CHAPTER IV. FROM APRIL, 1791, TO THE 3OTH SEPTEMBER. THE END OF THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY

This letter excited general approbation. Lafayette demanded and procured an amnesty in favour of those who were under prosecution for favouring the king's flight, or for proceedings against the revolution. Next day the king came in person to accept the constitution in the assembly. The populace attended him thither with acclamations; he was the object of the enthusiasm of the deputies and spectators, and he regained that day the confidence and affection of his subjects. The 29th of September was fixed for the closing of the assembly; the king was present; his speech was often interrupted by applause, and when he said, "For you, gentlemen, who during a long and arduous career have displayed such indefatigable zeal, there remains one duty to fulfil when you have returned to your homes over the country: to explain to your fellow-citizens the true meaning of the laws you have made for them; to counsel those who slight them; to clarify and unite all opinions by the example you shall afford of your love of order, and of submission to the laws." Cries of "Yes! yes!" were uttered by all the deputies with one common voice. "I rely on your being the interpreters of my sentiments to your fellow-citizens." "Yes! yes!" "Tell them all that the king will always be their first and most faithful friend; that he needs their love; that he can only be happy with them and by their means; the hope of contributing to their happiness will sustain my courage, as the satisfaction of having succeeded will be my sweetest recompense"

"It is a speech worthy of Henry IV.," said a voice, and the king left the hall amidst the loudest testimonials of love.

Then Thouret, in a loud voice, and addressing the people, exclaimed: "The constituent assembly pronounces its mission accomplished, and that its sittings now terminate." Thus closed this first and glorious assembly of the nation. It was courageous, intelligent, just, and had but one passion - a passion for law. It accomplished, in two years, by its efforts, and with indefatigable perseverance, the greatest revolution ever witnessed by one generation of men. Amidst its labours, it repressed despotism and anarchy, by frustrating the conspiracies of the aristocracy and maintaining the multitude in subordination. Its only fault was that it did not confide the guidance of the revolution to those who were its authors; it divested itself of power, like those legislators of antiquity who exiled themselves from their country after giving it a constitution. A new assembly did not apply itself to consolidating its work, and the revolution, which ought to have been finished, was recommenced.

The constitution of 1791 was based on principles adapted to the ideas and situation of France. This constitution was the work of the middle class, then the strongest; for, as is well known, the predominant force ever takes possession of institutions. When it belongs to one man alone, it is despotism; when to several, it is privilege; when to all, it is right; this last state is the limit, as it is the origin, of society. France had at length attained it, after passing through feudalism, which was the aristocratic institution, and absolute power, which was the monarchical institution. Equality was consecrated among the citizens, and delegation recognised among the powers; such were to be, under the new system, the condition of men, and the form of government.

In this constitution the people was the source of all powers, but it exercised none; it was entrusted only with election in the first instance, and its magistrates were selected by men chosen from among the enlightened portions of the community. The latter constituted the assembly, the law courts, the public offices, the corporations, the militia, and thus possessed all the force and all the power of the state. It alone was fit to exercise them, because it alone had the intelligence necessary for the conduct of government. The people was not yet sufficiently advanced to participate in power, consequently, it was only by accident, and in the most casual and evanescent manner, that power fell into its hands; but it received civic education, and was disciplined to government in the primary assemblies, according to the true aim of society, which is not to confer its advantages as a patrimony on one particular class, but to make all share in them, when all are capable of acquiring them. This was the leading characteristic of the constitution of 1791; as each, by degrees, became competent to enjoy the right, he was admitted to it; it extended its limits with the extension of civilization, which every day calls a greater number of men to the administration of the state. In this way it had established true equality, whose real character is admissibility, as that of inequality is exclusion. In rendering power transferable by election, it made it a public magistracy; whilst privilege, in rendering it hereditary by transmission, makes it private property.

The constitution of 1791 established homogeneous powers which corresponded among themselves, and thus reciprocally restrained each other; still, it must be confessed, the royal authority was too subordinate to popular power. It is never otherwise: sovereignty, from whatever source derived, gives itself a feeble counterpoise when it limits itself. A constituent assembly enfeebles royalty; a king who is a legislator limits the prerogatives of an assembly.