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not only for their own country, but for all Europe? They believed that they could generally establish it, by exciting the governed against the governors, in letting the people see the facility and the advantages of such insurrections.
But how can the people be led to that point? By the example of good government established among us; by the example of order; by the care of spreading nothing but moral ideas among them; to respect their properties and their rights; to respect their prejudices, even when we combat them; by disinterestedness in defending the people, by a zeal to extend the spirit of liberty amongst them.
This system was at first followed *. Excellent pamphlets from the pen of Condorcet prepared the people for liberty; the tenth of August, the republican decrees, the battle of Valmy, the retreat of the Prussians, the victory of Jenappe, all spoke in favour of France; all was rapidly destroyed by the revolutionary power. Without doubt, good intentions made the majority of the Assembly adopt it; they would plant the tree of liberty in a foreign soil, under the shade of a people already free. To the eyes of the people of Belgium it seemed but the mask of a new, foreign tyranny. This opinion was
* The most seditious libels upon all governments, in order to excite insurrection in Spain, Holland, and other countries. Translator.
erroneous; I will suppose it for a moment; but still this opinion of Belgium deserved to be considered. In general we have always considered our own opinions, and our own intentions, rather than the people whose cause we defend. We have given those people a will; that is to say, we have more than ever alienated them from liberty.
How could the Belgick people believe themselves free, since we exercise for them, and over them, the rights of sovereignty ; when without consulting them, we suppress, all in a mass, their ancient usages, their abuses, their prejudices, those classes of society which without doubt are contrary to the spirit of liberty, but the utility of whose destruction was not as yet proved to them? How could they believe themselves free, and sovereign, when we made them take such an oath as we thought fit, as a test to give them the right of voting? How could they believe themselves free, when openly despising their religious worship, which religious worship that superstitious people valued beyond their liberty, beyond even their life; when we proscribed their priests; when we banished them from their assemblies, where they were in the practice of seeing them govern; when we seized their revenues, their domains, and riches, to the profit of the nation; when we carried to the very censer those hands which they regarded as profane? Doubtless these operations were founded on principles; but those principles ought to have had the consent of the Belgians before they were carried into practice; otherwise they necessarily became our most cruel enemies.
Arrived ourselves at the last bounds of liberty and equality, trampling under our feet all human superstitions, (after, however, a four years war with them,) we attempt all at once to raise, to the same eminence, men, strangers even to the first elementary principles of liberty, and plunged for fifteen hundred years in ignorance and superstition; we wished to force men to see, when a thick cataract covered their eyes, even before we had removed that cataract; we would force men to see, whose dullness of character had raised a mist before their eyes, and before that character was altered*.
Do you believe that the doctrine which now prevails in France would have found
many partisans mong us in 1789 ? No; a revolution in ideas, and
* It may not be amiss, once for all, to remark on the style of all the philosophical politicians of France. Without any distinction in the several sects and parties, they agree in treating all nations who will not conform their government, laws, manners, and religion, to the new French fashion, as a herd of slaves. They consider the content with which men live under those governments as stupidity, and all attachment to religion as the effects of the grossest ignorance.
The people of the Netherlands, by their constitution, are as much entitled to be called free, as any nation upon earth. The
in prejudices, is not made with that rapidity; it moves gradually: it does not escalade.
Philosophy does not inspire by violence, nor by seduction, nor is it the sword that begets love of liberty.
Joseph the Second also borrowed the language of philosophy, when he wished to suppress the monks in Belgium, and to seize upon their revenues. There was seen on him a mask only of philosophy, covering the hideous countenance of a greedy despot; and the people ran to arms. Nothing better than another kind of despotism has been seen in the revolutionary power.
Austrian government (until some wild attempts
the emperour Joseph made on the French principle, but which have been since abandoned by the court of Vienna,) has been remarkably mild. No people were more at their ease than the Flemish subjects, particularly the lower classes. It is curious to hear this great oculist talk of couching the cataract by which the Netherlands were blinded, and hindered fronı seeing, in its proper colours, the beautiful vision of the French Republick, which he has himself painted with so masterly a hand. That people must needs be dull, blind, and brutalized by fifteen hundred years of superstition, (the time elapsed since the introduction of Christianity amongst them) who could prefer their former state to the present state of France! The reader will remark, that the only difference between Brissot and his adversaries, is in the mode of bringing other nations into the pale of the French Republick
They would abolish the order and classes of society, and all religion at a stroke: Brissot would have just the same thing done, but with more address and management. Translator.
We have seen, in the commissioners of the National Convention, nothing but pro-consuls working the mine of Belgium for the profit of the French nation ; seeking to conquer it for the sovereign of Paris ; either to aggrandize his empire, or to share the burdens of the debts, and furnish a rich prize to the robbers who domineered in France. Do
you believe the Belgians have ever been the dupes of those well-rounded periods, which they vented in the pulpit, in order to familiarize them to the idea of an union with France? Do
believe they were ever imposed upon by those votes and resolutions, made by what is called acclamation, for their union, of which corruption paid one part,* and fear forced the remainder ? Who, at this time of day, is unacquainted with the springs and wires of their miserable puppet show? Who does not know the farces of primary assemblies, composed of a president, of a secretary, and of some assistants, whose day's work was paid for? No; it is not by means which belong only to thieves and despots, that the foundations of liberty can be laid in an enslaved country. It is not by those means, that a new-born republick, a people who know not yet the elements of republican governments, can be united to us. Even slaves do not suffer themselves to be seduced by such artifices ; and if they have not the strength to resist,
• See the Correspondence of Dumourier, especially the letter of the 12th of March.