Front Page Titles (by Subject) 18: Reflections on the Amendment of M. Mortimer-Ternaux 1 - Collected Works of Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850
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18: Reflections on the Amendment of M. Mortimer-Ternaux 1 - Frédéric Bastiat, Collected Works of Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850 
The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850, Jacques de Guenin, General Editor. Translated from the French by Jane Willems and Michel Willems, with an introduction by Pascal Salin. Annotations and Glossaries by Jacques de Guenin, Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean, and David M. Hart. Translation Editor Dennis O’Keeffe. Academic Editor, David M. Hart (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2012).
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Reflections on the Amendment of M. Mortimer-Ternaux1
[vol. 5, p. 513. “Réflexions sur l’amendement de M. Mortimer-Ternaux.” 1 April 1850. This article was part of the debate in the Legislative Assembly on 1 April 1850. n.p.]
To All Democrats
No, I am not mistaken; I feel a democratic heart beating within my breast. How is it then that so oft en I find myself in opposition to these men who proclaim themselves to be the sole representatives of democracy?
We need, however, to make sure we understand one another. Has this word two opposing meanings?
For my part, I consider that there is a link between the aspiration that drives all men toward their physical, intellectual, and moral advancement and the faculties with which they have been endowed to pursue this aspiration.
This being so, I would like each man to have responsibility for the free disposition, administration, and control of his own person, his acts, his family, his business dealings, his associations, his intelligence, his faculties, his work, his capital, and his property.
This is how freedom and democracy are understood in the United States. Each citizen jealously guards his ability to remain his own master. This is how the poor hope to rise out of poverty and how the rich hope to retain their wealth.
And in truth, we see that in a very short space of time this regime has enabled the Americans to achieve a degree of energy, security, wealth, and equality that has no peer in the annals of the human race.
However, there as everywhere, there are men who have no scruples in undermining the freedom and property of their fellow citizens for their own advantage.
This is why the law intervenes, with the sanction of the common force, to anticipate and repress this dissolute tendency.
Each person contributes to maintaining the force in proportion to his wealth. This is not, as has been said, a sacrifice of one part of one’s freedom to preserve the other. On the contrary, it is the simplest, most just, most effective, and most economical way of guaranteeing the freedom of all.
And one of the most difficult problems of politics is to remove from those in whom the common force is vested the opportunity to do themselves what they are responsible for preventing.
It would appear that French democrats see things in a very different light.
Doubtless, like American democrats, they condemn, reject, and stigmatize the plunder that citizens might be tempted to indulge in on their own behalf against one another, such as any attack on property, work, and freedom by one individual to the detriment of another individual.
But they consider this plunder, which they reject between individuals, as a means of gaining equality and consequently they entrust it to the law, the common force, which I thought had been instituted to prevent plunder.
Thus, while American democrats, having entrusted to the common force the task of punishing individual plunder, are deeply concerned by the fear that this force might itself become a plunderer, in the case of French democrats, making this force an instrument of plunder appears to be the very basis and spirit of the system they advocate.
They give these arrangements the grandiose titles of organization, association, fraternity, and solidarity. In doing this, they remove any scruples from the most brutal of appetites.
“Peter is poor, Mondor is rich. Are they not brothers? Do they not share solidarity? Should they not be put in association and organized? This being so let them share, and everything will be for the best. It is true that Peter should not take anything from Mondor; that would be iniquitous. But we will pass laws and create forces that will be responsible for the operation. In this way, Mondor’s resistance will become factious and Peter’s conscience will remain clear.”
In the course of this legislature, there have been occasions on which plunder has been presented in a particularly hideous light. Those occasions are when the law has operated for the benefit of the rich to the detriment of the poor.
Well then! Even in these cases we have seen the Montagne applaud. Might this not be because what they want above all is to ensure this principle for themselves? Once legal plunder of the poor for the benefit of the rich has become part of the system, with the support of the majority, how will we be able to reject legal plunder of the rich for the benefit of the poor?
Oh unfortunate country, in which the sacred forces, which ought to have been instituted to ensure the rights of each person, are perverted so that they themselves violate these rights!
Yesterday, we witnessed a scene in the abominable and disastrous comedy in the Legislative Assembly that might well be titled The Comedy of Fools.
This is what happened:
Every year, three hundred thousand children reach the age of twelve. Out of these three hundred thousand children, perhaps ten thousand enter state secondary schools and lycées. Are their parents all rich? I do not know. But what can be stated categorically is that they are the richest in the nation.
Naturally, they have to pay the costs of board, education, and care for their children. However, they find this very expensive. Consequently, they have requested—and it has been granted to them—that the law, through the taxes on wines and spirits and salt, should take money from the millions of poor parents in order for the said money to be distributed to them, the rich parents, as grants, bonuses, indemnities, subsidies, etc.
M. Mortimer-Ternaux has asked for a monstrosity like this to cease, but his efforts have failed. The extreme right finds it very pleasant to have the poor pay for the education of the rich, and the extreme left finds it very politically astute to seize an opportunity like this to have the system of legal plunder passed and approved.
This makes me ask myself, “Where are we going? The Assembly must be governed by a few principles; it must either be wedded to justice everywhere and for all, or else it will be thrown into the system of legal and mutual plunder to the point where all the conditions of life are totally equal, that is to say, communism.”
Yesterday, it declared that the poor would pay taxes to relieve the rich. With what impudence will it reject the taxes that will shortly be put forward to assail the rich to relieve the poor?
For my part, I cannot forget that, when I presented myself to the electors, I said to them:
“Would you approve a system of government which consisted in this: You will have the responsibility for your own lives. You will expect from your work, efforts, and energy the means to feed and clothe yourself, house yourself, get lighting, and achieve prosperity, well-being, and perhaps wealth. The government will have dealings with you only to guarantee you protection against any disorder or unjust aggression. On the other hand, it will ask from you only the minimal taxes essential for accomplishing this task.”
And everyone cried out, “We do not ask for anything else from it.”
Now, what would my position be if I had to present myself once more to these poor laborers, honest artisans, and courageous workers and say to them:
“You pay more taxes than you expected. You have less freedom than you hoped for. This is partly my fault since I strayed from the philosophy of government for which you elected me and on 1 April I voted for an increase in the tax on salt and wines and spirits in order to come to the aid of a small number of our fellow countrymen who send their children to state secondary schools.”
Whatever happens, I hope never to put myself in the sad and ridiculous position of having to say things like this to the men who gave me their trust.
[1. ](Paillottet’s note) At the session of the Legislative Assembly on 1 April 1850, during the discussions on the budget for state education, M. Mortimer-Ternaux, a representative of the people, put forward as an amendment a reduction of three hundred thousand francs in expenditure on lycées and secondary schools, the establishments frequented by the children of the middle classes.