In the eighteenth century, as a perusal of this work will show, the government was already highly centralized, very powerful, prodigiously active.It was constantly at work aiding, prohibiting, permitting this or that. It exercised paramount influence not only over the transaction of business, but over the prospects of families and the private life of individuals.This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc.Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. book I now publish is not a history of the Revolution.As I progressed in my labors, I was surprised to find in the France of that day many features which are conspicuous in the France we have before us.I met with a host of feelings and ideas which I have always credited to the Revolution, and many habits which it is supposed to have engendered; I found on every side the roots of our modern society deeply imbedded in the old soil.None of its business was made public; hence people did not shrink from confiding to it their most secret infirmities.
In this design, they took the greatest care to leave every trace of their past condition behind them; they imposed all kinds of restraints upon themselves in order to be different from their ancestry; they omitted nothing which could disguise them.
Its temper, its genius were apparent; it was all there.
I saw there not only the secret of its earliest efforts, but the promise also of its ultimate results—for the Revolution had two distinct phases: one during which the French seemed to want to destroy every remnant of the past, another during which they tried to regain a portion of what they had thrown off.
To succeed in the task, I have not only read the celebrated books which the eighteenth century produced; I have studied many works which are comparatively unknown, and deservedly so, but which, as their composition betrays but little art, afford perhaps a still truer index to the instincts of the age.
I have endeavored to make myself acquainted with all the public documents in which the French expressed their opinions and their views at the approach of the Revolution.
I have derived much information on this head from the reports of the States, and, at a later period, from those of the Provincial Assemblies. In countries where the supreme power is predominant, very few ideas, or desires, or grievances can exist without coming before it in some shape or other.