Front Page Titles (by Subject) 3.: Freedom of Trade - The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics
Return to Title Page for The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
3.: Freedom of Trade - 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).
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 copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
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.
Freedom of Trade
[vol. 7, p. 14. According to Paillottet, this was an
During the session on 29th February last, M. Guizot said: “We constantly speak of the weakness of the king’s government with respect to England. I cannot allow this calumny.
“In Spain,10 no one can say that we have merely supported what England has done or simply got rid of the same things as she.
“There has been talk of a treaty on trade which is to be imposed by England; has this happened?
“Did we not revoke the regulations which have changed trade relations between England and France with respect to linen thread and cloth?
“Did not the prime minister pass a law on Algerian tariffs which has materially harmed in more than one respect real British interests?”
From all of this it results that, if the authorities are not under the yoke of England, they are certainly under the yoke of monopoly. All this shows that while the government may not be England’s creature it is certainly a creature of monopoly.
Is the public really not going to open its eyes finally to this shameful misrepresentation and duplicity?
A few years ago, one might have thought that protectionism had very few years left to live.
Theoretically in ruins, it slipped into our legislation only as a transitory measure. The very minister who did most to let it linger on, M. de Saint-Cricq, constantly warned us that these mutual taxes, which workers paid each other, were basically unjust and, to the little extent that they were reasonable, were so only on the grounds of their supporting infant industries. Indeed, even the beneficiaries of these arrangements saw them not as a prerogative but as an essentially temporary privilege.
The actions being accomplished in Europe were such as to increase the hopes of the lovers of freedom.
Switzerland had opened its frontiers to products of all origins and this was working well.
Sardinia11 also went down this road and found no reason to regret it.
Germany12 had replaced a host of internal barriers with a single ring of customs posts based on a moderate tariff.
In England, the most vigorous effort ever attempted by the middle classes was on the point of overthrowing a system of restrictions which in that country represented another aspect of feudal power.
Even Spain seemed to understand that its fifteen agricultural provinces were unjustly sacrificed in favor of one manufacturing province.
Lastly, France was preparing for free trade by way of negotiating treaties of transition and by joining a customs union with Belgium.13
Thus was labor to be set free. Wherever on the globe that fate had caused them to be born, men were going to reconquer the natural right to exchange with each other the fruits of their labors and we were reaching the moment of seeing the achievement of a holy alliance of nations.
How did France allow herself to be turned away from this path? How did it come about that its children, who took pride in being the leaders of civilization, were suddenly seized with Napoleonic ideas and embraced the cause of isolation, antagonism between nations, theft carried out by its citizens one against the other, restrictions laid down on the right of ownership, in short, all that is barbarous in the bosom of protectionism?
To seek an explanation of this sad phenomenon, it would seem that we have to move away from our subject for a moment.
If, within a General Council, a member succeeded in creating a majority against the administration, it would not necessarily follow that the prefect would be dismissed and still less that the leader of the opposition would be appointed prefect in his place. In the same way, although general councillors are made of the same clay as deputies, their ambition is not satisfied by the maneuvers of systematic opposition, which explains why these maneuvers are not seen to happen in these meetings.
This is not the case in the Chamber. It is a maxim of our public law that if a deputy is cunning enough to mount a majority in opposition to a government, he will himself ipso facto become minister and will deliver the government as a prey to his colleagues who allied themselves to his undertaking.
The consequences of such an organization leap to the eye. The Chamber is no longer an assembly of those governed, who come to take note of measures projected by those who govern, to admit, modify, or reject these measures in line with the public interest which they represent; it is rather an arena in which government, dependent on the support of members’ votes, is competed for.
Therefore, to overturn the government it is necessary only to remove its majority. To remove its majority, it is necessary to discredit it, make it unpopular, and debase it. The law itself, aided and abetted by the irremediable weakness of the human heart, has arranged things thus. It is useless for M. Guizot to cry: “Will we never learn to attack each other, combat each other, and overthrow each other without attributing shameful motives to each other?” I must say that I find these complaints puerile. You allow that your adversaries aim to replace you and yet you advise them charitably to neglect the means of success! In this respect, M. Guizot, the leader of the opposition, would do to M. Thiers, the minister, what M. Guizot, the minister, reproaches M. Thiers, the leader of the opposition, for doing.
We have therefore to admit that our mechanism of representation is organized in such a way that the opposition and all forms of opposition united have not and cannot have other than one single aim, namely to discredit the government, whichever one it is, in order to overthrow it and replace it.
But the most certain way, in France, to discredit the government is to represent it as treacherous, cowardly, in the pay of foreigners, and forgetful of national honor. Against M. Molé, this was the tactic used by M. Guizot in coalition with the legitimists and the Republicans; against M. Guizot, this was the tactic of M. Thiers, in coalition with the Republicans and the legitimists. One used Ancona14 as the other used Tahiti.15
However, opposition parties do not limit themselves to acting within the Chamber. They also feel the need to take some account of public opinion and the views of the electorate. All the opposition newspapers are thus obliged to work in concert, to exalt, irritate, and mislead national feeling, to represent the country as having descended to the lowest level of degradation and opprobrium as a result of the work of the government; and it has to be said that our national susceptibility to the memory of Empire and to the wholly Roman education which has prevailed among us gives this parliamentary tactic considerable chances of success. This being the situation, it is easy to predict all the gains that pampered lines of production would inevitably extract from it.
At a time when monopoly was about to be cast aside and the free communication of peoples gradually established, what could the cosseted groups do? Waste their time establishing protectionist principles at the very heart of their outlook, opposing such principles to the theory of free trade? It would have been a fruitless venture; on the soil of free and fair discussion, error stands little chance against truth.
No, the privileged groups had a clearer view of what might prolong their existence. They understood that they could continue peacefully to pick the pockets of the public so long as contrived antagonisms would prevent the drawing together and merging of nations. This being so, they harnessd their forces, influence, capital, and activity to national hatred. They, too, adopted the mask of patriotism. They bribed such newspapers as had not yet adopted the banner of false national honor, and it may rightly be said that this monstrous alliance stopped the march of civilization.
In these strange circumstances, the local press, especially in the south, might have been of great service. However, either because it did not perceive the motive behind these Machiavellian intrigues or feared to appear weak in the eyes of the enemy, the fact is that it foolishly added its voice to those of the newspapers funded by the privileged groups and today may well fold its arms at the sight of us, the men of the south, robbed and exploited, doing its work, the work it should have done itself, and devoting all the resources of our intelligence and all the energy of our feelings to consolidating the shackles and perpetuating the extortions it inflicts on us.
This weakness has borne fruit. To repudiate the accusations heaped on it, the government had one thing only to do and it did it: it sacrificed us.
The words of M. Guizot, which I quoted at the beginning, did they not mean in essence:
“You say that I am subjecting my policy to that of England, but consider my actions.
“It was just to return to French citizens the right to trade, appropriated by a few privileged people. I wished to go down this path through trade treaties, but there were shouts of Treason! and I broke off negotiations.
“I thought that if French citizens needed to buy linen thread and cloth abroad, it was better to obtain more rather than less for a given price, but there were shouts of Treason! and I created differential dues.
It was in the interest of our young African colony to be provided with everything at a low cost in order to grow and prosper. However, there were shouts of Treason! and I handed over Algeria to monopolistic interests.
“Spain aspired to shake off its submission to a single province. This was in its interest. It was in ours and also in that of the English. There were shouts of Treason! and, to stifle this inopportune cry, I maintained what England wished to overturn, the exploitation of Spain by Catalonia.”
This is our present position. The engine of war of all the parties is the hatred of foreigners. Left and right alike use it to disparage the government; in the center they go further, translating it into action to prove their independence and the monopolists fasten on to this uncertain outlook, fanning discord in order to perpetuate their situation.
Where will all this lead us? I do not know, but I believe that this game by the parties hides danger and I ask myself why, in a period of total peace, France maintains four hundred thousand men under arms, increases its navy, fortifies its capital city, and pays a billion and a half in taxes.
[10 ]Spain was the setting for several Franco-British rivalries.
[11 ]In 1843 France signed a trade treaty with the kingdom of Sardinia.
[12 ]A customs union, the Zollverein, was constituted after 1818 at the initiative of Prussia. In 1834 it comprised thirty-four German states.
[13 ]A customs union between Belgium and France was contemplated as a counterbalance to the Zollverein but never realized. Instead, a less ambitious Franco-Belgian commercial treaty was ratified in 1845.
[14 ]In order to quell disturbances in the papal states, Pope Gregory XVI called upon Austria. On 28 June 1832, Austrian troops entered Bologna, Italy. For reasons of diplomatic balance, a French garrison was sent to Ancona, southeast of Bologna. In 1832 the Austrian troops left Bologna and the French troops left Ancona.
[15 ]In 1842 Tahiti was a French protectorate. Following incidents with English ships, Admiral Dupetit-Thouars transformed it into a territory of “direct sovereignty.” This created tension between London and Paris. The latter disavowed the admiral on 24 February 1844.