CHAPTER I. FROM THE 5TH OF MAY, 1789, TO THE NIGHT OF THE 4TH OF AUGUST
The commons acted with much circumspection, deliberation, and steadiness. It was by a succession of efforts, not unattended with peril, by slow and undecided success, and by struggles constantly renewed, that they attained their object. The systematic inactivity they adopted from the commencement was the surest and wisest course; there are occasions when the way to victory is to know how to wait for it. The commons were unanimous, and alone formed the numerical half of the states-general; the nobility had in its bosom some popular dissentients; the majority of the clergy, composed of several bishops, friends of peace, and of the numerous class of the cures, the third estate of the church, entertained sentiments favourable to the commons. Weariness was therefore to bring about a union; this was what the third estate hoped, what the bishops feared, and what induced them on the 13th of May to offer themselves as mediators. But this mediation was of necessity without any result, as the nobility would not admit voting by poll, nor the commons voting by order. Accordingly, the conciliatory conferences, after being prolonged in vain till the 27th of May, were broken up by the nobility, who declared in favour of separate verification.
The day after this hostile decision, the commons determined to declare themselves the assembly of the nation, and invited the clergy to join them in the name of the God of peace and the common weal. The court taking alarm at this measure, interfered for the purpose of having the conferences resumed. The first commissioners appointed for purposes of reconciliation were charged with regulating the differences of the orders; the ministry undertook to regulate the differences of the commissioners. In this way, the states depended on a commission, and the commission had the council of the prince for arbiter. But these new conferences had not a more fortunate issue than the first. They lingered on without either of the orders being willing to yield anything to the others, and the nobility finally broke them up by confirming all its resolutions.
Five weeks had already elapsed in useless parleys. The third estate, perceiving the moment had arrived for it to constitute itself, and that longer delay would indispose the nation towards it, and destroy the confidence it had acquired by the refusal of the privileged classes to co- operate with it, decided on acting, and displayed herein the same moderation and firmness it had shown during its inactivity. Mirabeau announced that a deputy of Paris had a motion to propose; and Sieyes, physically of timid character, but of an enterprising mind, who had great authority by his ideas, and was better suited than any one to propose a measure, proved the impossibility of union, the urgency of verification, the justice of demanding it in common, and caused it to be decreed by the assembly that the nobility and clergy should beinvited to the Salle des Etats in order to take part in the verification, which would take place, whether they were absent or present.
The measure for general verification was followed by another still more energetic. The commons, after having terminated the verification on the 17th of June, on the motion of Sieyes, constituted themselves the National Assembly. This bold step, by which the most numerous order and the only one whose powers were legalized, declared itself the representation of France and refused to recognise the other two till they submitted to the verification, determined questions hitherto undecided, and changed the assembly of the states into an assembly of the people. The system of orders disappeared in political powers, and this was the first step towards the abolition of classes in the private system. This memorable decree of the 17th of June contained the germ of the night of the 4th of August; but it was necessary to defend what they had dared to decide, and there was reason to fear such a determination could not be maintained.
The first decree of the National Assembly was an act of sovereignty. It placed the privileged classes under its dependence, by proclaiming the indivisibility of the legislative power. The court remained to be restrained by means of taxation. The assembly declared the illegality of previous imposts, voted them provisionally, as long as it continued to sit, and their cessation on its dissolution; it restored the confidence of capitalists by consolidating the public debt, and provided for the necessities of the people, by appointing a committee of subsistence.