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The Vieux Cordelier Translation Project!
vivre libre ou mourir
Le Vieux Cordelier 8 - a fragment 
9th-Jun-2013 04:43 am
This fragment, which was begun in the Luxembourg Prison, does not have the usual titling. I never knew of its existence until I was reading Marcellin Matton’s edition of Le Vieux Cordelier. I thought I would post it here as a kind of tragic curiosity; the section that begins ‘Do we still have true Cordeliers’ reminds me of his outbursts on his way to the scaffold, and his attacks seem clearer than ever. It is not impossible, reading this, to imagine that he was virtually certain of his fate.
Citizens and brothers, do you remember how the tyrants of feudal times would personify the sovereign people of today under the name Jacques Bonhomme? Well if I were to be allowed to use this name, which is close to an insult, today I would say to you: Jacques Bonhomme, do you know where you are going, what you are doing, and for whom you are working? Are you sure that those whom you look upon now genuinely have the intention of achieving and completing the work of liberty? And this licence that I will give myself is not without example in the republic, because the sans-culotte Aristophanes spoke thus in times gone by to the people of Athens, he told them the truth and let it be. The senate, the Jacobins and the Cordeliers were grateful to him. Do we still have true Cordeliers, sans-culottes and impartial people? Is it not masks rather than faces that are the order of the day? And if I tear them off, these deceptive masks, what will you say people? Will you defend me? I don’t know if you would do that, but I know that there will be a need and this circumstance alone will show the danger and make you aware of its extent; I began by speaking of Athens and will return again, Solon was renowned for his honour: He it was who made the laws in this flourishing republic; it would not be he who carried them out, it would be wrong even to put his relatives in charge of that; this sole circumstance gave too much credit to his name. The trust of the sans-culottes went as far as allowing Pisistratus the power to serve them as master: It became a crime of lese majeste to plot against his life and from that moment on he became wholly a tyrant; every time it would be thus, to plot against a man would be to plot against the republic; every time that the people were represented by citizens who didn’t know their mission well enough to attach doctrines to the reputation of a single individual who seemed like a good sans-culotte to them………………………………………………
Free people! That is what you want to be; so be that entirely; do not content yourselves with the freedom of a moment, examine how your freedom will be in the future. You have seen off your Tarquin, you have done more than that, his torment has terrified all kings, those so called masters of the world who are no more than tyrants and despoilers. But why is the power of Brutus lasting more than a year? Why for three whole days [but Camille here must mean yearssurely] has one, two or three men been able to bestow, rank, favours and grace? Why do we have to preserve them, and not the republic?
Rome wanted ten legislators; they only expected to stand for election once, they remained good sans-culottes; as soon as prolongation gave them the hope of lasting sovereignty, they became tyrants.
Camille, exiled by the official voice, not seeing any partisans, in parting makes these wishes for an ungrateful patrie; Coriolanus leaves there his friends who have dared to defend him. They allowed one faction in the state to rise in his favour and he led the enemies of its nascent glory against Rome.
The powers of a dictator had a limit of six months. Anyone who, after completing his term, tried to exercise this supreme authority for one more day would find himself accused by all the good Jacobins of Rome. After having been a consul six times, an aristocrat was raised to this supreme rank; he thought he could keep it according to the law, but against usage; from this first encroachment on the title of perpetual dictator there is only one step, and if he scorned remaining as a tyrant himself the perpetual dictator gave an easy road to the ancestors of Caligula and Nero.
What must the Convention do? Finish the business; give France a constitution! Is this not already done? Now we should proclaim this constitution and everyone submit to it. If the majority of the assembly want to retain the powers, we must make another revolution against the majority of the assembly.
. . . bonjour.