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Monday, July 9, 2018

Mirabeau: Against the Charge of Treason

One of the foremost orators of the French Revolution was Gabriel HonorĂ© Victor Riquetti, Comte de Mirabeau [1749-1791]. Like the other revolutionary leaders he had to face sooner or later the charge of treason. Here is part of Mirabeau’s stirring speech in his own defense, which he delivered before the National Assembly in 1790. His eloquence overcame the opposition, but a year later he died from overwork and dissipation.

I am not speaking here in order to humor popular malice, to excite bursts of hatred, to bring about fresh divisions. No one knows better than I do that the salvation of everything, and of everybody, lies in harmony and in the destruction of all party spirit; but I cannot help adding that to set on foot infamous arraignments, to change the administration of justice into a weapon of attack which slaves would regard with loathing, is a poor way of effecting that reunion of hearts which alone is wanting for the achievement of our undertaking. I beg permission to resume my argument.

The indictment describes me as an accomplice; there is, then, no charge against me excepting that of complicity. The indictment does not describe me as an accomplice in any specific act of violence, but of a certain person alleged to be the prime mover in such an act. There is, then, no charge against me unless it be proved, first of all, that there was an arch-conspirator; unless it be proved that the charges of complicity implied that I played a secondary part to a principal part; unless it be established that my conduct has been one of the main springs of the act, the movement, the explosion, whose causes are being sought for.

Finally, the indictment does not simply describe me as the accomplice of any specific arch-conspirator, but as the accomplice of Mr. Somebody or other. There is, then, no charge against me unless it be at the same time proved that this prime mover is the chief culprit, and that the charges of which I am the object involve him, and imply a common plot springing from the same causes, and calculated to produce the same effects.

Now, of all that it would thus be indispensable to prove, nothing has been proved.

I forbear to inquire whether the events upon which the evidence is based are to be called calamities or crimes; whether these crimes are the result of conspiracy, a want of caution, or a turn of chance; whether the hypothesis of a single arch-conspirator does not render them a hundredfold more inexplicable.

I am content to remind you that amongst the acts laid to my charge, some cannot be connected with each other excepting by the logic of tyrants or their tools, because they were committed many months either before or after the insurrection, and others which are contemporaneous with the indictment are evidently neither causes nor effects of it, nor have they had any influence upon it, but are of such a character as quite excludes the idea of their being performed by an agent, a conspirator, or an accomplice, and unless I am supposed to be in the number of those who were culprits in will, though not in deed, and not chargeable with anything beyond that, neither exercise of influence nor incitement, my so-called complicity is a delusion.

I am content to draw your attention to the fact that the charges which are laid against me, so far from proving that I was in collusion with the arch-conspirator concerned, would imply that my relations were of an entirely opposite character; that in denouncing the “fraternal banquet” I was not the only one to style it “an orgy”; that I merely echoed two of my friends, who had adopted the expression before me; that if I had rushed through the ranks of the Flanders regiment I should have done nothing more, according to the indictment itself, than follow the example set by many members of this Assembly; that if the remark, “What does it matter whether it be Louis XVII.?” was made as reported, not only did I have no thought of a change of dynasty, but my ideas, as stated in a letter to a member of this Assembly, did not even turn in the possible contingency of a regent to a brother of a king.

What, then, is the prominent part that I am supposed to have played in the events with which the indictment deals? Where are the proofs of the complicity which is thrown in my teeth? What is the crime concern­ing which it can possibly be said, “He is either the author or the cause of it”? But I forget that I am adopting the tone of an accused man, when in truth I ought to take that of an accuser.

What is this indictment, supported as it is by evidence which could not be gone through, whose compilation required a whole year for its completion; this indictment which the crime of high treason apparently required, and which fell into the hands of an incompetent tribunal utterly destitute of authority, excepting in the cases of treason against the nation? What sort of an indictment is this, which, threatening in the space of a single year twenty different persons, is now suspended, now resumed, according to the interest and the views, the fears and hopes of its wire­pullers, and has never been anything else during that long period but a weapon of intrigue, a sword suspended over the head of those who are to be ruined or intimidated, cast off or won over; which, finally, after searching heaven and earth for evidence, has not reached any conclusion until one of those who were accused by it either lost faith in or learned to despise the dictatorial power that was keeping him in banishment?

What sort of an indictment is this, which is occupied with individual transgressions concerning which there is no evidence, transgressions whose remote causes are, nevertheless, to be eagerly sought for, without throwing any light upon their proximate causes? What procedure is this, which investigates events easily to be explained without any idea of a conspiracy, and yet has only conspiracy for its basis of investigation— whose first aim has been to conceal real faults, and to replace them by imaginary crimes? It has from the first been guided by vanity, its rage since then has been whetted by hatred, it has been carried by its party spirit, infatuated by its ministerial authority, and, after thus being the slave of many influences in turn, it has ended in an insidious denunciation of your decrees, the king’s freedom of choice, his journey to Paris, the wisdom of your deliberation, the nation’s love for the monarch.

What sort of an indictment is this, which the most deadly enemies of the Revolution would not have framed in a better way, even if they had been the sole promoters of it, as they have been almost its sole executors; whose tendency has been to set ablaze the most furious party spirit, even in the bosom of this Assembly, and to raise witnesses up in opposition to judges, both throughout the whole kingdom in the provinces, by calumniating the intentions of the capital, and in each town by rendering odious the liberty which was real enough to bring in question the life of the monarch; and in all Europe, by painting the situation of a free king in false colors, as that of a king captive and persecuted; and in depicting this august Assembly as an assembly of factionists? Yes, the secret of this infernal procedure is at last discovered. It is to be found in its full completeness there. It is to be found in the interests of those whose testimony and calumny have woven its tissue; in the weapons it has furnished to the enemies of the republic; this secret lurks, yes, it lurks in the heart of the judges, as it will soon be engraven on the page of history, by the most just and most implacable vengeance.

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