The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760-1800: The Challenge

By R. R. Palmer | Go to book overview

II
ARISTOCRACY ABOUT 1760: THE CONSTITUTED BODIES

EDMUND BURKE, after the American troubles began, thought that the Virginians were very much like the Poles. He would solve the American question by putting America on the same legal footing as Ireland. For Ireland he recommended the example of France, which he saw as a federal "empire," where great provinces like Brittany raised their own taxes and otherwise enjoyed extensive autonomy. Gibbon cited England, France, Venice, and Genoa to show that liberty was preserved by a gradation of social ranks. Rousseau considered the citizens of Geneva and the nobles of Venice to be much alike. The abbé Morellet, mixing in an Anglo-French reforming circle which included Turgot, Condorcet, Lord Shelburne, Bentham, Priestley, and Price, made much the same criticisms of the parliaments of France and the parliament of Great Britain. Kaunitz, commenting on difficulties between the Hapsburg government and the diet of Bohemia, was reminded of similar difficulties in Hungary and Belgium.

All saw a uniformity of institutions. All had in mind those "constituted bodies" which existed everywhere in the European world, west of Russia. The term is meant to include the British and Irish parliaments, the American colonial assemblies and governors' councils, the parlements and provincial estates of France, the assemblies of estates in the Dutch and Belgian Netherlands and the princely states of the Holy Roman Empire, the diets of Sweden, Poland, Hungary, and Bohemia, and the councils of the German free cities and the city-states of Switzerland and Italy. All were different, yet all were in some ways alike.

To obtain a comparative view of these bodies has been a recognized problem of European historical research in recent years. There is a permanent committee of the International Committee of the Historical Sciences devoted specifically to the subject. It is called the International

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