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PREFACE TO BRISSOT'S ADDRESS.
THE French Revolution has been the subject of
1 various speculations and various histories. As might be expected, the royalists and the republicans have differed a good deal in their accounts of the principles of that Revolution, of the springs which have set it in motion, and of the true character of those who have been, or still are, the principal actors on that astonishing scene.
They who are inclined to think favorably of that event will undoubtedly object to every state of facts which comes only from the authority of a royalist. Thus much must be allowed by those who are the most firmly attached to the cause of religion, law, and order, (for of such, and not of friends to despotism, the royal party is composed,) — that their very affection to this generous and manly cause, and their abhorrence of a Revolution not less fatal to liberty than to government, may possibly lead them in some particulars to a more harsh representation of the proceedings of their adversaries than would be allowed by the cold neutrality of an impartial judge. This sort of error arises from a source highly laudable ; but the exactness of truth may suffer even from the feelings of virtue. History will do justice to the intentions of worthy men, but it will be on its guard against their infirmities; it will examine with great strictness of scrutiny whatever appears from a writer in favor of his own cause. On the other hand, whatever escapes him, and makes against that cause, comes with the greatest weight.
In this important controversy, the translator of the following work brings forward to the English tribunal of opinion the testimony of a witness beyond all exception. His competence is undoubted. He knows everything which concerns this Revolution to the bottom. He is a chief actor in all the scenes which he presents. No man can object to him as a royalist: the royal party, and the Christian religion, never had a more determined enemy. In a word, it is BRISSOT. It is Brissot, the republican, the Jacobin, and the philosopher, who is brought to give an account of Jacobinism, and of republicanism, and of philosophy.
It is worthy of observation, that this his account of the genius of Jacobinism and its effects is not confined to the period in which that faction came to be divided within itself. In several, and those very important particulars, Brissot's observations apply to the whole of the preceding period before the great schism, and whilst the Jacobins acted as one body; insomuch that the far greater part of the proceedings of the ruling powers since the commencement of the Revolution in France, so strikingly painted, so strongly and so justly reprobated by Brissot, were the acts of Brissot himself and his associates. All the members of the Girondin subdivision were as deeply concerned as any of the Mountain could possibly be, and some of them much more deeply, in those horrid transactions which have filled all the thinking part of Europe with the greatest detestation, and with the most serious apprehensions for the common liberty and safety.
A question will very naturally be asked, — What could induce Brissot to draw such a picture? He must have been sensible it was his own. The answer is, — The inducement was the same with that which led him to partake in the perpetration of all the crimes the calamitous effects of which he describes with the pen of a master, — ambition. His faction, having obtained their stupendous and unnatural power by rooting out of the minds of his unhappy countrymen every principle of religion, morality, loyalty, fidelity, and honor, discovered, that, when authority came into their hands, it would be a matter of no small difficulty for them to carry on government on the principles by which they had destroyed it.
The rights of men and the new principles of liberty and equality were very unhandy instruments for those who wished to establish a system of tranquillity and order. They who were taught to find nothing to respect in the title and in the virtues of Louis the Sixteenth, a prince succeeding to the throne by the fundamental laws, in the line of a succession of monarchs continued for fourteen hundred years, found nothing which could bind them to an implicit fidelity and dutiful allegiance to Messrs. Brissot, Vergniaud, Condorcet, Anacharsis Clootz, and Thomas Paine.
In this difficulty, they did as well as they could. To govern the people, they must incline the people to obey. The work was difficult, but it was necessary. They were to accomplish it by such materials and by such instruments as they had in their hands. They were to accomplish the purposes of order, mo