The World's Famous Orations/Volume 7/To a Deputation of Poles
TO A DEPUTATION OF POLES
Born in 1790, died in 1869; active as an Orator and Leader in public affairs; Minister of Foreign Affairs during the Provisional Government of 1848; his chief fame due to his writings as Poet and Historian.
France owes you not only good wishes and tears, but moral and eventual assistance in return for the Polish blood with which you have bedewed every battlefield in Europe during our great wars. France will pay her debt; rely on that; trust to the hearts of thirty-six millions of Frenchmen. Only leave to France that which exclusively belongs to her—the season, the moment, and the form, of which providence shall determine the choice and suitability, to restore you, without aggression or bloodshed, to that place which is your due in the catalog of nations.
You may be acquainted with the principles which the provisional government of the Republic has universally adopted in its foreign policy. In case you are not, let me recapitulate them: The Republic is undoubtedly republican, and she openly proclaims it to the world; but the Republic is not at open or secret war with any nation or existing government so long as these nations and governments do not declare themselves at war with her.
She will not, therefore, commit or voluntarily suffer to be committed any act of violence or aggression against the Germanic nations. They, at this moment, are occupied in modifying their internal system of confederation, and in assuring the security and rights of those peoples who can claim a place among them. We should be either mad or traitors to the liberty of the world were we to interrupt this labor by warlike demonstrations, and were we to change into hostility, apprehension, or hatred the tendency to freedom that now makes them lean toward us and toward you.
What moment do you bid us choose for this measure, so utterly opposed to right policy and liberty! Is the treaty of Pilnitz being revived against us? Does a coalition of the despotic monarchs now threaten our frontiers and yours? No. You see, each courier brings us tiding of the victorious acclamation with which people adopt our principles and strengthen our cause, precisely because we have declared that these principles are those of respect for the rights, wishes, forms, government, and territories of nations. Are the results of the external policy of the government so discouraging that we must compel them to change it by force and present ourselves on the frontiers with a sword instead of with freedom and peace?
No; this policy, alike firm and pacific, answers the expectations of the Republic too well for us to change it before the hour when the powers shall change it of themselves. Look at Belgium; look at Switzerland, at Italy, at all the south of Germany; look at Vienna, Berlin. What more do you need? The very possessors of your territories open a path for you to your country and call on you to reconstitute them peacefully. Be not unjust toward God, toward the Republic, or toward us. The nations sympathizing with Germany, the king of Prussia opening the gates of his fortresses to your martyrs, the gates of Poland opened, Cracow freed, the grand duchy of Posen again a Polish province—such are the weapons with which one month of our policy has supplied you.
Ask no others at our hands. The provisional government will not suffer its policy to be changed by a foreign nation, however great the sympathy that may be inspired. Poland is dear to us; Italy is dear to us; all oppressed peoples are dear to us; but France to us is dearer than all, and the responsibility of her destinies, and possibly those of Europe, rests with us. We will surrender this responsibility to the nation alone. Trust to the nation and to the future; trust to those last thirty days which have already gained for the cause of French democracy more ground than thirty pitched battles could have gained, and do not disturb by force of arms, or by an agitation which would only injure our common cause, the work which providence accomplishes without other arms than its ideas for the regeneration of the people and the fraternity of the human race.
As Poles you have spoken admirably. As for us it is our duty to speak as Frenchmen. "We must both of us fulfil our respective duties. As Poles you are justly impatient to fly to the land of your fathers, and to respond to the appeal which the already liberated portion of Poland has made to her generous sons. We can only applaud this sentiment and furnish, as you desire, all those pacific means which will aid the Poles in returning to their country, and can only rejoice at the commencement of independence at Posen.
We, as Frenchmen, have not to consider the interests of Poland alone; we have to consider the universality of that European policy which corresponds to all the horizons of France and all those interests of liberty of which the French Republic is the second outbreak, and we trust he most glorious and the last, in Europe. The importance of these interests, the gravity of these resolutions, render it impossible for the provisional government of the Republic to surrender into the hands of any partial nationality—any party in a nation, however sacred its cause may be—the responsibility and freedom of its resolutions.
If the policy toward Poland, forced upon us under the monarchy, be no longer the line of policy dictated by the Republic, the latter at least has spoken to the world in terms to which we will adhere: the Republic will suffer no power on the face of the earth to say to her: "Your words are different from your actions." The Republic must and will not act in contradiction to her word; the respect paid to it is purchased at this price, and she will never suffer it to fall into disrepute by falsifying it.
What were her expressions in her manifesto to the powers? Her thoughts were with you when she said that on the day when it shall seem to us that the moment has arrived for the resurrection of a nation unjustly effaced from the map, we shall hasten to its assistance. But we have reserved to ourselves that which pertains to France alone—the choice of time, justice, and the reasons which would make it our duty to interfere.
Well, up to this moment we have chosen and resolved that these means shall be pacification. See yourselves, and let France and Europe see, if these pacific means have deceived us or deceived you. In thirty-one days the natural and peaceful results of this system of peace and fraternity which we have declared we would adopt have proved of more avail to the cause of France, liberty, and Poland herself than ten battles and torrents of human blood.
Such is the progress of the Republic, thanks to this system of respect for the freedom of the land and the blood of mankind. We shall never retreat into another system. The straight path, rest assured, will lead us to that disinterested object we seek to attain far better than the tortuous paths of diplomacy. Do not seek to induce us to deviate from it, even through the fraternal sentiments we entertain toward you. Our reason restrains and guides our feelings toward Poland.
Suffer us to listen to the promptings of this sentiment in the full freedom of our thoughts, and learn that these thoughts do not separate two people whose blood has so often mingled on the battle-plain. Our care for you, like our hospitality, shall extend to your own frontiers; our eyes shall follow you into your own country. Bear thither with you the hope of that regeneration which begins for you in Prussia, where your banner floats at Berlin. France asks no other return for the asylum she has afforded you than the amelioration of your national destinies and the recollections you will carry home with you of the French name.
- Delivered in 1848 when he was minister of foreign affairs of the French provisional government. Abridged. An old translation revised for this collection.