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who shall not notify the parish priests of births or illnesses, to fines. Persons who shall exhort the sick, to the galleys or imprisonment for life according to sex; confiscation of property. The sick who shall refuse the sacraments if they recover, to banishment for life; if they die, to be dragged on a hurdle.” Notwithstanding this savage language the bloodthirsty spirit of St. Bartholomews Eve no longer prevailed in the land, and there was little disposition to rigorously enforce this edict. It was only here and there that its barbarities were carried into effect. The general sentiment of the people had moved forward to higher ground. Louis XV exhibited in marked degree the inherent weakness and vice of absolute rule. He was indolent and voluptuous, though not cruel as despots go. It is always impossibe for a single man to know the needs of a great country, no matter how energetic and earnest he may be, but when that man is inert the state is left to drift, and always drifts into confusion and misfortune. Though France coveted dominion in India and America, there was no strong combination of vigorous men working in concert to maintain it. An idle king and ministers, whose main purpose was to live in ease and luxury, neglected giving needed support to the adventurous spirits, who labored to extend French power, trade and influence in the east and west. England with its navy had become master of the sea, and a dissolute court had not the foresight and self-denial to expend the revenue in building a navy, but it was squandered in luxurious living. India, Canada and the valley of the Mississippi were lost, and passed under the rule of its great rival, England. Continental wars wasted blood and treasure without profit. The Seven Years' war, formally declared by France against England in January 1756, involved before its conclusion Austria, Prussia, Russia, Spain and Italy and, though fought mainly in Germany, impoverished and exhausted all Europe. Prussia bore its heaviest brunt and Frederick the Great estimated that the participants lost 800,000 men. The French court is well described by Montesquieu.
“Ambition amidst indolence, baseness amidst pride, the desire to grow rich without toil, aversion from truth, Aattery, treason, perfidy, neglect of all engagements, contempt for the duties of a citizen, fear of virtue in the prince, hope in his weakness, and more than all that, the ridicule constantly thrown on virtue form, I trow, the characteristics of the greatest number of courtiers, distinctive in all places and at all times.”
The very firmness with which the doctrine of absolutism had been riveted on the French people, under a weak and indolent monarch such as Louis XV, afforded the example and the opportunity for successful attack upon it. King and court were morally and intellectually weak, but there was growing strength among the people. Students and philosophers were already looking behind and beyond the written edicts, canons and decrees, for the living truth as the only just basis of authority. Enlarged intercourse with the people of other European states, with the new world in America and the old in India and the east, stimulated inquiry and research into every field of knowledge. There were many active brains in France busily at work. Montesquieu, Buffon, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Alembert, Fontenelle are great names. In seeking new truth they discovered old error. The falsity of the claims to dominion over mens thoughts and consciences, their lives and property, became apparent. The falsity of the claim of superiority, which had so long supported the king and those who thronged his court, could no longer be concealed. Vice and immorality appeared as such though practiced by kings, cardinals and courtiers. The courts too, where questions of right were daily discussed, though blinded by adherence to established rules by which they were bound, whether right or wrong, at least perceived that the king ruled only by force of law, and that he too was therefore inferior to law. The first internal struggle leading up to the great revolution was with the Parliaments and over questions of taxation. This led to the arrest of the judges and finally to the dissolution of the Parliaments and the complete reorganization of the judiciary in 1771. Louis brooked no questioning of his power. He had said to the Parliament of Paris, “The magistracy does not form a body or order separate from the three orders of the kingdom, the magistrates are my officers. In my person alone resides the sovereign power, of which the special characteristic is the spirit of counsel, justice and reason; it is from me alone that my courts have their existence and authority.” How little did he understand his own weakness and the growing strength and increasing knowledge of the people.
He died in 1774, and his grandson Louis XVI at the age of twenty came to the throne with Maria Antionette, daughter of Maria Theresa of Austria, as his queen. He was a weak but kindly man, neither great or strong enough to direct the affairs of so great a state.
He had the fortune to call to his aid some strong and honest ministers, who introduced reforms in the finances beneficial to the state, but correspondingly destructive of the system by which the court favorites obtained their greatest incomes. Turgot first and then Necker were able men, who sought to do the country honest service; but the corrupt courtiers gave them no rest and finally obtained their dismissal. The American Revolution, following on the discussions of such writers as Voltaire and Rousseau, produced a profound impression on the public mind. The opportunity for checking the growing ascendency of England, even though to do so required an alliance with rebels, who in declaring their independence had denied the doctrine of the divine right of kings and in its place asserted that all governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, was too tempting to be neglected. Bourbon France and Spain, exponents of the doctrine of unlimited monarchy, joined forces with the freemen of America against England. The result in America was the birth of a great republic, which became the model of all the states of the new world. Not less profound was the impulse given to the growing conceptions of liberty in France. Already disgusted with its decaying despotism and longing for a new national life, the nation seized with avidity the inspiration and sought at one bound to gain the lofty pinnacle of “liberty, equality and fraternity.” The King was a reformer but without much knowledge of affairs or steadiness of purpose. At the instance of Necker he abolished mortmain and serfdom on the royal estates, put an end to the preliminary tortures to which defendants were put by the soft name of the "preparatory question” and caused more humane treatment of those confined in prisons.
The age of intrigue for mere power had passed, and the love of wealth and display was the overmastering passion of courtiers. Financial difficulties, arising from the inordinate demands for money to waste in vain display rather than for legitimate governmental uses, were sources of anxiety to the King and his ministers. The nation was vitally interested in the reforms proposed by Turgot and Necker, but the favorites were equally interested in defeating them, and were an active force. Public sentiment was without coherence or steadiness. The court constantly called for more money. The people resisted increased taxation. On Dec. 29, 1786, Louis announced in council that he would convoke an assembly of notables on January 29 “to communicate to them my views for the relief of my people, the ordering of the finances and the reformation of abuses.” The session did not open till Feb. 22, 1787. It was not a representative body, but composed of one hundred and forty-four members, all named by the King as follows: seven princes of the blood royal, fourteen archbishops and bishops, thirty-six dukes and peers, twelve councillors of state and masters of requests, thirty-eight judges, twelve deputies of states districts and twenty-five municipal officers. When this assembly convened the fact that France had outgrown despotism became apparent. The public demanded an account of the conduct of affairs, and to know what became of the revenue before undertaking to provide a greater one. An annual deficit of 100,000,000 livres a year had been steadily forcing the treasury into deeper and deeper embarassment. The session closed on May 25, 1787, without any other result than increased publicity of the financial situation and a more widespread understanding of the nature and extent of the abuses which prevailed and by which the privileged nobles, tax farmers, monopolists and court favorities grew rich at the expense of all the industrial classes. The Assembly left the King to deal with his difficulties the same as before. His edicts relating to the stamp tax and territorial subvention were registered, and then the registration was declared null by the Parliament of Paris. The King sent the Parliament away to Troyes. The growth of the idea that all were subject to law was expressed by a decree of the Parliament, in which it was said, “The monarchy would be transfigured into a despotic form if ministry could dispose of persons by sealed letters, property by beds of justice, criminal matters by change of venue or cassation and suspend the course of justice by special banishments or arbitrary removals.” Though the principles thus declared may meet approval, they were invoked to sustain privilege rather than to enforce justice. But the idea that the land and the people belonged to and existed for the king and his court was fast being supplanted by the better one that the government, whatever its form, must serve the people and promote their welfare. Though we read so much of the difficulties with which the government was surrounded, those difficulties did not have their basis either in exceptionally bad natural or business conditions, nor in the ambitions of rebellious subjects, but in the fact that the nation had outgrown its governmental system and demanded better principles and more efficient execution of them. The nation clamored for the States-General, the ancient representative body of the kingdom. On Aug. 6, 1888, a decree was promulgated for their convocation on the ensuing ist of May. There was much agitation of the questions as to their composition and the representation and mode of choice of the Third Estate, the only representative of popular elements. An Assembly of Notables was again convened Nov. 6, 1788, but adjourned on December 12 without accomplishing more than the discussion and agitation of the general subject of governmental and financial reform. The composition of the States-General was finally determined by the King as follows, I. There should be at least 1,000 deputies. 2. That the number should be formed as nearly as possible in compound ratio to the population and taxes of each baliwick. 3. That the number of deputies of the Third Estate should be equal to that of the two other orders