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But in the absence
of a constitution, men look entirely to party; and instead of principle
governing party, party governs principle.

1 The Constitution adopted August 10, 1793, was by the
determination of "The Mountain," suspended during the war
against France. The revolutionary government was thus made
chronic--_Editor._

An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to
stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws. He
that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from
oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent
that will reach to himself. Thomas Paine.

Paris, July, 1795.




XXV. THE CONSTITUTION OF 1795.


SPEECH IN THE FRENCH NATIONAL CONVENTION, JULY 7, 1795.

On the motion of Lanthenas, "That permission be granted to Thomas
Paine, to deliver his sentiments on the declaration of rights and the
constitution," Thomas Paine ascended the Tribune; and no opposition
being made to the motion, one of the Secretaries, who stood by Mr.
Paine, read his speech, of which the following is a literal translation:

Citizens:

The effects of a malignant fever, with which I was afflicted during a
rigorous confinement in the Luxembourg, have thus long prevented me from
attending at my post in the bosom of the Convention, and the magnitude
of the subject under discussion, and no other consideration on earth,
could induce me now to repair to my station.

A recurrence to the vicissitudes I have experienced, and the critical
situations in which I have been placed in consequence of the French
Revolution, will throw upon what I now propose to submit to the
Convention the most unequivocal proofs of my integrity, and the
rectitude of those principles which have uniformly influenced my
conduct.

In England I was proscribed for having vindicated the French Revolution,
and I have suffered a rigorous imprisonment in France for having pursued
a similar mode of conduct. During the reign of terrorism, I was a close
prisoner for eight long months, and remained so above three months after
the era of the 10th Thermidor.(1) I ought, however, to state, that I
was not persecuted by the _people_ either of England or France. The
proceedings in both countries were the effects of the despotism existing
in their respective governments. But, even if my persecution had
originated in the people at large, my principles and conduct would still
have remained the same. Principles which are influenced and subject to
the controul of tyranny, have not their foundation in the heart.

1 By the French republican calendar this was nearly the
time. Paine's imprisonment lasted from December 28, 1793, to
November 4, 1794. He was by a unanimous vote recalled to the
Convention, Dec 7, 1794, but his first appearance there was
on July 7, 1795.--_Editor._,

A few days ago, I transmitted to you by the ordinary mode of
distribution, a short Treatise, entitled "Dissertation on the First
Principles of Government." This little work I did intend to have
dedicated to the people of Holland, who, about the time I began to write
it, were determined to accomplish a Revolution in their Government,
rather than to the people of France, who had long before effected that
glorious object. But there are, in the Constitution which is about to
be ratified by the Convention certain articles, and in the report which
preceded it certain points, so repugnant to reason, and incompatible
with the true principles of liberty, as to render this Treatise, drawn
up for another purpose, applicable to the present occasion, and under
this impression I presumed to submit it to your consideration.

If there be faults in the Constitution, it were better to expunge them
now, than to abide the event of their mischievous tendency; for certain
it is, that the plan of the Constitution which has been presented to you
is not consistent with the grand object of the Revolution, nor congenial
to the sentiments of the individuals who accomplished it.

To deprive half the people in a nation of their rights as citizens,
is an easy matter in theory or on paper: but it is a most dangerous
experiment, and rarely practicable in the execution.

I shall now proceed to the observations I have to offer on this
important subject; and I pledge myself that they shall be neither
numerous nor diffusive.

In my apprehension, a constitution embraces two distinct parts or
objects, the _Principle_ and the _Practice_; and it is not only an
essential but an indispensable provision that the practice should
emanate from, and accord with, the principle. Now I maintain, that the
reverse of this proposition is the case in the plan of the Constitution
under discussion. The first article, for instance, of the _political
state_ of citizens, (v. Title ii. of the Constitution,) says:

"Every man born and resident in France, who, being twenty-one years of
age, has inscribed his name on the Civic Register of his Canton, and who
has lived afterwards one year on the territory of the Republic, and who
pays any direct contribution whatever, real or personal, is a French
citizen." (1)

1 The article as ultimately adopted substituted "person" for
"man," and for "has inscribed his name" (a slight
educational test) inserted "whose name is inscribed."--
_Editor._

I might here ask, if those only who come under the above description are
to be considered as citizens, what designation do you mean to give the
rest of the people? I allude to that portion of the people on whom the
principal part of the labour falls, and on whom the weight of indirect
taxation will in the event chiefly press. In the structure of the social
fabric, this class of people are infinitely superior to that privileged
order whose only qualification is their wealth or territorial
possessions. For what is trade without merchants? What is land without
cultivation? And what is the produce of the land without manufactures?
But to return to the subject.

In the first place, this article is incompatible with the three first
articles of the Declaration of Rights, which precede the Constitutional
Act.

The first article of the Declaration of Rights says:

"The end of society is the public good; and the institution of
government is to secure to every individual the enjoyment of his
rights."

But the article of the Constitution to which I have just adverted
proposes as the object of society, not the public good, or in other
words, the good of _all_, but a partial good; or the good only of a
_few_; and the Constitution provides solely for the rights of this few,
to the exclusion of the many.

The second article of the Declaration of Rights says:

"The Rights of Man in society are Liberty, Equality, Security of his
person and property."

But the article alluded to in the Constitution has a direct tendency to
establish the reverse of this position, inasmuch as the persons excluded
by this _inequality_ can neither be said to possess liberty, nor
security against oppression. They are consigned totally to the caprice
and tyranny of the rest.

The third article of the Declaration of Rights says:

"Liberty consists in such acts of volition as are not injurious to
others."

But the article of the Constitution, on which I have observed, breaks
down this barrier. It enables the liberty of one part of society to
destroy the freedom of the other.

Having thus pointed out the inconsistency of this article to the
Declaration of Rights, I shall proceed to comment on that of the same
article which makes a direct contribution a necessary qualification to
the right of citizenship.

A modern refinement on the object of public revenue has divided the
taxes, or contributions, into two classes, the _direct_ and the_
indirect_, without being able to define precisely the distinction or
difference between them, because the effect of both is the same.

Those are designated indirect taxes which fall upon the consumers of
certain articles, on which the tax is imposed, because, the tax being
included in the price, the consumer pays it without taking notice of it.

The same observation is applicable to the territorial tax. The land
proprietors, in order to reimburse themselves, will rack-rent their
tenants: the farmer, of course, will transfer the obligation to the
miller, by enhancing the price of grain; the miller to the baker, by
increasing the price of flour; and the baker to the consumer, by raising
the price of bread. The territorial tax, therefore, though called
_direct_, is, in its consequences, _indirect_.

To this tax the land proprietor contributes only in proportion to the
quantity of bread and other provisions that are consumed in his own
family. The deficit is furnished by the great mass of the community,
which comprehends every individual of the nation.

From the logical distinction between the direct and in-direct taxation,
some emolument may result, I allow, to auditors of public accounts, &c.,
but to the people at large I deny that such a distinction (which by the
by is without a difference) can be productive of any practical
benefit. It ought not, therefore, to be admitted as a principle in the
constitution.

Besides this objection, the provision in question does not affect to
define, secure, or establish the right of citizenship. It consigns to
the caprice or discretion of the legislature the power of pronouncing
who shall, or shall not, exercise the functions of a citizen; and
this may be done effectually, either by the imposition of a _direct or
indirect_ tax, according to the selfish views of the legislators, or by
the mode of collecting the taxes so imposed.

Neither a tenant who occupies an extensive farm, nor a merchant or
manufacturer who may have embarked a large capital in their respective
pursuits, can ever, according to this system, attain the preemption
of a citizen. On the other hand, any upstart, who has, by succession
or management, got possession of a few acres of land or a miserable
tenement, may exultingly exercise the functions of a citizen, although
perhaps neither possesses a hundredth part of the worth or property of a
simple mechanic, nor contributes in any proportion to the exigencies of
the State.

The contempt in which the old government held mercantile pursuits, and
the obloquy that attached on merchants and manufacturers, contributed
not a little to its embarrassments, and its eventual subversion; and,
strange to tell, though the mischiefs arising from this mode of conduct
are so obvious, yet an article is proposed for your adoption which has a
manifest tendency to restore a defect inherent in the monarchy.


I shall now proceed to the second article of the same Title, with which
I shall conclude my remarks.

The second article says, "Every French soldier, who shall have served
one or more campaigns in the cause of liberty, is deemed a citizen
of the republic, without any respect or reference to other
qualifications."(1)

It would seem, that in this Article the Committee were desirous of
extricating themselves from a dilemma into which they had been plunged
by the preceding article.



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