Nonfiction > William Jennings Bryan, ed. > The World’s Famous Orations > Vol. VII. Continental Europe
See also: Honoré Gabriel Riquetti, Comte de Mirabeau Biography
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  The World’s Famous Orations.
Continental Europe (380–1906).  1906.
 
I. Necker’s Financial Plan
 
Honoré Gabriel Riquetti, Comte de Mirabeau (1749–91)
 
(1789)
 
Born in 1749, died in 1791; before the French Revolution, had served in Corsica, obtaining the rank of Captain; had written essays and pamphlets, traveled extensively, and been noted for dissolute habits; elected to the Convention of the States-General in 1789; attracted wide notice as an orator; became President of the Jacobin Club, and in 1791 President of the National Assembly.
 
 
THE MINISTER 1 of finance has presented a most alarming picture of the state of our affairs. He has assured us that delay must aggravate the peril; and that a day, an hour, an instant, may render it fatal. We have no plan that can be substituted for that which he proposes. On this plan, therefore, we must fall back. But, have we time, gentlemen ask, to examine it, to probe it thoroughly, and verify its calculations? No, no! a thousand times no! Haphazard conjectures, insignificant inquiries, gropings that can but mislead—these are all that we can give to it now. Shall we therefore miss the decisive moment? Do gentlemen hope to escape sacrifices and taxation by a plunge into national bankruptcy? What, then, is bankruptcy, but the most cruel, the most iniquitous, most unequal and disastrous of imposts? Listen to me for one moment!  1
  Two centuries of plunder and abuse have dug the abyss which threatens to engulf the nation. It must be filled up—this terrible chasm. But how? Here is a list of proprietors. Choose from the wealthiest, in order that the smallest number of citizens may be sacrificed. But choose! Shall not a few perish, that the mass of the people may be saved? Come, then! Here are two thousand notables, whose property will supply the deficit. Restore order to your finances; peace and prosperity to the kingdom! Strike! Immolate, without mercy, these unfortunate victims! Hurl them into the abyss!—It closes!  2
  You recoil with dismay from the contemplation. Inconsistent and pusillanimous! What! Do you not perceive that, in decreeing a public bankruptcy, or, what is worse, in rendering it inevitable without decreeing it, you disgrace yourselves by an act a thousand times more criminal, and—folly inconceivable!—gratuitously criminal? For, in the shocking alternative I have supposed, at least the deficit would be wiped off.  3
  But do you imagine that, in refusing to pay, you shall cease to owe? Think you that the thousands, the millions of men, who will lose in an instant, by the terrible explosion of a bankruptcy, or its revulsion, all that formed the consolation of their lives, and perhaps their sole means of subsistence—think you that they will leave you to the peaceable fruition of your crime? Stoical spectators of the incalculable evils which this catastrophe would disgorge upon France; impenetrable egotists, who fancy that these convulsions of despair and of misery will pass, as other calamities have passed-and all the more rapidly because of their intense violence—are you, indeed, certain that so many men without bread will leave you tranquilly to the enjoyment of those savory viands, the number and delicacy of which you are so loath to diminish? No! you will perish, and, in the universal conflagration, which you do not shrink from kindling, you will not, in losing your honor, save a single one of your detestable indulgences. This is the way we are going.  4
  And I say to you, that the men who, above all others, are interested in the enforcement of these sacrifices which the government demands, are you yourselves! Vote, then, this subsidy extraordinary; and may it prove sufficient! Vote it, inasmuch as whatever doubts you may entertain as to the means—doubts vague and unenlightened—you can have none as to the necessity, or as to our inability to provide—immediately, at least—a substitute. Vote it, because the circumstances of the country admit of no evasion, and we shall be responsible for all delays. Beware of demanding more time! Misfortune accords it never. Why, gentlemen, it was but the other day, that, in reference to a ridiculous commotion at the Palais-Royal—a quixotic insurrection, which never had any importance save in the feeble imaginations or perverse designs of certain faithless men—you heard these wild words: “Catiline is at the gates of Rome, and yet you deliberate!” And verily there was neither a Catiline nor a Rome, neither perils nor factions around you. But, to-day, bankruptcy, hideous bankruptcy, is there before you, and threatens to consume you, yourselves, your property, your honor—and yet you deliberate!  5
 
Note 1. Delivered in the National Assembly on September 26, 1789. Abridged. On July 14th, of this year, the Bastille had fallen. The occasion of this speech was Necker’s plan of an income tax of twenty-five per cent. to relieve the desperate state of the treasury. Mirabeau, heretofore, had been opposed to Necker, but now came forth to assist him, making two speeches in favor of his measure. The Bill being still threatened with defeat, he then made a third speech, from which is taken the passage given here. The Bill now passed. Necker’s famous daughter, Madame De Stäel, who sat near Mirabeau while he spoke, afterward described the effect of the speech as “prodigious.” Mola, the famous actor, was also present. “With what an accent did you deliver that speech!” said he; “you have surely missed your vocation”—a compliment by which Mirabeau was much flattered. Dumont says Mirabeau was not well acquainted with the subject of Necker’s plan, and quotes a remark by Panchaud, that Mirabeau “was the first man in the world to speak on a subject he knew nothing about.” Necker’s plan failed to relieve the treasury. Bankruptcy was averted only by the issue of assignats. [back]
 

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