Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


A word which always gives an idea of liberty in whatever sense it is taken; a word derived from the Franks, who were always free. It is so ancient, that when the Cid besieged and took Toledo, in the eleventh century, franchies or franchises were given to all the French who went on this expedition, and who established themselves at Toledo. All walled cities had franchises, liberties, and privileges, even in the greatest anarchy of feudal power. In all countries possessing assemblies or states, the sovereign swore, on his accession, to guard their liberties.

This name, which has been given generally to the rights of the people, to immunities, and to sanctuaries or asylums, has been more particularly applied to the quarters of the ambassadors of the court of Rome. It was a plot of ground around their palaces, which was larger or smaller according to the will of the ambassador. The ground was an asylum for criminals, who could not be there pursued. This franchise was restricted, under Innocent XI. to the inside of their palaces. Churches and convents had the same privileges in Italy, but not in other states. There are in Paris several places of sanctuary, in which debtors cannot be seized for their debts by common justice, and where mechanics can pursue their trades without being freemen. Mechanics have this privilege in the Faubourg St. Antoine, but it is not an asylum like the Temple.

The word “franchise,” which usually expresses the liberties of a nation, city, or person, is sometimes used to signify liberty of speech, of counsel, or of a law proceeding; but there is a great difference between speaking with frankness and speaking with liberty. In a speech to a superior, liberty is a studied or excessive boldness — frankness outstepping its just bounds. To speak with liberty is to speak without fear; to speak with frankness is to conduct yourself openly and nobly. To speak with too much liberty is to become audacious; to speak with too much frankness is to be too open-hearted.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01