GHDI logo

Friedrich Cotta, On the Constitution in France (ca. 1793)

page 2 of 3    print version    return to list previous document      next document

Liberty is the right to do whatever is not forbidden. In France, however, only that is forbidden which every reasonable person would prohibit to himself, namely, what would hurt someone else. Those things that hurt others are prohibited by law; in France, however, the laws are not made by a king or elector or a magistracy, but by the nation itself; for it elects men from all provinces or departements to a national convention or assembly, and these men have to study which laws are necessary to promote the general welfare. These laws are then written down and are the expression of the general will of the people. Equality is the right to demand of others that they must do what one must do oneself, and not do what one is not allowed to do oneself. That is why in France everyone can say, write, and print what he wishes, as long as he does not insult anyone by doing so. Moreover, because of equality, everyone in France must pay dues according to his income, everyone must subordinate himself to the laws, regardless of whether he is a cleric or layman, rich or poor.

Other than the dues to the people itself, one pays no other ones to a nobleman or a cathedral chapter, no tithe or the like. In France, abandoned children are raised at the expense of the republic.

The infirm poor are supported there, and the poor without employ are helped to earn an adequate living. In France they are also building schools to which every citizen can send his children free of charge, and where they can learn everything a person needs to know.

In a word: in France, everything has been abolished that in other countries and cities still goes against freedom and against the equality of the laws; by contrast, in France, every effort is made so that all people may live contentedly and happily.

That is also the goal of the following, special institutions for which the constitution of France is notable.

All of France is divided into certain regions, called departements, and these in turn are divided into districts in such a way that every citizen can reach the chief town of his district in one day, and the main town of the departement in at most two days on foot. In the main town of the departement live those who look after the common weal of the entire departement, and who must keep watch over the officials of the districts within it, so they will do what they are supposed to; they are called departement administrators. In the main town of the districts are likewise the district administrators who are placed over the municipalities. For in each community there are a few officials who look after the common weal of the community; they are called the municipality, but the first among them is also referred to as the mayor of the community. But in matters that are of particular concern to the entire community, the municipality may not act on its own, but must ask the committee of the citizens, called notables to do so. All these departement administrators, district administrators, mayors, municipalities, notables, as well as judges, postal officials, and in general all officials are elected by the citizens whom they serve; if they fail to do their duty, they are dismissed by their superiors, and the citizens elect themselves new ones.

first page < previous   |   next > last page