Most Famous Orations – MIRABEAU

One of the causes of the French Revolution was enormous public debt.  MIRABEAU presented a now famous oration in defense of Jacques Necker’s patriotic tax.

MIRABEAU:  Two centuries of depredations and brigandage have made the chasm in which the kingdom is ready to engulf itself.  We must close this fearful abyss.  Well, here is a list of French proprietors!  Choose among the richest, thus sacrificing the least number of citizens!  But choose!  For must not a small number perish to save the mass of the people?  Well, these two thousand notables possess enough to make up the deficit.  This will restore order in the finances and bring peace and prosperity to the kingdom!

Strike, immolate without pity these wretched victims, cast them into the abyss until it is closed.  You recoil in horror, inconsistent and pusillanimous men!  Do you not see that in decreeing bankruptcy, or what is still more odious, in rendering it inevitable, without decreeing it, you do a deed a thousand times more criminal, and – folly inconceivable – gratuitously criminal?  For at least this horrible sacrifice would cause the disappearance of the deficit.  But do you imagine that in refusing to pay, you will cease to owe?  Do you believe that the thousands, the millions of men who will lose in an instant, by the terrible explosion or its repercussion, all that made the consolation of their lives, and constituted, perhaps, the sole means of their support, would leave you peaceably to enjoy your crime?  Stoical contemplators of this incalculable evils which this catastrophe would disgorge upon France!  Impassive egoists who think that these convulsions of despair and misery shall pass like so many others, and the more rapidly as they are more violent!  Are you sure that so many men without bread will leave you tranquilly to the enjoyment of those dainties, the number and delicacy of which you are unwilling to diminish.  No!  you will perish, and in the universal conflagration you do not hesitate to kindle, the loss of your honour will not save a single one of your detestable enjoyments!

Look where we are going!…I hear you speak of patriotism, and the elan of patriotism, of invocations to patriotism.  Ah!  do not prostitute the words ‘country’ and ‘patriotism’!  Is it so very magnanimous – the effort to give a portion of one’s revenue to save all of one’s possessions?  This, gentlemen, is only simply arithmetic; and he who hesitates cannot disarm indignation except by the contempt he inspires through his stupidity.  Yes, gentlemen, this is the plainest prudence, the commonest wisdom!  It is your gross material interests I invoke!  I shall not say to you as formerly: will you be the first to exhibit to the nations the spectacle of a people assembled to make default in their public obligations?  I shall not say again:  what titles have you to liberty?  What means remain to you to preserve it, if in your first act you surpass the turpitude of the most corrupt governments; if the first care of your vigilant cooperation is not into a universal ruin, and you yourselves have the greatest interests in making the sacrifices the government asks of you.  Vote, then, for this extraordinary subsidy; and it may be sufficient!  Vote for it, for if you have any doubts on the means adopted (vague and unenlightened doubts), you have none as to its necessity or our inability to provide an immediate substitute.  Vote, then, because public necessity admits no delay and we shall be held accountable for any delay that occurs.  Beware of asking for time!  Misfortune never grants it!

Gentlemen, apropos of a ridiculous disturbance at the Palais Royal, of a laughable insurrection, which never had any importance save in the weak imaginations or perverted designs of a few faith-breakersm you have heard these mad words: ‘Catiline is at the gates of Rome! And yet you deliberate!’

And certainly there has been about us no Catiline, no peril, no faction, no Rome.  But today bankruptcy – hideous bankruptcy is here – it threatens to consume you, your properties, your honour!  And yet you deliberate!

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