Stephen Imbeau

This time it’s history, not travel.

Back to the French Revolution and the temporary but tragic loss of long-established Western freedoms and jurisprudence, particularly the legal construct of presumed innocence.

Since Roman times, most of the ancient world influenced by Rome, including Europe, the Middle East and north Africa, has clung tightly to the legal concept of presumed innocence, which basically means that an accused person has the right to fair trial by judge or jury of their peers and is presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The accused individual starts out innocent.

Aside from an even older Hebrew culture all the way back to about 1600 BC, such a concept was a novel idea in the ancient world before Rome. Even though the concept was commonplace to the ancient Romans, we attribute its first codification to Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian in about 529 AD with further emphasis in Muslim Sharia Law (Prophet Mohammed, about 650 AD), English Common Law (from 1066 AD), the U.S. Constitution (about 1788) and in modern times, the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.

The U.N. Declaration is particularly important, since it is supported by the whole world, not just Muslims and the West. It says: “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he/she has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense.”

Without presumed innocence, society falls into decay and destruction. Presumed innocence prevents the government (the state), a powerful gang, a king, a dictator, a rich or powerful individual, a jealous neighbor or jilted lover from claiming a false crime against you, and then summarily slurring or imprisoning or executing you, no questions asked.

Without presumed innocence, you ARE guilty just because you are charged. No confirmatory evidence is needed. As several modern American politicians have said: “Just because we can’t prove it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” or, “She said it; therefore, I believe it.” And so ends presumed innocence in the United States.

And thus, back to France. France had a rich history of presumed innocence until the time of Louis XIV, who abridged it. France suffered at least twice from its loss of presumed influence, first from the nobles and then as the Jacobin party swept aside the monarchy to seize power in the French Revolution.

The Jacobins themselves fell into an era without presumed innocence, called the Reign of Terror led by Maximilien Robespierre. Ironically, Robespierre himself fell to the terror.

The French Revolution, of course, had many causes, but one of them was mistreatment of the workers/peasants by the ruling nobility. The famous novel, “A Tale of Two Cities” (Charles Dickens, 1859), perfectly captures the mood of the time: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Dr. Monett was imprisoned for 18 years on the charge of treason, without a shred of evidence and without even a sham trial, because he had been forced to attend to delivery of the bastard noble family children, born of peasant women, and forced to attend to otherwise damaged or injured workers (one girl was run over by a careless, probably drunk family coachman).

Dr. Monett was imprisoned to get him out of the way, when he tried to bring the nobles to justice in Paris. Ironically, Monett’s daughter married the nephew of the offender, and the noble nephew, in turn, was rescued from the guillotine by a look-alike, possibly one of his family’s bastard children, escaping to England, where the nephew could look after the broken and destroyed Dr. Monett.

Another famous novel, “Darkness at Noon” (Arthur Koestler, 1940), portrays Rubashov, a Russian Revolution Bolshevik, also accused of treason by Joseph Stalin as Stalin swept aside potential Communist Party opponents from power, by false show trials and speedy executions.

As former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden likes to say, “Look, here’s the deal. …” When a culture loses the legal concept of presumed innocence, all hell breaks loose. Consider the numbers, just in recent history. The Ottoman Empire, despite Sharia Law, approximately 2 million Armenians were killed. The Salem witch trials, 200 arrested and 25 killed. The French Revolution, an estimated 40,000 were killed. The Holocaust, roughly 26 million were killed, including 6 million Jews. And the Stalin purges, about 23 million were killed, including 200,000 Jews.

And why are the victims accused? Well, now it’s often about sexual misconduct, perceived racism or political jealousy.

In the past, ethnic cleansing was part of the accusation argument, too: “We must get rid of those deplorables.” The Salem witch trials are instructive as to devious human motive for false accusations: gullible teenagers, stilted suitors and greedy businessmen (wanting more land). Without presumed innocence, the most base of human motives can overthrow good, innocent people, even millions of them.

Sad to note, but in many of the hells noted above, the folks not accused would shake their heads and mutter, “They deserve what they are getting; they are guilty, even without evidence.” Unfortunately, many French applauded each fall of the guillotine’s blade.

Pray that we here in America maintain our rich history and culture of presumed innocence.

And may we continue to uphold our Constitution and its amendments that ensure presumed innocence, although the concept is not in the original, un-amended U.S. Constitution document.

But the Declaration of Independence (1776) does state in one of the complaints against King George III of England, “For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury.” The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1791): “… nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. …”

The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1866): “… No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. …”

Amen.

Subscribe to Daily Headlines

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Dr. Stephen Imbeau and his wife, Shirley, have been in Florence for more than 30 years and raised their three children here. He and Dr. Joseph Moyer started the Allergy Center about 21 years ago, and it is now one of the largest in South Carolina. Contact him at citizencolumnist@florencenews.com.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.