The Correspondence of Thomas Jefferson

By Subject


This country advances with a steady pace towards the establishment of a constitution, whereby the people will resume the great mass of those powers, so fatally lodged in the hands of the King. During the session of the Notables, and after their votes against the rights of the people, the parliament of Paris took up the subject, and passed a vote in opposition to theirs (which I send you). This was not their genuine sentiment; it was a manoeuvre of the young members, who are truly well disposed, taking advantage of the accidental absence of many old members, and bringing others over. . . You are not to suppose that these dispositions of the court proceed from any love of the people, or justice towards their rights. Courts love the people always, as wolves do the sheep. The fact is this. The court wants money. From the Tiers ~tat they cannot get it, because they are already squeezed to the last drop. The clergy and the nobles, by their privileges and their influence, have hitherto screened their property in a great degree, from public contribution. That half of the orange then, remains yet to be squeezed, and for this operation there is no agent powerful enough, but the people. They are, therefore, brought forward as the favorites of the court, and will be supported by them. The moment of crisis will be the meeting of the States; because their first act will be, to decide whether they shall vote by persons or by orders. The clergy will leave nothing unattempted to obtain the latter; for they see that the spirit of reformation will not confine itself to the political, but. will extend to the ecclesiastical establishment also. With respect to the nobles, the younger members are generally for the people, and the middle aged are daily coming over to the same side; so that by the time the States meet, we may hope there will be a majority of that body also in favor of the people, and consequently for voting by persons, and not by orders.

to John Jay, 11 January 1789