La France Libre English Translation - Part VI
[I realized I must have forgotten to post this. Terribly sorry for the delay. Happy birthday, Camille!]
--- La France Libre index --
What constitution is best suited for France?
I am prepared for the clamor which this paragraph will excite. Gentlemen, do not get angry, please. I do not pretend subjugate anyone to my opinion, and am ready to sacrifice, if it is condemned by their high power our lords of the National Assembly. But one was suffocated by their thoughts. Allow me to take a moment to exhale. It is a slave who use the Saturnalia. Let us continue. Age utere libertate decembri.
After making trial to the memory of our kings, Mirabeau then added this thought so courageous: "All Europe applauded the sublime manifesto of the United States of America. I ask if the powers that made alliances with them ventured to read the manifesto or search their consciences after reading it. I ask if, on the thirty-two princes of the third race, there is not at least two thirds of which are far more guilty to their subjects than the kings of Britain to the colonies . "
To enclose the five centuries we have just gone over, how can we respond to the experience of five hundred years? The thing speaks for itself. Do the facts not shout that monarchy is a detestable form of government? In such a long period of time, three kings only were not unworthy of the throne. And we do not honor these three princes to royalty: they were forced in their first years, so different from those of the dauphins, to not be like the vulgarity of kings. When we are sick, we become good. Charles V, ailing prince, was still instructed in the school of misfortune. The disastrous reigns of John and Henri III have given the experience to Charles V and to Henry IV, their successors; the education of the latter, the vicissitudes of his fortune, made him into that prince that we still regret; and if Louis XII was the father of the people, it is thanks to the great tower of Bourges. As the children of kings are raised on the steps of the throne, delivered to their courtesan instructors, nourished by the lessons that kings are made by the grace of God, and not by the grace of the people; complimented from the cradle by red robes and purple cassocks, eager to basely flatter the august brat; as we will not speak of the hereditary prince as Henri IV did of his son, this child belongs to everyone; as the nation does not have the right to exclusively direct his education or to pull him from the court and breast stinking of flattery where he sucks the maxim with the milk, it will be impossible for kings to not be what they have always been.
Eh! why should the happiness of an empire depend on a tutor, the destiny of a people in the hands of one man? This phrase said by Cicero to Atticus has always struck me: Does Caesar want to resemble Phalaris or Pisistratus? I do not know, but he is the master. How could the people place their hopes in a single man? Raisted far from the court and by the wisest teachers, most will only be wicked kings. The Caesars, almost all born far from the throne, were they less poor princes? Royalty and power corrupts itself. What serves to prepare the vase? It is the liquer that is worthless. Why judge the kings more favorably that they have done themselves? Let's hear an emperor making this testimony to monarchs: "It takes only four or five determined courtiers to deceive a prince successfully; they show him only things on the side that they want him to hear. As they plague him, they intercept anything that displeases them, and so it happens, through the conspiracy of a small number of wrong-doers, that the best prince is sold, despite his best efforts, despite even his mistrust and suspicions.
It was Diocletian that made this confession; he assumes the best king. What about a weak prince, a mediocre prince, a prince as so many are? "There is no more ferocious a beast," says Plutarch, "than man, when he unites passion and power."
Such was the idea that we had of kings in all ages. I speak of those who were truly kings; for it is ridiculous to give the same name to Agis and to Xerxes, to the first magistrate of Sparta and to the great king. Many peoples expelled the kings, excepting Jews, to whom God predicted would repent; I know of no nation that has given themselves kings as such, which is proof that this government was rejected with horror by all peoples who had the freedom to choose and constitute themselves.
Dear fellow citizens, it must be a great good, this liberty, for Cato preferred to tear apart his guts rather than have a king, and what king can we compare with the goodness and heroic qualities to those of Caesar, of whose dictatorship Cato could not endure; but that's what we cannot understand. Debased by servitude, we do not see the benefits and the cost of freedom; we are like the satrap who boasted to Brasidas of the delights of Persepolis, and to whom the Spartan replied: “I know the pleasures of your country, but you cannot know those of mine.” This brought to Rousseau the marvelous approximation: “It is with liberty as with innocence and virtue, which we only feel the price of when we enjoy ourselves, and the taste of which goes off as soon as we lose them.”
There is, nevertheless, amongst the most enslaved people, republican souls. There are still men in whom the love for freedom triumphs over all political institutions. In vain they conspire to stifle this fertile sentiment; it likes deep in their hearts, ready to leave at the first spark to ignite and inflame every spirit. I sense within me a compelling feeling that leads me towards liberty with an irresistible force; and it must be that this sentiment is innate, for, despite the prejudices of educations, the lies of orators and poets, the eternal praise of monarchy in the mouths of priests, of publishers, and in all our books, I never learned to hate it.
I can hardly believe what they say of Voltaire, that every year the fanatical hatred awakened by the anniversary of St. Bartholomew gave him a periodic and commemorative fever. What I can attest is that I found myself one day at some entrance of the Queen in the capital, and, seeing for the first time the deployment of all the pomp of royalty, although I am honored to be French and that I believe in my heart, I did not at all feel this idolatry that is assured we have for our kings.
The memory of these triumphal chariots of the Romans, where, beside a man of high rank, a slave understood that he was, after all, only a citizen; here, on the contrary, the profound sense of their pride, their contempt for the nation; that extravagant idea which I thought I read in their faces; that it was to God and to their swords, and not to use, that they owed their elevation to a position of honor; the comparison of their individual insignificance with that overblown grandeur, the sight of a massive crowd, rushing, tumbling, choking to enjoy their humiliation and nothingness, this multitude of satellites, valets, coachmen, and horses even more proud then the citizens, all these images filled me with an inexpressible indignation, and the hatred of monarchy brought on a fever, the only that I have ever had.
Before the royal session, I regarded Louis XVI with admiration for he had virtues, for he did not follow the same path as his fathers, was not a despot and had convoked the États Généraux. In the depth of my province, I had read his beautiful words in the papers: “What does it matter if my authority suffers, if my people are happy?” Would we have, I had said to myself, a king greater than the Trajan , Marcus Aurelius, Antonin, who did not limited their power? I liked Louis XVI as a person; but the monarchy was no less odious to me.
I hear on all sides that monarchy is necessary for France, that the nation fell into past woes every time it broke away from obedience to its kings.
I know that we owe to royal authority the destruction of ancient castles, whose ruins, relating the memory of the disorders of those times, still represent to the imagination the carcass and the bones of a great ferocious beast. But, in good faith, what fear have we today that these bones will revive themselves? These castles will finish to be no more than the country houses of fallen aristocrats. In good faith, what fear have we that, as in the time of the Fronde, a group of robins, or the Sixteen, as in the time of the League, or Caboche and the provost Marcel, take the reins of government? This will be the nation that governs itself after the example of America, after the example of Greece. This is the only government fit for men, for Frenchmen, and for the Frenchmen of this age.
Is it not mockery, to assimilate the monarchy with the paternal government? The father commands because he is the father, because his chicldren keep all of him, because nature responds to his love and the experience of his wisdom. What parity is there between a king and a Nation? Put Louis the XVI on one side and the National Assembly on the other. On which side is the wisdom and experience? To Louis XVI, add the Counsel, the Queen, d'Artois etc; add Conti, Condé, the favored and the favorites; on the other side, place Necker, who the entire nation has chosen, and the crowd of deputies of all Orders in whom their patriotism, their talents, their virtues deserve the suffrage of provinces, collectively sovereign, individually subject to their bailiwicks, officers dismissed at the first infidelity, and say which you would prefer to be governed by?
Popular government, the only one suitable to men, is still the wisest. An example will prove this irrefutable. Take the best of our kings, Louis XII: he had the virtues of a monarch, but his three year imprisonment could not grant him the skills he lacked, foresight and sagacity. His wars were poorly managed; his treaties less than honorable. Take care, fellow citizens, if you design in place of the monarchical government that which Coligny meditated, which the Sixteen sought after, after which Mezerai sighed, which America has found, both lamented the days of Louis XII will not be the heyday of this government. The government is then the general assmebly, it would be impossible that the government had other interests than its own, and, therefore, than public interest, the goverment would have all virtues. Of the two things to be desirde in the heads of State, virtues and talents, we are then always sure to find one. When the two are combined, then what a flouirishing empire France will be! And if we always made poor choices; if it happened, which is impossible, that our leaders were always lacking skill, well then! things would be as in the time of Louis XII, where the prince had only virtues, and we would be at par with this reign. What this government could lack would only be talents and wisdom; and France, does she lack them? But the majority of her great men were useless to her. Then we compare the leaders appointed by public voice to those named by the court. Would we ever have been defeated, if we had chosen our generals; ever trampled, if we had chosen our ministers? I therefore call openly for democracy. And how to contradict the examples of Greece, of Switzerland, and of America?
Some respond that the slow pace of proceedings in republics damage the speed necessary for the operations of good government: what poor faith, or what ignorance! The Romans, asks the speaker of the Etats generaux, were they the last in campaign? What incredibly speed in the first naval expedition of Duilius! In the armament of Carthage in the third Punic War! History does not offer any like it if not the armament of the city of Paris, July 14, 1789.
Some still respond that this form of government is only suitable for small towns like Athens and Geneva, for islands such as England, for mountainous countries like Switzerland, or for those separated from conquering nations through an archipelago, like America. Dear fellow citizens, these countries, from turn to turn free and enslaved, show that it is not their position that gives them the blessing of liberty. Who cannot see that these refute themselves one by one? If England is surranded by seas, Geneva does not have that at all. If Attica is small, America is a vast continent. If Switzerland has mountains, Holland has none. If America has need of the barriers of the ocean to defend itself, it is proof that the small size of a state, instead of favoring a republican government, would do rather the contrary, as the more compact it is, the easier it is to invade. A large country like France, made a republic, would not have need of the barriers of oceans, nor of the boulevard of the Alps. Liberty there would be invincible.
But ,they say, parts of a country this big will separate themselves; we would become many small republics. I cannot persuade myself of the possibility of this dismemberment. Why separate ourselves? Why should we wish to be Bretons, Béarnaise, Flemings? Could there be under heaven a finer name than that of Frenchmen? To that famous name ought all to sacrifice our own. It is to you, worthy representatives of the nation, to pull down all these dividing hedgerows that separate the provinces, to unite us so strongly, to give us a constitution so beautiful, so happy, that the year 1789 will be for us as the deliverance of Pharaohs was for the Jews; and that a law divine and descended from heaven inspires for foreign governments the same aversion that these people had for the idols of nations. Around the contempt that is had for the Jews, it is impossible not to admire their legislation and the depth of the foundations on which they built an imperishable constitution. When I read Psalm CXIII, I am no longer astonished that, scattered for centuries, this nation has not ever been able to melt and dissolve with the people among which it lives. We cannot demand to our deputies that they jump over mountains like goats; but reason alone can organize ourselves as strongly as miracles, and the hand of justice can do more than the rod of Moses.
Oh you! worthy representatives of the Nation and fathers of the country, see all the friends of liberty and humanity, all those for whom public good and glory of the French name are not chimeras, turning constantly towards our august Assembly their eyes full of hope and gratitude. Until this day you have fulfilled your task with courage, and the wisdom of your proceedings is the best response to the detractors of popular government. Your oath before the royal meeting, and since your response to the Marquis de Brézé, which we sent you as if you were a procession, and which you had to listen to a master of ceremonies, all this firm and wise leadership has well justified our confidence. You then swore not to seperate yourself until France had a constitution worthy of her. Continue without fear, despotism trembles to release its prey: it has deployed the entire apparatus of its power: it dared to struggle for a moment against you. Powerless struggle! You have persisted, and with you the entire nation. Continue to give the world the most beautiful spectacle, a spectacle unknown to passed centuries: that of pure reason struggling with power, and victorious.
Already the most amazing miracle has taken place. Our soldiers have laid down their arms. The example given by the French guards will not be lost on the army. Brave soldiers, come, be together with your brothers, receive their embraces. We are killing each other: come, my friends, receive the civic crowns which you are due. You have ennobled your swords; now they are honorable; you are now no more the slaves of despotism and the jailers of our brothers. Now you are our friends, our fellow citizens, soldiers of the country; you now no longer have a livery, you have a uniform. Come sit at our tables; bring together a toast to the health of the august representatives of the French people, to the health of the immortal Necker, to the Duke d'Orleans, and from the Alpes and the Pyrenees to the Rhine let us hear no more than the united cry: Long live the nation! Long live the French people!
How changed is the face of this empire! With what gigantic steps have we moved towards liberty! Thirsty with the thirst of twelve centuries, we have flung ourselves towards its source as soon as it was pointed out to us. A few years ago, I searched everywhere for Republican spirits; I despaired at having not been born Greek or Roman, and yet could not bring myself to depart from my native land, and from the nation that, even in its enslavement, I could not prevent myself from loving and esteeming. But today it is the foreigners who will regret not being Frenchmen! We shall outdo those Englishmen so proud of their constitution, and who used to insult our slavery. No more magistracy for money, no more nombility for money, no more inheritied nobility, no more pecuniary privileges, no more hereditary privileges, no more lettres de cachet, no more decrees, no more arbitrary interdicts, no more secret criminal procedure. Freedom of trade, freedom of conscience, freedom to write, freedom to speak. No more plundering ministers No more magistracy for money, no more nobility for money, no more inherited nobility, no more pecuniary privileges, no more hereditary privileges, no more lettres de cachet, no more decrees, no more arbitrary interdicts, no more secret criminal procedure. Liberty of trade, liberty of conscience, liberty to write, liberty to speak. No more oppressive ministers, no more plundering ministers, no more vice-despot intendants, no more judgments by commission, no more Richelieus, no more Terrays,no more Laubardemonts, no more Catherines de Medici, no more Isabellas of Bavaria, no more Charles the Ninth,no more Louis' the Eleventh, no more shops for place and honour at the Dubarrys and Polignacs. All the dens of thieves shall be destroyed, that of the rapporteur and that of the attorney, those of the stock-jobbers and the monopolists, of the auctioneers, and of the sham-brokers. The quashing of the council which has quashed everything. The extinction of the Parliaments which have registered, decreed, torn so much, and been so much my-lorded — let their very name and memory perish. Suppression of the arbitrary tribunal of the marshals of France. Suppression of the tribunals of exception. Suppression of the manorial courts. The same law for everybody. Let all books of feudal jurisprudence, fiscal jurisprudence, jurisprudence of the tithes, jurisprudence of the chase, make up the fire of next St. John's Day. That indeed would be a bonfire, and the grandest ever given to the people.
Above all, let us exterminate the grey garbe, those police, the French inquisition, the vile instrument of our servitude, the thousands of spies, those inspectors, the dregs of crime and the scum of crooks. It flees the land of the Franks, the infamy which since the opening of the Etats generaux would denounce a citizen; it flees where it is sure that the hot iron of the executioner chases it, he will reached it and imprint on its cheek the word "spy," so finally it is recognized. We destroy an even more odious espionage; I know not to trust the police, but I trusted the post, and it has betrayed me. The clerk of the barrier digs only in my pocket, while the post digs in my thoughts; the secrecy of letters is inviolable. The vile perpetrators of despotism, the d'Espremesnil, the Moreau, the Linguet, the abby Maury, the abby Roy, Condé, Conti, d'Artois live; their breathing reveals our tolerance, but the contemptuous is committed in their footsteps; their work is invested only in public execration; in the midst of their servants and their pomp, before our eyes and in public opinion they are like those traitors whom the Germans plunged in the mud, in the mire, in the swamps, where they stayed, sunk to their ears.
The Bastille will be razed and in its place will be erected the temple of Llberty, the palace of the National Assembly. People, we will not be raised on royal taxes, but national, and not a penny beyond the needs of the year. The national treasury, the national army comprised of bourgeois militia, of militias like the judiciary, like priesthood, where virtues, public voice, and consideration will count for everything, and birth, money, and the prince's favor will count for nothing. We have provincial bailiwicks, municipal assemblies, a perpetual national assembly, arbiter of peace and war, of treaties and embassies, instead of a national assembly whose members could declare themselves immoveable, hereditary, as M. de Mirabeau the possibility of in his eleventh letter, assumptions which strangely surprised me from a writer whose logic is sound; but a national assembly subject to the nation, so that a bailiff can dismiss its powers to its representative, and one is dismissed like one was established.
Have trust! Have trust! Yes, all this good will come about; yes, this happy revolution, this regeneration will be accomplished; no power on earth is able to prevent it. Sublime result of philosophy, of liberty, and of patriotism! We have become invincible. I confess I myself used to be timid, now I feel another man. Following the example of Othryades the Spartan, who, left alone on the battlefield, mortally wounded, rose, and, his hands shaking, erected a trophy, and wrote with his blood: ‘Sparta has conquered’; I feel that I would die with joy for such a noble cause, and, pierced with wounds, I too would write with my blood: ‘France is free!’