The first impulse to the Reform cause in England was undoubtedly given by the great French Revolution. Another impulse in the same way was given during the closing years of George IV. by a much smaller, swifter, and less blood-stained revolution - the revolution which overthrew Charles X., the last legitimist Sovereign of France - that modern times have seen or are likely to see. Charles X. succeeded Louis XVIII., who had been reseated on the French throne by the armies of England, Austria, Prussia, and Russia, and who represented the elder branch of the Bourbon family. It was well said - the words indeed have passed into a proverb - that the Bourbons learnt nothing and forgot nothing. Charles X. had learnt nothing from all the evidences of the growth of popular sentiment, and forgotten nothing of the ancestral claims of the Bourbons. He and his Ministers, among whom the most influential was the Prince de Polignac, found themselves confronted by a great crisis in France, and they set to work to deal with it after the characteristic Bourbonian fashion. De Polignac was a man of great ability, of inexorable stubbornness, into whose mind it was impossible for any ray of a new political idea to enter. The King and he alike took alarm at the freedom, to them intolerable, which the newspapers of France and especially of Paris began to exhibit in their criticisms of Ministers and of ministerial policy. There was nothing in the writings of the French Press which could seem surprising to an experienced English statesman, or which indeed such a statesman would not have taken for granted. But to Polignac and Polignac's master it seemed unbearable that the newspaper writers should arrogate to themselves the right of objecting to the policy of Ministers, the right of ridiculing it and denouncing it and holding it up to public scorn and anger.
The King and his Ministers had for a while contrived to get the assent of the two chambers - the Senate and the House of Representatives - to sanction their narrow and reactionary policy. But it might have been plain to any intelligent mind that the feeling of the country was rising against the conduct of the majority in both Houses, and that a General Election would send a very different majority into the Representative Chamber. The French people were then, as they are now, a newspaper-reading people; every journal published in Paris was eagerly read except, indeed, the one or two official papers which merely registered the views of the King and his Ministers and admonished the people to be taught by them. The people as a whole responded to the admonition by declining to read the Ministerial journals. There was a further cause of hostile feeling to the King's Ministers found in the fact that they were supposed to be in secret alliance with the King of England and his great Minister, the Duke of Wellington. The very name of Wellington was at that time a sound of horror in the ears of the French public. It was much too soon to forget that he had been the leading instrument in the policy which crushed the great Revolution, so far as that revolution was represented by Napoleon, and put back the heir of the Bourbons on the throne of France. Now there is not the least reason to suppose that the Duke of Wellington encouraged, or would have encouraged, the King of France and his admirers in the repressive measures which they intended to adopt. The Duke of Wellington as an English statesman had always shown himself obstinate enough in opposing every reform, but he proved through his whole career in office that he knew when a popular movement could no longer be resisted without bloodshed, and that he knew, in fact, when to give way. But the French public only saw in him the man who had compelled France to take back her Bourbon sovereigns, and his supposed friendship with Polignac was a new crime of Polignac's in the eyes of the great majority of Frenchmen.
The King and his Ministers at last made up their minds to coerce the French Press into silence. The Government issued a series of Ordinances which, if they could have been carried out, would have actually extinguished the liberty of the Press in France. One of the Ordinances was that no newspaper should be offered for sale, or be allowed in any portion to leave the place in which it was printed, until five complete days had elapsed from the period of its preparation, and during the five days each journal was to be submitted to a Government censorship, and was not to be offered to the public until every omission and alteration had been made which the censor thought necessary to the dignity of the Crown. The penalties for disobedience were to be found in heavy fines and in confiscation of the whole edition. A heavy fine was ordained for any comment on the private life of any living Frenchman without the express permission of the person to whom the criticism referred, and if that particular person happened to be too indifferent or too magnanimous to make any quarrel about the matter, it was provided that the Public Prosecutor should take up the case whether the aggrieved person liked it or not. The most intense excitement broke out all over France. The purpose of the new policy was at once understood everywhere. The Courts of Law, which had judges faithful to the honourable traditions of the Bench, declined to pass sentences on journalists who had refused to regard the Ordinances of the King, and declared that the Ordinances themselves were a breach of the Constitution. The King lost his head under these conditions, and showed his temper on more than one occasion to the judges who had preferred the Constitution and the Law to the favour of the Sovereign. When the King appeared in public he was received in absolute silence. There was a certain amount of rioting here and there in Paris and in the provinces, but nothing to alarm a stubborn Minister; and the King firmly believed that like Macbeth he could make his will avouch any course of action he thought fit to adopt. But even the King must have been profoundly impressed by the conspiracy of silence which seemed to surround him whenever he made his appearance in public. Furthermore, there were close observers in the higher ranks of the army itself who began to be more and more convinced from day to day that the troops could not be relied upon to act against the citizens of Paris.