Front Page Titles (by Subject) 143.: FRENCH NEWS  EXAMINER, 12 FEB., 1832, PP. 104-5 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II
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143.: FRENCH NEWS  EXAMINER, 12 FEB., 1832, PP. 104-5 - 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).
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FRENCH NEWS 
For the entry in Mill’s bibliography, see No. 116. The item, headed “London, February 12, 1832,” is listed as “Article on France” and enclosed in square brackets in the Somerville College set of the Examiner.
another conspiracy has broken out at Paris: whether of the same kind with that of which the “leading journal of Europe” had such timely information,1 it is impossible for us as yet to judge. Some hundreds of persons have been arrested, one of whom, a M. Poncelet, (a shoemaker), fired a pistol and wounded the sergent de ville who apprehended him. The conspirators are said to be a mixture of Carlists and Republicans: we shall see.2 If the plot was real, and Republicans had any concern in it, they have profited little by the advice given them by their leader, M. Cavaignac, in his defence, on a charge of conspiracy, about a year ago, when the prosecutors made so miserable a figure.3 But as far as we are yet able to judge, the imputation, so far as it affects Republicans, is sheer calumny.
All persons of any consideration in France, have long outgrown the juvenile folly of conspiracies. Experience to them has not been without its fruits. Eight or ten years ago, when anything like a popular government in France appeared hopeless; when M. de Villèle was lord of the ascendant, his famous chambre des trois cents in full glory, and events seemed to be rapidly retrograding towards jesuitry, superstition, and feudal privileges; such errors were pardonable: and at that time many persons of real virtue and ability were deeply involved in secret societies and Carbonaro intrigues. But they soon found that it is not possible to carry a great nation by a coup de main; and that nothing, in the present state of the world, is so idle or so insane, as a conspiracy; inasmuch as it cannot succeed, unless the public mind goes with it; and if this be the case, it is not needed. The only conspiracy which is not absurd, is a conspiracy of the public itself, in the face of day. Accordingly, though the government had never been able to get possession of more than a few detached threads of the great and well-knit web of French carbonarism, the combination speedily dissolved itself; and the men of talents and ardour who had taken the lead in it, found other and better means of doing their part towards improving the institutions of their country.
But if all men of tolerable judgment had found out, long before the revolution of July, that a conspiracy is a blunder, and therefore a crime; none but the most senseless of human beings can remain blind to the same conviction, after the memorable lesson of the three days—when that which so many had risked their lives in vainly striving to effect prematurely, came to pass as it were in a moment, almost without difficulty or resistance, when the hour had come, and the silent march of events had prepared the nation to see the overthrow of their government, some with joyful acclamation, the remainder with silent acquiescence.
The few, for there are but few, raw and hot-headed young men, who look with favour upon schemes for subverting the present French government by force, have yet to learn, that any attempt on the part of a minority, to impose upon a nation institutions not called for by a majority of those who habitually take part in public affairs, is a crime: still more so when the majority are not simply indifferent, but positively hostile: and that such an attempt, if it could be successful, is almost the only event which could now seriously retard the progress of political reform. It is the merest illusion to suppose that a government, established agaisnt the will of an active majority, whatever may be its name or forms, can be a free government. The Long Parliament, in our own country, made so miserable an end of its career simply from this one fault:4 and all the horrors of the Reign of Terror were the fruits of a mistake of the self-same nature in France.5 The men of our Commonwealth had, to a certain extent, a valid excuse in the force of circumstances, which rendered it extremely difficult for them to act otherwise than they did; and the same plea has been urged, though with far inferior force, in behalf of the more well-meaning among the abettors of the revolutionary government of 1793. But a similar miscalculation in a Frenchman of 1832 would be utterly without excuse. And every person in France of the slightest pretensions to sense or talents, to whom such designs have been specifically imputed, has been able, as might be expected, triumphantly to exculpate himself. The exertions of all such persons, whether in the Chamber or out of doors, are directed, so far as respects politics, to one only end, that of influencing the public mind. And this they will continue to do, in spite of the Citizen King, and his Attornies-General, who will not for a single moment let them alone.
The government of Louis Philippe regards, or pretends to regard, its own existence and that of a free press as incompatible. There needs not the gift of prophecy to predict, if this be the case, which of the two will be the survivor. The press, in France, has hitherto been more than a match for every government which has defied it to a contest.
Even the Times has, at length, pronounced its condemnation of these relentless persecutions of the Press.6 But it could not do so without hazarding the gratuitous and unfounded assertion, that all the journalists prosecuted would have been found guilty of seditious libel by an English jury. The case is so notoriously the reverse, that many of the pretended libels have been such as no English Attorney-General would have dared to bring before any jury. Is the Times aware that the juries, who, in nine cases out of ten, have dismissed the prosecutions, are much more select than even what are called in England special juries; being composed exclusively of electors paying 200 francs of direct taxes, and the members of a few liberal professions? Nine times out of ten, the convictions and feelings of these juries must have been unfavourable to the doctrines, for the promulgation of which the accused were put upon their trial. Principle, and not any fellow-feeling with the defendants, must have been the sole motive of the acquittals. Most fortunate was it that the law establishing Trial by Jury in political cases, passed the Chambers in the first temporary enthusiasm after the revolution of July.7 Had it been delayed till now, we may see, clearly enough, that it never would have been obtained while the present French government lasts.
The Chamber of Peers has thrown out M. Salverte’s proposition for allowing the unfinished business of one session to be taken up in statu quo in the next.8 The reason given by M. Roy against adopting this highly proper and useful measure, was, that if it were acceded to, the Committees on the bills pending at the time of the prorogation, might imagine that they had a right to convoke the Chambers, in violation of the royal prerogative!9 This, it will be allowed, is a notable specimen of a non-hereditary Peerage.
The Chamber of Deputies, after a long debate,10 has appointed a commission of its own body, to inquire into the deficiency in the public treasury, occasioned by the embezzlements and flight of the head cashier, M. Kesner;11 and to report through what defect in the manner of keeping the public accounts, this officer, and his predecessors before him, have been enabled to become defaulters to so great an amount. The monies abstracted from the Treasury by M. Kesner’s peculations, amounts to nearly six millions of francs; £240,000.
The Commission of the Budget has made its remaining report, that on the ways and means.12 In the present state of the finances of France, an increase of taxes was more to be expected than a relief from them: some change was however looked for in the mode of laying them on; which is even worse in France than it is among ourselves. This hope, however, finds little to encourage it in the report of the commission. The individual selected as the reporter, was M. Humann, the oracle of the non-improvement school; a man in whose estimation the existing system of finance, taxation, and commercial policy in France, is a pattern of perfection. Accordingly all the taxes which had been most justly complained of, as pressing with disproportionate severity on the poorest classes, are mercilessly adhered to; in particular, the salt-tax, and the tax on fermented liquors: imposts, which, independently of all other objections, are so vexatious in the mode of collection, that they, more than any other cause, have rendered every successive French government unpopular with the labouring people. It is proposed gradually to suppress the lottery; gradually enough, in all conscience,—the period fixed for its termination being 1836. The only real improvement recommended is the correction of an error committed last year,—that of increasing the impôt personnel, a kind of modified poll-tax, and the tax on doors and windows, and exacting them more rigorously from the poorer class of contributors.
The new taxes proposed are, an increased duty on cotton wool, and on sugar, whether imported from the colonies or manufactured from beet-root in France. There is also to be an additional tax on legacies and inheritances, beyond the fourth degree of consanguinity. There is something to be said in favour of a tax of this last description. Mr. Bentham, long ago, and others since his time, have proposed that the property of intestates should never pass to collateral relations at all, but, on failure of the descending and ascending line, should escheat to the State.13 This, however, though highly proper as a prospective measure, should not operate to the prejudice of existing interests and expectations: otherwise it is the height of injustice; and a peculiar tax on this class of inheritances is an injustice of the same kind, only less in degree.
It is melancholy to see, that an event so pregnant with meaning as the late insurrection of Lyons, should have made no deeper impression upon the men by whom France is now governed, than is indicated by all they do, and by all they fail to do, day after day, and month after month. Yet they have not been without better advisers. Not to mention any others, an excellent pamphlet by M. Decourdemanche, a Paris advocate, intituled, Lettres sur la Législation dans ses Rapports avec l’Industrie et la Propriété, and an able article in the Revue Encyclopédique, on the Budget of 1832, by M. Emile Péreire,14 contain, along with some errors, much valuable information and many profound views, which, if received with the attention they well deserve, would have placed the Government of the Citizen King in a very different position before the French people and the world, from that in which they now unhappily stand.
[1 ]See No. 136 for the explanation of Mill’s irony about The Times.
[2 ]Details of this plot, apprehended in the early hours of 2 Feb., are given in Moniteur, 1832, p. 332. Louis Poncelet (b. ca. 1803) wounded Houel, the sergent de ville.
[3 ]See Nos. 100 and 101, and (for Mill’s translation of part of Cavaignac’s speech) App. A. The prosecutor was Jean Charles Persil.
[4 ]The Long Parliament, summoned in 1640 by Charles I, ended practically though not legally with Cromwell’s dismissive “take away this bauble” in March 1653; it legally ended at the Restoration in 1660.
[5 ]The Reign of Terror began in the summer of 1793 and ended with the downfall of Robespierre in July 1794.
[6 ]Leading article, The Times, 6 Feb., 1832, p. 4.
[7 ]Bull. 9, No. 68 (8 Oct., 1830); this reform had been promised in Art. 69 of the Charter of 1830.
[8 ]On 3 Feb. (Moniteur, 1832, pp. 344-6). For its introduction, see No. 132. The commission of the Chamber of Peers had recommended against it on 28 Jan. (ibid., pp. 282-3).
[9 ]Ibid., p. 345.
[10 ]On 30 Jan. (ibid., pp. 297-304).
[11 ]Charles Jean Rodolphe Kesner (b. 1778), employed at the Treasury since 1800, had become Caissier Général du Trésor in 1821. He disappeared early in January 1832, after the embezzlement was discovered.
[12 ]On 3 Feb. (Moniteur, 1832, pp. 346-51). For the introduction of the budget, see No. 116.
[13 ]Bentham’s idea is found in “Principes du code civil,” in Traités de législation civile et pénale, ed. Etienne Dumont, 3 vols. (Paris: Bossange, et al., 1802), Vol. II, p. 146, which Mill read in the early 1820s; the English version, Principles of the Civil Code, did not appear until 1838 (see Works, Vol. I, p. 336).
[14 ]Decourdemanche, Aux industriels: Lettres sur la législation dans ses rapports avec l’industrie et la propriété, dans lesquelles on fait connaître les causes de la crise actuelle et les moyens de la faire cesser (extrait du Globe) (Paris: au bureau du Globe, 1831); Péreire, “Examen du budget de 1832,” Revue Encyclopédique, LII (Oct. 1831), 40-90. Alphonse Decourdemanche (1797-1871), a lawyer who adopted Saint-Simonian ideas in his youth, became an advocate of reform in many areas including finance; Jacob Emile Péreire (1800-75), a financier, had also been a Saint-Simonian journalist, writing for Le Globe 1830-31 and then for Le National.