July Fifteenth

Le Représentant du Peuple

8th July 1848

Translator: Martin Walker

The end of the quarter! Time’s up! How are we going to pay our rent?...[1]

For five months now we have been doing nothing: we have received nothing, delivered nothing, sold nothing! Industry has bottomed out! commerce bottomed out! Credit bottomed out! Labour bottomed out!...

No more work, no more money, no more resources! The rental payment is due; the pawnbrokers’ stockrooms are all stuffed full; the family silver, the wives’ jewels, the husband’s watch, the finest linen, it’s all been pawned off! How else could we pay our rent?! How shall we manage to live!...

May the authors of pitiless decrees; may the great politicians who have resumed the execrable tradition of Saint-Merri and Transnonain;[2] may those who said that it was better instead of coming to a peaceful agreement to massacre ten thousand citizens for the sake of the National Assembly’s dignity;[3] may these decent republicans, as they call themselves, who came to the Republic as perjurers, who serve it as perjurers, and who will leave it as perjurers: may all of them respond to the despairing lament of the bourgeoisie, if they can!

Go ahead, now, you errant national guards, go and ask your would-be conservatives for work, credit, bread! What they have to offer you, yourselves, your wives and your children, is blood and corpses!...

And what does it mean to them? Won’t they be ministers in a fortnight?...

It’s no longer a matter of saving the proletariat: the proletariat no longer exists, it’s been thrown to the dogs. But the bourgeoisie must be saved: the petite bourgeoisie from hunger, the middle-bourgeoisie from ruin, the haute bourgeoisie from its own infernal selfishness. Today the bourgeoisie faces the same question as did the proletariat on the June 23rd.

We shall not fail our principles. The force of destiny, the greatest of ancient divinities, inflexible Nemesis, has made out of these principles an absolute order for the good of the people.

When the State, surprised by a revolution whose true character it neglected to recognise at once, found itself incapable of paying off the floating debt and redeeming the Treasury bonds and savings books, what did it do? It took recourse to a consolidation: it converted into annuities the treasury bonds and savings accounts that it could not pay out. The national Assembly is discussing the two decrees concerning this operation this very day. That is to say that the State, as an insolvent debtor, demands release from a part of the debt and credit for the surplus. Nobody found this wrong; necessity made it into a law.

When the Bank of France found itself unable to meet all the claims for repayment of its notes and for one moment saw itself teetering over the abyss of bankruptcy, what did it do then? It obtained a decree that gave its papers forced currency, which is to say that instead of giving credit to the citizens it demanded credit from them. Nobody complained of the decree which saved the bank: the public good and necessity made it into a law.

It is no longer only the State or the Bank of France that are incapable of honouring their engagements: it is the whole class of tenants all over France.

Would it be unjust for the tenants to receive the following from their landlords: 1st a postponement of payment; 2nd a reduction of the rent to be paid?

I will dare to maintain that it is not only not unjust but a matter of public necessity.

The cessation of commerce and industry, being caused by an event equivalent to force majeure, has placed us all, tenants and proprietors, in exceptional circumstances, which are by the way provided for and explained in treatises of jurisprudence.

We have produced nothing, we owe nothing.

For the 400,000 tenants with their domicile in the Department of the Seine there are fewer than 20,000 proprietors, 1 to 20.

When the State reduces its debt and suspends payments; when the Bank ceases to redeem its notes; when the merchant, the factory-owner and the industrialist no longer dispose of their products and find no takers for their services, would the owners of houses be right to demand payment of rent as in ordinary times? Should not the Revolution and its consequences be borne equally by all? And if the general stagnation of business joins the universal depreciation of assets, is it not evident that the tenants have a right to a reduction of the amount of the rent and not merely a postponement of payment?...

Is that communism or simply just and equitable?

And if the proprietor dared to complain that he was being bankrupted, would we not be right to reply to him that it is not us, the tenants, who bankrupt him but the force of circumstances? ...Well, what is true for the tenant is by the same reckoning true for the farmer. The farmer can’t sell his foodstuffs any more, or only at a throwaway price. Wheat is at 10 francs per hectolitre and wine at 3 centimes a litre. The costs of producing the wheat and the wine are not covered by the price of sale. How then could the farmer pay the landlord and discharge his debt? Is it his fault if the Revolution has come to interrupt all transactions?...

If, finally, the landlords cannot in all fairness refuse first of all a postponement of payment and secondly a reduction of the leases in favour of the tenants and farmers; if the State by stabilising the floating debt, giving forced currency to the notes of the Bank of France, slapping a tax on debts secured by mortgages and raising the rate for rights of transfer for large inheritances has given the first signal of this universal reduction — or, to put it better, of this reciprocity of credit — then why should lenders to the state,[4] who have hitherto received their money most promptly, remain the only ones to be thus privileged? Would they be hard done by to be asked in their turn for the credit of a fraction of their income in the name of the taxpayers, tenants, farmers and proprietors?

But if all the citizens mutually give one another credit of some kind: the house proprietor giving a part of the due rent, the landowner a part of the annual farm rent, the mortgage creditor a part of his interest, the lender to the State a fraction of his income; then isn’t it obvious that this mutuality is equivalent to a kind of credit organisation, and that if this road were taken quite resolutely it would result in an immediate resumption of both labour and business?...

Let the national guard that has devoted itself to public order in these miserable times reflect upon this: what we are proposing to it in these few lines is for its own benefit.

We therefore summon all the tenants and farmers to come to an agreement and present a strongly reasoned petition to the national Assembly, a petition which is not a supplication but a command.

The substance of this petition, phrased in the form of a decree so that the national Assembly would merely have to give it its sanction, would be the following:

“In view of the urgency and imminent danger,

“Considering that the public good is the supreme law;

“Considering that land rent is a free privilege that society can revoke;

“Considering it is a right of the State to regulate the rates of interest and the revenues of capital investments;

“Considering that the interests of the State, the farmers, tenants and borrowers on securities or mortgages are identical and interdependent;

“Considering that the only way of escaping the present danger, of reviving labour, of saving the family and property is by means of a vast operation of reciprocal credit,

“The national Assembly decrees:

“1st Article — To be applicable from July 15th, 1848 until July 15th, 1851: all the proprietors of houses will reduce the rent due on their properties by a third, whereof a sixth will accrue to the tenant and a sixth to the State.

“2nd Article — To be applicable from the same date for the same period of time: all the landowners will reduce the rent due on their properties by a third, whereof a sixth will accrue to the farmer and a sixth to the State.

“3rd Article — To be applicable for the same period of time: all mortgagees will reduce the interest due to them by a third, whereof a sixth will accrue to the debtor and a sixth to the State.

“4th Article — The farmers, tenants and debtors who desire to take advantage of the reduction offered by the decree on the price of housing and farm rents will be obliged to make the amount of their leases known to the tax collectors of their cantons, who will be charged with establishing the extent of the reductions.

“The deduction of one third of their obligations and contractual rents will be made by the farmers, tenants and debtors at the end of each rental period and the sixth due to the State will be paid in by them at their local tax office.

“5th Article — Independently of the above-mentioned reduction the payment of rents or obligations falling due at any time from July 15th to October 15th, 1848 is postponed for three months and will then be paid off in four instalments on the due dates following January 15th,1849.

“6th Article — The rent payments for farm leases and house tenancy, as well as mortgage payments subject to the reduction stipulated above, are deferred until 15th July 1851.

“7th Article — The lenders to the state will have their payments reduced by a third every quarter from July 15th, 1848 until 15th July, 1851.

“8th Article — The land tax of 45 centimes and the tax on mortgage loans are abolished.

“The tax payable on drinks will be reduced by three quarters and standardised in a single form.

“9th Article — The State, by means of the sums accruing to it during the three years from July 15th, 1848 to July 15th, 1851 as a result of the reductions made in the rents and interest deriving from farms, house-letting, mortgage loans and public funds, sums which will amount to several hundred thousand francs, will be assigned the task of reorganising the public credit system, insurance, circulation, transport and mines.”

Nothing is easier, national guards, than for you to save your fortune, to put your business affairs back on their feet and to ensure the well-being of your families and the emancipation of the workers: it is only necessary to establish a tax on the revenue immediately by getting all the farmers, tenants and debtors interested in it. So you national guards must make these proposals to the national Assembly in order to find out very quickly who are your friends and your enemies.

End Notes

[1] This was when quarter day fell, the traditional day for setting bills and paying rents. (Editor)

[2] Reference to state repression of two popular revolts in Paris under the Monarchy, the first on 5-6 June 1832 with the last of the insurgents fighting heroically around the cloisters of Saint-Merri (at least 150 killed) and the second on 14 April 1834 with a massacre in the Rue Transnonain. (Editor)

[3] A reference to the bloody repression of the barricades raised on June 23rd to protest the disbanding of the National Workshops by the government. (Editor)

[4] The term “les rentiers de l’État” refers to finance capitalists who are owners of government bonds and other lenders to the State and the interest payments they receive in return for owning such government debt. (Editor)