a

Project Gutenberg
History of France from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
Follow Us on Facebook