Front Page Titles (by Subject) ESSAY XIX.: ON THE ANTIPATHY OF RACE WHICH DIVIDES THE FRENCH NATION, A PROPOS OF M. WARDEN'S WORK, ENTITLED A STATISTICAL, HISTORICAL, AND POLITICAL DESCRIPTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF NORTH AMERICA. - The Historical Essays and Narratives of the Merovingian Era
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
ESSAY XIX.: ON THE ANTIPATHY OF RACE WHICH DIVIDES THE FRENCH NATION, A PROPOS OF M. WARDEN’S WORK, ENTITLED A “STATISTICAL, HISTORICAL, AND POLITICAL DESCRIPTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF NORTH AMERICA.” - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
ON THE ANTIPATHY OF RACE WHICH DIVIDES THE FRENCH NATION, A PROPOS OF M. WARDEN’S WORK, ENTITLED A “STATISTICAL, HISTORICAL, AND POLITICAL DESCRIPTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF NORTH AMERICA.”
The time is come for us to turn our eyes on nations happier than we are, on those whose portion is liberty, that we may find in that prospect consolations for the present and hopes for the future. The actual destiny of the United States of America corresponds to all the desires we formed for our own; these desires are consequently not chimeras; we are not agitated by a vain ambition after the impossible, as our enemies pretend; we do not depart from the human sphere in aspiring to the fulness of social independence; for human nature is essentially free, and liberty is its law. But then, whence proceeds the enormous distance which still separates us from this object, from this benefit to which we aspire, and which we are capable of attaining? It does not proceed from ourselves, but from an external fact, a grave and sad fact, which we endeavour to conceal from ourselves, but which incessantly recurs to us, because by denying it we do not destroy it.
We believe we are a nation, and we are two nations on one soil; two nations, inimical in their reminiscences, irreconcilable in their projects; the one formerly conquered the other; and its designs, its eternal desires, are the renewal of that ancient conquest enervated by time, by the courage of the conquered, and by human reason. Reason, which makes the master blush for the abasement in which he keeps his slave, has gradually detached from that people all the generous dispositions and upright minds; these deserters to a better cause have been its noblest support; and such are the chiefs that we, sons of the conquered, still see at our head. But the remainder, as foreign to our affections and our habits as if only yesterday come amongst us, as deaf to our words of liberty and peace as if our language was as unknown to them as the language of our ancestors was to theirs, the remainder follows its road without occupying itself with ours. When we attempt plan upon plan for a common establishment, when we endeavor to forget, and embrace in one vast union every thing that lives on the soil of France, they rise up to oppose it, and collected apart, laugh amongst themselves at our continual disappointments. America has rejected from its bosom the nation which pretended to be its master, and from that day it has been free. Our fathers have more than once meditated the same enterprise; more than once has the ancient land of Gaul trembled under the feet of the conquerors; but either because the fatigue of these struggles surpassed the strength of our ancestors, or because violence was unsuited to their mild and peaceful character, they soon followed other paths. Instead of repulsing the conquest, they denied it, believing, that by forgetting it themselves, they would make others forget it. Servitude, the result of armed invasion, was imputed by them to a still imperfect civilization; whether conquerors and conquered, masters and subjects, they saw in them all but one people, some of whom had earlier attained liberty and happiness in order to clear and point out the road to the others.
They called society, they called friendship the services conquered at the edge of the sword, and exacted without return. “There are three classes,” they say, “which variously concur to the good of the common state; the nobles are useful by their warlike courage, the clergy by their moral examples, the plebeians by the labour of their hands; these classes receive from the community a salary proportioned to their labours and their merit; the least favoured must not envy the others, nor the others wound the former by their pride; all help one another, and contribute in common to the general utility.”
This is what the lawyers of the third estate proclaimed in the seventeenth century: in order to be complaisant they falsified history; but the nobility repelled their advances, and its writers called facts to witness against these indulgently factitious theories. “It is false,” said the comte de Boulainvilliers, “it is false that it was not the force of arms and the hazard of a conquest which primitively founded the distinction expressed in the present day by the terms noble and plebeian.* It is false that we are nobles in any other interest than our own. We are, if not the descendants in a direct line, at least the immediate representatives of the race of the conquerors of Gaul:† its succession belongs to us; the land of Gaul is ours.”‡
When in 1814, having escaped from a great wreck, and been saved from the despotism which our own hands had reared, we thought of reposing all together in a social establishment of long duration, a friendly hand spontaneously drew up the new compact of French union; it inscribed there the title of noble, that title which had succeeded to the title of Frank, as the title of Frank had to that of barbarian. For the love of peace none of us protested against this singular resurrection. Our writers hastened to distract our attention from the facts which the word nobility recalled; theory again came to envelope them in its mantle. “Nobilis,” it was said, “is derived from notabilis; a man is notable or noble when his name is attached to great services or great examples; nobility is the civic crown given to an entire family for the merits of one of its members. This sort of reward may be approved or blamed, it cannot be said that it is anti-social and contrary to liberty.” We were thus losing ourselves at pleasure in agreeable hypotheses, when a voice from the camp of the nobles came to recall us harshly to a more tangible ground. “Race of freedmen,” exclaimed M. le comte de Montlosier, “race of slaves snatched from our hands, tributary people, new people,* license was granted you to be free, not to us to be nobles;† for us every thing is a right, for you every thing is a favour.‡ We are not of your community; we are entire in ourselves.§ Your origin is clear; ours is clear likewise: dispense with sanctioning our titles; we shall know how to defend them ourselves.”∥ Now at last, when in our regrets we embrace the images of that liberty which appeared to be promised to France, which should, according to our hopes, lay the foundation of an equal destiny for all the inhabitants of our soil, other regrets make themselves heard. It is not the civil rights destroyed by our ministers that the writers of the nobility wish to see revived, but the ancient race of which they glory; “it is that northern race which took possession of Gaul without extirpating the conquered;¶ the name of which became synonymous with liberty, when it alone was free on the soil it had invaded;** which by the tenacity of its despotism easily defeated the fickle carelessness of the Gauls;†† which was able to leave to its successors, now deprived of all rights, the possession of the lands of the conquest, and the government of the men of the conquest.”‡‡
After such long warnings, it is time for us to give up, and on our side also return to facts. Heaven is our witness that we were not the first to attest, the first to evoke the terrible and gloomy truth, that there are two hostile camps on the soil of France. It must be said, for history makes it a matter of truth; whatever may have been the physical mixture of the two races, their constantly opposing spirit has existed till the present day in two always distinct portions of the mingled population. The genius of the conquest has made a jest of nature and time; he still hovers over this unfortunate land. By his means the distinctions of castes have succeeded those of blood, the distinctions of orders those of castes, the distinctions of titles those of orders. The actual nobility traces itself back in its pretensions to the privileged men of the sixteenth century; those pretended they were issued from the possessors of the men of the thirteenth century, who traced themselves back to the Franks of Karle the Great, who sprang from the Sicambers of Chlodowig. The natural filiation alone can be contested here, the political descent is obvious. Let us then give it up to those who claim it; and let us claim the contrary descent. We are the sons of the men of the third estate; the third estate proceeded from the commons; the commons were the asylum of the serfs; the serfs were the vanquished of the conquest. Thus, from formula to formula, through the space of fifteen centuries, we are led to the extreme term of a conquest which it is necessary to efface. God grant that this conquest may abjure itself even to its last traces, and that the hour of combat may not need to strike. But without this formal abjuration we can hope for neither liberty nor repose; we can hope for nothing of what renders America so fortunate and so enviable; the fruits which that land bears will never grow on a soil which still preserves traces of invasion.
M. Warden’s five volumes, full of details of every kind, and of the most exact and interesting kind, barely suffice to satisfy the curiosity which the United States of America inspire. However extensive the picture which the writer presents of it, it is always found too limited. We desire to learn every thing, to know every thing concerning the astonishing prosperity of those twenty-two free states, several of which, not thirty years ago, were the habitation of wild beasts; concerning the country in which meet together all human races, all customs, all languages, all religions, and where men entertain for their fellow-men none but sentiments of fraternity and affection. M. Warden has placed at the head of his work a new map of the United States, a map of the District of Columbia, which is the seat of the chief congress, and a view of the palace in which the members of the congress assembled. This palace has been called by the ancient name of the Capitol. It is not, like the Capitol of Rome, built on an immovable rock;* but its destiny is far more certain. Liberty presides over it instead of the fickle god of war; and the tide of the vengeance of the people will never need to rise against it.
We cannot see without emotion on the map of that free country the names of cities borrowed from all the countries of Europe, the names of Paris, Rome, Lisbon, and even that of Athens. All European countries have furnished their share to that happy population, as if to prove to the world that liberty belongs to all, and is the peculiar property of none. The exiles of each country have, like the fugitives of Troy, attached the beloved name of the home of their childhood to the home of their old age. America is the common asylum of us all. From whatever part of the old world we steer, we shall not be strangers in the new; we shall there meet with our language, our fellow-countrymen, and our brethren. If, what destiny will doubtless not permit to occur, the barbarism of ancient times prevailed against modern Europe; if those who gave the communes the name of execrable,* and who still threaten war against us in the names of their ancestors, the enemies of ours, were to triumph over reason and us, we should have a redress which our ancestors had not; the sea is free, and there is a free world beyond it. We should breathe there with ease, we should brace up our minds there, and we should rally there our strength.
[* ]Dissertation on the French Nobility, Dutch edition, p. 4.
[† ] Ibid. p. 39.
[‡ ] Ibid pp. 53. 148.
[* ]On the French Monarchy, tom. ii. pp. 136 149. 155.
[† ] Ibid. p. 156.
[‡ ] Ibid. p. 164.
[§ ] Ibid. p. 176.
[∥ ] Ibid. p. 212.
[¶ ] Article by M. le Comte A de Jouffroy, in l’Observateur de la Marine, 9th book, p. 229.
[** ] Ibid.
[†† ] Ibid.
[‡‡ ] Ibid. p. 301.
[* ]Capitoli immobile saxum . . . .Virgil, Æneid ix.
[* ]Communia novum ac pessimum nomen. . . . . . Sermonem habuit de execrabilibus communiis. Guibertus de Novigento.
[* ] Horat Epod vxi.