Let us now consider the revolution of France with re ference to these observations, and the causes which have been supposed to have produced that event.
In the first place, much has been ascribed to the influ ence which the writings of such men as Montesquieu, Vol taire, Rousseau, Ilelvetius, &c. produced on the opinions and wishes of the French people ; but it should be recol lected, that on the mass of the people these writings could have little or no influence, as by few of them they were read, nor could they have been understood had they been read. The hypothesis that ascribes the French revolution to this cause, confounds two distinct circumstances; or rather supposes, that when it has accounted for one part of the phenomenon, it has accounted for the whole. The events of the revolution sufficiently prove, that, even at its commencement, it was indicated not more by a change in the character, opinions, and conduct, of the more intelli gent classes of the French community, than by a change in the characters, opinions, and conduct, of the great mass of the people, on whom the writings of the philosophers could have had no influence. While, therefore, we may regard these writings as having prepared the way, in some degree, for the revolution, among the higher and more intelligent classes, we ought not to consider them as being exclusive ly the cause, even with regard to them, and certainly as by no means the cause with regard to the mass of the people.
Nearly the same remarks will apply to the second cause to which the French revolution has been attributed. It has been said, that, by the return of the officers and soldiers who served in America, principles and feelings of liberty were spread over France, which, meeting with favourable circumstances, developed themselves, and by their opera tion ultimately overthrew the government. But, in the first place, it may well be doubted whether any great num ber of the officers and soldiers who had served in America imbibed principles and feelings of liberty there. The mi litary certainly (especially in France at that period) seldom pay much regard to the nature of the cause for which they fight, or feel much sympathy for liberty. Some, no doubt went to America from the laudable desire of assisting in establishing the independence of that country : and many who went from other motives, may have returned with a change in their sentiments favourable to liberty ; but there can be no doubt that by far the greater proportion went to America because they were ordered by their government; fought there, as they would have fought in any other coun try ; and returned from this, as they would have returned from any other war. In the second place, even allowing
that the returned officers and soldiers very generally im bibed the spirit of liberty, yet it by no means follows that they had it in their power to infuse this spirit into any large portion of their countrymen. Indeed, the remarks of Ira . ellers confirm this; for while, even before the American war, and much more so after it, they observe, that very free mitions respecting government and religion were prevalent among the higher classes of the French nation, they do not mention that such notions were entertained by the mass of the people ; and we should recollect, that in France, at this time, there was no middle class in the country at large.
The next cause which we shall consider, attributes the Revolution to the despotism of the government. That the government of France was in its nature despotic, cannot be denied; but it is equally certain, that at the period of the Revolution, this despotic govermrient was exercised with more regard to the freedom and the happiness of the subject, than it had ever been at any previous period. To this cause, therefore, the Revolution cannot be ascribed.
From the preceding observations, it will be sufficiently apparent, that in tracing and explaining the causes of the Revolution, we must discriminate, and consider apart se veral .circumstances that have too often been confounded; namely, the causes which operated to produce the Revolu tion, as they existed in the higher and more enlightened classes of the community ; those which existed and ope rated in the great mass of the people ; and the circumstan ces in which the nation was placed, which allowed or en couraged these distinct causes to operate together with the fullest effect.