Laurence Gronlund.

Ça ira! : or, Danton in the French revolution, a study online

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success depends on his knowing this.

1793- ] A POOR-LAW. 157

These arc just the evils that this Tableau, for which they
thus had by circumstances been forced to provide, would
have obviated. It would have brought order into what lu.s
become anarchy. It would have prevented the secrecy. It
would, just what now our Bureaus of Statistics of Labor are
commencing to do, have enlightened our "movers in pro-
duction " as to their own interests, have told them how best
to use their resources, and have brought about orgaiiizafion
of industry, so much desired ; it would not, as Louis Blanc
thinks, have led to the " Co-operative Commonwealth," but
simply have made this transition period more tolerable to all
concerned, and prevented the wage-system and competition
from doing more harm than good, as they are at the present
day. France could, by leading in industry, have continued to
lead the world. It is curious to think that at that very

moment Saint-Simon, the social philosopher, was engaged in
land speculations, to gain means to think out and publish an
Organization of Industry — with the plutocrats for chiefs.
* * *

The Jacobin Convention made, as has been intimated,
several tentatives to rtaWzQ fraternity, in striking contrast to
their plutocratic brethren. As such tentative may,

perhaps, be considered the motion made by Danton in tlie
spring of 1793 for the abolition of imprisonment for debt,
which was carried. On that occasion the royalist Peltier
sneered : " He [Danton] liberated those detained for debts ;
then he made debts ( ! ), then he was a profligate ( ! ! )"
Good logic, is it not? And this is really the way most of
the charges against him are supported.

But more important is what they did for \\\t\x paupers.

The English plutocrats have at least felt that society owes
subsistence to the indigent, hence their poor-laws ; but it
should also be noted, that as soon as they had grasped
supreme power, by the Ivcfv^rm Act of 1832, they showed


their contempt for the poor by imposing on them most
degrading conditions for being admitted to reUef. But the
French boui-geoisic have done nothing, absohitely nothing.
True, in France they have what they call "public assist-
ance." But do not suppose that means relief by the State.
No, it means that certain of the most populous communes
are empowered to levy rates for the support of the poor ;
however, the amount in all France is not more than a two
hundred and fiftieth part of what the British expend ; and in
Paris the average relief to each person yearly is the pittance
of nineteen francs, or three dollars and eighty cents.

The Jacobin Convention did what follows : —

On June 23, 1 793, they passed, as we saw, their consti-
tution, which, among other things, provided, —

"Art. 21. Public assistance is a sacred debt. Society
owes subsistence to its unfortunate citizens, either by pro-
curing them labor or by insuring subsistence to those who
are unable to labor."

They did not wait long with the practical application.
Five days afterwards a law was passed organizing the assist-
ance that should be given annually to children, old persons,
widows, and paupers.

The following are some extracts of this, the most humane
Act, dating from the French Revolution, of June 28, 1793.

" Article L Parents who have no resources but their
labor, are entitled to assistance from the Slate whenever their
wages do not suffice for existence.

" Art. III. Those living by their labor, wlio already have
two children, can claim support from the State for the third
child that may be born.

" Art. IV. Those who already have three infant children,
who likewise live exclusively by their labor, and who do not
pay rates exceeding five days' labor, can claim a like su]i]:)ort
for the fourth child.

1793] A POOR-LAW. 159

"Art. V. Likewise lliosc not living l)y the i)ro(luct of their
labor, who pay a rate above the value of five days' labor, but
not exceeding ten days' labor, and already have four chil-
dren, can claim support for the fifth child that may be born.

"Art. VI, The support shall commence for all as soon
as their wives have reached the sixth month of pregnancy.

"Art. VII. The parents who already are in receipt of
support from the nation, shall be entitled to receive the same
support for each child that may be born after the third, the
fourth, and the fifth.

"Art. XL Children who are supported on the labor of
their father exclusively, shall all be maintained by the nation,
if the father dies or becomes incapacitated, until they can
earn their own living.

" Art. XII. In case of the death of the husband, the
widow, the head of a family, who cannot by her labor sup-
port it, shall equally have the right to maintenance from the

The subsequent articles lay down, that the support may
amount, every year, to eighty francs (sixteen dollars) for
each child, and a hundred and twenty francs (twenty-four
dollars), in addition, for the mother, and this pension shall
commence with the birth, and continue to the age of twelve
years ; that children twelve years of age who show them-
selves fit for a trade, shall be apprenticed at the cost of
the nation, so that the expenses do not exceed a hundred
francs (twenty dollars) annually; and that the others who
may prefer to devote themselves to agriculture, shall receive
a donation of two hundred francs (forty dollars). Moreover,
the mother was to receive eighteen francs (three dollars and
sixty cents) to defray the expenses of her confinement,
and twelve francs (two dollars and forty cents) in addition
for baby-linen.

The same support was to be given to unmarried women


becoming mothers, who, moreover, were entitled, at any
period of tlieir pregnancy, to enter special lying-in hospi-
tals, maintained by the nation.

Indigent old persons should be supported at their homes
or in special houses of refuge, as they might choose, from
the time of being incapacitated by old age from earning
their living, and in proportion to their incapacity. The max-
imum of their annual pension was fixed at a hundred and
twenty francs (twenty-four dollars).

Committees, selected by the citizens for two years, and
renewed by halves each year, were to carry out these pro-

The same law provided for the organization of a medical
service and dispensaries of medicines, so that all needy per-
sons were entided, over and above their pensions, to medical
care and medicines.

Curiously enough, this Act has never been repealed, and is
thus, even now, the law of France, but, of course, a dead
letter ever since the fall of the Jacobins. Practical propo-
sals, indeed, have been made in our days for the raising of
sufficient means to carry out the law, by M. Godin of Guise,
but, of course, ignored.

Again, here is a splendid idea Danton had for the benefit
of maimed soldiers : —

" Without doubt, tlie moment is not far away when not a
single poor person will be found in the whole territory of the
republic. But a? it is by enjoyment that man is attached to
his country, I believe it would be well to make, without delay,
an attempt to carry out your great ideas. Representatives,
there are already many citizens among us who have been
mutilated in our defence ; would it not be well to grant
land to them in the suburbs of Paris, and give them beasts,
and thus start, under the very eyes of the Convention, a
colony of patriots who have suffered for the fadicrland ?


Then every soldier of the republic will say to liimself, ' If I
am mutilated, if I lose a limb in defending the rights of my
people, I know what I can expect. There are already sev-
eral of my brethren who are rewarded for the service they
have rendered ; I shall add to their number, and bless un-
ceasingly the founders of the republic' I demand that the
Committee of Public Welfare work out this idea, so that we
may soon have the satisfaction of seeing those of our breth-
ren who have earned well of the country in defending her,
eat together under our eyes, at the common patriotic table."

Danton delighted in nothing so much as in feasting with
his family in public with his fellow-citizens. This was the
period when long tables were placed in the streets, where
the patriots took their prepared food and ate it in common.
Curious folks, these Frenchmen ! This proposition

was referred to the committee, and bore some good fruit,
at any rate, as we shall see.

Lastly, I just mention, in this connection, a measure to
which I shall return in another place, which, on its face, is
for the relief of the poor ; I mean the celebrated Lmv of
Forty Sous, proposed by Danton Sept. 6, 1793, and adopted
as soon as proposed. It reads as follows : "■ Be it decreed,
that the sections of Paris shall for the future assemble in
regular sessions, every Sunday and Thursday, and that every
citizen attending the same shall, on demand, be i)aid forty
sous (forty cents) for each and every session."

Now the Jacobin Convention comes, and strikes a powerful
blow at that wet-nurse of the plutocratic classes. Speculation.

On the 27th of June, 1793, a decree orders the closing of
the Exchange. Let me here add, as a companion

picture, and as a curious sign of the rigorous manners of
these heroic times, so different from the present, that shortly
afterwards the Cuininittee of Public Welfare is charged with


removing all notoriously lewd women out of France, because
" the republic needs vigorous bodies and Spartan souls."

Again, on Aug. 24, Cambon says from the 'I'ribune,
" There is at this moment a struggle for life or death be-
tween money-changers and the republic. • It is necessary
to destroy these destroyers of public credit if we wish to
establish the reign of liberty , " and the Convention decrees,
" All associations whose capital stock is based on shares to
bearers, on negotiable instruments or titles, transferable at
will, are hereby suppressed."

As long as the closing of the Exchange lasted, speculations
were, as a matter of course, still carried on clandestinely ; to
wit, at the Palais Royal. But the speculators had to be very
careful, for sometimes it happened tliat the Revolutionary
Tribunal put its iron hand on them.

The Jacobins also tried to change the course of the sales
of the national estates. We saw how the plutocrats threw
themselves, like vultures, on them, and how the national
assemblies, the Convention included, as long as the Girondins
predominated in it, had loyally farthered their nefarious
practices. After May 31 things change.

On the loth of June the Jacobin Convention decrees that
the communal lands are to be distributed. All inhabitants
of the communes, farmers, agricultural laborers, servants, etc.,
are to have an equal share ; the lands to be divided as
much as ])0ssible into equal parts, and distributed by drawing
lots in ali)habetical order. And in communes that have no
commons, the heads of families shall be entitled to buy
five hundred francs worth of emigrants' estates, the purchase-
money payable in the course of twenty years.

Yet the good intentions of die Convention were frustrated
by die civil war and the war against the coalition. The Revo-
lutionary (lovernment, soon after established, had other things
to attend t

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Online LibraryLaurence GronlundÇa ira! : or, Danton in the French revolution, a study → online text (page 13 of 21)