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did not know how to deliberate. M. Dumont taught the constituent body of Montreuil how to perform their functions, and found them apt to learn. He afterwards tried, in concert with Mirabeau, to instruct the National Assembly in that admirable system of Parliamentary tactics, which has been long established in the English House of Commons, and which has made the House of Commons, in spite of all the defects in its composition, the best and fairest debating society in the world. But these accomplished legislators, though quite as ignorant as the mob of Montreuil, proved much less docile, and cried out that they did not want to go to school to the English. Their debates consisted of endless successions of trashy pamphlets, all beginning with something about the original compact of society, man in the hunting state, and other such foolery. They sometimes diversified and enlivened these long readings by a little rioting. They bawled ; they hooted; they shook their fists. They kept no order among themselves. They were insulted with impunity by the crowd which filled their galleries. They gave long and solemn consideration to trifles. They hurried through the most important resolutions with fearful expedition. They wasted months in quibbling about the words of that false and childish Declaration of Rights on which they professed to found their new constitution, and which was at. irreconcilable variance with every clause of that constitution. They annihilated in a single night privileges, many of which partook of the nature of property, and ought therefore to have been most delicately handled.
They are called the Constituent Assembly. Never was a name less appropriate. They were not constituent, but the very reverse of constituent. They constituted nothing that stood, or that deserved to last. They had not, and they could not possibly have, the information or the habits of mind which are necessary for the framing of that most ex
quisite of all machines, a government. The metaphysical cant with which they prefaced their constitution, has long been the scoff of all parties. Their constitution itself, that constitution which they described as absolutely perfect, and to which they predicted immortality, disappeared in a few months, and left no trace behind it. They were great only in the work of destruction.
The glory of the National Assembly is this, that they were in truth, what Mr. Burke called them in austere irony, the ablest architects of ruin that ever the world saw. They were utterly incompetent to perform any work which required a discriminating eye and a skilful hand. But the work which was then to be done was a work of devasta. tion. They had to deal with abuses so horrible and so deeply rooted, that the highest political wisdom could scarcely have produced greater good to mankind than was produced by their fierce and senseless temerity. Demolition. is undoubtedly a vulgar task; the highest glory of the statesman is to construct. But there is a time for everything, a time to set up, and a time to pull down. The talents of revolutionary leaders, and those of the legislator, have equally their use and their season. It is the natural, the almost universal law, that the age of insurrections and proscriptions shall precede the age of good government, of tem. perate liberty, and liberal order.
And how should it be otherwise ? It is not in swaddlingbands that we learn to walk. It is not in the dark that we learn to distinguish colors. It is not under oppression that we learn how to use freedom. The ordinary sophism by which misrule is defended is, when truly stated, this : The people must continue in slavery, because slavery has generated in them all the vices of slaves. Because they are ignorant, they must remain under a power which has made and which keeps them ignorant. Because they have been
made ferocious by misgovernment, they must be misgoverned for ever.
If the system under which they live were so mild and liberal, that under its operation they had become humane and enlightened, it would be safe to venture on a change. But as this system has destroyed morality, and prevented the development of the intellect; as it has turned men who might, under different training, have formed a virtuous and happy community, into savage and stupid wild beasts, therefore it ought to last for ever. The English Revolution, it is said, was truly a glorious Revolution. Practical evils were redressed ; no excesses were committed; no sweeping confiscations took place; the authority of the laws was scarcely for a moment suspended; the fullest and freest discussion was tolerated in Parliament; the nation showed, by the calm and temperate manner in which it asserted its liberty, that it was fit to enjoy liberty. The French Revolution was, on the other hand, the most horrible event recorded in history, all madness and wickedness, absurdity in theory, and atrocity in practice. What folly and injustice in the revolutionary laws! What grotesque affectation in the revolutionary ceremonies! What fanaticism! What licentiousness ! What cruelty! Anacharsis Clootz and Marat, feasts of the Supreme Being, and marriages of the Loire, trees of liberty, and heads dancing on pikes, - the whole forms a kind of infernal farce, made up of everything ridiculous, and every- : thing frightful. This it is to give freedom to those who have neither wisdom nor virtue. It is not only by bad men interested in the defence of abuses, that arguments like these have been urged against all schemes of political improvement. Some of the highest and purest of human beings conceived such scorn and aversion for the follies and crimes of the French Revolution, that they recanted, in the moment of triumph, those liberal opinions to which they had clung in defiance of persecution. And if we inquire why it was
that they began to doubt whether liberty were a blessing, we shall find that it was only because events had proved, in the clearest manner, that liberty is the parent of virtue and of order. They ceased to abhor tyranny merely because it had been signally shown, that the effect of tyranny on the hearts and understandings of men is more demoralizing and more stupefying than had ever been imagined by the most zealous friend of popular rights. The truth is, that a stronger argument against the old monarchy of France may be drawn from the noyades and the fusilades, than from the Bastille and the Parc-aux-cerfs. We believe it to be a rule without an exception, that the violence of a revolution corresponds to the degree of misgovernment which has produced that revolution. Why was the French Revolution so bloody and destructive? Why was our revolution of 1641 comparatively mild ? Why was our revolution of 1688 milder still ? Why was the American Revolution, consid. ered as an internal movement, the mildest of all ? There is an obvious and complete solution of the problem.
The English under James the First and Charles the First were less oppressed than the French under Louis the Fifteenth and Louis the Sixteenth. The English were less oppressed after the Restoration than before the great Rebellion. And America, under George the Third, was less oppressed than England under the Stuarts. The reaction was exactly proportioned to the pressure, — the vengeance to the provocation.
When Mr. Burke was reminded in his later years of the zeal which he had displayed in the cause of the Americans, he vindicated himself from the charge of inconsistency, by contrasting the wisdom and moderation of the Colonial insurgents of 1776, with the fanaticism and wickedness of the Jacobins of 1792. He was in fact bringing an argument a fortiori against himself. The circumstances on which he rested his vindication, fully proved that the old government of France stood in far more need of a complete change than the old government of America. The difference between Washington and Robespierre, the difference between Franklin and Barrère, the difference between the destruction of a few barrels of tea and the confiscation of thousands of square miles, the difference between the tarring and feathering of a tax-gatherer and the massacres of September, measure the difference between the government of America under the rule of England, and the government of France under the rule of the Bourbons.
Louis the Sixteenth made great voluntary concessions to his people; and they sent him to the scaffold. Charles the Tenth violated the fundamental laws of the state, established a despotism, and butchered his subjects for not submitting quietly to that despotism. He failed in his wicked attempt. He was at the mercy of those whom he had injured. The pavements of Paris were still heaped up in barricades; the hospitals were still full of the wounded ; the dead were still unburied ; a thousand families were in mourning; a hundred thousand citizens were in arms. The crime was recent; the life of the criminal was in the hands of the suffer. ers; and they touched not one hair of his head. In the first revolution, victims were sent to death by scores for the most trifling acts proved by the lowest testimony, before the most partial tribunals. After the second revolution, those ministers who had signed the ordinances, - those ministers, whose guilt, as it was of the foulest kind, was proved by the clearest evidence, - were punished only with imprisonment. In the first revolution, property was attacked. In the second, it was held sacred. Both revolutions, it is true, left the public mind of France in an unsettled state. Both revolutions were followed by insurrectionary movements. But after the first revolution, the insurgents were almost