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Modern History Sourcebook:
Alexander Ledru-Rollin:
Speech to the Electors of Sarthe, 1841

This is an attack on the July Monarchy of Louis Philippe.

Sovereignty of the people---that is the great principle which our fathers proclaimed nearly fifty years ago. Yet what has happened to it? Relegated to the phrases of a constitution, this sovereignty has disappeared in the domain of reality. For our fathers, the people meant the whole nation, in which each man had an equal share in political rights, just as God has given him an equal share in the air and sunlight. Today, "the people" means a herd led by a few privileged persons like you and me, gentlemen, who are called electors, and then by some even more privileged persons who are dignified with the title of deputies. . .

But for us, gentlemen, the people is everything. Our aim is to relieve its poverty and sorrows. What distinguishes the democratic party from all others, I repeat, is that it will always turn from political questions to social advancement. And the first, the most capital reform, gentlemen, is the revision of taxation. The Revolution of 1789 in this, too, proclaimed equality, but practice here gives the lie to theory most cruelly. Taxation, direct or indirect, always weighs heaviest on the poor classes; their assessment and the proportion they bear must be changed. . .

There is another question, gentlemen, which is even more serious, and on which depends the future of modern society. It is the question of wages. Is there a single one of us who, when he goes about our manufacturing cities, our great centers of population, does not feel moved---moved even to tears at the sight of men whose lives know no happiness, who can hardly gain by unremitting toil enough to satisfy their most urgent needs? At the sight of young girls earning six sous a day and forced to turn to cold-blooded and systematic prostitution for the food they cannot earn? At the sight of feeble and emaciated children, doomed to gain, at far too early an age, in work above their strength, the bread their father cannot earn? At the sight of old men, betrayed by advancing age, who can find no place of rest except under the stigma of prison?

Well, gentlemen, in face of these shameful sores of our society, in face of these most legitimate and sacred interests, what has representative government done? . . . . .


From: R. W. Postgate, Revolution from 1789 to 1906, (London: 1920), pp. 187-189.

Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton. Prof. Arkenberg has modernized the text.

This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

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