Page images
PDF
EPUB

THOUGHTS

ON FRENCH AFFAIRS, &c. &c.

WRITTEN IN DECEMBER, 1791.

Letter.

In all our transactions with France, and at all periods, we bave treated with that state on the footing of a monarchy. Monarchy was considered in all the external relations of that kingdom with every power in Europe as its legal and constitutional government, and that in which alone its federal capacity was vested.

It is not yet a year since Monsieur de Mont- Montmorin's morin formally, and with as little respect as can be imagined to the king, and to all crowned heads, announced a total revolution in that country. He has informed the British ministry, that its frame of government is wholly altered; that he is one of the ministers of the new system; and, in effect, that the king is no longer bis master, (nor does he even call him such,) but the “first of the ministers,” in the new gystem.

The second notification was that of the king's Acceptance of acceptance of the new constitution ; accompanied the constituwith fanfaronades in the modern style of the French bureaus ; things which have much more the air and character of the saucy declamations of their clubs, than the tone of regular office.

It has not been very usual to notify to foreign courts anything concerning the internal arrangements of any state. In the present case, the circumstance of these two notifications, with the observations with which they are attended, does not leave it in the choice of the sovereigns of Christendom to appear ignorant either of this French Revolution, or (what is more important) of its principles.

.

1

We know, that, very soon after this manifesto of Monsieur de Montmorin, the king of France, in whose name it was made, found himself obliged to fly, with his whole family; leaving behind him a declaration, in which he disavows and annuls that constitution, as having been the effect of force on his person and usurpation on his authority. It is equally notorious that this unfortunate prince was, with many circumstances of insult and outrage, brought back prisoner, by a deputation of the pretended National Assembly, and after. wards suspended, by their authority, from his government. Under equally notorious constraint, and under menaces of total deposition, he has been compelled to accept what they call a constitution, and to agree to whatever else the usurped power, which holds him in confinement, thinks proper to impose.

His next brother, who had fled with him, and his third brother, who had fled before him, all the princes of his blood, who remained faithful to him, and the flower of his magistracy, his clergy, and his nobility, continue in foreign countries, protesting against all acts done by him in his present situation, on the grounds upon which he had himself protested against them at the time of his flight; with this addition, that they deny his very competence (as on good grounds they may) to abrogate the royalty, or the ancient constitutional orders of the kingdom. In this protest they are joined by three hundred of the late assembly itself, and, in effect, by a great part of the French nation. The new government (so

far as the people dare to disclose their sentiments) is disdained, I am persuaded, by the greater number; who, as M. de la Fayette complains, and as the truth is, have declined to take any share in the new elections to the National Assembly, either as candidates or electors.

In this state of things, (that is; in the case of a divided kingdom,) by the law of nations, Great Britain, like every other power, is free to take any part she pleases. She may decline, with more or less formality, according to her discretion, to acknowledge this new system; or she may recognise it as a government de facto, setting aside all discussion of its original legality, and considering the ancient monarchy an end. The law of nations leaves our court open

to Tee Vattel, b. i. c. 4, sect. 56, and b. ü. c. 18, sect. 296,

its choice. We have no direction but what is found in the well understood policy of the king and kingdom.

This declaration of a new species of government, on new principles, (such it professes itself to be,) is a real crisis in the politics of Europe. The conduct which prudence ought to dictate to Great Britain, will not depend (as hitherto our connexion or quarrel with other states has for some time depended) upon merely external relations; but in a great measure also upon the system wbich we may think it right to adopt for the internal government of our own country.

If it be our policy to assimilate our government to that of France, we ought to prepare for this change, by encouraging the schemes of authority established there. We ought to wink at the captivity and deposition of a prince, with whom, if not in close alliance, we were in friendship. We ought to fall in with the ideas of Mons. Montmorin's circular manifesto; and to do business of course with the functionaries who act under the new power, by which that king, to whom his Majesty's minister has been sent to reside, has been deposed and imprisoned. On that idea we ought also to withhold all sorts of direct or indirect countenance from those who are treating in Germany for the re-establishment of the French monarchy and of the ancient orders of that state. This conduct is suitable to this policy.

The question is, whether this policy be suitable to the interests of the crown and subjects of Great Britain. Let us, therefore, a little consider the true nature and probablo effects of the revolution which, in such a very unusual manner, has been twice diplomatically announced to his Majesty.

There have been many internal revolutions in the government of countries, both as to persons tween this reand forms, in which the neighbouring states have volution and had little or no concern.

Whatever the govern. ment might be with respect to those persons and those forms, the stationary interests of the nation concerned have most commonly influenced the new governments in the same manner in which they influenced the ld; and the revolution, turning on matter of local grievance, or of local accommodation, did not extend beyond its territory.

Difference be

others.

Nature of the

The Reform. ation.

Its effects.

The present Revolution in France seems to me French Revo. to be quite of another character and description;

and to bear little resemblance or analogy to any of those which have been brought about in Europe, upon principles merely political. It is a revolution of doctrine and theoretic dogma. It has a much greater resemblance to those changes which have been made upon religious grounds, in which a spirit of proselytism makes an essential part.

The last revolution of doctrine and theory which

has happened in Europe, is the Reformation. It is not for my purpose to take any notice here of the merits of that revolution, but to state one only of its effects.

That effect was to introduce other interests into

all countries than those which arose from their locality and natural circumstances. The principle of the Reformation was such as, by its essence, could not be local, or confined to the country in which it had its origin. For instance, the doctrine of “ Justification by faith or by works,” which was the original basis of the Reformation, could not have one of its alternatives true as to Germany, and false as to every other country. Neither are questions of theoretic truth and falsehood governed by circumstances any more than by places. On that occasion, therefore, the spirit of proselytism expanded itself with great elasticity upon all sides; and great divisions were everywhere the result.

These divisions, however, in appearance merely dogmatic, soon became mixed with the political; and their effects were rendered much more intense from this combination. Europe was for a long time divided into two great factions, under the name of Catholic and Protestant, which not only often alienated state from state, but also divided almost every state within itself. The warm parties in each state were more affectionately attached to those of their own doctrinal interest in some other country, than to their fellow-citizens, or to their natural government, when they or either of them happened to be of a different persuasion. These factions, wherever they prevailed, if they did not absolutely destroy, at least weakened and distracted, the locality of patriotism. The public affections came to have other motives and cthcr ties.

It would be to repeat the history of the two last centuries to exemplify the effects of this revolution.

Although the principles to which it gave riso did not operate with a perfect regularity and constancy, they never wholly ceased to operate. Few wars were made, and few treaties were entered into, in which they did not come in for some part. They gave a colour, a character, and direction, to all the politics of Europe.

These principles of internal as well as external division and coalition are but just now extin

New system of

politics. guished. But they, who will examine into the true character and genius of some late events, must be satisfied that other sources of faction, combining parties among the inhabitants of different countries into one connexion, are opened, and that from these sources are likely to arise effects full as important as those which had formerly arisen from the jarring interests of the religious sects. The intention of the several actors in the change in France is not a matter of doubt. It is very openly professed.

In the modern world, before this time, there has been no instance of this spirit of general political faction, separated from religion, pervading several countries, and forming a principle of union between the partisans in each. But the thing is not less in human nature. The ancient world has furnished a strong and striking instance of such a ground for faction, full as powerful and full as mischievous as our spirit of religious system had ever been ; exciting in all the states of Greece (European and Asiatic) the most violent animosities, and the most cruel and bloody persecutions and proscriptions. These ancient factions in each commonwealth of Greece connected themselves with those of the same description in some other states; and secret cabals and public alliances were carried on and made, not upon a conformity of general political interests, but for the support and aggrandizement of the two leading states which headed the aristocratic and democratic factions. For as, in latter times, the king of Spain was at the head of a Catholic, and the king of Sweden of a Protestant, interest, (France, though Catholic, acting subordinately to the latter,) in the like manner the Lacedæmonians were everywhere at the head of the arisocratic interests, and the Athenians of the democratic. The

« PreviousContinue »