Letter from a student, a man of the people,

to the doctrinaire aristocrats

The cleverest hawker of printed lies, in his quasi-legitimacy, besmirches everything honored by the friends of liberty. Young men full of courage and patriotism are asking back, with loud cries, the liberty which they won and which was stolen from them. They want it, not merely for themselves, but for everyone; broadly, without restriction, without monopoly. They want the sovereignty of the people in practice and the abolition of all heredity. They want the extermination of all abuses, economy and morality in the place of sycophancy and corruption, and because they know their rights and duties as citizens well enough to ask for the election of the representatives of the nation by all citizens with an equal interest, since they are all equally under sway of the law; because a sumptuous and idle royalty seems to them to be the greatest obstacle to the happiness of France; because they ask at last for a representative republic where executive power is contained by insurmountable embankments, where the administrative and judicial authorities that weigh so directly on the citizens are elected by the citizens, where the responsibility of the agents of the nation is no longer an empty phrase, where the salaries of public offices are nothing more than strict compensation for the work that the country demands of public officials—they are presented to public opinion as rabble-rousers, as the inept parodists of a grand and sublime era which some call the Terror, and rightly so, for in striking down a traitor king it made all kings tremble.

The students of July, guilty of scorning the legal order’s advice when blood was running in the streets of Paris, irritate M. Casimir Périer’s nervous susceptibility. He asks for cowardly accusers. Who responds? The Journal des Débats1; that is its trade; my own duty is to protest, in the name of my comrades, who share my doctrines.

It rebukes us for the exaltation and the inflammation of our ideas; well, it is right, for we are its patrons’ mortal enemies. We are inflamed with outrage against those who sell the liberty they have not paid for to foreign powers and to the privileged. We are inflamed with outrage against those who are bringing back this immoral system of shift and deception with which they fool generous workers who will not be long to realize their error, and will only be the more formidable to the men who are striving to demean and degrade them in order to better oppress them. We are in transports of indignation against an iniquitous legislature, the protector of the strong and the rich, the abandoner of the weak and the poor. We want to steal from the tax office the money that pays for the honest worker’s bread. We want to make sure he knows all his rights and responsibilities in society, since he bears almost all its loads. We want to maintain his enthusiasm, which others want to stifle; warm up his ardent love of freedom; associate his material wellbeing with his political rights, which he understands and which he claims as inalienable property; arrange his vigorous arms for the defense of the country; help him dispose of his enemies within before attacking those outside.

We are rebuked for thinking highly of Robespierre and Saint-Just, for being enamoured of the bloody anarchy of 93. We are not afraid to respond: Yes, we love those great citizens; yes, we admire everything that was great and generous in the hearts of these virtuous republicans, who were not afraid to provoke the hatred of their contemporaries, satisfied to make appeal not to the passions of the moment but to the impartial judgment of posterity… Posterity! We are its beginning, and as disinterested parties in this great trial, we will not cease to take up the defense of this glorious part of our revolution, and to say to its eternal accusers: stop railing with false sentimentality against events which humanity must no doubt weep over, but which nevertheless saved France. Disparagers of the greatest revolutionary superiorities, at least agree on your reproaches, for one minute you reproach their enthusiasm and demagogic delirium, and the next you reproach them for selling their consciences to foreign powers, to those who roused their vengeance so well. The enemies of the republic paid for anarchy in order to reappear with its help, in an anti-social position which the people refused. But their agents found Robespierre and Saint-Just incorruptible; they died as poor as Aristide. Wherever they found corruption, they struck it down. Hebert and Chaumette’s commune appeared in the arena of liberty, and they broke it. The man of great blows, the energetic Danton, frightened the austere virtue of the pure Montagnards by his immense depravation. The Incoruptible signed his death warrant.

The Mountain, dominated by the two colossal figures of Robespierre and Saint-Just, had the force to overcome the greatest difficulties after giving a pledge to the Revolution and shocking the tyrants with the death of their brother; it crushed the Girondin federalism, as well as the more skillful royalism which profited from its maneuvers. When it took the dictatorship, famine was terrifying France’s courage; the absence of cash and the depreciation of the assignats made its position more and more difficult. All of our armies were beaten; complete disorganization was working upon them; its leaders were defecting openly; the triumphant aristocracy was rearing its head in the departments; Lyon, the Vendée, Bordeaux and Marseille were infected with royalism, and Toulon had been sold to the English. The Convention raised its voice; it demanded audacity, more audacity, always audacity. The people rushed to take up arms, the enemy was defeated, the aristocracy was crushed; the Convention deserved altars.

And in the face of so much work and so many services, these men want us to adopt the angers and hatreds of those daft old men whom they ask for the truth. They want tears and regrets for so much glory: weepers, slaves of all regimes, the Terror spared you! Too bad, for you hold back our march.

You rebuke us for taking away the work and industry of the workers to give them the Republic in return: well! will you feed them with your false promises of republican institutions, with your constitutional throne embroidered in gold and silver, and surrounded with the lackeys of all the legitimacies? Will you feed them with the tax on salt, the tax on drinks, and all the thousand hindrances that people reproaches you for!

Its admirable good sense enlightens it about the real value of riots, you say; but what enlightens it about the character of the students if not your agents and a few workers that you have paid to slander us and crush us2?

In December you wanted to divide the students from the people3, and in March the workers from the students, and so establish between them a hatred that could serve your despotism. But your shameful projects will not succeed: the people will soon recognize its true friends, and on the coming day of its sovereign justice, they will avenge together the grievances they have accumulated against a usurping power, which every day removes a stone from the fragile edifice which some intrigues have raised up for it.


1Article of March 21.

2M. Agier, deputy and colonel of the 12th legion, dared to address this dangerous apostrophe to the workers gathered on the Place du Panthéon with the students of the two schools: “Workers, my friends, you are good fellows, fling yourselves upon this mob of students who are taking your work away from you.” Such words have no need of comment.

3One might not believe that I wanted to establish any distinction between the people and the students, even though it is obvious. The students are a fraction of the people, the same as the stonemasons’ guild, etc., and I have more regard for an honest rag-picker than for the formerly plebeian minister who insults the people through his luxury of a posh lackey.

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