People don’t realise how disastrous this veto was. Can they not see that keeping the veto rendered our efforts to sing the clergy a te deum for the loss of their tithes quite useless? The clergy and the nobility have retained their privileges. On that famous night, 4/5 August, the king said ‘I forbid them to carry out their decrees, I annul everything, veto!’ It would be useless for the National Assembly to abolish the tax farmers and the gabelle tax. The king would only have to use his veto. That is why M. Treilhard, the publicans’ lawyer, wore out his voice trying to defend the veto. He defied insults and like M. Pincemaille in Horace he says
Populus me sibilat, at mihi plaudo Ipse domi simul ac nummos contemplar in arca
["The public hiss at me, but I cheer myself when in my own house I contemplate the coins in my strong-box."]
I am only a lantern, but in two words I can expose these great defenders of the veto, Mounier, Clermont-Tonnerre, Thouret, Maury, Treilhard, d’Entraigues etc. In favour of the monstrous and absurd veto, which turns the premier nation of the world and eighty million men into a foolish country of children ruled by the schoolmaster’s rod, they can only cite the support of the cahiers from the provinces. They take no notice of the fact that there is not one of the cahiers which at the same time as supporting the veto does not contain some article either contradictory or destructive to the existence of the veto. For example, every province voted decisively for the constitution; thus they implicitly declared that there was no right to oppose it. Every province voted decisively for the equal distribution of taxes, abolition of financial privilege etc. Therefore with this mandate they have indirectly declared that no power had the right to a veto or to carry on in the old manner.
This contradiction, which is contained in all the cahiers, between the clause which supports the veto and one or more other clauses, has not escaped the provincial editors. It has been remarked on in many bailliages; but the provinces follow the precept of the evangelist who recommended the caution of the serpent. It was enough for them to establish, by one or two articles, that on these points where the nation had already expressed its unanimous wish, there was no place for a veto. They pretended to support a contradictory veto so that despotism should not be too alarmed. In this matter of the contradictions of the cahiers what could be wiser than to ask the provinces to explain their meaning again, to finally make their meaning clear; what is, in reality, the Palais Royale motion? It is true that there have been forgeries.
At Versailles, the defenders of the veto are still relying on their so called majority. Here, the lantern is going to reveal a great error; and her observation on the verdict on the Palais Royale, her favourite district, is of such importance that it alone will eliminate at least five hundred enemies of reason and hope from the National Assembly.
We no longer have the estates general to make the doléances; we have a national assembly which makes laws. Such an assembly can only be composed of national representatives and the lantern only recognises the six hundred deputies from the communes as representatives. It is clear that the other six hundred members represent, not the nation, but the clergy and the nobility. The clergy and the nobility no longer have the right to send six hundred deputies to Versailles. So there are six hundred members who must be sent back. Since all citizens are equal, and have the right to contribute to the constitution it would be unjust if the clergy and the nobility were not represented. They should be represented in the same ratio as other citizens, one per twenty thousand. The clergy and nobility are made up of three hundred thousand individuals; therefore fifteen representatives should be chosen from among these six hundred. The rest have no more right to vote in the National Assembly than the citizens of the Palais Royale. So thinks the Lantern. Because of this she protests against the clause in the constitution which established a dominant religion and exclusive worship; and her protest is firmly founded in law. If the clergy had not had three hundred representatives in the National Assembly, M. Rabaut de Saint-Etienne’s motion would have succeeded.
Still, the clergy should be forgiven for their outcry in favour of exclusive worship.
Don Pourceau raisonnait en subtle personage. [Molière]
L’abbé Maury realises that the revenue from the Lihons Priory is most at risk; ‘Treacherous communes’ exclaims l’abbé Francois ‘When you embraced us in the church of St Louis it was only in order to smother us. Tithes are already abolished; if freedom of worship is established then the doors of hell will soon prevail against us despite the prophecy’
M. Francois is right. On the question of contributing to the upkeep of the catholic priesthood, the parishioner will say ‘Me! Am I supposed to provide for the priest? Those who attend the mass should pay the sacristan’. Everyone will turn heretic, schismatic or even Jewish if that is what is necessary to avoid paying. The philosopher will say ‘those who want a burial vault, or to be buried in the cemetery should pay for the lights and the bells. For myself, I will be buried in my garden – my wife and children will lie there too. The idea that his father’s remains are scattered there will attach my son more firmly to his property. He will never sell this sacred heritage. When his wealthy neighbour haggles over this piece of land he will give the same reply as the Canadian leader gave the Europeans when they suggested he should cede his country –“ We cannot leave this land, can we say to our fathers bones;’ get up and walk’?”
However, console yourselves good Parisians, you will still have your patron saint and we will not take St Eustache away from the curé, as one of our detractors so kindly intimated. You can still keep your processions, your serpents, your double basses, and you will still be allowed burial in Clamart or St. Sulpice; only you will no longer look like the peasants and farmworkers who, following the example of Abraham and Jacob, want to be borne into the land of Canaan and sleep by the side of Sarah or Rachel.
It is a religion which doesn’t belong to any particular people or climate, not like Christianity, paganism, Judaism or Mohammedanism; it is a religion for all people, all times and all places, an inborn religion. Wise and enlightened men have preserved it in its purity. It is the religion of Socrates, Plato, Cicero, Scipio, Marcus-Aurelius, Confucius, Plutarch, Virgil, Horace, Erasmus, Bacon, Buffon, Voltaire, Montesquieu and Rousseau. Its faith is the belief in god, its charity is the brotherly love of humanity and its hope is that of the next life. This religion will never produce ecstasies like that of St. Theresa or St. Ignatius who sweated divine love to such an extent that he had to change his chemise three times during midnight mass.
But there is a lovely story from Voltaire, told to console us. It is about a Mufti philosopher who, after hearing about the ecstatic visions of an old Muslim devotee, went to pay her a visit; he found her as happy as Mme Guyon, and I know of no more holy saint, whose heart has been pierced by an angel to receive the stigmata of St. Francis. The mufti couldn’t help but envy her and returned to his patriarchal palace saying ‘would I want this sort of happiness?’
Certainly it would be cruel to stop people from walking with their heels the wrong way round[?] disciplining them and being transported like St. Paul to third heaven, there to see what no eye has ever seen and no ear has ever heard. That would be an attack on liberty and I beg you not to libel the Lantern on this point, or to attribute the same intentions to her. On the contrary, I declare that anyone who wants to must be allowed to go to St. Genevieve, Notre Dame, Lorette or St Iago de Compostela, or even, like the happy Labre, to push on as far as Jerusalem. Happy are those who believe! Faith can move mountains. It will make the sea come to Paris and spare us the enormous expense of enlarging the Seine and excavating a port below the Champs de Mars. But such faith is not given to all and the National Assembly should concern itself with the interests of everyone. If people need religion then the philosopher, the honest and sensible man, needs more. See what efforts Cicero, Plato and Jean-Jacques have made to persuade us of immortality. In France we are a million theists, revering the patriarch of Ferney [Voltaire] for twenty five years. Since then the number has increased to infinity and it seems likely that little by little theism will become the catholic religion, that is to say universal. The estimable M. Rabaut, whose talents and good citizenship do so much honour to the clergy of Geneva, asks for temples for four million Protestants. The theist temple is the universe but the Lantern demands temples, that is to say places of worship, for eight million theists. This religion will be worthy of the majesty and insight of the French nation. Stripped of the lies surrounding other beliefs, lies which distort the divinity, this religion retains only the nobility, the recognition of the supreme being and the concept of justice which is inseparable from rewarding good and punishing evil. Philosophy controls the priesthood of this religion; and there is this advantage for the people, it needs no tithes, no abbey, no priory and no income from benefices.
After hearing Abbé Maury preaching celibacy to the Quinze-Vingts they will go to St. Sulpice or St. Roche to mark Lent or Advent from Abbe Raynal or J-J Rousseau. Touching religious ceremonies will not be missing from this belief system. The church will restore everything she has stolen from paganism, which after all is no more than impaired theism; in place of the Rogation procession we will have a procession for Palès [?], in place of holy water, purified water, in place of the communion wafer, communal meals such as the Pythagoreans ate together; and in place of this [collection?] plate of leather or silver which they present to us now, we will have the ancient ceremony of the kiss of peace, a delightful institution for those who know how to position themselves advantageously. Have we nothing more holy than the prayer of Epictetes or the hymn of Cleanthes? Who doesn’t feel just as devout and meditative at the opera Alceste, when hearing the high priest’s prayer, as they do when they listen to Gossec’s ‘O Salutaris’ in Notre Dame? Every one of our festivals is an imitation of a pagan festival. And there is more; often we have only imitated the extravagance of these festivals without retaining their moral purpose. Saturnalias for example, which have been so decried, were succeeded by carnivals. During Saturnalia the pagans conducted themselves as if the world were ending. It was a commemorative festival designed to recall us to original equality. It was a sort of idle declaration of the rights of man. Everything within it represented the future annihilation of societies. There were no more tribunes, senates, schools or war. All the states were intermingled. The poor were entertained to delicious meals regardless of rank. Masters swapped clothes with their slaves and waited upon them in their turn. Debts were paid, income for the poor, salaries of wet nurses.
I have said enough to make the clergy aware that they were wrong to take such advantage of the pretended need for their morality, which we could well do without. I leave Abbé Fauchet to provide us with a fine book, a complete body of religion and to attain the national God which he has so fortunately begun