To the Editor-in-Chief of Le Représentant du Peuple

Le Représentant du Peuple

Translator: Martin Walker

6th July 1848

M. Editor,

In yesterday’s edition of your paper, among many excellent things, I read some unfortunate words with which it is impossible for me to agree.

In response to the Journal des Débats, you say:

“And do not make believe that we are trying to excuse the insurrection; on the contrary, we declare that insurrection guilty because it did not have legitimate motives, because, etc. Therefore, the government did its duty in suppressing the insurrection immediately and roughly. But, while condemning the insurgents, we do not want to be unjust, etc.”

Such words, M. Editor, exceed the amount of blame that I believe it is possible to attribute to the events of June 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th.

Insurrections are like homicides in that, depending on the circumstances, they can be legitimate or criminal, but they also may be neither, that is, they may be excusable, legally speaking.

Homicide committed in war for the defence of the homeland is a legitimate act that even honours the perpetrator.

Homicide committed for the purpose of personal revenge or greed is a crime that the law punishes with death.

Homicide that results following a provocation, in the case of legitimate defence, etc., is excusable. Neither the law nor morality approves it; they do not prosecute it but pardon it.

It is thus that I judge the recent events.

Was the cause of the insurrection, in which so many citizens were victims in some way, a flagrant violation of the republican principle on the part of the government or the National Assembly? No. Therefore, that insurrection, without a sufficient reason to justify it, was not legitimate. Here is a first point.

Was it the result of foreign instigations conducted with a monarchic purpose and directed against the republic? In that case, the insurrection would have been a crime, an attack against which it would have been necessary to appeal to legal prosecution. However, we do not know yet that such was the true character of this regrettable collision.

But, if the revolt of June 23rd-26th suddenly arose like an accident out of misery; if the struggle, sustained for four unfortunate days, was merely an explosion of desperation; if the prosecution proves that, despite widespread gold, despite monarchic hiring, the vast majority of the insurgents was comprised of workers demoralised by unemployment, wild with hunger, their hopes crushed, frustrated, wrongly or rightly, against power; if it were true, finally, that the government, the National Assembly itself, at first mistaken about the real meaning of the riot, had brought to a head with a fateful policy the exasperation of these people whose rallying cry was “Bread or lead!” Oh, then it would have been acknowledged that the civil war that had just bloodied the cradle of the republic had been a dreadful misfortune, but that, thank heavens, no one was guilty, and there were only victims.

Four months of unemployment suddenly became a casus belli,[1] into an insurrection against the government of the republic: here, in a few words, is the whole truth about those dismal days. Nonetheless, whatever was said, whatever self-seeking and merciless aspersion are still spread every day, the working classes’ generosity and high morals did not perish in the fratricide. The insurgents’ destitution, the prisoners’ misery and the respect for property, which, if we should believe numerous reports, was not always as great on the side of the repression as on that of the rioters, are there to attest to it.

The English proletariat lives nobly on the poor tax. German labourers, loaded with money and old clothes, are not embarrassed to beg, from workshop to workshop, for viaticum[2], passing fancies. The Spanish do more, like Lazarillo[3] they ask for charity at the point of their guns. The French worker asks for work, and if instead of work, you offer him alms, he rises up and shoots at you. I like the French worker best, and I boast that I belong to this proud race impervious to dishonour.

Please, M. Editor, do not spread salt and vinegar on open wounds; do not convey hopelessness into those gloomy consciences, the madness of which has been regrettable, but that are not criminal, after all. Let us have pity on these poor wounded people who hide and die in the straw in the throes of gangrene, cared for by hungry children and wives crazy with misery. Tomorrow, Thursday, will be a day of public mourning dedicated to the funerals of the insurrection’s VICTIMS. Let us not hesitate to include in our regrets, under this common name of the victims, those who died for the defence of order and those who fell while battling misery. If the law was on one side of the barricades, it was also on the other side. The horrible carnage that we witnessed resembled those ancient tragedies in which duty and the law are opposed and which the gods share. Let us cry for our brothers from the national guard. Let us cry for our insurgent brothers and condemn no one. Let us hope that justice, once enlightened about the facts that preceded, accompanied and followed the insurrection, will relax the severity of the law and that the deportation decree, from then on without object or morality, will be revoked.

With my fraternal greetings,


End Notes

[1] A Latin expression meaning the justification for an act of war (Editor)

[2] Viaticum is a Latin word meaning “provisions for a journey.” Within the Catholic Church, it means the communion given to a person who is dying or who faces the possibility of death. (Editor)

[3] The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversitities is an anonymous Spanish novella noted for of its heretical content and criticism of the Church and Aristocracy. It is credited with founding a literary genre, the picaresque novel (so called from the Spanish pícaro meaning “rogue” or “rascal”) whose hero’s adventures expose injustice while amusing the reader. (Editor)