Front Page Titles (by Subject) ESSAY XV.: ON THE REAL CONSTITUTION OF THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE, A PROPOS OF THE WORK ENTITLED, THE REVOLUTION OF CONSTANTINOPLE OF 1807 AND 1808, BY M. DE JUCHEREAU DE SAINT DENIS. - The Historical Essays and Narratives of the Merovingian Era
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ESSAY XV.: ON THE REAL CONSTITUTION OF THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE, A PROPOS OF THE WORK ENTITLED, “THE REVOLUTION OF CONSTANTINOPLE OF 1807 AND 1808,” BY M. DE JUCHEREAU DE SAINT DENIS. - Augustin Thierry, The Historical Essays and Narratives of the Merovingian Era 
The Historical Essays, published under the Title of “Dix Ans d’Études historiques,” and Narratives of the Merovingian Era; or, Scenes of the Sixth Century, with an Autobiographical Preface (Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1845).
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ON THE REAL CONSTITUTION OF THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE, A PROPOS OF THE WORK ENTITLED, “THE REVOLUTION OF CONSTANTINOPLE OF 1807 AND 1808,” BY M. DE JUCHEREAU DE SAINT DENIS.
It is the common error of ancient lawgivers to believe that human nature is in itself indifferent to every species of social arrangement; that our political consciences are but the work of mere chance, and that despotism as well as liberty may exist by national consent. This opinion is entirely false. Human nature, free nature, has never spontaneously demanded any thing but independence; despotism has never put its foot on a corner of the world, but against the will of those who inhabited it: the history of all periods and of all countries reveals this. Liberty, the first social want and condition, has nowhere yielded but to force and to an armed conquest. It is terror alone which has made slaves amongst men of every race. Open history at any part you will, take at hazard the climate and the epoch, if you meet with a colony of men, whether enlightened or still savage living under a system of servitude, be certain that in looking back, you will find a conquest, and that these men are the conquered. Similarly, if you remark a population quartered in some inaccessible places which have preserved it against the invasion of a foreign race, be sure that, on visiting it, you will find liberty there. This perpetual distinction is the key of social history.
We are told that there now exists on the soil of ancient Greece, a nation in which no individual has any personal will or property, in which a single man disposes of all the others who abjure themselves before him. We must ask the narrator if the population whom he pretends is thus governed, is not a conquered one; if the man of whom he speaks is not the chief of its ancient conquerors, the supreme representative of the conquest; and if by chance the reply should be, that this people, far from having been conquered, is itself a conqueror, that it lives on lands it has usurped, instead of its lands having been so by others; that the man under whom it cringes like a slave, is not a stranger to its race, but, on the contrary, is the descendant of the warriors who led on its ancestors to conquest; that, moreover, no period is to be found since the conquest, at which this chief armed against his nation, and subjugated a portion of it with the power and assistance of the rest . . . then you may deny the fact of slavery, and maintain, à priori, that the nation which is spoken of, the Turkish nation, is not deprived of liberty.
The problem of Turkish society contains nothing peculiar; it is no other than the problem of Frankish society conquering Gaul, Saxon society conquering Britain, of all the little Germanic societies which conquered Italy, Spain, and Roman Africa. The circumstances were the same in both, every thing naturally should have been the same, and was so really. The Turks in Greece, like the Franks in Gaul, are on an equality as conquerors of the people whom they possess in common. They are the race to whom the sword has given no masters, and those whom they admit to their race, are restored to liberty, like those who became Franks under the Franks. The rest of the conquered, designated without distinction of races by the common name of rayas, are in the same situation as that anonymous crowd whom the barbarians, conquerors of the south of Europe, called at random serfs, labourers, hinds, planters, plebeians, or citizens. The rayas all pay an annual poll-tax called kharadge; their servitude is not uniform, any more than that of the conquered of the middle ages. One portion are domestic slaves; another labours for the masters; another, more favoured, has preserved magistrates of its nation and religion; it is ruled by them, and pays in common the taxes of the conquest.
Over these men rule the men of the Turkish race, who give themselves the name of Osmanlis, or sons of Osman; these are not governed; they are the superior caste; and there are no castes among them; they can all equally pretend to the magistracies of their society. There is but one exception in favour of one family, from which are invariably chosen the supreme chiefs of the administration, because this family is thought to be descended from the first legislator. But this privilege does not allow the liberty of the Osmanlis to be destroyed by the person whom chance or the public choice has placed at the head of affairs. Several chiefs have attempted to violate the law in which the rights of the nation are registered, and have been victims of their ambitious enterprise; and custom, once more resuming its empire when liberty had revenged itself, quietly replaced on the supreme seat rendered vacant by the popular will, another descendant of the Ottoman race, admonished of his future duties by the destiny of his predecessor.
The cities of the Osmanlis have an administration peculiar to themselves, composed of the principal citizens, presided over by a magistrate named ayan, chosen by the people. This municipal council watches over the common interests of each town; it defends its liberty against the delegates of the central power in the provinces, against the pachas who, commissioned to collect the taxes of the conquered, and to torment them until they pay, might think of turning their power against free men. Besides these local administrations, there are corporations which deliberate under chiefs of their own choosing, and the members of which mutually insure each other against injustice and oppression. The villages which do not depend on the territories of great cities, have their elective magistrates named kiayas, and their common council. Thus power cannot immediately strike the citizens; it must pass through other delegates before it reaches them. The contributions are divided amongst them; the police is made in common.
The judges belong to a body independent of authority; this body recruits itself, imposing various trials on the candidates. Promotions to judiciary employments are made by rank of age; and the sultan himself cannot choose at random for the great offices, the only ones of which he disposes; he must follow the general order. Justice in Turkey is not regarded as one of the attributes of the supreme head of the government; it does not emanate from this head, but from the book of the law, and the corporation of men whom the public consider sufficiently able and honest to interpret it worthily. In the interpretation of the law, the judges, independent and respected, are more inclined to follow public opinion than the impulsion of authority, to which they owe nothing, and from which they have nothing to fear.
There are cases in which the agents of the Turkish government punish without legal proceedings, the criminal taken in the very fact; but these sudden executions rarely fall on any but the rayas. The Mussulmans are sent before the judges, and the soldiers are summoned before a tribunal of their own body, where they appear before their peers. This practice does not appear to result from the social right of authority, but from the privileges of the conquest, and the system of exception, to which were subjected the conquered, who were both despised and feared.
Arrested in its executive capacity by the corporations and free administration of the cities, and in no way disposing of the judiciary power, the government of the Osmanlis still finds fixed limits to its legislative authority. The same body of judges which decides contestations according to the supreme book of the law, has the power of preventing the execution of the new laws, which it declares to be contrary to the ancient law. The chief of the judges, the first muphti, can oppose his veto to an order of the sultan, by an edict called a fetfa; and in every province, a subaltern muphti may, in the same way, oppose his veto, by edicts of the same kind, to the administrative decisions of the pachas.
We come to the great peculiarity of Turkish administration, and to the foundation of all the fables which travellers have told respecting this administration. Frequently at the gates of the palace, are suspended the heads of commanders of armies, of governors of provinces, of ministers, great officers, and high functionaries; Europeans, struck with the barbarity of this spectacle and the rank of the victims, have concluded that if the sultan could thus mow down the heads of the greatest dignitaries with impunity, he must still more be master of the life or death of private persons. Our travellers naively judged what came before their eyes according to the customs of Europe, which surround with peculiar sanctity, and exceptional care, the life, honour and property of the delegates of power. In France they can only be pursued in justice but with the consent of those for whom they act: in France, they are precious in the eyes of the law: in Turkey, it is quite the reverse; the security of the law does not exist for them; they are looked upon as the slaves of him who has appointed them; it is for this reason that their head and property belong to him, and that he disposes of them according to his own pleasure. But he does not dispose of the head and property of those who, keeping apart from his favours, have not subjected themselves to his authority; those are sacred to him, as citizens are to their legal magistrates. No one being forced to take a place under the executive power, and no one being ignorant beforehand of the condition of servitude which those sort of places impose, the man who perishes in virtue of the arbitrator under whom he has placed himself, can only blame himself; he has chosen to play a dangerous game after having calculated its chances. This severe condition does not reach the chief of the judges, who, although named by the sultan, is simply able to be dismissed; and as to the magistrates named by the towns, the sultan has never thought of pretending that they in any way depended on him. In this lies the foundation of the double responsibility of public functionaries towards their chief and the public. There is doubtless barbarity in such a law of security; but we must always recognize that it is the security for the people, and not a sign of the servitude of the people. Whatever the public grievances or personal dislikes of the sultan may be, whatever the number of traitors, the Coran forbids more than fourteen to be put to death in one day. This humane precaution has also been so ill understood, that travellers have built upon it a pretended right which the grand signor possessed of putting fourteen persons to death daily. Ourf is the name given to the power with which the law endows him of deciding without legal proceedings of the culpability of his agents or slaves, but which is only permitted him against them. The arbitrary punishment of a common Osmanli would cause an insurrection in Constantinople.
Frequent rebellions have proved that the nation of the Osmanlis feels pretty keenly its independence with regard to him whom we wrongly call its master. It is the janisaries, yenitcheris, who for a century have played the principal part in these insurrections. This militia, at first purely pretorian, composed of prisoners of war, and young men furnished as a sort of tax by the conquered nations, has gradually become filled by free men; it has thus become national; and it now contains all that is most active in the Turkish population; it is the mirror of the opinions, the organ of the popular passions; it is a security for the nation against the projects of the government, a security which may be an obstacle to useful innovations, if they have the misfortune not to be understood. This is what happened in the revolution of 1807, which caused the death of the sultan Selim. M. de Juchereau has been an eye-witness of that revolution and of the one which succeeded it. It is in these great movements, in which, as he says himself, “the different bodies of the state and the different classes of the people have exposed their rights, their pretensions, and their power,” that he was able to form an exact idea of this empire, so ill judged by those who have visited it in times of quiet.
The picture that we have sketched of the social state of Turkey is a mere abstract of the first volume of M. de Juchereau’s work; the second presents, on the scene of political storms, the bodies and classes of men whose characters are described in the first; this volume serves to corroborate the other. Moreover, the writer, who seems to have the military art much more at heart than politics, cannot be suspected of having seen things under a light too favourable to the system of liberty. It is without reflecting on it himself that he has told us that the administration of the Turkish pachas is more liberal than that of the French préfets; that the scandal of our mayors of cities, councils of departments, councils of districts, named by the préfets or the ministers, has not even its excuse in the example of the Tartar people, the conquerors of the Greeks; in fact, that an Osmanli, member of a free city, member of a free corporation which protects him, having nothing to contend with authority, if he does not himself wish to take a part in it, is nearer human dignity than a Frenchman, beset at all hours of the day by authority and its agents in every kind of livery: soldiers, collectors, custom-house officers, policemen, clerks, spies; men who live on the annoyance they cause him, men whom he cannot summon before justice for the evil they have done him, men against whom it is only allowed to petition those who command them.