The Clergy as a Target: A Political Problem

Camille Desmoulins, an influential populist writer, here attacks the distinction between "active" and "passive" citizenry based on personal wealth, by pointing out that Christ himself would have been relegated to "passive" citizenry. Desmoulins holds the clergy responsible for this undemocratic policy, charging that the 300 representatives of the clergy in the National Assembly, as well as those from the nobility, should have only a "consultative" vote and that any laws passed with the votes of these deputies should be disregarded by all patriots.


You pitiful priests, you villainous and stupid clowns, do you not see that your God would not have been eligible [to vote?] Jesus-Christ, who you make to be God incarnate, would have been among the scum under the law you yourself have just helped to pass. How can we respect you, preachers of a proletarian God, who is not even an active citizen! You should respect the poverty that Christ himself ennobled. . . . The true active citizens are those who captured the Bastille, those who cleared the fields while the feeble clergy and the Court, despite their immense wealth, acted like plants. . . .

Despite the most profound respect for the holy decrees of the National Assembly . . . I do not consider this law [on citizenship] to be a valid decree. As I have written repeatedly, there are in the National Assembly 600 members [i.e., noble and clerical deputies] who have no more right to vote on laws than I do. Certainly the clergy and the nobility should have the same number of representatives as the rest of the Nation, that is one for each 20,000. Yet the nobles and the clergy number 300,000 individuals and thus should choose 15 representatives from among their 600. The rest should be sent to the observation galleries with only a consultative vote.

It is from among these 600 that the majority of votes to pass the decree on silver currency came [and the law on citizenship]. . . . So these decrees should be ignored, because the minority [i.e., the First and Second Estates] became the majority in these cases, . . . so it is right to say that the Decree that should be obeyed is that which was rejected [against the silver currency and against passive citizenship]!

Source: Les Révolutions de France et de Brabant (12 December 1789), 109–12.