Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

204 REVOLUTION IN ENGLAND AND FRANCE

March 13th, 1796, a member of the Conseil des Anciens quoted it and strongly urged anyone who took reading seriously, to study an author who had been misjudged by Montesquieu and but partially appreciated by Adams.

The motives for turning to a writer like Harrington are intelligible. Oceana” was the most important Utopia of the English Rebellion. The troubles and disputes with which it dealt were similar to those that were engaging France. The battle between the single- and double-chamber systems was as lively in France as it had been in England and America. The same arguments were used in all three countries. The respective claims of manhood suffrage and property qualifications were urged in exactly the

same language.1 The necessity for toleration was no less strong because atheists occupied the scene instead of sectarians. Methods of voting, methods of election, methods of avoiding concentration of power—these and a thousand other questions were being discussed. France had its socialists clamouring for an "agrarian law,” its communist chimæras, and its assaults on primogeniture. In short the great problems of the French Revolution were very like those of the English Rebellion ; for politics are independent of nationality, and when a nation becomes self-conscious there are certain fundamental questions with which it is bound to grapple.

1 I select the following two arguments by way of illustration, each being extremely similar to Harrington's own arguments for property qualifications.

“The merchant easily sends his fortune abroad; the capitalist, the banker, the monied man are cosmopolitan; the proprietor is the only true citizen ; he is chained to thư soil." Point de Jour," üii. 488.

" It is obvious that the owners of land or property, without whose consent no one in the country can either lodge or eat, are its citizens par excellence." Aulard, “ French Revolution,” üi. 280.

HARRINGTON AND SIEYES

205

In order to determine the extent to which Harrington was read, it would be necessary to examine much of the pamphlet literature of the Revolution—a task outside the scope of a study like the present. Even if much was read, it would be difficult to decide what to attribute to Harrington's influence and what to the influence of America, Venice, the classics, and other things with which Harrington himself was connected. It is more profitable to concentrate on one figure in the Revolution, the Abbé Sieyès ; for in France it was to him, just as in America it was to Adams, that any real influence on the part of Harrington is due.

Burke has compared Harrington with Sieyès.? The comparison is a good one, for their careers offer many parallels. Outside of parties and averse to extremes they both survived a revolution and at the end could boast “ J'ai vécu." Each was the most eminent theorist of his time, and as framers of paper constitutions they stand out above other names in history. Their methods were similar. Harrington wrote a political romance; Sieyès expressed his approval of political romances and himself dictated one. Both thought that in doing so they were bringing a scientific

scientific contribution to politics, so that Harrington was compared with Harvey and Sieyès was called by his contemporaries a political Newton. Each was fond of the epigram ; it was the weapon with which Sieyès, as it were, punctuated the French Revolution. Sieyès was a somewhat more practical statesman, and he came into prominence at an earlier stage in the French movement than Harrington in the English. But both achieved their greatest publicity at the end of the revolutions in which they

1 “Works," v. 242. “Letter to a noble lord.” · Sainte Beuve, “ Causeries du Lundi," v. 155.

206

THE NEW DIVISIONS OF FRANCE

[ocr errors]

took a part, when the building of a Constitution was imperative. The great difference was that Sieyès found the Man who would accept and put into practice his ideas before he made them obsolete. Harrington's ideas, as far as England was concerned, remained on the paper on which they were written.

It was Bonaparte who eventually accepted and put into practice Sieyès' constitutional ideas. But the Abbé had formulated his theories long before, and as occasions had presented themselves made them public. By the end of the year 1789 the absurdity of calling the unrepresentative members of the Third Estate The National Assembly” was generally realised. They had been elected by obsolete electoral divisions, which antedated the formation of the centralised French state. They could in no way be said to represent the nation. Sieyès with his supreme belief in representative government was the last to tolerate this. He went straight to the root of the question, proposed the abolition of the old divisions, and suggested a new and more scientific system of dividing France, which would make a national assembly possible.

The work was begun at once and France was divided into eighty departments of nearly equal size, which were in their turn divided into districts and cantons. Each department contained six districts, each district nine cantons, each canton ten municipalities. At the same time the whole system of local government was revised and a uniform scheme was adopted. All officials, judicial and executive included, were made elective, and the ballot and rotation, which had been found in some places, were made compulsory.

For ten years Sieyès spasmodically kept his

SUGGESTED BY OCEANA

207

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

political views before Paris and stood as the champion of centralisation and the representative system. His position was not an easy one. The departments of his own creation from time to time asserted a considerable degree of independence, and the federalists who noted this with satisfaction could quote the important example of the United States of America. The referendum also had its partisans, and Rousseau's contention that the English people were only sovereign at general elections was widely accepted. But Sieyès remained firm. He believed that representation was the best way of making popular sovereignty genuine. Discussion was to him the great means of ascertaining the general will. In a word France was to be made democratic by the free employment of debate, strong by a scientific centralisation of government, free by a separation of the legislative and executive.

It seems probable that the scheme for dividing France afresh was borrowed directly from Harrington. Contemporaries thought so, and the assertion was made in the “Gazette.”i The idea at any rate is the same. Harrington's contention was that reform must begin from the bottom and work upwards and outwards, and the redivision of England was the point of departure in all his propositions and the first organic law of Oceana. New wine cannot be put into old bottles. The unequal size of the counties was an attribute and a support of monarchical institutions ; republicanism needs equality even in political divisions. “When the Constituent Assembly decreed the division of the territory into departments, districts, cantons, and communes,” wrote a French republican,

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

1 Morellet, “Memoirs," i. 415. Quoted by J. H. Clapham, " The Abbé Sieyès," p. 32.

و تن

BS

208

[ocr errors]

SIEYÈS CONSTITUTION “I cried from the midst of my friends, ' There is the Republic.'” 1

For ten years it was known that Sieyès had a ready-made Constitution in his head embodying these ideas. In discussing the Constitution of 1795 he had divulged the outlines of his ideal State. He had again insisted on a division of powers to prevent despotism and a centralised government to prevent anarchy, and he had revealed two of his proposals. The first was to reject the ordinary double-chamber system to which the framers of the Constitution had reverted, and to replace it by a scheme which would serve to differentiate powers more closely—Harrington's peculiar system.

The second was his famous Constitutional Jury, which (as he explained in the “ Moniteur ") was to consist of 108 members, of whom one-third should retire annually and be replaced from those retiring from the two chambers. Their duties were to be threefold. They were to be the guardians of the Constitution and prevent all unconstitutional legislation, like the body proposed in Harrington's petition. They were to revise the Constitution every ten years on proposals made to them by the people. They were to act as a jury of equity. He had submitted these two proposals, but had gone no further. Now, in 1799, when the Man had come upon the scene to found a Utopia, Sieyès was induced to make a full and systematic exposition of his scheme. He refused to put it into writing, but dictated it to his friend and follower Boulay de la Meurthe.

The structure, as anticipated, rested in the first place on the redivision of the country. The system of 1789 was to be retained but larger units called 1 Aulard, “French Revolution," i. 215.

: Above, p. 88.

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »