OR, MEDITATION ON THE REVOLUTIONS OF EMPIRES
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CONSTERNATION AND CONSPIRACY OF TYRANTS.
But scarcely had the solemn voice of liberty and equality resounded
through the earth, when a movement of confusion, of astonishment,
arose in different nations. On the one hand, the people, warmed
with desire, but wavering between hope and fear, between the
sentiment of right and the habit of obedience, began to be in
motion. The kings, on the other hand, suddenly awakened from the
sleep of indolence and despotism, were alarmed for the safety of
their thrones; while, on all sides, those clans of civil and
religious tyrants, who deceive kings and oppress the people, were
seized with rage and consternation; and, concerting their
perfidious plans, they said: Woe to us, if this fatal cry of
liberty comes to the ears of the multitude! Woe to us, if this
pernicious spirit of justice be propagated!
And, pointing to the floating banner, they continued:
Consider what a swarm of evils are included in these three words!
If all men are equal, where is our exclusive right to honors and to
power? If all men are to be free, what becomes of our slaves, our
vassals, our property? If all are equal in the civil state, where
is our prerogative of birth, of inheritance? and what becomes of
nobility? If they are all equal in the sight of God, what need of
mediators?--where is the priesthood? Let us hasten, then, to
destroy a germ so prolific, and so contagious. We must employ all
our cunning against this innovation. We must frighten the kings,
that they may join us in the cause. We must divide the people by
national jealousies, and occupy them with commotions, wars, and
conquests. They must be alarmed at the power of this free nation.
Let us form a league against the common enemy, demolish that
sacrilegious standard, overturn that throne of rebellion, and
stifle in its birth the flame of revolution.
And, indeed, the civil and religious tyrants of nations formed a
general combination; and, multiplying their followers by force and
seduction, they marched in hostile array against the free nation;
and, surrounding the altar and the pyramid of natural law, they
demanded with loud cries:
What is this new and heretical doctrine? what this impious altar,
this sacrilegious worship? True believers and loyal subjects! can
you suppose that truth has been first discovered to-day, and that
hitherto you have been walking in error? that those men, more
fortunate than you, have the sole privilege of wisdom? And you,
rebel and misguided nation, perceive you not that your new leaders
are misleading you? that they destroy the principles of your faith,
and overturn the religion of your ancestors? Ah, tremble! lest the
wrath of heaven should kindle against you; and hasten by speedy
repentance to retrieve your error.
But, inaccessible to seduction as well as to fear, the free nation
kept silence, and rising universally in arms, assumed an imposing
And the legislator said to the chiefs of nations:
If while we walked with a bandage on our eyes the light guided our
steps, why, since we are no longer blindfold, should it fly from
our search? If guides, who teach mankind to see for themselves,
mislead and deceive them, what can be expected from those who
profess to keep them in darkness?
But hark, ye leaders of nations! If you possess the truth, show it
to us, and we will receive it with gratitude, for we seek it with
ardor, and have a great interest in finding it. We are men, and
liable to be deceived; but you are also men, and equally fallible.
Aid us then in this labyrinth, where the human race has wandered
for so many ages; help us to dissipate the illusion of so many
prejudices and vicious habits. Amid the shock of so many opinions
which dispute for our acceptance, assist us in discovering the
proper and distinctive character of truth. Let us this day
terminate the long combat with error. Let us establish between it
and truth a solemn contest, to which we will invite the opinions of
men of all nations. Let us convoke a general assembly of the
nations. Let them be judges in their own cause; and in the debate
of all systems, let no champion, no argument, be wanting, either on
the side of prejudice or of reason; and let the sentiment of a
general and common mass of evidence give birth to a universal
concord of opinions and of hearts.