Jacques Roux

On the Decree Relating to the Arrest of Suspects

Source: Le Publiciste de la République Française par l’Ombre de Marat, no. 279;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2004.

To arrest Romans on simple suspicions
Is to act like tyrants, we who punish them
— Voltaire

The great art of the legislator consists, not in proposing many laws, but in rendering their execution easy; not in reigning over men by terror, but in rendering himself master through wisdom and the mildness of government; not in establishing inquisitorial commissions in order to find the greatest number of guilty, but in principally striking the chief conspirators and being indulgent towards weak and repentant citizens who have gone astray.

If a people is in a state of revolution or not, its principles are those of eternal reason, of eternal justice. As Robespierre observed: Tyranny cannot save the state and freedom. When laws are made retroactive, when we multiply without any need violent measures, we announce ourselves to be ignorant or cruel. Fear only engenders slaves; humanity alone makes the conquest of liberty, and only crime should be punished on earth.

Let us now examine the law relating to the arrest of suspects. To start with, the countless treasons that have broken out everywhere have determined the National Convention (which more than ever is the rallying point of true republicans) to decree severe measures. Thus it has justly struck with the death penalty those who would attempt to re-establish royalty, who conspire against the unity and indivisibility of the republic, and against the sovereignty of the French people.

But the vague interpretation that can be given to that law (which is wise in itself) is such that if it were rigorously followed a prodigious number of Frenchmen would be at risk of incarceration.

I won’t speak of those who were refused certificates of civisme, who were suspended from their functions, or who weren’t able to justify that which their civic obligations demanded.. The presumption against these people is too strong for society not to have the right to arrest them. He who doesn’t pay public charges is certainly an enemy of the government and doesn’t deserve to be protected by the law he breaks.

I will allow myself only a few reflections on the decree, of which this is the tone:

Are considered suspect those who, by their conduct, their relations, their statements or their writings announce themselves to be partisans of tyranny or federalism and enemies of liberty, etc, etc, and who have not constantly manifested their attachment to the Republic.

I maintain that that law is not executable because of the great number of victims that would have to be struck . Consequently, it is faulty.

It’s a fact that the great majority of persons from whom the Revolution took their privileges, their fortune, and their status were not able to calmly look upon the new order of things: man in general doesn’t pardon an insult. How could he be calm when everything is taken from him except life, and when we work to render it unbearable to him by persecutions and tortures? So I say that at the term of this decree it would be necessary to incarcerate al the families of ci-devant nobles, all the noblesse of the robe, the financiers, and all the agents of the obliterated castes. It would be necessary to arrest all the judges, all the lawyers, the procurators, the court officers, the scribes and all the clerks attached to the old tribunals. It would be necessary to arrest all the tax agents, the tobacco agents, the officers of the gabelle and customs, the police informers and all the impure remains of the public bloodsuckers. It would be necessary to grab the engravers, the etchers, the enamel makers, the embroiderers, the painters and all the artists who spread about the signs of feudalism and slavery. It would be necessary to grab all the charlatans; the doctors, the pedants of the colleges who made their students kneel before the statue of a tyrant; the priests who still sell to the dying that god in whom they no longer believe themselves. It would be necessary to grab all those who read with pleasure “Le Journal de la cour et de la ville,” the pages of “L’Ami du Roi,” of the “Actes des Apotres,” who subscribed to the “Chronique,” “Le Moniteur,” “Le Patriote Francais” and the “Gazette Universel;” it would be necessary to grab the printers, sellers and distributors of the diatribes against the left of the Constituent Assembly, the legislative Assembly, and against the holy Mountain that saved the fatherland. It would be necessary to grab all those who raised to the heavens the traitors Lameth, Barnave, Mirabeau, Lafayette, Custine, Gorsas, Brissot, etc, etc. It would be necessary to grab all those who wrote on their hats, who cried out in public places Pétion or death; who raised Philippe d’Orléans and Manuel to that legislature, who supported the motions of the intriguers, who proposed the generals who surrendered our forts to the popular societies and the general assemblies of the sections; judges who spared conspirators and magistrates who squandered the treasury of the Republic. It would be necessary to grab the signatories of insidious or perfidious petitions, club members who have worked with the Jacobins, those who were stained with the principles of feuillantisme, federalism, and royalism and who didn’t believe in the virtue of the idols of the day. It would be necessary to grab the cooks, the domestics, the chambermaids, the coachmen, the suppliers, the parfumeurs who had relations with the émigrés, with the ci-devant barons, counts and marquis and the officers of the former court. It would be necessary to grab the grocers, manufacturers and merchants who, by the excessive price of goods of all kinds, have starved, ruined and made desperate the people and who determined it through many frauds to curse its lot. It would be necessary to grab all the actors and actresses who have played the role of duke, queen, and emperor; who applauded the royalist maxims inserted into the plays called L’Ami des Lois, Pamela, etc, etc.

It would be necessary to grab all those who miss the former government, the deputies who passed tyrannical laws; those who carried them out and violate the sublime constitution that they swore to defend unto death last August 10. And since we’re making laws retroactive, it’s necessary to grab those who pronounced the death penalty under the reign of the tyrant, against anyone who spoke of abolishing the monarchical constitution or who proposed the republic.

The imagination loses itself in calculating the number of persons who would be subject to arrest, since the number of enemies of liberty is infinitely greater than the number of incorruptible patriots. It is thus evident that the law of last September 17 has an unclear meaning and that it is inexcusable by its too great latitude. Consequently, that law, in the hands of revolutionary committees, is an instrument of oppression and vengeance. I would even say that in the space of two centuries as many lettres de cachet haven’t been issued as arrest warrants in the last month.

All honor to you virtuous representative of the people, honor to you Boucher Saint-Sauveur who had the courage to rise up against this new kind of tyranny, to abandon a post where you couldn’t make the voice of justice heard. A god man can only blush for belonging to the human race when he considers that liberty and the fate of the republic are in the hands of several commissioners who are covered in blood, debt and opprobrium; of vile intriguers who formerly swept the ante-chambers of courts; who a hundred times a day pronounced the name “my lord” if they were paid; and who drink with all the former pedants of the ancien régime as long as it doesn’t cost them anything; of those scoundrels who fight over power, who raise themselves above the National Convention by having arrested those freed by its orders.

Would you like to know who are those who are principally stricken with anathema by those infamous committee leaders who are preparing the counter-revolution? It is those energetic men who want real liberty: the republicans who love the fatherland for itself, and not for the positions it grants; the brave sans-culottes who expose themselves to daggers in order to unmask the knaves, the hypocrites and the conspirators.

I can’t understand how those who rose up against the inquisitorial commission of the Twelve three months ago have decreed 44,000 tribunals, invested with a power so frightful, such an attack on public freedom. Those deputies faithful to the cause of the people must have foreseen the abuses of so monstrous an authority, subject to the whims of ambitious and cruel commissioners. They should put a brake to their despotism in making them responsible, under pain of death and in conformity with the constitution, for the arrest of citizens who they sacrifice to their barbaric fury. They should declare incapable of ever occupying any employ in the Republic those intriguers who make false denunciations, who render the name Frenchman odious to all the peoples by incarcerating patriots who removed themselves from lands of slavery to come breathe among us the pure air of liberty.

Everything must be said here, since we dare to undertake everything. What idea will nations form of our republic when they learn that we everywhere violate the rights of people; that we drag from their homes peaceful and virtuous citizens based on the vague statements of a hypocrite, of a knave, of a schemer, of a desperate aristocrat; that we exercise in their regard an inquisition more terrible than that in Spain? What taste could a volunteer have to fight the henchmen of tyrants beyond our borders when he has before his eyes the terrible spectacle of patriots groaning in irons? When he sees his father, his mother, his brothers, his children about to be sacrificed to the vengeance of the monopolists they denounced, the ambitious whose pride they wounded, the traitors whose plots they foiled, conspirators they delivered to the sword of the law, and the enemies of liberty whose conduct they constantly keep watch over. And what will be the fate of freedom if its must zealous defenders pitilessly fall beneath the blows of perverted men; if virtue, in prisons, is confused with crime, if they who were among the first to sound the tocsin of insurrection, who overthrew the Bastille, who seized the Tuileries, and who shaped public opinion concerning the crimes of the Tyrant are treated like conspirators and traitors?

These are the measures that circumstances urgently command: That a man who sells his conscience and betrays his obligations be punished with death; that we have public bloodsuckers be killed; that we arrest, that we strike those who had criminal intelligence with the scoundrels, with the monsters who brought all possible plagues down on our unfortunate fatherland. But to make it a crime for a man to have exercised this or that estate; to have not always demonstrated the dominant opinion; to have not given himself completely over to revolutionary impulses, to which the average citizen isn’t susceptible; to make him bear the penalty for the crimes of his forebears, prejudge his actions, deliver him to public execution, indirectly design him for the daggers of assassins for having lived so many years a subject of the laws of his country, is an act that proves the corruption of morals in society, and the barbarism of several of the ministers of the law.

For it can’t be hidden that we can’t arrest so many fathers, soldiers, officers, tailors, workers, and artists without starving an infinite number of citizens, without depriving the Republic of its most zealous defenders, without slowing down public works, without slowing down war operations, and without cursing the Revolution in the eyes of those who served it with the greatest courage. I would even say that we light an inextinguishable flame of discord, we design victims to posterity; we stifle the seed of social virtues; we furnish powerful weapons to fight us to the enemy within and without and with new occasions to commit terrible massacres on the patriots of departments that they invaded, on soldiers that they took prisoner; on the Frenchmen they have as hostages. We can thus not keep under arrest for too long a time the true sans-culottes, rich men, merchants and artists (I mean to speak here of those against whom there are no proofs) without breaking the chains of commerce, paralyzing the arts, without covering 100,000 families in a universal mourning; without assassinating liberty and the Republic; without dishonoring ourselves in the eyes of all peoples.