« AnteriorContinuar »
and involving all in a destructive conflagration. When the question of the death-penalty was discussed, it may have been too late to stay, by paper barriers in the form of votes, the tide of violence that was already swelling into a deluge. Still, it is certain that that deluge could never have risen so high as it did, had not legalized bloodshed and judicial murder opened their sluices upon the scene. It would have been an interesting experiment to see how long, or how far, a political revolution could be conducted, based upon the principle of the inviolability of human life. It would have proceeded, we may be sure, more slowly and moderately. Men of extreme views, and disposed to violence, would have been longer working themselves into popular favor. In a revolution, and indeed at all times, the only ground upon which a political leader can stand is a state of the public temperament in sympathy with his own. The only way in which he can control the people is to infect them with his own passions. He who would sustain violent measures must first madden the populace. This was well understood by the bloody spirits who guided the French Revolution, and drove it on to its horrid issues. How well it was understood, the following passage from Lamartine shows.
"Chabot and Grangeneuve were of the council chambers of Charenton. One evening they left together one of these conferences, downcast and discouraged by the hesitations and temporizing of the conspirators. Grangeneuve was walking with his eyes cast to the ground, and in silence. 'What are you thinking of?' inquired Chabot. I was thinking,' replied the Girondist, that these delays enervate the Revolution and the country. I think, that if the people give any time to royalty, they are lost. I think there is but the assigned hour to revolutions, and that they who allow it to escape will never recover it, and will owe an account hereafter to God and posterity. Well, Chabot, the people will never rise of themselves - they require some moving power; how is this to be given to them? I have reflected, and at last I think I have discovered the means; but shall I find a man equally capable of the necessary firmness and secrecy to aid me?' Speak,' said Chabot: I am capable of any thing to destroy what I hate.' Then,' continued Grangeneuve, 'blood intoxicates the people there is always pure blood in the cradle of all great revolutions, from that of Lucretia to that of William Tell and Sydney. For statesmen revolutions are a theory, but to the people they are a vengeance; yet to drive them to vengeance we
must show them a victim. Since the court refuses us this consolation, we must ourselves immolate it to the cause -a victim must appear to fall beneath the blows of the aristocracy, and it must be some man whom the court shall be supposed to have sacrificed, be one of its known enemies, and a member of the Assembly, so that the attempt against the national representative may be added in the act to the assassination of a citizen. This assassination must be committed at the very doors of the château, that it may bring the vengeance down as near as possible. But who shall be this citizen? Myself! I am weak in words, my life is useless to liberty, my death will be of advantage to it, my dead body will be the standard of insurrection and victory to the people!'
"Chabot listened to Grangeneuve with admiration. It is the genius of patriotism that inspires you,' he said; and if two victims are requisite, I will be the second.' You shall be more than that,' replied Grangeneuve; you shall be, not the assassin, for I implore you to put me to death but my murderer. This very night I will walk alone and unarmed in the most lonely and darkest spot near the Louvre; place there two devoted patriots armed with daggers; let us agree on a signal; they shall then stab me, and I will fall without a cry. They will fly - my body will be found next day. You shall accuse the court, and the vengeance of the people will do the rest.'
Chabot, as fanatic and as decided as Grangeneuve to calumniate the king by the death of a patriot, swore to his friend that he would commit this odious deceit of vengeance. The rendezvous of the assassination was fixed, the hour appointed, the signal agreed upon. Grangeneuve returned home, made his will, prepared for death, and went at the concerted moment. After walking there for two hours, he saw some men approach, whom he mistook for the appointed assassins. He made the signal agreed on, and awaited the blow. None was struck. Chabot had hesitated to complete it, either from want of resolution or instruments. The victim had not failed to the sacrifice, it was only the murderer." - Vol. 11. pp. 23, 24.
The first drop of blood spilled in the movement gave it, as it was thus clearly perceived that it would, a demoniac energy that nothing could withstand; and from that moment it rushed on until humanity and religion were alike prostrated. An awful demonstration was thus given of the truth, that the introduction of violence in any form depraves and destroys a reformation.
On another subject, a question was taken and a decision
made, which awaken the same interesting speculations in the mind of a thoughtful reader. Had that question been differently decided, who can estimate the results that might have ensued? If the revolutionary party in France had not appealed to the sword, and called to its aid the spirit of military enthusiasm, if its leaders had discountenanced a resort to such an organized form of mere barbarian force, and had earnestly and perseveringly endeavoured to preserve peace in their relations with other nations, and in the public sentiment of their own people, what an auspicious and beneficent career of freedom and happiness might have been substituted for the extremities of crime, misery, and ruin to which they were so rapidly swept !
"We have already seen that the Statesmen and Revolutionists, Constitutionalists and Girondists, Aristocrats and Jacobins, were all in favor of war. War was, in the eyes of all, an appeal to destiny, and the impatient spirit of France wished that it would pronounce at once, either by victory or defeat. Victory seemed to France the sole issue by which she could extricate herself from her difficulties at home, and even defeat did not terrify her. She believed in the necessity of war, and defied even death. Robespierre thought otherwise, and it is for that reason that he was Robespierre.
"He clearly comprehended two things; the first, that war was a gratuitous crime against the people; the second, that a war, even though successful, would ruin the cause of democracy. Robespierre looked on the Revolution as the rigorous application of the principles of philosophy to society. A passionate and devoted pupil of Jean Jacques Rousseau, the Contrat Social was his gospel; war, made with the blood of the people, was in the eyes of this philosopher what it must ever be in the eyes of the wise -wholesale slaughter to gratify the ambition of a few, glorious only when it is defensive. Robespierre did not consider France placed in such a position as to render it absolutely necessary for her safety that the human vein should be opened, whence would flow such torrents of blood. Imbued with a firm conviction of the omnipotence of the new ideas on which he nourished faith and fanaticism within a heart closed against intrigue, he did not fear that a few fugitive princes, destitute of credit, and some thousand aristocratic émigrés, would impose laws or conditions on a nation whose first struggle for liberty had shaken the throne, the nobility, and the clergy. Neither did he think that the disunited and wavering powers of Europe would venture to declare war against a nation that proclaimed peace, so long as we did not attack them.
But should the European cabinets be sufficiently mad to attempt this new crusade against human reason, then Robespierre fully believed they would be defeated; for he knew that there lies invincible force in the justice of a cause, that right doubles the energy of a nation, that despair often supplies the want of weapons, and that God and men were for the people.
"He thought, moreover, that if it was the duty of France to propagate the advantages and the light of reason and liberty, the natural and peaceful extension of the French Revolution in the world would prove far more infallible than our arms, that the Revolution should be a doctrine, and not an universal monarchy realized by the sword,—and that the patriotism of nations should not coalesce against his dogmata. Their strength was in their minds, for in his eyes the power of the Revolution lay in its enlightenment. But he understood more: he understood that an offensive war would inevitably ruin the Revolution, and annihilate that premature republic of which the Girondists had already spoken to him, but which he himself could not as yet define. Should the war be unfortunate, thought he, Europe will crush without difficulty beneath the tread of its armies the earliest germs of this new government, to the truth of which perhaps a few martyrs might testify, but which would find no soil from whence to spring anew. If fortunate, military feeling, the invariable companion of aristocratic feeling,- honor, that religion that binds the soldier to the throne, discipline, that despotism of glory, would usurp the place of those stern virtues to which the exercise of the constitution would have accustomed the people; then they would forgive every thing, even despotism, in those who had saved them. The gratitude of a nation to those who have led its children to victory is a pitfall in which the people will ever be ensnared, nay, they even offer their necks to the yoke; civil virtues must ever fade before the brilliancy of military exploits. Either the army would return to surround the ancient royalty with all its strength, and France would have her Monk, or the army would crown the most successful of its generals, and liberty would have her Cromwell. In either case, the Revolution escaped from the people, and lay at the mercy of the soldiery, and thus to save it from war was to save it from a snare. These reflections decided him; as yet he meditated no violence; he but saw into the future, and read it aright. This was the original cause of his rupture with the Girondists; their justice was but policy, and war appeared to them politic. Just or unjust, they wished for it as a means of destruction to the throne, of aggrandizement for themselves. Posterity must decide, if in this great quarrel the first blame lies on the side of the democrat, or the ambitious Girond
ists. This fierce contest, destined to terminate in the death of both parties, began on the 12th of December, at a meeting of the Jacobin Club." Vol. 1. pp. 304–306.
Perhaps the lesson which the history of liberty in the Old World proclaims from all its pages, and which is repeated again and again in the New, will at last be received. When politicians bring on war, they must pay the penalty. In republics, if civilians wish to retain their just influence as statesmen, they must preserve peace. War always has given, and, as Robespierre so clearly predicted in reference to France, always will give, in our own and in every free country, ascendency to military reputation. Snatching the prizes of political ambition from the politician, it will carry the successful general to the seats of power.
In some re
spects it is well that it should be so. If party leaders could secure the popularity and patronage that belong to war, and still divide among themselves the spoils of office, and arrange the order of their succession to the government of the country, we might reasonably consider the prospect of peace, prosperity, and freedom darkened over. Elsewhere, the sword drawn for liberty has turned against it. Here, the lesson is repeated in another form. War inflicts a mortal blow, not upon the liberty of the people, we trust, but upon the political party that makes it. Some of the politicians who pushed this country into the war of 1812 still live to brood over the fact, that that war raised up military chieftains who clutched from their grasp the Presidential crown which otherwise would have encircled their brows in sure succession. It is a most instructive circumstance in our history, that when James Madison, then at the head of the government, manifested a reluctance to favor a declaration of war with England, a committee of three was despatched from a Republican caucus to communicate to him the determination of that party to insist upon the measure. The experienced wisdom of that great statesman was overruled and constrained by the short-sighted zeal of less wary politicians. Of that caucus Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun were the master spirits, and of that committee they were members. Although quite young men, they had, by their genius and eloquence, even then acquired the greatest degree of popularity that can be attained in the sphere of statesmanship. The whole nation was waiting, with admiring eagerness, to confer upon them,