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compliance : still the prerogative itself remained in existence; royal edicts after all, were not exactly laws: they became so, only when the parliaments had given them a last sanction, by consenting to register them.
Here, then, lay the great secret of the constitution; how far the king could legally compel this acquiescence; and here was fixed the proper engine of constitutional control or resist
You will see its importance when you come to read the history of the French Revolution.
On this subject of the constitution, facts and information may be taken from Wraxall, and above all from Sully, who is an original author and full of them : but principles and reasonings must be drawn from the Abbé de Mably.
The value of a national representation, as an instrument of taxation, even to the crown itself, may be seen in the history of France. The monarch, it is true, could issue edicts, but the taxes were intercepted by the collectors of them; though the subject paid much, the crown received little. Arbitrary power is not favourable to the real affluence of the sovereign. For the same notions in the people and in the monarch that lead to arbitrary power, lead to abuses of every description; compulsory loans, venality of offices, demands of free gifts, rapacious exactions from opulent traders, destructive impositions, and anticipations of revenue; habits of expense, improvident management, and an universal system of waste and peculation.
But it is in this manner that all the sources of national revenue are destroyed; and if the revenue be not produced, the monarch cannot have a part of it.
It was in vain for the prince, even if patriotic, to endeavour to introduce economy into his household and expenses: a large sum might be collected in such a country as France, by a minister like Sully, under a king like Henry IV.; but the memoirs of Sully himself resound with the king's embarrassments and poverty.
The whole organization of society, from the throne down to the cottage, if the government be arbitrary, is always to the purposes of a royal exchequer, unfavourable ; every instrument that the monarch can employ is, more or less, a
The monarch and court, by the absence of all apparent criticism from public assemblies, themselves lose the necessary discipline and support of virtue. They become themselves, and every one around and below them, expensive and depraved, profuse and needy.
The great accusation to be brought against Henry is, that he did nothing for the liberties of France, nothing for its constitution. He never attempted to turn to the best advantage such a means of improvement as might still have been found in the states-general. He laboured to be a father to his people, but only because it was his own good pleasure to be so; he forgot that the power which he directed to the benefit of his subjects was to descend to others; and that it was one thing for a nation to have a good king, and another to have a good constitution.
There are two services, however, which he rendered to the constitution of France, and that by his own merits. First, he prevented the renewal of the government of the fiefs. The great nobles were made so powerful by the civil wars, their followers so familiarized to arms, all order and law so banished from the kingdom, and the governors of provinces were possessed of powers so vast and dangerous, that independent sovereignties might probably have been established if Henry IV. had not been on the throne during the first very critical years that succeeded to the assassination of Henry III. Considerable efforts were made by some of the great leaders to have their governments made hereditary, even while Henry IV. was their monarch, armed with all his advantages of talents and success. The hereditary governments, if once established, might readily have assumed the nature and privileges of independent sovereignty, and the country been broken up and ruined.
Secondly, He procured for the Protestants the edict of Nantz. The promulgation of this edict must be considered as a sort of conclusion of the religious wars; wars which, for nearly forty years, desolated France, and had more than realized the dreadful pictures of Tacitus, even when describing the worst times of the worst people.
This celebrated edict will surely attract the curiosity of every reflecting mind.
I have already mentioned a work under the title of the Edict of Nantz; and recommend the perusal of the first book. I now recommend the fifth, which will give the reader a very adequate idea of the times and of the subject. The edict itself is at the end of the first volume, and may be easily read. It consisted of ninety-two general articles, and these followed by fifty-six secret articles.
After all these have been considered, the observations of the Abbé de Mably may be attended to.
The Protestants-the inferior sect-made the usual demands; and the Roman Catholics the usual objections. The points in debate comprehended all the accustomed difficulties. At length, by the articles of the edict (VI. IX. X.), the Protestants were allowed to live every where in France without molestation, on account of their private religious tenets; and publicly to enjoy (XIV.) the exercise of their religion in particular places, though not in the metropolis, or within a certain distance of it. You will look, I hope, at these articles, particularly the secret articles.
I cannot further allude to them as I could wish to do, for in this lecture, as in every other, I am restricted to a certain time; but I must at least point out to you the twenty-seventh article, which is to us more particularly interesting, as the policy of our own country has been different, and as the wisdom of our policy has been very reasonably disputed.
By the twenty-seventh article of the edict, the Protestants (the Dissenters in France) were rendered eligible to all offices without exacting any other oath from them; but (I quote the article) “ well and faithfully to serve their king in the discharge of their offices, and to observe the ordinance, as it has been observed at all times ;" that is, the test was civil, not religious. Our policy, as seen in our corporation and test acts, is different.
These are so contrived that with us Roman Catholics and Dissenters are necessarily excluded from offices; for they are required to take the sacrament after the manner of the Church of England ; i. e. the test is religious.
The humanity and philosophy of the Abbé de Mably take fire when he comes to notice this celebrated edict. To establish (he observes) a solid peace between the two religions, there
ought to have been established between them a perfect equality.
If the Protestants were feared, no exercise of their religion could have been, he contends, too public. Their preachings were otherwise to be rendered always the hot-beds of intrigue, cabal, and fanaticism. Henry, he adds, should have called the states-general; made the parties produce and discuss their claims; then have mediated between them and formed a lawthe law of the whole nation.
To views and observations like these, the history itself, and all history, is a melancholy but sufficient answer. It is only astonishing that after such scenes as had taken place, Henry could accomplish what he did. Insufficient as it may seem to the Abbé de Mably, it was not effected without the most meritorious exertions on his part, and the assertion of all his authority, with both laity and clergy, particularly the latter.
Had he called the states-general he would only have dignified and organized the opposition which he could scarcely with the assistance of the most favourable circumstances, overpower. Like a real statesman he was resolved to do something for the benefit of his country, but was contented, when he had done what seemed practicable; when, in short, he had made the best of his materials. It was sufficient for him, as it must often be for others, to have laid the germ of future improvement, which was to ripen, if succeeding times were favourable; if otherwise, to perish.
“ See nations slowly wise, and meanly just." The account which Sully gives of these memorable transactions is very imperfect and inadequate to their importance.
De Thou is more satisfactory; but even by him the subject seems not to have been properly comprehended. You will have some idea of it from Lacretelle. Some reforms were, however accomplished by Henry and Sully.
The merits of Henry IV. had an easy conquest over the French nation; for he restored them to peace after the calamities not only of civil war, but of civil and religious war. Favoured by fortune, and recommended by great merit, Henry became at once, and has always remained, the object of universal admiration.
It seems but too generally forgotten that Henry made no attempt to revive the constitution of his country. The people of France themselves seem never to have objected this most important fault to him.
Mankind, it must be confessed, are ever running headlong in their feelings of praise and censure, and they seem almost justified, when they give the free reins to their confidence and affections in favour of princes, who have been their deliverers and protectors.
But it is unhappily on occasions like these, after revolutions or great calamities, that a nation loses, as did the French, as did the English at the restoration of Charles II., all care of its laws, its privileges, and its constitution. It thinks only of the horrors of the past, and of the comparative enjoyments of the present; slavery itself is a comfort when compared with the miseries that have been endured ; and good princes as well as bad princes have converted to the purposes of their own power these thoughtless but natural sentiments, in a fatigued, terrified, and scarcely yet breathing people.
No periods have, therefore, been so dangerous to the civil liberties of a country. What Louis XI. had effected was now willingly confirmed; and the whole French nation-a nation of civilized men, quick in intelligence, ardent in sentiment, prodigal in courage, and the descendants of the Franks, contented themselves with the political blessings of the hour, and in the virtues of their monarch, without thinking of the future, reposed that confidence which should only have been given to some free form of government; some form of government where their states-general, the proper images of themselves, had been combined with the executive power, and both harmonized into a regular constitution, for the permanent benefit as well of the prince as of the people.
Before I quit this subject, I must again recommend to you an account lately drawn up by Mr. Smedley, a history of the Reformed Religion in France. The work will tell you every thing that it is necessary to know respecting the religious part of the history of these times.
We must now turn to a scene that will have been often presented to us indirectly during our perusal of these evils