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PART THE THIRD - Alexis de Tocqueville, The Recollections of Alexis de Tocqueville 
The Recollections of Alexis de Tocqueville, edited by the Comte de Tocqueville and now first translated into English by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos. With a portrait in Heliogravure (New York: Macmillan, 1896).
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PART THE THIRD
MY TERM OF OFFICE
This part was commenced at Versailles on the 16th of September 1851, during the prorogation of the National Assembly.
To come at once to this part of my recollections, I pass over the previous period, which extends from the end of the days of June 1848 to the 3rd of June 1849. I will return to it later if I have time. I have thought it more important, while my recollections are still fresh in my mind, to recall the five months during which I was a member of the Government.
MY RETURN TO FRANCE—FORMATION OF THE CABINET.
While I was thus occupied in witnessing upon the private stage of Germany one act of the great drama of the European Revolution, my attention was suddenly drawn towards France and fixed upon our affairs by unexpected and alarming news. I heard of the almost incredible check received by our army beneath the walls of Rome, the violent debates which followed in the Constituent Assembly, the excitement produced throughout the country by these two causes, and lastly, the General Election, whose result deceived the expectations of both parties and brought over one hundred and fifty Montagnards into the new Assembly. However, the demagogic wind which had suddenly blown over a part of France had not prevailed in the Department of la Manche. All the former members for the department who had separated from the Conservative Party in the Assembly had gone under in the scrutin. Of thirteen representatives only four had survived; as for me, I had received more votes than all the others, although I was absent and silent, and although I had openly voted for Cavaignac in the previous month of December. Nevertheless, I was almost unanimously elected, less because of my opinions than of the great personal consideration which I enjoyed outside politics, an honourable position no doubt, but difficult to retain in the midst of parties, and destined to become very precarious on the day when the latter should themselves become exclusive as they became violent.
I set out as soon as I received this news. At Bonn a sudden indisposition obliged Madame de Tocqueville to stop. She herself urged me to leave her and to continue my journey, and I did so, although with regret; for I was leaving her alone in a country still agitated by civil war; and moreover, it is in moments of difficulty or peril that her courage and her great sense are so helpful to me.
I arrived in Paris, if I am not mistaken, on the 25th of May 1849, four days before the meeting of the Legislative, and during the last convulsions of the Constituent, Assembly. A few weeks had sufficed to make the aspect of the political world entirely unrecognizable, owing less to the changes which had taken place in outside facts, than to the prodigious revolution which had in a few days taken place in men’s minds.
The party which was in power at my departure was so still, and the material result of the elections should, I thought, have strengthened its hands. This party, composed of so many different parties, and wishing either to stop or drive back the Revolution, had obtained an enormous majority in the electoral colleges, and would command more than two-thirds of the new Assembly. Nevertheless, I found it seized with so profound a terror that I can only compare it with that which followed February: so true is it that in politics one must argue as in war, and never forget that the effect of events should be measured less by what they are in themselves than by the impressions they give.
The Conservatives, who for six months had seen all the bye-elections invariably turning to their advantage, who filled and dominated almost all the local councils, had placed an almost unlimited confidence in the system of universal suffrage, after professing unbounded distrust of it. In the General Election which was just decided, they had expected not only to conquer but to annihilate, so to speak, their adversaries, and they were as much cast down at not attaining the absolute triumph which they had dreamt of as though they had really been beaten. On the other hand, the Montagnards, who had thought themselves lost, were as intoxicated with joy and mad audacity as though the elections had assured them a majority in the new Assembly. Why had the event thus at the same time deceived the hopes and fears of both parties? It is difficult to say for certain, for great masses of men move by virtue of causes almost as unknown to humanity itself as those which rule the movements of the sea. In both cases the reasons of the phenomenon are concealed and, in a sense, lost in the midst of its immensity.
We are, at any rate, entitled to believe that the Conservatives owed their rebuff mainly to the faults which they themselves committed. Their intolerance, when they thought their triumph assured, of those who, without sharing their ideas, had assisted them in fighting the Montagnards; the violent administration of the new Minister of the Interior, M. Faucher; and more than all, the poor success of the Roman expedition prejudiced against them a portion of the people who were naturally disposed to follow them, and threw these into the arms of the agitators.
One hundred and fifty Montagnards, as I said, had been elected. A part of the peasantry and the majority of the army had voted for them: it was the two anchors of mercy which had snapped in the midst of the tempest. Terror was universal: it taught anew to the various monarchical parties the tolerance and modesty which they had practised immediately after February, but which they had to a great extent forgotten during the past six months. It was recognized on every hand that there could no longer be any question, for the present, of emerging from the Republic, and that all that remained to be done was to oppose the moderate Republicans to the Montagnards.
The same ministers whom they had created and instigated they now accused, and a modification of the Cabinet was loudly demanded. The Cabinet itself saw that it was insufficient, and implored to be replaced. At the time of my departure I had seen the committee of the Rue de Poitiers refuse to admit the name of M. Dufaure to its lists; I now saw every glance directed towards M. Dufaure and his friends, who were called upon in the most pathetic manner to take office and save society.
On the night of my arrival, I heard that some of my friends were dining together at a little restaurant in the Champs-Elysées. I hastened to join them, and found Dufaure, Lanjuinais, Beaumont, Corcelles, Vivien, Lamoricière, Bedeau, and one or two more whose names are not so well known. I was informed in a few words of the position of affairs. Barrot, who had been invited by the President to form a cabinet, had for some days been exhausting himself in vain efforts to do so. M. Thiers, M. Molé and the more important of their friends had refused to undertake the government. They had made up their minds, nevertheless, as will be seen, to remain its masters, but without becoming ministers. The uncertainty of the future, the general instability, the difficulties and perhaps the dangers of the moment kept them aloof. They were eager enough for power, but not for responsibility. Barrot, repulsed on that side, had come to us. He asked us, or rather he besought us, to become his colleagues. But which among us to choose? What ministries to allot to us? What colleagues to give us? What general policy to adopt? From all these questions had arisen difficulties in execution which, till then, seemed insurmountable. Already, more than once, Barrot had returned towards the natural chiefs of the majority; and repelled by them, had fallen back upon us.
Time passed amid these sterile labours; the dangers and difficulties increased; the news became each day more alarming, and the Ministry were liable at any moment to be impeached by the dying but furious Assembly.
I returned home greatly preoccupied, as will be believed, by what I had heard. I was convinced that it only depended upon the wishes of myself and my friends to become ministers. We were the necessary and obvious men. I knew the leaders of the majority well enough to be sure that they would never commit themselves to taking charge of affairs under a government which seemed to them so ephemeral, and that, even if they had the disinterestedness, they would not have the courage to do so. Their pride and their timidity assured me of their abstention. It was enough for us, therefore, to stand firm on our ground to compel them to come and fetch us. But ought we to wish to become ministers? I asked myself this very seriously. I think I may do myself the justice to say that I did not indulge in the smallest illusion respecting the true difficulties of the enterprise, and that I looked upon the future with a clearness of view which we rarely possess except when we consider the past.
Everybody expected to see fighting in the streets. I myself regarded it as imminent; the furious audacity which the result of the elections had imparted to the Mountain and the opportunity afforded to it by the Rome affair seemed to make an event of this kind inevitable. I was not, however, very anxious about the issue. I was convinced that, although the majority of the soldiers had voted for the Mountain, the army would fight against it without hesitation. The soldier who individually votes for a candidate at an election and the soldier acting under pressure of esprit de corps and military discipline are two different men. The thoughts of the one do not regulate the actions of the other. The Paris garrison was very numerous, well commanded, experienced in street warfare, and still filled with the memory of the passions and examples which had been left to it by the days of June. I therefore felt certain of victory. But I was very anxious as to the eventual results of this victory: what seemed to others the end of the difficulties I regarded as their commencement. I considered them almost insurmountable, as I believe they really were.
In whichever direction I looked, I saw no solid or lasting stand-point for us.
Public opinion looked to us, but it would have been unsafe to rely upon it for support; fear drove the country in our direction, but its memories, its secret instincts, its passions could scarcely fail soon to withdraw it from us, so soon as the fear should have vanished. Our object was, if possible, to found the Republic, or at least to maintain it for some time, by governing it in a regular, moderate, conservative, and absolutely constitutional way; and this could not allow us to remain popular for long, since everybody wanted to evade the Constitution. The Mountain wanted more, the Monarchists much less.
In the Assembly it was much worse still. The same general causes were aggravated by a thousand accidents arising from the interests and vanities of the party leaders. The latter were quite content to allow us to assume the government, but we must not expect them to allow us to govern. So soon as the crisis was passed, we might expect every sort of ambush on their part.
As to the President, I did not know him yet, but it was evident that we could not rely upon him to support us in his Council, except where the jealousy and hatred were concerned with which our common adversaries inspired him. His sympathies must always lie in an opposite direction; for our views were not only different, but naturally opposed to one another. We wanted to make the Republic live: he longed for its inheritance. We only supplied him with ministers where he wanted accomplices.
To these difficulties, which were in a sense inherent to the situation and consequently permanent, were added passing ones which it was not at all easy to surmount: the revolutionary agitation revived in part of the country; the spirit and habits of exclusion spread and already rooted in the public administration; the Roman expedition, so badly conceived and so badly conducted that it was now as difficult to bring it to an end as to get out of it; in fact, the whole legacy of mistakes committed by our predecessors.
There were reasons enough for hesitation; and yet I did not hesitate. The idea of taking a post from which fear kept so many people off, and of relieving society from the bad pass in which it had been involved, flattered at the same time my sense of honour and my pride. I was quite aware that I should only be passing through power, and that I should not stay there; but I hoped to stay long enough to be able to render some signal service to my country and to raise myself. This was enough to attract me.
I at once took three resolutions:
First, not to refuse office if an opportunity offered;
Second, only to enter the Government together with my principal friends, directing the principal offices, so that we might always remain the masters of the Cabinet;
Third and last, to behave every day when in office as though I was to be out of it the next day, that is to say, without ever subordinating to the necessity of maintaining my position that of remaining true to myself.
The next five or six days were wholly taken up in fruitless endeavours to form a ministry. The attempts made were so numerous, so overlapping, so full of small incidents—great events of one day forgotten the next—that I find it difficult to retrace them in my memory, in spite of the prominent part which I myself played in some of them. The problem was undoubtedly a difficult one to solve under its given conditions. The President was willing enough to change the appearance of his ministry, but he was determined to retain in it the men whom he considered his principal friends. The leaders of the Monarchical parties refused themselves to take the responsibility of government; but they were not willing either that it should be entrusted entirely to men over whom they had no hold. If they consented to admit us, it was only in a very small number and in second-rate offices. We were looked upon as a necessary but disagreeable remedy, which it was preferable only to administer in very small doses.
Dufaure was first asked to join alone, and to be satisfied with the Public Works. He refused, demanded the Interior, and two other offices for his friends. After much difficulty they agreed to give him the Interior, but they refused the rest. I have reason to believe that he was at one time on the point of accepting this proposal and of again leaving me in the lurch, as he had done six months ago. Not that he was treacherous or indifferent in his friendships; but the sight of this important office almost within reach, which he could honestly accept, possessed a strange attraction for him. It did not precisely cause him to abandon his friends, but it distracted his thoughts from them, and made him ready to forget them. He was firm, however, this time; and not being able to get him by himself, they offered to take me with him. I was most in view at that time, because the new Legislative Assembly had just elected me one of its vice-presidents.1 But what office to give me? I only thought myself fit to fill the Ministry of Public Instruction. Unfortunately that was in the hands of M. de Falloux, an indispensable man, whom it was equally important to the Legitimists to retain, of whom he was one of the leaders; to the religious party, who saw in him a protector; and finally to the President, of whom he had become the friend. I was offered Agriculture, and refused it. At last, in despair, Barrot came and asked me to accept the Foreign Office. I myself had made great efforts to persuade M. de Rémusat to accept this office, and what happened on this occasion between him and me is so characteristic that it is worthy of being retold. I was very anxious that M. de Rémusat should join the ministry with us. He was at once a friend of M. Thiers and a man of honour, a rather unusual combination; he alone was able to assure us, if not the support, at least the neutrality of that statesman, without infesting us with his spirit. Overcome by the insistency of Barrot and the rest of us, Rémusat one evening yielded. He had pledged us his word, but the next morning he came to withdraw it. I knew for certain that he had seen M. Thiers in the interval, and he confessed to me himself that M. Thiers, who was then loudly proclaiming the necessity of our accepting office, had dissuaded him from joining us. “I fully saw,” he said, “that to become your colleague would not be to give you his assistance, but only to expose myself to be quarrelling with him before long.” Those were the sort of men we had to deal with.
I had never thought of the Foreign Office, and my first impulse was to refuse it. I thought myself unsuited to fill an office for which nothing had prepared me. Among my papers I have found a trace of these hesitations, in the notes of a conversation which took place at a dinner which some of my friends and I had at that time. . . .
I decided at last, however, to accept the Foreign Office, but I made it a condition that Lanjuinais should enter the Council at the same time as myself. I had many very strong reasons for acting as I did. In the first place, I thought that three ministers were indispensable to us in order to acquire the preponderance in the Cabinet which we needed in order to do any good. I thought, moreover, that Lanjuinais would be very useful to keep Dufaure himself within the lines I wished to follow. I did not consider myself to have enough hold over him. Above all, I wanted to have near me a friend with whom I could talk openly of all things: a great advantage at any time, but especially in such times of suspicion and variableness as ours, and for a work as hazardous as that which I was undertaking.
From all these different points of view Lanjuinais suited me admirably, although we were of very dissimilar natures. His humour was as calm and placid as mine was restless and anxious. He was methodical, slow, indolent, prudent, and even overscrupulous, and he was very backward to enter upon any undertaking; but having once entered upon it he never drew back, and showed himself until the end as resolved and stubborn as a Breton of the true stamp. He was very slow in giving his opinion, and very explicit, and even candid to the verge of rudeness, when he did give it. One could not expect from his friendship either enthusiasm, ardour, or abandon; on the other hand, one need not dread either faint-heartedness, treachery, or after-thoughts. In short, he was a very safe associate, and taken all round, the most honourable man I ever met in public life. Of all of us, it was he who seemed to me least to mix his private or interested views with his love of the public good.
No one objected to the name of Lanjuinais; but the difficulty was to find him a portfolio. I asked for him that of Commerce and Agriculture, which had been held since the 20th of December by Buffel, a friend of Falloux. The latter refused to let his colleague go; I insisted; and the new Cabinet, which was almost complete, remained for twenty-four hours as though dissolved. To conquer my resolution, Falloux attempted a direct measure: he came to my house, where I lay confined to my bed, urged me, begged me to give up Lanjuinais and to leave his friend Buffel at the Ministry of Agriculture. I had made up my mind, and I closed my ears. Falloux was vexed, but retained his self-control and rose to go. I thought everything had gone wrong: on the contrary, everything had gone right.
“You are determined,” he said, with that aristocratic good grace with which he was able to cover all his feelings, even the bitterest; “you are determined, and so I must yield. It shall not be said that a private consideration has, at so difficult and critical a period, made me break off so necessary a combination. I shall remain alone in the midst of you. But I hope you will not forget that I shall be not only your colleague but your prisoner!”
One hour later the Cabinet was formed,1 and Dufaure, who told me of it, invited me to take immediate possession of the Foreign Office.
Thus was born this Ministry which was so painfully and slowly formed and which was destined to have so short an existence. During the long childbirth that preceded it, the man who was at the greatest trouble in France was certainly Barrot: his sincere love for the public weal inclined him to desire a change of cabinet, and his ambition, which was more intimately and narrowly bound up with his honesty than might have been believed, made him long with unequalled ardour to remain at the head of the new Cabinet. He therefore went incessantly to and fro from one to the other, addressing very pathetic and sometimes very eloquent objurations to every one, now turning to the leaders of the majority, now to us, now again to the new Republicans, whom he regarded as more moderate than the others. And for that matter, he was equally inclined to carry either one or the other with him; for in politics he was incapable of either hatred or friendship. His heart is an evaporating vase, in which nothing remains.
ASPECT OF THE CABINET—ITS FIRST ACTS UNTIL AFTER THE INSURRECTIONARY ATTEMPTS OF THE 13TH OF JUNE.
The ministry was composed as follows:
Dufaure, Lanjuinais and I were the only new ministers; all the others had belonged to the previous Cabinet.
Passy was a man of real merit, but not of a very attractive merit. His mind was narrow, maladroit, provoking, disparaging and ingenious rather than just. Nevertheless, he was more inclined to be just when it was really necessary to act than when it was only a question of talking; for he was more fond of paradox than liable to put it into practice. I never knew a greater talker, nor one who so easily consoled himself for troublesome events by explaining the causes which had produced them and the consequences likely to ensue. When he had finished drawing the most sombre picture of the state of affairs, he concluded with a smiling and placid air, saying, “So that there is practically no means of saving ourselves, and we have only to look forward to the total overthrow of Society.” In other respects he was a cultured and experienced minister; his courage and honesty were proof against everything; and he was as incapable of vacillation as of treachery. His ideas, his feelings, his former intimacy with Dufaure and, above all, his eager animosity against Thiers made us certain of him.
Rulhière would have belonged to the monarchic and ultra-conservative party if he had belonged to any, and especially if Changarnier had not been in the world; but he was a soldier who only thought of remaining Minister for War. We perceived at the first glance his extreme jealousy of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army in Paris; and the intimacy between the latter and the leaders of the majority, and his influence over the President, obliged Rulhière to throw himself into our arms, and forcibly drove him to depend upon us.
Tracy had by nature a weak character, which was, as it were, enclosed and confined in the very precise and systematic theories which he owed to the ideological education he had received from his father.1 But, in the end, contact with every-day events and the shock of revolutions had worn out this rigid envelope, and all that remained was a wavering intelligence and a sluggish, but always honest and kindly, heart.
Lacrosse was a poor devil whose private affairs were more or less involved. The chances of the Revolution had driven him into office from an obscure corner of the Opposition, and he never grew weary of the delight of being a minister. He gladly leant upon us, but he endeavoured at the same time to make sure of the good-will of the President of the Republic by rendering him all sorts of little services and small compliments. To tell the truth, it would have been difficult for him to recommend himself in any other way, for he was a rare nonentity, and understood nothing about anything. We were reproached for taking office in company with such incapable ministers as Tracy and Lacrosse, and not without justice, for it was a great cause of ruin: not only because they did their work badly, but because their notorious insufficiency kept their succession always open, so to speak, and created a sort of permanent ministerial crisis.
As to Barrot, he adhered naturally to us from feeling and ideas. His old liberal associations, his republican tastes, his Opposition memories attached him to us. Had he been differently connected, he might have become, however regretfully, our adversary; but, having him once among us, we were sure of him.
Of all the Ministry, therefore, only Falloux was a stranger to us by his starting-point, his engagements, and his inclinations. He alone represented the leaders of the majority on the Council, or rather he seemed to represent them, for in reality, as I will explain later, he represented, besides himself, nothing but the Church. This isolated position, together with the secret aims of his policy, drove him to seek support beyond us; he strove to establish it in the Assembly and with the President, but discreetly and cleverly, as he did everything.
Thus constituted, the Cabinet had one great weakness: it was about to govern with the aid of a composite majority, without itself being a coalition ministry. But, on the other hand, it possessed the very great strength which ministers derive from uniform origin, identical instincts, old bonds of friendship, mutual confidence, and common ends.
I shall doubtless be asked what these ends were, where we were going, what we wanted. We live in times so uncertain and so obscure that I should hesitate to reply to that question in the name of my colleagues; but I will readily reply for myself. I did not believe then, any more than I do now, that the republican form of government is the best suited to the needs of France. What I mean when I say the republican form of government, is the elective Executive Power. With a people among whom habit, tradition, custom have assured so great a place to the Executive Power, its instability will always be, in periods of excitement, a cause of revolution, and in peaceful times, a cause of great uneasiness. Moreover, I have always considered the Republic an ill-balanced form of government, which always promised more, but gave less, liberty than the Constitutional Monarchy. And yet I sincerely wished to maintain the Republic; and although there were, so to speak, no Republicans in France, I did not look upon the maintenance of it as absolutely impossible.
I wished to maintain it because I saw nothing ready or fit to set in its place. The old Dynasty was profoundly antipathetic to the majority of the country. Amid this flagging of all political passion, which was the result of the fatigue of the revolutions and their vain promises, one genuine passion remained alive in France: hatred of the Ancien Régime and mistrust of the old privileged classes who represented it in the eyes of the people. This sentiment passes through revolutions without dissolving in them, like the water of those marvellous fountains which, according to the ancients, passed across the waves of the sea without mixing with or disappearing in them. As to the Orleans Dynasty, the experience the people had had of it did not particularly incline them to return to it so soon. It was bound once more to throw into Opposition all the upper classes and the clergy, and to separate itself from the people, as it had done before, leaving the cares and profits of government to those same middle classes whom I had already seen during eighteen years so inadequate for the good government of France. Moreover, nothing was ready for its triumph.
Louis Napoleon alone was ready to take the place of the Republic, because he already held the power in his hands. But what could come of his success, except a bastard Monarchy, despised by the enlightened classes, hostile to liberty, governed by intriguers, adventurers, and valets?
The Republic was doubtless difficult to maintain; for those who favoured it were, for the most part, incapable or unworthy of governing it, while those who were fit to conduct it detested it. But it was also rather difficult to pull down. The hatred borne for it was an easy-going hatred, as were all the passions which the country then entertained. Besides, the Government was found fault with, but no other was loved in its place. Three parties, mutually irreconcilable, more hostile to one another than either of them was to the Republic, contended with each other for the future. As to a majority, there was no such thing.
I thought, therefore, that the Government of the Republic, having existence in its favour, and having no adversaries except minorities difficult to coalesce, would be able to maintain its position amid the inertia of the masses, if it was conducted with moderation and wisdom. For this reason, I was resolved not to lend myself to any steps that might be taken against it, but rather to defend it. Almost all the members of the Council thought as I did. Dufaure believed more than I did in the soundness of republican institutions and in their future. Barrot was less inclined than I to keep them always respected; but we all wished at the present time firmly to maintain them. This common resolution was our political bond and standard.
So soon as the Ministry was formed, it repaired to the President of the Republic to hold a Council. It was the first time I had come into contact with him. I had only seen him at a distance at the time of the Constituent Assembly. He received us with politeness. It was all we could expect from him, for Dufaure had acted vigorously against him, and had spoken almost outrageously of his candidature no longer than six months ago, while both Lanjuinais and myself had openly voted for his opponent.
Louis Napoleon plays so great a part in the rest of my narrative that he seems to me to deserve a special portrait amid the host of contemporaries of whom I have been content to sketch the features. Of all his ministers, and perhaps of all the men who refused to take part in his conspiracy against the Republic, I was the one who was most advanced in his good graces, who saw him closest, and who was best able to judge him.
He was vastly superior to what his preceding career and his mad enterprises might very properly have led one to believe of him. This was my first impression on conversing with him. In this respect he deceived his adversaries, and perhaps still more his friends, if this term can be applied to the politicians who patronized his candidature. The greater part of these, in fact, elected him, not because of his merits, but because of his presumed mediocrity. They expected to find in him an instrument which they could handle as they pleased, and which it would always be lawful for them to break when they wished to. In this they were greatly deceived.
As a private individual, Louis Napoleon possessed certain attractive qualities: an easy and kindly humour, a mind which was gentle, and even tender, without being delicate, great confidence in his intercourse, perfect simplicity, a certain personal modesty amidst the immense pride derived from his origin. He was capable of showing affection, and able to inspire it in those who approached him. His conversation was brief and unsuggestive. He had not the art of drawing others out or of establishing intimate relations with them; nor any facility in expressing his views. He had the writer’s habit, and a certain amount of the author’s self-love. His dissimulation, which was the deep dissimulation of a man who has spent his life in plots, was assisted in a remarkable way by the immobility of his features and his want of expression: for his eyes were dull and opaque, like the thick glass used to light the cabins of ships, which admits the light but cannot be seen through. Careless of danger, he possessed a fine, cool courage in days of crisis; and at the same time—a common thing enough—he was very vacillating in his plans. He was often seen to change his direction, to advance, hesitate, draw back, to his great detriment: for the nation had chosen him in order to dare all things, and what it expected from him was audacity and not prudence. It was said that he had always been greatly addicted to pleasures, and not very dainty in his choice of them. This passion for vulgar enjoyment and this taste for luxury had increased still more with the facilities offered by his position. Each day he wore out his energy in indulgence, and deadened and degraded even his ambition. His intelligence was incoherent, confused, filled with great but ill-assorted thoughts, which he borrowed now from the examples of Napoleon, now from socialistic theories, sometimes from recollections of England, where he had lived: very different, and often very contrary, sources. These he had laboriously collected in his solitary meditations, far removed from the contact of men and facts, for he was naturally a dreamer and a visionary. But when he was forced to emerge from these vague, vast regions in order to confine his mind to the limits of a piece of business, it showed itself to be capable of justice, sometimes of subtlety and compass, and even of a certain depth, but never sure, and always prepared to place a grotesque idea by the side of a correct one.
Generally, it was difficult to come into long and very close contact with him without discovering a little vein of madness running through his better sense, the sight of which always recalled the escapades of his youth, and served to explain them.
It may be admitted, for that matter, that it was his madness rather than his reason which, thanks to circumstances, caused his success and his force: for the world is a strange theatre. There are moments in it when the worst plays are those which succeed best. If Louis Napoleon had been a wise man, or a man of genius, he would never have become President of the Republic.
He trusted in his star; he firmly believed himself to be the instrument of destiny and the necessary man. I have always believed that he was really convinced of his right, and I doubt whether Charles X. was ever more infatuated with his legitimism than he with his. Moreover, he was quite as incapable of alleging a reason for his faith; for, although he had a sort of abstract adoration for the people, he had very little taste for liberty. The characteristic and fundamental feature of his mind in political matters was his hatred of and contempt for assemblies. The rule of the Constitutional Monarchy seemed to him even more insupportable than that of the Republic. His unlimited pride in the name he bore, which willingly bowed before the nation, revolted at the idea of yielding to the influence of a parliament.
Before attaining power he had had time to strengthen his natural taste for the footman class, which is always displayed by mediocre princes, by the habits of twenty years of conspiracy spent amid low-class adventurers, men of ruined fortunes or blemished reputations, and young debauchees, the only persons who, during all this time, could have consented to serve him as go-betweens or accomplices. He himself, in spite of his good manners, allowed a glimpse to pierce through of the adventurer and the prince of fortune. He continued to take pleasure in this inferior company after he was no longer obliged to live in it. I believe that his difficulty in expressing his thoughts otherwise than in writing attached him to people who had long been familiar with his current of thought and with his dreamings, and that his inferiority in conversation rendered him generally averse to contact with clever men. Moreover, he desired above all things to meet with devotion to his person and his cause, as though his person and his cause were such as to be able to arouse devotion: merit annoyed him when it displayed ever so little independence. He wanted believers in his star, and vulgar worshippers of his fortune.
This was the man whom the need of a chief and the power of a memory had placed at the head of France, and with whom we would have to govern.
It would be difficult to imagine a more critical moment in which to assume the direction of affairs. The Constituent Assembly, before ending its turbulent existence, had passed a resolution, on the 7th of June 1849, prohibiting the Government from attacking Rome. The first thing I learnt on entering the Cabinet was that the order to attack Rome had been sent to the army three days before. This flagrant disobedience of the injunctions of a sovereign Assembly, this war undertaken against a people in revolution, because of its revolution, and in defiance of the terms of the Constitution which commanded us to respect all foreign nationalities, made inevitable and brought nearer the conflict which we dreaded. What would be the issue of this new struggle? All the letters from prefects of departments that were laid before us, all the police reports that reached us were calculated to throw us into great alarm. I had seen, at the end of the Cavaignac Administration, how a government can be supported in its visionary hopes by the self-interested complaisance of its agents. This time I saw, and much more closely, how these same agents can work to increase the terror of those who employ them: contrary effects produced by the same cause. Each one of them, judging that we were uneasy, wished to signalize himself by the discovery of new plots, and in his turn to supply us with some fresh indication of the conspiracy which threatened us. The more they believed in our success, the more readily they talked to us of our danger. For it is one of the dangerous characteristics of this sort of information, that it becomes rarer and less explicit in the measure that the peril increases and the need for information becomes greater. The agents in that case, doubting the duration of the government which employs them, and already fearing its successor, either scarcely speak at all or keep absolute silence. But now they made a great noise. To listen to them, it was impossible not to think that we were on the edge of an abyss, and yet I did not believe a word of it. I was quite convinced then, as I have been ever since, that official correspondence and police reports, which may be useful for purposes of consultation when there is question of discovering a particular plot, only serve to give exaggerated and incomplete and invariably false notions when one wishes to judge or foresee great movements of parties. In a matter of this kind, it is the aspect of the whole country, the knowledge of its needs, its passions and its ideas, that can instruct us, general data which one can procure for one’s self, and which are never supplied by even the best placed and best accredited agents.
The sight of these general facts had led me to believe that at this moment no armed revolution was to be feared: but a combat was; and the expectation of civil war is always cruel, especially when it comes in time to join its fury to that of pestilence. Paris was at that time ravaged by cholera. Death struck at all ranks. Already a large number of members of the Constituent Assembly had succumbed; and Bugeaud, whom Africa had spared, was dying.
Had I entertained a moment’s doubt as to the imminence of the crisis, the aspect alone of the new Assembly would have clearly announced it to me. It is not too much to say that one breathed the atmosphere of civil war in its midst. The speeches were short, the gestures violent, the words extravagant, the insults outrageous and direct. We met for the present in the old Chamber of Deputies. This room, built for 460 members, had difficulty in containing 750. The members, therefore, sat touching, while detesting, each other; they pressed one against the other in spite of the hatred which divided them; the discomfort increased their anger. It was a duel in a barrel. How would the Montagnards be able to restrain themselves? They saw that they were sufficiently numerous to entitle them to believe themselves very strong in the country and in the army. Yet they remained too weak in Parliament to hope to prevail or even to count there. They were offered a fine occasion of resorting to force. All Europe, which was still in commotion, might with one great blow, struck in Paris, be thrown into revolution anew. This was more than was necessary for men of such savage temper.
It was easy to foresee that the movement would burst forth at the moment when it should become known that the order had been given to attack Rome and that the attack had taken place. And this was what in fact occurred.
The order given had remained secret. But on the 10th of June, the report of the first combat became current.
On the 11th, the Mountain burst into furious speech. Ledru-Rollin made an appeal from the tribune for civil war, saying that the Constitution had been violated and that he and his friends were ready to defend it by every method, including that of arms. The indictment was demanded of the President of the Republic and of the preceding Cabinet.
On the 12th, the Committee of the Assembly, instructed to examine the question raised the day before, rejected the impeachment and called upon the Assembly to pronounce, where it sat, upon the fate of the President and Ministers. The Mountain opposed this immediate discussion and demanded that documents should be laid before it. What was its object in thus postponing the debate? It was difficult to say. Did it hope that this delay would complete the general irritation, or did it in its heart of hearts wish to give it time to calm down? One thing is certain, that its principal leaders, those who were more accustomed to speaking than to fighting, and who were passionate rather than resolute, displayed that day, amid all the intemperance of their language, a sort of hesitation of which they had given no sign the day before. After half drawing the sword from the scabbard, they appeared to wish to replace it; but it was too late, the signal had been observed by their friends outside, and thenceforward they no longer led, but were led in their turn.
During these two days, my position was most cruel. As I have already stated, I disapproved entirely of the manner in which the Roman expedition had been undertaken and conducted. Before joining the Cabinet, I had solemnly declared to Barrot that I declined to take any responsibility except for the future, and that he must himself be prepared to defend what had up to that time been done in Italy. I had only accepted office on this condition. I therefore kept silent during the discussion on the 11th, and allowed Barrot to bear the brunt of the battle alone. But when, on the 12th, I saw my colleagues threatened with an impeachment, I considered that I could no longer abstain. The demand for fresh documents gave me an opportunity to intervene, without having to express an opinion upon the original question. I did so vigorously, although in very few words.
On reading over this little speech in the Moniteur, I cannot but think it very insignificant and badly turned. Nevertheless, I was applauded to the echo by the majority, because in moments of crisis, when one is in danger of civil war, it is the movement of thought and the accent of one’s words which make an impression, rather than their value. I directly attacked Ledru-Rollin. I accused him with violence of only wanting troubles and of spreading lies in order to create them. The feeling which impelled me to speak was an energetic one, the tone was determined and aggressive, and although I spoke very badly, being as yet unaccustomed to my new part, I met with much favour.
Ledru replied to me, and told the majority that they were on the side of the Cossacks. They answered that he was on the side of the plunderers and the incendiaries. Thiers, commenting on this thought, said that there was an intimate relation between the man they had just listened to and the insurgents of June. The Assembly rejected the demand for an impeachment by a large majority, and broke up.
Although the leaders of the Mountain continued to be outrageous, they had not shown any great firmness, so that we were able to flatter ourselves that the decisive moment for the struggle had not yet arrived. But this was a mistake. The reports which we received during the night told us that the people were preparing to take up arms.
On the next day, in fact, the language of the demagogic papers proclaimed that the editors no longer relied upon justice, but upon a revolution, to acquit them. All of them called either directly or indirectly for civil war. The National Guard, the schools, the entire population was summoned by them to repair, unarmed, to a certain locality, in order to go and present themselves in mass before the doors of the Assembly. It was a 23rd of June which they wished to commence with a 15th of May; and, in fact, seven or eight thousand people did meet at about eleven o’clock at the Château-d’Eau. We on our side held a Council under the President of the Republic. The latter was already in uniform, and prepared to go out on horseback so soon as he should be told that the fighting had commenced. For the rest, he had changed nothing except his clothes. He was exactly the same man as on the day before: the same rather dejected air, his speech no less slow and no less embarrassed, his eye no less dull. He showed none of that sort of warlike excitement and of rather feverish gaiety which the approach of danger so often gives: an attitude which is perhaps, after all, no more than the sign of a mind disturbed.
We sent for Changarnier, who explained his preparations to us, and guaranteed a victory. Dufaure communicated to us the reports he had received, all of which told of a formidable insurrection. He then left for the Ministry of the Interior, which was the centre of action, and at about mid-day I repaired to the Assembly.
The House was some time before it met, because the President, without consulting us, had declared, when arranging the Order of the Day on the evening before, that there would be no public sitting on the next day, a strange blunder which would have looked like treachery in anyone else. While messengers were being despatched to inform the members at their own houses, I went to see the President of the Assembly in his private room: most of the leaders of the majority were there before me. Every face bore traces of excitement and anxiety; the contest was both feared and demanded. They began by vehemently accusing the Ministry of slackness. Thiers, lying back in a big arm-chair, with his legs crossed one over the other, sat rubbing his stomach (for he felt certain symptoms of the prevailing epidemic), loudly and angrily exclaiming, in his shrillest falsetto, that it was very strange that no one seemed to think of declaring Paris in a state of siege. I replied gently that we had thought of it, but that the moment had not yet come to do so, since the Assembly had not yet met.
The members arrived from every side, attracted less by the messages despatched to them, which most of them had not even received, than by the rumours prevalent in the town. The sitting was opened at two o’clock. The benches of the majority were well filled, but the top of the Mountain was deserted. The gloomy silence which reigned in this part of the House was more alarming than the shouts which came from that quarter as a rule. It was a proof that discussion had ceased, and that the civil war was about to commence.
At three o’clock, Dufaure came and asked that the state of siege should be proclaimed in Paris. Cavaignac seconded him in one of those short addresses which he sometimes delivered, and in which his mind, which was naturally middling and confused reached the level of his soul and approached the sublime. Under these circumstances he became, for a moment, the man of the most genuine eloquence that I have ever heard speak in our Assemblies: he left all the mere orators far behind him.
“You have just said,” he exclaimed, addressing the Montagnard1 who was leaving the tribune, “that I have fallen from power. That is not true: I retired voluntarily. The national will does not overthrow; it commands, and we obey. I add—and I want the republican party always to be able to say so with justice: I retired voluntarily, and, in so doing, my conduct did honour to my republican convictions. You said that we lived in terror: history is observing us, and will pronounce when the time comes. But what I say to you myself is this, that although you have not succeeded in inspiring me with a feeling of terror, you have inspired me with a feeling of profound sorrow. Shall I tell you one thing more? You are Republicans of long standing; whereas I have not worked for the Republic before its foundation, I have not suffered for it, and I regret that this is so; but I have served it faithfully, and I have done more: I have governed it. I shall serve nothing else, understand me well! Write it down, take it down in shorthand, so that it may remain engraved upon the annals of our deliberations: I shall serve nothing else! Between you and me, I take it, it is a question as to which of us will serve the Republic best. Well then, my regret is, that you have served it very badly. I hope, for the sake of my country, that it is not destined to fall; but if we should be condemned to undergo so great a blow, remember—remember distinctly—that we shall accuse your exaggerations and your fury as being the cause of it.”
Shortly after the state of siege had been proclaimed, we learnt that the insurrection had been extinguished. Changarnier and the President, charging at the head of the cavalry, had cut in two and dispersed the column which was making its way towards the Assembly. A few newly-erected barricades had been destroyed, without striking a blow. The Montagnards, surrounded in the Conservatoire of Arts and Crafts, which they had turned into their head-quarters, had either been arrested or taken to flight. We were the masters of Paris.
The same movement took place in several of the large towns, with more vigour but no less success. At Lyons, the fighting lasted stubbornly for five hours, and the victory was for a moment in doubt. But for that matter, when we were once victorious in Paris, we distressed ourselves very little about the provinces; for we knew that in France, in matters both of order and of disorder, Paris lays down the law.
Thus ended the second Insurrection of June, very different to the first by the extent of its violence and its duration, but similar in the causes which led to its failure. At the time of the first, the people, carried away less by their opinions than by their appetites, had fought alone, without being able to attract their representatives to their head. This time the representatives had been unable to induce the people to follow them into battle. In June 1848, the army had no leaders; in June 1849, the leaders had no army.
They were singular personages, those Montagnards: their quarrelsome nature and their self-conceit were displayed even in measures which least allowed of it. Among those who, in their newspapers and in their own persons, had spoken most violently in favour of civil war, and who had done the most to cover us with insults, was Considérant, the pupil and successor of Fourier, and the author of so many socialistic dreams which would only have been ridiculous at any other time, but which were dangerous in ours. Considérant succeeded in escaping with Ledru-Rollin from the Conservatoire, and in reaching the Belgian frontier. I had formerly had social relations with him, and when he arrived in Brussels, he wrote to me:
“My dear Tocqueville,
(Here followed a request for a service which he asked me to do for him, and then he went on):
“Rely upon me at all times for any personal service. You are good for two or three months perhaps, and the pure Whites who will follow you are good for six months at the longest. You will both of you, it is true, have well deserved what is infallibly bound to happen to you a little sooner or a little later. But let us talk no more politics and respect the very legal, very loyal, and very Odilon Barrotesque state of siege.”
To this I replied:
“My dear Considérant,
“I have done what you ask. I do not wish to take advantage of so small a service, but I am very pleased to ascertain, by the way, that those odious oppressors of liberty, the Ministers, inspire their adversaries with so much confidence that the latter, after outlawing them, do not hesitate to apply to them to obtain what is just. This proves that there is some good left in us, whatever may be said of us. Are you quite sure that if the position had been inverted, I should have been able to act in the same way, I will not say towards yourself, but towards such and such of your political friends whom I might mention? I think the contrary, and I solemnly declare to you that if ever they become the masters, I shall consider myself quite satisfied if they only leave my head upon my shoulders, and ready to declare that their virtue has surpassed my greatest expectations.”
OUR DOMESTIC POLICY—INTERNAL QUARRELS IN THE CABINET—ITS DIFFICULTIES IN ITS RELATIONS WITH THE MAJORITY AND THE PRESIDENT.
We were victorious, but our real difficulties were only about to commence, and I expected them. I have always held as a maxim, moreover, that it is after a great success that one generally comes across the most dangerous chances of ruin: so long as the peril lasts, one has only his adversaries to deal with, and he triumphs; but after the victory, one begins to have to reckon with himself, his slackness, his pride, the imprudent security inspired by victory, and he succumbs.
I was not exposed to this last danger, for I never imagined that we had surmounted our principal obstacles. I knew that these lay with the very men with whom we would have to govern the country, and that the rapid and signal defeat of the Montagnards, instead of guaranteeing us against the ill-will of the former, would expose us to it without delay. We should have been much stronger if we had not succeeded so well.
The majority consisted in the main, at that time, of three parties (the President’s party in Parliament was as yet too few in number and of too evil repute to count). Sixty to eighty members at the utmost were sincerely with us in our endeavours to found a Moderate Republic, and these formed the only body we could rely upon in that huge Assembly. The remainder of the majority consisted of Legitimists, to the number of some one hundred and sixty, and of old friends or supporters of the Monarchy of July, for the most part representing those middle classes who had governed, and above all exploited, France during eighteen years. I felt at once that of these two parties, that of which we could most easily make use in our plans was the Legitimist party. The Legitimists had been excluded from power under the last government; they therefore had no places and no salaries to regret. Moreover, being for the most part considerable land-owners, they had not the same need of public functions as the middle class; or, at least, custom had not taught them the sweetness of place. Although in principles more irreconcilable to the Republic than the others, they were better able than most to accept its duration, for it had destroyed their destroyer, and had opened up to them a prospect of power; it had served at once their ambition and their desire for revenge; and it only aroused against itself their fear, which was, in truth, very great. The old Conservatives, who formed the bulk of the majority, were much more eager to do away with the Republic; but as the furious hatred which they bore it was strongly held in check by the fear of the risk they would run in endeavouring prematurely to abolish it, and as, moreover, they had long been accustomed to follow in the wake of power, it would have been easy for us to lead them had we been able to obtain the support, or even the mere neutrality of their leaders, of whom the principal were then, as is known, M. Thiers and M. Molé.
Appreciating this position of affairs, I understood that it was necessary to subordinate all secondary objects to the principal end in view, which was to prevent the overthrow of the Republic and especially to hinder the establishment of the bastard monarchy of Louis Napoleon. This was at the time the nearest threatening danger.
I thought first of guaranteeing myself against the mistakes of my friends, for I have always considered as profoundly sensible the old Norman proverb which says, “Lord, preserve me from my friends: I will preserve myself from mine enemies.”
At the head of our adherents in the National Assembly was General Lamoricière, and I greatly dreaded his petulancy, his imprudent observations, and especially his idleness. I endeavoured to appoint him to an important and distant embassy. Russia had spontaneously recognized the new Republic; it was proper that we should resume the diplomatic relations with her which had been almost interrupted under the last Government. I cast my eyes upon Lamoricière in order to entrust him with this extraordinary and distant mission. He was, besides, a man cut out for a post of this kind, in which few but generals, and celebrated generals, succeed. I had some difficulty in persuading him, but the most difficult thing was to persuade the President of the Republic. He at first resisted, and told me on that occasion, with a sort of simplicity which pointed less to candour than to his difficulty in finding words in which to express himself (these very rarely gave utterance to his thoughts, but sometimes permitted them to glimmer through), that he wished to be represented at the principal Courts by ambassadors devoted to himself. This was not my view of the matter; for I, who was called upon to instruct the ambassadors, was quite determined to devote myself only to France. I therefore insisted, but I should have failed if I had not summoned M. de Falloux to my aid. Falloux was the only man in the Ministry in whom the President at that time had confidence. He persuaded him with arguments, of which I do not know the purport, and Lamoricière left for Russia. I shall say later what he did.
His departure reassured me as to the conduct of our friends, and I thought of winning or retaining the necessary allies. Here the task was more difficult on all points; for, outside my own department, I was unable to do anything without the consent of the Cabinet, which contained a number of the most honest minds that one could meet, but so inflexible and narrow in matters of politics, that I have sometimes gone so far as to regret not having rather had to do with intelligent rascals.
As to the Legitimists, my opinion was that they should be allowed to retain great influence in the direction of Public Instruction. This proposal had its drawbacks, but it was the only one which could satisfy them, and which could ensure us their support in return, when it should become a question of restraining the President and preventing him from upsetting the Constitution. This plan was followed. Falloux was given a free hand in his own department, and the Council allowed him to bring before the Assembly the plan of Public Instruction, which since became law on the 15th of March 1850. I also advised my colleagues to all the extent of my power to keep up good relations individually with the principal members of the Legitimist party, and I followed this line of conduct myself. I soon became and remained, of all the members of the Cabinet, the one who lived in the best understanding with them. I even ended by becoming the sole intermediary between them and ourselves.
It is true that my birth and the society in which I had been brought up gave me great facilities for this which the others did not possess; for, although the French nobility have ceased to be a class, they have yet remained a sort of freemasonry, of which all the members continue to recognize one another through certain invisible signs, whatever may be the opinions which make them strangers to one another, or even adversaries.
It so happened, therefore, that after annoying Falloux more than anyone else had done before entering the Cabinet, I had no sooner joined it than I easily became his friend. For that matter, he was a man worth taking the trouble of coaxing. I do not think that during my whole political career I ever met anyone of a rarer nature. He possessed the two essentials necessary for good leadership: an ardent conviction, which constantly drove him towards his aim without allowing itself to be turned aside by mortifications or dangers, and a mind which was both firm and supple, and which applied a great multiplicity and prodigious variety of means to the execution of a single plan. He was sincere in this sense, that he only considered, as he declared, his cause and not his private interest; but otherwise very sly, with a very uncommon and very effective slyness, for he succeeded, for the time being, in mingling truth and falsehood in his own belief, before serving up the mixture to the minds of others. This is the great secret which gives falsehood all the advantages of sincerity, and which permits its exponent to persuade to the error which he considers beneficial those whom he works upon or directs.
In spite of all my efforts, I was never able to bring about, I will not say a good understanding, but even a polite understanding between Falloux and Dufaure. It must be admitted that these two men had precisely the opposite qualities and defects. Dufaure, who in the bottom of his heart had remained a good west-country bourgeois, hostile to the nobles and the priests, was unable to put up with either Falloux’s principles or his charming, refined manners, however agreeable they might seem to me. I succeeded, however, with great difficulty, in persuading him that he must not interfere with him in his own department; but as to allowing him to exercise the smallest influence upon what went on at the Ministry of the Interior (even within the limits where this was permissible and necessary), he would never hear speak of it. Falloux had in Anjou, where he came from, a prefect with whom he had reason to find fault. He did not ask that he should be dismissed, or even refused promotion; all he wanted was that he should be transferred, as he thought his own position compromised so long as no change took place, a change which was, moreover, demanded by the majority of the deputies for Maine-et-Loire. Unfortunately, this prefect was a declared friend to the Republic; and this was enough to fill Dufaure with distrust, and to persuade him that Falloux’s only object was to compromise him by making use of him to strike at those of the Republicans whom he had not been able to reach till then. He refused, therefore; the other insisted; Dufaure grew still more obstinate. It was very amusing to watch Falloux spinning round Dufaure, pirouetting cleverly and gracefully, without finding a single opening by which to penetrate into his mind.
Dufaure let him have his say, and then confined himself to laconically replying, without looking at him, or only turning a dull, wry glance in his direction:
“I should like to know why you did not take advantage of your friend M. Faucher’s period at the Home Office to rid yourself of your prefect.”
Falloux contained himself, although he was naturally, I believe, of a very hasty temper; he came and told me his troubles, and I saw the bitterest spleen trickling through the honey of his speech. I thereupon intervened, and tried to make Dufaure understand that this was one of those demands which one cannot refuse a colleague unless one wishes to quarrel with him. I spent a month in this way, acting as a daily intermediary between the two, and expending more effort and diplomacy than I had employed, during the same period, in treating the great affairs of Europe. The Cabinet was more than once on the verge of breaking up over this puny incident. Dufaure gave way at last, but with such bad grace that it was impossible to thank him for it; so that he gave up his prefect without getting Falloux in exchange.
But the most difficult portion of our rôle was the conduct which we had to display towards the old Conservatives, who formed the bulk of the majority, as I have already said.
These had at one and the same time general opinions which they wished to force through and a number of private passions which they desired to satisfy. They wanted us to re-establish order energetically: in this we were their men; we wanted it as much as they did, and we did it as well as they could wish, and better than they could have done. We had proclaimed the state of siege in Lyons and several of the neighbouring departments, and by virtue of the state of siege we had suspended six Paris revolutionary papers, cashiered the three regiments of the Paris National Guard which had displayed indecision on the 13th of June, arrested seven representatives on the spot, and applied for warrants against thirty others. Analogous measures were taken all over France. Circulars addressed to all the agents showed them that they had to do with a Government which knew how to make itself obeyed, and which was determined that everything should give way before the law. Whenever Dufaure was attacked on account of these different acts by the Montagnards remaining in the Assembly, he replied with that masculine, nervous, and sharp-edged eloquence of which he was so great a master, and in the tone of a man who fights after burning his boats.
The Conservatives not only wanted us to administrate with vigour; they wished us to take advantage of our victory to pass preventive and repressive laws. We ourselves felt the necessity of moving in this direction, although we were not willing to go as far as they.
For my part, I was convinced that it was both wise and necessary to make great concessions in this respect to the fears and the legitimate resentment of the nation, and that the only means which remained, after so violent a revolution, of saving liberty was to restrict it. My colleagues were of the same opinion: we therefore brought in successively a law to suspend the clubs; another to suppress, with even more energy than had been done under the Monarchy, the vagaries of the press; and a third to regulate the state of siege.
“You are establishing a military dictatorship,” they cried.
“Yes,” replied Dufaure, “it is a dictatorship, but a parliamentary dictatorship. There are no individual rights which can prevail against the inalienable right of Society to protect itself. There are imperious necessities which are the same for all governments, whether monarchies or republics; and who has given rise to these necessities? To whom do we owe the cruel experience which has given us eighteen months of violent agitations, incessant conspiracies, formidable insurrections? Yes, no doubt you are quite right when you say that, after so many revolutions undertaken in the name of liberty, it is deplorable that we should be once again compelled to veil her statue and to place terrible weapons in the hands of the public powers. But whose fault is it, if not yours, and who is it that serves the Republic best, those who favour insurrections, or those who, like ourselves, apply themselves to suppressing them?”
These measures, these laws and this language pleased the Conservatives without satisfying them; and to tell the truth, nothing would have contented them short of the destruction of the Republic. Their instinct constantly impelled them in that direction, although their prudence and their reason restrained them on the road.
But what they desired above all things was to oust their enemies from place and to instal in their stead their partisans or their private friends. We were again brought face to face with all the passions which had brought about the fall of the Monarchy of July. The Revolution had not destroyed them, but only made them the more greedy; this was our great and permanent danger. Here again, I considered that we ought to make concessions. There were still in the public offices a very large number of those Republicans of indifferent capacity or bad character whom the chances of the Revolution had driven into power. My advice was to get rid of these at once, without waiting to be asked for their dismissal, in such a way as to inspire confidence in our intentions and to acquire the right to defend all the honest and capable Republicans; but I could never induce Dufaure to consent to this. He had already held the Ministry of the Interior under Cavaignac. Many of the public servants whom it would be necessary to dismiss had been either appointed or supported by him. His vanity was involved in the question of maintaining them in their positions, and his mistrust of their detractors would in any event have sufficed to persuade him to oppose their representations. He accordingly resisted. It was, therefore, not long before he himself became the object of all their attacks. No one dared tackle him in the tribune, for he was too sturdy a swordsman there; but he was constantly struck at from a distance and in the shade of the lobbies, and I soon saw a great storm gathering against him.
“What is it we have undertaken to do?” I often asked him. “To save the Republic with the assistance of the Republicans? No, for the majority of those who bear that name would assuredly kill us together with it; and those who deserve to bear the name do not number one hundred in the Assembly. We have undertaken to save the Republic with the assistance of parties which do not love it. We can only, therefore, govern with the aid of concessions; only, we must never yield anything substantial. In this matter, everything depends upon the degree. The best, and perhaps the only guarantee which the Republic at this moment possesses lies in our continuance in power. Every honourable means should therefore be taken to keep us there.”
To this he replied that fighting, as he did every day, with the greatest energy, against socialism and anarchy, he must satisfy the majority; as though one could ever satisfy men by thinking only of their general welfare, without taking into account their vanity and their private interests. If even, while refusing, he had been able to do so gracefully: but the form of his refusal was still more disobliging than the matter of it. I could never conceive how a man who was so much the master of his words in the tribune, so clever in the art of selecting his arguments and the words best calculated to please, so certain of always keeping to the expressions which would compel most agreement with his thought, could be so embarrassed, so sullen, and so awkward in conversation. This came, I believe, from his original education. He was a man of much intelligence, or rather talent—for of intelligence properly so-called he had hardly any—but of no knowledge of the world. In his youth he had led a laborious, concentrated, and almost savage life. His entrance into political life had not to any extent changed his habits. He had held aloof not only from intrigues, but from the contact of parties, assiduously occupying himself with affairs, but avoiding men, detesting the movement of assemblies, and dreading the tribune, which was his only strength. Nevertheless, he was ambitious after his fashion, but with a measured and somewhat inferior ambition, which aimed at the management rather than at the domination of affairs. His manner, as a minister, of treating people was sometimes very strange. One day, General Castellane, who was then in great credit, asked for an audience. He was received, and explained at length his pretensions and what he called his rights. Dufaure listened to him long and attentively; and then rose, led the general with many bows to the door, and left him standing aghast, without having answered a single word. When I reproached him with this conduct:
“I should only have had to say disagreeable things to him,” he replied; “it was more reasonable to say nothing at all!”
It is easy to believe that one rarely left a man of this kind except in a very bad temper.
Unfortunately, he had as a sort of double a permanent secretary who was as uncouth as himself, and very stupid besides; so that when the solicitants passed from the Minister’s office into the secretary’s, in the hope of meeting with a little comfort, they found the same unpleasantness, minus the intelligence. It was like falling from a quickset hedge on to a bundle of thorns.
In spite of these disadvantages, Dufaure obtained the support of the Conservatives; but he was never able to win over their leaders.
The latter, as I had indeed foreseen, would neither undertake the government themselves nor allow any one else to govern with a free hand. They were unable to see without jealousy ministers at the head of affairs who were not their creatures, and who refused to be their instruments. I do not believe that, between the 13th of June and the last debates on the Roman question, in other words, during almost the whole life of the Cabinet, a single day passed without some ambush being laid for us. They did not fight us in the tribune, I admit; but they incessantly excited the majority secretly against us, blamed our decisions, criticized our measures, put unfavourable interpretations upon our speeches; unable to make up their minds to overthrow us, they arranged in such a way that, finding us wholly unsupported, they were always in a position, with the smallest effort, to hurl us from power. After all, Dufaure’s mistrust was not always without grounds. The leaders of the majority wanted to make use of us in order to take rigorous measures, and to obtain repressive laws which would make the task of government easy to our successors, and our Republican opinions made us fitter for this, at that moment, than the Conservatives. They did not fail to count on soon bowing us out, and on bringing their substitutes upon the scene. Not only did they wish us not to impress our influence upon the Assembly, but they laboured unceasingly to prevent us from establishing it in the mind of the President. They persisted in the delusion that Louis Napoleon was still happy in their leading-strings. They continued to beset him, therefore. We were informed by our agents that most of them, but especially M. Thiers and M. Molé, were constantly seeing him in private, and urging him with all their might to overthrow, in concert with them, and at their common expense and to their common profit, the Republic. They formed, as it were, a secret ministry at the side of the responsible Cabinet. Commencing with the 13th of June, I lived in a state of continuous alarm, fearing every day that they would take advantage of our victory to drive Louis Napoleon to commit some violent usurpation, and that one fine morning, as I said to Barrot, the Empire should slip in between his legs. I have since learnt that my fears were even better founded than I at that time believed. Since leaving the ministry, I have learnt from an undoubted source that a plot was formed towards the month of July 1849 to alter the Constitution by force by the combined enterprise of the President and the Assembly. The leaders of the majority and Louis Napoleon had come to an agreement, and the blow only failed because Berryer, who no doubt feared lest he should be making a fool’s bargain, refused his support and that of his followers. Nevertheless, the idea was not renounced, but only adjourned; and when I think that at the time when I am writing these lines, that is to say, two years only after the period of which I speak, the majority of these same men are growing indignant at seeing the people violate the Constitution by doing for Louis Napoleon precisely what they themselves at that time proposed to him to do, I find it difficult to imagine a more noteworthy example of the versatility of men and of the vanity of the great words “Patriotism” and “Right” beneath which petty passions are apt to cloak themselves.
We were no more certain, as has been seen, of the President than of the majority. In fact, Louis Napoleon was, for ourselves as well as for the Republic, the greatest and the most permanent danger.
I was convinced of this; and yet, when I had very attentively studied him, I did not despair of the possibility of establishing ourselves in his mind, for a time at least, in a fairly solid fashion. I soon discovered that, although he never refused to admit the majority leaders to his presence and to receive their advice, which he sometimes followed, and although he plotted with them when it suited his purpose, he nevertheless endured their yoke with great impatience; that he felt humiliated at seeming to walk in their leading-strings; and that he secretly burned to be free of them. This gave us a point of contact with him and a hold upon his mind; for we ourselves were quite resolved to remain independent of these great wire-pullers, and to uphold the Executive Power against their attacks.
It did not seem impossible to me, moreover, for us to enter partly into Louis Napoleon’s designs without emerging from our own. What had always struck me, when I reflected upon the situation of that extraordinary man (extraordinary, not through his genius, but through the circumstances which had combined to raise his mediocrity to so high a level), was the need which existed to feed his mind with hope of some kind if we wished to keep him quiet. That a man of this stamp could, after governing France for four years, be dismissed into private life, seemed very doubtful to me; that he would consent to withdraw into private life, seemed very chimerical; that he could even be prevented, during the length of his term of office, from plunging into some dangerous enterprise seemed very difficult, unless, indeed, one were able to place before his ambition some point of view which might, if not charm, at least restrain him. This is to what I, for my part, applied myself from the beginning.
“I will never serve you,” I said to him, “in overthrowing the Republic; but I will gladly strive to assure you a great position in it, and I believe that all my friends will end by entering into my plan. The Constitution can be revised; Article 45, which prohibits re-election, can be changed. This is an object which we will gladly help you to attain.”
And as the chances of revision were doubtful, I went further, and I hinted to him as to the future that, if he governed France peacefully, wisely, modestly, not aiming at more than being the first magistrate of the nation, and not its corrupter or its master, he might possibly be re-elected at the end of his term of office, in spite of Article 45, by an almost unanimous vote, since the Monarchical parties did not see the ruin of their hopes in the limited prolongation of his power, and the Republican party itself looked upon a government such as his as the best means of accustoming the country to the Republic and giving it a taste for it.
I told him all this in a tone of sincerity, because I was sincere in saying it. What I advised him seemed to me, in fact, and still seems to me, the best thing to be done in the interest of the country, and perhaps in his own. He readily listened to me, without giving a glimpse of the impression my language made upon him: this was his habit. The words one addressed to him were like stones thrown down a well; their sound was heard, but one never knew what became of them. I believe, however, that they were not entirely lost; for there were two distinct men in him, as I was not long in discovering. The first was the ex-conspirator, the fatalistic dreamer, who thought himself called to govern France, and through it to dominate Europe. The other was the epicurean, who luxuriously made the most of his new state of well-being and of the facile pleasures which his present position gave him, and who did not dream of risking it in order to ascend still higher. In any case, he seemed to like me better and better. I admit that, in all that was compatible with the good of the public service, I made great efforts to please him. Whenever, by chance, he recommended for a diplomatic appointment a capable and honest man, I showed great alacrity in placing him. Even when his protégé was not very capable, if the post was an unimportant one, I generally arranged to give it him; but most often the President honoured with his recommendations a set of gaol-birds, who had formerly thrown themselves in desperation into his party, not knowing where else to betake themselves, and to whom he thought himself to be under obligations; or else he attempted to place at the principal embassies those whom he called “his own men,” which most frequently meant intriguers and rascals. In that case I went and saw him, I explained to him the regulations, which were opposed to his wish, and the political reasons which prevented me from complying with it. I sometimes even went so far as to let him see that I would rather resign than retain office by doing as he wished. As he was not able to see any private reasons for my refusal, nor any systematic desire to oppose him, he either yielded without complaining or postponed the business.
I did not get off as cheaply with his friends. These were unspeakably eager in their rush for the spoil. They incessantly assailed me with their demands, with so much importunity, and often impertinence, that I frequently felt inclined to have them thrown out of the window. I strove, nevertheless, to restrain myself. On one occasion, however, when one of them, a real gallows-bird, haughtily insisted, and said that it was very strange that the Prince should not have the power of rewarding those who had suffered for his cause, I replied:
“Sir, the best thing for the President to do is to forget that he was ever a pretender, and to remember that he is here to attend to the affairs of France and not to yours.”
The Roman affair, in which, as I shall explain later, I firmly supported his policy, until the moment when it became extravagant and unreasonable, ended by putting me entirely into his good graces: of this he one day gave me a great proof. Beaumont, during his short embassy in England at the end of 1848, had spoken very strongly about Louis Napoleon, who was at that time a candidate for the Presidency. These remarks, when repeated to the latter, had caused him extreme irritation. I had several times endeavoured, since I had become a minister, to reestablish Beaumont in the President’s mind; but I should never have ventured to propose to employ him, capable as he was, and anxious though I was to do so. The Vienna embassy was to be vacated in September 1849. It was at that time one of the most important posts in our diplomatic service, because of the affairs of Italy and Hungary. The President said to me of his own accord:
“I suggest that you should give the Vienna embassy to M. de Beaumont. True, I have had great reason to complain of him; but I know that he is your best friend, and that is enough to decide me.”
I was delighted. No one was better suited than Beaumont for the place which had to be filled, and nothing could be more agreeable to me than to offer it him.
All my colleagues did not imitate me in the care which I took to gain the President’s good-will without doing violence to my opinions and my wishes. Dufaure, however, against every expectation, was always just what he should be in his relations towards him. I believe the President’s simplicity of manners had half won him over. But Passy seemed to take pleasure in being disagreeable to him. I believe that he considered that he had degraded himself by becoming the minister of a man whom he looked upon as an adventurer, and that he endeavoured to regain his level by impertinence. He annoyed him every day unnecessarily, rejecting all his candidates, ill-treating his friends, and contradicting his opinions with ill-concealed disdain. No wonder that the President cordially detested him.
Of all the ministers, the one who was most in his confidence was Falloux. I have always believed that the latter had gained him by means of something more substantial than that which any of us were able or willing to offer him. Falloux, who was a Legitimist by birth, by training, by society, and by taste, if you like, belonged at bottom to none but the Church. He did not believe in the triumph of the Legitimism which he served, and he only sought, amid all our revolutions, to find a road by which he could bring back the Catholic religion to power. He had only remained in office so that he might watch over its interests, and, as he said to me on the first day with well-calculated frankness, by the advice of his confessor. I am convinced that from the beginning Falloux had suspected the advantages to be gained from Louis Napoleon towards the accomplishment of this design, and that, familiarizing himself at an early date with the idea of seeing the President become the heir of the Republic and the master of France, he had only thought of utilizing this inevitable event in the interest of the clergy. He had offered the support of his party without, however, compromising himself.
From the time of our entrance into affairs until the prorogation of the Assembly, which took place on the 13th of August, we did not cease to gain ground with the majority, in spite of their leaders. They saw us every day struggling with their enemies before their eyes; and the furious attacks which the latter at every moment directed against us advanced us gradually in their good graces. But, on the other hand, during all that time we made no progress in the mind of the President, who used to suffer our presence in his counsels rather than to admit us to them.
Six weeks later it was just the opposite. The representatives had returned from the provinces incensed by the clamour of their friends, to whom we had refused to hand over the control of local affairs; and on the other hand, the President of the Republic had drawn closer to us; I shall show later why. One would have said that we had advanced on that side in the exact proportion to that in which we had gone back on the other.
Thus placed between two props badly joined together and always tottering, the Cabinet leant now upon one, now upon the other, and was always liable to tumble between the two. It was the Roman affair which brought about the fall.
Such was the state of things when the parliamentary session was resumed on the 1st of October 1849, and when the Roman affair was handled for the second and last time.
I did not wish to interrupt the story of our home misfortunes to speak of the difficulties which we encountered abroad, and of which I had to bear the brunt more than any other. I shall now retrace my steps and return to that part of my subject.
When I found myself installed at the Foreign Office, and when the state of affairs had been placed before my eyes, I was alarmed at the number and extent of the difficulties which I perceived. But what caused me more anxiety than anything else was myself.
I possess a great natural distrust of self. The nine years which I had spent rather wretchedly in the last Assemblies of the Monarchy had tended greatly to increase this natural infirmity, and although the manner in which I had just undergone the trial of the Revolution of February had helped to raise me a little in my own opinion, I nevertheless accepted this great task, at a time like the present, only after much hesitation, and I did not enter into it without great fear.
Before long, I was able to make a certain number of observations which tranquillized if they did not entirely reassure me. I began by perceiving that affairs did not always increase in difficulty as they increased in size, as would naturally appear at a cursory glance: the contrary is rather the truth. Their complications do not grow with their importance; it even often happens that they assume a simpler aspect in the measure that their consequences become wider and more serious. Besides, a man whose will influences the destiny of a whole people always finds ready to hand more men willing to enlighten him, to assist him, to relieve him of details, more prepared to encourage, to defend him, than would be met with in second-rate affairs or inferior positions. And lastly, the size itself of the object pursued stimulates all the mental forces to such an extent, that though the task may be a little harder, the workman becomes much more expert.
I should have felt perplexed, full of care, discouragement and disordered excitement, in presence of petty responsibilities. I felt a peace of mind and a singular feeling of calm when brought face to face with larger ones. The sentiment of importance attached to the things I then did at once raised me to their level and kept me there. The idea of a rebuff had until then seemed insupportable to me; the prospect of a dazzling fall upon one of the greatest stages in the world, on which I was mounted, did not disconcert me; which showed that my weakness was not timidity but pride. I also was not long before perceiving that in politics, as in so many other matters—perhaps in all—the vivacity of impressions received was not in a ratio with the importance of the fact which produced it, but with the more or less frequent repetition of the latter. One who grows troubled and excited about the handling of a trifling piece of business, the only one which he happens to have taken in hand, ends by recovering his self-possession among greater ones, if they are repeated every day. Their frequency renders their effect, as it were, insensible. I have related how many enemies I used formerly to make by holding aloof from people who did not attract my attention by any merit; and as people had often taken for haughtiness the boredom they caused me, I strongly dreaded this reef in the great journey I was about to undertake. But I soon observed that, although insolence increases with certain persons in the exact proportion of the progress of their fortunes, it was different with me, and that it was much easier for me to display affability and even cordiality when I felt myself above, than when I was one of, the common herd. This comes from the fact that, being a minister, I no longer had the trouble of running after people, nor to fear lest I should be coldly received by them, men making it a necessity themselves to approach those who occupy posts of that sort, and being simple enough to attach great importance to their most trivial words. It comes also from this that, as a minister, I no longer had to do only with the ideas of fools, but also with their interests, which always supply a ready-made and easy subject of conversation.
I saw, therefore, that I was not so ill fitted as I had feared for the part I had undertaken to play. This discovery encouraged me, not only for the present, but for the rest of my life; and should I be asked what I gained in this Ministry, so troubled, so thwarted, and so short that I was only able to commence affairs in it and to finish none, I would answer that I gained one great advantage, perhaps the greatest advantage in the world—confidence in myself.
At home and abroad, our greatest obstacles came less from the difficulty of business than from those who had to conduct it with us. I saw this from the first. Most of our agents were creatures of the Monarchy, who, at the bottom of their hearts, furiously detested the Government they served; and in the name of democratic and republican France, they extolled the restoration of the old aristocracies and secretly worked for the re-establishment of all the absolute monarchies of Europe. Others, on the contrary, whom the Revolution of February had dragged from an obscurity in which they should have always remained, clandestinely supported the demagogic parties which the French Government was combating. But the chief fault of most of them was timidity. The greater number of our ambassadors were afraid to attach themselves to any particular policy in the countries in which they represented us, and even feared to display to their own Government opinions which might sooner or later have been counted as a crime against them. They therefore took care to keep themselves covertly concealed beneath a heap of little facts with which they crammed their correspondence (for in diplomacy you must always write, even when you know nothing and wish to say nothing), and they were very careful not to show what they thought of the events they chronicled, and still less to give us any indication as to what we were to conclude from them.
This condition of nullity to which our agents voluntarily reduced themselves, and which, to tell the truth, was in the case of most of them no more than an artificial perfectioning of nature, induced me, so soon as I had realized it, to employ new men at the great Courts.
I should have liked in the same way to be able to get rid of the leaders of the majority; but not being able to do this, I endeavoured to live on good terms with them, and I did not even despair of pleasing them, while at the same time remaining independent of their influence: a difficult undertaking in which I nevertheless succeeded; for, of all the Cabinet, I was the minister who most strongly opposed their policy and yet the only one who retained their good graces. My secret, if I must confess it, lay in flattering their self-conceit while neglecting their advice.
I had made an observation in small affairs which I deemed very applicable to greater ones: I had found that the most advantageous negociations are those conducted with human vanity; for one often obtains very substantial things from it, while giving very little substance in return. One never does so well when treating with ambition or cupidity. At the same time, it is a fact that in order to deal advantageously with the vanity of others, one must put his own entirely on one side and think of nothing but the success of his plans, an essential which will always prove a difficulty in the way of this sort of commerce. I practised it very happily at this time and to my great advantage. Three men thought themselves specially entitled to direct our foreign policy, owing to the position they had formerly occupied: these were M. de Broglie, M. Molé and M. Thiers. I overwhelmed all three of them with deference; I often sent for them to see me, and sometimes called upon them to consult them and to ask them, with a sort of modesty, for advice which I hardly ever followed. But this did not prevent these great men from displaying every satisfaction. I pleased them more by asking their opinion without following it than if I had followed it without asking it. Especially in the case of M. Thiers, this manœuvre of mine succeeded admirably. Rémusat, who, although without any personal pretentions, sincerely wished the Cabinet to last, and who had become familiarized through an intercourse extending over twenty-five years with all M. Thiers’ weaknesses, said to me one day:
“The world does not know M. Thiers well; he has much more vanity than ambition; and he prefers consideration to obedience, and the appearance of power to power itself. Consult him constantly, and then do just as you please. He will take more notice of your deference to him than of your actions.”
This is what I did, and with great success. In the two principal affairs that I had to conduct during my time of office, those of Piedmont and Turkey, I did precisely the opposite to what M. Thiers wished, and, nevertheless, we remained excellent friends till the end.
As to the President, it was especially in the conduct of foreign affairs that he showed how badly prepared he still was for the great part to which blind fortune had called him. I was not slow in perceiving that this man, whose pride aimed at leading everything, had not yet taken the smallest steps to inform himself of anything. I proposed to have an analysis drawn up every day of all the despatches and to submit it to his inspection. Before this, he knew what happened in the world only by hearsay, and only knew what the Minister for Foreign Affairs had thought fit to tell him. The solid basis of facts was always lacking to the operations of his mind, and this was easily seen in all the dreams with which the latter was filled. I was sometimes frightened at perceiving how much there was in his plans that was vast, chimerical, unscrupulous, and confused; although it is true that, when explaining the real state of things to him, I easily made him recognize the difficulties which they presented, for discussion was not his strong point. He was silent, but never yielded.
One of his myths was an alliance with one of the two great powers of Germany, of which he proposed to make use to alter the map of Europe and erase the limits which the treaties of 1815 had traced for France. As he saw that I did not believe it possible to find either of these powers inclined for an alliance of this sort, and with such an object, he undertook himself to sound their ambassadors in Paris. One of them came to me one day in a state of great excitement to tell me that the President of the Republic had asked him if, in consideration of an equivalent, his Court would not consent to allow France to seize Savoy. On another occasion, he conceived the idea of sending a private agent, one of his own men,1 as he called them, to come to a direct understanding with the German Princes. He chose Persigny, and asked me to give him his credentials; and I consented, knowing well that nothing could come of a negociation of this sort. I believe that Persigny had a two-fold mission: it was a question of facilitating the usurpation at home and an extension of territory abroad. He went first to Berlin and then to Vienna; as I expected, he was very well received, handsomely entertained, and politely bowed out.
But I have spoken enough of individuals; let us come to politics.
At the time when I took up office, Europe was, as it were, on fire, although the conflagration was already extinguished in certain countries. Sicily was conquered and subdued; the Neapolitans had returned to their obedience and even to their servitude; the battle of Novara had been fought and lost; the victorious Austrians were negociating with the son of Charles Albert, who had become King of Piedmont by his father’s abdication; their armies, issuing from the confines of Lombardy, occupied Parma, a portion of the Papal States, Placentia, and Tuscany, which they had entered unasked, and in spite of the fact that the Grand Duke had been restored by his subjects, who have been but ill rewarded since for their zeal and fidelity. But Venice still resisted, and Rome, after repelling our first attack, was calling all the demagogues of Italy to its assistance and exciting all Europe with its clamour. Never, perhaps, since February, had Germany seemed more divided or disturbed. Although the dream of German unity had been dispelled, the reality of the old Teutonic organization had not yet resumed its place. Reduced to a small number of members, the National Assembly, which had till then endeavoured to promote this unity, fled from Frankfort and hawked round the spectacle of its impotence and its ridiculous fury. But its fall did not restore order; on the contrary, it left a freer field for anarchy.
The moderate, one may say the innocent, revolutionaries, who had cherished the belief that they would be able, peacefully, and by means of arguments and decrees, to persuade the peoples and princes of Germany to submit to a single government, made way for the violent revolutionaries, who had always maintained that Germany could only be brought to a state of unity by the complete ruin of its old systems of government, and the entire abolition of the existing social order. Riots therefore followed on every hand upon parliamentary discussion. Political rivalries turned into a war of classes; the natural hatred and jealousy entertained by the poor for the rich developed into socialistic theories in many quarters, but especially in the small states of Central Germany and in the great Rhine Valley. Wurtemberg was in a state of agitation; Saxony had just experienced a terrible insurrection, which had only been crushed with the assistance of Prussia; insurrections had also occurred in Westphalia; the Palatinate was in open revolt; and Baden had expelled its Grand Duke, and appointed a Provisional Government. And yet the final victory of the Princes, which I had foreseen when travelling through Germany, a month before, was no longer in doubt; the very violence of the insurrections hastened it. The larger monarchies had recaptured their capitals and their armies. Their heads had still difficulties to conquer, but no more dangers; and themselves masters, or on the point of becoming so, at home, they could not fail soon to triumph in the second-rate States. By thus violently disturbing public order, the insurgents gave them the wish, the opportunity and the right to intervene.
Prussia had already commenced to do so. The Prussians had just suppressed the Saxon insurrection by force of arms; they now entered the Rhine Palatinate, offered their intervention to Wurtemberg, and prepared to invade the Grand-Duchy of Baden, thus occupying almost the whole of Germany with their soldiers or their influence.
Austria had emerged from the terrible crisis which had threatened its existence, but it was still in great travail. Its armies, after conquering in Italy, were being defeated in Hungary. Despairing of mastering its subjects unaided, it had called Russia to its assistance, and the Tsar, in a manifesto dated 13 May, had announced to Europe that he was marching against the Hungarians. The Emperor Nicholas had till then remained at rest amid his uncontested might. He had viewed the agitation of the nations from afar in safety, but not with indifference. Thenceforward, he alone among the great powers of Europe represented the old state of society and the old traditional principle of authority. He was not only its representative: he considered himself its champion. His political theories, his religious belief, his ambition and his conscience, all urged him to adopt this part. He had, therefore, made for himself out of the cause of authority throughout the world a second empire yet vaster than the first. He encouraged with his letters and rewarded with his honours all those who, in whatever corner of Europe, gained victories over anarchy and even over liberty, as though they were his subjects and had contributed to strengthening his own power. He had thus sent, to the extreme South of Europe, one of his orders to Filangieri, the conqueror of the Sicilians, and had written that general an autograph letter to show to him that he was satisfied with his conduct. From the lofty position which he occupied, and whence he peacefully watched the various incidents of the struggle which shook Europe, the Emperor judged freely, and followed with a certain tranquil disdain, not only the follies of the revolutionaries whom he pursued, but also the vices and the faults of the parties and princes whom he assisted. He expressed himself on this subject simply and as the occasion required, without showing any eagerness to disclose his thoughts or taking any pains to conceal them.
Lamoricière wrote to me on the 11th of August 1849, in a secret despatch:
“The Tsar said to me this morning, ‘You believe, general, that your dynastic parties would be capable of uniting with the Radicals to overthrow a dynasty which they disliked, in the hope of setting their own in its place; and I am certain of it. Your Legitimist Party especially would not hesitate to do so. I have long since thought that it is the Legitimists who make the Elder Branch of the Bourbons impossible. This is one of the reasons why I recognized the Republic; and also because I perceive in your nation a certain common sense which is wanting in the Gremans.’
“Later, the Emperor also said, ‘The King of Prussia, my brother-in-law, with whom I was on very close terms of friendship, has not taken the slightest heed of my advice. The result is that our political relations have become remarkably cool, to such an extent that they have affected even our family relations. Look at the things he has done: did he not put himself at the head of those fools who dream of an United Germany, and now that he has broken with the Frankfort Parliament, has he not brought himself to the necessity of fighting the troops of the Schleswig-Holstein Duchies, which were levied under his patronage! Is it possible to imagine anything more disgraceful? And now, who knows how far he will go with his constitutional proposals?’ He added, ‘Do not think that, because I intervene in Hungary, I wish to justify the conduct of Austria in this affair. She has heaped up, one on the other, the most serious faults and the greatest follies; but when all is said and done, it had allowed the country to be invaded by subversive doctrines, and the government had fallen into the hands of disorderly persons. This was not to be endured.’
“Speaking of the affairs of Italy, ‘We others,’ he said, ‘see nothing in those temporal functions fulfilled in Rome by ecclesiastics; but it matters little to us how those priests arrange things among themselves, provided that something is set up which will last and that you constitute the power in such a way that it can stand.”
Hereupon Lamoricière, wounded by this supercilious tone, which smelt somewhat of the autocrat and betrayed a sort of rivalry as between pope and pope, began to defend Catholic institutions.
“ ‘Very well, very well,’ said the Emperor, ending the conversation, ‘let France be as Catholic as she pleases, only let her protect herself against the insane theories and passions of innovators.’ ”
Though hard and austere in the exercise of his power, the Tsar was simple and almost bourgeois in his habits, keeping only the substance of sovereign power and rejecting its pomp and worries. On the 17th of July, the French Ambassador at St Petersburg wrote to me:
“The Emperor is here; he arrived from Warsaw without suite of any kind, in an ordinary post-cart—his carriage had broke down sixty leagues from here—so as to be in time for the Empress’s saint’s-day, which has just taken place. He did the journey with extraordinary rapidity, in two days and a half, and he leaves again to-morrow. Every one here is touched with this contrast of power and simplicity, with the sight of this Sovereign who, after hurling one hundred and twenty thousand men on to the battle-field, races along the roads like a feld-Jäger, so as not to miss his wife’s saint’s-day. Nothing is more in keeping with the spirit of the Slavs, among whom one might say that the principal element of civilization is the spirit of family.”
It would, in fact, be a great mistake to think that the Tsar’s immense power was only based upon force. It was founded, above all, on the wishes and the ardent sympathies of the Russians. For the principle of the sovereignty of the people lies at the root of all government, whatever may be said to the contrary, and lurks beneath the least independent institutions. The Russian nobles had adopted the principles and still more the vices of Europe; but the people were not in touch with our West and with the new spirit which animated it. They saw in the Emperor not only their lawful Prince, but the envoy of God, and almost God Himself.
In the midst of this Europe which I have depicted, the position of France was one of weakness and embarrassment. Nowhere had the Revolution succeeded in establishing a regular and stable system of liberty. On every side, the old powers were rising up again from amid the ruins which it had made—not, it is true, the same as when they fell, but very similar. We could not assist the latter in establishing themselves nor ensure their victory, for the system which they were setting up was antipathetic, I will say not only to the institutions created by the Revolution of February, but, at the root of our ideas, to all that was most permanent and unconquerable in our new habits. They, on their side, distrusted us, and rightly. The great part of restorers of the general order in Europe was therefore forbidden us. This part, moreover, was already played by another: it belonged by right to Russia, and only the second remained for us. As to placing France at the head of the innovators, this was to be still less thought of, for two reasons: first, that it would have been absolutely impossible to advise these latter or to hope to lead them, because of their extravagance and their detestable incapacity; secondly, that it was not possible to support them abroad without falling beneath their blows at home. The contact of their passions and doctrines would have put all France in flame, revolutionary doctrines at that time dominating all others. Thus we were neither able to unite with the nations, who accused us of urging them on and then betraying them, nor with the princes, who reproached us with shaking their thrones. We were reduced to accepting the sterile good-will of the English: it was the same isolation as before February, with the Continent more hostile to us and England more lukewarm. It was therefore necessary, as it had been then, to reduce ourselves to leading a small life, from day to day; but even this was difficult. The French Nation, which had made and, in a certain way, still made so great a figure in the world, kicked against this necessity of the time: it had remained haughty while it ceased to be preponderant; it feared to act and tried to talk loudly; and it also expected its Government to be proud, without, however, permitting it to run the risks which such conduct entailed.
Never had France been looked upon with more anxiety than at the moment when the Cabinet had just been formed. The easy and complete victory which we had won in Paris on the 13th of June had extraordinary rebounds throughout Europe. A new insurrection in France was generally expected. The revolutionaries, half destroyed, relied only upon this occurrence to recover themselves, and they redoubled their efforts in order to be able to take advantage of it. The governments, half victorious, fearing to be surprised by this crisis, stopped before striking their final blow. The day of the 13th of June gave rise to cries of pain and joy from one end of the Continent to the other. It decided fortune suddenly, and precipitated it towards the Rhine.
The Prussian army, already master of the Palatinate, at once burst into the Grand-Duchy of Baden, dispersed the insurgents, and occupied the whole country, with the exception of Rastadt, which held out for a few weeks.1
The Baden revolutionaries took refuge in Switzerland. Refugees were then arriving in that country from Italy, France, and to tell the truth, from every corner of Europe, for all Europe, with the exception of Russia, had undergone or was undergoing a revolution. Their number soon amounted to ten or twelve thousand. It was an army always ready to fall upon the neighbouring States. All the Cabinets were alarmed at it.
Austria and especially Prussia, which had already had reason to complain of the Confederation, and even Russia, which was in no way concerned, spoke of invading Swiss territory with armed forces and acting as a police in the name of all the governments threatened. This we could not allow.
I first endeavoured to make the Swiss listen to reason, and to persuade them not to wait till they were threatened, but themselves to expel from their territory, as the Law of Nations required them to do, all the principal ringleaders who openly threatened neighbouring nations.
“If you in this way anticipate what they have the right to ask of you,” I incessantly repeated to the representative in Paris of the Swiss Confederation, “you can rely upon France to defend you against any unjust or exaggerated pretensions put forward by the Courts. We will rather risk war than permit them to oppress or humiliate you. But if you refuse to bring reason on your side, you must only rely upon yourselves, and you will have to defend yourselves against all Europe.”
This language had little effect, for there is nothing to equal the pride and conceit of the Swiss. Not one of those peasants but believes that his country is able to defy all the princes and all the nations of the earth. I then set to work in another way, which was more successful. This was to advise the foreign Governments (who were only too disposed to agree) to refuse for a certain period all amnesty to such of their subjects as had taken refuge in Switzerland, and to deny all of them, whatever their degree of guilt, the right to return to their country. On our side, we closed our frontiers to all those who, after taking refuge in Switzerland, wished to cross France in order to go to England or America, including the inoffensive refugees as well as the ringleaders. Every outlet being thus closed, Switzerland remained encumbered with those ten or twelve thousand adventurers, the most turbulent and disorderly people in all Europe. It was necessary to feed, lodge, and even pay them, lest they should levy contributions on the country. This suddenly enlightened the Swiss as to the drawbacks attendant upon the right of asylum. They could have made arrangements to have kept the illustrious chiefs for an indefinite period, in spite of the danger with which these menaced their neighbours; but the revolutionary army was a great nuisance to them. The more radical cantons were the first to raise a loud clamour and to ask to be rid of these inconvenient and expensive visitors. And as it was impossible to persuade the foreign Governments to open their territory to the crowd of inoffensive refugees who were able and willing to leave Switzerland, without first driving out the leaders who would have liked to stay, they ended by expelling these. After almost bringing all Europe down upon them rather than remove these men from their territory, the Swiss ended by driving them out of their own accord in order to avoid a temporary inconvenience and a trifling expense. No better example was ever given of the nature of democracies, which, as a rule, have only very confused or very erroneous ideas on external affairs, and generally solve outside questions only by internal reasons.
While these things were happening in Switzerland, the general aspect of affairs in Germany underwent a change. The struggles of the nations against the Governments were followed by quarrels of the Princes among themselves. I followed this new phase of the Revolution with a very attentive gaze and a very perplexed mind.
The Revolution in Germany had not proceeded from a simple cause, as in the rest of Europe. It was produced at once by the general spirit of the time and by the unitarian ideas peculiar to the Germans. The democracy was now beaten, but the idea of German unity was not destroyed; the needs, the memories, the passions that had inspired it survived. The King of Prussia had undertaken to appropriate it and make use of it. This Prince, a man of intelligence but of very little sense, had been wavering for a year between his fear of the Revolution and his desire to turn it to account. He struggled as much as he could against the liberal and democratic spirit, of the age; yet he favoured the German unitarian spirit, a blundering game in which, if he had dared to go to the length of his desires, he would have risked his Crown and his life. For, in order to overcome the resistance which existing institutions and the interests of the Princes were bound to oppose to the establishment of a central power, he would have had to summon the revolutionary passions of the peoples to his aid, and of these Frederic William could not have made use without soon being destroyed by them himself.
So long as the Frankfort Parliament retained its prestige and its power, the King of Prussia entreated it kindly and strove to get himself placed by it at the head of the new Empire. When the Parliament fell into discredit and powerlessness, the King changed his behaviour without changing his plans. He endeavoured to obtain the legacy of this assembly and to combat the Revolution by realizing the chimera of German unity, of which the democrats had made use to shake every throne. With this intention, he invited all the German Princes to come to an understanding with him to form a new Confederation, which should be closer than that of 1815, and to give him the government of it. In return he undertook to establish and strengthen them in their States. These Princes, who detested Prussia, but who trembled before the Revolution, for the most part accepted the usurious bargain proposed to them. Austria, which the success of this proposal would have driven out of Germany, protested, being not yet in a position to do more. The two principal monarchies of the South, Bavaria and Wurtemberg, followed its example, but all North and Central Germany entered into this ephemeral Confederation, which was concluded on the 26th of May 1849 and is known in history by the name of the Union of the Three Kings.1
Prussia then suddenly became the dominating power in a vast stretch of country, reaching from Memel to Basle, and at one time saw twenty-six or twenty-seven million Germans marching under its orders. All this was completed shortly after my arrival in office.
I confess that, at the sight of this singular spectacle, my mind was crossed with strange ideas, and I was for a moment tempted to believe that the President was not so mad in his foreign policy as I had at first thought him. That union of the great Courts of the North, which had so long weighed heavily upon us, was broken. Two of the great Continental monarchies, Prussia and Austria, were quarrelling and almost at war. Had not the moment come for us to contract one of those intimate and powerful alliances which we have been compelled to forego for sixty years, and perhaps in a measure to repair our losses of 1815? France, by platonically assisting Frederic William in his enterprises, which England did not oppose, could divide Europe and bring on one of those great crises which entail a redistribution of territory.
The time seemed so well to lend itself to these ideas that they filled the imagination of many of the German Princes themselves. The more powerful among them dreamt of nothing but changes of frontier and accessions of power at the expense of their neighbours. The revolutionary malady of the nations seemed to have attacked the governments.
“There is no Confederation possible with eight and thirty States,” said the Bavarian Foreign Minister, Baron von der Pfordten, to our Envoy. “It will be necessary to mediatize a large number of them. How, for instance, can we ever hope to re-establish order in a country like Baden, unless we divide it among sovereigns strong enough to make themselves obeyed? In that case,” he added, “the Neckar Valley would naturally fall to our share.”1
For my part, I soon dispelled from my mind, as mere visions, all thoughts of this kind. I quickly realized that Prussia was neither able nor willing to give us anything worth having in exchange for our good offices; that its power over the other German States was very precarious, and was likely to be ephemeral; that no reliance was to be placed in its King, who at the first obstacle would have failed us and failed himself; and, above all, that such extensive and ambitious designs were not suited to so ill-established a state of society and to such troubled and dangerous times as ours, nor to transient powers such as that which chance had placed in my hands.
I put a more serious question to myself, and it was this—I recall it here because it is bound constantly to crop up again: Is it to the interest of France that the bonds which hold together the German Confederation should be strengthened or relaxed? In other words, ought we to desire that Germany should in a certain sense become a single nation, or that it should remain an ill-joined conglomeration of disunited peoples and princes? There is an old tradition in our diplomacy that we should strive to keep Germany divided among a large number of independent powers; and this, in fact, was self-evident at the time when there was nothing behind Germany except Poland and a semi-savage Russia; but is the case the same in our days? The reply to this question depends upon the reply to another: What is really the peril with which in our days Russia threatens the independence of Europe? For my part, believing as I do that our West is threatened sooner or later to fall under the yoke, or at least under the direct and irresistible influence of the Tsars, I think that our first object should be to favour the union of all the German races in order to oppose it to that influence. The conditions of the world are new; we must change our old maxims and not fear to strengthen our neighbours, so that they may one day be in a condition with us to repel the common enemy.
The Emperor of Russia, on his side, saw how great an obstacle an United Germany would prove in his way. Lamoricière, in one of his private letters, informed me that the Emperor had said to him with his ordinary candour and arrogance:
“If the unity of Germany, which doubtless you wish for no more than I do, ever becomes a fact, there will be needed, in order to manage it, a man capable of what Napoleon himself was not able to do; and if this man were found, if that armed mass developed into a menace, it would then become your affair and mine.”
But when I put these questions to myself, the time had not come to solve them nor even to discuss them, for Germany was of its own accord irresistibly returning to its old constitution and to the old anarchy of its powers. The Frankfort Parliament’s attempt in favour of unity had fallen through. That made by the King of Prussia was destined to meet with the same fate.
It was the dread of the Revolution which alone had driven the German Princes into Frederic William’s arms. In the measure that, thanks to the efforts of the Prussians, the Revolution was on all sides suppressed and ceased to make itself feared, the allies (one might almost say the new subjects) of Prussia aimed at recovering their independence. The King of Prussia’s enterprise was of that unfortunate kind in which success itself interferes with triumph, and to compare large things with smaller, I would say that his history was not unlike ours, and that, like ourselves, he was doomed to strike upon a rock so soon as, and for the reason that, he had re-established order. The princes who had adhered to what was known as the Prussian hegemony seized the first opportunity to renounce it. Austria supplied this opportunity, when, after defeating the Hungarians, she was able to re-appear upon the scene of German affairs with her material power and that of the memories which attached to her name. This is what happened in the course of September 1849. When the King of Prussia found himself face to face with that powerful rival, behind whom he caught sight of Russia, his courage suddenly failed him, as I expected, and he returned to his old part. The German Constitution of 1815 resumed its empire, the Diet its sittings; and soon, of all that great movement of 1848, there remained but two traces visible in Germany: a greater dependence of the small States upon the great monarchies, and an irreparable blow struck at all that remains of feudal institutions: their ruin, consummated by the nations, was sanctioned by the Princes. From one end of Germany to the other, the perpetuity of ground-rents, baronial tithes, forced labour, rights of mutation, of hunting, of justice, which constituted a great part of the riches of the nobility, remained abolished.1 The Kings were restored, but the aristocracies did not recover from the blow that had been struck them.2
Convinced at an early date that we had no part to play in this internal crisis in Germany, I only applied myself to living on good terms with the several contending parties. I especially kept up friendly relations with Austria, whose concurrence was necessary to us, as I will explain later, in the Roman business. I first strove to bring to a happy conclusion the negociations which had long been pending between Austria and Piedmont; I put the more care into this because I was persuaded that, so long as no lasting peace was established on that side, Europe would remain unsettled and liable at any moment to be thrown into great danger.
Piedmont had been negociating to no purpose since the battle of Novara. Austria at first tried to lay down unacceptable conditions. Piedmont, on her side, kept up pretensions which the state of her fortunes did not authorize. The negociations, several times interrupted, had been resumed before I took office. We had many very strong reasons to desire that this peace should be concluded without delay. At any moment, a general war might break out in this little corner of the Continent. Piedmont, moreover, was too near to us to permit us to allow that she should lose either her independence, which separated her from Austria, or her newly-acquired constitutional institutions, which brought her closer to us: two advantages which would be seriously jeopardized if recourse were had to arms.
I therefore interposed very eagerly, in the name of France, between the two parties, addressing to both of them the language which I thought most likely to convince them. I observed to Austria how urgent it was that the general peace of Europe should be assured by this particular peace, and I exerted myself to point out to her what was excessive in her demands. To Piedmont I indicated the points on which it seemed to me that honour and interest would permit her to give way. I applied myself especially to giving her Government in advance clear and precise ideas as to what it might expect from us, so that it should have no excuse to entertain, or to pretend to have entertained, any dangerous illusions1 . I will not go into details of the conditions under discussion, which are without interest to-day; I will content myself with saying that at the end they seemed prepared to come to an understanding, and that any further delay was due merely to a question of money. This was the condition of affairs, and Austria assured us through her Ambassador in Paris of her conciliatory dispositions; I already looked upon peace as concluded, when I unexpectedly learned that the Austrian Plenipotentiary had suddenly changed his attitude and his language, had delivered on the 19th of July a very serious ultimatum, couched in exceedingly harsh terms, and had only given four days in which to reply to it. At the end of these four days the armistice was to be raised and the war resumed. Already Marshal Radetzky was concentrating his army and preparing to enter upon a fresh campaign. This news, so contrary to the pacific assurances which we had received, was to me a great source of surprise and indignation. Demands so exorbitant, delivered in such arrogant and violent terms, seemed to announce that peace was not Austria’s only object, but that she aimed rather at the independence of Piedmont and perhaps at her representative institutions; for so long as liberty shows itself in the smallest fraction of Italy, Austria feels ill at ease in all the rest.
I at once came to the conclusion that we must at no price allow so near a neighbour to be oppressed, deliver a territory which touched our frontiers to the Austrian armies, or permit political liberty to be abolished in the only country in which, since 1848, it had showed itself moderate. I thought, moreover, that Austria’s mode of procedure towards us showed either an intention to deceive us or else a desire to try how far our toleration would go, or, as is commonly said, to sound us.
I saw that this was one of those extreme circumstances, which I had faced beforehand, where it became my duty to risk not only my portfolio (which, to tell the truth, was not risking much) but the fortunes of France. I proceeded to the Council and explained the state of affairs.
The President and all my colleagues were unanimous in thinking that I ought to act. Orders were immediately telegraphed to concentrate the Army of Lyons at the foot of the Alps, and so soon as I returned home, I myself wrote (for the flaccid style of diplomacy was not suited to the circumstances) the following letter:1
“Should the Austrian Government persist in the unreasonable demands mentioned in your telegram of yesterday, and, abandoning the limits of diplomatic discussion, throw up the armistice and undertake, as it says it will, to go and dictate peace at Turin, Piedmont can be assured that we should not desert her. The situation would no longer be the same as that in which she placed itself before the battle of Novara, when she spontaneously resumed her arms and renewed the war against our advice. This time it would be Austria which would herself take the initiative unprovoked; the nature of her demands and the violence of her proceedings would give us reason to believe that she is not acting solely with a view to peace, but that she is threatening the integrity of Piedmontese territory or, at the very least, the independence of the Sardinian Government.
“We will not allow such designs as these to be accomplished at our gates. If, under these conditions, Piedmont is attacked, we will defend her.”
I moreover thought it my duty to send for the Austrian representative (a little diplomatist very like a fox in appearance as well as in nature), and, convinced that, in the attitude we were taking up, hastiness was identical with prudence, I took advantage of the fact that I could not as yet be expected to have become familiar with habits of diplomatic reserve, to express to him our surprise and our dissatisfaction in terms so rude that he since admitted to me that he had never been so received in his life.
Before the despatch of which I have quoted a few lines had reached Turin, the two Powers had come to an agreement. They had come to terms on the question of money, which was arranged practically on the conditions that had been previously suggested by ourselves. The Austrian Government had only desired to precipitate the negociations by frightening the other side; it made very little difficulty about the conditions.
Prince Schwarzenberg sent me all sorts of explanations and excuses, and peace was definitely signed on the 6th of August, a peace hardly hoped for by Piedmont after so many mistakes and misfortunes, since it assured her more advantages than she had at first ventured to demand.
This affair threw into great relief the habits of English, and particularly of Palmerstonian, diplomacy: the feature is worth quoting. Since the commencement of the negociation, the British Government had never ceased to show great animosity against Austria, and loudly to encourage the Piedmontese not to submit to the conditions which she sought to force upon them. My first care, after taking the resolutions I have described, was to communicate them to England, and to endeavour to persuade her to take up the same line of conduct. I therefore sent a copy of my despatch to Drouyn de Lhuys, who was then Ambassador in London, and instructed him to show it to Lord Palmerston, and to discover that minister’s intentions. Drouyn de Lhuys replied:1
“While I was informing Lord Palmerston of your resolutions and of the instructions you had sent M. de Boislecomte, he listened with every sign of eager assent; but when I said, ‘You see, my lord, how far we wish to go; can you tell me how far you will go yourself?’ Lord Palmerston at once replied, ‘The British Government, whose interest in this business is not equal to yours, will not lend the Piedmontese Government more than a diplomatic assistance and a moral support.”
Is not this characteristic? England, protected against the revolutionary sickness of nations by the wisdom of her laws and the strength of her ancient customs, and against the anger of princes by her power and her isolation in the midst of us, is always pleased to play the part of the advocate of liberty and justice in the internal affairs of the Continent. She likes to censure and even to insult the strong, to justify and encourage the weak; but it seems that she does not care to go further than to assume virtuous airs and discuss honourable theories. Should her protégés come to need her, she offers her moral support.
I add, in order to finish the subject, that these tactics succeeded remarkably well. The Piedmontese remained convinced that England alone had defended them, and that we had very nearly abandoned them. She remained very popular in Turin, and France very much suspected. For nations are like men, they love still more that which flatters their passions than that which serves their interests.
Hardly had we emerged from this bad pass, before we fell into a worse one. We had witnessed with fear and regret what was happening in Hungary. The misfortunes of this unlucky people excited our sympathies. The intervention of the Russians, which for a time subordinated Austria to the Tsar, and caused the hand of the latter to be more and more active in the management of the general affairs of Europe, was not calculated to please us. But all these events happened beyond our reach, and we were helpless.
“I need not tell you,” I wrote in the instructions I sent Lamoricière, “with what keen and melancholy interest we follow events in Hungary. Unfortunately, for the present, we can only take a passive part in this question. The letter and spirit of the treaties open out to us no right of intervention. Besides, our distance from the seat of war must impose upon us, in the present state of our affairs and of those of Europe, a certain reserve. Since we are not able to speak or act to good purpose, it is due to our dignity not to display, in respect to this question, any sterile excitement or impotent good-feeling. Our duty with regard to Hungarian events is to limit ourselves to carefully observing what happens and seeking to discover what is likely to take place.”
Overwhelmed by numbers, the Hungarians were either conquered or surrendering, and their principal leaders, as well as a certain number of Polish generals who had joined their cause, crossed the Danube at the end of August, and threw themselves into the arms of the Turks at Widdin. From there, the two principal ones, Dembinski and Kossuth, wrote to our Ambassador in Constantinople.1 The habits and peculiarities of mind of these two men were betrayed in their letters. The soldier’s was short and simple; the lawyer-orator’s long and ornate. I remember one of his phrases, among others, in which he said, “As a good Christian, I have chosen the unspeakable sorrow of exile rather than the peacefulness of death.” Both ended by asking for the protection of France.
While the outlaws were imploring our aid, the Austrian and Russian Ambassadors appeared before the Divan and asked that they might be given up. Austria based her demand upon the treaty of Belgrade, which in no way established her right; and Russia hers upon the treaty of Kaïnardji (10 July 1774), of which the meaning, to say the least of it, was very obscure. But at bottom they neither of them appealed to an international right, but to a better known and more practical right, that of the strongest. This was made clear by their acts and their language. The two embassies declared from the commencement that it was a question of peace or war. Without consenting to discuss the matter, they insisted upon a reply of yes or no, and declared that if this reply was in the negative, they would at once cease all diplomatic relations with Turkey.
To this exhibition of violence, the Turkish ministers replied, with gentleness, that Turkey was a neutral country; that the law of nations forbade them to hand over outlaws who had taken refuge on their territory; and that the Austrians and Russians had often quoted the same law against them when Mussulman rebels had sought an asylum in Hungary, Transylvania or Bessarabia. They modestly submitted that what was permitted on the left bank of the Danube seemed as though it should also be permitted on the right bank. They ended by protesting that what they were asked to do was opposed to their honour and their religion, that they would gladly undertake to keep the refugees under restraint and place them where they could do no mischief, but that they could never consent to deliver them to the executioner.
“The young Sultan,” our ambassador wrote to me, “replied yesterday to the Austrian Envoy that, while denouncing what the Hungarian rebels had done, he could now only regard them as unhappy men seeking to escape death, and that humanity forbade him to surrender them. Rechid Pasha, on his part, the Grand Vizier,” added our Minister, “said to me, ‘I shall be proud if I am driven from power for this;’ and he added, with an air of deep concern, ‘In our religion, every man who asks for mercy is bound to obtain it.’ ”
This was talking like civilized people and Christians. The Ambassadors were content to reply like real Turks, saying that they must give up the fugitives or undergo the consequences of a rupture which would probably lead to war. The Mussulman population itself took fire; it approved of and supported its Government; and the Mufti came to thank our Ambassador for the support he had given to the cause of humanity and good law.
From the commencement of the discussion, the Divan had addressed itself to the Ambassadors of France and England. It appealed to public opinion in the two great countries which they represented, asked their advice, and besought their help in the event of the Northern Powers executing their threats. The Ambassadors at once replied that in their opinion Austria and Russia were exceeding their rights; and they encouraged the Turkish Government in its resistance.
In the meanwhile, arrived at Constantinople an aide-de-camp of the Tsar. He brought a letter which that Prince had taken the pains to write to the Sultan with his own hand, asking for the extradition of the Poles who had served six months before in the Hungarian war against the Russian army. This step seems a very strange one when one does not see through the particular reasons which influenced the Tsar under the circumstance. The following extract from a letter of Lamoricière’s describes them with great sagacity, and shows to what extent public opinion is dreaded at that end of Europe, where one would think that it was neither an organ nor a power:
“The Hungarian war, as you know,” he wrote,1 “was embarked upon to sustain Austria, who is hated as a people and not respected as a government; and it was very unpopular. It brought in nothing, and cost eighty-four millions of francs. The Russians hoped to bring back Bem, Dembinski, and the other Poles to Poland, as the price of the sacrifices of the campaign. Especially in the army, there reigned a veritable fury against these men. The people and soldiers were mad with longing for this satisfaction of their somewhat barbaric national pride. The Emperor, in spite of his omnipotence, is obliged to attach great value to the spirit of the masses upon whom he leans, and who constitute his real force. It is not simply a question of individual self-love: the national sentiment of the country and the army is at stake.”
These were, no doubt, the considerations which prompted the Tsar to take the dangerous step I have mentioned. Prince Radziwill presented his letter, but obtained nothing. He left forthwith, haughtily refusing a second audience, which was offered him to take his leave; and the Russian and Austrian Ambassadors officially declared that all diplomatic relations had ceased between their masters and the Divan.
The latter acted, in these critical circumstances, with a firmness and propriety of bearing which would have done honour to the most experienced cabinets of Europe. At the same time that the Sultan refused to comply with the demands, or rather the orders, of the two Emperors, he wrote to the Tsar to tell him that he would not discuss with him the question of right raised by the interpretation of the treaties, but that he appealed to his friendship and to his honour, begging him to take it in good part that the Turkish Government refused to take a measure which would ruin it in the eyes of the world. He offered, moreover, once more, himself to place the refugees in a position in which they should be harmless. Abdul Medjid sent one of the wisest and cleverest men in his Empire, Fuad Effendi, to take this letter to St Petersburg. A similar letter was written to Vienna, but this was to be handed to the Emperor of Austria by the Turkish Envoy at that Court, thus very visibly marking the difference in the value attached to the consent of the two Sovereigns. This news reached me at the end of September. My first care was to communicate it to England. At the same time1 I wrote a private letter to our Ambassador, in which I said:
“The conduct of England, who is more interested in this affair than we are, and less exposed in the conflict that may arise from it, must needs have a great influence upon our own. The English Cabinet must be asked clearly and categorically to state how far it is prepared to go. I have not forgotten the Piedmont affair. If they want us to assist them, they must dot their i’s. It is possible that, in that case, we shall be found to be very determined; otherwise, not. It is also very important that you should ascertain the opinions produced by these events upon the Tories of all shades; for with a government conducted on the parliamentary system, and consequently variable, the support of the party in power is not always a sufficient guarantee.”
In spite of the gravity of the circumstances, the English ministers, who were at that moment dispersed on account of the parliamentary holidays, took a long time before meeting; for in that country, the only country in the world where the aristocracy still carries on the government, the majority of the ministers are both great landed proprietors and, as a rule, great noblemen. They were at that time on their estates, recruiting from the fatigue and ennui of business; and they showed no undue hurry to return to Town. During this interval, all the English press, without distinction of party, took fire. It raged against the two Emperors, and inflamed public opinion in favour of Turkey. The British Government, thus stimulated, at once took up its position. This time it did not hesitate, for it was a question, as it said itself, not only of the Sultan, but of England’s influence in the world.1 It therefore decided, first, that representations should be made to Russia and Austrian; secondly, that the British Mediterranean Squadron should proceed to the Dardanelles, to give confidence to the Sultan and, if necessary, defend Constantinople. We were invited to do the same, and to act in common. The same evening, the order was despatched to the British Fleet to sail.
The news of these decisive resolutions threw me into great perplexity. I did not hesitate to think that we should approve the generous conduct of our Ambassador, and come to the aid of the Sultan;2 but as to a warlike attitude, I did not believe that it would as yet be wise to adopt it. The English invited us to do as they did; but our position was very different from theirs. In defending Turkey, sword in hand, England risked her fleet; we, our very existence. The English Ministers could rely that, in that extremity, Parliament and the nation would support them; whereas we were almost certain to be abandoned by the Assembly, and even by the country, if things came so far as war. For our wretchedness and danger at home made people’s minds at that moment insensible to all beside. I was convinced, moreover, that in this case threats, instead of serving to forward our designs, were calculated to frustrate them. If Russia, for it was really with her alone that we had to do, should chance to be disposed to open the question of the partition of the East by invading Turkey—a contingency that I found it difficult to believe in—the sending of our fleets would not prevent the crisis; and if it was really only a question (as was probably the case) of taking revenge upon the Poles, it would aggravate it, by making it difficult for the Tsar to retract, and causing his vanity to join forces with his resentment.
I went to the meeting of the Council with these reflections. I at once saw that the President was already decided and even pledged, as he himself declared to us. This resolve on his part had been inspired by Lord Normanby, the British Ambassador, an eighteenth-century diplomatist, who had worked himself into a strong position in Louis Napoleon’s good graces. . . . The majority of my colleagues thought as he did, that we should without hesitation adopt the line of joint action to which the English invited us, and like them send our fleet to the Dardanelles.
Failing in my endeavour to have a measure which I considered premature postponed, I asked that at least, before it was carried out, they should consult Falloux, whose state of health had compelled him to leave Paris for a time and go to the country. Lanjuinais went down to him for this purpose, reported the affair to him, and came back and reported to us that Falloux had without hesitation given his opinion in favour of the despatch of the fleet. The order was sent off at once. However, Falloux had acted without consulting the leaders of the majority or his friends, and even without due reflection as to the consequences of his action; he had yielded to a movement of impulse, as sometimes happened to him, for nature had made him frivolous and light-headed before education and habit had rendered him calculating to the pitch of duplicity. It is probable that, after his conversation with Lanjuinais, he received advice, or himself made certain reflections, opposed to the opinion he had given. He therefore wrote me a very long and very involved letter,1 in which he pretended to have misunderstood Lanjuinais (this was impossible, for Lanjuinais was the clearest and most lucid of men both in speech and action). He revoked his opinion and sought to evade his responsibility; and I replied at once with this note:
“My dear Colleague,
“The Council has taken its resolution, and at this late hour there is nothing to be done but await events; moreover, in this matter the responsibility of the whole Council is the same. There is no individual responsibility. I was not in favour of the measure; but now that the measure is taken, I am prepared to defend it against all comers.”1
While giving a lesson to Falloux, I was none the less anxious and embarrassed as to the part I was called upon to play. I cared little for what would happen at Vienna; for in this business I credited Austria merely with the position of a satellite. But what would the Tsar do, who had involved himself so rashly and, apparently, so irrevocably in his relations towards the Sultan, and whose pride had been put to so severe a test by our threats? Fortunately I had two able agents at St. Petersburg and Vienna, to whom I could explain myself without reserve.
“Take up the business very gently,” I recommended them,1 “be careful not to set our adversaries’ self-esteem against us, avoid too great and too ostensible an intimacy with the English Ambassadors, whose Government is detested by the Court at which you are, although nevertheless maintaining good relations with those ambassadors. In order to attain success, adopt a friendly tone, and do not try to frighten people. Show our position as it is; we do not want war; we detest it; we dread it; but we cannot act dishonourably. We cannot advise the Porte, when it comes to us for our opinion, to commit an act of cowardice; and should the courage which it has displayed, and which we have approved of, bring it into danger, we cannot, either, refuse it the assistance it asks of us. A way must therefore be found out of the difficulty. Is Kossuth’s skin worth a general war? Is it to the interest of the Powers that the Eastern Question should be opened at this moment and in this fashion? Cannot a way be found by which everybody’s honour will be saved? What do they want, after all? Do they only want to have a few poor devils handed over to them? That is assuredly not worth so great a quarrel; but if it were a pretext, if at the bottom of this business lurked the desire, as a matter of fact, to lay hands upon the Ottoman Empire, then it would certainly be a general war that they wanted; for ultra-pacific though we are, we should never allow Constantinople to fall without striking a blow.”
The affair was happily over by the time these instructions reached St. Petersburg. Lamoricière had conformed to them before he received them. He had acted in this circumstance with an amount of prudence and discretion which surprised those who did not know him, but which did not astonish me in the least. I knew that he was impetuous by temperament, but that his mind, formed in the school of Arabian diplomacy, the wisest of all diplomacies, was circumspect and acute to the pitch of artifice.
Lamoricière, so soon as he had heard rumours of the quarrel direct from Russia, hastened to express, very vividly, though in an amicable tone, that he disapproved of what had happened at Constantinople; but he took care to make no official, and, above all, no threatening, representations. Although acting in concert with the British Minister, he carefully avoided compromising himself with him in any joint steps; and when Fuad Effendi, bearing Abdul Medjid’s letter, arrived, he let him know secretly that he would not go to see him, in order not to imperil the success of the negociation, but that Turkey could rely upon France.
He was admirably assisted by this envoy from the Grand Seignior, who concealed a very quick and cunning intelligence beneath his Turkish skin. Although the Sultan had appealed for the support of France and England, Fuad, on arriving at St. Petersburg, showed no inclination even to call upon the representatives of these two Powers. He refused to see anybody before his audience of the Tsar, to whose free will alone, he said, he looked for the success of his mission.
The Emperor must have experienced a feeling of bitter displeasure on beholding the want of success attending his threats, and the unexpected turn that things had taken; but he had the strength to restrain himself. In his heart he was not desirous to open the Eastern Question, even though, not long before, he had gone so far as to say, “The Ottoman Empire is dead; we have only to arrange for its funeral.”
To go to war in order to force the Sultan to violate the Law of Nations was a very difficult matter. He would have been aided in this by the barbaric passions of his people, but reproved by the opinion of the whole civilized world. He knew what was happening in England and France. He resolved to yield before he was threatened. The great Emperor therefore drew back, to the immeasurable surprise of his subjects and even of foreigners. He received Fuad in audience, and withdrew the demand he had made upon the Sultan. Austria hastened to follow his example. When Lord Palmerston’s note arrived at St Petersburg, all was over. The best would have been to say nothing; but while we, in this business, had only aimed at success, the British Cabinet had also sought for noise. It required it to make a response to the irritation of the country. Lord Bloomfield, the British Minister, presented himself at Count Nesselrode’s the day after the Emperor’s decision became known; and was very coldly received.1 He read him the note in which Lord Palmerston asked, in polite but peremptory phrases, that the Sultan should not be forced to hand over the refugees. The Russian replied that he neither understood the aim nor the object of this demand; that the affair to which he doubtless referred was arranged; and that, in any case, England had nothing to say in the matter. Lord Bloomfield asked how things stood. Count Nesselrode haughtily refused to give him any explanation; it would be equivalent, he said, to recognizing England’s right to interfere in an affair that did not concern it. And when the British Envoy insisted upon at any rate leaving a copy of the note in Count Nesselrode’s hands, the latter, after first refusing, at last accepted the document with an ill grace and dismissed his visitor, saying carelessly that he would reply to the note, that it was a terribly long one, and that it would be very tiresome. “France,” added the Chancellor, “has already made me say the same thing; but she made me say it earlier and better.”
At this moment when we learnt the end of the dangerous quarrel, the Cabinet, after thus witnessing a happy conclusion to the two great pieces of foreign business that still kept the peace of the world in suspense, the Piedmont War and the Hungarian War—at that moment, the Cabinet fell.
1 June 1849, by 336 votes to 261.
The Presidential decree is dated 2 June 1849.
Antoine Louis Claude Destutt de Tracy, 1754-1836, the celebrated ideologist, Condillac’s disciple.—A. T. de M.
“Un homme à lui.”—A. T. de M.
Nothing was ever more despicable than the conduct of those revolutionaries. The soldiers who, at the commencement of the insurrection, had put to flight or killed their officers, turned tail before the Prussians. The ringleaders did nothing but dispute among themselves and defame one another instead of defending themselves, and took refuge in Switzerland after pillaging the public treasury and levying contributions upon their own country.
Of Prussia, Saxony and Hanover.—A. T. de M.
Despatch of the 7th of September 1849.
Private letter from Beaumont at Vienna, 10 October 1849.—Despatch from M. Lefèbre at Munich, 23 July 1849.
I had foreseen from the commencement that Austria and Prussia would soon return to their former sphere and fall back in each case within the influence of Russia. I find this provision set forth in the instructions which I gave to one of our ambassadors to Germany on the 24th of July, before the events which I have described had taken place. These instructions are drawn up in my own hand, as were all my more important despatches. I read as follows:
Despatch of the 4th of July 1849 to M. de Boislecomte:
Letter to M. de Boislecomte, 25 July 1849.
Despatches of the 25th and 26th of June 1849.
Letters of the 22nd and 24th of August 1849.
Despatches of the 11th and 25th of October 1849.
Private letter, 1 October 1849.
Private letter from M. Drouyn de Lhuys, 2 October 1849.
Private letters to Lamoricière and Beaumont, 5 and 9 October 1849.
Letter from Falloux, 11 October 1849.
Letter to Falloux, 12 October 1849.
Private letters to Lamoricière and Beaumont, 5 and 9 October 1849.
Letter from Lamoricière, 19 October 1849.