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Saturday, July 14, 2018

Danton: Let France Be Free

Probably the greatest orator of the French Revolution—and there were many great ones—was Georges Jacques Danton [1759 – 1794]. It was Danton who inflamed the mob that stormed the Bastille. It was Danton who inspired the National Assembly and the people to fight the enemies of the Revolution who were marching on Paris. A radical advocate of the Reign of Terror, he later became appalled by its ceaseless flow of blood. For this he became suspect, was tried and condemned to the guillotine. This speech was delivered in the National Assembly in 1793.

The general considerations that have been presented to you are true; but at this moment it is less necessary to examine the causes of the disasters that have struck us than to apply their remedy rapidly. When the edifice is on fire, I do not join the rascals who would steal the furniture; I extinguish the flames. I tell you, therefore, you should be convinced by the despatches of Dumouriez that you have not a moment to spare in saving the republic.

Dumouriez conceived a plan which did honor to his genius. I would render him greater justice and praise than I did recently. But three months ago he announced to the executive power, your general committee of defense, that if we were not audacious enough to invade Holland in the middle of winter, to declare instantly against England the war which actually we had long been making, that we would double the difficulties of our campaign, in giving our enemies the time to deploy their forces. Since we failed to recognize this stroke of his genius, we must now repair our faults.

Dumouriez is not discouraged; he is in the middle of Holland, where he will find munitions of war; to overthrow all our enemies, he wants but Frenchmen, and France is filled with citizens. Would we be free? If we no longer desire it, let us perish, for we have all sworn it. If we wish it, let all march to defend our independence. Your enemies are making their last efforts. Pitt, recognizing he has all to lose, dares spare nothing. Take Holland, and Carthage is destroyed, and England can no longer exist but for liberty! Let Holland be conquered to liberty, and even the commercial aristocracy itself, which at the moment dominates the English people, would rise against the government which had dragged it into despotic war against a free people. They would overthrow this ministry of stupidity, who thought the methods of the ancien régime could smother the genius of liberty breathing in France. This ministry once overthrown in the interests of commerce, the party of liberty would show itself; for it is not dead! And if you know your duties, if your commissioners leave at once, if you extend the hand to the strangers aspiring to destroy all forms of tyranny, France is saved and the world is free.

Expedite, then, your commissioners; sustain them with your energy; let them leave this very night, this very evening.

Let them say to the opulent classes, the aristocracy of Europe must succumb to our efforts, and pay our debt, or you will have to pay it! The people have nothing but blood—they lavish it! Go, then, ingrates, and lavish your wealth! [Wild applause.] See, citizens, the fair destinies that await you. What! you have a whole nation as a lever, its reason as your fulcrum, and you have not yet upturned the world! To do this we need firmness and character; and of a truth we lack it. I put to one side all passions. They are all strangers to me save a passion for the public good.

In the most difficult situations, when the enemy was at the gates of Paris, I said to those governing: “Your discussions are shameful; I can see but the enemy. [Fresh applause.] You tire me by squabbling, in place of occupying yourselves with the safety of the republic! I repudiate you all as traitors to our country! I place you all in the same line!” I said to them: “What care I for my reputation? Let France be free, though my name were accursed!” What care I that I am called “a blood-drinker”? Well, let us drink the blood of the enemies of humanity, if needful; but let us struggle, let us achieve freedom. Some fear the departure of the commissioners may weaken one or the other section of this convention. Vain fears! Carry your energy everywhere. The pleasantest declaration will be to announce to the people that the terrible debt weighing upon them will be wrested from their enemies or that the rich will shortly have to pay it. The national situation is cruel. The representatives of value are no longer in equilibrium in the circulation. The day of the working man is lengthened beyond necessity. A great corrective measure is necessary! Conquerors of Holland, reanimate in England the republican party; let us advance France, and we shall go glorified to posterity. Achieve these grand destinies: no more debates, no more quarrels, and the fatherland is saved.

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