Front Page Titles (by Subject) 49.: Letter to Alcide Fonteyraud - The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics
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49.: Letter to Alcide Fonteyraud - Frédéric Bastiat, The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics 
The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics, translated from the French by Jane and Michel Willems, with an introduction by Jacques de Guenin and Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean. Annotations and Glossaries by Jacques de Guenin, Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean, and David M. Hart. Translation editor Dennis O’Keeffe (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2011).
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Letter to Alcide Fonteyraud
Mugron, 20 December 1845
[vol. 1, p. 194]
My dear M. Fonteyraud, I will not reply today to your letter, a letter that is so charming, so honest and interesting in terms of the subjects it discusses with me and the way it deals with them. This is just a simple acknowledgment, which I am entrusting to a person who is leaving in a few hours for Paris.
I received news of you through the journal of the League, from M. Guillaumin and Mr. Cobden, who speaks of you in terms that I will not repeat to you for fear of wounding your modesty. . . . However, I am changing my mind. Mr. Cobden will one day be sufficiently famous for you to be very happy to know the opinion he has uttered of you. Moreover, this judgment includes a piece of advice, and I have no right to stop it on its way, especially since you persist in giving me the title of Master. I will fulfill the functions of this role once, if not by giving you advice, at least by passing on to you that emanating from an authority regarded as very impressive by the disciples of free trade.
These then are the words of Mr. Cobden:
“Let me thank you for introducing to us M. Fonteyraud, who excited our admiration not only by his superior talents, but by the warmth of his zeal in the cause of free trade. I have rarely met a young man of his age possessing so much knowledge and so mature a judgment both as respects men and things. If he be preserved from the temptations which beset the path of young men of literary pursuits in Paris” (whether Mr. Cobden is alluding to the schools of sentimentality or the traps of the partisan spirit, I do not know), “he possesses the ability to render himself very useful in the cause of humanity.”109
As the rest concerns only your amour propre, permit me to omit it.
It is sweet and consoling to go through life supported by such a testimonial. There is really something deep in our heart which tells us of our own merit, but when we see the blindness of all men to this, how can we ever have the certainty that the awareness of our strengths is its true measure? In your case, you have been judged and consecrated; you have been dedicated to the cause of humanity. Learn and disseminate should be your motto; such is your destiny.
Oh! How my heart beat when I read your description of the great meeting in Manchester! Like you, I felt enthusiasm penetrate my every pore. Has anything like this, whatever Solomon said, been seen under the sun? We have seen major gatherings of men grow passionate for a conquest, a victory, an interest, or the triumph of brute force, but has anyone ever seen ten thousand men unite to ensure the triumph of a major principle of universal justice by peaceful means, through speech and sacrifice? Even if free trade were an error or an illusion, the League would be no less glorious, for it has given the world the most powerful and moral of all instruments of civilization. How can we not see that this concerns not merely the liberation of trade but in turn all the reforms and acts of justice and reparation that humanity might carry out by means of these massive and vibrant organizations!
For this reason, with what happiness, I might almost say, with what outbursts of joy did I welcome the news you gave me at the end of your letter! France also will have her League! France will grow out of her eternal adolescence, blush at the shameful puerility in which she is vegetating, and become an adult! Oh! Let this day come and I will salute it as the finest in my life. Will we never cease to attribute glory to the development of physical force, to wish to settle all matters by the sword and glorify only that courage shown on the battlefield, whatever its motives and works? Will we finally understand that, since public opinion is the monarch of the world, it is public opinion that we have to work on and to which we have to communicate the enlightenment which shows it the right direction together with the energy to take it?
But after enthusiasm comes reflection. I tremble lest some disastrous germ infiltrate the beginnings of our League, for example a spirit of compromise, gradualness, procrastination, or caution. Everything will be lost if the League does not espouse or stick closely to an absolute principle. How could members of the League themselves agree if the League tolerated variable principles in varying degrees? And if they did not agree among themselves, what influence could they have outside?
Even if we should be only twenty, ten, or five, let that twenty, ten, or five have the same goal, the same determination, and the same faith. You have witnessed the campaign in England, I have myself studied it closely, and I know (and this I ask you to convey clearly to our friends) that if the League had made the slightest concession at any time in its existence, the aristocracy would have made short work of it a long time ago.
Therefore, let an association be formed in France. Let it undertake to free trade and industry from any monopoly. Let it devote itself to ensuring the triumph of the principle and you may count on my support. By word, pen, and purse, I will be its man. If it means legal proceedings, suffering persecution, or braving ridicule, I will be its man. Whatever role I am given, whatever rank I am allocated, on the hustings or in cabinet, I will be its man. In enterprises of this kind, in France more than elsewhere, what is to be feared are rivalries based on amour propre; amour propre is the first sacrifice that we have to make on the altar of public good. I am mistaken; perhaps indifference and apathy are greater dangers. Since this project has been set up do not let it fail. Oh! Why am I not with you?
I was going to end my letter without thanking you in advance for what you will be saying about my publication in La Revue britannique. A simple translation cannot be worth such fulsome praise. Be that as it may, praise and criticism are welcome when they are sincere.
Farewell, your affectionate friend.
Letter to Richard Cobden
Mugron, 13 January 1846
[vol. 1, p. 118]
My dear sir, what gratitude do I not owe you for having been good enough to think of me in the midst of such pressing occupations, ones so conducive to absorbing your interest so compellingly? You wrote to me on the 23rd, the very day of that astonishing meeting in Manchester, which certainly has no precedent in history. May the people of Lancashire be honored! It is not only free trade that the world will owe them, but also the enlightened, moral, and devoted art of campaigning. Humanity will at last recognize the instrument of all reform. At the same time I received your letter, the issue of the Manchester Guardian with an article on this session arrived. As I had seen the report of your first meeting in Manchester a few days previously in Le Courrier français, I thought that public opinion had now been awakened in France, and I did not think it necessary to translate the report of your proceedings. I am now annoyed that I did not do so, since I see that this major event has not produced an impression commensurate with its importance here.
How I congratulate you a thousandfold, my dear sir, for having refused an official position in the Whig cabinet.110 This is not to say that you would not be very capable and worthy of power. It is not even that you could not render considerable service. But in the century in which we are, we are so imbued with the idea that whoever appears to devote himself to the public good is in fact working for his own benefit. There is so little understanding of devotion to a principle that no one can believe in disinterestedness, and you will certainly do more good through this example of selflessness and the moral effect it will have on people’s minds than you would have been able to do on the ministerial bench. I would have liked to embrace you, my dear sir, when you taught me, through this conduct, that your heart is equal to your intelligence. Your noble actions will not go unrewarded; you are in a country in which public probity is not discouraged through ridicule.
Since we are talking about devotion, this will lead me on to the other part of your good letter. You advise me to go to Paris. I, myself, feel that at this decisive moment I should be at my post. My own interest as well as that of the cause requires this. For the last two months, our newspapers have been serving up a pile of nonsense on the League, which they would not be able to do if I were in Paris, as I would not let one of these escape without battling with it. On the other hand, since I am better informed than many others on the influence of your movement, I would acquire a certain authority in the eyes of the public. I can see all this, but I languish in a village in the département of the Landes. Why? I think I have mentioned this in one of my letters. I have an honorable and uneventful, although modest situation here.111 In Paris, I could earn my living only by my pen, something I do not criticize in others but to which I have an inexpressible aversion. I therefore have to live and die in my corner, like Prometheus on his rock.
Perhaps you will have some idea of the mental suffering I am experiencing when I tell you that we tried to organize a League in Paris. This attempt has failed and was bound to fail. The proposal was put forward during a dinner with twenty people at which two ex-ministers were present. You can imagine how much success that was likely to have! Among the guests, one wanted ½ freedom, another ¼ freedom, yet another ⅛ freedom, and perhaps three of four were ready to request freedom in principle. Just try to make a united and fervent association out of that! If I had been in Paris, a mistake like that would never have been made. I have made too close a study of what constitutes the strength and success of your organization. A vital League cannot spring up from a group of men gathered together randomly. As I wrote to M. Fonteyraud, let us be ten, five, or even two if necessary, but let us raise the flag of absolute freedom and absolute principle, and let us wait for those with the same faith to join us. If chance had caused me to be born with a more consistent fortune, with an income of ten to twelve thousand francs, there would have been a League in France right now, doubtless more than somewhat weak but bearing within it the two mightiest principles of truth and dedication.
On your recommendation, I have offered my services to M. Buloz. If he had made me responsible for an article to be included in La Revue des deux mondes, I would have continued the absorbing story of the League up to the end of the ministerial crisis. But he did not even send me a reply. I very much fear that these newspaper editors see the most important events only as an opportunity to satisfy the curiosity of their subscribers, ready to shout, depending on the event, “Long live the king, long live the League!”
The Chamber of Commerce of Bordeaux has just raised the banner of free trade. Unfortunately, it has taken a text, Customs Union between France and Belgium, that is in my view too restricted. I will send them a letter in which I will endeavor to show them that they would have much more power if they espoused the cause of the principle and not that of a special application to this or that treaty. It is the fallacy of reciprocity which paralyzes the efforts of this chamber. Treaties smile on it because it sees the possible stipulation of reciprocal benefits, reciprocal concessions, and even reciprocal sacrifices. Under this liberal veneer, the disastrous thought still lies hidden that imports are an evil in themselves and should be tolerated only when foreigners have been persuaded to tolerate our exports in their turn. As a model to be followed, I would enclose with my letter a copy of the famous deliberation of the Chamber of Commerce of Manchester on 13th and 20th December 1838.112 Why does the Chamber of Commerce of Bordeaux not take the generous initiative in France that the Chamber of Commerce of Manchester took in England?
As I know how extensive your commitments are, I scarcely dare to ask you to write to me. Nevertheless, please remember from time to time that your letters are the most effective balm for soothing the boredom of my solitude and the torments arising from my feeling of uselessness.
[109 ]The parts of this paragraph in quotation marks are in English in the original.
[110 ]Vice president of the Board of Trade.
[111 ]Justice of the peace in the county of Mugron.
[112 ]At the 13 December 1838 meeting, the president of the chamber of commerce, Mr. Wood, criticized the Corn Laws but wanted to let the Whig government of John Russell modify them. Instead, Cobden was in favor of a total and immediate repeal.