« PreviousContinue »
avenge the murder of their father." However, when the sons came to manhood, they displayed more magnanimity than their mother; and one of them, who rose to distinction in the service of the Netherlands, requited with good offices to the burghers of his native town the unmerited misfortunes which they had brought upon his family.
In Fribourg-where, in olden times, equality of rights for all burghers ha l been settled as a principle-an aristocracy, no less close than in Bern, had for ned itself since the middle of the seventeenth century. A few houses, under the denomination of secret families, had contrived to exclude, not only the country people, but a large proportion likewise of the town burghers, from all participation in public affairs; and, in 1684, admission into the number of these secret families was rendered wholly impossible. From thenceforwards, constantly increasing discontent displayed itself both in town and country. Several very moderate proposals for alleviating the pressure of this oligarchy were rejected with such haughtiness by the government that disaffection swelled into revolt.
In 1781 Peter Nicholas Chenaux of la Tour de Trême, John Peter Raccaud, and an advocate of Gruyères of the name of Castellaz, formed a league for the achievement of a higher degree of freedom. First they endeavoured to work upon the people by fair promises. Then Chenaux, at the head of a select band of fifty or sixty, undertook to terrify the government into a compromise. But the gates being closed on the party, and the walls manned with armed burghers, this undertaking ended in open revolt. The toll of alarm-bells summoned up the country people from every hill and valley in the canton to assist in the coercion of the domineering capital. A body of nearly three thousand men encamped before the walls of Fribourg, and further aid was hourly expected. The terrified burghers instantly called for the armed intervention of Bern, and the latter town detached a part of its guard without delay. Three hundred dragoons marched upon Fribourg, and were to be followed by fourteen hundred foot. The burghers of Fribourg now thought themselves strong enough to meet force with force. The garrison made a sally from the town, and on the first sight of the Bernese flag, not to mention the heavy artillery, the malcontents solicited an armistice. The surrender of their arms and of the ringleaders was demanded as preliminary to all negotiation. The people refused the latter of these conditions, but fled panic-struck on the first attack, without making any resistance.
The whole affair would have ended without bloodshed, had not the leader Chenaux been murdered in his flight by Henry Rosier, himself one of the popular party. The two remaining heads of the insurgents got clear off: Chenaux's corpse was delivered to the public executioner, and his head fixed on a spear above the Romont gate. Sentence of death was passed on Castellaz and Raccaud, the two fugitives. Several others were visited with less degrees of punishment: new reinforcements from Bern, Solothurn, and Lucerne secured the town from any recurrence of tumult, and their ambassadors strove to promote the restoration of tranquillity. It was ordered to be proclaimed, from all the pulpits, that the council was well disposed to protect the old and well attested rights of its loving subjects, as well as to hear, with its never-failing graciousness, every suitable and respectful representation. Three days were allotted to each commune to lay their complaints and wishes before the government, through delegates. But when months elapsed without the popular grievances having obtained a hearing, the loss of Chenaux began to be appreciated. Multitudes assembled round his tomb weeping and praying: pilgrimages, as if to the tomb of a saint, were made thither with
[1707-1714 A. D.] banners, and with crucifixes. Vainly were these demonstrations of feeling stigmatised by the government as crime against the state, by the bishop as impious profanations. They were neither to be checked by posting sentinels, nor fulminating excommunications. They were the last sad consolation of the people the last substitute for hopes that were already given up.
DISORDERS AT GENEVA (1707-1782 A.D.)
Shortly after the establishment of Genevan independence, it had been decreed by the general assembly, for the better suppression of hostile attempts against their hard-won freedom, that whoever should propose a change in the government of Geneva should be considered to deserve capital punishment. This did not, however, hinder alterations being made, at different times, in various parts of the constitution. So early as the middle of the sixteenth century, the laws were revised and improved. The advantageous situation of the town and the long duration of peace promoted the increase of wealth in Geneva and the rise of many families to opulence. These families aimed at separating themselves from their fellow citizens, even in their places of habitation, by settling in the upper part of the town, near the councilhouse, while the other burghers inhabited the lower town. The principal families already regarded themselves as a standing patriciate; and even the name of patrician came into use in the acts of council.
The year 1707 witnessed an effort of the inferior burghers to wrest from the principal families a part of their usurped power, and to introduce amendments in the constitution. In this emergency, the council invoked the mediation of Bern and Zurich, received a confederate garrison, and maintained itself by force of arms and by execution of its principal antagonists. A renewal of the disturbances which had been quelled by such violent measures was produced, in 1714, by the imposition of an arbitrary tax by the council for the enlargement and completion of the fortifications of the town. This stretch of power occasioned great discontent among the burghers; bitter attacks and censures on the government appeared in print; and the more strictly these were prohibited, they obtained the more eager perusal and credence.
One of the arch-promoters of the rising storm was Michael Ducrest, a Genevan burgher and noble, an officer in the army, and a member of the great council. This man opposed himself with extraordinary vehemence to the building of the new fortifications, and heaped offensive charges on the partisans of the measure. The government condemned him to recant, and, on his evading compliance by flight, a penal sentence was pronounced against him. New attempts which he made to excite disturbance were followed by a sentence of perpetual imprisonment. This sentence could not be put in execution, as Ducrest had taken refuge under a foreign jurisdiction, where he set at defiance the council of Geneva, and provoked that body to such a degree by his writings and intrigues against them, that sentences more and more severe were heaped upon his head, until at length the most offensive of his writings was torn by the hangman, and his effigy was suspended from the gallows. His person, however, enjoyed impunity till 1744, when he was taken into custody in the territory of Bern. The government of Geneva did not thirst for his blood, and was content with his perpetual imprisonment. Even in this situation he contrived to mix in Hentzi's conspiracy, was confined in the castle of Aarburg, and closed, in extreme old age, as a state
prisoner, a life which he had spent in incessant labours in the cause of democracy.
Meanwhile Geneva continued to be agitated by party manoeuvres and popular discontents. In the year 1734 a body of eight hundred burghers addressed themselves to the heads of the government, desiring the curtailment of the projected fortifications, and the repeal of the tax levied for that object. The council only replied by preparations for defence: firearms were transported to the council hall; barricades erected in the approaches thither as well as in those to the upper town, where the principal class of burghers lived, and the garrison kept in readiness to act on the first signal. All this apparatus was regarded with mistrust by the burghers, who were still farther provoked by reports of the approach of Bernese troops, and by the removal of a part of the town artillery to the upper regions, while two and twenty other pieces were spiked. The multitude made themselves masters of the city guard, pointed field-pieces on the road by which the troops from Bern were expected, and tumultuously demanded the convocation of the burgher assembly, the sovereign authority of Geneva. The council contrived to win over the members of this body so far that they voted unanimously the completion of the fortifications and the continuance of the tax for ten years. The declaration of an amnesty and improvement of the criminal and judicial administration formed the rest of their business. The burghers laid down their arms and returned to their ordinary vocations; so that an embassy which arrived from Zurich and Bern found Geneva in a state of apparent tranquillity.
Permanent ill-will was fostered only against the syndic Trembley, commander of the garrison and conductor of the defensive preparations of the council. Whatever this person had done by the instructions of the council was laid to his individual account, and added to the mass of dark imputations which were heaped on him, as the head of an already obnoxious family. He plumed himself on the favour of the confederate ambassadors, and forfeited thus the last chance of retrieving himself in the public opinion. The remembrance of the armed intervention of Zurich and Bern, in 1707, was too recent to admit of their ambassadors doing any good to Trembley's cause through the medium of pacific intercession. The departure of these embassies removed the only screen of the syndic: he demanded his dismission, which was refused him, in order to deprive him of his functions more ignominiously. No resistance or artifice of a powerful connection could save him: the tumults were renewed with increased fury; and the question soon ceased to regard the person or party of Trembley, and became that of the triumph of the aristocratic or democratic principle at Geneva. In 1737, the council ventured several arrests, and the consequence was that the whole body of burghers rushed to arms, and the council was defeated, not without bloodshed. A garrison from Bern and Zurich was thrown into the town: the ambassadors of these cantons, in concert with the French ambassadors, undertook the office of mediators, and in 1738 framed a constitution which set limits to the assumptions of the council and the principal families, and was gratefully and all but unanimously accepted as a fundamental law by the burghers.
After four-and-twenty years of repose and prosperity, occasion was given to new political movements at Geneva by a subject of a nature purely speculative. It pleased more than one government about this time to apply the doom of fire, which had been visited by inquisitors on the ill-fated victims of their zealotry, to certain of the more remarkable works of the human intellect - a proceeding highly calculated to draw the eyes of the reading public on
[1762-1768 A.D.] productions which seemed worthy of such signal condemnation. On the first appearance of that work of Rousseau which opened views so novel and so striking on the moral and still more on the physical education of man, the parliament of Paris had the work burned by the hangman, and sentenced Rousseau to imprisonment, which he only escaped by flight. Both of these decisions were immediately repeated by the council of Geneva , which improved on them by launching a like condemnatory sentence against the Contrat Social of the same author. It was in vain that Rousseau's connections demanded a copy of the sentence against him: their reiterated demands, though supported by a large body of burghers, were rejected by the council. The popular party, which vindicated the right of the burgher assembly to
bring up representations or remonstrances against the council on any subject under discussion, distinguished themselves by the name of representatives. Their claims were met by asserting a droit négatif, or right of rejection, on the strength of which the council pretended that nothing that should not have been previously consented to by themselves could come before the general assembly. The partisans of the council were called negatives.
The tranquillity of Geneva was once more disturbed to such a degree by passionate discourses, party writings, and manœuvres that the ambassadors of Zurich, Bern, and France again interfered, and pronounced themselves in favour of the council. The representatives rejected their decision, the ambassadors left Geneva, French troops advanced on the town, and all trade and intercourse were suspended. But the French ministry speedily became lukewarm in the cause of the negatives. The latter, when they found themselves abandoned by all foreign aid, apprehending what might ensue, patched up a peace with the representatives. By a compact closed in March, 1768, the burghers acquired valuable rights, and even a third party, that of the socalled natifs or habitans (old inhabitants, excluded by birth from taking part in public affairs), obtained extended franchises, and was flattered with a prospect of participation in all the rights of citizenship.
JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU
But on recovery from the first panic, reciprocal hatred soon revived. The negatives were vexed at having made such important sacrifices, and aimed at resuming all their former ascendency. Moreover they found a favourable hearing in the French court, which had long viewed with an evil eye the trade and wealth of Geneva, desired to raise the neighbouring Versoix to a commercial town, and hoped, by encouraging tumult and disorder at Geneva, either to annihilate its industry and opulence, or ultimately to bring it under the sovereignty of France. French emissaries therefore aided the negatives in spiriting the natifs up against the representatives, by promising to confer on them the franchises withheld by the latter. But the representatives flew
to arms, took possession of the gates, and speedily succeeded in disarming the unpractised and undisciplined mob of natifs. Well aware by what manœuvres the natifs had been led to revolt, they prudently abstained from taking any vindictive measures against them; but, on the contrary, imparted to them, in 1781, that equality of rights which had been promised by the negatives, and endeavoured thus to win them over permanently to the com
The council, on the other hand, impelled by French influence, declared the newly conferred rights illegally extorted, and invoked the mediation of Bern and Zurich. But, betwixt representative stubbornness and negative assumption, the ambassadors of these towns could exert but limited influence. They essayed to put an end to disputes by amicable arrangements, but were baffled by the intrigues of the French court, which was resolved to recognise no democratical system on its frontiers, and soon proceeded to open force in support of its secret policy. The first act of aggression was to garrison Versoix; a measure which gave just offence to Zurich and Bern, who thereupon renounced all adhesion to the mediation of 1738, and left the Genevans to their own discretion. France also declared she would mix no more in the affairs of Geneva; the government was overthrown and a new constitution established.
Zurich and Bern now declared formally and coldly that they could not acknowledge a government erected by revolt. Still more indignation was exhibited by France and Savoy, who entered into a league for the coercion of the town. Bern, too, joined this league in 1782, that the destiny of Geneva, that point d'appui of her own dominion, might not be trusted altogether to the caprices of foreign powers. On the appearance of the allied troops before the gates of Geneva, the burghers, unaware of the bad state of their defences, swore to bury themselves in the ruins of their native town rather than yield. But when the cannon of the besiegers was advanced up to their walls, and the alternative of desperate resistance or surrender was offered, the disunited city opened her gates without stroke of sword, after the principal heads of the representative party had taken to flight.
Mortal dread accompanied the victorious troops as they entered Geneva. Many had reason to tremble for their lives, their liberty, and possessions. No punishments, however, were inflicted, excepting only the banishment of the principal popular leaders; but the rights of the burghers were almost entirely annihilated by the arbitrary arrangements of the victors; the government was invested by them with almost unlimited power, and proceeded under their auspices to prohibit all secret societies, military exercises, books and pamphlets on recent events, and to re-inforce the garrison by twelve hundred men under foreign leaders. Thus the town was reduced to utter subjection, and depopulated by exile and emigration. From thenceforwards commerce and enterprise fell into decay; and for seven long years a forced, unnatural calm dwelt in Geneva.
During these years the government was conducted with much mildness, the administration of justice was impartial, that of the public revenues incorrupt, art and industry were encouraged to the utmost. But nothing could win the lost hearts of the people back to the government. The iniquity of the so-called règlement of 1782, the destruction of their franchises, and the disarming of their persons, had wounded irrecoverably the feelings of the burghers. The malcontents increased daily in number; and even many former negatives now disowned their party, which had gone greater lengths than they had ever wished or expected. At length, on the death of Vergennes, the