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(who, in such a commonwealth as yours, will in future overbear, as already they have overborne, the sober incapacity of dull, uninstructed men, of useful, but laborious occupations,) can never be put into any shape that must not be both disgraceful and destructive. The whole of this project, even if it were what it pretends to be, and was not in reality the dominion, through that disgraceful medium, of half a dozen, or perhaps fewer, intriguing politicians, is so mean, so low-minded, so stupid a contrivance, in point of wisdom, as well as so perfectly detestable for its wickedness, that I must always consider the correctives which might make it in any degree practicable to be so many new objections to it..
In that wretched state of things, some are afraid that the authors of your miseries may be led to precipitate their further designs by the hints they may receive from the very arguments used to expose the absurdity of their system, to mark the incongruity of its parts, and its inconsistency with their own principles, - and that your masters may be led to render their schemes more consistent by rendering them more mischievous.
Excuse the liberty which your indulgence authorizes me to take, when I observe to you that such apprehensions as these would prevent all exertion of our faculties in this great cause of mankind.
A rash recourse to force is not to be justified in a state of real weakness. Such attempts bring on disgrace, and in their failure discountenance and discourage more rational endeavors. But reason is to be hazarded, though it may be perverted by craft and sophistry; for reason can suffer no loss nor shame, nor can it impede any useful plan of future policy.
In the unavoidable uncertainty as to the effect, which attends on every measure of human prudence, nothing seems a surer antidote to the poison of fraud than its detection. It is true, the fraud may be swallowed after this discovery, and perhaps even swallowed the more greedily for being a detected fraud. Men sometimes make a point of honor not to be disabused; and they had rather fall into an hundred errors than confess one. But, after all, when neither our principles nor our dispositions, nor, perhaps, our talents, enable us to encounter delusion with delusion, we must use our best reason to those that ought to be reasonable creatures, and to take our chance for the event. We cannot act on these anomalies in the minds of men.
I do not conceive that the persons who have contrived these things can be made much the better or the worse for anything which can be said to them. They are reason-proof. Here and there, some men, who were at first carried away by wild, good intentions, may be led, when their first fervors are abated, to join in a sober survey of the schemes into which they had been deluded. To those only (and I am sorry to say they are not likely to make a large description) we apply with any hope. I may speak it upon an assurance almost approaching to absolute knowledge, that nothing has been done that has not been contrived from the beginning, even before the States had assembled. Nulla nova mihi res inopinave surgit. They are the same men and the same designs that they were from the first, the varied in their appearance. It was the very same animal that at first crawled about in the shape of a caterpillar that you now see rise into the air and expand his wings to the sun.
Proceeding, therefore, as we are obliged to proceed, — that is, upon an hypothesis that we address rational men,
can false political principles be more effectually exposed than by demonstrating that they lead to consequences directly inconsistent with and subversive of the arrangements grounded upon them? If this kind of demonstration is not permitted, the process of reasoning called deductio ad absurdum, which even the severity of geometry does not reject, could not be employed at all in legislative discussions. One of our strongest weapons against folly acting with authority would be lost.
You know, Sir, that even the virtuous efforts of your patriots to prevent the ruin of your country have had this very turn given to them. It has been said here, and in France too, that the reigning usurpers would not have carried their tyranny to such destructive lengths, if they had not been stimulated and provoked to it by the acrimony of your opposition. There is a dilemma to which every opposition to successful iniquity must, in the nature of things, be liable. If you lie still, you are considered as an accomplice in the measures in which you silently acquiesce. If you resist, you are accused of provoking irritable power to new excesses. The conduct of a losing party never appears right: at least, it never can possess the only infallible criterion of wisdom to vulgar judgments, — success.
The indulgence of a sort of undefined hope, an obscure confidence, that some lurking remains of virtue, some degree of shame, might exist in the breasts of the oppressors of France, has been among the causes which have helped to bring on the common ruin of king and people. There is no safety for honest men, but by believing all possible evil of evil men, and by acting with promptitude, decision, and steadiness on that belief. I well remember, at every epocha of this wonderful history, in every scene of this tragic business, that, when your sophistic usurpers were laying down mischievous principles, and even applying them in direct resolutions, it was the fashion to say that they never intended to execute those declarations in their rigor. This made men careless in their opposition, and remiss in early precaution. By holding out this fallacious hope, the impostors deluded sometimes one description of men, and sometimes another, so that no means of resistance were provided against them, when they came to execute in cruelty what they had planned in fraud.
There are cases in which a man would be ashamed not to have been imposed on. There is a confidence necessary to human intercourse, and without which men are often more injured by their own suspicions than they would be by the perfidy of others. But when men whom we know to be wicked impose upon us, we are something worse than dupes. When we know them, their fair pretences become new motives, for distrust. There is one case, indeed, in which it would be madness not to give the fullest credit to the most deceitful of men, - that is, when they make declarations of hostility against us.
I find that some persons entertain other hopes, which I confess appear more specious than those by which at first so many were deluded and disarmed. They flatter themselves that the extreme misery brought upon the people by their folly will at last open the eyes of the multitude, if not of their leaders. Much the contrary, I fear. As to the leaders in this system of imposture, you know that cheats and deceivers never can repent. The fraudulent have no resource but in fraud. They have no other goods in their magazine. They have no virtue or wisdom in their minds, to which, in a disappointment concerning the profitable effects of fraud and cunning, they can retreat. The wearing out of an old serves only to put them upon the invention of a new delusion. Unluckily, too, the credulity of dupes is as inexhaustible as the invention of knaves. They never give people possession ; but they always keep them in hope. Your state doctors do not so much as pretend that any good whatsoever has hitherto been derived from their operations, or that the public has prospered in any one instance under their management. The nation is sick, very sick, by their medicines. But the charlatan tells them that what is past cannot be helped ;--they have taken the draught, and they must wait its operation with patience ; -- that the first effects, indeed, are unpleasant, but that the very sickness is a proof that the dose is of no sluggish operation;—that sickness is inevitable in all constitutional revolutions ; — that the body must pass through pain to ease ; -- that the prescriber is not an empiric who proceeds by vulgar experience, but one who grounds his practice * on the sure rules of art, which cannot possibly fail. You have read, Sir, the last manifesto, or mountebank's bill, of the National Assembly. You see their presumption in their promises is not lessened by all their failures in the per