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spoke to you of the impossibility of consenting to the execution of your decrees, sanctioned by the King; when certain magistrates declared to you, that their conscience and their honor forbade their obedience to your laws, I said to myself, Are these, then, dethroned sovereigns, who, in a transport of imprudent but generous pride, are addressing successful usurpers? No; these are men, whose arrogant pretensions have too long been an insult to all ideas of social order; champions, even more interested than audacious, of a system which has cost France centuries of oppression, public and private, political and fiscal, feudal and judicial,—and whose hope is to make us regret and revive that system. The people of Brittany have sent among you sixty-six representatives, who assure you that the new Constitution crowns all their wishes; and here come eleven Judges of the Province, who cannot consent that you should be the benefactors of their country. They have disobeyed your laws; and they pride themselves on their disobedience, and believe it will make their names honored by posterity. No, Gentlemen, the remembrance of their folly will not pass to posterity. What avail their pigmy efforts to brace hemselves against the progress of a Revolution the grandest and most glorious in the world's history, and one that must infallibly change the face of the globe and the lot of humanity? Strange presumption, that would arrest liberty in its course, and roll back the destinies of a great Nation!
It is not to antiquated transactions, it is not to musty treaties, wherein fraud combined with force to chain men to the car of certain haughty masters, that the National Assembly have resorted, in their investigations into popular rights. The titles we offer are more imposing by far; ancient as time, sacred and imprescriptible as Nature! What! Must the terms of the marriage contract of one Anne of Brittany make the People of that Province slaves to the Nobles till the consummation of the ages? These refractory magistrates speak of the statutes which "immutably fix our powers of legislation." "Immutably fix! O, how that word tears the veil from their innermost thoughts! How would they like to have abuses immutable upon the earth, and evil eternal! Indeed, what is lacking to their felicity but the perpetuity of that feudal scourge, which unhappily has lasted only six centuries? But it is in vain that they rage. All now is changed or changing. There is nothing immutable save reason-save the sovereignty of the People-save the inviolability of its decrees!
15. IN REPLY TO THOSE WHO DENIED THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY THE LEGITIMATE POWERS OF A NATIONAL CONVENTION, APRIL 19, 1790. — Mirabeau. Original Translation.
It is with difficulty, Gentlemen, that I can repress an emotion of indignation, when I hear hostile rhetoricians continually oppose the Nation to the National Assembly, and endeavor to excite a sort of rivalry between them. As if it were not through the National
Assembly that the Nation had recognized, recovered, reconquered its rights! As if it were not through the National Assembly that the French had, in truth, become a Nation! As if, surrounded by the monuments of our labors, our dangers, our services, we could become suspected by the People- formidable to the liberties of the People! As if the regards of two worlds upon you fixed, as if the spectacle of your glory, as if the gratitude of so many millions, as if the very pride of a generous conscience, which would have to blush too deeply to belie itself, were not a sufficient guarantee of your fidelity, of your patriotism, of your virtue!
Commissioned to form a Constitution for France, I will not ask whether, with that authority, we did not receive also the power to do all that was necessary to complete, establish, and confirm that Constitution. I will not ask, ought we to have lost in pusillanimous consultations the time of action, while nascent Liberty would have received her death-blow? But if Gentlemen insist on demanding when and how, from simple deputies of bailiwicks, we became all at once transformed into a National Convention, I reply, It was on that day, when, finding the hall where we were to assemble closed, and bristling and polluted with bayonets, we resorted to the first place where we could reünite, to swear to perish rather than submit to such an order of things! That day, if we were not a National Convention, we became one; became one for the destruction of arbitrary power, and for the defence of the rights of the Nation from all violence. The strivings of Despotism which we have quelled, the perils which we have averted, the violence which we have repressed, these are our titles! Our successes have consecrated them; the adhesion, so often renewed, of all parts of the Empire, has legitimized and sanctified them. Summoned to its task by the irresistible tocsin of necessity, our National Convention is above all imitation, as it is above all authority. It is accountable only to itself, and can be judged only by posterity.
Gentlemen, you all remember the instance of that Roman, who, to save his country from a dangerous conspiracy, had been constrained to overstep the powers conferred on him by the laws. A captious Tribune exacted of him the oath that he had respected those laws; hoping, by this insidious demand, to drive the Consul the alternative of perjury or of an embarrassing avowal. Swear," said the Tribune, "that you have observed the laws." "I swear," replied the great man, -66 I swear that I have saved the Republic." Gentlemen, I swear that you have saved France!
16. ON BEING SUSPECTED OF RECEIVING OVERTURES FROM THE COURT, MAY 22, 1790.- Mirabeau. Original Translation.
It would be an important step towards the reconciliation of political opponents, if they would clearly signify on what points they agree, and on what they differ. To this end, friendly discussions avail more, far more, than calumnious insinuations, furious invectives, the acerbities of
partisan rivalry, the machinations of intrigue and malevolence. For eight days, now, it has been given out that those members of the National Assembly in favor of the provision requiring the concurrence of the royal will for the exercise of the right of peace and war are parricides of the public liberty. Rumors of perfidy, of corruption, have been bruited. Popular vengeance has been invoked to enforce the tyranny of opinion; and denunciations have been uttered, as if, on a subject involving one of the most delicate and difficult questions affecting the organization of society, persons could not dissent without a crime. What strange madness, what deplorable infatuation, is this, which thus incites against one another men whom-let debate run never so high-one common object, one indestructible sentiment of patriotism, ought always to bring together, always to reünite; but who thus substitute, alas! the irascibility of self-love for devotion to the public good, and give one another over, without compunction, to the hatred and distrust of the People!
And me, too but the other day, they would have borne in triumph; and now they cry in the streets, THE GREAT TREASON OF THE COUNT OF MIRABEAU! I needed not this lesson to teach me, how short the distance from the Capitol to the Tarpeian Rock! But the man who battles for reason, for country, does not so easily admit that he is vanquished. He who has the consciousness that he deserves well of that country, and, above all, that he is still able to serve her; who disdains a vain celebrity, and prizes veritable glory above the successes of the day; who would speak the truth, and labor for the public weal, independently of the fluctuations of popular opinion, such a man carries in his own breast the recompense of his services, the solace of his pains, the reward of his dangers. The harvest he looks for the destiny, the only destiny, to which he aspires is that of his good name; and for that he is content to trust to to time, that incorruptible judge, who dispenses justice to all! Let those who, for these eight days past, have been ignorantly predicting my opinion, who, at this moment, calumniate my discourse without comprehending it, let them charge me, if they will, with beginning to offer incense to the impotent idols I have overturned — with being the vile stipendiary of men whom I have never ceased to combat; let them denounce as an enemy of the Revolution him, who at least has contributed so much to its cause, that his safety, if not his glory, lies in its support; let them deliver over to the rage of a deceived People him, who, for twenty years, has warred against oppression in all its forms; who spoke to Frenchmen of Liberty, of a Constitution, of Resistance, at a time when his vile calumniators were sucking the milk of Courts, living on those dominant abuses which he denounced: what matters it? These underhand attacks shall not stop me in my career. I will say to my traducers, Answer if you can, and then calumniate to your heart's content! And now I reënter the lists, armed only with my principles, and a steadfast conscience.
17. EULOGIUM ON FRANKLIN, JUNE 11, 1790.-Mirabeau. Original Translation.
FRANKLIN is dead! Restored to the bosom of the Divinity is that genius which gave freedom to America, and rayed forth torrents of light upon Europe. The sage whom two worlds claim the man whom the History of Empires and the History of Science alike contend occupied, it cannot be denied, a lofty rank among his species. Long enough have political Cabinets signalized the death of those who were great in their funeral eulogies only. Long enough has the etiquette of Courts prescribed hypocritical mournings. For their benefactors only, should Nations assume the emblems of grief; and the Representatives of Nations should commend only the heroes of humanity to public veneration.
In the fourteen States of the Confederacy, Congress has ordained a mourning of two months for the death of Franklin; and America is at this moment acquitting herself of this tribute of honor to one of the Fathers of her Constitution. Would it not become us, Gentlemen, to unite in this religious act; to participate in this homage, publicly rendered, at once to the rights of man, and to the philosopher who has contributed most largely to their vindication throughout the world? Antiquity would have erected altars to this great and powerful genius, who, to promote the welfare of mankind, comprehending both the Heavens and the Earth in the range of his thought, could at once snatch the bolt from the cloud and the sceptre from tyrants. France, enlightened and free, owes at least the acknowledgment of her remembrance and regret to one of the greatest intellects that ever served the united cause of philosophy and liberty. I propose that it be now decreed that the National Assembly wear mourning, during three days, for Benjamin Franklin.
18. THE UNION OF CHURCH AND STATE. — Original Translation from Mirabeau.
WE are reproached with having refused to decree that the Catholic religion, Apostolic and Roman, is the national religion. To declare the Christian religion national, would be to dishonor it in its most intimate and essential characteristic. In general terms, it may be said, that religion is not, and cannot be, a relation between the individual man and society. It is a relation between him and the Infinite Being. Would you understand what was meant by a national conscience? Religion is no more national than conscience! A man is not veritably religious in so far as he is attached to the religion of a Nation. If there were but one religion in the world, and all men were agreed in professing it, it would be none the less true that each would have the sincere sentiment of religion so far only as he should be himself religious with a religion of his own; that is to say, so far only as he would be wedded to that universal religion, even though the whole human race were to abjure it. And so, from whatever point we consider religion, to term it national is to give it a designa tion insignificant or absurd.
Would it be as the arbiter of its truth, or as the judge of its aptitude to form good citizens, that the Legislature would make a religion constitutional? But, in the first place, are there national truths? In the second place, can it be ever useful to the public happiness to fetter the conscience of men by a law of the State? The law unites us only in those points where adhesion is essential to social organization. Those points belong only to the superficies of our being. In thought and conscience men remain isolated; and their association leaves to them, in these respects, the absolute freedom of the state of nature.
What a spectacle would it be for those early Christians, who, to escape the sword of Persecution, were obliged to consecrate their altars in caves or amid ruins, what a spectacle would it be for them, could they this day come among us, and witness the glory with which their despised religion now sees itself environed; the temples, the lofty steeples bearing aloft the glittering emblem of their faith; the evangelic cross, which crowns the summit of all the departments of this great Empire! What a transporting sight for those who, in descending to the tomb, had seen that religion, during their lives, honored only in the lurking-places of the forest and the desert! Methinks I hear them exclaim, even as that stranger of the old time exclaimed, on beholding the encampment of the People of God, "HOW GOODLY ARE THY TENTS, O JACOB, AND THY TABERNACLES, O ISRAEL!" Calm, then, ah! calm your apprehensions, ye ministers of the God of peace and truth! Blush rather at your incendiary exaggerations, and no longer look at the action of this Assembly through the medium of your passions. We do not ask it of you to take an oath contrary to the law of your heart; but we do ask it of you, in the name of that God who will judge us all, not to confound human opinions and scholastic traditions with the sacred and inviolable rules of the Gospel. If it be contrary to morality to act against one's conscience, it is none the less so to form one's conscience after false and arbitrary principles. The obligation to form and enlighten one's conscience is anterior to the obligation to follo one's conscience. The greatest public calamities have been caused by men who believed they were obeying God, and saving their own souls.
19. TO THE FRENCH PEOPLE, 1792.- Original Translation from Vergniaud.
Vergniaud, the most eloquent orator of the celebrated party known as the Girondists, during the French Revolution, was born at Limoges, in 1759. He was executed in 1793. As an orator, his renown is second only to that of Mirabeau, in France. His speeches were always carefully prepared beforehand.
PREPARATIONS for war are manifest on our frontiers; and we hear of renewed plots against liberty. Our armies reassemble; mighty movements agitate the Empire. Martial law having become necessary, it has seemed to us just. But we have succeeded only in brandishing for a moment the thunderbolt in the eyes of rebellion. The sanction of the King has been refused to our decrees, The princes