Mirabeau on the National Assembly (1790)

In April 1790, Honore Mirabeau delivered this speech and responded to public criticism that the National Assembly had exceeded its authority:

“It is with difficulty, gentlemen, that I repress an emotion of indignation when I hear hostile speakers continually oppose the National Assembly and endeavour to excite a sort of rivalry between them. As if it were not through the National Assembly that the nation had recognized, recovered, re-conquered its rights! As if it were not through the National Assembly that the French had, in truth, become a nation! As if, surrounded by the monuments of our labours, our dangers, our services, we could become suspected by the people who are always protective of their liberty… As if the gratitude of so many millions… were not a sufficient guarantee of your fidelity, of your patriotism, of your virtue!

Commissioned to form a constitution for France, I will not ask whether, with that authority, we did not receive also the power to do all that was necessary to complete, establish and confirm the constitution… But if gentlemen insist on demanding when and how from simple deputies we were transformed into a National Assembly, I reply: it was on that day, when, finding the hall where we were to assemble closed, and bristling and polluted with bayonets, we resorted to the first place, where we could reunite, to swear to perish rather than submit to such order of things!

That day we became one for the destruction of arbitrary power and for the defence of the rights of the nation from all violence. The strivings of despotism, which we have quelled; the perils, which we have averted; the violence, which we have repressed… these are our titles! Our successes have consecrated them… Summoned to its task by the irresistible tocsin of necessity, our National Assembly is above all imitation, as it is above all authority. It is accountable only to itself and can be judged only by posterity.

Gentlemen, you all remember the instance of that Roman who, to save his country from a dangerous conspiracy, had been constrained to overstep the powers conferred on him by the law. A captious tribune challenged from him the oath that he had respected those laws… “Swear,” said the tribune “that you have observed the laws.” “I swear,” replied the great man – “I swear I have saved the Republic.” Gentlemen, I swear that you have saved France!”