Chateaubriand's memoirs, V, 11

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V, 10 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> V, 12

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book V - Chapter 11
The Constituent Assembly

The deputies left Versailles and held their first session on the 19th October in the great hall of the Archdiocese. On the 9th November, they transferred to the riding-school, the Manège, near the Tuileries. The rest of 1789 witnessed decrees which despoiled the clergy, dismantled the old magistracy and created assignats; the decree of the Paris commune to set up the first Committee of Investigation; and the judges’ mandate to prosecute the Marquis de Favras.

The Constituent Assembly, despite the things it can be reproached with, nonetheless remains the most illustrious popular gathering that has ever appeared among nations, as much for the importance of its transactions, as for the magnitude of their results. There was no political question so profound that it failed to touch on it and resolve it appropriately. What would it have achieved, if it had held to the lists of grievances of the States-General and not attempted to deviate from them! All that human experience and intelligence had conceived, discovered and elaborated on for three centuries was in those lists. The various abuses of the old monarchy are indicated there, and remedies proposed; every type of freedom is demanded, for industry, manufacturing, commerce, roads, the army, tax, finance, schools, public education, etc. We have crossed abysses of crime, over heaps of glorious dead, to no purpose; The Republic and the Empire have achieved nothing: the Empire has only directed the brute force of arms that the Republic set in motion; it has left us centralisation, energetic administration which I consider evils, but which alone perhaps could replace local administration once it had been destroyed and heads were full of ignorance and anarchy. As it stands we have not advanced one step since the Constituent Assembly: its efforts were like those of Hippocrates, the great physician of antiquity which, at the same time, delineated and pushed back the boundaries of science. Let me speak about a few members of that Assembly, and start with Mirabeau who summed up and dominated all the others.