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title:“The Revolution in France, by Noah Webster”
date written:1794

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"The Revolution in France, by Noah Webster." Political Sermons of the American Founding Era. Vol. 2. Ed. Ellis Sandoz. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998. 1235-99. Print.

The Revolution in France, by Noah Webster (1794)

Editor's Note: Noah Webster (1758–1843). Son of the Congregational deacon Noah Webster, Sr., the author of this discourse on the French Revolution was the great lexicographer who gave birth to An American Dictionary of the English Language. The younger Noah received his preparatory training for college from Reverend Nathan Perkins in West Hartford, Connecticut. He entered Yale but then briefly served in the Revolutionary War; he resumed his studies at Yale and was graduated in 1778. Intent upon a legal career, he was in due course admitted to the bar in Hartford, only to give up law practice in 1793. From 1782 onward, he had been increasingly drawn to his true career, the study and teaching of the English language in its distinctive and patriotic modes. His grammars, readers, and spellers began to be published in 1784 and were issued and reissued well into this century. Webster estimated that fifteen million copies of The American Spelling Book had been printed by 1837 and, in all, a hundred million (running through four hundred editions) of the blue-backed speller had been printed by the twentieth century.
Webster agitated throughout the country for a copyright law to protect his publications and eventually saw one passed. A strong Fœderalist, he campaigned for the adoption of the Constitution. He also lectured far and wide on the English language and collaborated with Benjamin Franklin in devising a phonetic alphabet. Though Franklin's version proved too radical for full adoption, his and Webster's efforts helped shape the American language.
In New York, Webster edited magazines and newspapers off and on over a ten-year period. By 1803—having moved to New Haven, Connecticut, in 1798—he had abandoned that line of work and turned to his chief concern, the study of language. Beginning with the publication of a preparatory lexicon in 1806, he brought forth the Dictionary in two quarto volumes in 1828. The most ambitious publishing project in America up to that time, this work demonstrated a great advance in the field of lexicography.
Webster spent most of his later years in Amherst, Massachusetts, and in New Haven, and in that period he published five revisions of the Dictionary, a revised translation of the King James Version of the Bible, and many essays and addresses. Captured by the inspirations of the Second Awakening, he became a strong Calvinist and Congregationalist, especially after 1808.
In The Revolution in France, Webster brilliantly reflects on the religious and philosophic implications of the upheaval. Always concerned to find a balance between virtue and liberty, this piece marked Webster's departure (in the words of William F. Vartorella) "from his tenets espousing the rights of man to self-enhancement. The indiscriminate use of the guillotine made him shudder; his philosophical foundation crumbled under the strain and man, a sullen being, emerged as depraved" (American Writers Before 1800, p. 1534).
In the progress of the French Revolution, candid men find much to praise, and much to censure. It is a novel event in the history of nations, and furnishes new subjects of reflection. The end in view is noble; but whether the spirit of party and faction, which divided the National Assembly, sacrificed one part, and gave to the other the sovereign power over the nation, will not deprive the present generation of the blessings of freedom and good government, the objects contended for, is a very interesting question. Equally interesting is it to enquire what will be the effects of the revolution on the agriculture, commerce, and moral character of the French nation. The field of speculation is new, and the subject curious.
The writer of the following remarks came into society, during the late war with Great-Britain; his heart was very early warmed with a love of liberty; his pen has often advocated her cause. When the revolution in France was announced in America, his heart exulted with joy; he felt nearly the same interest in its success, as he did in the establishment of American independence. This joy has been much allayed by the sanguinary procedings of the Jacobins, their atheistical attacks on christianity, and their despicable attention to trifles. He is however candid enough to believe much of the violence of their measures may be attributed to the combination of powers, formed for the most unwarrantable purpose of dictating to an independent nation its form of government. Perhaps other circumstances, not known in this country, may serve to palliate the apparent cruelty of the ruling faction. But there are some proceedings of the present convention, which admit of no excuse but a political insanity; a wild enthusiasm, violent and irregular, which magnifies a mole-hill into a mountain; and mistakes a shadow for a giant.
A just estimate of things, their causes and effects, is always desireable; and it is of infinite consequence to this country, to ascertain the point where our admiration of the French measures should end, and our censure, begin; the point, beyond which an introduction of their principles and practice into this country, will prove dangerous to government, religion and morals.
With this view, the following strictures are offered to the American public. Freedom of discussion is a privilege enjoyed by every citizen; and it is presumed that some degree of severity will be pardoned, when it has truth for its support, and public utility for its object.
Men of all descriptions are frequently asking the questions, what will be the fate of France? What will be the consequences of the revolution in France? Will France be conquered? and others of a like nature.
These questions are extremely interesting, as they respect every thing which concerns the happiness of men in the great societies of Europe and America; government, liberty, arts, science, agriculture, commerce, morality, religion.
It would be an evidence of daring presumption to attempt to open the volume of divine determinations on these momentous questions. But it is highly proper, at all times, to exercise our reason, in examining the connection between causes and their effects; and in predicting, with modesty, the probable consequences of known events.
It is conceived to be the duty of the historian and the statesman, not merely to collect accounts of battles, the slaughter of the human race, the sacking of cities, the seizure and confiscation of shipping, and other bloody and barbarous deeds, the work of savage man towards his fellowmen; but to discover, if possible, the causes of great changes in the affairs of men; the springs of those important movements, which vary the aspect of government, the features of nations, and the very character of man.
The present efforts of the French nation, in resisting the forces of the combined powers, astonish even reflecting men. They far exceed every thing exhibited during the energetic reigns of Francis Ist. and Louis XIVth. To ascertain the true principles from which have sprung the union and the vigor which have marked this amazing revolution, is a work of no small labor, and may be of great public utility.
jacobin society
It is conceived the first principle of combination in France, was the establishment of the Jacobin Society. The members of this association might not originally have foreseen the extent of the revolution, or the full effect of their own institution. At the time it was formed, there might have been many persons in it, who were friends to the monarchy of France, under the control of a constitution, and an elective legislative assembly. But the interest of the ancient court, the nobility and clergy was then considerable, not only in Paris, but in every department of France. It was necessary, in the view of the leaders of the republican party, to circumscribe or destroy the court-influence by direct legislative acts; or to raise throughout France, a combination of republicans, who, by union and concert, might oppose it with success. The public mind was not ripe for the first expedient, the direct invasion of the privileged orders; the republicans therefore, with a discernment that marks great talents, resorted to the last expedient, the institution of popular societies in every department of that extensive country. These societies are all moved by the mainspring of the machine, the Jacobin Society in Paris; and by the perfect concert observed in all their proceedings, they have been able to crush every other influence, and establish over France a government as singular in its kind, as it is absolute in its exercise.
In pursuance of the same principle of combination, tho not cotemporary in its adoption, was the plan of conducting both civil and military operations in all parts of the republic, by commissioners from the National Convention. It was found that, altho the Jacobin societies had a very extensive influence in seconding the views of the republican party; yet this was the influence of opinion, and private exertion merely; an influence too small and indirect, to answer every purpose. These societies were voluntary associations, unclothed with any legal authority. To conduct the intended revolution, it was necessary there should be persons, in all parts of the country, vested with full powers to execute the decrees of the convention, a majority of whom were Jacobins; and whose measures were only the resolutions of the Jacobin Society in Paris, clothed with the sanction of a constitutional form. To supply the defect of legal authority in the several popular societies, commissioners were deputed from the convention, invested with the most absolute powers to watch over the civil and military officers employed in responsible stations, to detect conspiracies, to arrest suspected persons, and in short to control all the operations of that extensive country. These commissioners, being usually taken from the Jacobin Society at Paris, and having a constant communication with the convention, which was ruled by them, were enabled to carry all their measures into full effect. A single club, by this curious artifice, gave law to France. An immense machine, by the most extraordinary contexture of its parts, was and is still, moved by a single spring.
To unclogg this machine from all its incumbrances, and give vigor to its active operations, it was necessary to displace all its enemies. For this purpose, all suspected and disaffected persons were to be removed. Under pretence of guarding the public safety, and delivering the republic from traitors, insiduously plotting its destruction, a court was established, called the Revolutionary Tribunal, consisting of men devoted to the views of the Jacobins, and clothed with powers that made their enemies tremble. The summary jurisdiction, assumed or exercised by this tribunal, together with its executive instrument, the guilotine, have filled France with human blood, and swept away opposition.
The commissioners in the several departments and municipalities have renewed the tyranny of the decemvirs of Rome. The writer is informed that while they affect the pomp and the manners of Roman consuls, they exercise the powers of a dictator. The two commissioners at Bourdeaux, imitating as far as possible the Roman habit, ride in a car or carriage drawn by eight horses, attended by a body of guards, resembling the pretorian bands, and preceded by lictors with their battle-axes.
The authority of all the commissioners is nearly dictatorial. They arrest, try and condemn, in a most summary manner. Not only difference of opinion, but moderation and especially the possession of money, are unpardonable crimes, punishable with death, in the view of these delegates of dictatorial power.
By this principle of combination, has a party, originally small, been enabled to triumph over all opposition.
In the mean time, a numerous and ignorant populace were to be amused, united, won to their party, and fired with enthusiasm for liberty. These people, who little understand the principles of government, were to be rendered subservient to the views of the republican party; and as their reason could be little affected by arguments, their passions were to be roused by the objects of sense. As the most of them cannot read, particular persons were employed in the towns and villages to read to them, the inflammatory writings which flowed from the Parisian presses. These readers collected the people in crowds, read to them such pieces against the king, queen, nobility and clergy, as were calculated to irritate their passions and inspire them with implacable hatred against these orders. They were taught to believe them all tyrants, traitors and oppressors. These public readers would also harrangue extemporaneously on the same subjects: such artifices had a prodigious effect in changing the attachment of the people for their king and their priesthood, to the most violent aversion. This hatred soon discovered itself in the destruction of a great number of noblemen's chateaus; the busts of ancient kings, pictures and other ensigns of the royal government. At the same time a number of patriotic songs were composed as Ca ira, Carmagnole, and the Marseillais Hymn; which were soon spread over France, and have had a more extensive influence over the soldiers, seamen, and the peasantry of that country, in reconciling them to the hardships of war, and firing them with an enthusiasm for what they call liberty, than the world in general will believe; an influence perhaps as powerful as that of all other causes combined.
Interrupted as our intercourse is with France, and agitated as the public mind must be with passing scenes, it cannot be expected that we should obtain from that country a dispassionate and minute detail of causes and their consequences; but I believe the facts I have mentioned will go far to account for the unprecedented union of the people of France, notwithstanding the operation of the usual causes of discord, and the influence of foreign gold very liberally exerted to disunite them, and perplex their measures. It has however been necessary for the convention to resort to the terrors of the guillotine, and of death and the destruction of whole cities, to awe the spirit of opposition to their system. Very numerous and most terrible examples of punishment have had a powerful temporary effect, in subduing their internal dissensions. How far the people will bear oppression, is a point on which we cannot decide.
national treasury
The measures taken by the convention to prolong the resistance of France, are no less singular, bold and decisive. It was found that immense sums of money would be necessary to maintain the vast body of men and military apparatus, requisite to oppose the combined forces of more than one half of Europe. To furnish the funds necessary for this purpose, the convention very early adopted the plan of issuing assignats or bills of credit, an expedient practised with great success in America, during her late revolution. This paper however was issued on safer ground than the American paper; as confiscated property to a vast amount was pledged for its redemption.
It was found however that this paper would depreciate; as the funds pledged for its redemption were exhausted, or proved inadequate to the enormous demands made upon the nation, in consequence of a great augmentation of their military establishment, after opening the last campaign. To supply the deficiency, and to put it out of the power of chance or enmity to drain the republic of its specie, the convention adopted the following desperate expedients. They exacted from moneyed men whatever specie they possessed, by way of loan. This is called emprunt force; a forced loan. And to make sure of this specie they contracted with certain bankers in Paris to advance 12 millions sterling of the money, paying them a large commission for the risk and forbearance. The amount of the specie to be thus bro't into the national treasury, may be 20 millions sterling. This measure, together with the proceeds of confiscations, has accumulated a great proportion of the current specie of the country, in the treasury.
Not satisfied with these measures, the convention have taken possession of all the plate of the churches, which, in all Roman Catholic countries, must be very considerable, but in France, amounts to an immense value. It is estimated by gentlemen well acquainted with this subject, that this public plate, which is carried to the mint, will amount to 25 millions sterling; a sum nearly equal to the whole current specie of that rich commercial country, England.
It was estimated by Mr. Neckar and others, just as the revolution commenced, that the current coin of France was at least 80 millions sterling; a sum equal to one third, perhaps one half, of all the specie of Europe. Allowing large sums to have been carried out of the country by emigrants, and some to be buried for safety, but taking into the account the accession of 25 millions coined from plate; and we may estimate the amount of specie in possession of the convention, to be from 60 to 70 millions sterling.
Having thus collected all the precious metals in that country, the convention, instead of using specie freely to furnish supplies for the army, expend it with great œconomy. They hold it in reserve, for times and exigencies when all other expedients fail. At present they compel every person whatever to take assignats for provision, clothing and other articles, at a certain price fixed by a valuation. They sieze whatever grain or other articles a man has, beyond an estimated supply for his own family, and pay him in paper at the stated price. In this manner they seem determined to make their paper answer every purpose as long as possible, and when this fails, they will still have specie enough at command, with the aid of some taxes, to prosecute the war for three or four years.
probable event of the war
It may be doubtful whether the body of people will long sit easy, under such severe regulations. An enthusiasm for liberty will do much; the guilotine, and an irresistable army will do more, towards preserving peace and order. But there is nothing dearer to a man than the liberty of making his own bargains; and whether the forcible means employed to procure from people their produce or manufactures, will not at least check industry and limit the exertions of laborers to a bare supply of their own wants, is a point very problematical. But whatever may be the wants of France, there is little danger, while her specie is at the command of government, that her provisions will fail. Her rich soil will furnish the principal mass of food; and should distress call for foreign supplies, her own shipping will supply her from abroad.
If these ideas are well founded, France is able to sustain a war of many years. She can supply men enough to resist the combined powers forever. Her natural population will forever repair her annual loss of men; and the longer a war lasts, the more soldiers will she possess. The whole country will become an immense camp of disciplined veterans.
While policy, aided by the strong arm of absolute power, is thus furnishing France with the means of defence, what prospect have the combined powers of effecting their purposes? France may defend herself until England is a bankrupt, and Austria is beggared. Possibly England and Holland may sustain the war another campaign; and more than this, they unquestionably will not. The states of Italy, which have been compelled to renounce their neutrality, will yield a cold, reluctant, feeble assistance, and embrace the first favorable moment to renounce the confederacy. Portugal is nothing in the contest. Spain, it is an equal chance, will be overrun and plundered by a French army; will itself be disabled and its riches only furnish the French with additional means of defence. Prussia has gained her principal object in obtaining a large division of Poland; she now demands a considerable debt of the empire, which the diet is not well able to discharge. The empress of Russia is encouraging the controversy, while she laughs at the combination, and is adding to her dominions. Austria is powerful, but she is exhausting her resources; and by reason of the distance which great part of her supplies are to be transported, her means must fail, before those of France. Already the emperor calls for voluntary aids from his subjects in Flanders. In this situation where is the hope of conquering France!
It is more probable that France will not only resist all this force, but will retain strength sufficient to commence an offensive war, when the confederacy of her enemies shall be dissolved, and the resources of each exhausted. Her enemies will waste their strength in making France a garrison of disciplined soldiers, impregnable within, and terrible to surrounding nations. The moment the combination is broken, and the army now investing France, disabled, half a million of hardy exasperated French warriors, inured to service, and fired with victory, will be let loose upon defenceless Europe; and in their mad enthusiasm to destroy, not despotism merely, but all the works of elegance and art, they may renew the desolations of the 6th and 7th centuries. Already has France experienced a revolution in property, in manners, in opinions, in law, in government, that has not been equalled in the world since the conquests of Attila and Genseric. The ravages of Genghis Khan, of Tamerlane and the Saracens were extensive, they were attended with slaughter and devastation. But the conquered nations only changed masters and remained unchanged themselves. The revolution in France is attended with a change of manners, opinions and institutions, infinitely more singular and important, than a change of masters or of government.
Of the two possible events, a conquest of France, and a total ultimate defeat of the combination against the republic, I am free in declaring my opinion, that the former is less probable than the latter. And should victory finally declare for France, her armies may prove formidable to Europe. Italy and the Netherlands must inevitably fall under her dominion, unless prevented by a timely pacification.
Such being the origin and progress of this astonishing revolution, let us examine its probable effects.
The effects of war upon the hostile nations are always to exhaust their strength and resources and incur heavy debts. Should France succeed in baffling her foes, an immense debt will be contracted, which must be paid, funded or expunged. An immediate payment is not to be expected; it will be impracticable. It may be justly questioned, whether the best administration of her finances will, for many years, discharge the interest. Such a general war, which involves in it a diversion of laborers from their usual occupations, a destruction of manufacturing towns and villages, a limitation of commercial intercourse, and especially a loss of capital among all descriptions of citizens, must dry up the sources of revenue, and occasion a deficiency that will materially affect the credit of the nation. If therefore the government should be disposed to fund the national debt, its inability to pay the interest, must, for some years, cause a depreciation in the value of the receipts or evidences of that debt. This depreciation will renew the speculations of John Law's administration—or rather the scenes exhibited in America in 1790, 1791 and 1792. Should this be the case, immense fortunes will be made; a new species of aristocrats, as they will be called, will arise out of the equality of sans-culottism, and unless a change of sentiment shall take place in the people, these new-fledged nabobs will be considered as noxious weeds in society, that are to be mown down with that political scythe, the all-levelling guillotine.
But the funding of debts is at present not an article in the national French creed. On the other hand, the revolutionists execrate the system that entails on posterity the debts of the present generation, and fills a country with negociators and stock-jobbers. If then the nation cannot pay the principal, and will not pay the interest, the remaining alternative is to expunge the whole debt.
We cannot however suppose that the same administration of the government will continue for a long period. The probability is that when danger of external foes shall be removed, the nation will elect a new convention of a very different complection. Too many good citizens will be public creditors, to suffer the debts of the nation to be wiped away with a spunge. It is more probable that efforts will be made to discharge them; and as the proceeds of confiscations will be soon exhausted, and there are no wild lands in France, the government must resort to the usual modes of raising money, by customs, and taxes, with loans or anticipations of revenue. So that after all the fine philosophy of France, she will probably be obliged to submit to some of the old schemes of finance, which her wise legislators now execrate. We have therefore no great reason to apprehend that her government will be able to expunge her debts, nor can we suppose that absolute freedom from debt will constitute a part of her promised millenium of reason and philosophy.
The important changes in the tenure of lands in France will produce the most distinguishable effects. The feudal system was calculated for no good purpose, except for defence among a barbarous people. It was every way formed to check the exertions of the great mass of people, whose labor, in all countries, is the principal source of wealth. That must always be a bad system of tenures which deprives the laboring man of the great stimulus to industry, the prospect of enjoying the reward of his labor. Such was the feudal system throughout Europe, and it is observable that agriculture and manufactures have made slow progress in every part of Europe where that system has been suffered to prevail in its ancient vigor. The principal cities of Italy and Germany first regained their freedom and revived industry. The abolition of military tenures in England may be considered as the epoch of her wealth and prosperity. Under the old government of France, the feudal system had lost much of its severity. There were many laboring men who enjoyed small freeholds; too small however for the purpose of improving in cultivation. But two thirds of the lands were leased to the peasantry, the landlord furnishing the stock of the farm, and receiving half the produce. This mode has ever been found less beneficial to a country, than leases on fixed rents in money.
But by the late revolution, a vast proportion of the lands will change hands; and much of them become freehold estate, subject to no rent or none that shall be oppressive. The laboring people, becoming proprietors and cultivating for their own benefit, will feel all the motives to labor that can influence the human heart in that particular. The mind, unfettered and prompted to action, will exert its faculties in various kinds of improvement and when the distresses of war shall cease, the French nation will push improvements in agriculture to a length hitherto unknown in that country. Previous to this however, property must be placed under the protection of law; and the laws must receive an energy from a well-constituted executive power, that shall ensure a due execution.
The same circumstances which will invigorate industry in one branch of business, will extend their influence to every other. For some years indeed the desolating effects of war will be visible. The destruction of some manufacturing towns, the loss of capital, and the diversion of laborers from their employment, will be severely felt for many years. But the active genius of the French nation, unfettered from the imposing prejudices of former times, when it was held degrading to engage in manual occupations, will surmount these difficulties; and the immense wealth of the emigrant nobles, the national domains, or other property which had been monopolized and sequestered from employment, under ancient institutions, will be brot into action in every branch of business. After the ravages of war shall be repaired, a greater mass of capital will be employed in useful arts, and rendered productive. All the plate of the churches, now converted into coin, and immense sums formerly squandered by a profligate nobility, or withheld from employment by cloistered monks, will be brought into circulation, and become the means of encouraging industry. Add to these circumstances, the amazing increase of enterprize, which must follow a revolution, that has awakened a nation from the slumbers of ignorance and inaction, and roused into life the dormant faculties of its citzens.
Simular circumstances will forward the growth and extension of commerce. France has long been respectable for its commerce and its navy. But the increase of agriculture and manufactures, which will necessarily follow the downfall of the feudal distinctions, and the more general diffusion of property, will produce also a correspondent increase of commerce. This commerce will require the use of shipping, and the late navigation law of France, will recal to her some of the advantages of the carrying trade, heretofore enjoyed by the English and the Dutch, and be the means of augmenting her navy.
arts and science
Free governments are the soil best fitted to produce improvements in the arts and sciences. All history testifies this. France indeed, under her old government, had been distinguished for a cultivation of the sciences, and many of the most useful and elegant arts. In many respects, the lover of philosophy was free, and full scope was given to human genius. In other respects, freedom of writing was restrained by the hand of power, and the bold writers of that nation were compelled to retire beyond the reach of it.
The universal freedom of writing, which we may expect to prevail, when the present storm subsides, will be among the most conspicuous blessings of that nation. The arts will receive new encouragement, and the sciences new luster, from the active genius of renovated France.
The progress of the revolution in France, with respect to morals and the religion of the nation, affords a most interesting spectacle to reflecting men. The hierarchy of Rome had established, over the minds of its votaries, a system of errors and superstition, that enslaved their opinions and plundered their purses. Long had nations been the victims of papal domination, and spiritual impositions. Accustomed from childhood to count their beads, to bow to the host, and chant te deum, men supposed that ceremony was devotion; while an artful priesthood availed themselves of their weakness and errors, to spunge from the deluded multitude, a great portion of the fruits of their honest labor.
For three centuries past, the reason of man has been removing the veil of error from his mind. In some countries, the veil has been rent asunder: and human reason, aided and directed by revelation, has assumed its native dignity. But in France, science and education, while they had illuminated a portion of its inhabitants, had not dissipated the gloom that was spread over the mass of the nation. Inquisitive men had searched for truth, and astonished at the monstrous absurdities of the national religion, their minds, starting from the extreme of superstition, vibrated to the extreme of scepticism. Because they found religion, clothed with a garb of fantastical human artifices, they rejected her as a creature of human invention, pronounced her ceremonies a farce, and derided her votaries. Hence sprung a race of literary men, denominated philosophers, who, under their illustrious champions, Voltaire, and Rousseau, attempted, by secret undermining or open assault, to demolish the whole fabric of the national religion, and to erect upon its ruins, the throne of reason.
Before the present revolution commenced, this philosophy had spread among the literati of France; and Paris exhibited then, what Italy does now, the two most irreconcileable extremes, of atheism and profound superstition; the most scandalous vices mingled with the most scrupulous observance of religious rites; the same persons retiring immediately from their mock-devotions at Notre Dame, to the revels of prostitution.
In this situation of the moral and religious character of the French nation, began the revolution of 1789. The philosophical researches of Voltaire, Rousseau and the Abbe Raynal, had long before unchained the minds of that part of the French nation who read; a respectable class of men. These men understood the errors of their government and the nature of liberty. They were prepared to second the operation of those political causes, which hastened the crisis of a revolution. The first attentions of the reformers were occupied with the correction of political evils, rather than those of religion. But when the first national assembly came to examine the system of their government with minute inspection, they found it a complicated machine, in which the ecclesiastical state was so interwoven with the political, that it would be impossible to retrench the corruptions of the one, without deranging the whole fabric. It became neccessary therefore (and the philosopher rejoiced at the neccessity) to take down the whole machine of despotism, involving all the privileged orders in the proposed renovation.
The first assembly proceeded as far as they durst, in laying their hands upon the immense possessions of the clergy, and abolishing the monastic institutions; making provision, at the same time, for maintaining the clergy by granting them annual salaries, suited to their former ranks in the church. This step was bold, and gave umbrage to many of the higher dignitaries. But as the assembly had the policy to augment the salaries of most of the inferior clergy, the curates or vicars, who were the most numerous body, and had most influence over the people, this measure insted of endangering, rather strengthened the cause of the revolution.
Upon the election of the second assembly, a new scene was to be presented. A party of violent republicans, not satisfied with the constitution of 1791, and resolved to exterminate monarchy, and with it all the privileged orders, after a violent contest with their adversaries, the Fuillans, in which the latter were defeated, assumed the government of France; and from the full establishment of the Jacobins, with a decided majority in the convention, we date many important changes in the customs and institutions of that country. The progress of these changes in detail is left for the historian: my limits confining me to sketches only of these great events. In general, however, I may observe, that the ruling party in France, have waged an inveterate war with christianity; and have endeavored to efface all the monuments by which it has been perpetuated. They have abolished not only the sabbath, by substituting one day in ten as a day of rest and amusement in lieu of one day in seven; but they have changed the mode of reckoning time, substituting the foundation of the republic as the vulgar era, instead of the christian era. They have not indeed prohibited any man from believing what religion he pleases: but as far as their decrees can reach, they have established, not deism only, but atheism and materialism. For these assertions I have their own decrees. In their decree respecting burials, they say, they "acknowlege no other doctrine, except that of national sovereignty and omnipotence." If I understand this, it denies the being of a God. They ordain, that deceased persons shall be carried to the place of burial, covered with a pall, on which shall be depicted sleep, under the shade of the trees in the field, a statue shall be erected, representing sleep—and on the gate of the field, this inscription—"death is an everlasting sleep." This is an explicit denial of the immortality of the soul, and in effect the establishment of materialism by law.
The church of Notre Dame is converted into the temple of reason; a colossal monument is erected in honor of the day, when reason triumphed over what they call fanaticism; and festivals are ordained to celebrate the memorable epoches of important changes in the government and religion of France. A great number of the clergy have publicly renounced their profession declaring their belief that their ancient religion was superstition and error, and that the only true religion is the practice of justice and moral virtue.
This account of the proceedings in France exhibits, in a luminous point of view, the singular contexture of the human mind; now depressed with chimerical horrors; demons, ghosts, and a God in terrors, armed with vengeance, and hurling nine tenths of mankind to the bottomless pit; now, elevated on the pinions of a subtle philosophy, men soar above all these bug-bears; revelation, piety, immortality, and all the christians hopes are rejected as phantoms; the Supreme Jehovah is reasoned or ridiculed out of existence, and in his place is substituted the omnipotence of national sovereignty.
Vain men! idle philosophy! I will not attempt to expatiate on the pernicious effects of such mistaken and misdirected reason. A sorrowful prediction of woes that must fall upon the nation, thus set afloat on the wide ocean of doubt, and tossed between the ancient hopes of immortality, and the modern legislative assurance of everlasting sleep in annihilation, would be derided as the cant of bigotry; the whining lamentations of interested priest-craft. But I will meet your philosophy upon your own ground; and demonstrate, by the very decrees which demolish the ancient superstition, that you yourselves are the most bigotted men in existence.
It is the remark of a great philosopher, whose opinions I am sure you will respect, that the mind of man is subject to certain unaccountable terrors and apprehensions, proceeding from an unhappy situation of affairs, from ill health, or a melancholy disposition. This is the origin of superstition and priestcraft. The mind of man is also susceptible of an unaccountable elevation and presumption, arising from success, luxuriant health, strong spirits, or a bold confident disposition. This is the source of enthusiasm. Hume's Essays, Vol. I. 75.
I will not controvert this explanation of the two most remarkable principles in the mind. Nor will I wholly deny the conclusion he draws, that superstition is most favorable to slavery, and enthusiasm, to liberty. But I will go farther in this question than he did, and farther than you will at first admit to be just—but it is a position warranted by all history and perpetual observation, that if superstition and enthusiasm are not essentially the same thing, they at least produce effects, in many respects, exactly similar. They always lead men into error.
Superstition and enthusiasm operate by different means and direct the mind to different objects; but they agree in this respect, they imply or produce an excessive improper attachment to certain objects, usually objects of little real consequence. They are equally the humble votaries of some deity, tho each has a different one and worships him in her own peculiar mode. From the only regular body of deists in the universe, as Mr. Hume calls the disciples of Confucius; from the exalted philosophers of Greece and Rome, Plato, Pythagoras and Cicero: or from the still more refined philosophers, the noble disciples of reason, the members of the National Convention of France, down to the lowest bigot that drones out a lifeless existence over his beads and his crucifix in some dark monastic cell, there is one single principle of the human mind operating steadily to produce these different characters: this principle is a strong, universal and irresistable disposition to attach itself to some object or some system of belief which shall be a kind of idol to be worshipped in preference to all others. The object only is varied; the principle eternally the same. The principle springs from the passions of the mind, and cannot be annihilated without extinguishing the passions; which is impossible. When a gloomy mind clings to its priest or its altars, it is called superstition. When a bold mind, and ardent spirits rise above grovelling objects, and embrace spiritual delights, with raptures and transports, it is called enthusiasm or fanaticism. When a long series of reflection and reasoning has cooled or moderated the passions, the mind is governed less by feeling and more by argument; the errors of superstition and enthusiasm are perceived and despised; the mind fixes itself upon a theory of imaginary truth, between the extremes of error; and this is pronounced reason and philosophy. That this reason is not truth itself nor an infallible standard of truth, is obvious: for no two men agree what it is, what its nature, extent or limits. No matter; superstition and enthusiasm are beat down; reason is exalted upon a throne, temples are erected to the goddess, and festivals instituted to celebrate her coronation. Then begins the reign of passion; the moment reason is seated upon her throne; the passions are called in to support her. Pride says[:] I have trampled down superstition, that foe to truth and happiness—I have exalted reason to the throne; I am right—every thing else is wrong. Obey the goddess reason, is the great command: and woe to the man that rejects her authority. Reason is indeed the nominal prince, but the passions are her ministers, and dictate her decrees. Thus what begins in calm philosophy, ends in a most superstitious attachment to a particular object of its own creation. The goddess reason is at last maintained by pride, obstinacy, bigotry and to use a correct phrase, a blind superstitious enthusiasm.
The history of men is one tissue of facts, confirmatory of their observations. The Egyptians adored certain animals; and to injure a cat in Egypt, was a crime no less enormous than to pull down a liberty cap, to use the christian era, or wear abroad the robes of a priest in France; it was sacrilege. When we are told by credible historians that the Egyptians, when a house was on fire took more pains to save the cats, than the house, we stare and wonder how men could ever be so weak and stupid as to regard a cat, as a sacred animal. But is not the cap of liberty now regarded with a similar veneration? Would not an insult offered to it be resented and call down the vengeance of its votaries? How is this? Why the answer is easy—the Egyptians venerated a cat and a cow, and our modern idolaters venerate a liberty cap. The passion of the Egyptians will be called superstition perhaps; the passion of our people, enthusiasm. But it is the object that is changed, and not the principle. Our people are perpetually exclaiming "Liberty is the goddess we adore," and a cap is the emblem of this goddess. Yet in fact there is no more connection between liberty and a cap, than between the Egyptian deity Isis, and just notions of God; nor is it less an act of superstition to dance round a cap or a pole in honor of liberty, than it was in Egypt to sacrifice a bullock to Isis.
The Greeks were a learned nation: but they had their Delphic oracles, whose responses were regarded as inspiration. The Romans, were more superstitious, and were governed in public and private affairs, by the appearances of the entrails of beasts, the flight of birds, and other omens. Both these nations were superstitious; that is, they believed their fate to be connected with certain religious rites; they placed confidence in certain supposed deities or events; when in fact there was no connection at all between the cause and effect, but what existed in opinion. The Pythian god in Greece knew nothing of future events; the auspices in Rome had no connection with the fate of those who consulted them, but the people believed in these consultations, and according to the result, were inspired with confidence or depressed with apprehensions. There were philosophers indeed in those enlightened nations who rejected the authority of their divinities. Cicero says, in his days, the Delphic oracle had become contemptible. Demosthenes declared publicly, the oracle had been gained over to the interest of Philip. These and many others were the deists of Greece and Rome; the Humes and Voltaires of antiquity. But they never had the courage or the inclination to abolish the religion of their countrymen—they treated the fabled divinities of their country with more respect than the Jacobin club has paid to the founder of christianity. At the same time, while they indulged their fellow citizens in their own worship, they wrought out of their own imagination, some airy deity; some fine subtle theory of philosophy, which they adored with the superstition of bigots. It is idle, it is false that these philosophers had refined their ideas above all error and fanaticism—they soared above the absurdities of material deities, the lares and penates of the vulgar; but they framed etherial divinities, and spent their lives in paying homage to these fictions of imaginations.
In short the only advantage they had over vulgar minds was, that common people were content to worship the gods of the country, already framed to their hands; while the pride of each philosopher was busy in creating deities suited to his particular fancy.
When christianity became the religion of Rome, many of the pagan rites were incorporated, and some of the temples and deities, brot into use in the christian religion. The use of incense or perfumes, holy water, lamps, and votive offerings in churches, are pagan ceremonies retained in the Romish church. In lieu of the images of heathen deities Jupiter, Hercules or Bacchus, the christians substituted the statues of saints, martyrs and heroes; or else preserved the old images, giving them only a different dress. The pantheon of ancient Rome was re-consecrated by Boniface IVth, to the Virgin Mary, and all the saints.
What is all this? the christians pretended to abolish and exterminate pagan superstition—they only changed the name, and the objects to which veneration was to be paid. Instead of worshipping and sacrificing to Bacchus, the new converts adored the figure of a saint.
The Romans had a celebrated festival, called Saturnalia in honor of Saturn; this festival found its way into antient Scandinavia, among our pagan ancestors, by whom it was new-modelled or corrupted, being kept at the winter solstice. The night on which it was kept was called mother-night, as that which produced all the rest; and the festival was called Iuule or Yule. The christians, not being able to abolish the feast, changed its object, gave it the name of Christmas, and kept it in honor of Jesus Christ, altho the ancient name yule was retained in some parts of Scotland, till within a century. Mallet North Antiq. Vol. I. 130, Cowel. voc. Yule. What is the deduction from these facts? This certainly, that men have uniformly had a high veneration for some person or deity real or imaginary: the Romans for Saturn: the Goths for the mother-night of the year; and the christians for the founder of their religion. The christians have the advantage over the pagans in appropriating the feast to a nobler object; but the passion is the same, and the joy, the feasting, and the presents that have marked the festival are nearly the same among pagans and christians.
Let us then see whether the national convention of France have succeeded in exterminating superstition and fanaticism; and with them, their offspring, persecution.
They have indeed abolished the christian sabbath, because it was one of the institutions of superstition and the support of error, bigotry and priestcraft. But with the absurdity and inconsistency that ever accompanies fanaticism, they have established a similar institution, under a different name; instead of a christian sabbath once in seven days, they have ordained a political sabbath once in ten days. The object only is changed, while the uses of such a day are acknowledged by the convention themselves: and in spite of their omnipotence, the nation will appropriate that or some other day to nearly the same purposes.
They have abolished the christian era, and substituted the epoch of the abolition of monarchy, or what is the same thing, the foundation of the republic. And what do they gain by this change? Merely the trouble of introducing confusion and perplexity into their own mode of reckoning time, during the present generation, and into their negociations with other powers, forever. The era itself is a thing of no kind of consequence; it is not of the value of a straw; but when this indifferent thing is established, as a common point of reckoning time, among a great number of surrounding nations, it becomes of great moment, and the change of it marks a contempt of common utility and a superstitious regard to the period of the revolution, or rather the era of their own triumph over their opposers, that is equal to the ancient respect for the Delphic oracle, or the modern veneration for a papal bull. The object only is changed; the passion is the same.
They have also annihilated the national worship, and of course a great number of holidays. But they have decreed a most magnificent and splendid festival, to be celebrated once in four years, in honor of the republic. What is this but a superstitious veneration for a new era, instead of the old ones? But what is singular in this institution is, that it is professedly copied from the celebration of the Olympic games in Greece. What then is become of the convention's reason and philosophy, which was to buoy them above vulgar prejudices? Do they, in this instance, exhibit proofs of exalted reason? Is it less a prejudice to venerate the Greek Olympiads, than the christian sabbath, or christian era? Let Danton and Robespiere answer this question, or blush for their philosophy.
The convention have also rejected the national faith, and sanctioned, with a decree, the doctrines of deism and materialism. This is another sublime effort of their Grecian philosophy to annihilate superstition and bigotry. But in the moment they are shunning Scylla, they are shipwrecked on Charybdis. It was not sufficient to destroy one faith; but they proceeded to establish another. They erect a statue to sleep, and on the gates of their burying fields, ordain this inscription, "Death is an everlasting sleep." Laugh not, ye refined sages, at the poor ignorant Greeks, who, lost and bewildered in the mazes of doubt, with more honesty than yourselves, acknowledged their ignorance, and erected an altar to the unknown god. St. Paul informed that venerable body of sages, the Athenian Areopagus, that this was superstition; yet the inscription on the altar at Athens, and that on the gates of the burying places in France, proceeded from equal ignorance, and the devotion paid to the statue of sleep will be as blind, as head-strong, and as marked with superstition, as the worship of the unknown god in Athens.
The convention, in their zeal for equalizing men, have with all their exalted reason, condescended to the puerility of legislating even upon names. That they should abolish titles of distinction, together with the privileges of the nobility and clergy, was natural; but that the common titles of mere civility and respect should be attacked was astonishing to indifferent spectators, who had expected their proceedings to be marked with dignity. The vulgar titles of address, monsieur and madame, whatever might have been their original sense, had become mere names of civility, implying no distinction, and applied equally to all classes of people. They were literally terms of equality; for when A addressed B with the appellation, Monsieur, B answered him with the same address; denoting an equality of standing and a mutuality of respect.
Yet these harmless titles, which had no more connection with government, than the chattering of birds, became the subject of grave legislative discussion, and the use of them was formally abolished. And what did the convention substitute in their place? Why the awkward term citizen, which is in fact a title of distinction, denoting a man who is free of a city, and enjoys rights distinct from his fellow inhabitants; or at least one that has a legal residence in a country, and in consequence of it, enjoys some rights or privileges, that are not common to all its people. In proof of this I need only suggest, that in the United States and I believe in all other countries, certainly in France, legal provision is made for acquiring the rights of citizenship.* Reflect, ye philosophic legislators, and be ashamed of your contradictions.
The convention have also abolished the insignia of rank, civil and ecclesiastical. Even a priest cannot wear his robes, except in the temples. But it was not sufficient to reduce all ancient orders; they established another distinction, which was represented by the cockade of liberty. Enthusiasm had only taken down one order, to put up another; and no sooner was the order of liberty instituted, than its members assumed an arrogant imperious behavior: they esteemed themselves better than their fellow-citizens; the cockade became a badge of despotism; every one who would not join the order, and go to every excess in their measures, was denounced as a traitor, and a man must wear the national cockade, or be massacred. Yet there is not the smallest connection between a cockade and liberty, except what exists in the fanaticism of the order. It is superstition of the rankest kind; and precisely of the same nature as that which fired millions of bigots to rally under the banners of the cross, in the 12th and 13th centuries, and march, under Peter the hermit, to recover the holy land from infidels. The cross in one case had the same effect in inspiring enthusiasm, that a cockade has in the other. Peter the hermit, and the Jacobins of France equally acknowledged the principles and the passions of the human heart. To accomplish their purposes they made use of the same means; they addressed themselves to the passions of the multitude, and wrought them up into enthusiasm.
To complete the system of reason which is to prevail in France, in lieu of ancient errors and absurdities, all the statues of kings and queens, together with busts, medalions, and every ensign of royalty, nobility or priesthood, are ordered to be annihilated. Even the statue of Henry IVth on the new bridge; a monument erected to the most patriotic prince that ever graced the royal diadem; who had projected a plan of universal peace in Europe, and who, had he not fallen prematurely by the hand of an assassin, would perhaps have done more for the happiness of society, than all the philosophers France ever produced; even his statue could not escape the philosophic rage for innovation. The statue is annihilated, and in its place, at the motion of David the painter, a colossal monument is decreed to be raised on the bridge, to transmit to posterity the victory of nations over kings, and of reason over fanaticism. Yes, philosophers, a noble victory this! But you forget that this very decree is the height of political fanaticism. The monument is changed with the object of fanaticism; and this is all the difference between you and the admirers of Henry IVth who erected the statue which you have demolished.
Marat also has a monument erected to his memory, in the pantheon! And who was Marat? A Prussian by birth; by profession, a journalist, who lived by publishing libels on the moderate men who opposed the Jacobin Club: by nature, a bloodthirsty wretch, the instigator of massacres, whose cruelty and baseness inspired a woman with courage to assassinate him. To such a pitch has the fanaticism of these philosophers carried them in this instance, that they have actually dispensed with the decree which denies the honors of the pantheon to patriots, until they have been dead ten years, and in favor of his extraordinary merits, Marat was deified a few months after his death.
The refined imitators of the Greek philosophers have gone beyond their predecessors, in a stupid veneration for departed heroes; and if the present fanaticism should continue a few years, they will fill their new pantheon, with canonized Jacobins.
The same blind devotion to every thing ancient has led these superstitious reformers into the most ridiculous changes of names. Church is a relic of christian bigotry—the name therefore is rejected and in its place, the Latin word temple is substituted. This in France is philosophical! But what is more extraordinary, is, that in the moment when the modern calendar was abolished, and new divisions of time instituted, and even the harmless names of the months changed because the old calendar was the work of a pope and a relict of priestcraft: nay, at the time these wise and sublime reformers were abolishing, not only superstition, but even a belief in any superior being; they themselves sequestered a building for the express purpose of immortalizing men, and even gave it the Grecian name, Pantheon, which signifies the habitation of all the Gods. Such perpetual contradictions, such a series of puerile innovations, are without a parrallel in the history of revolutions: and while these regenerators of a great nation believe themselves the devotees of reason and philosophy and exult in their supereminent attainments, they appear to the surrounding world of indifferent spectators, as weak, as blind and as fanatical, as a caravan of Mahometan pilgrims, wading thro immense deserts of suffocating sands, to pay their respects to the tomb of the Prophet.
It is remarkable also, that with professions of the most boundless liberality of sentiment, and with an utter abhorrence of bigotry and tyranny, these philosophers have become the most implacable persecutors of opinion. They despise all religious opinions; they are indifferent what worship is adopted by individuals; at the same time, they are establishing atheism by law. They reject one system to enforce another. This is not all; they pursue with unrelenting cruelty, all who differ from them on political subjects. The friends of a limited monarchy, to the constitution of 1791, to a federal government, however honest, fair and candid, all fall before the Jacobins. The Marquis La Fayette, that unimpeachable hero and patriot, fell a sacrifice to his integrity. He had sworn to maintain the constitution of 1791—he respected his oath—and was driven into exile and a dungeon. The Jacobins also swore to maintain that constitution—they perjured themselves—and now rule triumphant. Dumourier, the ablest general that has figured in France this century, after a series of unexampled victories, fell a sacrifice to Jacobin jealousy. The moment the Jacobin club felt their superiority, they commenced tyrants and persecutors; and from the execution of Mr. Delassart, the first victim of their vengeance, to that of Mr. Brissot and his adherents, a series of persecution for mere difference of opinion has been exhibited in France, that has never before been equalled. The Jacobins differ from the clergy of the dark ages in this—the clergy persecuted for heresy in religion—the Jacobins, for heresy in politics. The ruling faction is always orthodox—the minority always heterodox. Totally immaterial is it, what is the subject of controversy; or in what age or country the parties live. The object may change, but the imperious spirit of triumphant faction is always the same. It is only to revive the stale plea of necessity; the state or the church is in danger from opinions; then the rack, the stake or the guillotine must crush the heresy—the heretics must be exterminated.
It was the language of the pagan emperors who persecuted the christians; "these sectaries must be destroyed—their doctrines are fatal to our power." It was the language of the popes and cardinals, who instigated the persecution of the Hussites, Wickliffites, Lutherans and Calvinists; "these reformers are heretics who are dangerous to the true church, they must be destroyed; their doctrines must be exterminated; it is the cause of God." It is the same language, which the barbarous followers of Mahomet employed and still employ to justify the enslaving of christians. The same is the language of the British acts of Parliament which lay all dissenters from the established church, under severe restraints and disabilities. It is the present language of the court of inquisition in Spain and Portugal—it is the language of the Jacobin faction in France, with the change only of the word liberty for church. The mountain exclaim, "liberty is in danger from traitors." But when we examin the proofs, nothing appears to warrant the charge, but the single circumstance that these dangerous men belonged to another party; they were acknowledged republicans, but differed in opinion, as to the precise form of government, best calculated to secure liberty. Yet being Girondists, another party, they are wrong; they are dangerous; they must be exterminated. This is merely the result of faction; for it is now, and probably will forever remain a mere speculative point, whether Danton or Brissot was right; that is, whether a federal or an indivisible republic is the best form of government for France. But power and not argument or experience, has decided the question for the present. It is the precise mode in which the Roman emperors decided christianity to be dangerous—the precise mode in which the Chinese emperors reasoned to justify the expulsion of christians from their dominions; and a mode which a violent ruling faction always employs to silence opposition. As a temporary measure, it is always effectual: But I will venture to affirm, that such vindictive remedies for political and religious contentions are, in every instance, unwarrantable. In religious affairs, they proceed from bigotry, or a blind zeal for a particular creed. In political contests, an indiscriminate denunciation of opposers, and the infliction of death upon slight evidence, or mere suspicion can proceed only from savage hearts, or the mad rancor of party and faction.
However necessary might be the revolution in France, and however noble the object, such great changes and a long war will have an effect on the moral character of the nation, which is deeply to be deplored. All wars have, if I may use a new but emphatic word, a demoralizing tendency; but the revolution in France, in addition to the usual influence of war, is attended with a total change in the minds of the people. They are released, not only from the ordinary restraints of law, but from all their former habits of thinking. From the fetters of a debasing religious system, the people are let loose in the wide field of mental licentiousness; and as men naturally run from one extreme to another, the French will probably rush into the wildest vagaries of opinion, both in their political and moral creeds. The decree of the convention authorizing divorces, upon the application of either party, alleging only unsuitableness of temper, hereby offering allurements to infidelity and domestic broils, is a singular proof of the little regard in which the morals of the nation are held by the ruling party. The efforts made by the convention to exterminate every thing that looks like imposing restraint upon the passions, by the fear of a supreme being and future punishments, are a most extraordinary experiment in government, to ascertain whether nations can exist in peace, order and harmony, without any such restraints. It is an experiment to prove that impressions of a supreme being and a divine providence, which men have hitherto considered as natural, are all the illusions of imagination; the effect of a wrong education. It is an experiment to try whether atheism and materialism, as articles of national creed, will not render men more happy in society than a belief in a God, a Providence and the Immortality of the soul. The experiment is new; it is bold; it is astonishing.
In respect to manners also the effects of the war in France must be deplorable. War, carried on between foreign nations, on the most humane principles, has a powerful tendency to decivilize those who are immediately concerned in it. It lets loose the malignant passions of hatred and revenge, which in time of peace, are laid under the restraints of law and good breeding. But in addition to the ordinary decivilizing tendency of war, the present contest in France is carried on with the implacable fury of domestic rage, and the barbarity of assassination. Hostilities have raged in almost every part of that extensive republic, and have been inflamed by faction, insurrection and treason. The Parisians, aided by the Marsellois, massacred thousands on the 10th of August, and 2d and 3d September 1792; and great part of the victims of popular fury fell, merely because they were suspected, without the slightest proof of guilt. The like scenes were exhibited on a smaller scale, at Lyons, and in some other parts of the country. The summary vengence taken on the insurgents in various parts, and especially on the rebels at Lyons and Toulon, must have accustomed great bodies of people to scenes of cruelty, and rendered them unfeeling towards their enemies. But the sanguinary executions of persons condemned by the revolutionary tribunals, at Paris, and in various cities of France, must have rendered the populace extremely ferocious. In many of the calamitous proceedings of the triumphant party in France, there has been displayed a rancor of malice and cruelty, that reminds us of savages: and we can scarcely believe these things done by a nation unquestionably the most polite in the world. The facts however cannot be denied; and they illustrate my remarks, as to the effects of war on the moral character of men.
If these remarks then are just, it is to be supposed that the French nation, will for a few years, be so ferocious and licentious, as to render it extremely difficult to reduce them to a subordination to law. The virulence of party we know in America; but in France, the spirits of men are still more exasperated against each other; and party-rage will not, for a long time, be repressed, without frequent bloodshed. If the odious distinction of whig and tory, still exists in America, and frequently calls forth abuse; how much more will party spirit prevail in France, during the present generation!
It then naturally occurs as a question, what will be the consequences of the abolition of christianity, or the national worship of France?
The general answer appears to me not difficult—atheism and the most detestable principles will be the fashion of the present age; but peace, education, and returning reason will at length prevail over the wild ideas of the present race of philosophers, and the nation will embrace a rational religion.
The nation is now so totally demoralized by the current philosophy of the age, and the ferocious spirit of war and faction, that atheism is a creed perhaps most adapted to the blind and headstrong genius of the present generation. But I am yet one of the old fashioned philosophers, who believe that, however particular men under particular circumstances may reject all ideas of God and religion, yet that some impressions of a Supreme Being are as natural to men, as their passions and their appetites, and that nations will have some God to adore and some mode of worship. I believe some future legislature of France will be obliged to tread back some of the steps of the present convention, with respect to the establishment of a chimerical reason in lieu of religion.
I am of the same opinion respecting their constitution of government. France cannot enjoy peace or liberty, without a government, much more energetic than the present constitution would be, without the aid of danger without and a guillotine within. The moment France is freed from external foes, and is left to itself, it will feel the imbecillity of its government. France now resembles a man under the operation of spasms, who is capable of exerting an astonishing degree of unnatural muscular force; but when the paroxism subsides, languor and debility will succeed. This observation applies to its political force; and when the war shall cease, the military will be strong, while the civil power is weak. The consequences of disbanding half a million of soldiers at once, I will not attempt to predict. Should any dissatisfaction prevail in the army at the moment of peace, on account of pay, provisions, or any other cause, the nation will have to contend with more formidable foes, than the military machines of Austria and Prussia. Great caution and policy will be necessary in dispersing such a number of soldiers and bringing them back to habits of industry and order.
The seeds of faction, that enemy of government and freedom, are sown thick in the present constitution of France. The Executive Council, to be composed of twenty-four members, will be a hot-bed of party; and party spirit is violent, malignant and tyrannical. The French could not have fallen upon a more effectual expedient to create and perpetuate faction, with its train of fatal evils, than to commit the execution of the laws to a number of hands; for faction is death to liberty.
The Republic of France is to keep an army in pay, in time of peace as well as war. This army will always be at the command of the executive. When the minister at war is a man of talents and a wicked heart, he may make use of the army for the purposes of crushing his competitors. A standing army in America is considered as an engine of despotism; and however necessary it may be in the present state of Europe, it will or may prove dangerous to the freedom of France.
Let it not be thought that the writer of these sheets is an enemy to liberty or a republican government. Such an opinion is wholly unfounded. The writer is a native American; born in an independant republic. He imbibed a love of liberty with his first ideas of government; he fought for the independance of his country; he wishes to see republican governments established over the earth, upon the ruins of despotism. He has not however imbibed the modern philosophy, that rejects all ancient institutions, civil, social and religious, as the impositions of fraud; the tyranny of cunning over ignorance, and of power over weakness. He is not yet convinced that men are capable of such perfection on earth, as to regulate all their actions by moral rectitude, without the restraints of religion and law. He does not believe with the French atheist, that the universe is composed solely of matter and motion, without a Supreme Intelligence; nor that man is solely the creature of education. He believes that God, and not education, gives man his passions; and that the business of education is to restrain and direct the passions to the purposes of social happiness. He believes that man will always have passions—that these passions will frequently urge him into vices—that religion has an excellent effect in repressing vices, in softening the manners of men, and consoling them under the pressure of calamities. He believes in short that, notwithstanding all the fine philosophy of the modern reformers, that a great part of mankind, necessitated to labor, and unaccustomed to read, or to the civilities of refined life, will have rough passions, that will always require the corrective force of law, to prevent them from violating the rights of others; of course, he believes government is necessary in society: and that to render every man free, there must be energy enough in the executive, to restrain any man and any body of men from injuring the person or property of any individual in the society. But as many of the preceding remarks appear to be a severe reprehension of the ruling party in France, it is necessary to explain myself more freely on this subject.
The cause of the French nation is the noblest ever undertaken by men. It was necessary; it was just. The feudal and the papal systems were tyrannical in the extreme; they fettered and debased the mind; they enslaved a great portion of Europe. While the legislators of France confined themselves to a correction of real evils, they were the most respectable of reformers: they commanded the attention, the applause and the admiration of surrounding nations. But when they descended to legislate upon names, opinions and customs, that could have no influence upon liberty or social rights, they became contemptible; and when faction took the lead, when a difference of opinion on the form of government proper for France, or a mere adherence to a solemn oath, became high treason punishable with death, the triumphant faction inspired even the friends of the revolution, with disgust and horror. Liberty is the cry of these men, while with the grimace of a Cromwell, they deprive every man who will not go all the lengths of their rash measures, of both liberty and life. A free republic, is their perpetual cant; yet to establish their own ideas of this free government, they have formed and now exercise throughout France a military aristocracy, the most bloody and despotic recorded in history.
But, say the friends of the Jacobins, "this severity is absolutely necessary to accomplish the revolution." No this is not the truth. It is necessary to accomplish the views of the Jacobins; but a revolution was effected before the Jacobins had formed themselves into a consistent body, and assumed the sovereign sway. This first revolution did not proceed far enough in changes of old institutions to satisfy the atheistical part of the new convention. The first constitution had abolished the distinction of orders—it had stripped the nobles and clergy of their titles and rank—it had stripped the church of her possessions—it had taken almost all power from the king—but it had left untouched the two relics of monarchy most odious to little minds, the name of king and his hereditary descent. This furnished the violent members of the convention with a pretext for a further reform, in which, not royalty alone, for this is a matter of little consequence, but even the customary modes of speech, and the sublime truths of christianity, have fallen equally a prey to the regenerating enthusiasm of these profound philosophers.
What had liberty and the rights of men to do with this second revolution? If, on experiment, it had been found that the limited monarchy of the first constitution, which except its civil list, had scarcely the powers of the executive of the United States, was productive of real evils and real danger to the freedom of the government, the nation would have seen the danger, and by general consent, in a peaceable manner, and without the violence of party rage, monarchy would have been abolished. The progress of reason, information and just notions of government was ripening the nation fast for an event of this kind.
But admit what the Jacobins will say, that there was a necessity for removing the king; that he was a traitor, and a plot was forming to replace the monarchy with all its prerogatives; and that there is a foundation for a suspicion of this kind, no man can doubt; yet what shall we say to the trial and condemnation of the Brissotines? Brissot, Le Brun and their followers were the more moderate party, but unquestionably republicans. So far as evidence against them has appeared in the trials published, there is not an iota of proof to warrant the charge of treason. Their great crime was, they were fœderalists—they believed so extensive a country as France, would be best governed by a constitution similar to that of America, each department* having a local legislature to regulate the interior police of the department, and all the departments confederated under a general government for the purpose of regulating the great concerns of the nation. Whether right or wrong, this was a mere question of speculation; and Brissot had precisely the same right to plan, to urge, and if possible, to establish his system, as Danton and Robespiere had to establish theirs. Each had the same rights, the same freedom of debate (or ought to have had) the same privilege of proposing forms of government, and the inviolability of the legislative character ought to have afforded to each the same protection. The outrages committed upon this inviolability are the work of detestable faction, that scourge of almost every free government, and the disgrace of the French Revolution. The Brissotines were charged with "conspiring against the unity and indivisibility of the republic"; that is, against a theoretical form of government; and all the other charges appear to be invented by the malice of party, as they are not supported by any credible proof whatever. But let us go farther and admit, what is probably not true, that all these sacrifices were necessary; what shall we say to the impious attempts to exterminate every part of the christian religion, and substitute Grecian philosophy and atheism as a nation creed? Is this also necessary to maintain liberty and a free government? What shall we say to the legislature of a great nation, waging a serious war with mere names, pictures, dress and statues? Is this also necessary to the support of liberty? There is something in this part of their legislative proceedings that unites the littleness of boys, with the barbarity of Goths.
Let us then separate the men from the cause; and while we detest the instrument, let us admire and applaud the end to be accomplished. We see roses growing among thorns, and we know a Judas, in betraying his Lord, was a vile instrument of man's redemption. I am an old fashioned believer in a divine intelligence, that superintends the affairs of this world, always producing order out of confusion. So far as the experience of three thousand years, and the present knowledge of men, will furnish data for reasoning on political subjects, we may safely conclude that the affairs of France are in a state of vacillation, moving from extreme to extreme by the impulse of violent causes: and that in a few years those causes will be removed, the vibration will cease, and the legislature, tracing back some of the steps of their predecessors, will take the middle path in government, religion and morals which has ever been found practicable and safe. In medio tutissimus ibis, is a maxim that never yet deceived the man, the legislator or the philosopher. Monarchy can never be restored in France, until the people are exterminated. A republican government in some shape or other, will maintain its ground; and I trust and hope, the defeat of the combined powers will teach them the observance of the law of nations, "that one power has no right to interfere with the government of its neighbor."
I would only suggest further that the present war is weakening the feudal system in Europe, and the whole fabric must soon tumble to the ground. Austria and Prussia are exhausting themselves, and Russia is gaining strength. It is not impossible that the Russian power may swallow up the residue of Poland; Prussia and Austria may share the same fate; and the republicans of France may hereafter prove the only barrier that can successfully resist the arms of those modern Scythians. The ancient balance of power in Europe is evidently suffering a material change; when that is destroyed, a general convulsion must succeed, which may shake every throne, and give a new aspect to the political horizon of Europe.
The revolution of France, like that of Rome, is fruitful in lessons of instruction, of which all enlightened nations should avail themselves, and which may be of great use to the United States of America.
The most important truth suggested by the foregoing remarks is, that party spirit is the source of faction and faction is death to the existing government. The history of the Jacobins is the most remarkable illustration of this truth. I will not undertake to say that there did not exist in France a necessity for a combination of private societies, because I do not know whether it was not necessary to exterminate the remains of royalty and nobility, before a free government could be established and rendered secure and permanent. On this point I am not qualified to determin. But that it was this league of Jacobins, combining the individuals of a party scattered over a vast extent of country, into a consistent body, moved by a single soul, that produced the second revolution in France, is a point of which there can be no question. Their opposers, the moderate party impliedly acknowledged this truth, when they attempted to resist their force by the same means; and formed themselves into a society, called, from their place of meeting, Fuillans. But it was too late. The Jacobins were organized; they had already gained over the populace of Paris to their interest, and had, by caresses, and alarming their fears by the cry of despotism, won over a great part of the peasantry of the country. The Rubicon was passed; party had become faction; the Jacobins and the Fuillans were the Cesar and the Pompey of France; one or the other must fall; the Jacobins were the most powerful; they employed a body of armed men to disperse their opposers; the Fuillans were crushed; and the Jacobins, like Cesar, were seated on the throne. Admit the necessity of such a confederacy in France, or in any country where it is expedient and proper to overthrow the existing government; yet it becomes a most serious question, what is the use of such a combination of societies in the United States. When government is radically bad, it is meritorious to reform it; when there is no other expedient to rid a people of oppression, it is necessary to change the government; but when a people have freely and voluntarily chosen and instituted a constitution of government, which guarantees all their rights, and no corruption appears in the administration, there can be no necessity for a change; and if in any particular, it is thought to require amendment, a constitutional mode is provided, and there is no necessity for recurring to extraordinary expedients. In America therefore there can exist no necessity for private societies to watch over the government. Indeed to pretend that a government that has been in operation but five or six years, and which has hitherto produced nothing but public prosperity and private happiness, has need of associations in all parts of the country to guard its purity, is like a jealous husband who should deem it necessary, the day after his nuptials, to set a centinel over his wife to secure her fidelity.
If the government of America wants a reform, the best mode of effecting this, is the constitutional mode. If it is become absolutely necessary to overthrow it, the most direct mode of doing it, is to organize a party for the purpose, by condensing its scattered forces into union and system. But if the point is admitted, that the government does not require any essential alteration, which cannot be effected in a legal way, it follows of course that the establishment of private societies is not necessary. For the same reason that such societies were found useful in France, they ought to be avoided like a pestilence in America; because a total renovation was judged necessary in that country; and such a total renovation is judged not necessary in America—because a republican government was to be established in that country; and in this, it is already established on principles of liberty and equal rights.
As the tendency of such associations is probably not fully understood by most of the persons composing them in this country, and many of whom are doubtless well-meaning citizens; it may be useful to trace the progress of party-spirit to faction first, and then of course to tyranny.
My first remark is, that contentions usually spring out of points which are trifling, speculative, or of doubtful tendency. Among trifling causes I rank personal injuries. It has frequently happened that an affront offered by one leading man in a state to another, has disquieted the whole state, and even caused a revolution. The real interest of the people has nothing to do with private resentments, and ought never to be affected by them, yet nothing is more common. And republics are more liable to suffer changes and convulsions, on account of personal quarrels, than any other species of government; because the individuals, who have acquired the confidence of the people, can always fabricate some reasons for rousing their passions—some pretext of public good may be invented, when the man has his own passions to gratify—the minds of the populace are easily enflamed—and strong parties may be raised on the most frivolous occasions. I have known an instance in America of a man's intriguing for and obtaining an election to an important trust; which he immediately resigned, and confessed he had done it solely to gratify his own will and mortify his enemies. Yet had the man been disposed, he might have used his influence to strengthen a party, and given trouble to the state.
Another cause of violent parties is frequently a difference of opinion on speculative questions, or those, whose real tendency to secure public happiness is equivocal. When measures are obviously good, and clearly tend to advance public weal, there will seldom be much division of opinion on the propriety of adopting them. All parties unite in pursuing the public interest, when it is clearly visible. But when it is doubtful what will be the ultimate effect of a measure, men will differ in opinion, and probably the parties will be nearly equal. It is on points of private local utility, or on those of doubtful tendency, that men split into parties.
My second remark is, that a contention between parties is usually violent in proportion to the trifling nature of the point in question; or to the uncertainty of its tendency to promote public happiness. When an object of great magnitude is in question, and its utility obvious, a great majority is usually found in its favor, and vice versa; and a large majority usually quiets all opposition. But when a point is of less magnitude or less visible utility, the parties may be and often are nearly equal. Then it becomes a trial of strength—each party acquires confidence from the very circumstance of equality—both become assured they are right—confidence inspires boldness and expectation of success—pride comes in aid of argument—the passions are inflamed—the merits of the cause become a subordinate consideration—victory is the object and not public good; at length the question is decided by a small majority—success inspires one party with pride, and they assume the airs of conquerors; disappointment sours the minds of the other—and thus the contest ends in creating violent passions which are always ready to enlist into every other cause. Such is the progress of party-spirit; and a single question will often give rise to a party, that will continue for generations; and the same men or their adherents will continue to divide on other questions, that have not the remotest connection with the first point of contention.
This observation gives rise to my third remark; that nothing is more dangerous to the cause of truth and liberty than a party-spirit. When men are once united, in whatever form, or upon whatever occasion, the union creates a partiality or friendship for each member of the party or society. A coalition for any purpose creates an attachment, and inspires a confidence in the individuals of the party, which does not die with the cause which united them; but continues, and extends to every other object of social intercourse.
Thus we see men first united in some system of religious faith, generally agree in their political opinions. Natives of the same country, even in a foreign country, unite and form a separate private society. The Masons feel attached to each other, tho in distant parts of the world.
The same may be said of Episcopalians, Quakers, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, fœderalists, and antifœderalists, mechanic societies, chambers of commerce, Jacobin and democratic societies. It is altogether immaterial what circumstance first unites a number of men into a society; whether they first rally round the church, a square and compass, a cross, or a cap; the general effect is always the same; while the union continues, the members of the association feel a particular confidence in each other, which leads them to believe each others opinions, to catch each others passions, and to act in concert on every question in which they are interested.
Hence arises what is called bigotry or illiberality. Persons who are united on any occasion, are more apt to believe the prevailing opinions of their society, than the prevailing opinions of another society. They examin their own creeds more fully (and perhaps with a mind predisposed to believe them), than they do the creeds of other societies. Hence the full persuasion in every society that theirs is right; and if right, others of course are wrong. Perhaps therefore I am warranted in saying, there is a species of bigotry in every society on earth—and indeed in every man's own particular faith. While each man and each society is freely indulged in his own opinion, and that opinion is mere speculation, there is peace, harmony, and good understanding. But the moment a man or a society attempts to oppose the prevailing opinions of another man or society, even his arguments rouse passion; it being difficult for two men of opposite creeds to dispute for any time, without getting angry. And when one party attempts in practice to interfere with the opinions of another party, violence most generally succeeds.
These remarks are so consonant to experience and common observation, that I presume no man can deny them; and if true, they deserve the serious attention of every good citizen of America.
The citizens of this extensive republic constitute a nation. As a nation, we feel all the prejudices of a society. These national prejudices are probably necessary, in the present state of the world, to strengthen our government. They form a species of political bigotry, common to all nations, from which springs a real allegiance, never expressed, but always firm and unwavering. This passion, when corrected by candor, benevolence and love of mankind, softens down into a steady principle, which forms the soul of a nation, true patriotism. Each nation of the world is then a party in the great society of the human race. When at peace, party spirit subsides, and mutual intercourse unites the parties. But when the interest of either is attacked, a war succeeds, and all the malignant and barbarous passions are called into exercise.
Admit national prejudices to be in a degree, necessary; let us see what other prejudices exist in the United States, which may prove pernicious to ourselves. The American nation is composed of fifteen subordinate states. I say subordinate; for they are so in all national concerns. They are sovereign only in their internal police.
The states were erected out of British colonies; and it was the policy of Great Britain, rather to foment, than to allay or eradicate, colonial prejudices. She knew that such prejudices weakened the strength of the colonies, and kept them in subjection to the mother-empire. Even the manners, the language and the food of the people in one colony were made the subjects of ridicule by the inhabitants of another. Ridicule is accompanied or followed by a degree of contempt; and hence sprung a dissocial turn of mind among the people of different colonies, which common interest and common danger have not yet converted into perfect harmony.
Since the revolution, a jealousy between the states has sprung from the superior wealth, magnitude or advantages of some, which the small states apprehended would enable the large ones to swallow them up in some future time. This jealousy is mostly removed by the present constitution of the United States; which guarantees to each state, its independence and a republican form of government. This guarranty is the best security of each.
Another source of apprehension has been and still is, the danger of what is called consolidation. The states are constantly asserting their sovereignty, and publishing their fears that the national government will gradually absorb the state governments. Their jealousy on this head is alive, and alarmed at every breeze of air. I am clearly of opinion, that if peace and harmony can be preserved between the general and particular governments, the purity of our national government will depend much on the legislatures of the several states. They are the political guardians, whose interest is constantly impelling them to watch the progress of corruption in the general government. And they will always be the more attentive to their duty, as they entertain not only a jealousy of the general government, but a jealousy of each other.
But I differ from many people who fear a consolidation. So far as my knowledge of history and men will enable me to judge on this subject, I must think our danger mostly lies in the jealousy of the several states. Instead of a probable annihilation of the state governments, I apprehend great danger from the disuniting tendency of state jealousy, which may dismember the present confederacy. That the states have the power to do this, I have no doubt; and I consider our union, and consequently our strength and prosperity as depending more on mutual interest, and mutual concession, than on the force of the national constitution. Consolidation is with me a bug-bear, a chimera, as idle and insignificant, as the medallion of a king. But from the disorganizing tendency of state jealousy, there appears to be a well founded apprehension of danger.
But the principal danger to which our government is exposed will probably arise from another quarter; the spirit of party, which is now taking the form of system. While a jealousy and opposition to the national constitution exist only in the legislatures of the several states, they will be restrained and moderated by the public dignity of those bodies, and by legal or constitutional forms of proceeding. Opposition thus tempered loses its terrors.
But opposition that is raised in private societies of men, who are self-created, unknown to the laws of the country, private in their proceedings, and perhaps violent in their passions, the moment it ceases to be insignificant, becomes formidable to government and freedom. The very people who compose these societies, are not aware of the possible consequences that may flow from their associations. They are few of them persons of extensive historical knowlege; and they do not perceive, that under pretence of securing their rights and liberties, they are laying the foundation of factions which will probably end in the destruction of liberty and a free government. They do not consider, that when men become members of a political club, they lose their individual independence of mind; that they lose their impartiality of thinking and acting; and become the dupes of other men. The moment a man is attached to a club, his mind is not free: He receives a biass from the opinions of the party: A question indifferent to him, is no longer indifferent, when it materially effects a brother of the society. He is not left to act for himself; he is bound in honor to take part with the society—his pride and his prejudices, if at war with his opinion, will commonly obtain the victory; and rather than incur the ridicule or censure of his associates, he will countenance their measures, at all hazards; and thus an independant freeman is converted into a mere walking machine, a convenient engine of party leaders.
It is thus that private associations may always influence public measures; and if they are formed for the express purpose of discussing political measures, they may prove pernicious to the existing government.
The Society of Jesuits, formed at first without any intention of influencing government, became at last formidable to the civil power, wherever they were established and the society was finally dissolved by the arm of power, on account of the danger of its intrigues. The society was at first small and insignificant; but its influence was increased and strengthened by such means as I have described, till a small part of the inhabitants of a country, became dangerous to its government!
The masonic societies do not often intermeddle with politics; tho I have known an instance or two, in a different state, in which their influence was exerted for the brethren, and to a very bad effect. But were the masons in this or any European country, to unite their efforts for the purpose of governing the politics of the country, they might insensibly assume a great share of influence. To the honor of the craft be it mentioned, they have generally avoided any abuse of their power in this respect. But should that society or any other make it a business to unite their opinions and influence the measures of government, the society would establish an aristocracy in the country, and it would be necessary that the institution should share the fate of the Jesuits.
Private associations of men for the purposes of promoting arts, sciences, benevolence or charity are very laudable, and have been found beneficial in all countries. But whenever such societies attempt to convert the private attachment of their members into an instrument of political warfare, they are, in all cases, hostile to government. They are useful in pulling down bad governments; but they are dangerous to good government, and necessarily destroy liberty and equality of rights in a free country. I say necessarily; for it must occur to any man of common reflection, that in a free country, each citizen, in his private capacity, has an equal right to a share of influence in directing public measures; but a society, combined for the purpose of augmenting and extending its influence, acquires an undue proportion of that general influence which is to direct the will of the state. Each individual member of the state should have an equal voice in elections; but the individuals of a club have more than an equal voice, because they have the benefit of another influence; that of extensive private attachments which come in aid of each man's political opinion. And just in proportion as the members of a club have an undue share of influence, in that proportion they abridge the rights of their fellow citizens. Every club therefore formed for political purposes, is an aristocracy established over their brethren. It has all the properties of an aristocracy, and all the effects of tyranny. It is only substituting the influence of private attachments, in lieu of the influence of birth and property among the nobility of Europe; and the certain effect of private intrigue in lieu of the usurped power and rights of feudal lords; the effects are the same. It is a literal truth, which cannot be denied, evaded, or modified, that the democratic clubs in the United States, while running mad with the abhorrence of aristocratic influence, are attempting to establish precisely the same influence under a different name. And if any thing will rescue this country from the jaws of faction, and prevent our free government from falling a prey, first to civil dissensions, and finally to some future Sylla and Marius, it must be either the good sense of a great majority of Americans, which will discourage private political associations, and render them contemptible; or the controling power of the laws of the country, which in an early stage, shall demolish all such institutions, and secure to each individual in the great political family, equal rights and an equal share of influence in his individual capacity.
But let us admit that no fatal consequences to government, and equal rights will ensue from these institutions, still their effects on social harmony are very pernicious, and already begin to appear. A party-spirit is hostile to all friendly intercourse: it inflames the passions; it sours the mind; it destroys good neighborhood: it warps the judgment in judicial determinations: it banishes candor and substitutes prejudice; it restrains the exercise of benevolent affections; and in proportion as it chills the warm affections of the soul, it undermines the whole system of moral virtue. Were the councils of hell united to invent expedients for depriving men of the little portion of good they are destined to enjoy on this earth, the only measure they need adopt for this purpose, would be, to introduce factions into the bosom of the country. It was faction that kept the states of Greece and Rome in perpetual perturbation; it was faction which was an incessant scourge of merit; it was faction which produced endless dissension and frequent civil wars; it was faction which converted a polite people, into barbarous persecutors, as it has done in France; and which finally compelled the brave republicans of Rome to suffer a voluntary death, or to shelter themselves from the fury of contending parties, beneath the scepter of an emperor.
on faction
The following short account of the disputes between Sylla and Marius in Rome, is too applicable to my purpose to be omitted.
Sylla and Marius were competitors for the command of the army destined to act against Mithridates in Asia. Sylla obtained the appointment. Marius, to revenge himself, and if possible, displace his rival, had recourse to P. Sulpicius, a popular tribune, of considerable talents, but daring and vicious. This man made interest with the people, sold the freedom of the city to strangers and freemen, with a view to strengthen his party, and proposed a number of popular laws, in direct violation of the Roman constitution—some of which artifices are exactly similar to those employed by the Jacobins in France and their disciples.
The consuls attempted to defeat these projects; but the tribune, collected a multitude of the people, went to the senate house, and commanded the consuls to comply with their wishes. This is precisely the mode of proceeding adopted by the Jacobins in Paris.
The consuls refused; the populace drew their daggers; the son of the consul, Pompeius, was killed, but Sylla escaped. This answers to the manner in which the Jacobins destroyed their enemies, the Fuillans, by employing an armed body of ruffians.
Sylla however was brought back and compelled to comply with the demands of the tribune. He was therefore left in possession of the consulship, and soon after joined the army. His colleague, Pompeius, was degraded, and Sulpicius obtained the laws he had proposed. Sylla was displaced and Marius appointed to the command of the army. Just so the Jacobins proceeded, till they had filled all public offices with their own partizans.
Now the factions were ripe, and they ended as other factions end, in repelling force with force. Sylla would not resign his command to a faction. (La Fayette and Demourier had the spirit of Sylla, in like circumstances, but their troops would not support them.) He marched his army of 35,000 men towards Rome. The city was in confusion. The senate, by order of Sulpicius and Marius, the Marat and Barrere of Rome, sent a deputation, forbidding the approach of the army. The deputies were insulted by the soldiers. Other ambassadors were dispatched by the senate, requesting Sylla not to proceed. He answered he would stay where he was; but he detached a body of men to take possession of one of the gates of the city. The people drove them back, but Sylla arrived in time to support them; and he set fire to the adjacent houses. Marius resisted, and promised freedom to the slaves that would join him. But he was forced to flee and Sylla, assembling the senate, proposed the banishment of Sulpicius, Marius, and ten of their principal adherents. The edict was passed, and Sylla set a price upon their head, and confiscated their estates. Sulpicius was taken by the treachery of a slave and put to death. To reward the slave, Sylla gave him his freedom, and then ordered him, for the treachery, to be thrown from the Tarpeian rock (the method of rewarding and punishing modern traitors is much similar—giving them a round sum of money and consigning them to infamy).
Sylla convened the people, annulled the new laws of Sulpicius, created three hundred senators to strengthen his interest, and soon set out for Asia, with his army. I cannot detail the whole history of this business—suffice it to say, this pitiful question, which of two able generals (either of them fit for the purpose, and not of a straw's value to the public which gained the appointment), should command the army in the Mithridatic war, gave rise to two parties or factions, which pursued each other with implacable enmity, till they brot their forces into the field, and an action was fought, which cost the lives of ten thousand men.
Marius, the conqueror of the Cimbri, and savior of Rome, an exile, took shipping, was cast away, taken by his foes, escaped, suffering incredible hardships; finally arrived in Asia, where he was maltreated—at last recalled by Cinna the consul, he returned to Italty, and embodying a number of slaves, he entered Rome, and filled it with slaughter; his party putting to death every man, whose salutation Marius did not return.* Marius grew daily more blood-thirsty, and at last put to death every person of whom he had the least suspicion. Who does not see the guillotine in ancient Rome?
Marius soon after died: but his son headed an army and supported his faction. Sylla, having defeated Mithridates and reduced him to terms of peace, returned to Italy; fought the Marian party, and in two actions, it is said, twenty thousand men were slain in each. Finally Sylla crushed his rival's party, and put to death the leaders, filling Rome with slaughter, as Marius had done before him. Sylla's cruel proscriptions fill the reader with horror. Nearly five thousand of the best citizens of Rome were proscribed and massacred. Sylla's assassins roamed thro Italy to find the adherents of Marius, and put them to indiscriminate slaughter. When the senators appeared alarmed at such outrages, Sylla answered them coolly, "Conscript fathers, it is only a few seditious men, whom I have ordered to be punished" precisely the language of the ruling faction in France, and precisely the language of party in all countries.
It is remarkable also that the pretext for these violences is always the same "to rescue the state from tyranny—to destroy despotism—to exterminate traitors." This was the perpetual cant of Sylla and Marius, while they were butchering each other's adherents with merciless cruelty. This was the pretence of Cromwell in England—and it is the present language of the ruling men in France. The state must be saved, and to save it, our party must prevail; liberty must be secured; but to secure it, we must be absolute in power, and of course liberty is crushed. A republic must be established; but to do this, a few commissioners, with dictatorial power, seconded by an irresistable military force, must govern the country. Our government shall be a republic, one and indivisible; and to effect this, it is necessary to put to death the representatives of one half the republic, that the whole may be governed by the other half. Freedom of debate is a constitutional right; but we must have a Paris mob to hiss down our enemies.
Sylla crushed his enemies, with the blood of nearly one hundred thousand citizens and soldiers; and after he had thus delivered Rome from tyrants, as he pretended, he ordered the people to elect him perpetual dictator. He treated the people just as all popular leaders treat them; first courting them, with the cry of liberty; making them the instruments of their own elevation; then trampling on them as slaves. Just so in England, Cromwell destroyed the tyranny, of Charles I, by the cant of liberty and religion, then saddled the English with his own despotic power. Just so Danton, and Barrere are now dictators in France; without the name, but with all the powers; and who will succeed them, God only knows.
I beg the reader to consider these facts, as intended solely to set in a strong point of light the danger of faction. I will not say that the tyranny and corruptions of the old governments in Europe will not warrant men in hazarding all possible temporary evils, to effect a renovation. I would, with candor, believe such violences, in some degree, unavoidable. But nothing short of most palpable corruption, the most unequivocal proof of necessity, can warrant men in resorting to irregular bodies of the people, for a redress of evils. While law and constitution are adhered to, the remedy will always be safe. But when tumultuous meetings of people, unknown to the laws, and unrestrained by legal modes of procedure, undertake to direct the public will, faction succeeds; and faction begets disorder, force, rancorous passions, anarchy, tyranny, blood and slaughter.
jacobin club
At the beginning of the late revolution in America, the people of this country had recourse to a similar mode of combining all parts of the continent into a system of opposition to the existing government. In most of the colonies, the British crown, by its officers, had considerable influence. To resist this influence, the leaders found it necessary to call in the aid of the great body of the people; to rouse their passions, inflammatory publications were circulated with great industry; and to unite, condense and direct the opinions and passions of an immense people, scattered over a great extent of territory, associations were formed, under the denomination of Committees of Safety, which had a correspondence with each other, and moulded the proceedings of the people into uniformity and system. The first Congress grew out of the same system; and then followed union, concert and energy in prosecuting the revolution.
It has been an inexplicable mystery to many very judicious men, how the Americans should have been brot to unite in opposing the usurped claims of Great-Britain, when the evils of slavery were not in reality felt, but only expected by the people. In short, why such a number of illiterate men should be prevailed upon to resist tyranny in principle, and risk the evils of war, when the effects of the British claims were but slightly felt by the mass of people. All parties however agree in ascribing this amazing union, to the good sense of the Americans.
The truth is, discernment and talents were necessary to form and direct the system; but the multitude were managed more by their passions than by their reason. The committees of safety were the instruments of union; and the passions of the populace the instruments of action. The presses teemed with publications addressed to the passions; the horrors of slavery were presented to the imagination in striking colors: and the men who wrote intended, when they wrote, to exaggerate real facts for the purpose of rousing the passions of resentment and dread of evils, which reason told them, were not to be expected. These matters are now known. And it appears very clear from history and observation, that in a popular government, it is not difficult to inflame the passions of a people with imaginary as well as real evils. In Europe, the people have real evils to extirpate. The passions of Americans are inlisting on one side or the other of the present contest in France. We feel no loss of personal liberty as yet, in consequence of the combination against France; but artful men address the passions of our citizens; they teach them to fear, that if France should be reduced, the combined powers will attack liberty in America. Cool men who reflect upon the difficulties of such an attempt, consider all such apprehensions as groundless and idle. But two or three hundred men collected, might have their passions so wrought upon by an artful or noisy declaimer, as to believe the danger real. They then grow violent, and denounce as enemies, all who are cool or moderate enough to entertain no such fears. Thus two parties are formed on a mere imaginary evil, and when the parties are formed, some badge of distinction, a button or a cockade is assumed, to widen the breach, and create disaffection, suspicion and hostile passions. All this is very visible in America; and because some men are too rational to be alarmed at chimeras, too temperate to commit themselves hastily, or too respectable not to despise little badges of distinction, the livery of faction, they are insulted as enemies to the rights of the people: And whenever opportunities offer, they fall a prey to the fury of popular passion. This is the triumph of passion over reason; of violence, over moderation. Should the present controversy in Europe continue two or three years longer, I should not be surprized to see party spirit in America, which grew originally out of a mere speculative question, proceed to open hostility and bloodshed. People are easily made to believe their government is bad, or not so good as they might expect from change; they may be made to fear corruption, which they do not see, and which does not exist: and to risk real evils at the present moment, to guard against possible evils, a century hence. All this may be done, if restless daring men will take pains to manage popular passions.
It may seem strange that moderation should be deemed a crime; but it is a literal truth. In the sittings of the Jacobin Club Dec. 26th. 1793, Robespiere was under the necessity of vindicating himself from the charge of being a moderate, a Fuillant.
Nor is it less singular that some of the charges against their opposers should consist of mere trifles or suspicion, or were so indefinite as not to be capable of proof. One of the charges against Le Brun, was, that he christened a daughter by the name of "Victoire Demourier Jamappe." This was done while Demourier was in full career of glory; yet his enemies, from this circumstance, deduced proof of Le Brun's conspiracy with Demourier. He was convicted of conspiring against the unity and indivisibility of the republic; that is, of attempting to form a federal government in France, like that of America.
[the temple of reason]
There is no instance of idolatrous worship recorded in history, that displays more blind superstition, than the celebration of the Festival of Reason. The idol adored, is not the same as those worshipped by the ancient Druids, or modern Hindoos; but it is still an idol, and the pagan world cannot furnish a more striking instance to prove that men will forever worship something, whether a cat, a bird, an oak, the sun, the moon, fire, or the Temple of Reason. Totally immaterial is it, what the idol is; the deity of the day has no connection with men's happiness, otherwise than as he is visible; he strikes the senses; he rouses the passions of the multitude, and they believe he is propitious to them—how or in what manner they never know or enquire. The oak of the Druids was just as good and powerful a deity, as the temple or altar of reason. The oak inspired its votaries with superstition and enthusiasm; and that is precisely the effect of the French festival of reason; for of all fanatics that ever existed, the French appear, in all that respects what they call philosophy, to be the least rational. The following is the account of the festival.
Paris, Nov. 12.
A grand festival dedicated to reason and truth was yesterday celebrated in the ci-devant cathedral of Paris. In the middle of this church was erected a mount, and on it a very plain temple, the facade of which bore the following inscription; A la Philosophie. Before the gate of this temple was placed the Torch of Truth in the summit of the mount on the Altar of Reason spreading light. The convention and all the constituted authorities assisted at the ceremony.
Two rows of young girls dressed in white, each wearing a crown of oak leaves, crossed before the Altar of Reason, at the sound of republican music; each of the girls inclined before the torch, and ascend[ed] the summit of the mountain. Liberty then came out of the Temple of Philosophy towards a throne made of grass, to receive the homage of the republicans of both sexes, who sung a hymn in her praise, extending their arms at the same time towards her. Liberty descended afterwards to return to the temple, and on re-entering it, she turned about, casting a look of benevolence on her friends. When she got in, every one expressed with enthusiasm the sensations which the goddess excited in them, by songs of joy, and they swore never to cease to be faithful to her.
How little men see their own errors. All this ceremony and parade about reason and liberty; at a time when the governing faction were wading to the altar thro rivers of innocent blood; at a time when the tyranny, imprisonments, and massacres of a century are crouded into a single year.
One absurdity more must be noticed. The Jacobins have displayed an implacable hatred of royalty and every thing that belongs to it. Even devices of kingly origin on coins and rings have not escaped their vengeance, yet these same people have borrowed the principal emblem of royalty themselves; to adorn this festival: and two rows of young girls are furnished with crowns of oak leaves.
of aristocracy
There is not a word in the English or French language so much bandied about by disigning men, and so little understood by their echoing agents, as the word aristocrat. A few days ago an honest man, by no means the least informed, was asked if he knew the meaning of it; he replied very ingenuously, "he did not understand it, but he supposed it some French word." Yet this word is used with great effect to excite party prejudices.
Aristocracy in Europe denotes a distinction of men, by birth, titles, property, or office. In America this distinction does not exist with respect to hereditary titles or office; nor with respect to birth and property, any farther than the minds of men, from nature or habit, are inclined to pay more than ordinary respect to persons who are born of parents that have been distinguished for something eminent, and to persons who have large estates. This propensity, whether natural or habitual, exists—no man can deny it; and this is all Mr. Adams, in his defence, means by the words well-born; an expression that has rung a thousand changes from New-Hampshire to Georgia. Yet the very declaimers who fill our ears with a perpetual din on this subject, are exemplifying the truth of this natural aristocracy, in almost every negociation of their lives. The most noisy democrat in this country, who feasts upon the words liberty and equality, cannot put a son apprentice to business, without searching for a respectable family to take him; nor marry a son or daughter, without enquiring particularly into the family, connections and fortune of the proposed partner. It may be said, this propensity to pay respect to such things is wrong and vitious—be it so—the propensity exists—these things are true—they cannot be contradicted. And Mr. Adams, instead of advocating aristocracy and its exclusive privileges, makes it a main point in his defence, to explain the nature and tendency of this principle in men, and to point out cautions and expedients for guarding against its pernicious effects in government. His labors to check this spirit of aristocracy in America, entitle him to the character of a firm intelligent republican.
If the word aristocracy is applicable to any thing in America, it is to that personal influence which men derive from offices, the merit of eminent services, age, talents, wealth, education, virtue, or whatever other circumstance attracts the attention of people. The distinguishing circumstances of nobility in Europe, are hereditary titles, estates and offices, which give the possessor some claims or rights above others. In this country, most of the circumstances which command particular respect, are personal, accidental or acquired, and none of them give the possessor any claims or rights over his fellow citizens. Yet the circumstances which do actually give this personal influence, which forms a kind of natural or customary aristocracy, exist universally among men, savage or civilized, in every country and under every form of government. The circumstances are either natural, or arise necessarily out of the state of society. Helvetius and other profound philosophers may write as much as they please, to prove man to be wholly the creature of his own making, the work of education; but facts occur every hour to common observation, to prove the theory false. The difference of intellectual faculties in man is visible almost as soon as he is born, and is more early and more distinctly marked than the difference of his features. And this natural difference of capacity originates a multitude of other differences in after-life, which create distinctions; that is, they give rise to those circumstances of talents, wit, address, property, and office to which men invariably pay a kind of respect. This respect gives personal influence to the possessor, in some circle, either small or great, and this personal influence is the natural aristocracy of men, in all countries and in all governments. It exists among the native Indians; it has existed in every republic on earth: From the president of the United States, to the humble apple-dealer at the corner of Fly-market, every person enjoys a portion of this personal influence among his particular acquaintance. It exists in government, in churches, in towns, in parishes, in private societies and in families.
It is this insensible aristocracy of opinion and respect that now forms the firmest band of union between the states. The long and eminent services of our worthy President have filled all hearts with gratitude and respect; and by means of this gratitude and respect, and the confidence they inspire in his talents and integrity, he has a greater influence in America than any nobleman, perhaps than any prince, in Europe. This respect has hitherto restrained the violence of parties: whatever be the difference of opinion on subjects of government, all parties agree to confide in the president. This is the effect of his personal influence; and not a respect for the laws or constitution of the United States. Americans rally round the man, rather than round the executive authority of the union. And it is a problem to be solved, after his leaving the office, what energy, or force really exists in the executive authority itself.
If my ideas of natural aristocracy are just, the president of the United States, is a most influential, and most useful aristocrat: and long may America enjoy the blessings of such aristocracy!
A similar personal influence is observable in other men. In every state, in every town, there are some, who, by their talents, wealth, address or old age and wisdom, acquire and preserve a superior share of influence in their districts. This influence may do good or hurt, as it is coupled with good or bad intentions. But that when confined to small districts, as towns and parishes, it has most generally a good effect, there is no doubt. An old respected citizen has a thousand opportunities of correcting the opinions, settling the quarrels, and restraining the passions of his neighbors. This personal influence in small districts is most remarkable in some parts of New-England; wherever it exists, peace and concord distinguish the neighborhood; and where by any accident, it does not exist, society is distracted with quarrels and parties, which produce an uncommon depravity of morals.
One remark further. The people who contend most for liberty and equality, and who are most alarmed at aristocracy, are, in America, the greatest dupes of this aristocracy of personal influence. Federal men not only respect the president, but they make the constitution and laws of the United States, their standard; at least they aim to do it. On the other hand, their opposers rally round the standard of particular men. There are certain leading men in the antifederal interest, who have more absolute authority over the opinions of that party, than is possessed by any man in America, except the president of the United States. As the aristocracy of America consists in this personal influence, the men, who in private associations, have the most of this influence, are, in their sphere, the most complete aristocrats. And at this time, certain influential men in the democratic clubs, are the most influential aristocrats there are in America among private citizens.
While this personal influence is governed by good motives, or limited to small districts, it is not dangerous and may be useful. When it extends far, it may be useful or dangerous, according as it is directed by good or vitious men. It is always to be watched—in public affairs, it is controled by the laws; in clubs and private citizens, it has no restraint but the consciences of men; and it is to be watched with double vigilance, as its danger is in proportion to its extent.
[contempt for religion]
It is remarked that the Estates General, on their first assembling May 5, 1789, commenced their important labors with a solemn act of devotion. Preceded by the clergy and followed by the king, the representatives of the nation repaired to the temple of God, accompanied with an immense croud, and offered up vows and prayers for success.
Contrast this with the late severe laws respecting the clergy, and the abolition of christianity. Some of the convention pretend to entertain a respect for morality; yet as early as 1791, before they had proceeded to publish atheism as a national creed, one of the members in debate declared it "impossible for a society to exist without an immutable and eternal system of morality"; and this declaration was followed with repeated and loud busts of laughter. This is an instance selected from thousands to show their contempt of every thing that looks like the obligations of religion and morality. Moniteur 15 November, 1791.
[on jacobin subversion]
The following remarks of Mr. Neckar, who was in France and observed all the arts invented by the Jacobins to get command of the people, are [too] much in point to be omitted.
It was an artful contrivance, the success of which was certain, to involve the constitution in two words, liberty and equality. Men of sense would perceive that between these ideas, and a just conception of a political institution there was a vast distance. But the people are to be acted upon only by reducing things to a small compass; it is by restricting their ideas to the narrow circle of their feelings, and absorbing their passions in a phrase, that we become their masters. This object accomplished, a watchword, or in its stead, an outward token, a mark of distinction, the color or fold of a ribbon, has greater effect than the wisdom of a Solon or the eloquence of a Demosthenes. Such are the multitude—such the description of the empire that may be obtained over them; and criminal indeed are those who take advantage of their weakness, and practice arts to deceive them, rather than to render them happy by the sole authority of reason and morality.
Neckar on Exec. Power Vol. 2. 269.
The emissaries of the Jacobins are attempting to make themselves masters of the people in America by the same means—by clubs and a button, or other badge of distinction. Detestable is the artifice, and may confusion be the portion of the Jesuitical incendiaries, who are thus secretly planting enmity and sedition in our peaceful country!
[on factional savagery]
Of the ferociousness of civil war, history furnishes innumerable proofs; and the people of France are daily presenting new examples of the sanguinary spirit of all parties in that distracted country. The following official letter offers a specimen.
Letter from the president and members composing the military committee with the Army of the West, to the commonalty of Paris, dated Saumur, 6 Nivose, (Dec. 25.)
We have to communicate to you the interesting news of the total destruction of the banditti on the right banks of the Loire. There are here and there yet some small remains of these monsters in the interior part of La Vendee, but as our armies are no longer obliged to divide themselves, they will undoubtedly soon clear the whole country. Those who solicit the convention to prevent the great measures of public welfare, and try to inspire them with a false compassion, are either traitors or egotists. If you had seen like me, what this fanatic herd is capable of! Patriots thrown into the fire alive, others cut and chopped to pieces. Two days before the siege of Angers, in a country which was supposed to be all sacred to liberty, three hundred soldiers were assassinated by these monsters, in the neighborhood of Chemeville, and nevertheless the evening before they had cried Vive la Republique! and declared that they sincerely repented of their errors: and in different parts of this unhappy country similar events have taken place.
(Signed) Felix & Millie.
It is surprizing that men will be guilty of the most direct and palpable contradictions, and yet they will not see them—they cannot be convinced of them. The military committee call the insurgents a banditti, a fanatic herd: accuse them of throwing patriots into the fire alive, and chopping them to pieces. Yet with the same breath, they declare the news of their total extirpation by shooting, drowning, and beheading them in cool blood. Besides[,] who began these scenes of carnage? The patriots, so called; the Jacobins and their adherents. The massacre of the 10th of August and 2d and 3d of Sept. were the first scenes of the bloody drama that has been exhibiting for two years in that populous country. In the first scenes of the tragedy several thousand men fell victims—many of them not even suspected of disaffection to the cause of liberty. Who does not see the massacre of St. Bartholomew revived in all its horrors? Change but the names of Catholics and Protestants, to Jacobins and Royalists, and the same scene is presented. The apparent motives are different, but analagous. The catholics put to death the protestants in 1572, because they opposed the power of the Catholics. They opposed Catherine of Medicis, and the Duke of Guise; and the latter, thinking them troublesome, pronounced them traitors and heretics, a scheme of universal assassination was formed, and the King Charles IXth, gave his assent to it. On that dreadful night, the sound of a bell was the signal for rallying, and the assassins were let loose upon the unsuspecting protestants. Five thousand in Paris, and twenty-five or thirty thousand in France, fell victims to the savage fury of the dogs of faction. All this was to serve God and religion.
Draw a parrallel between this scene and the massacre of August and September 1792. The popular party suspected treason in their opposers. Without trial or proof they must be exterminated. A banditti is prepared, from Paris and Marseilles. At midnight the bell gives the signal for rallying; the populace collect and the bloody work is begun—the Swiss guards, all suspected persons, priests and prisoners fall a sacrifice, in the indiscriminate slaughter. In these massacres, six or seven thousand persons are murdered—and for what? Why the old stale plea of necessity is called in to justify it—and liberty in this case, as religion in the massacre of St. Bartholomew is made the stalking horse to drive the trade of butchering their fellow men. The truth is, religion in one case and liberty in the other directly forbid all such outrages. It is faction. Men are always the same ferocious animals, when guided by passion and loosed from the restraints of law. Let parties grow warm—let their passions be inflamed—let them believe one man is the enemy of another—let opposition exasperate them—and it is only for some daring demagogue to cry, your religion, or your liberty is in danger—your enemies are heretics or traitors—they must be exterminated—and the murderous work begins, and seldom ends till one party crushes the other. In all cases of this kind, without one solitary exception on record, faction ends in tyranny—the victorious party, even with the word liberty incessantly on their tongues, never failing to exercise over the defeated party, the most cruel vengeful acts of domination.
This is a most interesting subject to Americans; as the seeds of faction, that bane of republics, seem to be sown by an industrious party in America, and God only knows what will be the fruit of these things. So strong is the impression on my mind, that the present situation of Europe, and our attachment to the French cause require all the caution and vigilance of government and good sense, to save this country from running mad in theories of popular constitutions, and plunging itself into the evils of faction and anarchy, that I beg leave to subjoin the following facts and remarks on this subject.
The manner in which the reports to the National Convention, mention the destruction of the rebels at La Vendee, many of them honest deluded country people, fills the reader with horror. "Our soldiers, hand to hand, cut them down in front of their cannon. Streets, roads, plains and marshes were encumbered with the dead; we marched over heaps of the slain." "This banditti, these monsters—this army of robbers is destroyed." "This war of rogues and peasants." "It would have done your heart good to see these soldiers of Jesus and Louis XVII, throwing themselves into the marshes, or obliged to surrender." "Five hundred rebels were brot in; they implored pardon, which was refused—they were all put to death." "Six hundred were brot to Acenis; 800 to Angers and a great number to Saumer—the representatives of the people would rid the earth of them by ordering them to be thrown into the Loire." "The late actions on the Vendee have cost the lives of 40,000 persons." "The civil war the last summer is supposed to have cost France two hundred thousand lives." These are the accounts we have received from France. "The rebels have been nearly all killed—the royalists have been all massacred—the prisoners are so numerous that the guillotine is not sufficient—I have taken the method, says Garrier, of having them all shot to death." These are the words of the triumphant republicans. Nay, two brothers finding a third brother among the rebels, demanded he should be tried by the military committee.
But what exceeds all the descriptions of barbarity hitherto known in America, is the speech of Collot D'Herbois in the National Convention. "Jacobins! Some persons wish to moderate the revolutionary moment; take care of it; never forget what Robespiere told you on this subject. Some persons wish to make you establish a committee of clemency—No clemency!—be always Jacobins and mountaneers, and liberty shall be saved."
Such are the terrible effects of civil war, the offspring of faction. Foreign wars are conducted with more humanity: it is in civil wars only that men turn savages, and exult over the mangled carcases of their fathers, brethren and fellow citizens.
[on treason]
It is said that Brissot and his party went farther than I have admitted in the text; and actually attempted to exite the people to arms in support of their proposed federal government. The charge on trial was, that "they had conspired against the unity and indivisibility of the republic," and this was held treason. Admit this to be proved; yet it is also admitted that they were republicans; they were all enemies of monarchy. The only circumstance then that fixes the charge of criminality on this party, is, that they were less numerous than the Jacobins: for the Jacobins had recourse to the same means to destroy their opposers, the Fuillans—they employed an armed populace and actually dispersed them by force. This is a public fact. Had the Fuillans, the moderate party, been more numerous (and a few additional members would have turned the scale), they would have crushed the Jacobins, and their ideas of a republican government would have been right—the Jacobinic system of an indivisible republic would have been wrong; and the Jacobins would have been traitors for attempting to maintain it by force. This is a fair statement of the question between the parties.
When the public will of a nation has instituted a government, and that government is in exercise, the constitution is the standard of right; the men who adhere to it are faithful to their country; they are good citizens. When during a revolution, the old government is, by the representatives of the nation, abolished in legal form, and a new one is not yet established, there is a kind of interregnum, a period when the representatives are at liberty to propose any form of government they please. No peaceable act of any representative, to establish his own system, can be called treason. There is no constitution against which an act of treason can be committed—no law, no standard by which it can be defined or proved. If any man attempts to use force and compel his countrymen to receive his system, in preference to others, it is an unwarrantable act—a high misdemeanor—an invasion of liberty—perhaps it may be treason: tho it would be difficult to punish it in a course of legal justice, for there is no law by which it can be determined.
This was nearly the situation of France, when the controversy between the parties in the second convention originated. The constitution of 1791 was abolished with great unanimity, on the first day, if I mistake not, of the session. No new constitution was digested. The members of the convention divided upon the form of government most proper for France. The Jacobins were the first to employ force. They established their power by violence. This cannot be denied. If the employment of force then, was treason, the Jacobins were first guilty. They were the aggressors. The dispersion of the Fuillans, and the horrid massacres of August 10th and Sept 2d and 3d were occasioned by a banditti of the populace of Paris and Marseilles, instigated by some of that party. The party succeeded, and success has decided their cause to be just. It is this success alone, which has given the name of patriotism to the violences of the Jacobins—it is defeat alone which has given the epithet of treason to the efforts of the Brissotines. The mere question, "whose proposed system of government is best for France" is a mere speculative point, on which people will have different opinions; and to entertain this or that opinion, can never be justly denominated treason.
I go farther, and declare my own private opinion, that in the course of a few years, a change will take place in France; and it is an equal chance that the Jacobins will be denounced as traitors, by a majority of the nation; and the statute of La Fayette or Brissot will be erected on the ruins of the statue of Marat. Factions are playing the same game that Sylla and Marius played at Rome—the same game that York and Lancaster played in England—the man who is exiled to day as a traitor, will to-morrow be recalled, and hailed as the protector of liberty. When party spirit subsides and factions lose their violence, then and not before, will tyranny give way to freedom, and the capricious sway of men, to the mild steady dominion of law.
Those who suppose France now in possession of a free government are most egregiously mistaken. At no period has France experienced a despotism so severe and bloody, as the present authority of the convention, backed by a full treasury and more than a million of disciplined troops. This severe tyranny has imprisoned and executed more French citizens in 18 months past, than had been thrown into the Bastile for three centuries, preceding its demolition.
Nor are the French now fighting for internal liberty; they are fighting against external foes; a vile league of tyrants that have unwarrantably attempted to control the internal affairs of France. God grant that they may be defeated, and severely chastized for their insolence!
It is this unprecedented league of princes that now gives union and energy to the French nation. It is perhaps the sole principle of union. When this combination shall be dissolved, and France left to act only upon herself, more than half the revolution will still remain to be effected. France will then have to conquer the errors of her legislators and the passions of a turbulent populace. She will find a defective constitution and feeble laws—she will find violent parties, strong prejudices, unbridled licentiousness to be subdued. Instead of one tyrant or a convention of tyrants, she will find a multitude of little tyrants in each of her forty-five thousand towns and villages. Anarchy, disorder, and proscriptions will afflict her for some years; and probably the present convention and their successors will be buried in the ruins of the present paper constitution of government.
But society cannot exist without government. Experience and severe calamities will ultimately teach the French nation, that government immediately in the hands of the people, of citizens collected without law, and proceeding without order, is the most violent, irregular, capricious and dangerous species of despotism—a despotism, infinitely more terrible than the fixed steady tyranny of a monarch, as it may spring up in a moment, and unexpectedly spread devastation and ruin, at any time, in any place, and among any class of citizens. The tyranny of a monarch is the steady gale, which gives time to prepare for its ravages; it enables the seamen to clear his decks and hand his sails—the farmer to leave his field, to shut his doors and shelter himself and his herds from the impending storm. But popular despotism is a whirlwind, a tornado of passions; it collects in a moment; a calm clear sky is instantly darkened, and furious winds, bursting on their affrightened victims while helpless and unguarded, sweep away the fruits of their labor, and bury them in the ruins.
The French will learn this important truth, that the assembly of representatives, who are to govern twenty-six millions of people, is not to be a company of stage-players, whose speeches are to be regulated by the hisses and acclamations of a promiscuous collection of men in the galleries. They will learn that a Paris mob is not to govern France, and that the galleries of the convention must be silenced, or France will be enslaved. In short the French people must learn that an enthusiasm, necessary to animate her citizens in time of war, will be a source of infinite disorder in time of peace; that passions, essential to them when engaging a foreign enemy, will be fatal to their own government: that in lieu of private wills, the laws must govern; and that parties must bend their stubborn opinions to some conciliatory plan of government on which a great majority of citizens can coalesce and harmonize. When all this is done, they must learn that the executive power must be vested in a single hand, call him monarch, doge, president, governor, or what they please; and to secure liberty, the executive must have force and energy. They must also learn a truth, sanctioned by numerous experiments, that legislative power, vested in two houses, is exercised with more safety and effect, than when vested in a single assembly. The conclusion of the whole business will be, that civil war and the blood of half a million of citizens, will compel the nation to renounce the idle theories of upstart philosophers, and return to the plain substantial maxims of wisdom and experience. Then, and not before, will France enjoy liberty.
Americans! be not deluded. In seeking liberty, France has gone beyond her. You, my countrymen, if you love liberty, adhere to your constitution of government. The moment you quit that sheet-anchor, you are afloat among the surges of passion and the rocks of error; threatened every moment with ship-wreck. Heaven grant that while Europe is agitated with a violent tempest, in which palaces are shaken, and thrones tottering to their base, the republican government of America, in which liberty and the rights of man are embarked, fortunately anchored at an immense distance, on the margin of the gale, may be enabled to ride out the storm, and land us safely on the shores of peace and political tranquillity.
  • [* ]By the present constitution of France, citizenship is lost by naturalization in a foreign country. If Danton himself should come to America and be naturalized, he would no longer be a French citizen. Mr. is a mere title of civility, applicable to all men, in all places, and under all circumstances; the most equalizing title in the French or English language.
  • [* ]I say, each department; but I do not know the extent of the subdivisions contemplated by the fœderalists.
  • [* ]Who does not see the same tragedy acted in France, where a picture of a king is a signal for rallying, and a cockade or other signal of party is necessary to secure a man's life? And who does not see the beginnings of a similar tragedy, in the infamous practice of setting the marks of party upon the peaceable citizens of America? The people who make this attempt may be well meaning—they may not foresee to what lengths faction will carry men, when opportunities favor; but peace and happiness forbid all such odious distinctions.
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