Item of the Day: New Travels in the United-States of America (1797)

Full Title: New Travels in the United-States of America: Containing the Latest and most Accurate Observations on the Character, Genius, and Present State of the People & Government of that Country; Their Agriculture, Commerce, Manufactures, & Finances; Quality and Price of Lands; Progress of the Settlements on the Ohio and the Mississippi; Political and Moral Character of the Quakers, and a Vindication of that Excellent Sect from the Misrepresentations of other Travellers; State of the Blacks, Progress of the Laws for their Emancipation, and for the Final Destruction of Slavery on that Continent; Accurate Accounts of the Climate; Comparative Tables of the Probabilities of Life between America and Europe, &c. &c. By the Late J. P. Brissot de Warville, Deputy to the National Convention of France. A New Edition, Corrected, with A Portrait of the Author. Vol. I. London: Printed for J. S. Jordan, No. 166 Fleet-Street, MDCCXCVII. [1797]

THE

AUTHOR’S

PREFACE

REVISED.

 

THE publication of Voyages and Travels will doubtless appear, at first view, an operation foreign to the present circumstances of France. I should even myself regret the time I have spent in reducing this Work to order, if I did not think that it might be useful and necessary in supporting our Revolution. The object of these Travels was not to study antiques, or to search for unkown plants, but to study men who had just acquired their liberty. A free people can no longer be strangers to the French.

We have now, likewise, acquired our liberty. It is no longer necessary to learn of the Americans the manner of acquiring it, but we must be taught by them the secret of preserving it. This secret consists in the morals of the people; the Americans have it; and I see with grief, not only that we not yet possess it, but that we are not even thoroughly persuaded of its absolute necessity in the preservation of liberty. This is an important point; it involves the salvation of the revolution, and therefore merits a close examination.

 What is liberty? It is that perfect state of human felicity, in which each man confidently depends upon those laws which he contributes to make; in which, to make them good, he ought to perfect the powers of his mind; in which, to execute them well, he must employ all his reason: for all coercive measures are disgraceful to freemen–they are useless in a free State; and when the magistrate calls them to his aid, liberty is on the decline. Morals are nothing more than reason applied to all the actions of life; in their force consists the execution of the laws. Reason or morals are to the execution of the laws among a free people, what fetters, scourges, and gibbets are among slaves. Destroy morals, or practical reason, and you must supply their place by fetters and scourges, or else society will cease to be any thing but a state of war, a scene of deplorable anarchy, to be terminated by its destruction.

Without morals there can be no liberty. If you have not the former, you cannot love the latter, and you will soon take it away from others; for if you abandon yourself to luxury, to ostentation, to excessive gaming, to enormous expences, you necessarily open your heart to corruption; you make a traffic of your popularity, and of your talents; you sell the people to that despotism which is always endeavouring to absorb them withing its chains.

Some men endeavour to make a distinction between public and private morals. This is a false and chimerical distinction; invented by vice, in order to diguise its danger. Undoubtedly a man may possess the private virtues, without the public: as for instance, he may be a good father, without being an ardent friend of liberty. But he who has not the private virtues, can never possess the public. In this respect they are inseparable; their basis is the same, it is practical reason. What! within the walls of your house, you trample reason under foot; and do you respect it abroad, in your intercourse with your fellow-citizens? The man who respects not reason in the lonely presence of his household gods, can have no sincere attachment to it at all; and his apparent veneration to the law is but the effect of fear, or the grimace of hypocrisy. Place him out of danger from the public force, his fears vanish, and his vice appears. Besides, the hypocrisy of public virtue entrains another evil; it spreads a dangerous snare to liberty over the abyss of despotism.

What confidence can be placed in those men who, regarding the revolution but as their road to fortune, assume the appearance of virute only to deceive the people; who deceive the people but to pillage and enslave them; and who, in their artful discourses, which are paid for with gold, preach to others the sacrifice of private interest, while they themselves sacrifice all that is sacred to their own? men whose private conduct is the assassin of virtue, an opprobrium to liberty, and gives the lie to the doctrines which they preach:

Qui curios simulant, et Baccanalia vivunt.

Happy the people who despise this hypocrisy, who have the courage to degrade, to chastise, to excommunicate these double men; possessing the tongue of Cato, and the sould of Tiberius. Happy the people who, well convinced that liberty is not supported by eloquence, but by the exercise of virtue, esteem not, but rather despise, the former, when it is separated from the latter. Such a people, by their severe opinions, eompel men of talents to acquire morals; but exclue corruption from their body, and lay the foundation for liberty and long prosperity.

But if such a people should become so improvident and irresolute, as to be dazzled by the eloquence of an orator who flatters their passions, to pardon his vices in favour of his talents–if they feel not an indignation at seeing an Alcibiades training a mantle of purple, lavishing his sumptuous repasts, lolling on the bosom of his mistress, or ravishing a wife from her tender husband–if the view of his enormous wealth, his exterior graces, the soft sound of his speech, and his traits of courage, could reconcile them to his crimes–if they should render him the homage which is due only to talents united with virtue–if they should lavish upon him praises, places, and honours–then it is that this people discover the full measure of their weakness, their irresolution, and their own proper corruption; they become their own executioners; and the time is not distant, when they will be ready to be sold, by their own Alcibiades, to the great king, and to his satraps.

Is it an ideal picture which I here trace, or, is it not ours? I tremble at the resemblance! Great God! shall we have achieved a revolution the most inconceivable, the most unexpected, but for the sake of drawing from nihility a few intriguing, low, ambitious men, to whom nothing is sacred, who have not even the mouth of gold to accompany their soul of clay? Infamous wretches! they endeavour to excuse their weakness, their venality. their eternal capitulations with despotism, by saying, These people are too much corrupted to be trusted with complete liberty. They themselves give them the example of corruption; they give them new shackles, as if shackles could enlighten and ameliorate men.

O Providence! to what destiny reservest thou the people of France? They are good, but they are flexible; they are credulous, they are enthusiastic, they are easily deceived. How often, in their infatuation, have they applauded secret traitors, who have advised them to the most perfidious measures! Infatuation announces either a people whose aged weakness indicates approaching dissolution, or an infant people, or a mechanical people, a people not yet ripe for liberty: for the man of liberty is by nature a man of reason; he is rational in his applauses, he is sparing in his admiration, if, indeed, he ever indulges this passion; he never profanes these effusions, by lavishing them on men who dishonour themselves. a people degraded to this degree, are ready to caress the gilded chains that may be offered them. Behold the people of England dragging in the dirt that parliament to whom they owed their liberty, and crowning with laurels the infamous head of Monk, who sold them to a new tyrant. . . .

 

 

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Filed under 1790's, France, Liberty, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Revolution, Travel Literature, United States

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