« AnteriorContinua »
America every aspect of human thought and action, the theoretic doctrines of which France was the chief laboratory, were reflected both in the character and policy of the new generation of kings and the ministers who advised and carried out their views. Charles III. of Spain, 1759–88, William V. of Holland, 1766–95, Louis XVI. of France, 1774–93, and Joseph II., Emperor, 1765– 90, were in the semblance of philanthropists, attempting with varying results to combine autocratic government with measures of reform which should satisfy and check the new desires without too much disturbance.
Charles III., the son of Philip V. by his second wife, Elizabeth Farnese, Princess of Parma, succeeded in 1759 his half-brother Ferdinand, son of Philip and Maria Louisa of Savoy, his first wife. Ferdinand, determined on peace, had kept a consistent neutrality between Great Britain and France, being tied by blood to the Bourbon King, but personally inclined to Britain. He had nursed the resources of Spain, improved its finances, and contracted no debt. Charles was by no means so friendly to Britain, who had given him little occasion to love her Navy while he was King of Naples. He had been persuaded to join France against her in the Seven Years' War. For the first half of his reign, governing through ministers, who for the most part were foreigners leaning towards France, he was unable to free himself from her influence, though even in this period he carried out many reforms in commercial and financial affairs. In 1774 he appointed as minister Monino, created Count of Florida Blanca, under whose leading great improvement took place both in the internal and external affairs of Spain. The country assumed a national policy; the laws were reformed ; commerce, art, and science encouraged ; the army remodelled after the principles of Frederick of Prussia ; and manufactures and agriculture improved. Various trades, such as tanner, tailor, were opened to ennoblement, and measures were taken for the public health. Begging was discouraged, and an attempt made to get rid of the gypsies. The King called in the old currency, and set himself to pay off the debts left by Philip V. Canals for irrigation, roads, reservoirs and aqueducts were built. A national bank was instituted, which helped to save the country from bankruptcy.
A plan was formed after 1763 to open the trade and improve the finances of the South American colonies. The whole revenue of these was stated to be but £800,000, of which, owing to the plunder by the Church and the officials, only £160,000 reached the Treasury. But the attempt to establish Free Trade to the Indies was followed by violent insurrections in Mexico and South America. In 1766 Charles was driven from Madrid by the mob, who disliked his foreign ministers. In 1767 the Jesuits, who had enormous political power, and almost a monopoly of the trade of the colonies, were expelled from Spain, as they had been from Portugal in 1759, and from France in 1764. As far as they dared, the King and his minister depressed the Inquisition, and schools were founded. Unnecessary import of foreign manufactures, which were supposed to depress home industries, were checked by the imposition of a customs tariff in the place of the crushing internal taxes which were being either abolished or lowered. As an example of these taxes, wrote Florida Blanca, in Catalonia, every time a weaver began and finished a piece of cloth he was to give notice to the tax officer to affix a lead stamp, and when it was sold a seal of wax was put upon it and fifteen per cent. paid. An income tax was used to replace these internal duties. The administration of justice was also attempted to be reformed.
But still the alliance of the American colonists with Spain against the British was an unnatural one, for all these beneficent reforms were executed by a sovereign who was practically absolute. In 1713 the Cortes had ceased to meet, and the constitution was abolished. Then the Spanish kings had gradually assumed absolute authority, governing by a supreme Junta or Council of State, of which the members were appointed by the Crown. “I consider,” wrote Florida Blanca in 1788, " this happy establishment as the greatest, most necessary and most useful of all those which your Majesty has formed.” (See Vol. V., Memoirs of the Kings of Spain, by Wm. Coxe, Appendix I., Section 38.) This Junta, among many other matters, regulated all the affairs of the Army, deciding the number of men to be raised, the methods of recruiting, the discipline, and the pay. To the decision of this Junta all departments of State must bow.
There does not appear to have been the same exemption of the nobles from taxation as in France, or, with some exceptions, of the clergy. There was even a tax levied on titled persons, called lanzas, in lieu of a certain number of soldiers, which they had formerly been obliged to provide. During the War of 1779–83 the clergy contributed a loan without interest of thirty millions of reals.
Spain was divided into the Kingdom of Castile, the Kingdom of Aragon, and Biscay, each being sub-divided into provinces governed by Councils. Though theoretically absolute, the Crown was controlled by the power which the councils and boards obtained from patronage and local influence. The tenure by which the land was held varied in the provinces. In Castile property was held on feudal tenure; in Catalonia the properties were small, and in other northern properties the land was held on leases of small plots. But in Andalusia the estates were very great, held by absentee lords, and peopled only with miserable labourers' huts. Like the French nobles, the proprietors of these large properties left them to agents, using them to feed great flocks of sheep which summered in the mountains of Castile, and were driven to the plains of Andalusia for the winter months. The sheep on their way to pasture ate up everything on the land. Charles encouraged arable farming in Spain and set up a model farm as an example at Aranjuez.
At the date of the outbreak of war the population of Spain would appear to have been close on ten millions.
Such was one of the allies obtained by the American colonists in their war against Great Britain.
ii. France before the Revolution. The Destruction of the Parlements.--When we cross the Pyrenees from the empire of this young exponent of absolute authority, closely allied by marriage or descent with the absolute rulers of Europe, to the other ally of the revolted colonies, we find in France a far more perfect example of the rule of force than the slightly modified autocracy of Spain. We find here, too, a young reforming King, pitifully anxious to soften the hard lot of his people so crushed by overwhelming taxation, and disheartened by any effort at betterment of their lot by the method of collection, by the uncertainty of the demands, and by the fraud and deceit on both sides generated by the want of definite law. But he is
a helpless autocrat tied and bound by the chain of the sins of his predecessors from which he can be hardly loosed.
If his people protested against any acts of the horde of officials who filled the country, they were accused of disloyalty to the King, whose signature was the final act. But neither they nor the King could have access to the other, the King, having no knowledge whatever of their grievances, nor of the doings of the mass of intermediaries who, using his name or those of his ministers, spread the oppression through the land.
In 1614 the States General, the great Assembly of the kingdom, ceased to be called. It had gradually decayed for long before, as the chief reason for its assembling, the control over taxes, had gone from it. Its place had been partially filled by Parlements, local courts of judicature which, like the justices of our English Henry II., combined with collection the consideration of complaints over taxation. These Parlements were by descent the Councils and Courts of Justice of the various provinces in which formerly, before the consolidation of France, the nobles were almost independent rulers.
These noble families had gradually become subject to the King, as the nation absorbed the smaller territorial units, the King relieving them of the work and responsibilities of power, but leaving them at the expense of their people numerous local and feudal privileges and the pleasure of hunting. They formed the officers of his army, but were not allowed to trade, and they tended far more than the Spanish nobles to hover round the King's court. Here they lived at enormous expense, followed by costly trains of attendants, and frequently deep in debt from which the King was expected to extricate them. The royal family and their dependents spent very great sums, offices of small value with smaller duties being yearly multiplied to afford these hangers-on an income at the public expense. No one was in a position to suggest a reduction of the expense of the court, though the approaching bankruptcy must have been clearly seen by most sane men. The amount spent for the court and royal family at the end of the reign of Louis XV. had grown to some forty million livres, the want of system tending to great waste by perquisites and monopolies.
Louis XV. had had throughout his reign, as already noticed, many disputes with the Parlements, especially the Parlement of Paris, which comprised an enormous district. The King only could impose new taxes and dispense with laws. But his powers were limited by local custom, by privileges of clergy, nobles, towns and classes of society which had grown up in the past. Beyond these the criticism and protests of the Parlements were the only check on his authority. The edicts of the King had to be registered in one of these courts of justice. If the Parlement refused, as it sometimes did, to register a decree, the King could call a bed of justice and force registration. The Parlement could only protest. In the reign of Louis XV. the local authority of these Parlements was being crushed out, the whole tendency of the time being towards central rule. The American state legislatures, being contrary to this tendency, found the way out of their difficulty by a union under a federal government away from Britain.
The King governed at Versailles through secretaries of State, who were appointed for the most part through social influence and intrigue, and not with any view to their knowledge of business. They had no common interest or plan, and their position forbade any work for reform or economy or decency of life. All the details of government were sent from Versailles to the provinces, which were governed by thirty intendants, officials having far-reaching power, covering with their uncontrolled authority all the relations of life. Supreme over immense areas, the duties of these provincial rulers were performed by an army of clerks. This centralized authority left little scope for the work of local officials, who were, for the most part, appointed by the King, and in any case entirely under the influence of the central authority for any little power that remained to them.
In 1782 a great fight took place between Louis and the local Parlements which declined to register the King's edict in support of the Pope's Bull Unigenitus, favouring the Jesuits at the expense of the Jansenists. A hundred and fifty members resigned rather than obey the King's orders, but after a time the matter settled itself and they came back. Throughout the reign they represented the popular party as against the King and the alien Pope, and weakened the monarchy by their persistent disobedience.
In 1752 the courts were closed and the Parlements banished.