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mity, scrupled not to break down all the barriers of law; to runcounter to the known custom of our an. cestors; to violate all that we have of practice and precedent upon this subject; and to strike a deep blow into the very vitals of the English constitution, without any other inducement or temptation, or necessity, except the malignant wish of gratifying an inordinate and implacable spirit of resentment.
M. DE MIRABEAU'S SPEECH
ON THE RIGHT OF MAKING WAR AND PEACE: DELÍVERED IN
THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY, MAY 20, 1790,
On the 14th of May, 1790, M. de Montmorin, minister for foreign affairs, made a communication by order of the king to the national assembly, of the warlike preparations in which Great Britain and Spain were then engaged, in consequence of their dispute concerning Nootka Sound, and of the precautionary measures which, under existing circumstances, he had thought proper to adopt.
After a discussion of the message, the following resolution, presented by M. De Mirabeau, was carried :
“ The national assembly decrees, that its president shall, in the course of the day attend the king, for the purpose of thanking his majesty for the measures he has taken for the preservation of peace. The assembly decrees, moreover, that, on to morrow the 16th of May, the order of the day shall be the question: Ought the nation to intrust the king with the right of making war and peace ?”—Two opposite opinions, divided the assembly on this subject. The concession of the prerogative to the crown was strenuously advocated by one party, while the other, with equal vehemence, contended for the policy of investing it exclusively in the legislative body. Wea. ried, however, by the contest which had been protracted for several days, the parties at length agreed to pursue a middle course, and the assembly accord. ingly resolved : “ That the right of announcing to the legislative body, the necessity of peace or war should be conceded to the monarch; and after a solemn deliberation, it should be declared on the part of the king of the French, in the name of the nation.
M. De Mirabeau maintains this doctrine, with some modifications, in the subsequent warm, energetick, and well reasoned speech.
IN rising to speak upon a subject, which, for these five days past, hath occasioned such long debates, my sole motive is to rectify the state of the question, which, in my mind, hath not been fixed where it should have been. Urgent peril at the present moment, dangers of no common magnitude in future, ought to have roused all the attention of patriotism: but this important question is likewise accompanied with a danger peculiar to itself. These words, war and peace, sound lofty to the ear, awake and deceive the imagination, inflame the most imperious of the passions, pride and courage, are connected with the grandest objects, victories, conquests, the fate of empires, above all, with liberty, with the duration of that infant constitution, which every Frenchman hath sworn to maintain. And when a question of publick right, presents itself with so imposing an aspect, what attention should not one pay to oneself, in order to reconcile, in so solemn a discussion, the cool reason, the profound meditation of the statesman, with that emoțion, . so. excusable, which the fears that surround us must inspire ?
Are we to delegate to the king, the exercise of the right of making war and peace; or ought we to attri. bute it to the legislative body? It is thus, gentlemen,
it is with this alternative, that hitherto the question hath been stated; and I confess that this manner of stating it, would render it a question not to be solved by me. I do not think that we can, without annihilating the constitution, intrust the king with the exercise of the right of making peace or war ; as little do I think, that we can exclusively adjudge this right to the legislative body, without preparing for ourselves dangers of another kind, and equally to be dreaded. But are we under an obligation to make an exclusive choice? Can we not, in favour of one of the functions of the government, at once partaking both of action and of will, of execution and of deliberation, make the two powers, which constitute the national strength, and have been sanctioned by our constitution?
Before we come to any decision upon this new point of view, I must first examine, in concert with you, gentlemen, whether in the practice of war and peace, the nature of things, their irresistible progress, point not out to us the junctures, when each of the two powers may act separately, the points of contact where their cooperation commences, the functions which are common to them, and those which are peculiar, the moment for deliberation, and the moment which calls for action. Be assured, gentlemen, that such an inquiry will conduct us much more readily to the truth, than if we were to confine ourselves to simple theory.
And first, is it for the king or for the legislative body, to maintain foreign connexions, to watch over the safety of the empire, to make, or order the preparations necessary for its defence ?
Should you determine this first question in favour of the king, and I know not how you can determine it otherwise, without creating in the same kingdom two executive powers, you are by that alone obliged to acknowledge, that, frequently, a first act of hostility shall be repulsed, before the legislative body hath had time to manifest any symptoms, either of approbation or disapprobation. Now, what is such act of hostility, committed and repulsed, but a state of war, if not in will, at least in fact ? I
pause at this first hypothesis, in order to make you sensible of its truth and of its consequences. A squadron is sent out for the protection of our colonies; troops are stationed upon our frontiers. You admit that these preparations, that these means of defence, appertain to the royal authority. Now if that squadron be attacked, if those troops be threatened, will they, ere they defend themselves wait till the legislative body shall have approved or disapproved the war? No undoubtedly. I conclude, from that single circumstance, that war exists, and that the signal for it hath been given by necessity. Hence it arises, that, in almost every case, there can be no room for deliberation, unless in order to determine, whether a first act of hostility shall be followed up with consequences, that is, whether the state of war should be continued. I say in almost every case; in fact, gentlemen, it will never become a question with the French, whose constitution hath so lately refined their ideas of justice, to make or to concert an offensive war, that is, to attack the neighbouring states, when those states give us no cause to complain of them. Upon this supposition, undoubtedly, deliberation should take the lead of preparation : but such a war ought to be considered as a crime, and I intend to make it a subject of an article of decree.
The point, then, under discussion relates only to a defensive war, where the enemy hath committed hostilities; and here we find ourselves in a passive state of war : or where, without hostilities having been as yet commenced, the preparations of the enemy give notice of the intention; and in that case, the peace be. ing, by that single circumstance, disturbed, preparations of defence become on our part, indispensable.
There is a third case; which is, when it is necessary to determine, whether a right contested or usurped shall be resumed, or asserted by force of arms; and I shall not forget to enlarge upon it; but until then I do not see that there can be any occasion for the legis