Source Problems on the French Revolution


D. The Sources

1. (a) Necker, Sur L’administration De M. Necker Par Lui-Même, 107–115.

The debate upon the verification of credentials continued to divide the three orders, and now there was added to this contest a still more violent conflict born of the wish of the commons for a single national assembly, and of the demands of the nobility and clergy for the maintenance of the deliberations by separate orders. All hopes of conciliation were lost, opinions grew ever more bitter, and the affairs of the state were at a standstill. Good citizens grew anxious over such a state of stagnation, and among partisans some hoped that the piling up of difficulties would lead to the dissolution of the states general; others that this state of confusion would serve as a pretext for the decisive measures which they were impatient to employ to change the constitution in its entirety.

The silence and inaction of the monarch in such circumstances would have shown a disregard of propriety and dignity. The king could not remain indifferent to the dangers with which the state was menaced. He had unavailingly employed the mediation of his ministers to open the road to conciliation, and it was time for him to appear in some other way. I believed that he could do it with wisdom if, while reserving to the two first orders the right to deliberate separately upon matters peculiar and personal to them, he obliged them to unite with the commons in order to treat as a single body the general interests of the nation, and especially the future organization of national assemblies. I thought that at the same time the king ought, both for the good of the state and for his own policy, to confirm in an authentic manner his acquiescence in all the important matters announced in the Résultat du conseil of December 27, 1788, that he should extend his declaration still further and thus anticipate the wishes of the nation. I had included among other things, in this new profession of his beneficent views, the admission of all citizens to civil and military employment, the destruction of the rights of servitude, in imitation of what he had ordered in his own domains, the authorization of their purchase for money and some other objects of a similar nature, but always observing the rules of the most exact justice toward the proprietors. Finally the king, in speaking of the new constitution, should express himself solely upon the propriety and necessity of the maintenance of two chambers, and in other respects he would abide by the views which were presented to him by the national assembly.

It followed from the ensemble of my ideas that the king, while preserving everything which pertained to his dignity and anticipating with prudence the law of necessity, would render the states general active, would serve the first two orders by giving them the means of renouncing honorably the absolute system they had embraced, and which circumstances did not permit them to maintain. The plan which I advised was without doubt difficult, but one was necessary, and above all one which would finally unite the orders in a single assembly and put an end in a regular or, at least, in a peaceable way to the state of division which at any moment might lead to the gravest misfortunes. Finally, I had accompanied the suggested articles making up this project by everything which might favor the success of them in public opinion; but to form a correct opinion of them to-day it would be necessary to be able to transport oneself by memory to the period at the beginning of June, 1789; it would be necessary to recall to mind exactly the uncertainty and the agitation, the fears and the hopes, finally the general state of opinion at this period, not far removed from the opening of the states general; but it would be difficult to draw the picture of it at the moment when a series of events has carried things much farther than the first step which I advised would have done. It is necessary to pardon the two first orders, or those who acted for them at court, for having shown so much irritation against a project which, with more foresight, they would have found very wise. I had only one moment of hope; it was when I presented to the council the ensemble of my ideas, and when the king listened favorably to them, for soon I was attacked from every point of view. The necessity of some action on the part of the king was universally agreed to, but it was desired that he should act in an entirely different spirit; and little by little, while appearing to retain a part of my plan, everything composing its essence was cut out, everything which might render it agreeable to the commons. They took here and there some of my phrases, at the beginning and at the end; but by a remarkable singularity the firm and lofty tone which was fitting when the monarch instructed the first two orders to unite with the commons to work for the welfare of the public, they believed equally applicable to a plan the spirit of which was absolutely different, and that was a great blunder.

I defended my idea, and I combated the new ones with the greatest force; I resisted courageously the opinions of the princes called to this discussion, and after having conserved to the last moment the hope of making reason triumph I finally considered the part remaining for me to take personally; and after mature examination, after many mental struggles, which the gravity of the circumstances authorized, I did not believe that I could honorably either go to the session of June 23d or remain longer in the ministry. The position in which I found myself was quite as painful as it was embarrassing, and I must confess that on the morning of that memorable day my uneasiness still continued, and if I did not inform the king of my final determination it was because I feared to receive positive orders which I could not possibly have obeyed....

I resisted the advice of many enlightened persons who, more in touch than I with the court and its intrigues, urged me to retire, assuring me that it would not be long before I would be the victim of the influence of the persons whose counsels had prevailed over mine on so grave and important an occasion.

I resisted likewise the insinuations of those who considered my retirement as the epoch of a great revolution and tried to make me understand that such a determination on my part could not fail to be followed by a brilliant triumph.

These same efforts were repeated with me, but in vain, when the inutility of my efforts to force the retirement of the ministers, whose opposition to my projects was openly pronounced, became known. My intimate friends will do me the justice to recognize that I was perfectly conscious of the dangers by which I was surrounded. These dangers even were not new, as for a long time I had lived in the midst of disturbing circumstances of every kind. I saw also the extreme crisis in which we found ourselves in the matter of food supply, and I saw it so clearly that on returning to my lodgings, in the evening of June 23d, followed by the applause of the multitude, I said with emotion to the little group of friends gathered in my study: "I remain.... But you see these people and the benedictions they shower upon me; very well, before two weeks, perhaps, they will shower me with stones."


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Chicago: "1. (a) Necker, Sur L’administration De M. Necker Par Lui-Même, 107–115," Source Problems on the French Revolution in Source Problems on the French Revolution, ed. Fred Morrow Fling and Helene Dresser Fling (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1913), 79–84. Original Sources, accessed February 21, 2024,

MLA: . "1. (a) Necker, Sur L’administration De M. Necker Par Lui-Même, 107–115." Source Problems on the French Revolution, in Source Problems on the French Revolution, edited by Fred Morrow Fling and Helene Dresser Fling, New York, Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1913, pp. 79–84. Original Sources. 21 Feb. 2024.

Harvard: , '1. (a) Necker, Sur L’administration De M. Necker Par Lui-Même, 107–115' in Source Problems on the French Revolution. cited in 1913, Source Problems on the French Revolution, ed. , Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York, pp.79–84. Original Sources, retrieved 21 February 2024, from