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Georg Forster, "On the Relationship of the People of Mainz to the Franks," delivered to the Society of the Friends of the People in Mainz (November 15, 1792)

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At the time when France still stood under the whip of its despots and their cunning tools, it was the model after which all cabinets formed themselves! At that time, princes and noblemen found nothing as honorable as disavowing their mother tongue in order to pronounce bad French even more poorly. But look! The Franks break their chains, they are free — and suddenly the disgusting taste of the lisping and slurring aristocrat changes; the language of free men wounds his tongue, and he would like to convince us that he is a German through and through, and that he is even ashamed of the French language, so that in the end he can introduce his wish that we not imitate the French.

Away with these insidious, weak intuitions! What is true, remains true, in Mainz as in Paris, no matter where or in what language it is said. Somewhere the good must first see the light of day, and then spread over the entire Earth. A Mainzer invented the printing press, and why couldn't a Frank invent the freedom of the eighteenth century? Fellow citizens, prove it out loud that the victory call of this freedom also sounds fearsome to the servants in the German dialect; declare it to them, that they must learn Russian, if they do not want to hear and speak the speech of free men — what do I say? No! Thunder in their ears, that soon one will be able to hear all the thousand languages of the Earth only from the mouths of free people and that nothing will be left for the slaves, once they have renounced rationality, except to take their refuge in barking.

How? The follies and vices of the neighbors, when they were still misled by their tyrants, were imposed upon the Germans through a ridiculous and blameworthy desire to imitate, and one did not shame oneself to lead the people with a disgusting example; now that we could have wisdom, virtue, and happiness — in short, freedom and equality — from their hands, one wants to warn us of the Frankish example? Who does not see through this poor, impotent trick of the dying aristocracy?

The aristocracy always divides humanity; they always sow conflict and hatred to establish their rule more securely. Now, in their fallen condition, they still spread among the people fictitious reports, libelous accusations, treacherous suspicions, empty threats, and a thousand scares in order to win time to bog us down in inactivity, to bring forth tepidness and numbness, and to clear the way to tyranny again. Only the spirit of our society, which everywhere has been a victorious opponent of every scheming craving to rule, will also express its irresistible influence inside our walls, and will destroy their plans. We oppose their efforts to divide us with a close, loyal, brotherly bond. If they want to dampen the desire for freedom and inhibit all movements among us, well! So our basic law is agitation, motion, and action; we kindle the sacred flame, we urge on to reach the great goal, we do not rest until freedom and equality are recognized as the irrevocable principles of human happiness, we exert the strengths which were so long restrained to secure for ourselves possession of the inestimable good which was bestowed upon us without the stroke of a sword through the arrival of our brothers the Franks.

Source: Georg Forster, Sämtliche Werke [Collected Works], edited by G. G. Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1843, Volume VI, pp. 414-17.

Reprinted in Jost Hermand, ed., Von deutscher Republik 1775-1795. Texte radikaler Demokraten [Of the German Republic 1775-1795. Texts by Radical Democrats]. © Insel Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1968, pp. 148-52.

Translation: Ben Marschke

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