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LECTURES

ON THE

FRENCH REVOLUTION




MACMILLAN AND CO., Limited

LONDON · BOMBAY · CALCUTTA
MELBOURNE

THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

NEW YORK · BOSTON · CHICAGO
ATLANTA · SAN FRANCISCO

THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, Ltd.
TORONTO




LECTURES
ON THE
FRENCH REVOLUTION

BY

JOHN EMERICH EDWARD DALBERG-ACTON

First Baron ACTON

D.C.L., LL.D., ETC. ETC.

REGIUS PROFESSOR OF MODERN HISTORY IN THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE

EDITED BY
JOHN NEVILLE FIGGIS, C.R., Litt.D.

HONORARY FELLOW OF ST. CATHARINE'S COLLEGE

AND

REGINALD VERE LAURENCE, M.A.

FELLOW AND TUTOR OF TRINITY COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE

MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON
1910




PREFATORY NOTE


The following Lectures were delivered by Lord Acton as Regius
Professor of Modern History at Cambridge in the academical years
1895-96, 1896-97, 1897-98, 1898-99. The French Revolution, 1789-95,
was in those years one of the special subjects set for the Historical
Tripos, and this determined the scope of the course. In addition some
discussion of the literature of the Revolution generally took place
either in a conversation class or as an additional lecture. Such
connected fragments of these as remain have been printed as an
appendix. For the titles of the Lectures the editors are responsible.

J. N. F.
R. V. L.

_August 10, 1910_




CONTENTS


LECT. PAGE

I. The Heralds of the Revolution 1

II. The Influence of America 20

III. The Summons of the States-General 39

IV. The Meeting of the States-General 57

V. The Tennis-Court Oath 68

VI. The Fall of the Bastille 77

VII. The Fourth of August 94

VIII. The Constitutional Debates 109

IX. The March to Versailles 126

X. Mirabeau 141

XI. Sieyès and the Constitution Civile 159

XII. The Flight to Varennes 174

XIII. The Feuillants and the War 193

XIV. Dumouriez 210

XV. The Catastrophe of Monarchy 224

XVI. The Execution of the King 240

XVII. The Fall of the Gironde 256

XVIII. The Reign of Terror 269

XIX. Robespierre 284

XX. La Vendée 301

XXI. The European War 317

XXII. After the Terror 331

Appendix: The Literature of the Revolution 345

Index 375




I

THE HERALDS OF THE REVOLUTION


The revenue of France was near twenty millions when Lewis XVI.,
finding it inadequate, called upon the nation for supply. In a single
lifetime it rose to far more than one hundred millions, while the
national income grew still more rapidly; and this increase was wrought
by a class to whom the ancient monarchy denied its best rewards, and
whom it deprived of power in the country they enriched. As their
industry effected change in the distribution of property, and wealth
ceased to be the prerogative of a few, the excluded majority perceived
that their disabilities rested on no foundation of right and justice,
and were unsupported by reasons of State. They proposed that the
prizes in the Government, the Army, and the Church should be given to
merit among the active and necessary portion of the people, and that
no privilege injurious to them should be reserved for the unprofitable
minority. Being nearly an hundred to one, they deemed that they were
virtually the substance of the nation, and they claimed to govern
themselves with a power proportioned to their numbers. They demanded
that the State should be reformed, that the ruler should be their
agent, not their master.

That is the French Revolution. To see that it is not a meteor from the
unknown, but the product of historic influences which, by their union
were efficient to destroy, and by their division powerless to
construct, we must follow for a moment the procession of ideas that
went before, and bind it to the law of continuity and the operation
of constant forces.

If France failed where other nations have succeeded, and if the
passage from the feudal and aristocratic forms of society to the
industrial and democratic was attended by convulsions, the cause was
not in the men of that day, but in the ground on which they stood. As
long as the despotic kings were victorious abroad, they were accepted
at home. The first signals of revolutionary thinking lurk dimly among
the oppressed minorities during intervals of disaster. The Jansenists
were loyal and patient; but their famous jurist Domat was a
philosopher, and is remembered as the writer who restored the
supremacy of reason in the chaotic jurisprudence of the time. He had
learnt from St. Thomas, a great name in the school he belonged to,
that legislation ought to be for the people and by the people, that
the cashiering of bad kings may be not only a right but a duty. He
insisted that law shall proceed from common sense, not from custom,
and shall draw its precepts from an eternal code. The principle of the
higher law signifies Revolution. No government founded on positive
enactments only can stand before it, and it points the way to that
system of primitive, universal, and indefeasible rights which the
lawyers of the Assembly, descending from Domat, prefixed to their
constitution.

Under the edict of Nantes the Protestants were decided royalists; so
that, even after the Revocation, Bayle, the apostle of Toleration,
retained his loyalty in exile at Rotterdam. His enemy, Jurieu, though
intolerant as a divine, was liberal in his politics, and contracted in
the neighbourhood of William of Orange the temper of a continental
Whig. He taught that sovereignty comes from the people and reverts to
the people. The Crown forfeits powers it has made ill use of. The
rights of the nation cannot be forfeited. The people alone possess an
authority which is legitimate without conditions, and their acts are
valid even when they are wrong. The most telling of Jurieu's seditious
propositions, preserved in the transparent amber of Bossuet's reply,
shared the immortality of a classic, and in time contributed to the
doctrine that the democracy is irresponsible and must have its way.

Maultrot, the best ecclesiastical lawyer of the day, published three
volumes in 1790 on the power of the people over kings, in which, with
accurate research among sources very familiar to him and to nobody
else, he explained how the Canon Law approves the principles of 1688
and rejects the modern invention of divine right. His book explains
still better the attitude of the clergy in the Revolution, and their
brief season of popularity.

The true originator of the opposition in literature was Fénelon. He
was neither an innovating reformer nor a discoverer of new truth; but
as a singularly independent and most intelligent witness, he was the
first who saw through the majestic hypocrisy of the court, and knew
that France was on the road to ruin. The revolt of conscience began
with him before the glory of the monarchy was clouded over. His views
grew from an extraordinary perspicacity and refinement in the estimate
of men. He learnt to refer the problem of government, like the conduct
of private life, to the mere standard of morals, and extended further
than any one the plain but hazardous practice of deciding all things
by the exclusive precepts of enlightened virtue. If he did not know
all about policy and international science, he could always tell what
would be expected of a hypothetically perfect man. Fénelon feels like
a citizen of Christian Europe, but he pursues his thoughts apart from
his country or his church, and his deepest utterances are in the mouth
of pagans. He desired to be alike true to his own beliefs, and
gracious towards those who dispute them. He approved neither the
deposing power nor the punishment of error, and declared that the
highest need of the Church was not victory but liberty. Through his
friends, Fleury and Chevreuse, he favoured the recall of the
Protestants, and he advised a general toleration. He would have the
secular power kept aloof from ecclesiastical concerns, because
protection leads to religious servitude and persecution to religious
hypocrisy. There were moments when his steps seemed to approach the
border of the undiscovered land where Church and State are parted.

He has written that a historian ought to be neutral between other
countries and his own, and he expected the same discipline in
politicians, as patriotism cannot absolve a man from his duty to
mankind. Therefore no war can be just, unless a war to which we are
compelled in the sole cause of freedom. Fénelon wished that France
should surrender the ill-gotten conquests of which she was so proud,
and especially that she should withdraw from Spain. He declared that
the Spaniards were degenerate and imbecile, but that nothing could
make that right which was contrary to the balance of power and the
security of nations. Holland seemed to him the hope of Europe, and he
thought the allies justified in excluding the French dynasty from
Spain for the same reason that no claim of law could have made it
right that Philip II. should occupy England. He hoped that his country
would be thoroughly humbled, for he dreaded the effects of success on
the temperament of the victorious French. He deemed it only fair that
Lewis should be compelled to dethrone his grandson with his own guilty
hand.

In the judgment of Fénelon, power is poison; and as kings are nearly
always bad, they ought not to govern, but only to execute the law.



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