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1.: To the Electors of the Département of the Landes 2 - 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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To the Electors of the Département of the Landes2
[vol. 1, p. 217]
A people is not free simply because it has liberal institutions; it also needs to know how to put them into practice, and the same legislation that plucked from the ballot box such names as La Fayette and Chantelauze, Tracy, and Dudon can, depending on the wisdom of the electors, become the palladium of public freedom or the most unyielding instrument of total oppression, the one exercised over a nation by the nation itself.
In order for an electoral law to be a genuine guarantee for the public one condition is essential: electors must know where their interests lie and be determined to achieve their triumph. They must not allow their vote to be swayed by issues that are foreign to the election nor view this solemn act as a mere formality or at the very most as a matter between an elector and his candidate. They must not totally overlook the consequences of a bad choice. In a word, the public itself must know how to use the sole repressive means at its disposition, and show hatred and scorn for those voters who sacrifice it through ignorance or offer it up to their greed.
It is really strange to listen to the naive views of certain electors.
One will vote for a candidate through personal gratitude or through friendship, as though it were not a genuine crime to settle his debt at the expense of the public and to make an entire people the victim of individual affection.
Another will yield to what he calls the recognition due to major services rendered to the country, as though the office of deputy were a reward and not a mandate; as though the Chamber were a pantheon which we have to people with cold, inanimate figures and not the arena in which the fate of peoples is settled.
One person would think he was dishonoring his region if he did not send a deputy born in the département to the Chamber. Out of fear that some candidatures will be deemed invalid, he encourages the belief that the electors are stupid. He considers that he shows more intelligence in choosing an idiot from his own region rather than an enlightened man from a nearby district and that it is better reasoning to have oneself oppressed by the representation of someone who lives in the Landes than to be released from one’s chains by that of an inhabitant of the Basses Pyrénées.
Another wants a deputy who is versed in the art of lobbying; he hopes that our local interests will benefit and does not think that an independent vote on municipal law may prove to be more advantageous to all the regions of France than the lobbying and obsessions of a hundred deputies might be to a single one.
Lastly, yet another is obstinately determined to reelect the 2213 indefinitely.
It is useless for you to put forward the most soundly based objections and his only reply will be: “My candidate is one of the 221.”
What is his past record? “I have forgotten, but he is one of the 221.”
But he is a member of the government. Do you think he will be ready to restrict the power he shares or to reduce the taxes on which he lives? “That does not worry me because he is one of the 221.”
Just think that he will contribute to passing laws. Do you not realize the consequences of a choice made on grounds that do not relate to the goal you ought to set yourself? “That’s all the same to me. He is one of the 221.”
But it is above all the moderation which plays a major role in this army of sophisms that I wish to review briefly.
Everyone wants moderates at any price; we fear extremists above all and how can we judge the category to which our candidate belongs? We do not scrutinize his opinions but the place he occupies, and since the center is definitely between the right and the left, we conclude that this is where moderation lies.
Were those who each year voted for more taxes than the nation could bear moderates? What about those who never found the contributions to be sufficiently heavy, emoluments sufficiently huge, and sinecures sufficiently numerous? What about those who engaged in an odious traffic with all governments in the betrayal of the confidence of their constituents, a betrayal through which, in reward for dinners and positions, they accepted the most tyrannical institutions in the name of the nation: double voting,4lois d’amour,5 or laws on sacrilege?6 What of those who, in a word, have reduced France to breaking the chains they spent fifteen years in forging through a coup d’état?
And are those who want to prevent the return of such excesses extremists? I mean those who want to inject a dose of moderation into spending; those who want to moderate the action of the people in power and who are not immoderate, that is to say, insatiably seeking high salaries and sinecures; those who do not want our revolution to become just a change in surnames and color; those who do not want the nation to be exploited by one party rather than another and who wish to prevent the storm which will inevitably break if electors are rash enough to give a majority to the center right of the Chamber?
I will not go further in examining the reasons for supporting a candidate for whom the general opinion does not hold out much hope. What use would it be to spend more time refuting sophisms which are used only to delude oneself?
I think that electors have just one way of making a reasonable choice; they first need to know the general aim of the national representative body and then to gain an idea of the work that the future legislature will have to carry out. It is in fact the nature of the mandate which should decide the choice of a representative for us and, in this respect as in others, we will expose ourselves to great disillusionment if we adopt the means, leaving aside the aim we intend to achieve.
The general objective of national representative bodies is easy to understand.
In order to be able to carry out safely all the modes of activity in the course of private life, taxpayers need to be administered, judged, protected, and defended. This is the aim of government. Government is made up of the king, who is the supreme head, ministers, and an army of agents who report to one another and who envelop the nation as if it were in a huge network.
If this vast machine always kept itself within the limits of its responsibilities, elected representatives would be superfluous. However, the government is a living body at the center of the nation, which, like all organized entities, tends strongly to preserve its existence, to increase its well-being and power, and to expand indefinitely its sphere of action. Left to itself, it soon exceeds the limits which circumscribe its mission. It increases beyond all reason the number and wealth of its agents. It no longer administers, it exploits. It no longer judges, it persecutes or takes revenge. It no longer protects, it oppresses.
This would be the way all governments operate, the inevitable result of this law of movement with which nature has endowed all organized beings, if the people did not place obstacles in the way of governmental encroachments.
The electoral law is precisely this brake on the encroachments of government, a brake which our constitution hands over to taxpayers themselves. It tells them, “Government will exist from now on not for its own purposes but for yours. It will administer only to the extent that you feel the need to be administered. It will embark only on the development that you consider necessary for it to undertake. You will be the masters in expanding or tightening its resources. It will adopt no measure without your involvement. It will draw money from your purse only with your consent. In a word, since it is from you and for you that power exists, you may at will monitor it and contain it if need be, supporting its views when they are useful or reining in its action if it causes damage to your interests.”
These general considerations impose on us, as electors, a primary obligation not to seek our representatives from among the ranks of government; rather, we should entrust the responsibility of resisting government to those over whom it is exercised and not to those by whom it is exercised.
Would we in fact be so foolish as to hope that, when it is a question of abolishing jobs and salaries, this mission will be properly carried out by civil servants and paid staff? When all our ills result from the excesses of those in power, would we entrust to a representative of that power the task of reducing it? No, no, a choice must be made. Let us nominate a civil servant, a prefect or a maître des requêtes7 if we do not think the burden is sufficiently heavy, if we are not weary from the weight of the state billions,8 if we are persuaded that government does not take an undue interest in things that ought to be outside its responsibilities, if we want it to continue to interfere in matters of education, religion, commerce, or industry or to allocate us doctors, lawyers, snuff, tobacco, electors, and jurors.
If we wish, however, to restrict the action of the government, let us not appoint employees of the government. If we wish to decrease taxation, let us not appoint those people who live off taxation. If we wish to obtain good municipal law let us not appoint a prefect. If we want freedom of education, let us not appoint a rector.9 If we want to eliminate the droits réunis10 or the Council of State, let us not appoint either a councillor of state or the director of the droits réunis. Individuals cannot independently represent those who pay them, and it is absurd to have a function kept in check by the very person bound by it.
If we examine the work of the future legislature, we see that it is of such importance that it can be regarded as a constituent body rather than as a purely legislative body.
It will have to provide us with an electoral law, that is to say, one that establishes the limits of sovereignty.
It will promulgate a municipal law of which each word must have an influence on the well-being of local regions.
It will be the body that debates the organization of the National Guard, which has a direct bearing on the integrity of our frontiers and the maintenance of public order.
Education will claim its attention and it will doubtless be called upon to open that education to the free competition of teachers and the choice of subjects to the care of parents.
Ecclesiastical affairs will require our deputies to have wide-ranging knowledge, great prudence, and unshakeable firmness. Perhaps, in line with the wishes of the supporters of justice and enlightened priests, the question will be raised as to whether the expenses arising from each faith should not be borne exclusively by those who take part in it.
Many other weighty matters will also be raised.
However, it is above all with regard to the economic part of the Chamber’s work that we should be scrupulous in selecting our deputies. Abuses, sinecures, exorbitant pay, irrelevant positions, damaging jobs, and administrative structures substituted for competition will have to be strictly investigated; I have no fear in stating that this is the worst plague from which France is suffering.
I apologize to the reader for the digression into which I feel I am being irresistibly drawn, but I cannot stop myself from seeking to have the depths of my thoughts on this grave question understood.
If I considered excessive expenditure to be evil only because of the portion of wealth of which it deprives the nation for no good reason, if the only results I noted were the weighty burden of taxes, I would not raise the subject so often. I would say, with M. Guizot, that liberty should not be bargained over, that it is an asset so precious that no price is too high for it and that we should not regret the millions it costs us.
Such language implies that prodigality and liberty can go hand in hand. However, if I am deeply convinced that they are incompatible, that grossly overpaid jobs and the proliferation of positions not only exclude liberty but also undermine public order and peace and compromise the stability of governments, as well as polluting the ideas of peoples and corrupting their morals, no one will be surprised that I attach so much importance to the selection of deputies who will enable us to hope for the elimination of abuses like these.
But where can there be liberty when the government, in order to sustain enormous expenditures and forced to levy huge fiscal contributions, must resort to the most offensive and burdensome taxation, the most unjust monopolies, the most odious demands; to invade the sphere of private industry, to narrow incessantly the circle of individual activity, to make itself merchant, manufacturer, postman, and teacher, not only pricing its services at the highest level but also removing any competition which might threaten to reduce its profits, by means of punishments intended for crimes? Are we free if the government spies on all our movements in order to tax them, subjects all its activities to the goal of enlarging its cohort of employees, hampers all businesses, constrains all faculties, interferes with all commercial exchanges in order to restrain some people, hinder others, and hold almost all of them to ransom?
Can we expect order from a regime that places millions of enticements to greed all around the country and constantly gives the whole of a huge kingdom the appearance offered by a large town on the day of free handouts?
Do we believe that the stability of power is assured when, having been abandoned by people who have been alienated by its exactions, it remains without defense in the face of attack by the ambitious, when portfolios are fiercely assailed and defended and when those laying siege rely on rebellion just as those being besieged rely on despotism, the one in order to achieve power and the others to retain it?
Inflated salaries result not only in restrictions, a lack of order, and the instability of government; they also distort people’s ideas by strengthening the barbarous prejudice that work is to be scorned and jobs in the public sector are the only ones worthy of honor. They corrupt morals by making careers in industry burdensome and government employment flourish; by enticing the entire population to abandon manufacturing in favor of careers in the state sector, work in favor of political intrigue, manufacturing in favor of sterile consumption, ambition to control things in favor of ambition to control men; and, in sum, by increasingly spreading a mania for governing and a zeal for domination.
Do we want then to free government from the plotters who pursue it in order to share out the spoils, from factions who undermine it in order to capture it, and from the tyrants who strengthen it in order to control it? Do we want to achieve order, freedom, and public peace? Let us above all take care to reduce excessive remuneration, remove the enticements if we fear greed, and eliminate the seductive prizes linked to the end of a career if we do not want careers beset with antagonism. Let us wholeheartedly embrace the American system, in which top civil servants are indemnified and not richly endowed, where positions lead to a great deal of work and little profit, where civil service jobs are a burden assumed and not the means to a fortune and do not give glory to those holding them nor arouse envy in those who do not.
Once we have understood the object of national representation, once we have examined the work to be carried out by the future legislature, we will find it easy to know what qualities and guarantees we have to require from our deputy.
It is clear that the first thing we have to look for in him is knowledge of the subjects he will be called upon to discuss, in other words his ability in the fields of political economy and legislation.
We cannot deny that M. Faurie fulfills this first condition. The ease with which he has managed his individual affairs is a guarantee that he will be capable of administering public matters. His knowledge of finance might be of great use in the Chamber. In short, throughout his life he has devoted himself with dedication to the study of moral and political science.
The ability to do well is not enough for our representative; he also needs determination, and this determination can be guaranteed only by a constant past record, total independence of character, wealth, and social position.
In all of these respects, M. Faurie should meet the requirements of the most stringent elector.
No inconsistency in his past gives us anxiety as to the future. His probity in private life is well known and virtue in M. Faurie is not a vague sentiment but a well-defined system that is invariably practiced, which means that it would be difficult to find a man whose conduct and opinions are more in harmony. His political probity is most scrupulous; his wealth places him beyond any form of enticement, just as his courage puts him beyond all forms of fear. He does not want positions and cannot desire them; he has neither sons nor brothers in whose favor he might, to our detriment, compromise his independence. In sum, the force of his character will make him for us not an intrepid lobbyist (it is good to note that he is this) but a stubborn defender when needed.
If, along with just ideas and high sentiments, we required a talent for oratory as a condition that is, if not essential, at least desirable, I would not dare to claim that M. Faurie possesses the passionate eloquence to rouse popular masses in a public arena, but I consider him perfectly capable of putting forward in the Chamber the observations his upright mind and conscientious intentions generate and it is accepted that, where it is a matter of debating laws, the eloquence which appeals only to reason for its enlightenment is less dangerous than that which appeals to passions in order to sway them.
I have heard an objection to this candidate which I consider to have little foundation, the comment “should we not fear that, as he comes from Bayonne, he will work harder for Bayonne than for the département of the Landes?”
My answer will not be that no one dreamed of raising this objection to M. d’Haussez; that the link that is forged between a representative and the electors is as powerful as that which binds a man to the region in which he was born; finally, that as M. Faurie’s property lies in the département of the Landes, he may to some degree be regarded as a fellow countryman of ours.
There is another answer which, in my view, removes any basis for the objection.
To hear the language used by these farsighted men, would it not seem that the interests of Bayonne and the département of the Landes are so far opposed that nothing can be done for one that does not invariably run counter to the good of the other? But if we reflect a little on the respective positions of Bayonne and the Landes, we will perceive that, on the contrary, their interests are inseparable and identical.
In effect, in the ordinary course of events, a commercial town situated at the mouth of a river can have an importance only proportional to that of the region through which the river flows. If Nantes and Bordeaux are more prosperous than Bayonne, it is because the Loire and the Garonne flow through regions that are much richer than those the Adour traverses, areas that are capable of producing and consuming more. This being so, as the trade relating to this production and consumption is carried out in the town situated at the mouth of the river, it ensues that the trade in this town grows or is restricted depending on whether the surrounding regions prosper or decline. Were the banks of the Adour and its tributaries fertile, the moors cleared, the Chalosse given means of communication, our département crossed by canals and inhabited by a significant and rich population, then Bayonne would be assured of trade by the nature of things. If our deputy wants to make Bayonne flourish, he will first have to attract prosperity to the département of the Landes.
If different constituency boundaries brought Bayonne into our département, is it not a fact that we would not object? Well then, has a line drawn on a scrap of paper changed the nature of things? Does the fact that on a map a town is separated from the countryside surrounding it by a red or blue line divide their mutual interests?
There are some who fear compromising the proper order of things by selecting as deputies men who are clearly liberal. “For the moment,” they say, “we need order above all. We need deputies who do not want to go too far too fast!”
Well! It is precisely in order to maintain order that good deputies should be appointed! It is through a love of order that we should seek to ensure that the chambers are in harmony with France. If you want order, are you going to strengthen the center right, at a time when it grates on France, a time when, with her most cherished hopes dashed, she is anxiously awaiting the election results? And do you know what she will do if she sees that, once again, her final hopes have evaporated? For my part, I do not know.
Electors, let us take up our stations, let us remember that the future legislature will bear within it the entire destiny of France, that its decisions must either snuff out for good or indefinitely prolong this struggle that has existed for so long between the France of yesteryear and modern France! Let us recall that our destiny is in our hands and that we are the masters on whom it falls to strengthen or dissolve this monstrous centralization, this gallows structure built up by Bonaparte and restored by the Bourbons in order to exploit the nation, once they had garroted it. Let us not forget that it is an illusion to count on colors and proper names to improve our lot; let us rely only on our independence and our resolve. Do we want the government to take more of an interest in us than we take in ourselves? Are we expecting it to restrain itself if we strengthen it and become less active if we send it reinforcements? Do we hope that the spoils it can take from us will be refused if we are the first to offer them? What! Should we expect a supernatural nobility of spirit or a chimerical impartiality in those who govern us, while for our part we are incapable of defending, through a simple vote, our dearest interests!
Electors, be careful! We will not be able to retrieve the opportunity if we let it slip. A major revolution has taken place; up to now, how has it improved your existence? I know that reforms take longer than a day, that we should not ask for the impossible nor criticize at random through bad temper or habit. I know that the new government needs strength and I believe it to be imbued with the best intentions, but ultimately we should not shut our eyes to the evidence nor should the fear of going too fast reduce us to immobility nor, worse, remove from us any hope of making progress. And, if there has been no material improvement, have we at least been given any reason for hope? No, they tear up those intoxicating proclamations which in the heat of the moment would have made us spill the last drop of our blood. Each day brings us closer to that past which the three glorious days should have cast back to a remote century. Is it a question of communal law? The Martignac11 project is being exhumed, which was drawn up under the influence of an officious court with no confidence in the nation. Is it a question of a mobile National Guard? Instead of these popular choices which ought to make it a moral force, they throw us as a consolation prize the election of subalterns, and their distrust of us is such that all our leaders are imposed on us. Is the question that of taxes? They clearly state that the government will not lower them by a cent; that if they make a sacrifice in one sector of the revenue, they will recover it from another; that the billion must remain intact indefinitely; that if some economy is achieved, taxpayers will not be relieved thereby; that eliminating one form of abuse would entail eliminating them all and that they do not wish to go down that road; that taxing drink is the fairest and most equitable of taxes,12 the one which is least offensively collected and least costly, a fine ideal of fiscal design which must be maintained, with no attention paid to the clamor of an overburdened populace, and that if they agree to alter it, it is with reluctance and on condition that instead of one iniquity they will make us suffer two; that all forms of transport will be taxed without any problem or inconvenience resulting for anyone; that luxury goods should not be made to pay but rather that redoubled contributions should be imposed on useful objects; that France is beautiful and rich and can be counted upon; that it is easy to bring her round to reason; and a hundred other things which bring back comte de Villèle in the person of Baron Louis13 and which confound you to such a dizzy extent that you do not know whether you are waking up in the reign of Philippe or that of Bonaparte.
But, people will say, these are only projects; our deputies still have to debate and adopt them.
Doubtless, and it is for this reason that we need to be scrupulous in our choices and to give our vote only to men who are independent of all governments, both present and future.
Electors, Paris has given us liberty with its blood; are we going to destroy its work with our votes? Let us go to the elections solely for the general good. Let us close our ears to all fallacious promises and close our hearts to all personal affection or even gratitude. Let us bring forth from the ballot the name of a man who is wise, enlightened, and independent. If the future brings us a better fate let us have the glory of having contributed to it; if it hides yet more storms, let us have nothing to reproach ourselves for.
[2 ](Paillottet’s note) In support of the candidature of M. Faurie.
[3 ]To a threatening speech from the throne, 221 deputies replied with an address strongly condemning the government chosen by the king.
[4 ]A law of 1820 specified that at each election of deputies one-fourth of the electors, those paying the most taxes, would be allowed to vote twice.
[5 ]In 1824 the ministry of justice introduced laws limiting the freedom of the press, which the ministry presented as “laws of justice and love.” They were derisively called les lois d’amour (the laws of love).
[6 ]A law voted in 1825 inflicted the death penalty on authors of sacrileges. It was never enforced.
[7 ]A civil servant in charge of initiating appeals against the state.
[8 ]A reference to the amount of the state budget.
[9 ]Government-appointed head of all public education in an académie (a group of departments in the context of public education).
[10 ]These were a combination of taxes introduced by Napoléon.
[11 ]The comte de Martignac (J. B. Gay), minister of the interior from 1828 to 1829, planned to have the members of the general councils (councils of the département) and of the city councils elected by an appropriate electoral college instead of being appointed by the king.
[12 ]Taxes on wine and spirits were especially opposed by Bastiat, as he came from and represented a wine-growing region.
[13 ]Joseph-Dominique Louis.