Protests of the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Committees of the Assembly of Notables (1787)

To consider Calonne’s proposed reforms, the Assembly of Notables broke up into committees, each of which issued a report. In these reports, the Notables expressed general agreement with some reform proposals, including the idea of regional, representative assemblies. However, as we see below, various committees of the Assembly of Notables—composed almost entirely of provincial nobles and clergy—demanded that such assemblies take the form of provincial Estates. By this, they meant that representatives of each order would deliberate and vote separately—thus the assemblies would be dominated by the first and second estates. Furthermore, the Notables refused to consent to Calonne’s proposal of a general land tax that would be unlimited in amount and duration. Finally, they refused to accept any new taxation at all unless the minister demonstrated the need for it by opening royal treasury accounts to scrutiny.


Protest of the Third Committee, 16 March 1787

The bureau, presided over by His Grace, the Duke of Orleans . . . considered that it owed the King and the nation an accounting of its true feelings, and considered that it needed to explain the disparity between the principles on which its judgments were based and those embodied in the memoranda it received. The bureau acknowledges that its principles are contrary to those in the memorandum on the establishment of provincial assemblies, which it considers unconstitutional and lacking in the powers necessary to render them useful. They also disagreed about the tax in kind known as the "land tax," which it considers to be vague, disproportionate, and extravagant, as well as on the reimbursement of the clergy's debts, which it considers to be contrary to the principles of property. The bureau believes itself obliged to also state that that it did not deliberate on any monetary tax, either already collected or to be collected, either already established or to be established, and either under the name of vingtièmes [twentieths] or any other name. Prior to any deliberation on these subjects, the bureau first desired to have access to the revenue and expenditure accounts, the plans and projects announced by the controller general, and the means of saving that His Majesty proposes to relieve the burden on his People. . . .

Protest of the Fourth Committee, 15 March 1787

. . . The bureau presided over by His Grace the Prince de Condé . . . on the subject of the first memorandum, considers that the proposed composition of the provincial assemblies is contrary to the constitutive principles of the monarchy. As for the second memorandum, the bureau considers that the land tax in kind (which is its sole object) cannot be adopted, and that the third memorandum, dealing with the relief of the clergy [from its debt], would result in legitimate alarm regarding property. . . .

Protest of the Fifth Committee, 9 March 1787

. . . The bureau considers that the establishment of provincial assemblies would be useful, but that the plan proposed in the memorandum, regardless of its many faults, seems to depart from the French constitution in that mixing the three orders destroys the hierarchy necessary for the maintenance of royal authority and the existence of the monarchy. The bureau proposes that these assemblies be given a form more in keeping with the constitution of the realm, and it begs His Majesty to invest them with all the authority necessary to allocate taxes, to tender contracts, and to decide upon, supervise, and pay for public works.

It is the bureau's opinion that levying taxes in kind is not allowable, being by nature vague, disproportionate, unequal and extravagant. We believe that a monetary tax should be spread among all the lands of the realm, without exception and in proportion to their revenues. Also to convince the Notables of the taxes' necessity, extent and duration, His Majesty shall be asked to send them the accounts requested in their deliberation of 5 March allowing them to compare resources to needs. . . .

The bureau approves of reimbursement of the clergy's debts, which was felt to be appropriate, but believes that the two measures proposed for this purpose . . . would place property at risk, contravene the principles of distributive justice, and in some respects could harm the general administration of the realm. . . .

The bureau is of the opinion that the abolishment of the corvée in labor would be as just as it would be useful, and that all matters relating to the amount and apportionment of the [substitute] monetary tax, as well as the tendering of contracts, supervision, and payment for the resulting public works, should be entrusted to the provincial assemblies. . . .

Source: M. J. Mavidal and M. E. Laurent, eds., Archives parlementaires de 1787 à 1860, première série (1787 à 1799), 2d ed., 82 vols. (Paris: Dupont, 1879–1913), 1:219–21.