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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Leon Gambetta: To The Delegates From Alsace

Leon Gambetta [1838-1882], French lawyer and statesman, was a man of unusual ability and eloquence. His brilliant defense of a political prisoner of Napoleon III made him famous. He was elected deputy; and when the empire fell, it was Gambetta who proclaimed the third French republic. When the Germans surrounded Paris in 1870, Gambetta escaped in a balloon—a dramatic feat in those days. When peace and order came, he turned over his powers to the new republic. This speech was delivered in 1873.

On receiving from your hands this testimonial of the indissoluble bonds of solidarity which unite to each other the various members of the great French family—for the moment, alas, separated as you say—I know not which feeling touches me more poignantly, the sentiment of gratitude or that of grief.

It is truly terrible to think that it is on the day on which we are negotiating, for a golden price,—hard and necessary results of our defeats the evacuation of our departments,—to think that this lesson, this last exhortation, are given us by you. I feel all the grief which you experience in being obliged to count, to weigh, to postpone your hopes. I realize that you have need, as we have, to tell yourselves that you will not give way to it. I well know that you are right in repeating to yourselves that constancy is one of the qualities of your race. Ah! it is from that very circumstance that our dear Alsace was particularly necessary to French unity. She represented among us, by the side of that mobility and lightness, which, unfortunately, at certain moments mar our national character, she represented, I say, an invincible energy. And on this great pathway of invasion she was always found the first and the last to defend the fatherland!

It is for that reason, that as long as she returns not to the family, we may justly say there is neither a France nor a Europe.

But the hour is serious and full of difficulties, and it is greatly to be feared that if we give ear only to things which excite our patriotism and to bitter remembrances which recall us to impossible struggles, to the sentiment of our isolation in the world, to the memory of the weaknesses which have overwhelmed us—we shall go to some extreme, and compromise a cause which we might better serve.

Yes, in our present meeting, what ought to be reported and repeated to the constituents who have chosen me—who have saluted in me, the last one to protest, and to defend their rights and their honor,—is by no means a word of excitement or enthusiasm, but rather a message of resignation, albeit of active resignation.

We must take account of the state of France, we must look it squarely in the face. At the present hour the Republic, which you associate and always have associated not only with the defense of the fatherland, but also with her upraising and regeneration, the Republic, I say, claims the allegiance of some from necessity, of others from interest, and, of the generality of sensible people, from sentiments of patriotism.

To-day, under the stress of events and the great struggles of which we have been the victims, France has learned—so, at least, we may believe from recent and decisive manifestations—that the Republic is henceforward to be regarded as the common pledge of the rebirth of our nation’s material and moral forces.

This great result could only have been obtained by means of reserve and prudence. The Republic could gain intellectual assent, conciliate interests, make progress in the general conscience, only by means of moderation among republicans, by proving to the majority of the indifferent, that only in this way is the spirit of order, of civil peace, and of progress peacefully and rationally to be obtained.

This demonstration is now merely commencing. We must follow it up, continue it. Especially must tardy convictions be made absolute. These have assisted us for some time, but in their turn may confirm the convictions of others, on which we have not counted, and which, gradually, under the influence of a continuous republican agitation, are transformed and enlarged, and become the general convictions of all.

We are favored by the circumstances of the hour. I do not mean that we ought to count on this to do everything, but we must take account of the fact and use it to solicit from all the spirit of concord, the spirit of union, and above all, the spirit of resignation and sacrifice. Ah! it is indeed cruel to ask of these brothers, harshly abandoned, the spirit of sacrifice and resignation, and yet it is of these that we make the supreme demand that they will not harass the country in her travail of reconstruction. And just as yours has been the section in which the greatest numbers have taken arms for the national defense, just as you have given your children and your gold, just as you have borne for the longest period, bullets, fire, bombs, and the exactions of the enemy, so during this unhappy peace you must give to France the example of a population able to preserve its sentiments without rushing to extremes, without provoking an intervention.

Ah! how strongly those who struggled felt that there was no other resource, and no other honor for France, than to make the flag of the Republic the flag of the nation. There was something in this spectacle to urge us to retire within ourselves and to seek by starting fresh, by yielding to a new impulse, to impress the French mind, whatever the true means of restoring our moral and scientific greatness, financial probity, and military strength. And when we have in all the work-yards of construction rebuilt France piece by piece, do you believe that this will be ignored by Europe, and that nations will fail to think twice before approving and ratifying the outrageous gospel of force? Do you believe that that barbarous and Gothic axiom that might makes right will remain inscribed in the annals of international law? No! No!

If an ill-omened silence has greeted such a theory, it is because France was cast down. But there is not another country in Europe that does not think France should renew herself. They are not thinking of assisting her—they have not arrived at that—to that position our best wishers and those who sympathize with us the most desire for her. We have not received, and we shall not for a long time receive, either aid or cooperation, but the sentiment of the neighboring nations is plainly seen. They feel that the storm may not have spent all its strength on us, and that it may visit other countries and strike other peoples. The sentiment of general self-preservation is springing up. They are looking from France, and they see the occidental world empty.

Let us show our strength to those who are examining our morality, our internal power, and avoid displaying, as we have till now too often done, the spectacle of dynastic quarrels or dissension about chimeras.

Let us give this pledge to Europe, that we have no other aim than to take all the time necessary to arrive at that moral and material position where there is no need of drawing the sword, where people yield to right all that is her due, because they feel that there is force behind.

But let us neither be unduly elated, nor depressed by discouragement.

Let us take to the letter—and this is a reflection that you will permit me to make in the presence of this bronze group which you have been so good as to offer me—let us take to the letter the thought which has animated the artist and the patriot. As this mother, who, extending her hand over the body of her fallen son, and feeling her bosom pressed by her babe, as yet too feeble to bear arms, counts only on the future, let us take the only course worthy of people truly animated by a wise and steadfast purpose. Let us not talk of revenge or speak rash words. Let us collect ourselves. Let us ever work to acquire that quality which we lack, that quality of which you have so admirably spoken—patience that nothing discourages, tenacity which wears out even time itself.

Then, gentlemen, when we have undergone this necessary renovation, time enough will have passed to bring about changes in the world around us. For this world which surrounds us is not, even now, in a very enviable situation. The din of arms, because it has ceased in France, has not ceased elsewhere.

One need not travel very far among his neighbors to perceive that on all sides preparations are being made, that the match is lighted. The only activity that prevails amid the operations of governments is military activity.

I do not say that from this we should draw delusive inferences. We should simply understand that the true program for every good Frenchman is, above all, to discipline himself at home, to devote himself to making of each citizen a soldier, and, if it be possible, an educated man, and leaving the rest to come to us in the process of our national growth.

Our enemies have given us examples on this point, which you know better than we do. For you, dwelling just on the frontiers, between them and us, have derived from intercourse with them a greater intellectual culture, have learnt the application of scientific ideas to promote the interests of practical life, at the same time that you still possess that fire, that energy, that vigor, which are characteristic of the French race.

It is with you and like you that we wish to labor, without letting ourselves be turned from our end by monarchical conspiracies. You can repeat to your brothers of Alsace that there is nothing to be feared from that quarter. That fear would be of a nature singularly alarming to your patriotic hopes. And again I say, gentlemen, now that sophists on all sides are declaring that if we remain a Republic we shall lack alliances outside and that we shall find no cooperation nor aid in the governments of Europe, again I say that if there be a rĂ©gime, a system of government which has above all a horror of the spirit of conquest and annexation, it is the Republican. Any other political combination than the Republic would lead to civil war and foreign occupation. And we should have but one passion, one aim—to get rid of that. We ought to repeat the cry of Italy, “Out with the foreigners!”

Be persuaded, be sure, that under a government which is resolved to follow a truly national policy you can wait and need never despair.

As for me, you know the sentiments I have avowed to you; you know how completely I am yours. I have no other ambition than to remain faithful to the charge you have given me, and which I shall consider as the law and honor of my life.

Let those among you, gentlemen, who have the sorrowful honor of rejoining your compatriots of Alsace, say that after I had seen you I could not find in my heart a single word which would express, as I would have it do, the profound gratitude that I feel toward you.

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