Paul-Louis Courier

épistolier, pamphlétaire, helléniste
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prec Lettre X Why À Messieurs du conseil de préfecture Suiv
« À Messieurs du conseil de préfecture à Tours »?
(To the Members of the prefecture’s council at Tours)

Understanding the second « Lettre particulière »

T he last Lettre au Censeur, not published, as we said, as a precaution of the newspaper’s two directors, is dated the 10th of April, 1820 (five years to the day before the assassination of its author !).
The reception of his « articles » -- the Lettres au Censeur – further confirmed Courier’s formidable ability for drawing all sorts of opponents to his side.
Giving up while things are going so well seems neither possible nor desirable to him. Back-pedaling or keeping quiet under his tent away from the battlefield is unthinkable for the former horse gunner who, in spite of the contempt he felt for it, had understood the art of military tactics.
The government is afraid. Therefore it takes all precautions to protect itself. The Duke of Berry’s assassination gives it free hand to modify the procedure for the election of deputies so as to assure the victory of the ministerial party. The electoral law of the 29th of June, 1820, holds that, in each departement, the departmental electoral college stands side by side with the electoral colleges of each district. In the 2nd article, it is written in the marvelous language that shows the charm of the French administration, that « The colleges of the departement are formed by the most taxable electors, in a number equal to the quarter of all electors of the departement. The colleges of the departement appoint 172 new deputies (...) They will carry out the nomination of the 1820 session. The nomination of the 258 current deputies is assigned to the electoral colleges of districts to be composed in each departement (…) Each one of these colleges nominates a deputy. They are formed by all electors who have their political residence in any one of the 15 municipalities located in the area of the district. This area will be temporarily determined, for each departement, upon the opinion of the departmental council, by royal edicts ; the edicts will be subject to legislative approval during the following session. One fifth of the current deputies that must be renewed will be nominated by the district colleges... »
This seemingly natural law known as the law of the double vote favours rural nobility supposed to possess sizeable income, and therefore an electoral clientele naturally sympathetic to the government. In order to vote, it is thus necessary to be taxable and to pay at least 1000 francs of direct taxation. Moreover, the voter must have lived at least six months at his actual residence or at his rightful residence among the different municipalities where he pays taxes.
These two conditions, paying taxes and living in the departement, apply to Courier. However, the very activist mayor of Veretz and the prefect of Waters are as thick as thieves and make his way very difficult. Under specious motives, he is denied the right to vote in Touraine. The winegrower answers them with a petition adressed to the departmental councillors who surround the prefect in which he demolishes, point by point, the arguments put forth to deny him the right to vote in Tours. The dishonesty of the administration is so flagrant that he obtains satisfaction with ease. It will be the first and the last time that the administration respects his rights.
He would not come to regret this, and nor would we. The election took place in Tours on the 14th of November, 1820, after every last one of the electors, civil servants, notables had attended the Sunday service in the Tours Cathedral...
Courier will report this electoral episode with boundless irony in his second Lettre particulière dated November 28th after the complaint: « A Messieurs du conseil de préfecture à Tours » (To the gentlemen of the prefecture council of Tours).

Of course, there was reason to be delighted about this farce which took off like a shot on October 25th. That day, like everywhere in France, to make his intentions known, the prefect of the Indre-et-Loire department has put up in Tours and in all of the district capitals a royal declaration which clearly states:

« My fellow Frenchmen,
The situation is serious.
Look near you, all around you, everything will show you your dangers, your needs and your duties. Freedom is preserved only through wisdom and loyalty. Protect the noble office of deputy from the troublemakers, the authors of dissension, the propagators of ingenious mistrusts against my government, my family and myself ; and if they ask you why you push them away, show them this France, so overwhelmed five years ago, now miraculously restored, finally ready to receive the prize of so many sacrifices, to see lower taxes, all state expenses reduced ; tell them it is not when everything flourishes, prospers, grows in your country that you are ready to leave at the mercy of their insane dreams, or to hand over to their perverse purposes, your arts, your industry, the harvests of your fields, the life of your children, the peace of your families, finally a happiness that all the people of the world wish they had... »
With this cheap junk literature, we are far from the warning issued by Winston Churchill to his compatriots in May of 1940, under different conditions for sure : « I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat ».

As for Courier, he offers a high-quality pleasure the likes of which had not been seen since Pascal and Voltaire.


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