William B. Greene, “The Red Republic” (1849)

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This early article by William Batchelder Greene is one of three written for The Worcester Palladium on the topic of plutocracy. It consists of a translation of most of the eighth chapter of Pierre Leroux’s De la ploutocratie, with commentary by Greene.

Wm. B. Greene in “The Worcester Palladium”

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For the Palladium.

The Red Republic.

The French national flag is composes, as every one knows, of three colors, read, white, and blue. These three colors represent the three estates of the former French realm: the white denotes the nobility, with the king at its head; the blue denotes the clergy; and the red denotes the people. According to some, the blue denotes, not the clergy, but the bourgeoisie, that is, the merchants, the master mechanics, &c., in general the class employing labor. The Red Republican party have, since 1780, opposed the tri-color flag, demanding that the red flag should be substituted in its stead: and it is from this fact that the Red Republicans derive their name. They affirm that there ought to be but one estate, the sovereign people, politically recognised in France. They say that if the people are truly sovereign, it is absurd to have any color in the national flag except the one that denotes the people. The red flag is related therefore, not to ideas of blood and of the guillotine, but to the idea of the sovereignty of the people. It is probably that a majority of the peace party in France, are red republicans.

Guizot, the prime minister of Louis Philippe, was opposed, not only to the red flag, but to the idea which it represents: he was opposed to the sovereignty of the people, and it was for this reason that the nation drove him, in February, 1848, from the soil of France. Some time since, a book was published, dedicated to M. Guizot, from which we make an extract, to show the tendency of Guizot’s political views. The following passage occurs in the dedication: “I dedicate this book to you as to the prince of the historians of our age. You will recognize in it the trace of your principles, and the fruit of your advice, if I have been able to understand the first, and profit by the last.” The author here affirms, by implication, that his book was written under the personal influence of M. Guizot. But let us come to the book itself.

The author says: “We will not waste our time upon the sense which the word proletary derives from its Latin etymology. Proletarius denoted something appropriate to the particular constitution of Rome. The word proletary denotes, in our ideas, something which is common to all societies. Thus there are, for example, among all the modern nations of Europe, and there were among all the ancient nations of Europe, certain families and individuals forming the basest portion, the lowest stratum, of society. Ordinarily, these families and individuals live by the painful and daily labor of their hands. The wages of the day is all they can count upon for the morrow; and landed property, if they ever obtain it, is for them much less the rule than the exception. These men, who are not landed proprietors, who have never been landed proprietors, to whom we dare not promise that the ever will be; these poor, obscure men, without fortune transmitted from father to son, and for whom all domestic traditions are reduced to the permanent necessity of earning daily their daily bread, these men are the Proletaries, and the condition to which they belong, is the Proletariat. This being stated, let us see what the proletariat contains: 1st, laborers; 2d, beggars; 3d, thieves; 4th, prostitutes. For a working man is a proletary who labors, and lives on his wages. A beggar is a proletary who either cannot or will not work, and who begs for a living. A thief is a proletary who will neither work nor beg, and who steals for a living. A public woman is a proletary who will neither work, beg, nor steal, and who prostitutes herself for a living. The absence of all acquired property, of all fortune saved up, is therefore, as we have said, that which constitutes the Proletariat; and the necessity which persons are under when they possess nothing but natural bodies, either to work, to beg, to steal, or to prostitute themselves for a living, naturally divides the proletaries themselves into four great classes, which are those we have stated; classes in which they are distributed according to their education, their character, they physical and moral force; according to the particular condition of the families to which they belong; according to the general conditions of the society which surrounds them; sometimes according to their faults, sometimes according to the faults of others; often according to chance.”

A famous French democrat—we know not whether to call him a red republic, or a socialist—comments on the forgoing passage as follows: “To say the least, some depth and accuracy of insight are shown by this author, who states the distinction between the Proletary and the true Proprietor as it ought to be stated. It is, says he, the absence of acquired fortune, of property laid up, which constitutes the Proletariat. Whoever lives upon wages, or would be forced by his natural condition to live upon wages, if he did not substitute begging, theft, or prostitution in the place of labor, is a proletary. He is a proletary who is under the necessity of earning his daily bread. All families and individual who live by daily and painful labor, and for whom the wages of the day is all they can count on or the morrow, are to be classed in the same general division called proletariat, in distinction from the condition of those who are not dependent on wages, and who live on acquired fortune, or property laid up. The Proletariat is equivalent, therefore, according to this writer, to labor, to wages, in like manner as the contrary of the Proletariat, or Property, is equivalent to interest, to dividends, revenue, the fruit of capital. A thief steals a sum of money, but he remains, nevertheless, a proletary, because this sum does not constitute a sufficient capital, and he will be obliged to return tomorrow to his guilty trade. A prostitute, although lodged at the Chaussie d’Antin, and furnished like a duchess, is still for you a proletary. So be it. The proletariat acknowledges that it comprehends the beggars, thieves, and prostitutes. But—noble writer, filled with contempt for your poor brothers who are degraded by misery! you have made herein no wonderful discovery. Open the Gospel, and you will find that while Jesus anathematised the scribe and Pharisee, he cast out neither the beggar, the thief, nor the prostitute. Jesus said to the chief priests, and to the elders of the people, “Verily I say unto you that the Publicans and the Harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.” And it was the penitent thief who led the way to the Celestial City, going side by side with the Master through the gates of Paradise.”

We hope we have succeeded in removing some prejudices attached to a name which is very innocent in itself: and we think the reader is now convinced that the appearance of the red republicans (a party acknowledging the sovereignty of the people, and the dogma of human equality) upon the scene of political action, was not altogether uncalled for by the circumstances of the times.


Omega, “The Red Republic,” The Worcester Palladium 16 no. 44 (October 31, 1849): 3.


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Independent scholar, translator and archivist.