Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung August 1848
Cologne, September 2. Belgium, the model constitutional state, has produced further brilliant proof of the excellence of her institutions. Seventeen death sentences resulting from the ridiculous Risquons-Tout affair! Seventeen death sentences to avenge the humiliation inflicted upon the prudish Belgian nation by a few imprudent men, a few hopeful fools, who attempted to raise a small corner of the constitutional cloak! Seventeen death sentences -- what savagery!
The Risquons-Tout incident is well known. Belgian workers in Paris joined forces to attempt a republican invasion of their country. Belgian democrats came from Brussels to support the venture. Ledru-Rollin assisted as much as he could. Lamartine, the "noble-minded" traitor, who was not sparing of fine words and ignoble deeds as far as both the foreign and French democrats were concerned -- Lamartine, who prides himself on having conspired with the anarchists, like a lightning conductor with the lightning -- Lamartine at first supported the Belgian Legion the better to be able later to betray it. The Legion set out. Delescluze, Prefect of the Department du Nord, sold the first column to Belgian railway officials; the train which carried them was treacherously hauled into Belgian territory right into the midst of the Belgian bayonets. The second column was led by three Belgian spies (we were told this by a member of the Paris Provisional Government, and the course of events confirms it), and these treacherous leaders brought it into a forest on Belgian territory, where an ambush of loaded guns was waiting for it. The column was shot down and most of its members were captured.
This tiny episode of the 1848 revolution -- an episode which assumed a farcical aspect as a result of the many betrayals and the magnitude ascribed to it in Belgium -- served the Brussels prosecutor as a canvas on which to embroider the most colossal plot that was ever devised. Old General Mellinet, the liberator of Antwerp, Tedesco and Ballin, in short the most resolute and most active democrats of Brussels, Liege and Ghent were implicated. Mr. Bavay would even have Mr. Jottrand of Brussels dragged into it, had not the latter known things and possessed documents whose publication would greatly compromise the entire Belgian government, the wise Leopold included.
Why were these democrats arrested, why were these monstrous proceedings started against men who knew as much about the whole thing as the jurymen who faced them? It was meant to scare the Belgian bourgeoisie and, under cover of this scare, to collect the excessive taxes and forced loans, which are the cement of the glorious Belgian political edifice, and the payments on which were rather behindhand.
In short, the accused were arraigned before the Antwerp jury, the elite of the Flemish faro-playing fraternity, who lack both the elan of French political dedication and the cool assurance of grandiose English materialism, i.e., before those dried-cod merchants who spend their whole life vegetating in philistine utilitarianism, in the most short-sighted and timid profiteering. The great Bavay knew his men and appealed to their fear.
Indeed, had anyone ever seen a republican in Antwerp? Now thirty-two of the monsters faced the terrified men of Antwerp, and the trembling jury in concert with the wise bench consigned seventeen of the accused to the tender mercies of Article 86 and others of the Code penal, i.e., the death sentence.
Mock trials were also held during the Reign of Terror in 1793, and convictions based on other facts than those officially stated did occur, but even the fanatical Fouquier-Tinville did not conduct a trial so distinguished by clumsy barefaced lies and blind partisan hatred. Moreover, is Belgium in the grip of a civil war and are the armies of half Europe assembled at her frontiers conspiring with the rebels, as was the case in France in 1793? Is the country in danger? Has a crack appeared in the crown? On the contrary, no one intends to subjugate Belgium, and the wise Leopold still drives every day without an escort from Laeken to Brussels and from Brussels to Laeken.
What has the 81-year-old Mellinet done to be sentenced to death by jury and judges? The old soldier of the French republic saved the last spark of Belgian honor in 1831. He liberated Antwerp and in return Antwerp condemns him to death! His only sin is that he defended his old friend Becker against the insinuations of the Belgian official press and did not change his friendly attitude towards Becker even when the latter was plotting in Paris. Mellinet was in no way connected with the plot. And because of this he is without further ado sentenced to death.
As to Ballin, he was a friend of Mellinet's, often visited him, and was seen in the company of Tedesco in a coffeehouse. Reason enough to sentence him to death.
And finally Tedesco. Had he not visited the German Workers' Association, did he not associate with people on whom the Belgian police had planted stage daggers? Had he not been seen with Ballin in a coffee-house? The case was established -- Tedesco had provoked the great battle of Risquons-Tout -- off to the scaffold with him!
And so with the others.
We are proud of being able to call many of these "conspirators", sentenced to death only because they are democrats, our friends. If the venal Belgian press slings mud at them, then we, at least, want to vindicate their honor before the face of German democracy; if their country disowns them, we want to acclaim them.
When the president of the court pronounced the sentence of death, they passionately exclaimed: "Long live the republic!" Throughout the whole procedure and the reading of the sentence they behaved with truly revolutionary steadfastness.
As against this we read in the wretched Belgian press:
"The verdict," writes the Journal d'Anvers, "has caused no more of a sensation in the city than the entire trial, which aroused hardly any interest. Only among the working classes" (read: the proletarian rabble) "can one find sentiments hostile to the paladins of the republic; the rest of the population hardly took any notice of it. The attempt to bring about a revolution does not cease to appear absurd even after the death sentence, which, in any case, no one believes will be executed."
To be sure, if an interesting spectacle were to be staged allowing the citizens of Antwerp to watch the guillotining of seventeen republicans headed by old Mellinet, their liberator, then they would certainly have taken notice of the trial.
The savagery of the Belgian government, the Belgian jury and law courts lies precisely in the fact that they play with death sentences.
The Liberal Liegeois says: "The government wanted to show its strength, but it has merely demonstrated its savagery."
But then that has always been the lot of the Flemish nation.