The World's Famous Orations/Volume 7/In His Own Defense
Born in 1744, died in 1793; practised medicine for a time In London and Paris; began to publish his newspaper, L'Ami du Peuple, in 1789- elected to toe National Convention in 1792; an Ultrarevolutionist ; trieci and acauitted by the Revolutionary Tribunal in April, 1793; with Danton and Robespierre overthrew the Girondists in June, 1793; assassinated by Charlotte Corday in July, 1793.
If, therefore, I appear before my judges, it is only that I may rise triumphant and confound imposture; it is to unseal the eyes of that part of the nation which has already been led astray on my account ; it is to go out a conqueror from this imbroglio, to reassure public opinion, to do a good service in the fatherland, and to strengthen the cause of liberty.
Full of confidence in the enlightenment, equity, and civic spirit of this tribunal, I myself urge the most rigorous examination into this affair. Strong as I am in the testimonv of my own conscience, in the rectitude of my intentions, in the purity of my civic spirit, I seek no indulgence, but demand strict justice.The decree of accusation brought against me was carried without discussion, in violation of law and in contradiction to the principles of order, liberty, and justice. For it is a principle of right that no citizen shall be censured without having first been heard. This decree of accusation was brought against me by two hundred and ten members of a faction, contrary to the demand of ninety-two members of "the Mountain"; that is to say, by two hundred and ten enemies of the country against ninety-two defenders of liberty. It was issued amid the most scandalous uproar, during which patriots covered the royalists with opprobrium, reproaching them with lack of eivic spirit, with baseness, and with their machinations. It was issued in spite of the most marked manifestations of public opinion, and amid the noise of continuous hootings throughout the tribunes. It was issued in a manner so revolting that twenty members who had been deceived by this faction refused to vote for it, the decree not having been discussed. It was issued while one of them, yielding to the movement of an honest friend, cried out: "I do not vote, and I greatly fear, after all that I have seen, that I have been the dupe of a perfidious cabal."
Originating with a committee of legislation almost entirely composed of my mortal enemies, all of whom were members of the faction, it was drawn with such want of reflection that it bears on its face all the characteristics of dense ignorance, falsehood, madness, fury, and atrocity. At a glance the act may be seen to be filled with glaring inconsistencies, or we should rather say with the spirit of contradiction to the "Decree of Accusation," of which it served as the basis. It makes no mention of the address drawn up by the Jacobins, the signing of which they attributed to me as a crime; and yet this address was what caused the decree.
When I see how ridiculous and destitute of foundation this act is, I feel ashamed of the committee. As the address of the Jacobins contains the sentiments of true republicans, and as it has been signed by nearly all of myof "the Mountain," the committee, forced to abandon the fundamental count in the accusation, was reduced to the expedient of citing some of my writings which had lain neglected for many months in the dust, and it stupidly reproduced the denunciation of some others of my writings, a subject which the Assembly refused to pursue, passing to the order of the day, as I shall prove in the sequel.
Let us prove now that that act is illegal. It rests wholly, as you have seen, on some of my political opinions. These opinions had been enunciated from the tribune of the Convention before they were published in my writings. My writings, the constant aim of which has been to reveal plots, to unmask traitors, to propose useful measures, are merely supplements to what I can not always fully explain in the midst of the Assembly.
But what will appear incredible is that the committee should call down, without ceremony, without shame, and without remorse, capital punishment on my head, and cite articles of the penal code, which, according to its interpretation, condemned me to death. I doubt not that such is the object which they have in view. How many statesmen have been tormented with despair as to keeping me in prison, smothering my voice, and restraining my pen? Did not one of them, the atrocious Lacaze, have the impudence to ask the Convention, as Dumouriez and Cobourg asked, that I should be outlawed? So that the act of accusation becomes a veritable "verdict rendered," which has only now to be executed.
This act is a tissue of lies and fabrications. It accuses me of having incited to murder and pillage, of setting up a "Chief of State," dishonoring and dissolving a convention, etc. The contrary can be proved to be true simply by reading my writings. I demand a consecutive reading; for it is not by garbling and mutilating passages that the ideas of an author are to be learned, but by reading the context; then the meaning may be judged.
- From a speech in his own defense before the National Convention in April, 1798. An old translation revised for this collection.