Desmoulins, Camille: Democracy is Clemency


Editorial in his newspaper, The Old Cordelier , December 20, 1793, during the French Revolution.

From: James Harvey Robinson Readings in European History, The Atheneum Press, Boston , 1906

SOME PERSONS have expressed their disapproval of my third issue, where as they allege, I have been pleased to suggest certain comparisons which tend to cast an unfavorable light on the Revolution and the patriots, -they should say the excess of revolution and the professional patriots. My critics think the whole number refuted and everybody justified by the single reflection, “We all know that the present situation is not one of freedom, -but patience! you will be free one of these days.”

Such people think apparently that liberty, like infancy, must of necessity pass through a stage of wailing and tears before it reaches maturity. On the contrary, it is of the nature of liberty that, in order to enjoy it, we need only desire it. A people is free the moment that it wishes to be so, -you will recollect that this was one of Lafayette’s sayings, -and the people has entered upon its full rights since the 14th of July. Liberty has neither infancy nor old age, but is always in the prime of strength and vigor. …

Is this liberty that we desire a mere empty name? Is it only an opera actress carried about with a red cap on, or even that statue, forty-six feet high, which David proposes to make? If by liberty you do not understand, as I do, great principles, but only a bit of stone, there never was idolatry more stupid and expensive than ours. Oh, my dear fellow citizens, have we sunk so low as to prostrate ourselves before such divinities? No, heaven-born liberty is no nymph of the opera, nor a red liberty cap, nor a dirty shirt and rags. Liberty is happiness, reason, equality, justice, the Declaration of Rights, your sublime constitution.

Would you have me recognize this liberty, have me fall at her feet, and shed all my blood for her? Then open the prison doors to the two hundred thousand citizens whom you call suspects, for in the Declaration of Rights no prisons for suspicion are provided for, only places of detention. Suspicion has no prison, but only the public accuser; there are no suspects, but only those accused of offenses established by law.

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