Графични страници
PDF файл

what the object of our labors ? Let us hasten to replunge into nothingness that constitution which has given birth to so many false hopes. Let the aurora of public liberty be eclipsed, and let the eternal night of despotism cover once more the earth.



NATIONAL ASSEMBLY, JUNE 230, 1789. THE Commons of France have resolved to deliberate. We have heard the intentions that have been attributed to the king; and you, sir, who can not be recognized as his organ to the National Assembly, you, who have here neither place, voice, nor right to speak, — you are not the person to bring to us message of bis. Go, say to those who sent you, that we are here by the

power of the people, and that we will not be driven hence save by the power of the bayonet.



You owe it now to the nation, members of the Assembly, to take all means to assure the success of the great and terrible determination by which you have signalized this memorable day. Recall to mind the occasion of that general federation when all Frenchmen pledged their lives to the defense of liberty and the constitution. Recall to mind the oath which you yourselves took on the fourteenth of January, to be buried under the ruins of this temple sooner than consent to the slightest capitulation, or to a single modification of the constitution.

What heart so frigid that it does not palpitate in this supreme crisis ? What soul so abject that it does not mount, if I may so speak, even to heaven, upon the acclamations of the universal joy? What man so apathetic that he does not feel his whole being expanded, and his energies uplifted far above the ordinary level of humanity, by a noble enthusiasm ?

Ah! then, give once more to France, to Europe, the imposing spectacle of a great national consecration. Revive that intrepid spirit, before which Bastilles were crumbled! Let the whole empire, in every part, reëcho those words sublime, “Liberty or death! The constitution!— the whole constitution, unmodified, - or death!” Let these cries shake the very thrones in league against you; let monarchs learn that they have reckoned in vain



upon our internal divisions; that at a moment when the country is in danger, we are animated by one only passion

that of saying her or perishing in her behalf; that, finally, if, in the coming struggles, fortune should betray so righteous a cause as ours, our enemies may indeed have it in their power to insult our lifeless bodies, but never, never shall they profane one living Frenchman with their fetters !*



No,” says

To what punishment shall we condemn Louis the Sixteenth ? “The punishment of death is too cruel,” says one. another, “ life is more cruel still ; let him live.” Advocates of the king, is it from pity or from cruelty that you wish to withdraw him from the penalty of his crimes ? For my part, I abhor the punishment of death, inflicted so unsparingly by your laws, and I have for Louis neither love nor hatred; I hate only his crimes. I asked for the abolition of the punishment of death in the Assembly which you still call Constituent, and it is not my fault if the first principles of reason appeared to it moral and political heresies; but, if you never thought of renouncing them in favor of so many unfortunate men, whose offenses are less theirs than those of the government, by what fatality do you remember them only to plead the cause of the greatest of all criininals ?

You demand an exception to the punishment of death for him alone who can render it legitimate! Yes, the punishment of death, in general, is a crime; and, for this reason alone, that, according to the indestructible principles of nature, it can be justified only in the cases where it is necessary for the security of individuals or of society. Now, the public security never calls for it against ordinary offenses, because society can always prevent them by other means, and put it out of the power of the guilty to be dangerous ; but a dethroned king in the bosom of a revolution, which is nothing less than cemented by laws, a king whose name alone brings down the plague of war upon the agitated nation, - neither imprisonment nor exile can render his existence a matter of indifference to the public welfare; and this cruel exception to ordinary laws, which justice avows, can only be imputed to the nature of his crimes. I pronounce with regret this fatal truth; but Louis must die, because the country must live. A people at peace, free and respected within and without, might listen to the advice which is given you to be generous; but a people whose liberty is still disputed, after so many sacrifices and combats, can not afford to do so.

* “ These lyric words of Vergniaud,” says Lamartine, "resounded at Berlin and Vienna." The campaign was opened by France before Prussia and Austria had completed their armaments.


Our posi

V.-ON BEING CALLED AN ARISTOCRAT. You have called me an a-ris'tocrat. Listen to my reply. My only aristocracy is the superiority which industry, frugality, perseverance, and intelligence, will always assure to every man in a free state of society. I belong only to those privileged classes to which you may all belong in your turn. "The privileges are not created for us, but created by us.

Our wealth is our own ; we have made it. Our ease is our own; we have gained it by the sweat of our brows, or by the labor of our minds. tion in society is not conferred upon us, but purchased by ourselves, — with our own intellect, application, zeal, patience, and industry. If you remain inferior to us, it is because you

have not the intellect or the industry, the zeal or the sobriety, the patience or the application, necessary to your advancement. This is not our fault, but your own.

You wish to become rich, as some men do to become wise ; but there is no royal road to wealth, any more than there is to knowledge. You sigh for the ease and repose of wealth, but you are not willing to do that which is necessary to procure them. The husbandman who will not till his ground shall reap nothing but thistles and briers. You think that there must be something wrong in human society, if you do not become wealthy and powerful ; but what right have you to expect drones in the hive — you shall always be fed on the honey and sweets of life? What right have you, who do nothing for yourselves, your families, your country, or your kind, to imagine that you will be selected for public favor, confidence, and reward ?

I am not an aristocrat in that sense of the term in which it may be applied in absolute governments, or under imperial rule ; but, if by an aristocrat you mean a man who has earned his promotion by his labor, his honors by his toils, and his wealth by his industry, O, then, indeed, I am an aristocrat; and, please God, I will always remain so. The distinctions in human society displease you, because you have not the talent or the industry to amend your own position. You are too idle to labor, and too proud to beg; but I will endeavor to take care that you shall not rob me. I throw back, then, with indignation and resent

you idlers and



ment, the charge which is made. I belong to the middling classes of society. I have been selected by my fellow-citizens as one of their representatives; and, by the blessing of Heaven, I will represent them.


VI. UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE. GENTLEMEN, one great object of the Revolution of February was to establish universal suffrage ; and


would now restrict, abridge, and mutilate it! Have you considered well what you are about ? This law, which gives a share in the popular sovereignty to the down-trodden victim of social and political distinctions to the desperate man, ready for revolt — what does it say to him but this, Vote! No more fighting!” Universal suffrage says to all, “ Be ye tranquil! Are ye not sovereign ? When you have voted, the sovereignty has spoken.” The right of insurrection is abolished by the right of suffrage. It is the overthrow of violence and brute force; the end of the material, and the beginning of the moral fact. And now it is proposed to abolish this sacred right; and, consequently, to reinstate the abominable and impious right of insurrection!

And why, ye ministers and men of state, who govern, why do you attempt this aggression upon popular rights? Why do you engage in this mad enterprise ? It is because the people have seen fit to deem worthy of their votes men whom you judge worthy of your insults! It is because they have presumed to compare your promises with your acts. It is because they do not find your administration altogether sublime. It is, finally, because they have dared to give you their advice peaceably, through the ballot-box, and have not prostrated themselves at your feet! And, consequently, you wax indignant and angry. You cry out, “ Society is in danger! We will chastise you, people! We will punish you, people! We will take you in hand! And so, like that maniac, of whom History tells, you beat the ocean with rods! And so, you launch at us your poor little laws, so furious and so feeble! And so, you defy the spirit of the age. defy the good sense of the public, defy the democracy, and tear your unfortunate finger-nails against the granite of universal suffrage!

You, who believe yourselves the conservative upholders of society, are the most dangerous of revolutionists; the most dangerous, because, in your simplicity, you make revolutions without seeing it, without wishing it, and without knowing it

nay, wishing all the while to do something very different. Go on, gentlemen! Disfranchise, if you wilī, three millions of voters, four millions, nay, eight millions, out of nine! Get rid of all these. The result will be the same. What you can not get rid of is your own fatal incapacity and ignorance ; your own antipathy toward the people, and theirs toward you! What

you can not get rid of is the time that marches and the hour that sounds; the earth that revolves; the onward movement of ideas; the crippled pace of prejudice; the widening gulf between you and the

age, between you and the coming generation, between you and the spirit of liberty, between you and the spirit of philosophy! What you can not get rid of is this palpable fact, that while you pass on one side, the nation passes on the other ; that what is for you the east, is for her the west ; and that while you turn your back on the future, this great people of France, their foreheads all bathed in light from the day-spring of a new humanity, turn their back on the past !


VII. — THE DEATH PENALTY. I REGRET, gentlemen, that this question of the abolition of capital punishment — the most important question, perhaps, of all before this body - comes up at a time when we are little prepared for its discussion. For myself, I have but few words to say on the subject, but they will proceed from convictions profound and long entertained. You have established the inviolability of the domicil; we ask you to establish an inviolability higher and more sacred — the inviolability of human life! Gentlemen, a constitution, and, above all, a constitution made by France and for France, is necessarily an important step in civilization. If it is not that, it is nothing. Consider, then, this penalty of death. What is it but the special and eternal type of barbarism ? Whereever the penalty of death is most in vogue, barbarism prevails. Wherever it is rare, civilization reigns. Gentlemen, these are indisputable facts. The modification of the penalty was a great forward step.

The eighteenth century, to its honor, abolished the torture.

The nineteenth century will abolish the death penalty! You may not abolish it to-day. But, doubt not, you will abolish it tomorrow; or else your successors will abolish it. You have inscribed at the head of the preamble of your constitution the words, “ IN PRESENCE OF GOD;” and would you begin by depriv

« ПредишнаНапред »