Front Page Titles (by Subject) 130.: FRENCH NEWS  EXAMINER, 4 DEC., 1831, PP. 776-7 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II
Return to Title Page for The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
130.: FRENCH NEWS  EXAMINER, 4 DEC., 1831, PP. 776-7 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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 online edition of the Collected Works is published under licence from the copyright holder, The University of Toronto Press. ©2006 The University of Toronto Press. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form or medium without the permission of The University of Toronto Press.
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.
FRENCH NEWS 
For the entry in Mill’s bibliography, see No. 116. The item, headed “London, December 4,” is listed as “Article on France” and enclosed in square brackets in the Somerville College set.
an insurrection has taken place at Lyons.1 The silk-weavers have risen in arms; and how the greater part of those arms were obtained is still a mystery; after two, or, according to some accounts, three days’ fighting against the National Guard and the troops, they have remained masters of the town. The following description of their subsequent conduct, which we copy from the Times, is corroborated by every authentic account which has been received:
It is universally admitted that there has been no plunder or bloodshed beyond the two days, the 21st and 22d ultimo; that when the civil power had been overthrown, and the military force expelled, the directing chiefs of the workmen felt the necessity of order, and the utility of the laws which they had violated; that they had enacted severe penalties against pillagers, murderers, and disturbers; that they had appointed sentinels to protect the persons and magazines of their employers, whom they had overcome in the struggle; that they had placed themselves in amicable relations with the préfets and mayors, whom they had at first deposed; and that the city exhibited the strange and anomalous appearance of being at once loyal and rebellious—of uniting insurrection with legitimate authority—of maintaining a profound peace between hostile camps, and in the midst of civil contention. Those who had discarded the civil magistrate, who had beaten the troops of the line and the National Guard, acting under the magistracy, seem horrified at the very idea of being considered bad subjects, and loudly protest their “entire devotion to their citizen King, Louis Philip.”2
The Courrier Français might well say, “Même lorsqu’il est livré au plus terrible égarement, il y a maintenant chez le peuple français un instinct social qu’on ne rencontrerait dans aucun autre pays: certes, il y a loin des ouvriers de Lyon montant la garde avec les bourgeois, à la populace de Bristol se souillant des plus monstrueux excès.”3 Nevertheless, to moderate the honest triumph of the French journalist, and to avoid doing injustice to the morality and self-control of our own working classes, it is well to remark, that the outrages at Bristol were perpetrated by a very small fraction of the very worst part of the populace, mostly thieves, and other criminals by profession;4 who, in our great towns, owing to the defects of our police and criminal judicature, are more numerous in proportion to the population than in any other civilized community. If the affair at Bristol had been not a riot, but a general insurrection, events, even there, would have taken a far different turn. The superiority, in such emergencies, of the French working classes over ours, seems to consist less in their greater virtue or good sense, as compared with the corresponding class among our own people, than in that extraordinary power of extemporaneous organization, which belongs to the superior quickness and readiness of the French character, and to the military habits of a large proportion of the people. Englishmen, it is probable, could not have jumped out of anarchy into order by one leap, like the Lyonnese. But if a crisis should come, which we trust England may never know, but which we should never intermit to think of and be prepared for—if events like those of Lyons should, at any future period, take place at Manchester or Glasgow, or any other of our great towns where the people, by means of their Benefit Societies and Trade Unions, are accustomed to concert, and organize under chiefs whom they know, a new government would be ready at once to take the place of that which had been subverted; and though manifold horrors would too probably be perpetrated during the conflict, the moment it was over we are persuaded that these places would become as orderly and peaceful as Lyons at this moment.
The origin of the popular movement at Lyons, was what, in this country, would be termed a strike for wages. For some time past, the silks of France have been in a great degree supplanted in the foreign market by those of England and Switzerland.* The Lyonnese manufacturers, therefore, in attempting to maintain the competition, found themselves under the necessity of lowering wages. To this pre-existing pressure, was added that arising from the unsettled state of France during the last two years. The suspension of purchasers from want of confidence, which created the commercial distress, naturally fell heaviest upon articles like silk, of ornament and luxury. After long bearing their evils with exemplary patience, the workmen at last demanded an advance of wages. The Préfet, with that pestilent spirit of busy intermeddling, of which French officials can never divest themselves, sanctioned the increased rate of wages by an authoritative proclamation.5 The consequence was what might have been foreseen. Magistrates may fix a scale of wages, but it is beyond the power of any magistrate to compel the manufacturers to pay it. The employers could not afford to manufacture at a loss; they accordingly discharged their men, and the insurrection followed.
Troops will, of course, march against Lyons, and the revolt will be put down. But we do hope, though we scarcely dare expect, that the legislators of France, after this warning, will bethink themselves, and lay it to heart, that to pay some attention to the physical well-being of the class which composes fifteen-sixteenths of the whole nation, is really part of the duty of a Government. The Morning Chronicle will tell us, that the language we now use is mischievous, tending to make the working classes believe that their condition depends not upon themselves, but upon the Government. Undoubtedly any language would be mischievous, which should persuade the people that the Government could fix the rate of wages. But, without being able to raise wages, the Government has the power of making the present rate of wages sufficient for the subsistence of the labourers.
The French Government, with a reckless fiscality equal to that of the worst Ministries of our worst times, derives the greater part of its immense revenue, both general and local, from duties on the articles consumed by the great body of the people. The taxes which fall upon the most numerous and poorest class, yield most to the revenue; and this is all which a mere financier, either in France or in England, ever troubles himself with. It has been proved again and again, that the tax on salt, that on wine (which is to the French labourer what beer is to the English), the monopoly of tobacco, the octroi or town duties on all kinds of agricultural produce, and various other burthens imposed by the French system of finance, fall not only with greatest comparative, but with greatest absolute weight, upon those who are least able to bear it. A poor family actually pays a greater number of francs to the revenue, one year with another, on account of these taxes, than a rich family. Yet, whenever a voice has been raised (and few and faint have been such voices) in the late or present Chamber of Deputies, for the alleviation of these intolerable exactions, the sound has either been merely re-echoed from the bare walls, or has been drowned in clamour.
Were these taxes taken off, the silk-weavers of Lyons might be able to live, at least without danger of famine, upon such wages as their employers could allow consistently with being able to sell their fabrics in the northern markets at the same price with other nations.
Further, since the year 1821, a corn law, worse than our corn laws when at their worst, has artificially raised the price of food in all the manufacturing parts of France; and considerably more so in Lyons than in other places,—the importation price being, by the absurd provisions of the law, different in different districts.6 The French Ministry has lately proposed to the legislature a slight relaxation of this system; and the committee appointed by the Chamber of Deputies to examine the bill, have named for their President M. de Saint-Cricq, and for their Secretary M. Charles Dupin!7 They might have hunted through France for men more inveterately averse to free trade, and found none.
Not only the food of the labourer, but almost every other article of his consumption which is not raised in price by excise duties, is so by restrictions on trade. The cottons in which he does, or might, clothe himself and his family, he must not import from England (save at an enormous duty), but must purchase a bad and dear article produced at home. If the woollens in which he clothes himself are foreign, they have paid a high duty, to protect French manufactures; if French, they have paid a high duty on the raw material, to protect French agriculture. If he purchases French manufactures of any description, they are dear and bad, because made by dear and bad machinery, owing to prohibitory duties on foreign iron; the iron of France being of notoriously bad quality, and the mines far from productive: but this is for the protection of French mining and French forests. The sugar and coffee which the poor silk-weaver consumes, he must pay for at an immense increase of price, to protect French beet-root, and to save from ruin three little islands, Martinique, Guadaloupe, and Bourbon; the fee simple of all three not being worth ten years purchase of the tax annually levied, on their account, from the consumers of colonial produce. Finally, even live cattle cannot be driven into France from beyond the Rhine, except at an enormous duty; and a riot took place only a few weeks since, at Strasburg, on this very account.
All these evils the French Ministry, and the leaders of the Opposition, are fully alive to, and would gladly remedy if they were able. But the Minister dares not propose an alteration of this monstrous system, to a Chamber composed of cotton and woollen manufacturers, and proprietors of forests and mines.
The dissatisfaction of the people, we know, does not always take the right side; but they are seldom dissatisfied without good cause. What is a Government for, but to find the means of removing evils which the people themselves, either from ignorance or want of power, are unable to cope with? If a Government did its duty to the people—if it never inflicted evil upon any part of them, save for the general good—if it showed itself always eager to search out the causes of their suffering, and administer remedies where remedies were practicable—if it let the people see that, where it had the means of doing aught to serve them, it wanted not the will,—very rarely would it find the people unreasonable in their demands, or expecting impossibilities. The working classes are not like their enervated and effeminate superiors; they are accustomed to suffering, and exercised in endurance. Evil is no new thing to them; and their habit is, to regard it as inherent in their lot. Let them but see common sympathy, and a very little active goodwill, in those whom society has placed over their heads, and they are even more ready than they should be to let themselves be persuaded that their sufferings are inevitable, and that governments can do nothing for them.
[1 ]The silk weavers of Lyons had complained of low wages. After negotiations, the Prefect proclaimed a higher scale, but on 10 Nov., the manufacturers repudiated it. Trouble began on 20 Nov., and by the 22nd the insurrectionists were in control; there was little bloodshed or looting.
[2 ]The Times, 2 Dec., 1831, p. 2.
[3 ]“Intérieur: Paris, 26 novembre,” Courrier Français, 27 Nov., p. 1.
[4 ]A mob demonstrated against Charles Wetherell, the Recorder of Bristol and an extreme opponent of the Reform Bill, when he went there to open the assizes on 29 Oct.; the disturbance grew to a riot and next day the bishop’s palace was burnt, among other outrages.
[* ]It is curious, that the very newspaper which gave to the English public the first intelligence that English competition had starved the silk weavers of Lyons into rebellion, contained an account of a meeting of English silk-manufacturers at Coventry, to represent to the Board of Trade their inability to maintain the competition with French silks; and to urge the revival of the old prohibitory laws, which had rendered our silk manufacture (we use the expression of an extensive silk dealer) a disgrace to the country. [Prohibited by 48 George III, c. 22 (1808), the importation of silks was permitted again (after July 1826) by 5 George IV, c. 21 (1824); the meeting is reported in “The Riband Trade of Coventry,” Morning Herald, 28 Nov., 1831, p. 4.]
[5 ]Louis Bouvier-Dumolart (1780-1855), who had held several administrative and financial posts under Napoleon, was appointed Prefect of Lyons by Périer; for his proclamation sanctioning the increase, see Moniteur, 1831, p. 1998.
[6 ]Bull. 462, No. 10886 (4 July, 1821), esp. Art. 3.
[7 ]For the introduction of the Bill, see No. 125, n2. The committee was appointed on 20 Oct. (Moniteur, 1831, p. 1916).