Page images
PDF
EPUB

increasing the charges of the privileged provinces. With from four to five millions annually, the interior parts of the kingdom might have been freed from all custom-house duties. With 2,500,000 livres, all the necessáry canals inight have been executed, that are still wanting in the kingdom. With one million more per annum, government might be enabled to bestow sufficient encouragement on all the establishments of industry that can advance the prosperity of France. With 1,500,000 livres, the sums annually destined to give employment to the poor, might be doubled; and, while great advantages would thus accrue to the inhabitants of the country, the neighboring communications might be multiplied. With the same sum, the prisons throughout the kingdom might in a few years be improved, and all the charitable institutions brought to perfection. And with 2,000,000 annually, the clearing of the waste lands might proceed with incredible vigor. These distributions amount to thirty-one millions, which joined to twenty-four millions for military expenses, make together the annual revenue of fifty-five millions employed as above; a sum equal to that which I have supposed to be alienated for the disbursements of the war.

Nor is this all ; for, if we estimate the diminution of commerce which results from a war of five or six years' duration, it will be found that the kingdom is deprived of a considerable increase of riches. In fine, war, and the loans which it occasions, create a very sensible rise in the rate of interest. On the contrary, peace, under a wise administration, would lower it annually, were it only in consequence of the increase of specie, and of the influence of the stated reimbursements. This successive reduction of interest is likewise a source of inestimable advantages to commerce, agriculture, and the finances.

Let these effects be now compared with the advantages which a fortunate war (and all wars are not so) would secure; and it will be found that ten seeds have been sown, in order to gather the fruit of one. A government may humble its rivals, and extend its dominions; but to employ its resources for the happiness of its subjects, and command respect without the assistance and dangers of an ever restless policy, is a conduct which alone can correspond to the greatness of its situation, or secure all the advantages to be derived from it. It is not war, but a wise and pacific administration, that can procure all the advantages of which France may be yet in want. The quantity of specie in the kingdom is immense; but the want of public confidence very often occasions the greater part of it to be hoarded up. The population of the kingdom is immense ; but the excess and nature of the taxes impoverish and dishearten the people. The revenue is immense; but the public debt consumes two-fifths of it. The contributions of the nation, in particular, are immense; but it is only by the strengthening of public credit, that government can succeed in finding sufficient resources in extraordinary emergencies. Finally, the balance of commerce in favor of the kingdom is an immense source of riches; but war interrupts the current.

What, then, would be the case, if we join to all these considerations, the calamities inseparable from war? How would it appear, should we endeavor to form an estimate of the lives and sufferings of men? In the midst of a council convened to influence the opinion of the sovereign, the most upright of his servants might address him in this language:

“Sire, war is the source of so many evils, it is so terrible a scourge, that a gracious and discerning Prince ought never to undertake it but from motives of justice that are indisputable; and it behoves the greatest monarch in the world to give that example of the morality of kings which assures the happiness of humanity, and the tranquillity of nations. Do not give way, Sire, to vain anxieties, or to uncertain expectations. Ah! what have you to fear, and what can excite your jealousy? You reign over 26,000,000 of men. Providence, with a bountiful hand, has diffused the choicest blessings through your empire by multiplying the productions of every kind. The war proposed will cost you eight or nine hundred millions; and, were even victory every where to follow your arms, you will devote to death, or cruel sufferings, so great a number of your subjects, that were any one, who could read futurity, to present you this moment with the list, you would start back with horror. Nor is this all; your people, who have scarcely had a respite, you are going to crush with new taxes. You are going to slacken the activity of commerce and manufactures, those inestimable sources of industry and wealth; and, in order to procure soldiers and seamen, the men accustomed to the cultivation of the earth, will be forced from the interior provinces, and a hundred thousand families deprived of their supporters.

“And when crowned by the most splendid success, after so many evils, after so many calamities, what may you perhaps obtain ? An unsteady ally, uncertain gratitude, an island more than two thousand leagues from your empire, or some new subjects in another hemisphere. Alas! you are invited to nobler conquests. Turn your eyes to the interior parts of your kingdom. Consider what communications and canals may still be wanting. Behold those pestilential marshes which ought to be drained, and those deserted lands which would be cultivated on the first tender of support from government. Behold that part of your people whom a diminution of taxes would excite to new undertakings. Look, more especially, on that other truly wretched class, who stand in immediate need of succor in order to support the misery of their situation. In the mean time, in order to effectuate so many benefits, a small part of the revenues which you are going to consume in the war to which you are advised, would perhaps be sufficient. Are not the numerous inhabitants of your extensive dominions sufficient to engage your paternal love? And is not their happiness equal to the greatest extent of good which it is in the power of a single man to perform?

“But if you are desirous of new subjects, you may acquire them without the effusion of blood, or the triumphs of a battle ; for they will spring up in every part of your empire, fostered by the beneficent means that are in your hands. A good government multiplies men as the morning dews of the spring unfold the buds of plants. Before you seek, therefore, beyond the ocean, for those new subjects which are unknown to you, reflect that, in order to acquire them, you are going to sacrifice a greater number of those who love you, whom you love, whose fidelity you have experienced, and whose happiness is committed to your protection.

6 What personal motive, then, can determine you to war? Is it the splendor of victories for which you hope? Is it the ambition of a greater name in the annals of mankind? But is renown confined to bloodshed and devastation? And is that which a monarch obtains, by diffusing ease and happiness throughout his dominions, unworthy of consideration ? Titus reigned only three years; and his name, transmitted from age to age by the love of nations, is still introduced in all the eulogies of princes.

“Do not doubt it, Sire, a wise administration is of more value to you than the most refined political system; and if, to such resources, you unite that empire over other nations which is acquired by a transcendent character of justice and moderation, you will enjoy at once the greatest glory, and the most formidable power. Ah! Sire, exhibit this magnificent spectacle to the world; and then, if triumphal arches be wanting, make the tour of your provinces, and, preceded by all the good you have diffused, appear surrounded by the blessings of your people, and the ecstatic acclamations of a grateful nation made happy by its sovereign.”

Such would be the language of an honest minister; nor can I believe that such reflections would be foreign to political deliberations. At first, they would be thought extraordinary, and the minister who should argue thus, would not be allowed the views of an enlightened statesman. But the minister who, devoid alike of fear and every selfish view, should dare to advance great truths, might perhaps force his way through prejudice, or habitual ideas.

Ideas of this kind have a most extensive influence. I cannot remember without shuddering, to have seen the following statement, in an estimate of the money requisite for a war: Forty thousand men to be embarked for the colonies . . . 40,000 To be deducted one-third for the first year's mortality . . . 13,333

Remainder 26,667 A clerk in office makes his calculation in cool blood. A minister, on the perusal, has seldom any other idea than of the expense, and turns with unconcern to the next leaf for the result of the whole.

How can one here refrain from indulging very melancholy sensations ? Alas! if by any law of nature unknown to me, mankind deserved so much indifference, I should be very wrong to writu, and to be so earnestly solicitous for their welfare. I should be myself but a vile heap of dust, which the wind of life agitates for a moment. But I entertain a more exalted idea of our existence, and of the spirit that informs it.

Mankind, say apologists for war, have in every age been accustomed to it. Certainly; and, in every age also have storms de

stroyed the harvests; the pestilence has spread around its envenomed breath; intolerance has sacrificed her victims; crimes of every kind have desolated the earth. But reason has also obstinately fought against folly, morality against vice, art against disease, and industry against the rigor of bad seasons.

But I hear it stated, as a last objection, that men delight in hazards, and often seek them of their own accord. I allow it; but, admitting that some men have voluntarily placed themselves in a situation which they know to be exposed to calamities, will the nature of these calamities be changed by that consideration? The ignorance of the vulgar is a protracted minority; and in every situation in which they may be impelled by circumstances, neither their first choice, nor their first impulse, is to be considered in this argument. We must study their sentiments in those moments when, distracted by a thousand excruciating pains, yet still lingering in existence, they are carried off in heaps from the fatal field in which they have been mowed down by the enemy. We must study their sentiments in those noisome hospitals in which they are crowded together, and where the sufferings they endure, to preserve a languishing existence, so forcibly prove the value they set upon the preservation of their lives, and the greatness of the sacrifice to which they had been exposed. We ought also to study their sentiments in those moments in which, perhaps, to such a variety of wo, is added the bitter remembrance of that momentary error which led them to such misery. We ought, more especially, to study their sentiments on board those ships on fire, in which there is but a moment between them and the most cruel death ; and on those ramparts where subterraneous explosion announces, that in an instant they are to be buried under a tremendous heap of stones and rubbish. But the earth has covered them, the sea has swallowed them up, and we think of them no more. Their voice, extinguished forever, can no longer arraign the calamities of war. What unfeeling survivors are we! While we walk over mutilated bodies and shattered bones, we exult in the glory and honors of which we alone are the heirs.

Let me not be reproached with having dwelt too long on these melancholy representations. We cannot exhibit them too often; so much are we accustomed, in the very midst of society, to behold nothing in war, and all its attendant horrors, but an honorable employment for the courage of aspiring youth, and the school in which the talents of great officers are unfolded; and such is the effect of this transient intoxication, that the conversation of the polite circles in the capital is often taken for the general wish of the nation. Oh! ye governors, do not suffer yourselves to be deceived by this mistaken voice. For my part, far from regretting that I have opposed, to the best of my abilities, those chimeras which are subversive of the happiness of mankind, and of the true greatness of states; far from believing that I have displayed too much zeal for truths that are repugnant to so many passions and prepossessions, I believe these truths to be so useful, so essential, and so perfectly just, that after having supported them by my feeble voice in the course of my administration, and endeavored even from my retirement to diffuse them wide, I could wish that the last drop of my blood were employed to trace them on the minds of all.

This subject is of importance to every nation; and the spirit of the reflections I have made, is applicable not merely to the nations whose interests are regulated by the pleasure of an individual. I address myself equally to you, Great Nation (England) to whom the spirit of liberty communicates all its force. Let the energy of your soul, let that abundance, or that community of knowledge which results from it, lead you to those sentiments of political humanity which are so well connected with elevated thoughts. Be not influenced by a blind avidity for riches, by the pride of confidence, or a perpetual jealousy of others; and, since the waves of the ocean free you from the imperious yoke of disciplined armies, recollect that your first attention is due to the preservation of that precious government you enjoy. Tremble, lest you one day become indifferent to it, if from the excessive taxes which war accumulates, you expose to the dreadful conflicts of private interest, that public and patriotic sentiment which has so long been the source of your greatness and your felicity.

And may you, young and rising Nation (United States of America,) whose generous efforts have released you from your European yoke, make the rights you have acquired still more respected through the world, by employing yourselves constantly in promoting the public happiness. Sacrifice it not to vague'notions of policy, and the deceptive calculations of warlike ambition. Avoid, if possible, the passions which agitate our hemisphere; and long may you preserve the simplicity of the primitive ages.

What more can be said ? Here I should stop, for my feeble voice is altogether unequal to so important a subject; nevertheless, I venture once more to solicit a moment's attention. It is in considerations of public good, and just conceptions of true power, that I have hitherto sought motives to deter sovereigns from war; but I should imperfectly perform my task, if I did not endeavor to interest them in truths, the defence of which I have undertaken, by urging on them the close connection of these truths with their personal happiness.

How much has ambition, however dazzling and renowned, disquietude and remorse for its attendants! In the midst of battles and of ruins; in the midst of heaps of cinders, where the flames have destroyed flourishing cities; from the graves of that field where whole armies are buried, without doubt a name is raised and commemorated in history, even that of a sovereign who, to satiate his thirst for glory, has commanded these ravages, has willed these desolations. I will depict to myself this prince in the zenith of his glory and his triumphs, and imagine him listening to the flatteries of his courtiers, and feeling intoxicated with their praises, then retiring alone, holding in his hand the details of a battle. He reads attentively the recital, not as a mere curious inquirer who, having nothing to reproach himself with, calmly

« PreviousContinue »