The French Revolution— Volume 1

Author: Hippolyte Adolphe Taine


Cupidity of tenants. - The third and fourth jacquerie. - Brittany and other provinces in 1790 and 1791. - The burning of chateaux. - Title-deeds destroyed. - Refusal of claims. - Destruction of reservoirs. - Principal characteristics, prime motive and ruling passion of the revolution

When there is a lack of public force for the protection of public property, there is also a lack of it for the protection of private property, for the same greed and the same needs attack both. Let a man owe anything either to the State or to an individual, and the temptation not to pay is equally the same. In both cases it suffices to find a pretext for denying the debt; in finding this pretext the cupidity of the tenant is as good as the selfishness of the tax-payer. Now that the feudal system is abolished let nothing remain of it: let there be no more seignorial claims. "If the Assembly has maintained some of them, yonder in Paris, it did so inadvertently or through corruption: we shall soon hear of all being suppressed. In the meantime we will relieve ourselves, and burn the agreements in the places where they are kept."

Such being the argument, the jacquerie breaks out afresh: in truth, it is permanent and universal. Just as in a body in which some of the elements of its vital substance are affected by an organic disease, the evil is apparent in the parts which seem to be sound: even where as yet no outbreak has occurred, one is imminent; constant anxiety, a profound restlessness, a low fever, denote its presence. Here, the debtor does not pay, and the creditor is afraid to prosecute him. In other places isolated eruptions occur. At Auxon,[59] on an estate spared by the great jacquerie of July, 1789, the woods are ravaged, and the peasants, enraged at being denounced by the keepers, march to the chateau, which is occupied by an old man and a child; everybody belonging to the village is there, men and women; they hew down the barricaded door with their axes, and fire on the neighbors who come to the assistance of its inmates. - In other places, in the districts of Saint-Étienne and Montbrison, "the trees belonging to the proprietors are carried away with impunity, and the walls of their grounds and terraces are demolished, the complainants being threatened with death or with the sight of the destruction of their dwellings." Near Paris, around Montargis, Nemours, and Fontainebleau, a number of parishes refuse to pay the tithes and ground-rent (champart) which the Assembly has a second time sanctioned; gibbets are erected and the collectors are threatened with hanging, while, in the neighborhood of Tonnerre, a mob of debtors fire upon the body of police which comes to enforce the claims. - Near Amiens, the Comtesse de la Mire,[60] on her estate of Davencourt, is visited by the municipal authorities of the village, who request her to renounce her right to ground-rent (champart) and thirds (tiers). She refuses and they insist, and she refuses again, when they inform her that " some misfortune will happen to her." In effect, two of the municipal officers cause the tocsin to be rung, and the whole village rushes to arms. One of the domestics has an arm broken by a ball, and for three hours the countess and her two children are subject to the grossest insults and to blows: she is forced to sign a paper which she is not allowed to read, and, in warding off the stroke of a saber, her arm is cleft from the elbow to the wrist; the chateau is pillaged, and she owes her escape to the zeal of some of her servants. - Large eruptions take place at the same time over entire provinces; one succeeds the other almost without interruption, the fever encroaching on parts which were supposed to be cured, and to such an extent that the virulent ulcers finally combine and form one over the whole surface of the social body.

By the end of December, 1789, the chronic fermentation comes to a head in Brittany. Imagination, as usual, has forged a plot, and, as the people say, if they make an attack it is in their own defense. - A report spreads[61] that M. de Goyon, near Lamballe, has assembled in his chateau a number of gentlemen and six hundred soldiers. The mayor and National Guard of Lamballe immediately depart in force; they find everything tranquil there, and no company but two or three friends, and no other arms than a few fowlingpieces. - The impulse, however, is given, and, on the 15th of January, the great federation of Pontivy has excited the wildest enthusiasm. The people drink, sing, and shout in honor of the new decrees before armed peasants who do not comprehend the French tongue, still less legal terms, and who, on their return home, arguing with each other in bas-breton, interpret the law in a peculiar way. "A decree of the Assembly, in their eyes, is a decree of arrest" and as the principal decrees of the Assembly are issued against the nobles, they are so many decrees of arrest against them. - Some days after this, about the end of January, during the whole of February, and down to the month of April, the execution of this theory is tumultuously carried out by mobs of villagers and vagabonds around Nantes, Auray, Redon, Dinan, Ploërmel, Rennes, Guingamp, and other villages. Everywhere, writes the Mayor of Nantes,[62] "the country-people believe that in burning deeds and contracts they get rid of their debts; the very best of them concur in this belief," or let things take their course; the excesses are enormous, because many gratify "special animosities, and all are heated with wine. - At Beuvres, "the peasants and vassals of the manor, after burning title-deeds, establish themselves in the chateau, and threaten to fire it if other papers, which they allege are concealed there, are not surrendered." Near Redon the Abbey of Saint-Sauveur is reduced to ashes. Redon is menaced, and Ploërmel almost besieged. At the end of a month thirty-seven chateaux are enumerated as attacked: twenty-five in which the title-deeds are burnt, and twelve in which the proprietors are obliged to sign an abandonment of their rights. Two chateaux which began to burn are saved by the National Guard. That of Bois-au-Voyer is entirely consumed, and several have been sacked. By way of addition, "more than fifteen procureurs-fiscaux, clerks, notaries, and officers of seignorial courts have been plundered or burnt," while proprietors take refuge in the towns because the country is now uninhabitable for them.

A second tumor makes its appearance at the same time at another point.[63] It showed itself in Lower Limousin in the beginning of January. From thence the purulent inflammation spreads to Quercy, Upper Languedoc, Perigord, and Rouergue, and in February from Tulle to Montauban, and from Agen to Périgueux and Cahors, extending over three departments. - Then, also, expectancy is the creator, according to rule, of its own object. By dint of longing for a law for the suppression of all claims, it is imagined that it is passed, and the statement is current that "the King and the National Assembly have ordered deputations to set up the maypole[64] and to ’light up’ the chateaux." - Moreover, and always in accordance with current practice, bandits, people without occupation, take the lead of the furious crowd and manage things their own way. As soon as a band is formed it arrests all the peaceable people it can find on the roads, in the fields, and in isolated farmhouses, and takes good care to put them in front in case of blows. - These miscreants add terror to compulsion. They erect gibbets for any one that pays casual duties or annual dues, while the parishes of Quercy threaten their neighbors of Perigord with fire and sword in a week’s time if they do not do in Perigord as they have done in Quercy. - The tocsin rings, the drums beat, and "the ceremony " is performed from commune to commune. The keys of the church are forcibly taken from the curé the seats are burned, and, frequently, the woodwork marked with the seigneur’s arms. They march to the seigneur’s mansion, tear down his weathercocks, and compel him to furnish his finest tree, together with feathers and ribbons with which to deck it, without omitting the three measures which he uses in the collection of his dues in grain or flour. The maypole is planted in the village square, and the weathercocks, ribbons, and feathers are attached to its top, together with the three measures and this inscription, "By order of the King and National Assembly, the final quittance for all rentals." When this is done it is evident that the seigneur, who no longer possesses weathercocks, or a seat in the church, or measures to rate his dues by, is no longer a seigneur, and can no longer put forth claims of any kind. Huzzahs and acclamations accordingly burst forth, and there is a revel and an orgy on the public square. All who can pay - the seigneur, the curé, and the rich - are put under contribution for the festival, while the people eat and drink "without any interval of sobriety." - In this condition, being armed, they strike, and when resistance is offered, they burn. In Agénois, a chateau belonging to M. de Lameth, and another of M. d’Aiguillon; in Upper Languedoc, that of M. de Bournazel, and in Perigord that of M. de Bar, are burnt down:

M. de Bar is almost beaten to death, while six others are killed in Quercy. A number of chateaux in the environs of Montauban and in Limousin are assaulted with firearms, and several are pillaged. - Bands of twelve hundred men swarm the country; "they have a spite against every estate;" they redress wrongs; "they try over again cases disposed of thirty years ago, and give judgments which they put into execution." - If anybody fails to conform to the new code he is punished, and to the advantage of the new sovereigns. In Agénois, a gentleman having paid the rent which was associated with his fief the people take his receipt from him, mulct him in a sum equal to that which he paid, and come under his windows to spend the money on good cheer, in triumph and with derision.

Many of the National Guards who still possess some degree of energy, several of the municipalities which still preserve some love of order, and a number of the resident gentry, employ their arms against these excited swarms of brutal usurpers. Some of the ruffians, taken in the act, are judged somewhat after the fashion of a drum-head court-martial, and immediately executed as examples. Everybody in the country sees that the peril to society is great and urgent, and that if such acts go unpunished, there will be no such thing as law and property in France. The Bordeaux parliament, moreover, insists upon prosecutions. Eighty-three boroughs and cities sign addresses, and send a special deputation to the National Assembly to urge on prosecutions already commenced, the punishment of criminals under arrest, and, above all, the maintenance of the prévôtés.[65] In reply to this, the Assembly inflicts upon the parliament of Bordeaux its disapprobation in the rudest manner, and enters upon the demolition of every judicial corporation.[66] After this, the execution of all prévotal decisions is adjourned. A few months later the Assembly will oblige the King to declare that the proceedings begun against the jacquerie of Brittany shall be regarded as null and void, and that the arrested insurgents shall be set free. For repressive purposes, it dispatches a sentimental exhortation to the French people, consisting of twelve pages of literary insipidity, which Florian might have composed for his Estilles and his Nemorins.[67] - New conflagrations, as an inevitable consequence, kindle around live coals which have been imperfectly extinguished. In the district of Saintes,[68] M. Dupaty, counselor of the parliament of Bordeaux, after having exhausted mild resources, and having concluded by issuing writs against those of his tenantry who would not pay their rents, the parish of Saint-Thomas de Cosnac, combined with five or six others, puts itself in motion and assails his two chateaux of Bois-Roche and Saint-George-des-Agouts; these are plundered and then set on fire, his son escaping through a volley of musket-balls. They visit Martin, the notary and steward, in the same fashion; his furniture is pillaged and his money is taken, and "his daughter undergoes the most frightful outrages." Another detachment pushes on to the house of-the Marquis de Cumont, and forces him, under the penalty of having his house burnt down, to give a discharge for all the claims he has upon them. At the head of these incendiaries are the municipal officers of Saint-Thomas, except the mayor, who has taken to flight.

The electoral system organized by the Constituent Assembly is beginning to take effect. "Almost everywhere," writes the royal commissioner, "the large proprietors have been eliminated, and the offices have been filled by men who strictly fulfill the conditions of eligibility. The result is a sort of rage of the petty rich to annoy those who enjoy large heritages." - Six months later, the National Guards and village authorities in this same department at Aujean, Migron, and Varaise, decide that no more tithes, agriers or champarts, nor any of the dues which are retained, shall be paid. In vain does the department annul the decision, and send its commissioners, gendarmes, and law-officers. The commissioners are driven away, and the officers and gendarmes are fired upon; the vice-president of the district, who was on his way to make his report to the department, is seized on the road and forced to give in his resignation. Seven parishes have coalesced with Aujean and ten with Migron; Varaise has sounded the tocsin, and the villages for four leagues round have risen; fifteen hundred men, armed with guns, scythes, hatchets and pitchforks, lend their aid. The object is to set free the principal leader at Varaise, one Planche, who was arrested, and to punish the mayor of Varaise, Latierce, who is suspected of having denounced Planche. Latierce is unmercifully beaten, and "forced to undergo a thousand torments during thirty hours;" then they set out with him to Saint-Jean-d’Angely, and demand the release of Planche. The municipality at first refuses, but finally consents on the condition that Latierce be given up in exchange for him. Planche, consequently, is set at liberty and welcomed with shouts of triumph. Latierce, however, is not given up; on the contrary, he is tormented for an hour and then massacred, while the directory of the district, which is less submissive than the municipal body, is forced to fly. - Symptoms of this kind are not to be mistaken, and similar ones exist in Brittany. It is evident that the minds of the people are permanently in revolt. Instead of the social abscess being relieved by the discharge, it is always filling up and getting more inflamed. It will burst a second time in the same places; in 1791 as in 1790, the jacquerie spreads throughout Brittany as it has spread over Limousin.

This is because the determination of the peasant is of another nature than ours, his will being more firm and tenacious. When an idea obtains a hold on him it takes root in an obscure and profound conviction upon which neither discussion nor argument have any effect; once planted, it vegetates according to his notions, not according to ours, and no legislative text, no judicial verdict, no administrative remonstrance can change in any respect the fruit it produces. This fruit, developed during centuries, is the feeling of an excessive plunder, and, consequently, the need of an absolute release. Too much having been paid to everybody, the peasant now is not disposed to pay anything to anybody, and this idea, vainly repressed, always rises up in the manner of an instinct. - In the month of January, 1791,[69] bands again form in Brittany, owing to the proprietors of the ancient fiefs having insisted on the payment of their rents. At first the coalesced parishes refuse to pay the stewards, and after this the rustic National Guards enter the chateaux to constrain the proprietors. Generally, it is the commander of the National Guard, and sometimes the communal attorney, who dictates to the lord of the manor the renunciation of his claims; they oblige him, moreover, to sign notes for the benefit of the parish, or for that of various private individuals. This is considered by them to be compensation for damages; all feudal dues being abolished, he must return what he received from them during the past year, and as they have been put to inconvenience he must indemnify them by "paying them for their time and journey." Such are the operations of two of the principal bands, one of them numbering fifteen hundred men, around Dinan and St. Malo; for greater security they burn title-deeds in the chateaux of Saint-Tual, Besso, Beaumanoir, La Rivière, La Bellière, Chateauneuf, Chenay, Chausavoir, Tourdelon, and Chalonge; and as a climax they set fire to Chateauneuf just before the arrival of the regular troops. - In the beginning, a dim conception of legal and social order seems to be floating in their brains; at Saint-Tual, before taking 2,000 livres from the steward, they oblige the mayor to give them his consent in writing; at Yvignac, their chief, called upon to show the authority under which he acted, declares that "he is authorized by the general will of the populace of the nation."[70] - But when, at the end of a month, they are beaten by the regular troops, made furious by the blows given and taken, and excited by the weakness of the municipal authorities who release their prisoners, they then become bandits of the worst species. During the night of the 22nd of February, the chateau of Villefranche, three leagues from Malestroit, is attacked. Thirty-two rascals with their faces masked, and led by a chief in the national uniform, break open the door. The domestics are strangled. The proprietor, M. de la Bourdonnaie, an old man, with his wife aged sixty, are half killed by blows and tied fast to their bed, and after this a fire is applied to their feet and they are warmed (chauffé). In the meantime the plate, linen, stuffs, jewelry, two thousand francs in silver, and even watches, buckles, and rings, - everything is pillaged, piled on the backs of the eleven horses in the stables, and carried off. - ?When property is concerned, one sort of outrage provokes another, the narrow cupidity of the lease-holder being completed by the unlimited rapacity of the brigand.

Meanwhile, in the south-western provinces, the same causes have produced the same results; and towards the end of autumn, when the crops are gathered in and the proprietors demand their dues in money or in produce, the peasant, immovably fixed in his idea, again refuses.[71] In his eyes, any law that may be against him is not that of the National Assembly, but of the so-called seigneurs, who have extorted or manufactured it; and therefore it is null. The department and district administrators may promulgate it as much as they please: it does not concern him, and if the opportunity occurs, he knows how to make them smart for it. The village National Guards, who are lease-holders like himself, side with him, and instead of repressing him give him their support. As a commencement, he replants the maypoles, as a sign of emancipation, and erects the gibbet by way of a threat. - In the district of Gourdon, the regulars and the police having been sent to put them down, the tocsin is at once sounded: a crowd of peasants, amounting to four or five thousand, arrives from every surrounding parish, armed with scythes and guns; the soldiers, forming a body of one hundred, retire into a church, where they capitulate after a siege of twenty-four hours, being obliged to give the names of the proprietors who demanded their intervention of the district, and who are Messrs. Hébray, de Fontange, and many others. All their houses are destroyed from top to bottom, and they effect their escape in order not to be hung. The chateaux of Repaire and Salviat are burned. At the expiration of eight days Quercy is in flames and thirty chateaux are destroyed. - The leader of a band of rustic National Guards, Joseph Linard, at the head of a village army, penetrates into Gourdon, installs himself in the Hôtel-de-Ville, declares himself the people’s protector against the directory of the district, writes to the department in the name of his "companions in arms," and vaunts his patriotism. Meanwhile he commands as a conqueror, throws open the prisons, and promises that, if the regular troops and police be sent off; he and his companions will withdraw in good order. - This species of tumultuous authority, however, instituted by acclamation for attack, is powerless for resistance. Scarcely has Linard retired when savagery is let loose. "A price is set upon the heads of the administrators; their houses are the first devastated; all the houses of wealthy citizens are pillaged; and the same is the case with all chateaux and country habitations which display any signs of luxury." - Fifteen gentlemen, assembled together at the house of M. d’Escayrac, in Castel, appeal to all good citizens to march to the assistance of the proprietors who may be attacked in this jacquerie, which is spreading everywhere;[72] but there are too few proprietors in the country, and none of the towns have too many of them for their own protection. M. d’Escayrac, after a few skirmishes, abandoned by the municipal officers of his village, and wounded, withdraws to the house of the Comte de Clarac, a major-general, in Languedoc. Here, too, the chateau, is surrounded,[73] blockaded, and besieged by the local National Guard. M. de Clarac descends and tries to hold a parley with the attacking party, and is fired upon. He goes back inside and throws money out of the window; the money is gathered up, and he is again fired upon. The chateau is set on fire, and M. d’Escayrac receives five shots, and is killed. M. de Clarac, with another person, having taken refuge in a subterranean vault, are taken out almost stifled the next morning but one by the National Guard of the vicinity, who conduct them to Toulouse, where they are kept in prison and where the public prosecutor takes proceedings against them. The chateau of Bagat, near Montcuq, is demolished at the same time. The abbey of Espagnac, near Figeac, is assaulted with fire-arms; the abbess is forced to refund all rents she has collected, and to restore four thousand livres for the expenses of a trial which the convent had gained twenty years before.

After such successes, the extension of the revolt is inevitable; and at the end of some weeks and months it becomes permanent in the three neighboring departments. - In Creuse,[74] the judges are threatened with death if they order the payment of seignorial dues, and the same fate awaits all proprietors who claim their rents. In many places, and especially in the mountains, the peasants, "considering that they form the nation, and that clerical possessions are national," want to have these divided amongst themselves, instead of their being sold. Fifty parishes around La Souterraine receive incendiary letters inviting them to come in arms to the town, in order to secure by force, and by staking their lives, the production of all titles to rentals. The peasants, in a circle of eight leagues, are all stirred up by the sound of the tocsin, and preceded by the municipal officers in their scarves; there are four thousand of them, and they drag with them a wagon full of arms: this is for the revision and re-constitution of the ownership of the soil. - In Dordogne,[75] self-appointed arbitrators interpose imperiously between the proprietor and the small farmer, at the time of harvest, to prevent the proprietor from claiming, and the farmer from paying, the tithes or the réve;[76] any agreement to this end is forbidden; whoever shall transgress the new order of things, proprietor or farmer, shall be hung. Accordingly, the rural militia in the districts of Bergerac, Excideuil, Ribérac, Mucidan, Montignac, and Perigueux, led by the municipal officers, go from commune to commune in order to force the proprietors to sign an act of withdrawal; and these visits "are always accompanied with robberies, outrages, and ill-treatment from which there is no escape but in absolute submission." Moreover, "they demand the abolition of every species of tax and the partition of the soil. " - It is impossible for "proprietors moderately rich " to remain in the country; on all sides they take refuge in Perigueux, and there, organizing in companies, along with the gendarmerie and the National Guard of the town, overrun the cantons to restore order. But there is no way of persuading the peasantry that it is order which they wish to restore. With that stubbornness of the imagination which no obstacle arrests, and which, like a vigorous spring, always finds some outlet, the people declare that "the gendarmes and National Guard" who come to restrain them "are priests and gentlemen in disguise." - The new theories, moreover, have struck down to the lowest depths; and nothing is easier than to draw from them the abolition of debts, and even the agrarian law. At Ribérac, which is invaded by the people of the neighboring parishes, a village tailor, taking the catechism of the Constitution from his pocket, argues with the procureur-syndic, and proves to him that the insurgents are only exercising the rights of man. The book states, in the first place, "that Frenchmen are equals and brethren, and that they should give each other aid;" and that "the masters should share with their fellows, especially this year, which is one of scarcity." In the next place, it is written that "all property belongs to the nation," and that is the reason why "it has taken the possessions of the Church." Now, all Frenchmen compose the nation, and the conclusion is clearly apparent. Since, in the eyes of the tailor, the property of individual Frenchmen belongs to all the French, he, the tailor, has a right to at least the quota which belongs to him. - One travels fast and far on this downhill road, for every mob considers that this means immediate enjoyment, and enjoyment according to its own ideas. There is no care for neighbors or for consequences, even when imminent and physical, and in twenty places the confiscated property perishes in the hands of the usurpers.

This voluntary destruction of property can be best observed in the third department, that of Corrèze.[77] Not only have the peasants here refused to pay rents from the beginning of the Revolution; not only have they "planted maypoles, supplied with iron hooks, to hang " the first one that dared to claim or to pay them; not only are violent acts of every description committed "by entire communes," "the National Guards of the small communes participating in them;" not only do the culprits, whose arrest is ordered, remain at liberty, while "nothing is spoken of but the hanging of the constables who serve writs," but farther, together with the ownership of the water-sources, the power of collecting, directing, and distributing the water is overthrown, and, in a country of in a country of steep slopes, the consequences of such an operation may be imagined. Three leagues from Tulle, in a forming a semi-circle, a pond twenty feet in depth, and covering an area of three hundred acres, was enclosed by a broad embankment on the side of a very deep gorge, which was completely covered with houses, mills, and cultivation. On the 17th of April, 1791, a troop of five hundred armed men assembled by the beat of a drum, and collected from three villages in the vicinity, set themselves to demolish the dike. The proprietor, M. de Sedières, a substitute-deputy in the National Assembly, is not advised of it until eleven o’clock in the evening. Mounting his horse, along with his guests and domestics, he makes a charge on the insane wretches, and, with the aid of pistol and gun shots, disperses them. It was time, for the trench they had dug was already eight feet deep, and the water was nearly on a level with it: a half-hour later and the terrible rolling mass of waters would have poured out on the inhabitants of the gorge. - But such vigorous strokes, which are rare and hardly ever successful, are no defense against universal and continuous attacks. The regular troops and the gendarmerie, both of which are in the way of reorganization or of dissolution, are not trustworthy, or are too weak. There are no more than thirty of the cavalry in Creuse, and as many in Corrèze. The National Guards of the towns are knocked up by expeditions into the country, and there is no money with which to provide for their change of quarters. And finally, as the elections are in the hands of the people, this brings into power men disposed to tolerate popular excesses. At Tulle, the electors of the second class, almost all chosen from among the cultivators, and, moreover, catechized by the club, nominate for deputies and public prosecutor only the candidates who are pledged against rentals and against water privileges. - Accordingly, the general demolition of the dikes begins as the month of May approaches. This operation continues unopposed on a vast pond, a league and a half from the town, and lasts for a whole week; elsewhere, on the arrival of the guards or of the gendarmerie, they are fired upon. Towards the end of September, all the embankments in the department are broken down: nothing is left in the place of the ponds but fetid marshes; the mill-wheels no longer turn, and the fields are no longer watered. But those who demolish them carry away baskets full of fish, and the soil of the ponds again becomes communal. - Hatred is not the motive which impels them, but the instinct of acquisition: all these violent outstretched hands, which rigidly resist the law, are directed against property, but not against the proprietor; they are more greedy than hostile. One of the noblemen of Corrèze,[78] M. de Saint-Victour, has been absent for five years. From the beginning of the Revolution, although his feudal dues constitute one-half of the income of his estate, he has given orders that no rigorous measures shall be employed in their collection, and the result is that, since 1789, none of them were collected. Moreover, having a reserve stock of wheat on hand, he lent grain, to the amount of four thousand francs, to those of his tenants who had none. In short, he is liberal, and, in the neighboring town, at Ussel, he even passes for a Jacobin. In spite of all this, he is treated just like the rest. It is because the parishes in his domain are "clubbist," governed by associations of moral and practical levelers; in one of them "the brigands have organized themselves into a municipal body," and have chosen their leader as procureur-syndic. Consequently, on the 22nd of August, eighty armed peasants opened the dam of his large pond, at the risk of submerging a village in the neighborhood, the inhabitants of which came and closed it up. Five other ponds belonging to him are demolished in the course of the two following weeks; fish to the value of from four to five thousand francs are stolen, and the rest perish in the weeds. In order to make this expropriation sure, an effort is made to burn his title-deeds; his chateau, twice attacked in the night, is saved only by the National Guard of Ussel. His farmers and domestics hesitate, for the time being, whether or not to cultivate the ground, and come and ask the steward if they could sow the seeds. There is no recourse to the proper authorities: the administrators and judges, even when their own property is concerned, "dare not openly show themselves," because "they do not find themselves protected by the shield of the law. " - Popular will, traversing both the old and the new law, obstinately persists in its work, and forcibly attains its ends. Thus, whatever the grand terms of liberty, equality, and fraternity may be, with which the Revolution graces itself, it is, in its essence, a transfer of property; in this alone consists its chief support, its enduring energy, its primary impulse and its historical significance. - Formerly, in antiquity, similar movements were accomplished, debts were abolished or lessened, the possessions of the rich were confiscated, and the public lands were divided; but this operation was confined to a city and limited to a small territory. For the first time it takes place on a large scale and in a modern State. - Thus far, in these vast States, when the deeper foundations have been disturbed, it has ever been on account of foreign domination or on account of an oppression of conscience. In France in the fifteenth century, in Holland in the sixteenth and in England in the seventeenth century, the peasant, the mechanic, and the laborer had taken up arms against an enemy or in behalf of their faith. On religious or patriotic zeal has followed the craving for prosperity and comfort, and the new motive is as powerful as the others; for in our industrial, democratic, and utilitarian societies it is this which governs almost all lives, and excites almost all efforts. Kept down for centuries, the passion recovers itself by throwing off government and privilege, the two great weights which have borne it down. At the present time this passion launches itself impetuously with its whole force, with brutal insensibility, athwart every kind of proprietorship that is legal and legitimate, whether it be public or private. The obstacles it encounters only render it the more destructive , beyond property it attacks proprietors, and completes plunder with proscriptions.



[1] The expression is that of Jean Bon Saint-André to Mathieu Dumas, sent to re-establish tranquillity in Montauban (1790): "The day of vengeance, which we have been awaiting for a hundred years, has come!"

[2] De Dampmartin, I. 187 (an eye-witness).

[3] "Archives Nationales," F7, 3223 and 3216. Letters of M. de Bouzols, major general, residing at Montpellier, May 21, 25, 28, 1790.

[4] Mary Lafon, "Histoire d’une Ville Protestante ".(with original documents derived from the archives of Montauban).

[5] Archives Nationales," F7, 2216. Procés-verbal of the Municipality of Nîmes and report of the Abbé de Belmont. - Report of the Administrative commissioners, June 28, 1790. - Petition of the Catholics, April 20. - Letters of the Municipality, the commissioners, and M. de Nausel, on the events of May 2 and 3. - Letter of M. Rabaut Saint-Etienne, May 12 - Petition of the widow Gas, July 30. - Report (printed) of M. Alquier, February 19, 1791. - Memoir (printed) of the massacre of the Catholics at Nîmes, by Froment (1790). - New address of the Municipality of Nîmes, presented by M. de Marguerite, mayor and deputy (1790), printed. Mercure de France, February 23, 1791.

[6] The petition is signed by 3,127 persons, besides 1560 who put a cross declaring that they could not write. The counter-petition of the club is signed by 262 persons.

[7] This last item, stated in M. Alquier’s report, is denied by the municipality. According to it, the red rosettes gathered around the bishop’s quarters had no guns.

[8] An insurrection in the sixteenth century, when the Protestants fired on the Catholics on St. Michael’s Day.-[TR.]

[9] "Archives Nationales," F7, 3216. Letter of M. de Lespin, Major at Nîmes, to the commandant of Provence, M de Perigord, July 27, 1790: "The plots and conspiracies which were attributed to the vanquished party, and which, it was believed, would be discovered in the depositions of the four hundred men in prison, vanish as the proceedings advance. The veritable culprits are to be found among the informers.

[10] Buchez and Roux, III. 240 (Memorandum of the Ministers, October 28, 1789). - " Archives Nationales," D, XXIX. 3. Deliberation of the Municipal council of Vernon (November 4, 1789)

[11] "Archives Nationales," KK, 1105. correspondence of M. de Thiard, November 4, 1789. - See similar occurrences, September 4, October 23, November 4 and 19, 1789, January 27 and March 27, 1790

[12] "Archives Nationales," F7, 3257. Letter from Gex, May 29, 1790. - Buchez and Roux, VII. 198, 369 (September, October, 1790).

[13] "Archives Nationales," H. 1453. correspondence of M. de Bercheny, Commandant of the four central provinces. Letters of May 25, June 11, 19, and 27, 1790. - " Archives Nationales," D. XXIX. 4. Deliberations of the district administrators of Bourbon- Lancy, May 26.

[14] "Archives Nationales," H. 2453. Minutes of the meeting of a dozen parishes in Nivernais, June 4. "White bread is to be 2 sous, and brown bread 11/2 sous. Husbandmen are to have 30 sous, reapers 10 sous, wheelwrights 10 sous, bailiffs 6 sous per league. Butter is to be at 8 sous, meat at 5 sous, pork at 8 sous, oil at 8 sous the pint, a square foot of masonry-work 40 sous, a pair of large sabots 3 sous. All rights of pasturage and of forests are to he surrendered. The roads are to be free everywhere, as formerly. All seignorial rents arc to be suppressed. Millers are to take only one thirty-second of a bushel. The seigneurs of our department are to give up all servile holidays and ill-acquired property. The curé of Bièze is simply to say mass at nine o’clock in the morning and vespers at two o’clock in the afternoon, in summer and winter; he must marry and bury gratis, it being reserved to us to pay him a salary. He is to be paid 6 sous for masses, and not to leave his curé except to repeat his breviary and make proper calls on the men and women of his parish. Hats must be had from 3 livres to 30 sous. Nails 3 livres the gross. Curés are to have none but circumspect females of fifty for domestics. Curés are not to go to either fairs or markets. All curés are to he on the same footing as the one at Bièze. There must he no more wholesale dealers in wheat. Law officers who make unjust seizures must return the money. Farm leases must expire on St. Martin’s Day. M. le Comte, although not there, M. de Tontenelle, and M. de Commandant must sign this document without difficulty. M. de Mingot is formally to resign his place in writing: he went away with his servant-woman - he even missed his mass on the first Friday of the Fête-Dieu, and it is supposed that he slept in the woods. Joiners’ wages shall he fixed at the same rate as wheelwrights’. Ox-straps are not to cost over 40 sous, yokes 10 sous. Masters must pay one-half of the tailles . Notaries are to take only the half of what they had formerly, as well as comptrollers. The Commune claims the right of protest against whatever it may have forgotten in the present article, in fact or in law." (It is signed by about twenty persons, several of them being mayors and municipal clerks.)

[15] "Archives Nationales," H. 1453. The same correspondence, May 29, June 11 and 17, September 15, 1790. - ibid, F7, 3257. Letter of the municipal authorities of Marsigny, May 3; of the municipal officers of Bourbon-Lancy, June 5. Extract from letters written to M. Amelot, June 1st.

[16] "Archives Nationales," F7, 3185, 3186. Letter of the President of the Tribunal of the district of Laon, February 8, 1792.

[17] "Archives Nationales F7, 3268. Procés-verbal and observations of the two commissioners sent to Étampes September 22-25, 1791.

[18] "Archives Nationales F7, 3265. The following document, among many others, shows the expedients and conceptions of the popular imagination. Petition of several inhabitants of the commune of Forges (Seine Inférieure) "to the good and incorruptible Minister of the Interior" (October 16, 1792). After three good crops in succession, the famine still continues. Under the ancient régime wheat was superabundant; hogs were fed with it, and calves were fattened with bread. It is certain, therefore, that wheat is diverted by monopolists and the enemies of the new regime. The farms are too large; let them he divided. There is too much pasture-ground: sow it with wheat. Compel each farmer and landowner to give a statement of his crop: let the quantity be published at the church service, and in case of falsehood let the man be put to death or imprisoned, and his grain he confiscated. Oblige all the cultivators of the neighborhood to sell their wheat at Forges only, etc."

[19] "Archives Nationales," F7, 3268. Report of the commissioners sent by the department, March 11, 1792 (apropos of the insurrection of March 4). - Mortimer-Ternaux, I. 381.

[20] "Archives Nationales," F7, 3268. Letters of several mayors, district administrators, cultivators of Velizy, Villacoublay, La celle-Saint-Cloud, Montigny, etc. November 12, 1791. - Letter of M. de Narbonne, January 13, 1792; of M. Sureau, justice of the peace in the canton of Étampes, September 17, 1791. - Letter of Bruyères-le-Châtel, January 28, 1792.

[21] A term applied to brigands at this epoch who demand money and objects of value, and force their delivery by exposing the soles of the feet of their victims to a fire. - [TR.]

[22] "Archives Nationales," F7, 3203. Letter of the Directory of Cher, August 25, 1791. - F7, 3240. Letter of the Directory of Haute Marne, November 6, 1791. - F7, 3248. Minutes of the meeting of the members of the department of the Nord, March 18, 1791. - F7, 3250. Minutes of the meeting of the municipal officers of Montreuil-sur-Mer, October 16, 1791. - F7, 3265. Letter of the Directory of Seine Infereure, July 22, 1791. - D, XXIX. 4. Remonstrances of the municipalities assembled at Tostes, July 21, 1791. - Petition, of the municipal officers of the districts of Dieppe, Cany, and Caudebec, July 22, 1791.

[23] "Archives Nationales," F7, 3268 and 3269, passim.

[24] "Archives Nationales," F7, 3268 and 3269, passim. Deliberations of the Directory of Seine-et-Oise, September 20, 1791 (apropos of the insurrection. September 16, at Étampes). - Letter of Charpentier, president of the district, September 19. - Report of the Department Commissioners, March 11, 1792 (on the insurrection at Brunoy, March 4.) - Report of the Department Commissioners, March 4, 1792 (on the insurrection at Montlhéry, February 13 to 20). - Deliberation of the Directory of Seine-et- Oise, September 16, 1791 (on the insurrection at Corbeil). - Letters of the mayors of Limours, Lonjumeau, etc.

[25] "Archives Nationales," F7, 3268 and 3269, passim. - Minutes of the meeting of the Municipality of Montlhéry, February 28, 1792: "We cannot enter into fuller details without exposing ourselves to extremities which would be only disastrous to us." - Letter of the justice of the peace of the canton, February 25: "Public outcry teaches me that if I issue writs of arrest against those who massacred Thibault, the people would rise."

[26] "Archives Nationales," F7, 3268 and 3269, passim. Reports of the gendarmerie, February 24, 1792, and the following days. - Letter of the sergeant of Limours, March 2; of the manager of the farm of Plessis-le-Comte, February 23.

[27] "Archives Nationales," F7, 3268 and 3269, passim. - Memorandum to the National Assembly by the citizens of Rambouillet, September 17, 1792.

[28] "Archives Nationales," F7 3268 and 3269, Passim. Minutes of the meeting of the Municipality of Montlhéry, February 27, 1792. - Buchez and Roux, XIII. 421, (March, 1792); and XIII., 317. - Mercure de France, February 25, 1792. (Letters of M. Dauchy, President of the Directory of the Department; of M. de Gouy, messenger sent by the minister, etc.) - Moniteur, sitting of February 15, 1792.

[29] Decree of September 3, 1792.

[30] "Archives Nationales," F7, 3268 and 3269. Petition of the citizens of Montfort-l’Amaury, Saint-Léger, Gros-Rouvre, Gelin, Laqueue, and Méré, to the citizens of Rambouillet.

[31] "Archives Nationales," F7, 3230. Letter of an administrator of the district of Vendôme, with the deliberation of the commune of Vendôme, November 24, 1792.

[32] Archives Nationales," F7, 3255. Letter of the administrators of the Department of Seine-Inférieure, Octobers 23, 1792. - Letters of the Special Comittee of Rouen, October 22 and 23, 1792: "The more the zeal and patriotism of the cultivators is stimulated, the more do they seem determined to avoid the market-places, which are always in a State of absolute destitution."

[33] Archives Nationales," F7, 3265. Letter of David, a cultivator, October 20, 1792. - Letter of the Department Administrators, October 13, 1792, etc. - Letter (printed) of the minister to the convention, November 4. - Proclamation of the Provisional Executive council, October 31, 1792. (The setier of grain of two hundred and forty pounds is sold at 60 francs in the south, and at half that sum in the north.)

[34] "Archives Nationales," F7, 3255. Letters of Bonnemant, September 11, 1792; of Laussel, September 22, 1792.

[35] "Archives Nationales," H, 1453. Correspondence of M. de Bercheny, July 28, October 24 and 26, 1790. - The same disposition lasted. An insurrection occurred in Issoudun after the three days of July, 1830, against the combined imposts. Seven or eight thousand wine growers burnt the archives and tax-offices and dragged an employee through the streets, shouting out at each street-lamp, "Let him be hung!" The general sent to repress the outbreak entered the town only through a capitulation; the moment he reached the Hôtel-de-Ville a man of the Faubourg de Rome put his pruning-book around his neck, exclaiming, "No more clerks where there is nothing to do!"

[36] "Archives Nationales," F7, 3203. Letter of the Directory of Cher, April 9, 1790. - Ibid, F7, 3255. Letter of August 4, 1790. Verdict of the présidial, November 4, 1790. - Letter of the Municipality of Saint-Etienne, August 5, 1790.

[37] "Archives Nationales," F7, 3248. Letter of M. Sénac de Mejlhan, April 10, 1790. - Letter of the grands baillis, June 30, 1790.

[38] Buchez and Roux, VI. 403. Report of Chabroud on the insurrection at Lyons, July 9 and 10, 1790. - Duvergier, "Collection des Décrets." Decrees of August 4 and 15, 1790.

[39] "Archives Nationales," F7, 3255. Letter of the Minister, July 2, 1790, to the Directory of Rhône-et-Loire. "The King is informed that, throughout your department, and especially in the districts of Saint-Etienne and Montbrison, license is carried to the extreme; that the judges dare not prosecute; that in many places the municipal officers are at the head of the disturbances; and that, in others, the National Guard do not obey requisitions." - Letter of September 5, 1790. "In the bourg of Thisy, brigands have invaded divers cotton-spinning establishments and partially destroyed them and after having plundered them, they have sold the goods by public auction."

[40] Buchez and Roux, VI. 345. Report of M. Muguet, July 1, 1790.

[41] Minutes of the meeting of the National Assembly. (Sitting of October 24, 1789.) - Decree of September 27, 1789, applicable the 1st of October. There are other alleviations applicable on the 1st of January, 1790.

[42] Mercure de France, February 27, 1790. (Memorandum of the garde des sceaux, January 16. - Observations of M. Necker on the report made by the Financial committee, at the sitting of March 12, 1790.

[43] "Archives Nationales," H, 1453. Correspondence of M. de Bercheny, April 24, May 4 and 6, 1790: "It is much to be feared that the tobacco-tax will share the fate of the salt-tax."

[44] Mercure de France, July 31, 1790 (sitting of July 10.) M. Lambert, Comptroller General of the Finances, informs the Assembly of "the obstacles which continual outbreaks, brigandage, and the maxims of anarchical freedom impose, from one end of France to the other, on the collection of the taxes. On one side, the people are led to believe that, if they stubbornly refuse a tax contrary to their rights, it abolition will be secured. Elsewhere, smuggling is openly carried on by force; the people favor it, while the National Guards refuse to act against the nation. In other places hatred is excited, and divisions between the troops and the overseers at the toll-houses: the latter are massacred, the bureaus are pillaged, and the prisons are forced open." - Memorandum from M. Necker to the National Assembly, July 21, 1790.

[45] Decrees of March 21 and 22, 1790, applicable April 21 following. - Decrees of February 19 and March 2, 1791, applicable May 1 following.

[46] De Goncourt, "La Societé Française pendant la Révolution," 204. - Maxime Du Camp, "Paris, sa vie et ses organes," VI. 11.

[47] "Compte des Revenus et Dépenses au 1er Mai, 1789." - Memorandum of M. Necker, July 21, 1790. - Memoranda presented by M. de Montesquiou, September 9, 1791. - Comptes-rendus by the minister, Clavières, October 5, 1792, February 1, 1792. - Report of Cambon, February, 1793.

[48] Boivin-Champeaux, 231.

[49] Mercure de France, May 28, 1791. (Sitting of May 22.) - Speech of M. d’Allarde: "Burgundy has paid nothing belonging to 1790."

[50] Moniteur, sitting of June 1, 1790. Speech by M. Freteau. - Mercure de France. November 26, 1791. Report by Lafont-Ladebat.

[51] "Archives Nationales," H, 2453. correspondence of M. de Bercheny, June 5, 1790, etc. - F7, 3226. Letters of Chenantin, cultivator, November 7, 1792, also of the prosecuting attorney , November 6. - F7, 3269. Minutes of the meeting of the municipality of Clugnac, August 5th, 1792. - F7, 3202. Letter of the Minister of Justice, Duport, January 3, 1792. "The utter absence of public force in the district of Montargis renders every operation of the Government and all execution of the laws impossible. The arrears of taxes to be collected is here very considerable, while all proceedings of constraint are dangerous and impossible to execute, owing to the fears of the bailiffs, who dare not perform their duties, and the violence of the tax-payers, on whom there is no check."

[52] Report of the Committee on Finances, by Ramel, 19th Floréal, year II (The Constituent Assembly had fixed the real tax of a house at one-sixth of its letting value.)

[53] Mercure de France, December 12, 1789. - "Archives Nationales," F7, 3268. Memorandum from the officers in command of the detachment of the Paris National Guard stationed at Conflans- Sainte-Honorine (April, 1790). Certificate of the Municipal Officers of Poissy, March 31.

[54] Mercure de France, March 12 and 26, 1791. - "Archives Nationales," H, 1453. Letter of the police-lieutenant of Blois, April 22, 1790. - Mercure de France, July 24, 1790. Two of the murderers exclaimed to those who tried to save one of the keepers, "Hanging is well done at Paris! Bah, you are aristocrats! We shall be talked about in the gazettes of Paris." (Deposition of witnesses.) - Decrees and proclamations regarding the protection of the forests, November 3 and December 11, 1789. - Another in October, 1790. - Another June 29, 1791.

[55] "Archives Nationales," F7, 3219. Letter of the bailli de Virieu, January 26, 1792.

[56] Mercure de France, December 3, 1791. (Letter from Sarreluis, November 15, 1791.) - "Archives Nationales," F7, 3223. Letter of the Municipal Officers of Montargis. January 8, 1792.

[57] "Archives Nationales," F7, 3268. Letter of the overseer of the national domains at Rambouillet, October 31, 1792. - Report of the minister Clavières, February 1. 1793.

[58] Decrees of August 14, 1792, June 10, 1793. - " Archives Nationales," Missions des Représentants, D, § 7. (Deliberation of the district of Troyes, 2 Ventose, an. III.) - At Thunelières, the drawing took place on the 10th Fructidor, year II, and was done over again in behalf of a servant of Billy, an influential municipal officer who "was the soul of his colleagues." - Ibid. Abstract of operations in the district of Arcis-sur-Aube, 30 Pluviose, year III. "Two-thirds of the communes hold this kind of property. Most of them have voted on and effected the partition, or are actually engaged on it.

[59] Mercure de France, January 7, 1790. (Chateau of Auxon in Haute-Saone.) - "Archives Nationales," F7, 3255. (Letter of the minister to the Directory of Rhone-et-Loire, July 2, 1790.) - Mercure de France, July 17, 1790. (Report of M. de Broglie, July 13, and decree of July 13-18.) - "Archives Nationales," H, 1453. (Correspondence of M. de Bercheny, July 21, 1790.)

[60] Mercure de France, March 19, 1790. Letter from Amien, February 28. (Mallet du Pan publishes in the Mercure only letters which are signed and authentic.)

[61] "Archives Nationales," KK, 1105. (Correspondence of M. de Thiard; letters of Chevalier de Bévy, December 26, 1789, and others up to April 5, 1790.) - Moniteur, sitting of February 9, 1790. - Mercure de France, February 6 and March 6, 1790 (list of chateaux).

[62] "Archives Nationales," KK, 1105. (correspondence of M. de Thiard.) Letters of the Mayor of Nantes, February 16, !790, of the Municipality of Redon, February 19, etc.

[63] Mercure de France, February 6 and 27, 1790. (Speech of M. de Foucault, sittings of February 2 and 5) - Moniteur (same dates). (Report of Grégoire, February 9; speeches by MM. Sallé de Chaux and de Noailles, February 9.) - Memorandum of the deputies of the town of Tulle, drawn up by the Abbé Morellet (from the deliberations and addresses of eighty-three boroughs and cities in the province).

[64] In allusion to the feudal custom of paying seignorial dues on the first of May around a maypole. See further on. [TR]

[65] Criminal Courts without appeal.-[TR.)

[66] Moniteur, sitting of March 4, 1790. - Duvergier, decrees of March 6, 1790, and August 6-10 1790

[67] The address is dated February 11, 1793. This singularly comic document would alone suffice to make the history of the Revolution perfectly comprehensible.

[68] "Archives Nationales," F7, 3203. (Letters of the royal commissioner, April 30 and May 9, 1790.) - Letter of the Duc de Maillé, May 6. - Report from the administrators of the department, November 12, 1790. - Moniteur VI. 515.

[69] "Archives Nationales," F7, 3225. Letter of the Directory from Ille-et-Vilaine, January 30, 1791, and letter from Dinan, January 29 - Mercure de France, April 2 and 16, 1791. Letters from Rennes, March 20th; from Redon, March 12.

[70] So expressed in the minutes of the meeting.

[71] Moniteur, sitting of December 15, 1790. (Address of the department of Lot, December 7.) - Sitting of December 20 (Speech by M. de Foucault.) - Mercure de France, December 18, 1790. (Letter from Belves, in Perigord, December 7.) - Ibid., January 22, 29, 1791. (Letter from M. de Clarac, January 18.)

[72] December 17, 1790.

[73] January 7, 1791.

[74] Revolutionary archives of the department of Creuse, by Duval. (Letter of the administrators of the department, March 31, 1791.) - " Archives Nationales," F7, 3209. (Deliberation of the Directory of the Department, May 12, 1791 - Minutes of the meeting of the municipality of La Souterraine, August 23, 1791.)

[75] "Archives Nationales", F7, 3269. - Order of the directory of the district of Ribérac, August 5, 1791, and requisitions of the prosecuting attorney of the department, August 24, and September 11. - Letter of the king’s commissioner, August 22.

[76] A sort of export duty.-[TR.]

[77] "Archives Nationales," P7, 3204. - Letter, from the Directory of the Department, June 2, 1791; September 8 and 22. - Letter from the Minister of Justice, May 15, 1791. - Letter from M. de Lentilhac, September 2. - Letter from M. Melon-Padon, Royal Commissioner, September. - Mercure de France, May 14, 1791. (Letter of an eye-witness, Loyac, April 25, 1791.)

[78] "Archives Nationales," F7. 3204. Letters from M. de Saint- Victour, September 25, October 2 and 10, 1791. - Letter from the steward of his estate, September 18.


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Chicago: Hippolyte Adolphe Taine, "IV.," The French Revolution— Volume 1, ed. Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853 and trans. Ingram, J. H. (James Henry) in The French Revolution—Volume 1 (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1909), Original Sources, accessed March 22, 2019,

MLA: Taine, Hippolyte Adolphe. "IV." The French Revolution— Volume 1, edited by Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853, and translated by Ingram, J. H. (James Henry), in The French Revolution—Volume 1, Vol. 36, New York, Doubleday, Page, 1909, Original Sources. 22 Mar. 2019.

Harvard: Taine, HA, 'IV.' in The French Revolution— Volume 1, ed. and trans. . cited in 1909, The French Revolution—Volume 1, Doubleday, Page, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 22 March 2019, from