The Theory of Social Revolutions
by Brooks Adams
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The King and Queen, the Nobility and Clergy, could not see the abyss which Mirabeau saw, any more than the lawyers could see it, because of the temper of their minds. In the eye of caste Europe was not primarily divided into nations to whom allegiance was due, but into superimposed orders. He who betrayed his order committed the unpardonable crime. Death were better than that. But to the true aristocrat it was inconceivable that serfs could ever vanquish nobles in battle. Battle must be the final test, and the whole aristocracy of Europe was certain, Frenchmen knew, to succor the French aristocracy in distress.

So in the winter of 1790 the French fugitives congregated at Coblentz on the German frontier, persuaded that they were performing a patriotic duty in organizing an invasion of their country even should their onset be fatal to their relatives and to their King. And Louis doubted not that he also did his duty as a trustee of a divine commission when he in one month swore, before the Assembly, to maintain the constitution tendered him, and in the next authorized his brother, the Comte d'Artois, to make the best combination he could among his brother sovereigns for the gathering of an army to assert his divine prerogative. On June 21, 1791, Louis fled, with his whole family, to join the army of Bouille, with intent to destroy the entire race of traitors from Mirabeau and Lafayette down to the peasants. He managed so ill that he was arrested at Varennes, and brought back whence he came, but he lied and plotted still.

Two years had elapsed between the meeting of the States-General and the flight to Varennes, and in that interval nature had been busy in selecting her new favored class. Economists have estimated that the Church owned one-third of the land of Europe during the Middle Ages. However this may have been she certainly held a very large part of France. On April 16, 1790, the Assembly declared this territory to be national property, and proceeded to sell it to the peasantry by means of the paper assignats which were issued for the purpose, and were supposed to be secured upon the land. The sales were generally made in little lots, as the sales were made of the public domain in Rome under the Licinian Laws, and with an identical effect. The Emperor of Germany and the King of Prussia met at Pilnitz in August, 1791, to consider the conquest of France, and, on the eve of that meeting, the Assembly received a report which stated that these lands to the value of a thousand million francs had already been distributed, and that sales were going on. It was from this breed of liberated husbandmen that France drew the soldiers who fought her battles and won her victories for the next five and twenty years.

Assuming that the type of the small French landholder, both rural and urban, had been pretty well developed by the autumn of 1791, the crisis came rapidly, for the confiscations which created this new energy roused to frenzy, perhaps the most formidable energy which opposed it. The Church had not only been robbed of her property but had been wounded in her tenderest part. By a decree of June 12, 1790, the Assembly transferred the allegiance of the French clergy from the Pope to the state, and the priesthood everywhere vowed revenge. In May, 1791, the Marquis de la Rouerie, it is true, journeyed from his home in Brittany to Germany to obtain the recognition of the royal princes for the insurrection which he contemplated in La Vendee, but the insurrection when it occurred was not due so much to him or his kind as to the influence of the nonjuring priests upon the peasant women of the West.

The mental condition of the French emigrants at Coblentz during this summer of 1791 is nothing short of a psychological marvel. They regarded the Revolution as a jest, and the flight to the Rhine as a picnic. These beggared aristocrats, male and female, would throw their money away by day among the wondering natives, and gamble among themselves at night. If they ever thought of the future it was only as the patricians in Pompey's camp thought; who had no time to prepare for a campaign against Caesar, because they were absorbed in distributing offices among themselves, or in inventing torments to inflict on the rebels. Their chief anxiety was lest the resistance should be too feeble to permit them to glut themselves with blood. The creatures of caste, the emigrants could not conceive of man as a variable animal, or of the birth of a race of warriors under their eyes. To them human nature remained constant. Such, they believed, was the immutable will of God.

So it came to pass that, as the Revolution took its shape, a vast combination among the antique species came semi-automatically into existence, pledged to envelop and strangle the rising type of man, a combination, however, which only attained to maturity in 1793, after the execution of the King. Leopold II, Emperor of Germany, had hitherto been the chief restraining influence, both at Pilnitz and at Paris, through his correspondence with his sister, Marie Antoinette; but Leopold died on March 1, 1792, and was succeeded by Francis II, a fervid reactionist and an obedient son of the Church. Then caste fused throughout Germany, and Prussia and Austria prepared for war. Rouerie had returned to Brittany and only awaited the first decisive foreign success to stab the Revolution in the back. England also was ripening, and the instinct of caste, incarnated in George III, found its expression through Edmund Burke. In 1790 Burke published his "Reflections," and on May 6, 1791, in a passionate outbreak in the House of Commons, he renounced his friendship with Fox as a traitor to his order and his God. Men of Burke's temperament appreciated intuitively that there could be no peace between the rising civilization and the old, one of the two must destroy the other, and very few of them conceived it to be possible that the enfranchised French peasantry and the small bourgeoisie could endure the shock of all that, in their eyes, was intelligent, sacred, and martial in the world.

Indeed, aristocracy had, perhaps, some justification for arrogance, since the revolt in France fell to its lowest depth of impotence between the meeting at Pilnitz in August, 1791, and the reorganization of the Committee of Public Safety in July, 1793. Until August, 1792, the executive authority remained with the King, but the court of Louis was the focus of resistance to the Revolution, and even though a quasi-prisoner the King was still strong. Monarchy had a firm hold on liberal nobles like Mirabeau and Lafayette, on adventurers like Dumouriez, and even on lawyers like Danton who shrank from excessive cruelty. Had the pure Royalists been capable of enough intellectual flexibility to keep faith upon any reasonable basis of compromise, even as late as 1792, the Revolution might have been benign. In June, 1792, Lafayette, who commanded the army of the North, came to Paris and not only ventured to lecture the Assembly on its duty, but offered to take Louis to his army, who would protect him against the Jacobins. The court laughed at Lafayette as a Don Quixote, and betrayed his plans to the enemy. "I had rather perish," said the Queen, "than be saved by M. de Lafayette and his constitutional friends." And in this she only expressed the conviction which the caste to which she belonged held of their duty. Cazales protested to the Assembly, "Though the King perish, let us save the kingdom." The Archduchess Christina wrote to her sister, Marie Antoinette, "What though he be slain, if we shall triumph," and Conde, in December, 1790, swore that he would march on Lyons, "come what might to the King."

France was permeated with archaic thought which disorganized the emerging society until it seemingly had no cohesion. To the French emigrant on the Rhine that society appeared like a vile phantom which had but to be exorcised to vanish. And the exorcism to which he had recourse was threats of vengeance, threats which before had terrified, because they had behind them a force which made them good. Torture had been an integral part of the old law. The peasant expected it were he insubordinate. Death alone was held to be too little to inspire respect for caste. Some frightful spectacle was usually provided to magnify authority. Thus Bouille broke on the wheel, while the men were yet alive, every bone in the bodies of his soldiers when they disobeyed him; and for scratching Louis XV, with a knife, Damiens, after indescribable agonies, was torn asunder by horses in Paris, before an immense multitude. The French emigrants believed that they had only to threaten with a similar fate men like Kellermann and Hoche to make them flee without a blow. What chiefly concerned the nobles, therefore, was not to evolve a masterly campaign, but to propound the fundamental principles of monarchy, and to denounce an awful retribution on insurgents.

By the middle of July, 1792, the Prussians were ready to march, and emperors, kings, and generals were meditating manifestoes. Louis sent the journalist Mallet du Pan to the Duke of Brunswick, the commander-in-chief, to assist him in his task. On July 24, and on August 4, 1792, the King of Prussia laid down the law of caste as emphatically as had the Parliament of Paris some twenty years before. On July 25, the Duke of Brunswick pronounced the doom of the conquered. I come, said the King of Prussia, to prevent the incurable evils which will result to France, to Europe and to all mankind from the spread of the spirit of insubordination, and to this end I shall establish the monarchical power upon a stable basis. For, he continued in the later proclamation, "the supreme authority in France being never ceasing and indivisible, the King could neither be deprived nor voluntarily divest himself of any of the prerogatives of royalty, because he is obliged to transmit them entire with his own crown to his successors."

The Duke of Brunswick's proclamation contained some clauses written expressly for him by Mallet du Pan, and by Limon the Royalist.

If the Palace of the Tuileries be forced, if the least violence be offered to their Majesties, if they are not immediately set at liberty, then will the King of Prussia and the Emperor of Germany inflict "on those who shall deserve it the most exemplary and ever-memorable avenging punishments."

These proclamations reached Paris on July 28, and simultaneously the notorious Fersen wrote the Queen of France, "You have the manifesto, and you should be content." The court actually believed that, having insulted and betrayed Lafayette and all that body of conservative opinion which might have steadied the social equilibrium, they could rely on the fidelity of regiments filled with men against whom the emigrants and their allies, the Prussians, had just denounced an agonizing death, such as Bouille's soldiers had undergone, together with the destruction of their homes.

All the world knows what followed. The Royalists had been gathering a garrison for the Tuileries ever since Lafayette's visit, in anticipation of a trial of strength with the Revolutionists. They had brought thither the Swiss guard, fifteen hundred strong; the palace was full of Royalist gentlemen; Mandat, who commanded the National Guard, had been gained over. The approaches were swept by artillery. The court was very confident. On the night of August 9, Mandat was murdered, an insurrectional committee seized the City Hall, and when Louis XVI came forth to review the troops on the morning of the 10th of August, they shouted, "Vive la Nation" and deserted. Then the assault came, the Swiss guard was massacred, the Assembly thrust aside, and the royal family were seized and conveyed to the Temple. There the monarchy ended. Thus far had the irrational opposition of a moribund type thrown into excentricity the social equilibrium of a naturally conservative people. They were destined to drive it still farther.

In this supreme moment, while the Prussians were advancing, France had no stable government and very imperfect means of keeping order. All the fighting men she could muster had marched to the frontier, and, even so, only a demoralized mass of levies, under Dumouriez and Kellermann, lay between the most redoutable regiments of the world and Paris. The emigrants and the Germans thought the invasion but a military promenade. At home treason to the government hardly cared to hide itself. During much of August the streets of Paris swarmed with Royalists who cursed the Revolution, and with priests more bitter than the Royalists. Under the windows of Louis, as he lay in the Temple, there were cries of "Long live the King," and in the prisons themselves the nobles drank to the allies and corresponded with the Prussians. Finally, Roland, who was minister, so far lost courage that he proposed to withdraw beyond the Loire, but Danton would hear of no retreat. "De l'audace," he cried, "encore de l'audace, et toujours de l'audace."

The Assembly had not been responsible for the assault on the Tuileries on August 10, 1792. Filled with conservatives, it lacked the energy. That movement had been the work of a knot of radicals which had its centre in Danton's Club of the Cordeliers. Under their impulsion the sections of Paris chose commissioners who should take possession of the City Hall and eject the loyalist Council. They did so, and thus Danton became for a season the Minister of Justice and the foremost man in France. Danton was a semi-conservative. His tenure of power was the last possibility of averting the Terror. The Royalists, whom he trusted, themselves betrayed him, and Danton fell, to be succeeded by Robespierre and his political criminal courts. Meanwhile, on September 20, 1792, the Prussian column recoiled before the fire of Kellermann's mob of "vagabonds, cobblers and tailors," on the slope of Valmy, and with the victory of Valmy, the great eighteenth-century readjustment of the social equilibrium of Europe passed into its secondary stage.



In the eye of philosophy, perhaps the most alluring and yet illusive of all the phenomena presented by civilization is that which we have been considering. Why should a type of mind which has developed the highest prescience when advancing along the curve which has led it to ascendancy, be stricken with fatuity when the summit of the curve is passed, and when a miscalculation touching the velocity of the descent must be destruction?

Although this phenomenon has appeared pretty regularly, at certain intervals, in the development of every modern nation, I conceive its most illuminating example to be that intellectual limitation of caste which, during the French Revolution, led to the creation of those political criminal tribunals which reached perfection with Robespierre.

When coolly examined, at the distance of a century, the Royalist combination for the suppression of equality before the law, as finally evolved in 1792, did not so much lack military intelligence, as it lacked any approximate comprehension of the modern mind. The Royalists proposed to reestablish privilege, and to do this they were ready to immolate, if necessary, their King and Queen, and all of their own order who stayed at home to defend them. Indeed, speaking generally, they valued Louis XVI, living, cheaply enough, counting him a more considerable asset if dead. "What a noise it would make throughout Europe," they whispered among themselves, "if the rabble should kill the King."

Nor did Marie Antoinette delude herself on this score. At Pilnitz, in 1791, the German potentates issued a declaration touching France which was too moderate to suit the emigrants, who published upon it a commentary of their own. This commentary was so revolting that when the Queen read her brother-in-law's signature appended to it, she exclaimed—"Cain."

The Royalist plan of campaign was this: They reckoned the energy of the Revolution so low that they counted pretty confidently, in the summer of 1792, on the ability of their party to defend the Tuileries against any force which could be brought against it; but assuming that the Tuileries could not be defended, and that the King and Queen should be massacred, they believed that their own position would be improved. Their monarchical allies would be thereby violently stimulated. It was determined, therefore, that, regardless of consequences to their friends, the invading army should cross the border into Lorraine and, marching by way of Sierk and Rodemach, occupy Chalons. Their entry into Chalons, which they were confident could not be held against them, because of the feeling throughout the country, was to be the signal for the rising in Vendee and Brittany which should sweep down upon Paris from the rear and make the capital untenable. At Chalons the allies would be but ninety miles from Paris, and then nothing would remain but vengeance, and vengeance the more complete the greater the crime had been.

All went well with them up to Valmy. The German advance on August 11, 1792, reached Rodemach, and on August 19, the bulk of the Prussian army crossed the frontier at Redagne. On August 20, 1792, Longwy was invested and in three days capitulated. In the camp of the Comte d'Artois "there was not one of us," wrote Las Casas, "who did not see himself, in a fortnight, triumphant, in his own home, surrounded by his humbled and submissive vassals." At length from their bivouacs at Saint-Remy and at Suippes the nobles saw in the distance the towers of Chalons.

The panic at Chalons was so great that orders were given to cut the bridge across the Marne, but it was not until about September 2, that the whole peril was understood at Paris. It is true that for several weeks the government had been aware that the West was agitated and that Rouerie was probably conspiring among the Royalists and nonjuring priests, but they did not appreciate the imminence of the danger. On September 3, at latest, Danton certainly heard the details of the plot from a spy, and it was then, while others quailed, that he incited Paris to audacity. This was Danton's culmination.

As we look back, the weakness of the Germans seems to have been psychological rather than physical. At Valmy the numbers engaged were not unequal, and while the French were, for the most part, raw and ill-compacted levies, with few trained officers, the German regiments were those renowned battalions of Frederick the Great whose onset, during the Seven Years' War, no adversary had been able to endure. Yet these redoubtable Prussians fell back in confusion without having seriously tried the French position, and their officers, apparently, did not venture to call upon them to charge again. In vain the French gentlemen implored the Prussian King to support them if they alone should storm Kellermann's batteries. Under the advice of the Duke of Brunswick the King decided on retreat. It is said that the Duke had as little heart in the war as Charles Fox, or, possibly, Pitt, or as his own troops. And yet he was so strong that Dumouriez, after his victory, hung back and offered the invaders free passage lest the Germans, if aroused, should turn on him and fight their way to the Marne.

To the emigrants the retreat was terrible. It was a disaster from which, as a compact power, they never recovered. The rising in Vendee temporarily collapsed with the check at Chalons, and they were left literally naked unto their enemy. Some of them returned to their homes, preferring the guillotine to starvation, others, disguised in peasants' blouses, tried to reach Rouerie in La Vendee, some died from hardship, some committed suicide, while the bulk regained Liege and there waited as suppliants for assistance from Vienna. But these unfortunate men, who had entered so gayly upon a conflict whose significance they could not comprehend, had by this time lost more than lands and castles. Many of them had lost wives and children in one of the most frightful butcheries of history, and a butchery for which they themselves were responsible, because it was the inevitable and logical effect of their own intellectual limitations.

When, after the affair of August 10, Danton and his party became masters of the incipient republic, Paris lay between two perils whose relative magnitude no one could measure. If Chalons fell, Vendee would rise, and the Republicans of the West would be massacred. Five months later Vendee did rise, and at Machecoul the patriots were slaughtered amidst nameless atrocities, largely at the instigation of the priests. In March, 1793, one hundred thousand peasants were under arms.

Clearly the West could not be denuded of troops, and yet, if Chalons were to be made good, every available man had to be hurried to Kellermann, and this gigantic effort fell to the lot of a body of young and inexperienced adventurers who formed what could hardly be dignified with the name of an organized administration.

For a long time Marat, with whom Danton had been obliged to coalesce, had been insisting that, if the enemy were to be resisted on the frontier, Paris must first be purged, for Paris swarmed with Royalists wild for revenge, and who were known to be arming. Danton was not yet prepared for extermination. He instituted domiciliary visits. He made about three thousand arrests and seized a quantity of muskets, but he liberated most of those who were under suspicion. The crisis only came with the news, on September 2, of the investment of Verdun, when no one longer could doubt that the net was closing about Paris. Verdun was but three or four days' march from Chalons. When the Duke of Brunswick crossed the Marne and Brittany revolted, the government would have to flee, as Roland proposed, and then the Royalists would burst the gates of the prisons and there would be another Saint Bartholomew.

Toward four o'clock in the afternoon of September 2, 1792, the prison of the Abbaye was forced and the massacres began. They lasted until September 6, and through a circular sent out by Marat they were extended to Lyons, to Reims, and to other cities. About 1600 prisoners were murdered in Paris alone. Hardly any one has ever defended those slaughters. Even Marat called them "disastrous," and yet no one interfered. Neither Danton, nor Roland, nor the Assembly, nor the National Guard, nor the City of Paris, although the two or three hundred ruffians who did the work could have been dispersed by a single company of resolute men, had society so willed it. When Robespierre's time came he fell almost automatically. Though the head of the despotic "Committee of Public Safety," and nominally the most powerful man in France, he was sent to execution like the vilest and most contemptible of criminals by adversaries who would not command a regiment. The inference is that the September massacres, which have ever since been stigmatized as the deepest stain upon the Revolution, were, veritably, due to the Royalists, who made with the Republicans an issue of self-preservation. For this was no common war. In Royalist eyes it was a servile revolt, and was to be treated as servile revolts during the Middle Ages had always been treated. Again and again, with all solemnity, the Royalists had declared that were they to return as conquerors no stone of Paris should be left standing on another, and that the inhabitants should expire in the ashes of their homes on the rack and the wheel.

Though Danton had many and obvious weaknesses he was a good lawyer, and Danton perceived that though he might not have been able to prevent the September massacres, and although they might have been and probably were inevitable under the tension which prevailed, yet that any court, even a political court, would be better than Marat's mob. Some months later he explained his position to the Convention when it was considering the erection of the tribunal which finally sent Danton himself to the scaffold. "Nothing is more difficult than to define a political crime. But, if a simple citizen, for any ordinary crime, receives immediate punishment, if it is so difficult to reach a political crime, is it not necessary that extraordinary laws ... intimidate the rebels and reach the culpable? Here public safety requires strong remedies and terrible measures. I see no compromise between ordinary forms and a revolutionary tribunal. History attests this truth; and since members have dared in this assembly to refer to those bloody days which every good citizen has lamented, I say that, if such a tribunal had then existed, the people who have been so often and so cruelly reproached for them, would never have stained them with blood; I say, and I shall have the assent of all who have watched these movements, that no human power could have checked the outburst of the national vengeance."

In this perversion of the courts lay, as I understand it, the foulest horror of the French Revolution. It was the effect of the rigidity of privilege, a rigidity which found its incarnation in the judiciary. The constitutional decisions of the parliaments under the old regime would alone have made their continuance impossible, but the worst evil was that, after the shell crumbled, the mind within the shell survived, and discredited the whole regular administration of justice. When the National Assembly came to examine grievances it found protests against the judicial system from every corner of France, and it referred these petitions to a committee which reported in August, 1789. Setting aside the centralization and consolidation of the system as being, for us, immaterial, the committee laid down four leading principles of reform. First, purchase of place should be abolished, and judicial office should be recognized as a public trust. Second, judges should be confined to applying, and restrained from interpreting, the law. That is to say, the judges should be forbidden to legislate. Third, the judges should be brought into harmony with public opinion by permitting the people to participate in their appointment. Fourth, the tendency toward rigor in criminal cases, which had become a scandal under the old regime, should be tempered by the introduction of the jury. Bergasse proposed that judicial appointments should be made by the executive from among three candidates selected by the provincial assemblies. After long and very remarkable debates the plan was, in substance, adopted in May, 1790, except that the Assembly decided, by a majority of 503 to 450, that the judges should be elected by the people for a term of six years, without executive interference. In the debate Cazales represented the conservatives, Mirabeau the liberals. The vote was a test vote and shows how strong the conservatives were in the Assembly up to the reorganization of the Clergy in July, 1790, and the electoral assemblies of the districts, which selected the judges, seem, on the whole, to have been rather more conservative than the Assembly. In the election not a sixth of those who were enfranchised voted for the delegates who, in turn, chose the judges, and these delegates were usually either eminent lawyers themselves, or wealthy merchants, or men of letters. The result was a bench not differing much from an old parliament, and equally incapable of understanding the convulsion about them.

Installed early in 1791, not a year elapsed before these magistrates became as ill at ease as had been those whom they displaced, and in March, 1792, Jean Debry formally demanded their recall, although their terms properly were to expire in 1796. During the summer of 1792 they sank into contempt and, after the massacres, the Legislative Assembly, just before its dissolution, provided for a new constituency for the judicial elections. This they degraded so far that, out of fifty-one magistrates to be chosen in Paris, only twelve were professionally trained. Nor did the new courts inspire respect. After the 10th of August one or two special tribunals were organized to try the Swiss Guard who surrendered in the Palace, and other political offenders, but these proved to be so ineffective that Marat thrust them aside, and substituted for them his gangs of murderers. No true and permanent political court was evolved before Danton had to deal with the treason of Dumouriez, nor was this tribunal perfected before Danton gave way to the Committee of Public Safety, when French revolutionary society became incandescent, through universal attack from without and through insurrection within.

Danton, though an orator and a lawyer, possibly even a statesman, was not competent to cope with an emergency which exacted from a minister administrative genius like that of Carnot. Danton's story may be briefly told. At once after Valmy the Convention established the Republic; on January 21, 1793, Louis was beheaded; and between these two events a new movement had occurred. The Revolutionists felt intuitively that, if they remained shut up at home, with enemies without and traitors within, they would be lost. If the new ideas were sound they would spread, and Valmy had proved to them that those ideas had already weakened the invading armies. Danton declared for the natural boundaries of France,—the Rhine, the Alps, and the ocean,—and the Convention, on January 29, 1793, threw Dumouriez on Holland. This provoked war with England, and then north, south, and east the coalition was complete. It represented at least half a million fighting men. Danton, having no military knowledge or experience, fixed his hopes on Dumouriez. To Danton, Dumouriez was the only man who could save France. On November 6, 1792, Dumouriez defeated the Austrians at Jemmapes; on the 14th, he entered Brussels, and Belgium lay helpless before him. On the question of the treatment of Belgium, the schism began which ended with his desertion. Dumouriez was a conservative who plotted for a royal restoration under, perhaps, Louis Philippe. The Convention, on the contrary, determined to revolutionize Belgium, as France had been revolutionized, and to this end Cambon proposed to confiscate and sell church land and emit assignats. Danton visited Dumouriez to attempt to pacify him, but found him deeply exasperated. Had Danton been more sagacious he would have been suspicious. Unfortunately for him he left Dumouriez in command. In February, Dumouriez invaded Holland and was repulsed, and he then fell back to Brussels, not strong enough to march to Paris without support, it is true, but probably expecting to be strong enough as soon as the Vendean insurrection came to a head. Doubtless he had relations with the rebels. At all events, on March 10, the insurrection began with the massacre of Machecoul, and on March 12, 1793, Dumouriez wrote a letter to the Convention which was equivalent to a declaration of war. He then tried to corrupt his army, but failed, and on April 4, 1793, fled to the Austrians. Meanwhile, La Vendee was in flames. To appreciate the situation one must read Carnot's account of the border during these weeks when he alone, probably, averted some grave disaster. For my purpose it suffices to say that the pressure was intense, and that this intense pressure brought forth the Revolutionary Tribunal, or the political court.

On March 10, 1793, the Convention passed a decree constituting a court of five judges and a jury, to be elected by the Convention. To these was joined a public prosecutor. Fouquier-Tinville afterward attained to a sombre fame in this position. Six members of the Convention were to sit as a commission to supervise drawing the indictments, the preparation of evidence, and also to advise the prosecutor. The punishments, under the limitations of the Penal Code and other criminal laws, were to be within the discretion of the court, whose judgments were to be final.[40] Death was accompanied by confiscation of property.

Considering that this was an extraordinary tribunal, working under extreme tension, which tried persons against whom usually the evidence was pretty conclusive, its record for the first six months was not discreditable. Between April 6 and September 21, 1793, it rendered sixty-three sentences of death, thirteen of transportation, and thirty-eight acquittals. The trials were held patiently, testimony was heard, and the juries duly deliberated. Nevertheless the Terror deepened as the stress upon the new-born republic increased. Nothing more awful can be imagined than the ordeal which France endured between the meeting of the Convention in September, 1792, and the completion of the Committee of Public Safety in August, 1793. Hemmed in by enemies, the revolution glowed in Paris like molten lava, while yet it was torn by faction. Conservative opinion was represented by the Girondists, radical opinion by the Mountain, and between the two lay the Plain, or the majority of the Convention, who embodied the social centre of gravity. As this central mass swayed, so did supremacy incline. The movement was as accurate as that of any scientific instrument for registering any strain. Dumouriez's treason in April left the northern frontier open, save for a few fortresses which still held out. When those should fall the enemy could make a junction with the rebels in Vendee. Still the Girondists kept control, and even elected Isnard, the most violent among them, President of the Convention. Then they had the temerity to arrest a member of the Commune of Paris, which was the focus of radicalism. That act precipitated the struggle for survival and with it came the change in equilibrium. On June 2, Paris heard of the revolt of Lyons and of the massacre of the patriots. The same day the Sections invaded the Convention and expelled from their seats in the Tuileries twenty-seven Girondists. The Plain or Centre now leant toward the Mountain, and, on July 10, the Committee of Public Safety, which had been first organized on April 6, 1793, directly after Dumouriez's treason, was reorganized by the addition of men like Saint-Just and Couthon, with Prieur, a lawyer of ability and energy, for President. On July 12, 1793, the Austrians took Conde, and on July 28, Valenciennes; while on July 25, Kleber, starving, surrendered Mayence. Nothing now but their own inertia stood between the allies and La Vendee. Thither indeed Kellermann's men were sent, since they had promised not to serve against the coalition for a year, but even of these a division was surrounded and cut to pieces in the disaster of Torfou. A most ferocious civil war soon raged throughout France. Caen, Bordeaux, Lyons, Marseilles, declared against the Convention. The whole of the northwest was drenched in blood by the Chouans. Sixty departments were in arms. On August 28 the Royalists surrendered Toulon to the English, who blockaded the coasts and supplied the needs of the rebels. About Paris the people were actually starving. On July 27 Robespierre entered the Committee of Safety; Carnot, on August 14. This famous committee was a council of ten forming a pure dictatorship. On August 16, the Convention decreed the Levee en Masse.

When Carnot became Minister of War to this dictatorship the Republic had 479,000 demoralized soldiers with the colors, under beaten and discredited commanders. Bouille had conspired against the States-General, Lafayette against the Legislative Assembly, and Dumouriez against the Convention. One year from that time it had a superb force, 732,000 strong, commanded by Jourdan and Pichegru, Hoche, Moreau, and Bonaparte. Above all Carnot loved Hoche. Up to Valmy the old regular army, however shaken, had remained as a core. Then it became merged in a mass of volunteers, and these volunteers had to be armed and disciplined and fed and led against the greatest and strongest coalition which the modern world had ever seen. France, under Camot, became a vast workshop. Its most eminent scientific men taught the people how to gather saltpetre and the government how to manufacture powder and artillery. Horses had to be obtained. Carnot was as reckless of himself as of others. He knew no rest. There was that to be done which had to be done quickly and at any cost; there was that or annihilation.

On October 21, 1794, when the people had gathered in the Champ de Mars to celebrate the Festival of Victories, after the President of the Convention had proclaimed that the Republic had been delivered, Carnot announced what had been accomplished.

France had won twenty-seven victories, of which eight had been pitched battles.

One hundred and twenty lesser combats. France had killed eighty thousand enemies.

Had taken ninety-one thousand prisoners.

Also one hundred and sixteen places or towns, six after siege.

Two hundred and thirty forts or redoubts.

Three thousand eight hundred cannon.

Seventy thousand muskets.

Ninety flags.

As Benjamin Constant has observed, nothing can change the stupendous fact "that the Convention found the enemy at thirty leagues from Paris, ... and made peace at thirty leagues from Vienna."

Under the stimulus of a change in environment of mind is apt to expand with something of this resistless energy. It did so in the Reformation. It may be said almost invariably to do so, when decay does not supervene, and it now concerns us to consider, in some rough way, what the cost to the sinking class of attempting repression may be, when it miscalculates its power in such an emergency.

I take it to be tolerably clear that, if the French privileged classes had accepted the reforms of Turgot in good faith, and thus had spread the movement of the revolution over a generation, there would have been no civil war and no confiscations, save confiscations of ecclesiastical property. I take it also that there would have been no massacres and no revolutionary tribunals, if France in 1793 had fought foreign enemies alone, as England did in 1688. Even as it was the courts did not grow thoroughly political until the preservation of the new type of mind came to hinge largely on the extermination of the old. Danton's first and relatively benign revolutionary tribunal, established in March, 1793, was reorganized by the Committee of Public Safety in the following autumn, by a series of decrees of which the most celebrated is that of September 17, touching suspected persons. By these decrees the tribunal was enlarged so that, in the words of Danton, every day an aristocratic head might fall. The committee presented a list of judges, and the object of the law was to make the possession of a reactionary mind a capital offence. It is only in extreme exigencies that pure thinking by a single person becomes a crime. Ordinarily, a crime consists of a malicious thought coupled with an overt act, but in periods of high tension, the harboring of any given thought becomes criminal. Usually during civil wars test oaths are tendered to suspected persons to discover their loyalty. For several centuries the Church habitually burnt alive all those who denied the test dogma of transubstantiation, and during the worst spasm of the French Revolution to believe in the principle of monarchy and privilege was made capital with confiscation of property.

The question which the Convention had to meet was how to establish the existence of a criminal mind, when nothing tangible indicated it. The old regime had tortured. To prove heresy the Church also had always used torture. The Revolution proceeded more mildly. It acted on suspicion. The process was simple. The Committee, of whom in this department Robespierre was the chief, made lists of those who were to be condemned. There came to be finally almost a complete absence of forms. No evidence was necessarily heard. The accused, if inconvenient, was not allowed to speak. If there were doubt touching the probability of conviction, pressure was put upon the court. I give one or two examples: Scellier, the senior associate judge of the tribunal, appears to have been a good lawyer and a fairly worthy man. One day in February, 1794, Scellier was at dinner with Robespierre, when Robespierre complained of the delays of the court. Scellier replied that without the observance of forms there could be no safety for the innocent. "Bah!" replied Robespierre,—"you and your forms: wait; soon the Committee will obtain a law which will suppress forms, and then we shall see." Scellier ventured no answer. Such a law was drafted by Couthon and actually passed on 22 Prairial (June 10, 1794), and yet it altered little the methods of Fouquier-Tinville as prosecuting officer. Scellier having complained of this law of Prairial to Saint-Just, Saint-Just replied that if he were to report his words, or that he was flinching, to the Committee, Scellier would be arrested. As arrest was tantamount to sentence of death, Scellier continued his work.

Without reasoning the subject out logically from premise to conclusion, or being, of course, capable of doing so in the mass, Frenchmen had collectively received the intuition that everything must be endured for a strong government, and that whatever obstructed that government must be eliminated. For the process of elimination they used the courts. Under the conditions in which they were placed by the domestic enemy, they had little alternative. If a political party opposed the Dictatorship in the Convention, that party must be broken down; if a man seemed likely to become a rival for the Dictatorship, that man must be removed; all who conspired against the Republic must be destroyed as ruthlessly at home as on the battle-field. The Republic was insolvent, and must have money, as it must have men. If the government needed men, it took them,—all. If it needed money, and a man were rich, it did not hesitate to execute him and confiscate his property. There are very famous examples of all these phenomena strewn through the history of the Terror.

The Girondists were liberals. They always had been liberals; they had never conspired against the Republic; but they were impracticable. The ablest of them, Vergniaud, complained before the Tribunal, that he was being tried for what he thought, not for what he had done. This the government denied, but it was true. Nay, more; he was tried not for positive but for negative opinions, and he was convicted and executed, and his friends were convicted and executed with him, because, had they remained in the Convention, the Dictatorship, through their opposition, would have lost its energy. Also the form of the conviction was shocking in the extreme. The defence of these twenty-one men was, practically, suppressed, and the jury were directed to bring in a verdict of guilty. Still the prosecutions of the Girondists stopped here. When they refrained from obstruction, they were spared.

Danton and his friends may have been, and probably were, whether intentionally or by force of circumstances, a menace to the Dictatorship. Either Robespierre or Danton had to be eliminated. There was not room for both. On April 1, 1793, Danton, Camille Desmoulins, and others were arrested on a warrant signed by such men as Cambaceres, Carnot, and Prieur. Carnot in particular was a soldier of the highest character and genius. He would have signed no such warrant had he not thought the emergency pressing. Nor was the risk small. Danton was so popular and so strong before a jury that the government appears to have distrusted even Fouquier-Tinville, for an order was given, and held in suspense, apparently to Henriot, to arrest the President and the Public Prosecutor of the Revolutionary Tribunal, on the day of Danton's trial.

Under such a stimulant Fouquier did his best, but he felt himself to be beaten. Examining Cambon, Danton broke out: "Do you believe us to be conspirators? Look, he laughs, he don't believe it. Record that he has laughed." Fouquier was at his wits' end. If the next day the jury were asked if they had heard enough, and they answered, "No," there would be an acquittal, and then Fouquier's own head would roll into the basket. Probably there might even be insurrection. Fouquier wrote to the Committee that they must obtain from the Convention a decree silencing the defence. So grave was the crisis felt to be that the decree was unanimously voted. When Fouquier heard that the decree was on its way, he said, with a sigh of relief,—"Faith, we need it." But when it was read, Danton sprung to his feet, raging, declaring that the public cried out treason upon it. The President adjourned the court while the hall resounded with the protests of the defendants and the shouts of the police as they tore the condemned from the benches which they clutched and dragged them through the corridors toward the prison. They emerged no more until they mounted the carts which took them to the scaffold.

Nor was it safe to hesitate if one were attached to this court. Fouquier had a clerk named Paris-Fabricius. Now Paris had been a friend of Danton and took his condemnation to heart. He even declined to sign the judgment, which it was his duty to do. The next day, when he presented himself to Fouquier, Fouquier looked at him sourly, and observed, "We don't want men who reason here; we want business done." The following morning Paris did not appear. His friends were disturbed, but he was not to be found. He had been cast into a secret dungeon in the prison of the Luxembourg.

So, if a man were too rich it might go hard with him. Louis-Philippe-Joseph, Duc d'Orleans, afterward known as Egalite, was one of the most interesting figures among the old nobility. The great-great-great-grandson of Louis XIII, he was a distant cousin of Louis XVI, and ranked as the first noble of France beyond the royal family. His education had been unfortunate. His father lived with a ballet-dancer, while his mother, the Princess Henriette de Bourbon-Conti, scandalized a society which was not easily shocked. During the Terror the sans culottes everywhere averred that the Duke was the son of a coachman in the service of the banker Duruet. Doubtless this was false, but the princess had abundant liaisons not much more reputable. Left to himself at sixteen years old, Egalite led a life of extreme profligacy, but he married one of the most beautiful and charming women of the age, whom he succeeded in inspiring with a devoted affection. Born in 1747, his father died in 1785, leaving him, just at the outbreak of the Revolution, the master of enormous wealth, and the father of three sons who adored him. The eldest of these was the future king, Louis-Philippe. The man must have had good in him to have been loved as he was throughout life. He was besides more intelligent touching the Revolution and its meaning than any man approaching him in rank in France. The Duke, when a young man, served with credit in the navy, but after the battle of Ushant, in 1778, where he commanded the blue squadron, he was received with such enthusiasm in Paris, that Marie-Antoinette obtained his dismissal from the service. From this period he withdrew from court and his opposition to the government began. He adopted republican ideas, which he drew from America, and he educated his children as democrats. In 1789 he was elected to the States-General, where he supported the fusion of the orders, and attained to a popularity which, on one occasion, according to Madame de Campan, nearly made the Queen faint from rage and grief. It was from the garden of his palace of the Palais Royal that the column marched on July 14, wearing his colors, the red, white and blue, to storm the Bastille. It seemed that he had only to go on resolutely to thrust the King aside and become the ruler of France. He made no effort to do so. Mirabeau is said to have been disgusted with his lack of ambition. He was charitable also, and spent very large sums of money among the poor of Paris during the years of distress which followed upon the social disorders. The breach with the court, however, became steadily wider, and finally he adhered to the party of Danton and voted for the condemnation of the King. He sent two of his sons to serve in the army. The elder was still with Dumouriez at the time of his treason. On April 6, 1793, when Dumouriez's treachery had become known, the Assembly ordered the arrest of the whole Bourbon family, and among them the Duke was apprehended and sent to Marseilles.

Thus it appears that whatever complaint his own order may have had against Egalite, the Republic certainly had none. No man could have done more for modern France than he. He abandoned his class, renounced his name, gave his money, sent his sons to the war, and voted for his own relative's death. No one feared him, and yet Robespierre had him brought to Paris and guillotined. His trial was a form. Fouquier admitted that he had been condemned before he left Marseilles. The Duke was, however, very rich and the government needed his money. Every one understood the situation. He was told of the order for his arrest one night when at supper in his palace in Paris with his friend Monsieur de Monville. The Duke, much moved, asked Monville if it were not horrible, after all the sacrifices he had made and all that he had done. "Yes, horrible," said Monville, coolly, "but what would you have? They have taken from your Highness all they could get, you can be of no further use to them. Therefore, they will do to you, what I do with this lemon" (he was squeezing a lemon on a sole); "now I have all the juice." And he threw the lemon into the fireplace. But yet even then Robespierre was not satisfied. He harbored malice against this fallen man. On the way to the scaffold he ordered the cart, in which the Duke sat, to stop before the Palais Royal, which had been confiscated, in order that the Duke might contemplate his last sacrifice for his country. The Duke showed neither fear nor emotion.

All the world knows the story of the Terror. The long processions of carts carrying victims to the guillotine, these increasing in number until after the Law of Prairial they averaged sixty or seventy a day in Paris alone, while in the provinces there was no end. At Nantes, Carrier could not work fast enough by a court, so he sank boat loads of prisoners in the Loire. The hecatombs sacrificed at Lyons, and the "Red Masses" of Orange, have all been described. The population of Toulon sank from 29,000 to 7,000. All those, in fine, were seized and slain who were suspected of having a mind tinged with caste, or of being traitors to the Republic. And it was the Centre, or the majority of the Convention, who did this, by tacitly permitting it to be done. That is to say, France permitted it because the onslaught of the decaying class made atrocities such as these appear to be a condition of self-preservation. I doubt if, in human history, there be such another and so awful an illustration of the possible effects of conservative errors of judgment.

For France never loved the Terror or the loathsome instruments, such as Fouquier-Tinville, or Carrier, or Billaud-Varennes, or Collot-d'Herbois, or Henriot, or Robespierre, or Couthon, who conducted it. On this point there can, I think, be neither doubt nor question. I have tried to show how the Terror began. It is easy to show how and why it ended. As it began automatically by the stress of foreign and domestic war, so it ended automatically when that stress was relieved. And the most curious aspect of the phenomenon is that it did not end through the application of force, but by common consent, and when it had ended, those who had been used for the bloody work could not be endured, and they too were put to death. The procession of dates is convincing.

When, on July 27, 1793, Robespierre entered the Committee of Public Safety, the fortunes of the Republic were near their nadir, but almost immediately, after Carnot took the War Department on August 14, they began to mend. On October 8, 1793, Lyons surrendered; on December 19, 1793, the English evacuated Toulon; and, on December 23, the insurrection in La Vendee received its death blow at Savenai. There had also been success on the frontiers. Carnot put Hoche in command in the Vosges. On December 23, 1793, Hoche defeated Wurmser at Freschweiller, when the Austrians, abandoning the lines of Wissembourg, fell back across the Rhine. Thus by the end of 1793, save for the great border fortresses of Valenciennes and Conde to the north, which commanded the road from Brussels to Paris, the soil of France had been cleared of the enemy, and something resembling domestic tranquillity had been restored at home. Simultaneously, as the pressure lessened, rifts began to appear in the knot of men who held the Dictatorship in the Republic. Robespierre, Couthon, and Saint-Just coalesced, and gained control of the police, while Billaud-Varennes, Collot-d'Herbois, and, secretly and as far as he dared, Barere, formed an opposition. Not that the latter were more moderate or merciful than Robespierre, but because, in the nature of things, there could be but one Dictator, and it became a question of the survival of the fittest. Carnot took little or no part in active politics. He devoted himself to the war, but he disapproved of the Terror and came to a breach with Saint-Just. Robespierre's power culminated on June 10, 1794, with the passage of the Law of 22 Prairial, which put the life of every Frenchman in his hand, and after which, save for some dozen or two of his most intimate and devoted adherents like Saint-Just, Couthon, Le Bas, Fouquier, Fleuriot the Mayor of Paris, and Henriot, the commander of the national guard, no one felt his head safe on his shoulders. It needed but security on the northern frontier to cause the social centre of gravity to shift and Robespierre to fall, and security came with the campaign of Fleurus.

Jourdan and Pichegru were in command on the Belgian border, and on June 26, 1794, just sixteen days after the passage of the Law of Prairial, Jourdan won the battle of Fleurus. This battle, though not decisive in itself, led to decisive results. It uncovered Valenciennes and Conde, which were invested, closing the entrance to France. On July 11, Jourdan entered Brussels; on July 16, he won a crushing victory before Louvain and the same day Namur opened its gates. On July 23, Pichegru, driving the English before him, seized Antwerp. No Frenchman could longer doubt that France was delivered, and with that certainty the Terror ended without a blow. Eventually the end must have come, but it came instantly, and, according to the old legend, it came through a man's love for a woman.

John Lambert Tallien, the son of the butler of the Marquis of Bercy, was born in 1769, and received an education through the generosity of the marquis, who noticed his intelligence. He became a journeyman printer, and one day in the studio of Madame Lebrun, dressed in his workman's blouse, he met Therezia Cabarrus, Marquise de Fontenay, the most seductive woman of her time, and fell in love with her on the instant. Nothing, apparently, could have been more hopeless or absurd. But the Revolution came. Tallien became prominent, was elected to the Convention, grew to be influential, and in September, 1793, was sent to Bordeaux, as representative of the Chamber, or as proconsul, as they called it. There he, the all-powerful despot, found Therezia, trying to escape to Spain, in prison, humble, poor, shuddering in the shadow of the guillotine. He saved her; he carried her through Bordeaux in triumph in a car by his side. He took her with him to Paris, and there Robespierre threw her into prison, and accused Tallien of corruption. On June 12 Robespierre denounced him to the Convention, and on June 14, 1794, the Jacobins struck his name from the list of the club. When Fleurus was fought Therezia lay in La Force, daily expecting death, while Tallien had become the soul of the reactionary party. On the 8 Thermidor (July 26,1794) Tallien received a dagger wrapped in a note signed by Therezia,—"To-morrow they kill me. Are you then only a coward?"[41]

On the morrow the great day had come. Saint-Just rose in the Convention to read a report to denounce Billaud, Collot, and Camot. Tallien would not let him be heard. Billaud followed him. Collot was in the chair. Robespierre mounted the tribune and tried to speak. It was not without reason that Therezia afterwards said, "This little hand had somewhat to do with overthrowing the guillotine," for Tallien sprang on him, dagger in hand, and, grasping him by the throat, cast him from the tribune, exclaiming, "I have armed myself with a dagger to pierce his heart if the Convention dare not order his accusation." Then rose a great shout from the Centre, "Down with the tyrant, arrest him, accuse him!" From the Centre, which until that day had always silently supported the Robespierrian Dictatorship. Robespierre for the last time tried to speak, but his voice failed him. "It's Danton's blood that chokes him; arrest him, arrest him!" they shouted from the Right. Robespierre dropped exhausted on a bench, then they seized him, and his brother, and Couthon, and Saint-Just, and ordered that the police should take them to prison.

But it was one thing for the Convention to seize Robespierre singly, and within its own hall; it was quite another for it to hold him and send him to the guillotine. The whole physical force of Paris was nominally with Robespierre. The Mayor, Fleuriot, closed the barriers, sounded the tocsin, and forbade any jailer to receive the prisoners; while Henriot, who had already been drinking, mounted a horse and galloped forth to rouse the city. Fleuriot caused Robespierre, Couthon, and Le Bas to be brought to the City Hall. A provisional government was completed. It only remained to disperse the Assembly. Henriot undertook a duty which looked easy. He seems to have collected about twenty guns, which he brought to the Tuileries and trained on the hall of the Convention. The deputies thought all was over. Collot-d'Herbois took the chair, which was directly in range, put on his hat, and calmly said, as Henriot gave the order to fire, "We can at least die at our post." No volley came—the men had mutinied. Then the Convention declared Henriot beyond the protection of the law, and Henriot fled to the City Hall. The Convention chose Barras to command their armed force, but save a few police they had no force. The night was wearing away and Fleuriot had not been able to persuade Robespierre to take any decisive step. Robespierre was, indeed, only a pettifogging attorney. At length he consented to sign an appeal to arms. He had written two letters of his name—"Ro"—when a section of police under Barras reached the City Hall. They were but a handful, but the door was unguarded. They mounted the stairs and as Robespierre finished the "o", one of these men, named Merda, fired on him, breaking his jaw. The stain of blood is still on the paper where Robespierre's head fell. They shot Couthon in the leg, they threw Henriot out of the window into a cesspool below where he wallowed all night, while Le Bas blew out his brains. The next day they brought Robespierre to the Convention, but the Convention refused to receive him. They threw him on a table, where he lay, horrible to be seen, his coat torn down the back, his stockings falling over his heels, his shirt open and soaking with blood, speechless, for his mouth was filled with splinters of his broken jaw. Such was the man who the morning before had been Dictator, and master of all the armies of France. Couthon was in little better plight. Twenty-one in all were condemned on the 10 Thermidor and taken in carts to the guillotine. An awful spectacle. There was Robespierre with his disfigured face, half dead, and Fleuriot, and Saint-Just, and Henriot next to Robespierre, his forehead gashed, his right eye hanging down his cheek, dripping with blood, and drenched with the filth of the sewer in which he had passed the night. Under their feet lay the cripple Couthon, who had been thrown in like a sack. Couthon was paralyzed, and he howled in agony as they wrenched him straight to fasten him to the guillotine. It took a quarter of an hour to finish with him, while the crowd exulted. A hundred thousand people saw the procession and not a voice or a hand was raised in protest. The whole world agreed that the Terror should end. But the oldest of those who suffered on the 10 Thermidor was Couthon, who was thirty-eight, Robespierre was thirty-five, and Saint-Just but twenty-seven.

So closed the Terror with the strain which produced it. It will remain a by-word for all time, and yet, appalling as it may have been, it was the legitimate and the logical result of the opposition made by caste to the advent of equality before the law. Also, the political courts served their purpose. They killed out the archaic mind in France, a mind too rigid to adapt itself to a changing environment. Thereafter no organized opposition could ever be maintained against the new social equilibrium. Modern France went on steadily to a readjustment, on the basis of unification, simplification of administration, and equality before the law, first under the Directory, then under the Consulate, and finally under the Empire. With the Empire the Civil Code was completed, which I take to be the greatest effort at codification of modern times. Certainly it has endured until now. Governments have changed. The Empire has yielded to the Monarchy, the Monarchy to the Republic, the Republic to the Empire again, and that once more to the Republic, but the Code which embodies the principle of equality before the law has remained. Fundamentally the social equilibrium has been stable. And a chief reason of this stability has been the organization of the courts upon rational and conservative principles. During the Terror France had her fill of political tribunals. Since the Terror French judges, under every government, have shunned politics and have devoted themselves to construing impartially the Code. Therefore all parties, and all ranks, and all conditions of men have sustained the courts. In France, as in England, there is no class jealousy touching the control of the judiciary.


[40] Histoire du Tribunal Revolutionaire de Paris, H. Wallon, I, 57.

[41] "C'est demain qu'on me tue; n'etes-vous donc qu'un lache?"



As the universe, which at once creates and destroys life, is a complex of infinitely varying forces, history can never repeat itself. It is vain, therefore, to look in the future for some paraphrase of the past. Yet if society be, as I assume it to be, an organism operating on mechanical principles, we may perhaps, by pondering upon history, learn enough of those principles to enable us to view, more intelligently than we otherwise should, the social phenomena about us. What we call civilization is, I suspect, only, in proportion to its perfection, a more or less thorough social centralization, while centralization, very clearly, is an effect of applied science. Civilization is accordingly nearly synonymous with centralization, and is caused by mechanical discoveries, which are applications of scientific knowledge, like the discovery of how to kindle fire, how to build and sail ships, how to smelt metals, how to prepare explosives, how to make paper and print books, and the like. And we perceive on a little consideration that from the first great and fundamental discovery of how to kindle fire, every advance in applied science has accelerated social movement, until the discovery of steam and electricity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries quickened movement as movement had never been quickened before. And this quickening has caused the rise of those vast cities, which are at once our pride and our terror.

Social consolidation is, however, not a simple problem, for social consolidation implies an equivalent capacity for administration. I take it to be an axiom, that perfection in administration must be commensurate to the bulk and momentum of the mass to be administered, otherwise the centrifugal will overcome the centripetal force, and the mass will disintegrate. In other words, civilization would dissolve. It is in dealing with administration, as I apprehend, that civilizations have usually, though not always, broken down, for it has been on administrative difficulties that revolutions have for the most part supervened. Advances in administration seem to presuppose the evolution of new governing classes, since, apparently, no established type of mind can adapt itself to changes in environment, even in slow-moving civilizations, as fast as environments change. Thus a moment arrives when the minds of any given dominant type fail to meet the demands made upon them, and are superseded by a younger type, which in turn is set aside by another still younger, until the limit of the administrative genius of that particular race has been reached. Then disintegration sets in, the social momentum is gradually relaxed, and society sinks back to a level at which it can cohere. To us, however, the most distressing aspect of the situation is, that the social acceleration is progressive in proportion to the activity of the scientific mind which makes mechanical discoveries, and it is, therefore, a triumphant science which produces those ever more rapidly recurring changes in environment to which men must adapt themselves at their peril. As, under the stimulant of modern science, the old types fail to sustain themselves, new types have to be equally rapidly evolved, and the rise of a new governing class is always synonymous with a social revolution and a redistribution of property. The Industrial Revolution began almost precisely a century and a half ago, since when the scientific mind has continually gained in power, and, during that period, on an average of once in two generations, the environment has so far shifted that a social revolution has occurred, accompanied by the advent of a new favored class, and a readjustment of wealth. I think that a glance at American history will show this estimate to be within the truth. At the same time such rapidity of intellectual mutation is without precedent, and I should suppose that the mental exhaustion incident thereto must be very considerable.

In America, in 1770, a well-defined aristocracy held control. As an effect of the Industrial Revolution upon industry and commerce, the Revolutionary War occurred, the colonial aristocracy misjudged the environment, adhered to Great Britain, were exiled, lost their property, and perished. Immediately after the American Revolution and also as a part of the Industrial Revolution, the cotton gin was invented, and the cotton gin created in the South another aristocracy, the cotton planters, who flourished until 1860. At this point the changing of the environment, caused largely by the railway, brought a pressure upon the slave-owners against which they, also failing to comprehend their situation, rebelled. They were conquered, suffered confiscation of their property, and perished. Furthermore, the rebellion of the aristocracy at the South was caused, or at all events was accompanied by, the rise of a new dominant class at the North, whose power rested upon the development of steam in transportation and industry. This is the class which has won high fortune by the acceleration of the social movement, and the consequent urban growth of the nineteenth century, and which has now for about two generations dominated in the land. If this class, like its predecessors, has in its turn mistaken its environment, a redistribution of property must occur, distressing, as previous redistributions have been, in proportion to the inflexibility of the sufferers. The last two redistributions have been painful, and, if we examine passing phenomena from this standpoint, they hardly appear to promise much that is reassuring for the future.

Administration is the capacity of cooerdinating many, and often conflicting, social energies in a single organism, so adroitly that they shall operate as a unity. This presupposes the power of recognizing a series of relations between numerous special social interests, with all of which no single man can be intimately acquainted. Probably no very highly specialized class can be strong in this intellectual quality because of the intellectual isolation incident to specialization; and yet administration or generalization is not only the faculty upon which social stability rests, but is, possibly, the highest faculty of the human mind. It is precisely in this preeminent requisite for success in government that I suspect the modern capitalistic class to be weak. The scope of the human intellect is necessarily limited, and modern capitalists appear to have been evolved under the stress of an environment which demanded excessive specialization in the direction of a genius adapted to money-making under highly complex industrial conditions. To this money-making attribute all else has been sacrificed, and the modern capitalist not only thinks in terms of money, but he thinks in terms of money more exclusively than the French aristocrat or lawyer ever thought in terms of caste. The modern capitalist looks upon life as a financial combat of a very specialized kind, regulated by a code which he understands and has indeed himself concocted, but which is recognized by no one else in the world. He conceives sovereign powers to be for sale. He may, he thinks, buy them; and if he buys them; he may use them as he pleases. He believes, for instance, that it is the lawful, nay more! in America, that it is the constitutional right of the citizen to buy the national highways, and, having bought them, to use them as a common carrier might use a horse and cart upon a public road. He may sell his service to whom he pleases at what price may suit him, and if by doing so he ruins men and cities, it is nothing to him. He is not responsible, for he is not a trustee for the public. If he be restrained by legislation, that legislation is in his eye an oppression and an outrage, to be annulled or eluded by any means which will not lead to the penitentiary. He knows nothing and cares less, for the relation which highways always have held, and always must hold, to every civilized population, and if he be asked to inform himself on such subjects he resents the suggestion as an insult. He is too specialized to comprehend a social relation, even a fundamental one like this, beyond the narrow circle of his private interests. He might, had he so chosen, have evolved a system of governmental railway regulation, and have administered the system personally, or by his own agents, but he could never be brought to see the advantage to himself of rational concession to obtain a resultant of forces. He resisted all restraint, especially national restraint, believing that his one weapon —money—would be more effective in obtaining what he wanted in state legislatures than in Congress. Thus, of necessity, he precipitates a conflict, instead of establishing an adjustment. He is, therefore, in essence, a revolutionist without being aware of it. The same specialized thinking appears in his reasoning touching actual government. New York City will serve as an illustration.

New York has for two generations been noted for a civic corruption which has been, theoretically, abominable to all good citizens, and which the capitalistic class has denounced as abominable to itself. I suspect this to be an imaginative conception of the situation. Tammany Hall is, I take it, the administrative bureau through which capital purchases its privileges. An incorruptible government would offend capital, because, under such a government, capital would have to obey the law, and privilege would cease. Occasionally, Tammany grows rapacious and exacts too much for its services. Then a reform movement is undertaken, and finally a new management is imposed on Tammany; but when Tammany has consented to a satisfactory scale of prices, the reform ends. To change the system would imply a shift in the seat of power. In fine, money is the weapon of the capitalist as the sword was the weapon of the mediaeval soldier; only, as the capitalist is more highly specialized than the soldier ever was, he is more helpless when his single weapon fails him. From the days of William the Conqueror to our own, the great soldier has been, very commonly, a famous statesman also, but I do not now remember, in English or American history, a single capitalist who has earned eminence for comprehensive statesmanship. On the contrary, although many have participated in public affairs, have held high office, and have shown ability therein, capitalists have not unusually, however unjustly, been suspected of having ulterior objects in view, unconnected with the public welfare, such as tariffs or land grants. Certainly, so far as I am aware, no capitalist has ever acquired such influence over his contemporaries as has been attained with apparent ease by men like Cromwell, Washington, or even Jackson.

And this leads, advancing in an orderly manner step by step, to what is, perhaps, to me, the most curious and interesting of all modern intellectual phenomena connected with the specialized mind,—the attitude of the capitalist toward the law. Naturally the capitalist, of all men, might be supposed to be he who would respect and uphold the law most, considering that he is at once the wealthiest and most vulnerable of human beings, when called upon to defend himself by physical force. How defenceless and how incompetent he is in such exigencies, he proved to the world some years ago when he plunged himself and the country into the great Pennsylvania coal strike, with absolutely no preparation. Nevertheless, in spite of his vulnerability, he is of all citizens the most lawless.[42] He appears to assume that the law will always be enforced, when he has need of it, by some special personnel whose duty lies that way, while he may, evade the law, when convenient, or bring it into contempt, with impunity. The capitalist seems incapable of feeling his responsibility, as a member of the governing class, in this respect, and that he is bound to uphold the law, no matter what the law may be, in order that others may do the like. If the capitalist has bought some sovereign function, and wishes to abuse it for his own behoof, he regards the law which restrains him as a despotic invasion of his constitutional rights, because, with his specialized mind, he cannot grasp the relation of a sovereign function to the nation as a whole. He, therefore, looks upon the evasion of a law devised for public protection, but inimical to him, as innocent or even meritorious.

If an election be lost, and the legislature, which has been chosen by the majority, cannot be pacified by money, but passes some act which promises to be annoying, the first instinct of the capitalist is to retain counsel, not to advise him touching his duty under the law, but to devise a method by which he may elude it, or, if he cannot elude it, by which he may have it annulled as unconstitutional by the courts. The lawyer who succeeds in this branch of practice is certain to win the highest prizes at the bar. And as capital has had now, for more than one or even two generations, all the prizes of the law within its gift, this attitude of capital has had a profound effect upon shaping the American legal mind. The capitalist, as I infer, regards the constitutional form of government which exists in the United States, as a convenient method of obtaining his own way against a majority, but the lawyer has learned to worship it as a fetich. Nor is this astonishing, for, were written constitutions suppressed, he would lose most of his importance and much of his income. Quite honestly, therefore, the American lawyer has come to believe that a sheet of paper soiled with printers' ink and interpreted by half-a-dozen elderly gentlemen snugly dozing in armchairs, has some inherent and marvellous virtue by which it can arrest the march of omnipotent Nature. And capital gladly accepts this view of American civilization, since hitherto capitalists have usually been able to select the magistrates who decide their causes, perhaps directly through the intervention of some president or governor whom they have had nominated by a convention controlled by their money, or else, if the judiciary has been elective, they have caused sympathetic judges to be chosen by means of a mechanism like Tammany, which they have frankly bought.

I wish to make myself clearly understood. Neither capitalists nor lawyers are necessarily, or even probably, other than conscientious men. What they do is to think with specialized minds. All dominant types have been more or less specialized, if none so much as this, and this specialization has caused, as I understand it, that obtuseness of perception which has been their ruin when the environment which favored them has changed. All that is remarkable about the modern capitalist is the excess of his excentricity, or his deviation from that resultant of forces to which he must conform. To us, however, at present, neither the morality nor the present mental excentricity of the capitalist is so material as the possibility of his acquiring flexibility under pressure, for it would seem to be almost mathematically demonstrable that he will, in the near future, be subjected to a pressure under which he must develop flexibility or be eliminated.

There can be no doubt that the modern environment is changing faster than any environment ever previously changed; therefore, the social centre of gravity constantly tends to shift more rapidly; and therefore, modern civilization has unprecedented need of the administrative or generalizing mind. But, as the mass and momentum of modern society is prodigious, it will require a correspondingly prodigious energy to carry it safely from an unstable to a stable equilibrium. The essential is to generate the energy which brings success; and the more the mind dwells upon the peculiarities of the modern capitalistic class, the more doubts obtrude themselves touching their ability to make the effort, even at present, and still more so to make it in the future as the magnitude of the social organism grows. One source of capitalistic weakness comes from a lack of proper instruments wherewith to work, even supposing the will of capital to be good; and this lack of administrative ability is somewhat due to the capitalistic attitude toward education. In the United States capital has long owned the leading universities by right of purchase, as it has owned the highways, the currency, and the press, and capital has used the universities, in a general way, to develop capitalistic ideas. This, however, is of no great moment. What is of moment is that capital has commercialized education. Apparently modern society, if it is to cohere, must have a high order of generalizing mind,—a mind which can grasp a multitude of complex relations,—but this is a mind which can, at best, only be produced in small quantity and at high cost. Capital has preferred the specialized mind and that not of the highest quality, since it has found it profitable to set quantity before quality to the limit which the market will endure. Capitalists have never insisted upon raising an educational standard save in science and mechanics, and the relative overstimulation of the scientific mind has now become an actual menace to order because of the inferiority of the administrative intelligence.

Yet, even supposing the synthetic mind of the highest power to be increasing in proportion to the population, instead of, as I suspect, pretty rapidly decreasing, and supposing the capitalist to be fully alive to the need of administrative improvements, a phalanx of Washingtons would be impotent to raise the administrative level of the United States materially, as long as the courts remain censors of legislation; because the province of the censorial court is to dislocate any comprehensive body of legislation, whose effect would be to change the social status. That was the fundamental purpose which underlay the adoption of a written constitution whose object was to keep local sovereignties intact, especially at the South. Jefferson insisted that each sovereignty should by means of nullification protect itself. It was a long step in advance when the nation conquered the prerogative of asserting its own sovereign power through the Supreme Court. Now the intervention of the courts in legislation has become, by the change in environment, as fatal to administration as would have been, in 1800, the success of nullification. I find it difficult to believe that capital, with its specialized views of what constitutes its advantages, its duties, and its responsibilities, and stimulated by a bar moulded to meet its prejudices and requirements, will ever voluntarily assent to the consolidation of the United States to the point at which the interference of the courts with legislation might be eliminated; because, as I have pointed out, capital finds the judicial veto useful as a means of at least temporarily evading the law, while the bar, taken as a whole, quite honestly believes that the universe will obey the judicial decree. No delusion could be profounder and none, perhaps, more dangerous. Courts, I need hardly say, cannot control nature, though by trying to do so they may, like the Parliament of Paris, create a friction which shall induce an appalling catastrophe.

True judicial courts, whether in times of peace or of revolution, seldom fail to be a substantial protection to the weak, because they enforce an established corpus juris and conduct trials by recognized forms. It is startling to compare the percentage of convictions to prosecutions, for the same class of offences, in the regular criminal courts during the French Revolution, with the percentage in the Revolutionary Tribunal. And once a stable social equilibrium is reached, all men tend to support judicial courts, if judicial courts exist, from an instinct of self-preservation. This has been amply shown by French experience, and it is here that French history is so illuminating to the American mind. Before the Revolution France had semi-political courts which conduced to the overthrow of Turgot, and, therefore, wrought for violence; but more than this, France, under the old regime, had evolved a legal profession of a cast of mind incompatible with an equal administration of the law. The French courts were, therefore, when trouble came, supported only by a faction, and were cast aside. With that the old regime fell.

The young Duke of Chartres, the son of Egalite Orleans, and the future Louis Philippe, has related in his journal an anecdote which illustrates that subtle poison of distrust which undermines all legal authority, the moment that suspicion of political partiality in the judiciary enters the popular mind. In June, 1791, the Duke went down from Paris to Vendome to join the regiment of dragoons of which he had been commissioned colonel. One day, soon after he joined, a messenger came to him in haste to tell him that a mob had gathered near by who were about to hang two priests. "I ran thither at once," wrote the Duke; "I spoke to those who seemed most excited and impressed upon them how horrible it was to hang men without trial; besides, to act as hangmen was to enter a trade which they all thought infamous; that they had judges, and that this was their affair. They answered that their judges were aristocrats, and that they did not punish the guilty." That is to say, although the priests were non-jurors, and, therefore, criminals in the eye of the law, the courts would not enforce the law because of political bias.[43] "It is your fault," I said to them, "since you elected them [the judges], but that is no reason why you should do justice yourselves."

Danton explained in the Convention that it was because of the deep distrust of the judiciary in the public mind, which this anecdote shows, that the September massacres occurred, and it was because all republicans knew that the state and the army were full of traitors like Dumouriez, whom the ordinary courts would not punish, that Danton brought forward his bill to organize a true political tribunal to deal with them summarily. When Danton carried through this statute he supposed himself to be at the apex of power and popularity, and to be safe, if any man in France were safe. Very shortly he learned the error In his calculation. Billaud was a member of the Committee of Public Safety, while Danton had allowed himself to be dropped from membership. Danton had just been married, and to an aristocratic wife, and the turmoil of office had grown to be distasteful to him. On March 30, 1794, Billaud somewhat casually remarked, "We must kill Danton;" for in truth Danton, with conservative leanings, was becoming a grave danger to the extreme Jacobins. Had he lived a few months longer he would have been a Thermidorist. Billaud, therefore, only expressed the prevailing Jacobin opinion; so the Jacobins arrested Danton, Camille Desmoulins, and his other friends, and Danton at once anticipated what would be his doom. As he entered his cell he said to his jailer: "I erected the Tribunal. I ask pardon of God and men." But even yet he did not grasp the full meaning of what he had done. At his trial he wished to introduce his evidence fully, protesting "that he should understand the Tribunal since he created it;" nevertheless, he did not understand the Tribunal, he still regarded it as more or less a court. Topino-Lebrun, the artist, did understand it. Topino sat on the jury which tried Danton, and observed that the heart of one of his colleagues seemed failing him. Topino took the waverer aside, and said: "This is not a trial, it is a measure. Two men are impossible; one must perish. Will you kill Robespierre?—No.—Then by that admission you condemn Danton." Lebrun in these few words went to the root of the matter, and stated the identical principle which underlies our whole doctrine of the Police Power. A political court is not properly a court at all, but an administrative board whose function is to work the will of the dominant faction for the time being. Thus a political court becomes the most formidable of all engines for the destruction of its creators the instant the social equilibrium shifts. So Danton found, in the spring of 1794, when the equilibrium shifted; and so Robespierre, who slew Danton, found the next July, when the equilibrium shifted again.

Danton died on the 5th April, 1794; about three months later Jourdan won the Fleurus campaign. Straightway Thermidor followed, and the Tribunal worked as well for the party of Thermidor as it had for the Jacobins. Carrier, who had wallowed in blood at Nantes, as the ideal Jacobin, walked behind the cart which carried Robespierre to the scaffold, shouting, "Down with the tyrant;" but that did not save him. In vain he protested to the Convention that, were he guilty, the whole Convention was guilty, "down to the President's bell." By a vote of 498 out of 500, Carrier was sent before the Tribunal which, even though reorganized, condemned him. Therezia Cabarrus gaily presided at the closing of the Jacobin Club, Tallien moved over to the benches on the right, and therefore the court was ruthless to Fouquier. On the 11 Thermidor, seventy members, officers, or partisans of the Commune of Paris, were sent to the guillotine in only two batches. On the next day twelve more followed, four of whom were jurymen. Fouquier's turn came later. It may also be worth while for Americans to observe that a political court is quite as effective against property as against life. The Duke of Orleans is only the most celebrated example of a host of Frenchmen who perished, not because of revenge, fear, or jealousy, but because the party in power wanted their property. The famous Law touching Suspected Persons (loi des suspects) was passed on September 17, 1793. On October 10, 1793, that is three weeks afterward, Saint-Just moved that additional powers should be granted, by the Convention, to the Committee of Public Safety, defining, by way of justification for his motion, those who fell within the purview of this law. Among these, first of all, came "the rich," who by that fact alone were to be considered, prima facie, enemies to their country.

As I stated at the beginning of this chapter, history never can repeat itself; therefore, whatever else may happen in the United States, we certainly shall have no Revolutionary Tribunal like the French Tribunal of 1793, but the mechanical principle of the political court always remains the same; it is an administrative board the control of which is useful, or may be even essential, to the success of a dominant faction, and the instinctive comprehension which the American people have of this truth is demonstrated by the determination with which they have, for many years, sought to impose the will of the majority upon the judiciary. Other means failing to meet their expectations, they have now hit on the recall, which is as revolutionary in essence as were the methods used during the Terror. Courts, from the Supreme Court downward, if purged by recall, or a process tantamount to recall, would, under proper stress, work as surely for a required purpose as did the tribunal supervised by Fouquier-Tinville.

These considerations rather lead me to infer that the extreme complexity of the administrative problems presented by modern industrial civilization is beyond the compass of the capitalistic mind. If this be so, American society, as at present organized, with capitalists for the dominant class, can concentrate no further, and, as nothing in the universe is at rest, if it does not concentrate, it must, probably, begin to disintegrate. Indeed we may perceive incipient signs of disintegration all about us. We see, for example, an universal contempt for law, incarnated in the capitalistic class itself, which is responsible for order, and in spite of the awful danger which impends over every rich and physically helpless type should the coercive power collapse. We see it even more distinctly in the chronic war between capital and labor, which government is admittedly unable to control; we see it in the slough of urban politics, inseparable from capitalistic methods of maintaining its ascendancy; and, perhaps, most disquieting of all, we see it in the dissolution of the family which has, for untold ages, been the seat of discipline and the foundation of authority. For the dissolution of the family is peculiarly a phenomenon of our industrial age, and it is caused by the demand of industry for the cheap labor of women and children. Napoleon told the lawyers who drafted the Code that he insisted on one thing alone. They must fortify the family, for, said he, if the family is responsible to the father and the father to me, I can keep order in France. One of the difficulties, therefore, which capital has to meet, by the aid of such administrative ability as it can command, is how to keep order when society no longer rests on the cohesive family, but on highly volatilized individuals as incohesive as grains of sand.

Meditating upon these matters, it is hard to resist the persuasion that unless capital can, in the immediate future, generate an intellectual energy, beyond the sphere of its specialized calling, very much in excess of any intellectual energy of which it has hitherto given promise, and unless it can besides rise to an appreciation of diverse social conditions, as well as to a level of political sagacity, far higher than it has attained within recent years, its relative power in the community must decline. If this be so the symptoms which indicate social disintegration will intensify. As they intensify, the ability of industrial capital to withstand the attacks made upon it will lessen, and this process must go on until capital abandons the contest to defend itself as too costly. Then nothing remains but flight. Under what conditions industrial capital would find migration from America possible, must remain for us beyond the bounds even of speculation. It might escape with little or no loss. On the other hand, it might fare as hardly as did the southern slaveholders. No man can foresee his fate. In the event of adverse fortune, however, the position of capitalists would hardly be improved by the existence of political courts serving a malevolent majority. Whatever may be in store for us, here at least, we reach an intelligible conclusion. Should Nature follow such a course as I have suggested, she will settle all our present perplexities as simply and as drastically as she is apt to settle human perturbations, and she will follow logically in the infinitely extended line of her own most impressive precedents.


[42] In these observations on the intellectual tendencies of capital I speak generally. Not only individual capitalists, but great corporations, exist, who are noble examples of law-abiding and intelligent citizenship. Their rarity, however, and their conspicuousness, seem to prove the general rule.

[43] By the Law of November 27, 1790, priests refusing to swear allegiance to the "civil constitution" of the clergy were punished by loss of pay and of rights of citizenship if they continued their functions. By Law of August 26, 1792, by transportation to Cayenne.


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