THE THREE ALDERMEN.
A DEMONSTRATION IN FOUR TABLEAUX.
[The scene is in the hotel of Alderman
Pierre. The window looks out on a fine park;
three persons are seated near a good fire.]
Pierre. Upon my word, a fire
is very comfortable when the stomach is satisfied.
It must be agreed that it is a pleasant thing.
But, alas! how many worthy people like the King of
“Blow on their fingers for
want of wood.”
Unhappy creatures, Heaven inspires
me with a charitable thought. You see these fine
trees. I will cut them down and distribute the
wood among the poor.
Paul and Jean. What! gratis?
Pierre. Not exactly. There
would soon be an end of my good works if I scattered
my property thus. I think that my park is worth
twenty thousand livres; by cutting it down I shall
get much more for it.
Paul. A mistake. Your
wood as it stands is worth more than that in the neighboring
forests, for it renders services which that cannot
give. When cut down it will, like that, be good
for burning only, and will not be worth a sou more
Pierre. Oh! Mr. Theorist,
you forget that I am a practical man. I supposed
that my reputation as a speculator was well enough
established to put me above any charge of stupidity.
Do you think that I shall amuse myself by selling
my wood at the price of other wood?
Paul. You must.
Pierre. Simpleton! Suppose
I prevent the bringing of any wood to Paris?
Paul. That will alter the case.
But how will you manage it?
Pierre. This is the whole secret.
You know that wood pays an entrance duty of ten sous
per cord. To-morrow I will induce the Aldermen
to raise this duty to one hundred, two hundred, or
three hundred livres, so high as to keep out every
fagot. Well, do you see? If the good
people do not want to die of cold, they must come
to my wood-yard. They will fight for my wood;
I shall sell it for its weight in gold, and this well-regulated
deed of charity will enable me to do others of the
Paul. This is a fine idea,
and it suggests an equally good one to me.
Jean. Well, what is it?
Paul. How do you find this Normandy butter?
Paul. Well, it seemed
passable a moment ago. But do you not think it
is a little strong? I want to make a better article
at Paris. I will have four or five hundred cows,
and I will distribute milk, butter and cheese to the
Pierre and Jean. What! as a charity?
Paul. Bah, let us always put
charity in the foreground. It is such a fine
thing that its counterfeit even is an excellent card.
I will give my butter to the people and they will
give me their money. Is that called selling?
Jean. No, according to the
Bourgeois Gentilhomme; but call it what you
please, you ruin yourself. Can Paris compete with
Normandy in raising cows?
Paul. I shall save the cost of transportation.
Jean. Very well; but the Normans
are able to beat the Parisians, even if they
do have to pay for transportation.
Paul. Do you call it beating
any one to furnish him things at a low price?
Jean. It is the time-honored
word. You will always be beaten.
Paul. Yes; like Don Quixote.
The blows will fall on Sancho. Jean, my friend,
you forgot the octroi.
Jean. The octroi!
What has that to do with your butter?
Paul. To-morrow I will demand
protection, and I will induce the Council to
prohibit the butter of Normandy and Brittany.
The people must do without butter, or buy mine, and
that at my price, too.
Jean. Gentlemen, your philanthropy
carries me along with it. “In time one
learns to howl with the wolves.” It shall
not be said that I am an unworthy Alderman. Pierre,
this sparkling fire has illumined your soul; Paul,
this butter has given an impulse to your understanding,
and I perceive that this piece of salt pork stimulates
my intelligence. To-morrow I will vote myself,
and make others vote, for the exclusion of hogs, dead
or alive; this done, I will build superb stock-yards
in the middle of Paris “for the unclean animal
forbidden to the Hebrews.” I will become
swineherd and pork-seller, and we shall see how the
good people of Lutetia can help getting their food
at my shop.
Pierre. Gently, my friends;
if you thus run up the price of butter and salt meat,
you diminish the profit which I expected from my wood.
Paul. Nor is my speculation
so wonderful, if you ruin me with your fuel and your
Jean. What shall I gain by
making you pay an extra price for my sausages, if
you overcharge me for pastry and fagots?
Pierre. Do you not see that
we are getting into a quarrel? Let us rather
unite. Let us make reciprocal concessions.
Besides, it is not well to listen only to miserable
self-interest. Humanity is concerned, and must
not the warming of the people be secured?
Paul. That it is true, and
people must have butter to spread on their bread.
Jean. Certainly. And they
must have a bit of pork for their soup.
All Together. Forward, charity!
Long live philanthropy! To-morrow, to-morrow,
we will take the octroi by assault.
Pierre. Ah, I forgot.
One word more which is important. My friends,
in this selfish age people are suspicious, and the
purest intentions are often misconstrued. Paul,
you plead for wood; Jean, defend butter;
and I will devote myself to domestic swine.
It is best to head off invidious suspicions. Paul
and Jean (leaving). Upon my word, what a
The Common Council.
Paul. My dear colleagues, every
day great quantities of wood come into Paris, and
draw out of it large sums of money. If this goes
on, we shall all be ruined in three years, and what
will become of the poor people? [Bravo.] Let us prohibit
foreign wood. I am not speaking for myself, for
you could not make a tooth-pick out of all the wood
I own. I am, therefore, perfectly disinterested.
[Good, good.] But here is Pierre, who has a park,
and he will keep our fellow-citizens from freezing.
They will no longer be in a state of dependence
on the charcoal dealers of the Yonne. Have you
ever thought of the risk we run of dying of cold, if
the proprietors of these foreign forests should take
it into their heads not to bring any more wood to
Paris? Let us, therefore, prohibit wood.
By this means we shall stop the drain of specie, we
shall start the wood-chopping business, and open to
our workmen a new source of labor and wages. [Applause.]
Jean. I second the motion of
the Honorable member a proposition so philanthropic
and so disinterested, as he remarked. It is time
that we should stop this intolerable freedom of
entry, which has brought a ruinous competition
upon our market, so that there is not a province tolerably
well situated for producing some one article which
does not inundate us with it, sell it to us at a low
price, and depress Parisian labor. It is the
business of the State to equalize the conditions
of production by wisely graduated duties; to allow
the entrance from without of whatever is dearer there
than at Paris, and thus relieve us from an unequal
contest. How, for instance, can they expect
us to make milk and butter in Paris as against Brittany
and Normandy? Think, gentlemen; the Bretons
have land cheaper, feed more convenient, and labor
more abundant. Does not common sense say that
the conditions must be equalized by a protecting duty?
I ask that the duty on milk and butter be raised to
a thousand per cent., and more, if necessary.
The breakfasts of the people will cost a little more,
but wages will rise! We shall see the building
of stables and dairies, a good trade in churns, and
the foundation of new industries laid. I, myself,
have not the least interest in this plan. I am
not a cowherd, nor do I desire to become one.
I am moved by the single desire to be useful to the
laboring classes. [Expressions of approbation.]
Pierre. I am happy to see in
this assembly statesmen so pure, enlightened, and
devoted to the interests of the people. [Cheers.] I
admire their self-denial, and cannot do better than
follow such noble examples. I support their motion,
and I also make one to exclude Poitou hogs. It
is not that I want to become a swineherd or pork dealer,
in which case my conscience would forbid my making
this motion; but is it not shameful, gentlemen, that
we should be paying tribute to these poor Poitevin
peasants who have the audacity to come into our own
market, take possession of a business that we could
have carried on ourselves, and, after having inundated
us with sausages and hams, take from us, perhaps,
nothing in return? Anyhow, who says that the balance
of trade is not in their favor, and that we are not
compelled to pay them a tribute in money? Is
it not plain that if this Poitevin industry were planted
in Paris, it would open new fields to Parisian labor?
Moreover, gentlemen, is it not very likely, as Mr.
Lestiboudois said, that we buy these Poitevin salted
meats, not with our income, but our capital? Where
will this land us? Let us not allow greedy, avaricious
and perfidious rivals to come here and sell things
cheaply, thus making it impossible for us to produce
them ourselves. Aldermen, Paris has given us its
confidence, and we must show ourselves worthy of it.
The people are without labor, and we must create it,
and if salted meat costs them a little more, we shall,
at least, have the consciousness that we have sacrificed
our interests to those of the masses, as every good
Alderman ought to do. [Thunders of applause.]
A Voice. I hear much said of
the poor people; but, under the pretext of giving
them labor, you begin by taking away from them that
which is worth more than labor itself wood,
butter, and soup.
Pierre, Paul and Jean. Vote,
vote. Away with your theorists and generalizers!
Let us vote. [The three motions are carried.]
Twenty Years After.
Son. Father, decide; we must
leave Paris. Work is slack, and everything is
Father. My son, you do not
know how hard it is to leave the place where we were
Son. The worst of all things is to die there
Father. Go, my son, and seek
a more hospitable country. For myself, I will
not leave the grave where your mother, sisters and
brothers lie. I am eager to find, at last, near
them, the rest which is denied me in this city of
Son. Courage, dear father,
we will find work elsewhere in Poitou,
Normandy or Brittany. They say that the industry
of Paris is gradually transferring itself to those
Father. It is very natural.
Unable to sell us wood and food, they stopped producing
more than they needed for themselves, and they devoted
their spare time and capital to making those things
which we formerly furnished them.
Son. Just as at Paris, they
quit making handsome furniture and fine clothes, in
order to plant trees, and raise hogs and cows.
Though quite young, I have seen vast storehouses,
sumptuous buildings, and quays thronged with life
on those banks of the Seine which are now given up
to meadows and forests.
Father. While the provinces
are filling up with cities, Paris becomes country.
What a frightful revolution! Three mistaken Aldermen,
aided by public ignorance, have brought down on us
this terrible calamity.
Son. Tell me this story, my father.
Father. It is very simple.
Under the pretext of establishing three new trades
at Paris, and of thus supplying labor to the workmen,
these men secured the prohibition of wood, butter,
and meats. They assumed the right of supplying
their fellow-citizens with them. These articles
rose immediately to an exorbitant price. Nobody
made enough to buy them, and the few who could procure
them by using up all they made were unable to buy
anything else; consequently all branches of industry
stopped at once all the more so because
the provinces no longer offered a market. Misery,
death, and emigration began to depopulate Paris.
Son. When will this stop?
Father. When Paris has become a meadow and
Son. The three Aldermen must have made a great
Father. At first they made
immense profits, but at length they were involved
in the common misery.
Son. How was that possible?
Father. You see this ruin;
it was a magnificent house, surrounded by a fine park.
If Paris had kept on advancing, Master Pierre would
have got more rent from it annually than the whole
thing is now worth to him.
Son. How can that be, since he got rid of competition?
Father. Competition in selling
has disappeared; but competition in buying also disappears
every day, and will keep on disappearing until Paris
is an open field, and Master Pierre’s woodland
will be worth no more than an equal number of acres
in the forest of Bondy. Thus, a monopoly, like
every species of injustice, brings its own punishment
Son. This does not seem very
plain to me, but the decay of Paris is undeniable.
Is there, then, no means of repealing this unjust measure
that Pierre and his colleagues adopted twenty years
Father. I will confide my secret
to you. I will remain at Paris for this purpose;
I will call the people to my aid. It depends on
them whether they will replace the octroi on
its old basis, and dismiss from it this fatal principle,
which is grafted on it, and has grown there like a
Son. You ought to succeed on the very first
Father. No; on the contrary,
the work is a difficult and laborious one. Pierre,
Paul and Jean understand one another perfectly.
They are ready to do anything rather than allow the
entrance of wood, butter and meat into Paris.
They even have on their side the people, who clearly
see the labor which these three protected branches
of business give, who know how many wood-choppers
and cow-drivers it gives employment to, but who cannot
obtain so clear an idea of the labor that would spring
up in the free air of liberty.
Son. If this is all that is
needed, you will enlighten them.
Father. My child, at your age,
one doubts at nothing. If I wrote, the people
would not read; for all their time is occupied in supporting
a wretched existence. If I speak, the Aldermen
will shut my mouth. The people will, therefore,
remain long in their fatal error; political parties,
which build their hopes on their passions, attempt
to play upon their prejudices, rather than to dispel
them. I shall then have to deal with the powers
that be the people and the parties.
I see that a storm will burst on the head of the audacious
person who dares to rise against an iniquity which
is so firmly rooted in the country.
Son. You will have justice and truth on your
Father. And they will have
force and calumny. If I were only young!
But age and suffering have exhausted my strength.
Son. Well, father, devote all
that you have left to the service of the country.
Begin this work of emancipation, and leave to me for
an inheritance the task of finishing it.
Jacques Bonhomme. Parisians,
let us demand the reform of the octroi; let
it be put back to what it was. Let every citizen
be FREE to buy wood, butter and meat where it seems
good to him.
The People. Hurrah for LIBERTY!
Pierre. Parisians, do not allow
yourselves to be seduced by these words. Of what
avail is the freedom of purchasing, if you have not
the means? and how can you have the means, if labor
is wanting? Can Paris produce wood as cheaply
as the forest of Bondy, or meat at as low price as
Poitou, or butter as easily as Normandy? If you
open the doors to these rival products, what will
become of the wood cutters, pork dealers, and cattle
drivers? They cannot do without protection.
The People.. Hurrah for PROTECTION!
Jacques. Protection! But
do they protect you, workmen? Do not you compete
with one another? Let the wood dealers then suffer
competition in their turn. They have no right
to raise the price of their wood by law, unless they,
also, by law, raise wages. Do you not still love
The People. Hurrah for EQUALITY!
Pierre. Do not listen to this
factious fellow. We have raised the price of
wood, meat, and butter, it is true; but it is in order
that we may give good wages to the workmen. We
are moved by charity.
The People. Hurrah for CHARITY!
Jacques. Use the octroi,
if you can, to raise wages, or do not use it to raise
the price of commodities. The Parisians do not
ask for charity, but justice.
The People. Hurrah for JUSTICE!
Pierre. It is precisely the
dearness of products which will, by reflex action,
The People. Hurrah for DEARNESS!
Jacques. If butter is dear,
it is not because you pay workmen well; it is not
even that you may make great profits; it is only because
Paris is ill situated for this business, and because
you desired that they should do in the city what ought
to be done in the country, and in the country what
was done in the city. The people have no more
labor, only they labor at something else. They
get no more wages, but they do not buy things
The People. Hurrah for CHEAPNESS!
Pierre. This person seduces
you with his fine words. Let us state the question
plainly. Is it not true that if we admit butter,
wood, and meat, we shall be inundated with them, and
die of a plethora? There is, then, no other way
in which we can preserve ourselves from this new inundation,
than to shut the door, and we can keep up the price
of things only by causing scarcity artificially.
A Very Few Voices. Hurrah for SCARCITY!
Jacques. Let us state the question
as it is. Among all the Parisians we can divide
only what is in Paris; the less wood, butter and meat
there is, the smaller each one’s share will be.
There will be less if we exclude than if we admit.
Parisians, individual abundance can exist only where
there is general abundance.
The People. Hurrah for ABUNDANCE!
Pierre. No matter what this
man says, he cannot prove to you that it is to your
interest to submit to unbridled competition.
The People. Down with COMPETITION!
Jacques. Despite all this man’s
declamation, he cannot make you enjoy the sweets
The People. Down with RESTRICTION!
Pierre. I declare to you that
if the poor dealers in cattle and hogs are deprived
of their livelihood, if they are sacrificed to theories,
I will not be answerable for public order. Workmen,
distrust this man. He is an agent of perfidious
Normandy; he is under the pay of foreigners.
He is a traitor, and must be hanged. [The people keep
Jacques. Parisians, all that
I say now, I said to you twenty years ago, when it
occurred to Pierre to use the octroi for his
gain and your loss. I am not an agent of Normandy.
Hang me if you will, but this will not prevent oppression
from being oppression. Friends, you must kill
neither Jacques nor Pierre, but liberty if it frightens
you, or restriction if it hurts you.
The People. Let us hang nobody,
but let us emancipate everybody.