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THE MONSTER TRIAL 1835 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XX - Essays on French History and Historians 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XX - Essays on French History and Historians, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by John C. Cairns (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985).
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THE MONSTER TRIAL
Monthly Repository, n.s. IX (June, 1835), 393-6. Headed by title. Running titles as title. Signed “A.” Not republished. Identified in Mill’s bibliography as “An article headed ‘The Monster Trial’ in the Monthly Repository for June 1835” (MacMinn, 44). The copy (tear-sheets) in Mill’s library, Somerville College, headed in Mill’s hand, “From the Monthly Repository for June 1835”, has no corrections or emendations. In the Somerville College copy of the Examiner for 26 Jan., 1834, from which Mill here quotes, there is one correction, “institution” for “constitution” (127:18), which is here accepted.
The long quotation from Mill’s own unheaded leader in the Examiner is collated with the original. In the footnoted variants, “34” indicates the Examiner.
For comment on the essay, see lx-lxii and xcvii-xcviii above.
The Monster Trial
so little is the general course of French affairs attended to in this country, that when, as at present, some single event, either from its importance or its strangeness, attracts a certain degree of notice, its causes, and all which could help to explain it, have been forgotten. It is true that the most assiduous reader of only the English newspapers, even if he retained all he had read, would understand little or nothing of the real character of events in France, for the editors of the English newspapers are as ignorant of France as they probably are of Monomotapa; and their Paris correspondents, being mostly Frenchmen, write as if for Frenchmen, and repeat the mere gossip of the day, pre-supposing as already known all which Englishmen would care to know. By being the solitary exception to this rule, the writer who signed “O.P.Q.”[*] in the Morning Chronicle gained a temporary popularity, merely because, unlike the rest of the fraternity, he assumed that his readers knew nothing, and had to learn everything. In the Examiner alone, for the last four years, those who take interest in the fate of that great country, which divides with ourselves the moral dominion of Europe, have had the passing events placed carefully before them with regular explanatory comments.[†]
From that paper we quote part of an article which appeared on the 26th January, 1834, descriptive of the character and objects of that portion of the French republicans against whom the procès-monstre[‡] is mainly directed.
The Société des Droits de l’Homme is at present the hobgoblin or bugbear of the juste milieu. The language and manner of the partisans of Louis Philippe with respect to that association are a curious medley of affected contempt and intense personal hatred, not without an admixture of fear. They are constantly and studiously imputing to the members of the society the absurdest opinions and the most criminal purposes, they are incessantly averring, with a degree of emphasis which betrays a lurking doubt, that those opinions and purposes are abhorred by the French people, and that the society has not, and never will have, the support of any class whatever, even the lowest. Yet, in the very same breath in which they declare it to be harmless by reason of its insignificance, they proclaim it so mischievous and so formidable, that society is certain to perish unless it be put down, by whatever means.
In truth, the alarmists are equally wrong in both feelings, whether the feelings be sincere or affected. This much-talked-of association is not to be despised; neither, on the other hand, is it to be feared. It does not aim at subverting society, and society would be too strong for it if it did. Were we to believe some people, the edifice of society is so tottering, and its foundations so unstable, that a breath is enough to blow it down; nay, there cannot be any stir in the surrounding atmosphere, nor any knocking upon the ground, without its certain destruction. But we have another idea of society than this; for us it is something more steady and solid than a house of cards. The evil we are apprehensive of is stagnation, not movement; we can anticipate nothing in the present age but good, from the severest, from even the most hostile scrutiny of the first principles of the social union. Instead of expecting society to fall to pieces, our fear is lest (the old creeds, which formerly gave to the established order of things a foundation in men’s consciences, having become obsolete) the fabric should mechanically hold together by the mere instinctive action of men’s immediate personal interests, without any basis of moral conviction at all. Rather than see this we should prefer to see the whole of the working classes speculatively Owenites or Saint Simonians. We are not frightened at anti-property doctrines. We have no fear that they should ever prevail so extensively as to be dangerous. But we have the greatest fear lest the classes possessed of property should degenerate more and more into selfish, unfeeling Sybarites, receiving from society all that society can give, and rendering it no service in return, content to let the numerical majority remain sunk in mental barbarism and physical destitution. . . .a
The bSociety of the Rights of Manb some months ago embodied their principles on the subject of property in the form of a manifesto, along with which they republished, as a compendium of their opinions, a Declaration of the Rights of Man,[*] which was proposed by Robespierre to the National Convention to be prefixed to their republican constitution,[†] and was by that body rejected. The name of Robespierre was well calculated to excite a prejudice against this document, but any thing more harmless than its contents can scarcely be conceived Such, however, was not the impression of the Parisian public. The writer of this was at Paris when the document made its appearance, and he well remembers his astonishment at the nature and intensity of the sentiments it appeared to excite. Those who did not deem it too contemptible to be formidable were filled with consternation. The Government party, the Carlists, the Liberals, were unanimous in crying anarchy and confusion: even Republicans shook their heads and said, “This is going too far.” And what does the reader imagine was the proposition which appeared so startling and so alarming to all parties? It was no other than the definition which, in the Robespierrian declaration of rights, was given of the “right of property,” and ran as follows.
“The right of property is the right which every one possesses of using and enjoying the portion of wealth which is guaranteed to him by the law.” (La portion de biens qui lui est garantie par la loi.)[*]
Such is the superstitious, or rather idolatrous, character of the respect for property in France, that this proposition actually appeared an alarming heresy, was denounced with the utmost acrimony by all the enemies of the propounders, and timidly and hesitatingly excused rather than vindicated by their friends. The maxim was evidently too much for all parties, it was a doctrine considerably in advance of them, even republicans required some time to make up their minds. Ardent revolutionists, men who were ready to take up arms at five minutes’ notice for the subversion of the existing dynasty, doubted whether they could admit, as a speculative truth, that property is not of natural right, but of human institution, and is the creature of law. Truly, there is little fear for the safety of property in France. We believe that in no country in the world, not even the United States of America, is property so secure, the most violent convulsion would not endanger it; in a country where nearly two-thirds of the male adult population possess property in land, and where the notions entertained of the inviolability of property are so pedantic and (if we may be permitted the expression) so prudish, that there are persons who will gravely maintain that the state has no right to make a road through a piece of land without the owner’s consent, even on payment of compensation.
Strange as it may appear, in the declaration of rights, drawn up by Robespierre, and adopted by the Société des Droits de l’Homme, there is not, with the one exception which we have mentioned, one single proposition on the subject of property which was considered exceptionable even by those who were so scandalized at the above definition. No limitation of the right of property was hinted at; no new or alarming maxim promulgated, unless such be implied in the recognition of the principle of the English poor laws, that society is bound to provide subsistence and work for its indigent members;[†] and this document was rejected by the convention, by the body which put to death Louis XVI, and created the revolutionary tribunal, rejected by that body as anarchical. Yet there are people who believe that the principle of the French revolution was spoliation of property! For the thousandth time, we say to the English Tories and Whigs, that they are as utterly ignorant of the French revolution as of the revolutions among the inhabitants of the moon. Acts of injustice were done; rights, which really partook of the nature of property, were not always treated as such; but the respect of the revolutionary assemblies for all that they considered as entitled to the name of property amounted to actual narrowness and bigotry. We do not affirm this solely of the comparatively moderate and enlightened men who composed the constituent assembly, but in even a greater degree of the violent revolutionists of the convention, to whose obtuser and less cultivated intellects such a prejudice was more natural. In the height of the reign of terror anti-property doctrines would have been scouted, even more decidedly than now; no one dared avow them for fear of the guillotine; nor do such doctrines figure in the history of the revolution at all, save in the solitary instance of the conspiracy of Baboeuf, greatly posterior to the fall of Robespierre and the Montagne.c[*]
In April, 1834, about three months after the above article was written, the leaders in a general strike of the silk-weavers of Lyons, which had just terminated unsuccessfully, were prosecuted by order of government; and this prosecution, together with the knowledge that the detestable law[†] then in progress through the Chambers for putting down all associations unlicensed by government would be applied to the extinction of trades’ unions, provoked the unfortunate insurrection at Lyons, which lasted five days, and was with some difficulty suppressed. This was not a political, but a trades’ union insurrection. The government, however, took that base advantage of the alarm excited by it which all French governments have long been accustomed to take of all events exciting a panic among those who have something to lose. They got up an insignificant riot in the streets of Paris, called it an insurrection, took the most violent measures for repressing it, (a house was broken open, and all the inhabitants, twenty or thirty in number, butchered by the troops,) and availed themselves of the excuse for seizing the persons and papers of all the leading members of the Société des Droits de l’Homme.[‡] Not one of those leaders was even suspected of being concerned in either of the two insurrections, but the opportunity was thought a good one for laying, under colour of law, the clutches of the government upon the correspondence of the society. It is now a year that these distinguished persons have been kept in prison; and that time has been employed in manufacturing, from the papers which government got into its possession, evidence of a plot. The next desideratum was, to bring the prisoners before a tribunal which would be sure to convict them. Paris juries had been tried, and found not sufficiently docile. They had always scouted the miserable attempts to hunt down innocent men on charges of treason and conspiracy; and memorable had been the exposure, on more than one such occasion, of the malignant and fraudulent artifices of the government. There was, however, a resource. In servile imitation of the English constitution, the Chamber of Peers had been, by the French charter, invested with the power of trying ministers for treason or malversation on the prosecution of the Chamber of Deputies.[*] This provision Louis Philippe, following a questionable precedent of Louis XVIII’s reign, has applied to the case of persons who are not ministers, nor prosecuted by the Chamber of Deputies; and has brought the pretended authors of the pretended republican conspiracy of Paris, along with the presumed authors of the real trades’ union revolt at Lyons, before the Chamber of Peers, that is, before a body named by the government, and mostly holding places under it.
Nothing can denote more complete ignorance of France than the daily speculations in our liberal newspapers as to the embarrassments which the Chamber of Peers is supposed to have brought upon itself by consenting to be made the tool of the government in this matter, and the loss it is likely to sustain in public estimation. The Chamber of Peers is so happily situated, that it cannot possibly suffer any loss of public estimation; any change on that score must be to its advantage. It is as completely insignificant as our House of Lords would be if it were a body of mere pensioners, not hereditary, containing as little talent as at present, and scarcely any fortune. The Chamber of Peers, previously to this trial, was heartily despised. It may now attain the more honourable, and, to a Frenchman especially, far more enviable position of being hated. By showing that it has still the power (in spite of the imbecility inherent in its constitution) of making itself formidable as an instrument of tyranny in the hands of the other two branches of the legislature, it may have a chance, which it certainly had not before, of regaining a certain sort of consideration. The Monster Trial is its last throw for political importance.
[[*] ]Caleb Charles Colton.
[[†] ]Much of that commentary was by Mill himself.
[[‡] ]The term used for the trial in the National from 6 to 20 May, 1835.
[a]34 [ellipsis indicates the following omission]. All experience justifies us in the conviction that unless the ruling few can be made and kept “uneasy,” the many need expect no good, and nothing will make the few uneasy but fears for the security of their property. We are well content, therefore, that there should be cause for such fears. We have no anti-property doctrines ourselves, and therefore cannot honestly give such doctrines any encouragement. But we are quite satisfied that their promulgation has a most salutary effect
[[*] ]Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen ([Paris.] La société des droits de l’homme, ); Robespierre’s Déclaration first appeared in 1793 (Paris: Imprimerie nationale).
[[†] ]Acte constitutionnel de la république (24 June, 1793), Gazette Nationale, ou Le Moniteur Universel, 27 June, 1793, pp. 765-6.
[[*] ]Déclaration (1833), p. 3 (Art. VI).
[[†] ]Ibid. (Art. IX).
[c]34 [paragraph] In so far as the Society of the Rights of Man contends against the narrow and superstitious notions of property which are prevalent in France, and gives currency to more liberal and more rational views, it can do nothing but good, and even if the speculative truths, which it so energetically proclaims, are intended to serve as a foundation for practical corollaries of a more questionable character, we see no cause for alarm, none even for regret. Without infringing the principle of property, much remains to be done, by morality and even by law, to render the practical working of the principle productive of greater good to society at large much may be done to mitigate the inequalities of wealth which have as pernicious an effect on those whom they seem to benefit, as upon those on whom they apparently press hardest, and to promote all those tendencies in human affairs which cause society to approximate to what, in the literal sense, must always be an unattainable chimera, equality of fortunes. But all this we have little hope to see done, until the rich shall feel that except by making the law of property popular, they will have some difficulty in maintaining it. Society will then only be on the most desirable footing, when the proprietary class shall feel compelled to make a clear case to the world in favour of the existing institutions of society, when they shall act under an habitual sense of the necessity of convincing the non-proprietary multitude, that the existing arrangement of property is a real good to them as well as to the rich; and shall feel that the most effectual way to make them think it so, is to make it more and more so in fact.
[[*] ]John Stuart Mill, Summary of French News, Examiner, 26 Jan., 1834, pp. 56-7.
[[†] ]Loi sur les associations, Bulletin 115, No. 261 (10 Apr., 1834), Bulletin des lois du royaume de France, 9th ser., Pt. 1, VI, 25-6.
[[‡] ]Including Godefroy Cavaignac, Auguste Guinard, and Guillard de Kersausie.
[[*] ]Charte constitutionnelle, Bulletin 17, No. 133 (4 June, 1814), Bulletin des lois du royaume de France, 5th ser., I, 205 (Arts, 55 and 56).