British History - The reactions on England of economic change and of the French Revolution Anti-Jacobins and Democrats Burke and Paine Pitt and the new Toryism Fox and the Whig via media Suppression of the democratic movement Course of the revolution in France Causes of war with France.
( Originally Published 1922 )
THE Parliamentary government of England in the eighteenth century was, as we have seen, a form of aristocracy, tempered on the one hand by a remnant of monarchy that became more prominent under George III, and on the other hand by a certain deference to public opinion and by a very great respect for local and individual rights. It revered law and precedent much more than it aimed at effective administration or public utility. Its spirit had little in common either with the continental despotisms of that day, or with the democratic Britain of our own. The idea of making Parliament the engine of a systematic democracy had indeed been advanced by the armed Radicals who attempted to recast the Commonwealth in the time of Cromwell, but their work had been uncongenial to the social structure and traditions of the land. When, after 1688, religious animosities had been damped down by a latitudinarian toleration, there was not left in England the stuff out of which revolutions or popular governments are made.
From the return of Charles II until the publication of Paine's Rights of Man, there was no movement to introduce democracy into our island. The speculative debates on popular rights and universal suffrage which the Army agitators had held with Cromwell and Ireton had left no impression on English political thought. And although the memory of the regicide Republic no doubt influenced the movements of the eighteenth century in France, America and England, no continuous underground tradition, such as that which had passed on the fire from Wycliffe's Lollards to the men of the Tudor Reformation, connected John Lilburne and the Levellers with modern Radicalism and Socialism. The new movements had new origins.
Under the social and economic conditions of England in the eighteenth century, life had many pleasant aspects for the mass of the people both in town and country, Social differences and political inequalities were accepted cheerfully by all.
High and low were ` freeborn Britons,' satisfied with their lot, and despising the starved and frog-eating French. In spite of political corruption, it was in its social aspects the ideal age of a true conservatism.
Only when the Industrial Revolution had undermined the old freedom and happiness of large classes of society, had made their individual lives in field and factory intolerable, and had at the same time collected great masses of them together in the industrial districts, did democracy begin slowly to commend itself to the victims as a means of bettering their lot through politics. In the early years of the French Revolution this hope, first propounded to them by Tom Paine, was rejected by the great majority of working men. But the idea, though suppressed and persecuted, took root, and in the first two decades of the nineteenth century gradually made converts of the wage-earners, on account of their sufferings, and on account of the harsh interference of the State against any attempts on their part to secure a living wage from their employers. The enforcement of Pitt's laws against incipient Trade Unionism pointed the working classes to the need of political action through Parliamentary Reform.
Side by side with this new proletariat, the Industrial Revolution was creating, as the old century closed, a number of new middle classes, of varying wealth and importance, from humble clerks to those ` captains of industry ' who began to rival the territorial magnates in wealth, and in power over the lives of others. These new classes had no place allotted them in the political and municipal system of the old regime. The Tory-ism of the anti-Jacobin reaction, while in the economic field it gave them strenuous support against their working-class employees, would allow them no voice either in national or local government. They were encouraged by all means to make money for themselves and for the tax-gatherer, but otherwise they must learn that they had come into the world too late to be counted among the privileged orders. The new middle classes were patient of this feudal exclusiveness during one gene-ration of anti-French Toryism, prompted in part by patriotic support of the great war. Then they too swung heavily round towards Radicalism, and ushered in the era of successful reform.
Although, as we shall see, the French Revolution was the immediate occasion of the democratic movement in England, and the occasion also of its initial defeat, our own Industrial Revolution was the more lasting and effective cause. It is fascinating to watch the complicated interplay of these two motive forces, the one external and the other internal, the one always in the limelight, and the other only gradually and partially forcing its greater importance upon the notice of Whig and Tory statesmen.
The first agitation for Parliamentary Reform, which had arisen among the old-fashioned Yorkshire freeholders and was supported by Pitt as well as by Fox, was not a democratic or even a modern movement. It had no relation to the Industrial Revolution. It proposed to abolish a few of the rotten boroughs and to increase the county representation. It advocated this degree of Parliamentary Reform, not on any theory of elevating the middle or lower class, or of enriching the poor, but merely to obtain good government for the nation as a whole. The agitation had been provoked by George [II, and was intended to put an end to his personal rule exercised through the nominated and bribed majority of the House of Commons. It was as much a movement of occasion as of principle.
When, therefore, the rule of the ` King's Friends' came to an end after 1782, and when the disasters of the American war were being repaired by the healing policy of Pitt as peace Minister, the agitation lost so much of its force that Pitt threw it over, after the rejection of his Reform Bill in 1785. If this old-world proposal had been carried, it would at least have greatly eased the path of the new world, so painfully struggling on to the scene.
The second stage of the Reform movement, and the first that indicated the coming of a new era, occurred in the years immediately preceding and following the fall of the Bastille. The leadership lay with the philosophic Dissenters, Price and Priestley. Pitt not only dropped Parliamentary Reform, but in 1787 and again in 1789 opposed the abolition of the Test and Corporation Acts which debarred Dissenters and Roman Catholics from civil rights. Fox, on the other hand, warmly espoused the cause of religious equality and asserted the modern principle that ' religion is not a proper test for a political institution.'
The Dissenters, now hopeless of relief from Pitt or from the existing House of Commons, began to agitate for Parliamentary Reform as a step necessary to their own civil enfranchisement. Dissenters and Parliamentary Reformers alike were alienated from Pitt and, in spite of the unsavoury memories of the Coalition with North and of the Regency debates, began with caution to draw towards Fox and the more liberal section of the Whigs. In this juncture of our affairs, the news from France began to affect the political imagination of Englishmen. France, not yet turned Jacobin, had replaced a despotism by a constitutional monarchy and was framing a code of laws which put men of every creed on the same platform of civil rights. The more progressive members of the Whig party, led by Fox, were at one with the philosophic Dissenters in acclaiming the dawn of world-wide political enfranchisement and religious equality, while Burke, who already heard the fall of civilisation in the falling stones of the Bastille, flung himself against the Unitarian Reformers with all the heaviest weapons of his splendid armoury.
In magnificence of diction and loftiness of soul, Burke is the only English publicist who stands beside Milton. His
Reflections on the French Revolution have enshrined in a perfect form the conservative principles which constitute one-half of our political and social happiness. But for recognition of the other half he was surpassed by many men far his inferior in genius. And, whatever he may have intended, he appealed to passions only less cruel than those which he so justly execrated in the French mob. It was not the first time in history that an angel's trumpet roused the fiends.
An unreasoned hatred of Dissenters, prevalent in the higher orders of society and locally in the slum population, was stirred to fury by the lead that Burke had given against Parliamentary Reformers and friends of the French Revolution. Priestley was a scientist of European reputation in an age when scientists were few. He was a man of blameless life and high public spirit. He was not a Republican, but he was a Dissenter - indeed a Unitarian and he was now active in favour of Parliamentary Reform and repeal of the Test Acts, and in public approval of the general course of the French Revolution up to the summer of 179I Therefore his house and scientific instruments were destroyed by the ` Church and State ' mob of Birmingham, who had been incited against Nonconformists by sermons and pamphlets of the local clergy, and were personally encouraged on the night of riot by two Justices of the Peace. Dissenting chapels, and private houses of Dissenters, even if the owners had nothing to do with politics, were destroyed that night, with signs of connivance on the part of the magistrates. The riots took place more than a year before the September massacres, and a year and a half before the war between England and France, which was afterwards pleaded as a sufficient justification for the persecution of Liberal opinions.
The second phase of the Reform movement, as championed by the Dissenters in the palmy days of the fall of the Bastille, may be said to have been put down by popular violence before the end of 1791. Early in the following year a more significant agitation was begun among a class of men who had never yet acted in politics on their own behalf the working men in the great towns.
The democratic movement in England that is to say, the claim put forward by the common people themselves that they should choose their governors in order to improve their own conditions of life owed its origin to the spectacle of the French Revolution and to the writings of Tom Paine. And the same causes that gave it birth proved in the first instance its undoing. The forcible suppression for so many years of the English movement was rendered possible by the course of the foreign revolution that aroused it, and by the impolitic and uncompromising logic of its first champion.
Paine was an English Quaker by origin. But he had early settled in America, where his pamphlet Common Sense had urged the colonists to cut the knot of their difficulties with England by declaring themselves an independent Republic. He may have been a good ` citizen of the world,' but he was never a good Englishman. However, he was again in England, and as soon as he read Burke's Reflections on the French Revolution, he sat down to write a reply. The First Part of the Rights of Man appeared in February 1791.
In answer to Burke's ultra-conservative doctrine, which tended to bind up the English Constitution for ever by the pact of 1689, Paine stated the full democratic thesis : that government is derived from the people, can be altered at their will, and must be carried on for their benefit, through a system of popular representation. The pamphlet circulated by tens of thousands among classes who hitherto knew nothing of politics, save when at election time ` the quality ' dispensed beer and money to make a mob for the hustings. The idea that politics was an affair of the common people as such, and a means by which they could alleviate their poverty, was new and strange. But the events in France had roused our ancestors to unwonted mental activity, and in 1791-2 Burke and Paine were read and discussed with a simple eagerness natural to men plunged for the first time into political speculation.
Government declined, in spite of much shrill advice, to prosecute the First Part of the Rights of Man, where the author had not clearly drawn out all the inferences of his representative theory of government. But in the Second Part, published in February 1792, Paine's logical sword came right out of the scabbard. He claimed that all the hereditary elements in the Constitution, both Monarchy and House of Lords, ought to be abolished, and the country governed by its representatives alone, sitting either in one or two Chambers. Government would then be carried on for the benefit of the mass of the people. Pensions on the taxes now granted to the rich would be diverted, and used, together with a graduated income-tax, to give education to the poor, old-age pensions and maternity benefit.
Far the greater part of Paine's ' criminal propositions ' are accomplished facts of the present day. The only part of the Rights of Man that could with any justice be stigmatised as ` seditious ' lay in its republicanism. Yet that part inevitably attracted most attention, and in view of contemporary events in France aroused violent alarm. It is indeed true that Paine had not advised conspiracy or rebellion, and that the country could have sifted out for itself what it wanted in his doctrine, and rejected the rest as indeed it has since done. But feeling was too hot and fear of the French Revolution too profound to allow of such nice considerations. The Government now prosecuted and suppressed the Rights of Man, and Paine, warned in time by his friend, the poet Blake, fled for his life to France, where he was as nearly as possible guillotined for denouncing the Terror and endeavouring to save the life of Louis XVI.
He was a man of undaunted courage and wholly devoted to the public interest as he saw it. But he was singularly deficient in patriotic feeling : in 1798, like any émigré, he was advising Bonaparte, as the champion of republicanism, how to invade England!
It was on the question of loyalty to the Crown that the Democratic and Liberal movements foundered. Paine committed the capital error of identifying the theory of representative government with a scheme of rigid republicanism. In advising the English to abolish the form of monarchy, he made a ruinous mistake. He was too much of an American, a theorist, a friend of the human race and altogether too little of an Englishman to see that his republican logic would not apply to our island. But the error was not as gratuitous as it would be to-day. Monarchy in the reign of George III was very different from monarchy in the reign of George V. George III had lost us America, and was destined to prevent the reconciliation of Ireland. He stood in the way of the abolition of the slave-trade and of any chance of Parliamentary Reform.
The Whigs ultimately reduced the power of the Crown by passing the Reform Bill, and by instilling their doctrines into the youthful Queen Victoria. But in 1792 they had no remedy. Those of them who would not follow Burke into the Tory camp found it impossible to dissociate themselves in the public mind from Tom Paine, though they abjured and cordially de-tested him. For years he stuck to everything Liberal like a burr. Either you were for ` the good old King,' or else you were set down as a rebel and a Painite. The man in the street, as he gazed through the shop windows at Gillray's cartoons, began to think of the Foxite Whigs as people in red caps of liberty in-tent on beheading George III and setting up a ragged Republic.
At this stage in our affairs, in the early months of 1792, while the Second Part of the Rights of Man was appearing and men were choosing their sides at the dictation of the most extravagant hopes and fears about the new era, two societies sprang into being. Thomas Hardy, the shoemaker, founded the Corresponding Society, while Grey and his young Parliamentary allies founded the Friends of the People. Both societies aimed at Parliamentary Reform ; both were shortlived, but one of them was the origin of the future Radical, and the other of the Whig-Liberal party. They stood for two principles of progress familiar in English history the people helping themselves, and a section of the governing class helping the people.
Thomas Hardy's Corresponding Society was the first political and educational club of working-men. It supplied the natural leaders of that class with the opportunity to emerge and lead, with the means of study and debate, and with an embryo organisation. There was then little Trade Union life and that little was of a purely economic character; there was no Co-operative Society life, and no higher education for the working class ; and therefore the Corresponding Society, apart from its political aspect, had high educational and social value. If it had not been crushed by the authorities, it would have done a still greater work and would early have stimulated other movements in working-class life, that began many years too late.
Yet in the actual circumstances of the time it was certain that the authorities would regard the Corresponding Society as seditious. Its political programme was Universal Suffrage and Annual Parliaments that and nothing more. But its members did in fact circulate Paine's writings, and most of them were theoretically Republicans. And therefore, although it was for Parliamentary Reform that they worked as the practical object, their alarmed neighbours naturally supposed that Universal Suffrage was asked for as a step to the Republic.
Hardy and his friends were Londoners. London was then more radical than the North, perhaps because the Westminster and Middlesex elections, held on a democratic franchise and enlivened by Wilkes and by Fox, had accustomed the inhabitants of the capital to watch real political contests, unknown in most towns before the Reform Bill. At this time the working-men in Lancashire were still for ` Church and State.' The year after the Birmingham riots, the Manchester mob imitatively wrecked houses of Dissenters and bourgeois reformers. But the Tom Paine movement, working through the Corresponding Society and the somewhat more middle-class Society for Constitutional Information, acted from London, Sheffield and Norwich on the rest of England, and sowed broadcast the ideas that reemerged in the days of Peterloo as the Radical creed of the working-men in Lancashire and the Industrial North.
The action from which the Whig-Liberal party takes its origin, was the founding of the ` Friends of the People ' Society by young Charles Grey, forty years afterwards the Reform Bill Premier. It broke up the old Whig party on domestic issues, a year before the war with France. There had been no split in 1791 when Burke had renounced his friendship with Fox on the floor of the House, in a heated controversy on the merits of the French Revolution. At that time the majority of the Whig members, preferring Fox to Burke personally, regarded the views of both on the French question as extravagant, and refused to quarrel among themselves about the internal affairs of a foreign country. The incident had left Burke more angry and more isolated than before. That year he left Brooks's Club, to which all sections of the party belonged. The split in the party itself did not come till twelve months later. It was Grey's action in founding the Friends of the People Society to demand Parliamentary Reform, while repudiating Paine, which drove the anti-reform section under the Duke of Portland to concert measures with Pitt against their fellow-Whigs.
Fox was thereby compelled to choose whether in the future he would work only with the Reformers or only with the anti-Reformers of his party. He had hoped against hope to avoid making the choice, but he had no doubt how to choose, if choose A must. If he had declined to throw his shield over the Friends of the People, they and not the Portland Whigs would have had to go. For Fox was the Whig party, with whomsoever he chose to abide. In siding with Reform, he destroyed his own career and his good name in the world, but he prevented the Whigs from becoming bottle-holders to the anti-Jacobin Tories, and so enabled England, many years after his own death, to obtain reform without revolution.
In 1792 there seemed no immediate future for a party standing out for Parliamentary Reform. No politician who cared more for power and popularity than for the principles he held, would ever have dreamed of joining so forlorn a hope. The storm of almost universal hatred that broke on the Foxites could only have been faced by a band of men thoroughly sincere at least on this issue. Their leader was a Titan, capable of bestriding the prostrate form of liberty, and giving back to angry Jove peal for peal of thunder. Those years, seemingly the most futile, were really the best and most useful in Fox's life. Pitt, Burke and Fox were often in the wrong, but they were each of them great of heart. The times were tragic indeed, but the men were not mean who stood for the great principles now coming into conflict upon earth.
The very unanimity of the reactionary passion in the upper and middle class and among most even of the workmen, made it the more desirable that there should be a Liberal Opposition in Parliament. The Foxites always remained a part of the privileged and borough-owning aristocracy, but they now drew aside from the rest of the political class, and handed on in their high circle the protest against political and religious persecution, and the advocacy of Parliamentary Reform. The persistence of the Foxite tradition in one section of the governing class made it possible for Grey, at the end of his long career, to constitute a party in the unreformed Parliament, large enough when backed from outside by the middle and lower classes, to pass the Bill that abolished the rotten boroughs. Nothing else could have ultimately averted civil war. It was certainly inevitable, and it may have been desirable, that a great Conservative reaction should emphasise our rejection of the French doctrines. But if the whole of the privileged class had joined Pitt's anti-Jacobin bloc, and had been brought up in the neo-Tory tradition, the constitution could not have been altered by legal means, and change could only have come in nineteenth-century Britain along the same violent and bloodstained path by which it has come in continental countries. It is 1832 that justifies the action taken by Fox forty years before. In detail he continued to make grave errors, but the main line that he took in 1792 was the service that he was best fitted to render to his country.
The war with the French Republic that was now fast approaching, made it inevitable, in view of the limitations of human nature, that anti-Jacobinism of the most unreasoning kind should be regarded as synonymous with patriotism. For a generation to come, England, in the throes of industrial and agricultural rebirth, was completely in the hands of the anti-Jacobin Tories, whose fixed idea was that of the barons of old: ` we will not have the laws of England changed.' France was changing her laws too fast, so England should not change her laws at all except, indeed, to abridge her ancient liberties and to silence all who advocated new things. The laws stood still, but social and industrial change rushed on.
In the early years of the war against France, the Government contracted the habit of suppressing freedom of speech and inflicting savage punishments on Reformers who ventured to utter their opinions anywhere outside the privileged walls of Parliament. This system of repression, which became highly dangerous after Waterloo when applied in an age too late against the working class as a whole, was in Pitt's time merely the persecution of an unpopular minority. The nation had already decided the issue against the Reformers and Painites in the winter of 1792, before the outbreak of war with France. During the months that followed the news of the September massacres in Paris, which did for English Toryism what the massacre of St. Bartholomew had done for English Protestantism, the Democrats were overwhelmed by hostile public opinion in every town and village of the country. After that it would appear that there was no sufficient: reason from the point of view of public safety, even after the war had begun, for the Government persecution of unpopular doctrines. Yet the policy of repression, however much mistaken, was not unnatural to an upper class confronted for the first time with the full-blown doctrine of theoretical democracy at home, and the appalling proceedings in France just across the sea.
All through 1793 and 1794 the law-courts were filled with Government prosecutions of editors, Nonconformist preachers and Radicals who had argued for Parliamentary Reform, or advocated in theoretical terms the establishment of ` representative government.' For crimes such as these, aggravated, indeed, in not a few cases by foolish and provocative phraseology borrowed from France, men were imprisoned and transported. The trials of the ' Reform-martyrs,' Muir and Palmer, before Braxfield, the Scottish Judge Jeffreys, and their transportation to Botany Bay, are among the worst pages in our judicial and political annals, and the memory of them did much to foster the Radicalism of Scotland in the succeeding century.
Finally, in 1794 the Government tried to get Hardy, the founder of the Corresponding Society and of the political movement among the working classes, condemned to death as a traitor. But, thanks to Erskine's persuasive eloquence, the sense of fair-play that has often distinguished our countrymen caused the twelve Tory jurymen to acquit Hardy and his fellow prisoners, and so to remind Pitt that the methods of Robespierre were not wanted over here. London, though strongly anti-Jacobin, broke into loud rejoicings at the acquittal.
This timely check saved England from a course of blood-shed, and perhaps ultimately from a retributive revolution. The British Constitution, however imperfect, had vindicated its mild spirit through one of its most cherished forms, trial by jury. But short of bloodshed, the system of repression went on as before, in the main approved by public opinion for some years to come. Acts of Parliament were passed suppressing the Corresponding and other Societies, and so rendering illegal the first efforts of the working classes to interest themselves in politics, and to get together for education and discussion. The governing classes grew to believe that where two or three of the unprivileged were gathered together, there must sedition be in the midst of them. All public meetings were prohibited that were not licensed by magistrates, and the magistrates were violent Tory partisans. Habeas Corpus was suspended, and numbers of men against whom there was no evidence lingered in prison during the last years of the century. The Combination Acts, which rendered Trade Unions illegal, were inspired by political fear of all forms of combination among the ' labouring poor,' no less than by the desire to keep down wages in accordance with the bourgeois political economy of the day.
The new working class that the Industrial Revolution was creating, had thus early shown an instinct towards self-help along the two parallel lines of politics and Trade Unionism--This healthy double development, which wise rulers would have welcomed, controlled and guided, was crushed out by the strong hand of Pitt's government and postponed for another generation. When it came up again in the era of Peter-loo, it had again to fight its way, like an outlaw, against all the powers of the land. The mass of the people, hostile at last to the Tory system of government and impatient of the miseries of their own industrial servitude, found themselves confronted by the same persecuting habit of mind in the ruling classes which had grown up in the first instance during the repression of an unpopular minority a quarter of a century before. This partisanship of the Government against the poor and against all who pleaded their cause, did much to distort and embitter the social processes of the Industrial Revolution.
Anti-Jacobin violence, when reduced to a system and pro-longed for more than a generation, did grave injury to many sides of our national life. But, unfortunate as were its results, it was very natural. Its violence, which was in full blast many months before the war began, was due to the shock given to the English mind by the spectacle of French society falling into ruin. The panic has no analogy in our own experience, although we ourselves have witnessed the catastrophe of social order in foreign lands. For to us, social revolutions are historical phenomena that we are accustomed to study, classify and explain. The French Revolution was the first of its kind.
The philosophy of Dr. Johnson's England was static, not evolutionary: the world was not expected to change. Civilisation, it was thought, had ` arrived,' after a number of barbarous ages, and was going to stay comfortably where it was. When in France it suddenly began to slide, and then exploded in smoke and flame that hid it from view, people on our side the Channel thought that the end of the world had come.
France, moreover, was held to represent civilisation to a special degree. For a hundred and fifty years she had, some-what unduly perhaps, been ` the glass of fashion and the mould of form ' to civilised men. She filled a larger part in the mental horizon of our ancestors than that held at the present day by any single country, or any single continent. Our educated classes knew those of France as they knew no other foreigners. Atrocities as unjustifiable as those of the French Terror, when perpetrated in Poland by our allies, the Prussians and Russians, seemed to Englishmen but the distant feuds of savages with outlandish names, while the poor heads nodding on pikes in Paris had smiled in London drawing-rooms.
And yet for all our intimacy with the best society of France, we knew nothing of her social structure, and had so little analysed our own that we were unable to perceive fundamental differences that prevented any danger of the French madness crossing the Channel. Burke, who undertook to explain the case, was peculiarly blind on this point; while the small and noisy minority that followed Tom Paine, by adopting some of the phraseology and aspirations of the new France, added greatly to the alarm. And when it became evident that large populations in Europe, who had indeed much to gain by the new French programme, welcomed the coming of the tricolor, it was excusable in our ancestors if they failed to perceive that England was a world by itself, with a social and political history entirely different from that of the Continent. It is possible at least to understand the earnestness that warmed Gibbon's cold eloquence to fire, when he wrote to his friend, Lord Sheffield:
' Do not suffer yourselves to be deluded into a false security; remember the proud fabric of the French monarchy. Not four years ago it stood founded, as it might seem, on the rock of time, force and opinion, supported by the triple Aristocracy of the Church, the Nobility and the Parliaments. They are crumbled into dust; they are vanished from the earth. If this tremendous warning has no effect on the men of property in England ; if it does not open every eye and raise every arm, you will deserve your fate.'
Such was the origin of the anti-Jacobin state of mind. Its prolongation was due to the twenty years' war with France. These circumstances must affect our judgment of the action of Pitt and the Tories in abolishing the old rights of free speech and persecuting the advocates of Reform. We may regard it all as a tragedy rather than a crime, if we are no less charitable to the Whigs and Radicals for their lack of patriotism about the war. The tragedy was this, that England was forced to fight for her own security in alliance with the murderers of Poland and the worst reactionary forces in Europe, in an attempt to suppress the newborn hopes of mankind hopes in-tolerably insolent indeed, and extremely French. Such a situation could not fail to turn British patriots into reactionaries, and those who disliked feudalism and obscurantism into lukewarm patriots. In such a confused medley of right and wrong, it was hardly possible for any statesman to act in a way that will now be wholly approved. Men alive must choose their parts and posterity be wiser if it can.
The ancien régime is a convenient term used for the type of polity that prevailed all over the Continent in the eighteenth century decayed clericalism and feudalism in the social structure, surmounted by monarchical despotism as the organ of government. Under this system, there was no recognition either of democracy or of nationality. The partitions of Poland were but the logical outcome of a system which regarded subjects as personal property and kingdoms as landed estates. Wars of aggression were not then inspired by the chauvinism of races but by the dynastic ambitions of sovereigns. In England alone was it possible to appeal successfully to the national spirit in war time, because in England alone, before the French Revolution, did the Government normally make appeal to public opinion. On the Continent, public opinion was the monopoly of the literary opposition, the ' philosophers ' who were the first to exploit its untried powers.
The philosophy of the eighteenth century, which produced the French Revolution, planned in advance the destruction of the ancien régime, and conceived in thought the idea of democracy. The Masonic Lodges of the Continent had, many years before 1789, familiarised the illuminés with the fateful words that gave hope of new life to a dead society : 'Liberté, égalité, fraternité.' Rousseau preached patriotism on the model of the ancient Republics, but not patriotism co-extensive with the race. Democracy, as the philosophers conceived it, was to represent not the race or the nation, but: the abstract multitude. The political man of their imagining was as bloodless and blameless, and unfortunately as nonexistent, as the ' economic man' of another branch of science. They proclaimed the rights, not of Frenchmen, but of man. This cosmopolitan language so different from the ' rights of Englishmen ' and the ' privileges of Parliament ' claimed by our own patriots in their struggle against the Stuart kings made the new doctrine formidable as propaganda, able to glide, as swift as meditation, over all the frontiers of Europe. Its principles attracted, because they claimed to be universal.
How was it, then, that this cosmopolitan creed became in practice the great engine of nationalism, the creator of racial movements that did not exist in the soporific atmosphere of the ancien régime ? If Voltaire and Rousseau had ever met a ' chauvinist,' Voltaire would have mocked and Rousseau denounced so strange a monster ! Yet the doctrines of these two men, when put into practice after their deaths, let loose, along with the anti-clericalism and democracy which they had respectively taught, the forces of a racial chauvinism which they had never even envisaged. For when once an appeal was made, in consonance with the principles of the French Revolution, to the ' general will ' of the population in any district of Europe, it appeared that the ' general will ' was not purely rational and philanthropic as the philosophers had supposed, but racial, nationalist, potentially chauvinistic.
The first country in which this unexpected phenomenon occurred was France herself. The events of 1789-93 realised the dreams of the philosophers in tumbling down the old, moth-eaten system of feudal rights that had outlived feudal duties, and in arousing the general will to consciousness. But when it was aroused, the ' general will ' was found to take on the form of patriotic enthusiasm. 'La France,' 'La Patrie,' became the watchwords of the new liberty, when she was called upon to defend herself in bitter earnest. The result was an out-burst of energy in every town and village of France, new in the Continent of that epoch. Thus inspired, France for a while became ` la grande nation,' able to trample at pleasure over Europe, athwart all the feudal States still uninspired by the ` general will ' or the patriotic idea. She was checked on the margin of the sea, because in England also there was a nation to be appealed to, whenever the mastery of the waves was at stake. In the spirit of Nelson, his captains and his sailors, the spirit of the French Revolution for the first time encountered something that was a match for itself. But France was only conquered on land when her outrages had aroused a national spirit in the populations of Germany, Russia and Spain.'
The events in the French Revolution which most nearly concern the history of our island are those which explain how this national spirit was aroused in France, unchained upon Europe, and enlisted as the enemy of England. It is from this point of view that we must briefly examine the course of events in France.
In the first stage of the Revolution, accomplished in 1789, the despotic monarchy which had held France together for good and evil for so many centuries, vanished in the night. The Legislative power was transferred to elective assemblies, tremulously afraid of the mob of Paris, from whom the members had no effective protection. As to the Executive power, no one could say where it resided. Louis XVI still chose his own Ministers, but they were 'transient and embarrassed phantoms,' their powers and functions uncertain, and their relations to assembly and to people all in the air. Since the weak, well-meaning king was under the influence of his reactionary Austrian wife, Marie Antoinette, it could safely be prophesied that, in case of war or public danger, a further revolution would take place, to decide in whose hands lay the executive power by which alone the State could be saved.
The propaganda of the equalitarian gospel, and its swift translation into fact in 1789, had been organised mainly by the professional and bourgeois classes of the towns, working upon the land-hunger and class consciousness of the peasant. The French middle classes were in that epoch more open to ` general ideas ' than the similar class in England, and much less conservative, because they were jealous of the exclusive and useless privileges of the do-nothing nobles. Although in the Bastille summer, alike in town and village, the sacking and murdering had been done by peasants and ouvriers, aided by the mutiny of the sympathetic and unpaid army, it was the bourgeoisie who, as a result of these unauthorised proceedings, first secured the revolutionary power. They restored order through their own National Guard, hoisted the new tricolor flag as the symbol uniting ` patriots ' of all shades, and hoped to be able to make good against the increasing enmity of the dispossessed aristocracy on the one side and the unsatisfied town workmen on the other. In the approaching struggle of classes, it was clear that the balance would be decided by the peasants. And the peasants were certain to support whatever party offered the best security for the preservation of the agrarian revolution of 1789. It was hopeless for the dispossessed nobles to look for aid to those who had seized and divided their inheritance.
The agrarian revolution, involving the destruction of the economic and social privileges, and much. of the other property of the nobles, had been the work of the peasants themselves, incited by the various types of agitators. The acts of the Legislature had followed tardily and with hesitating steps the head-long course of events in the countryside. But the bourgeoisie could hold power only by acquiescing in the agrarian revolution, for it was the determination to secure and maintain it that first roused the majority of French people to national consciousness and political passion. The peasant was neither Republican nor Jacobin at heart, but he was for any party that would enable him to keep what he had just won. Only in certain districts of the north-west, the Vendéens and Chouans were hostile to the new order, chiefly on account of religion.
The revolutionary legislators attempted to solve the religious question by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. This famous enactment, without touching doctrine, ` broke the bonds of Rome' as effectually as Henry VIII, turned the Church into a part of the civil service of the new democratic State, and ordered the bishops and priests to be elected by the people. The ' Civil Constitution ' was largely the work of the Jansenist party in the Church, who had suffered so much persecution in the past that they could no longer think clearly about the present and the future. The proposed ecclesiastical revolution was based on a miscalculation of the forces which made up religious life in France, and it caused half the evils of the time that followed. Hitherto the ` lower clergy ' had been not unfavourable to the course of an equalitarian revolution which destroyed the privileges of the nobly born, from which they themselves suffered in their professional prospects. But when the Civil Constitution was presented to them, two-thirds of the priesthood felt conscientiously bound to reject it. Then the Legislature committed the irreparable error of depriving and ere long persecuting the recusants. So began the feud between the religious and the revolutionary parties, destined to devastate the Latin world for generations to come. The dispossessed nobles who were biding their time on the other side of the frontier as émigrés, at last found a popular party in France ready to make common cause with them. But even so they were in a minority, for the bulk of the peasants were more concerned for their new-gotten lands and social indemnities than for their threatened religion.
Such was the state of things in France when the émigrés first began to conspire with feudal Europe against their own countrymen. By our modern ways of thinking, their conduct in calling in the foreigner stands heavily condemned. But they had been bred up in a world almost without patriotic tradition, which regarded a Church and an Order as units commanding allegiance more strongly than a nation. Indeed, their ` nation' was the noblesse of Europe, not the French peasants and bourgeoisie. The horror that their conduct caused in France surprised them, for it was, in fact, something new. France, in becoming democratic, had doubled her sense of nationhood. The peasant had become not indeed a Jacobin, but a patriot, ready to shed his blood for ` la belle France ' who had given him his field and freedom. These traitors would bring the Teuton into our plains to rivet our chains once more ! Let their blood stain our furrows ! The terrible words of the Marseillaise glow with the blended passions of that furnace out of which modern France emerged.
The quarrel between revolutionary France and feudal Europe was due to provocations on both sides. The feudal rights of foreign princes in French territory had been treated with undiplomatic contempt by the Revolutionary legislators. In 1791 Prussia and Austria began to menace the rebel nation. The ' flight to Varennes ' was an unsuccessful attempt of the French Royal family to escape across the frontier into the arms of these alien enemies. Probably, after that, the immediate deposition of Louis would have been in the interest of public security and ultimately of public order, if only people could have agreed whom to put in his place. A nation cannot live with an executive which it distrusts so much that it dare not allow it to act. But the bourgeoisie, with an anxious eye on the ragged hosts behind them, were afraid to initiate further change, and permitted France to stagger on for another year practically without any sovereign executive power. By a policy of mere postponement, they made the crash much worse when it came.
The only justification of this feeble treatment of the monarchy after the flight to Varennes would have been an attitude of complaisance towards foreign powers, to maintain peace at any price. But the Girondin orators, then in the ascendant, took up the somewhat hesitating challenge of Austria and Prussia, in the hope that war would precipitate a further revolution at home. They knew so little of themselves as to suppose that they would be able to ride the whirlwind for which they whistled. The Jacobins at this time argued in favour of peace.
When, in the middle of 1792, war at last broke out with Austria and Prussia, the old French army was in dissolution, and the French executive was alike unpatriotic and powerless. A vigorous push by the enemy could hardly have failed to reach Paris. But Brunswick's invading forces were insufficient and his purpose was feeble, while the language of his manifesto, threatening death to all revolutionaries, did more than fifty new constitutions could have done to create the French nation. Nevertheless, the unarmed and headless State was for a few weeks in appalling danger. The Girondins proved helpless to master the crisis they had done so much to provoke, and made way for men more forcible and more wicked. The Jacobins, thrusting aside the embarrassed bourgeoisie, appealed to the peasants and workmen to save the country, which they identified with the common people. The mob of Paris stormed the Tuileries, massacred the King's Swiss Guard, and so overthrew the monarchy on August 10, 1792.
With Brunswick advancing on the city, there was no time for remaking the Constitution. The executive power was frankly usurped by a set of vigorous and bloody ruffians whose boast it was to rise ` to the height of the circumstances.' Dumouriez meanwhile held the remnant of the dissolving army together, and with the help of the weather checked the Austro-Prussian advance at Valmy. The September massacres of men and women in the Paris prisons signalised the beginning of the Terror, and were the prelude to the erection of a new portent the guillotine. The tyranny of a faction reached the highest pitch of atrocity, at the same moment that the pulse of a new-born patriotism roused the ardour of Frenchmen to defend their country against the invading hosts.
Hitherto Pitt had stood apart from the movement of feudal Europe to chastise rebel France. He had no ears for Burke's crusading outcries. As late as February 1792 he prophesied fifteen years of peace, and proved his sincerity by forthwith reducing our naval and military forces. Even the events of August and September did not make him less pacific, but they alienated all his sympathies from France. Brunswick's invasion and the resultant events in Paris divided Englishmen more bitterly than ever. The Government and the Portland Whigs looked eagerly to see France conquered and the Revolution put down by Brunswick; while Fox spoke of his advance as an ` invasion of barbarians,' and rejoiced at Valmy as over the defeat of Xerxes. The September massacres seemed to most Englishmen to decide the merits of the dispute.
In the autumn and winter of 1792, things began to move rapidly towards war between France and England, partly on account of the mutual hatred of Tory and Jacobin, partly because of the French occupation of the Netherlands. The French armies made an offensive return into the territory of the late invaders, where large classes welcomed the tricolor. The Jacobins, finding that Danton's audace had saved them on the frontier, forgot their recent peace principles, appealed to the fast rising chauvinism of France, and proclaimed in general terms that they would help all peoples struggling to be free. The Alpine province of Savoy was annexed, and much of the Rhine country was overrun and revolutionised. The battle of Jemappes gave to the French armies the whole of the Austrian Netherlands, which corresponded to modern Belgium. Holland was threatened, and the navigation of the Scheldt through her territory declared open in accordance with the law of nature, all treaties notwithstanding. It was Jemappes rather than Valmy that began the new era for Europe, and by turning the heads of the Jacobins, rendered war between England and France inevitable.
Pitt was determined to maintain, by force if necessary, the ' public law of Europe ' against this new spirit of armed propaganda, that decreed its will and spurned negotiation. Nor can this determination be blamed. But it is perhaps unfortunate that by refusing to recognise the French Republic and to treat with her officially, he gave the appearance at the critical moment of making no serious effort to obtain his ends without war, although it is scarcely possible that he could even so have succeeded.
The tragedy of the case was that in defence of the ` public law of Europe ' he became the ally and paymaster of the powers who were engaged in overthrowing the ` public law ' by the Second and Third Partitions of Poland. But whereas the fate of Poland did not threaten our maritime power, Pitt thought it his first duty to prevent the Netherland ports from falling under the control of the most powerful country in Europe. Such has been the policy of England in self-defence from the time of Elizabeth to our own. The French showed no serious desire to meet us on the question. Their excuse is that we refused to recognise their Republican government. To revolutionary France, in her moment of demoniac exaltation, all who were not with her were against her. And our Government was very clearly not with her. If, from 1789 on, we had adopted Fox's policy of warm though discriminating friendship to the French Revolution, if we had put our active veto on the first Prussian and Austrian attack on France, the excesses of Jacobinism might conceivably have been avoided, and England and France might conceivably have remained friends. But all that is the merest speculation. The existing structure of English society and the main stream of English opinion, rendered any such alliance impossible. If Pitt had attempted to hold such a course, King, Parliament and country would have thrown him over.
In January, 1793, nothing could any longer have averted catastrophe, in the prevailing mood of the two peoples. The English were thirsting for the blood of the ` French cannibals,' and the execution of Louis XVI was meant as a challenge to England and to all the non-revolutionary world. The French did not want peace. They preferred the stormy eloquence of Danton : ` The coalesced kings threaten us ; we hurl at their feet, as gage of battle, the head of a King.