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cial institutions. Nothing, indeed, is more extraordinary in the history of the French revolution, than the rapid and total subversion which was effected in the institutions of the country. In such events, it happens, for the most part, that there is rather a removal of individuals, a modification of existing systems, a return to previous rights claimed or ascertained, which have been infringed: but here it was a violent exchange from one extreme to the other the total destruction in theory and in practice, of the existing state of thingsthe building up of a new form of government from the very foundations--the establishment of the wildest republicanism on the ruins of the strictest despotism.Perhaps this arose from the fact, (continues the same writer,) that there existed, in truth, but two classes of society, in regard, at least, to political institutions; the one very small in number, and in actual power, who were the oppressors; the other embracing the strength, sinews, and resources of the nation, vast in numbers, but utterly trampled. There was, indeed, no intermediate body—no true' aristocracy; that which existed, was merely such in name, and by its titles; but it possessed no real influence or control. This circumstance placed, at the commencement of the struggle, the right to frame a new government, not in the hands of those who would merely have changed the form of oppression, but of the entire mass of the people themselves, who had never been accustoined, in fact, to the existence of any large, intermediate, and powerful class, between them and the legal power; and who, consequently, in subverting or modifying that, looked only to a corresponding augmentation and security of their
own rights. In this respect, the revolution of France is strongly contrasted with that of England, which was really a revolution of the nobility and landed aristocracy alone, bringing with it no great improvement in the popular institutions or privileges, and certainly leaving untouched, an immense mass of antiquated abBurdity in laws and institutions, which a convulsion of more popular character could not have failed to demolish, but which now seems to be regarded either as a vital or desirable part of the constitution, or as closely interwoven with it by time, that the abolition might endanger the destruction of what it is deemed best to preserve at all hazards.
The residence of Mr. Jefferson in France did not extend to that fatal period of the French revolution, when its atrocities drew down upon it the execrations even of those who rejoiced at the rising of the day-stai of liberty; and the copious details which his letters embrace, render them, therefore, never-failing sources of interest and pleasure. It will not be uninteresting to extract from these the account he has given of several of the well known historical personages of the period. They have at least the merit of having been sketched at the time, under circumstances of observation peculiarly favourable.
“ The Marquis de Lafayette," he writes, "is a most valuable auxiliary to me. His zeal is unbounded, and his weight with those in power, great. His education having been merely military, commerce was an unknown field to him. But his good sense enabling him to comprehend perfectly whatever is explained to him, his agency has been very efficacious. He has a great deal of sound genius, is well remarked by the King, and is rising in popularity. He has nothing against him but the suspicion of republican principles. I think he will one day be of the ministry. The Count de Vergennes is ill. The possibility of his recovery, renders it dangerous for us to express a doubt of it; but he is in danger. He is a great minister in European affairs, but has very imperfect ideas of our insti: tutions, and no confidence in them. His devotion to the principles of pure despotism, renders him unaffectionate to our governments. But his fear of England makes him value us as a make-weight. He is cool, reserved in political conversations, but free and familiar on other subjects, and a very attentive, agreeable person to do business with. It is impossible to have a clearer or better organized head; but age has chilled his heart.” “ The Count de Vergennes,” he remarks, in another place, “had the reputation, with the diplomatick corps, of being wary and slippery in his diplomatick intercourse: and he might be, with those whom he knew to be slippery and double-faced themselves. As he saw that I had no indirect views, practised no subtleties, meddled in no intrigues, pursued no concealed object, I found him as frank, as honourable, as easy
of access to reason, as any man with whom I had ever done business; and I must say the same of his sucessor, Montmorin, one of the most honest and worthy of human beings."
“ It is a tremendous cloud, indeed, which hovers over this nation, and he at the helm (Necker) has neither the courage nor skill necessary to weather it. Eloquence in a high degree, knowledge in matters of account and order, are distinguishing traits in his character. Ambition is his first passion, virtue his second. He has not discovered that sublime truth, that a bold, unequivocal virtue is the best handmaid even to ambition, and would carry him farther, in the end, than the temporizing, wavering policy he pursues. His judgement is not of the first order, scarcely even of the second; his resolution frail; and upon the whole, it is rare to meet an instance of a person so much below the reputation he has obtained.”
" The King (Louis XVI.) loves business, economy, order, and justice, and wishes sincerely the good of his people; but he is irascible, rude, very limited in his understanding, and religious, bordering on bigotry. He has no mistress, loves his Queen, and is too much governed by her.”
Mr. Jefferson's opinion of Maria Antoinette, the unfortunate Queen of France, is thought to have been harsh and exaggerated, and not made with a due allowance for the peculiarity of her situation." Her political opinions, conduct, and influence,” it is said, "are not, perhaps, exaggerated, and to them, unfortunately, are to be attributed, with too much justice, the rapid, unimpeded, and, to herself, most lamentable course of events, which a spirit less obdurate might have restrained, or turned to unmingled good. But there were traits of virtuous and lofty firmness, as well as of tenderness and affection in her character, which were more fully displayed in later scenes of her life, and which are confirmed in all the relations since given to the world by those who saw her intimately and familiarly, that do not seem altogether compatible
with the picture presented by Mr. Jefferson. And it should not be forgotten, that at the time of his residence in France, the party opposed to Austria, which had arisen under the administration of Choiseul, and which had become more strong in that opposition from its connexion with Frederick and with Prussia, comprised the great proportion of the men of letters, and many of the patriotick leaders, with whom the most agreeable and natural associations of Mr. Jefferson were formed." But Mr. Jefferson's opinion, it must also be recollected, is that of a cool, calm, and temperate observer, unprejudiced by passion, and uninfluenced by interest, and of one whose faith was not often pinned upon the unsupported assertions of others. As such, we give it to the reader:
“ Louis XVI. had a Queen of absolute sway over his weak mind, and timid virtue, and of a character the reverse of his in all points. This angel, as gaudily painted in the rhapsodies of Burke, with some smartness of fancy, but no sound sense, was proud, disdainful of restraint, indignant at all obstacles to her will, eager in the pursuit of pleasure, and firm enough to hold to her desires or perish in the wreck. Her inordinate gambling and dissipations, with those of the Count d'Artois, and others of her clique, had been a sensible item in the exhaustion of the treasury, which called into action the reforming hand of the nation; and her opposition to it, her in flexible perverseness, and dauntless spirit, led herself to the guillotine, drew the King on with her, and plunged the world into crimes and calamities which will for ever stain the pages of modern history. I have ever believed, that had there