Front Page Titles (by Subject) APPENDIX - The Recollections of Alexis de Tocqueville
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
APPENDIX - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
I have recently discovered these four notes in the charter-room at Tocqueville, where my grandfather had carefully deposited, by the side of our most precious family archives, all the manuscripts of his brother that came into his possession. They seemed to me to throw some light upon the Revolution of February and the question of the revision of the Constitution in 1851, and to merit publication together with the Recollections.
Comte de Tocqueville.
GUSTAVE DE BEAUMONT’S VERSION OF THE 24TH OF FEBRUARY.
I have to-day (24 October 1850) had a conversation with Beaumont which is worth noting. This is what he told me:
“On the 24th of February, at seven o’clock in the morning, Jules Lasteyrie and another [I have forgotten the name which Beaumont mentioned] came to fetch me to take me to M. Thiers, where Barrot, Duvergier, and several others were expected.”
I asked him if he knew what had passed during the night between Thiers and the King. He replied:
“I was told by Thiers, and especially by Duvergier, who had at once taken a note of Thiers’ narrative, that Thiers had been summoned at about one o’clock; that he had found the King in an undecided frame of mind; that he had at once told him that he could only come in with Barrot and Duvergier; that the King, after raising many objections, had appeared to yield; that he had put off Thiers till the morning; that nevertheless, as he showed him to the door, he had told him that as yet no one was bound one way or the other.”
Evidently the King reserved the right of attempting to form another combination before the morning.
“I must here,” continued Beaumont, “tell you a curious anecdote. Do you know how Bugeaud was occupied during that decisive night, at the Tuileries itself, where he had just received the command-in-chief? Listen: Bugeaud’s hope and ambition was to become Minister of War when Thiers should come into power. Things were so turning out, as he clearly saw, as to make this appointment impossible; but what preoccupied him was to assure his preponderance at the War Office even if he was not at the head of it. Consequently, on the night of the 24th of February, or rather in the early morning, Bugeaud with his own hand wrote to Thiers from the Tuileries a letter of four pages, of which the substance was:
“ ‘I understand the difficulties which prevent you from making me your Minister of War; nevertheless I have always liked you, and I am sure that we shall one day govern together. However, I understand the present reasons, and I give way before them; but I beg you, at least, to give M. Magne, who is my friend, the place of Under-Secretary of State at the War Office.’ ”
Resuming his general narrative, Beaumont continued:
“When I arrived at the Place Saint-Georges, Thiers and his friends had already left for the Tuileries. I hastily followed them, and arrived at the same time as they did. The appearance of Paris was already formidable; however, the King received us as usual, with the same copious language and the same mannerisms that you know of. Before being shown in to him [at least, I believe it was here that Beaumont placed this incident], we talked about affairs among ourselves. I insisted urgently upon Bugeaud’s dismissal. ‘If you want to oppose force to the popular movement,’ I said, ‘by all means make use of Bugeaud’s name and audacity; but if you wish to attempt conciliation and you suspend hostilities1 . . . then Bugeaud’s name is a contradiction.’ The others seconded me, and Thiers reluctantly and with hesitation gave way. They compromised the matter as you know: Bugeaud nominally retained the command-in-chief, and Lamoricière was placed at the head of the National Guard. Thiers and Barrot entered the King’s closet, and I do not know what happened there. The order had been given to the troops everywhere to cease firing, and to fall back upon the Palace and make way for the National Guard. I myself, with Rémusat, hurriedly drew up the proclamation informing the people of these orders and explaining them. At nine o’clock it was agreed that Thiers and Barrot should personally attempt to make an appeal to the people; Thiers was stopped on the staircase and induced to turn back, but with difficulty, I am bound to admit. Barrot set out alone, and I followed him.”
Here Beaumont’s account is identical with Barrot’s.
“Barrot was wonderful throughout this expedition,” said Beaumont. “I had difficulty in making him turn back, although when we had once arrived at the barricade at the Porte Saint-Denis, it would have been impossible to go further. Our return made the situation worse: we brought in our wake, by effecting a passage for it, a crowd more hostile than that which we had traversed in going; by the time we arrived at the Place Vendôme, Barrot feared lest he should take the Tuileries by assault, in spite of himself, with the multitude which followed him; he slipped away and returned home. I came back to the Château. The situation seemed to me very serious but far from desperate, and I was filled with surprise on perceiving the disorder that had gained all minds during my absence, and the terrible confusion that already reigned at the Tuileries. I was not quite able to understand what had happened, or to learn what news they had received to turn everything topsy-turvy in this fashion. I was dying of hunger and fatigue; I went up to a table and hurriedly took some food. Ten times, during this meal of three or four minutes, an aide-de-camp of the King or of one of the Princes came to look for me, spoke to me in confused language, and left me without properly understanding my reply. I quickly joined Thiers, Rémusat, Duvergier, and one or two others who were to compose the new Cabinet. We went together to the King’s closet: this was the only Council at which I was present. Thiers spoke, and started a long homily on the duties of the King and the paterfamilias. ‘That is to say, you advise me to abdicate,’ said the King, who was but indifferently affected by the touching part of the speech and came straight to the point. Thiers assented, and gave his reasons. Duvergier supported him with great vivacity. Knowing nothing of what had happened, I displayed my astonishment and exclaimed that all was not lost. Thiers seemed much annoyed at my outburst, and I could not prevent myself from believing that the secret aim of Thiers and Duvergier had, from the first, been to get rid of the King, on whom they could no longer rely, and to govern in the name of the Duc de Nemours or the Duchesse d’Orléans, after forcing the King to abdicate. The King, who had struck me as very firm up to a certain moment, seemed towards the end to surrender himself entirely.”
Here there is a void in my memory in Beaumont’s account, which I will fill up from another conversation. I come to the scene of the abdication, which followed:
“During the interval, events and news growing worse and the panic increasing, Thiers had declared that already he was no longer possible (which was perhaps true), and that Barrot was scarcely so. He then disappeared—at least, I did not see him again during the last moments—which was very wrong of him, for although he declined the Ministry, he ought not, at so critical a juncture, to have abandoned the Princes, and he should have remained to advise them, although no longer their Minister. I was present at the final scene of the abdication. The Duc de Montpensier begged his father to write and urged him so eagerly that the King stopped and said, ‘But look here, I can’t write faster.’ The Queen was heroical and desperate: knowing that I had appeared opposed to the abdication at the Council, she took my hands and told me that such a piece of cowardice must not be allowed to be consummated, that we should defend ourselves, that she would let herself be killed, before the King’s eyes, before they could reach him. The abdication was signed nevertheless, and the Duc de Nemours begged me to run and tell Marshal Gérard, who was at the further end of the Carrousel, that I had seen the King sign, so that he might announce officially to the people that the King had abdicated. I hastened there, and returned; all the rooms were empty. I went from room to room without meeting a soul. I went down into the garden; I there met Barrot, who had come over from the Ministry of the Interior, and was indulging in the same useless quest. The King had escaped by the main avenue; the Duchesse d’Orléans seemed to have gone by the underground passage to the water-side. No necessity had compelled them to leave the Château, which was then in perfect safety, and which was not invaded by the people until an hour after it had been abandoned. Barrot was determined at all costs to assist the Duchess. He hurriedly had horses prepared for her, the young Prince and ourselves, and wanted us to throw ourselves all together into the midst of the people—the only chance in fact, and a feeble one at that, that remained to us. Unable to rejoin the Duchess, we left for the Ministry of the Interior. You met us on the road; you know the rest.”
BARROT’S VERSION OF THE 24TH OF FEBRUARY.
(10 October 1850.)
“I believe that M. Molé only refused the Ministry after the firing had commenced on the Boulevard. Thiers told me that he had been sent for at one in the morning; that he had asked the King to appoint me as the necessary man; that the King had at first resisted and then yielded; and that at last he had adjourned our meeting to nine o’clock in the morning at the Palace.
“At five o’clock Thiers came to my house to awake me; we talked; he went home, and I called for him at eight. I found him quietly shaving. It is a great pity that the King and M. Thiers thus wasted the time that elapsed between one and eight o’clock. When he had finished shaving, we went to the Château; the population already was greatly excited; barricades were being built, and even a few shots had already been fired from houses near the Tuileries. However, we found the King still very calm and retaining his usual manner. He addressed me with the commonplaces which you can imagine for yourself. At that hour, Bugeaud was still general-in-chief. I strongly persuaded Thiers not to take office under the colour of that name, and at least to modify it by giving the command of the National Guard to Lamoricière, who was there. Thiers accepted this arrangement, which was agreed to by the King and Bugeaud himself.
“I next proposed to the King that he should dissolve the Chamber of Deputies. ‘Never, never!’ he said; he lost his temper and left the room, slamming the door in the faces of Thiers and me. It was quite clear that he only consented to give us office in order to save the first moment, and that he intended, after compromising us with the people, to throw us over with the assistance of Parliament. Of course, at any ordinary time, I should at once have withdrawn; but the gravity of the situation made me stay, and I proposed to present myself to the people, myself to apprise them of the formation of the new Cabinet, and to calm them. In the impossibility of our having anything printed and posted up in time, I looked upon myself as a walking placard. I must do Thiers the justice to say that he wished to accompany me, and that it was I who refused, as I dreaded the bad impression his presence might make.
“I therefore set out; I went up to each barricade unarmed; the muskets were lowered, the barricades opened; there were cries of ‘Reform for ever! long live Barrot!’ We thus went to the Porte Saint-Denis, where we found a barricade two stories high and defended by men who made no sign of concurrence in my words and betrayed no intention of allowing us to pass the barricade. We were therefore compelled to retrace our steps. On returning, I found the people more excited than when I had come; nevertheless, I heard not a single seditious cry, nor anything that announced an immediate revolution. The only word that I heard of grave import was from Étienne Arago. He came up to me and said, ‘If the King does not abdicate, we shall have a revolution before eight o’clock to-night.’ I thus came to the Place Vendôme; thousands of men followed me, crying, ‘To the Tuileries! to the Tuileries!’ I reflected what was the best thing to do. To go to the Tuileries at the head of that multitude was to make myself the absolute master of the situation, but by means of an act which might have seemed violent and revolutionary. Had I known what was happening at the moment in the Tuileries, I should not have hesitated; but as yet I felt no anxiety. The attitude of the people did not yet seem decided. I knew that all the troops were falling back upon the Château; that the Government was there, and the generals; I could not therefore imagine the panic which, shortly afterwards, placed it in the hands of the mob. I turned to the right and returned home to take a moment’s rest; I had not eaten anything yet and was utterly exhausted. After a few minutes, Malleville sent word from the Ministry of the Interior that it was urgent that I should come and sign the telegrams to the departments. I went in my carriage, and was cheered by the people; from there, I set out to walk to the Palace. I was still ignorant of all that had happened. When I reached the quay, opposite the garden, I saw a regiment of Dragoons returning to barracks; the colonel said to me, ‘The King has abdicated; all the troops are withdrawing.’ I hurried; when I reached the wicket-gates, I had great difficulty in penetrating to the court-yard, as the troops were crowding out through every opening. At last I reached the yard, which I found almost empty; the Duc de Nemours was there; I entreated him to tell me where the Duchesse d’Orléans was; he replied that he did not know, but that he believed that at that moment she was in the pavilion at the water-side. I hastened there; I was told that the Duchess was not there. I forced the door and went through the rooms, which were, in fact, empty. I left the Tuileries, recommending Havin, whom I met, not to bring the Duchess, if he found her, to the Chamber, with which there was nothing to be done. My intention had been, if I had found the Duchess and her son, to put them on horseback and throw myself with them among the people: I had even had the horses got ready.
“Not finding the Princess, I returned to the Ministry of the Interior; I met you on the road, you know what happened there. I was sent for in haste to go to the Chamber. I had scarcely arrived when the leaders of the Extreme Left surrounded me and dragged me almost by main force to the first office; there, they begged me to propose to the Assembly the nomination of a Provisional Government, of which I was to be a member. I sent them about their business, and returned to the Chamber. You know the rest.”
SOME INCIDENTS OF THE 24TH OF FEBRUARY 1848.
M. Dufaure’s efforts to prevent the Revolution of February—Responsibility of M. Thiers, which renders them futile.
To-day (19 October 1850), Rivet recalled and fixed with me the circumstances of an incident well worth remembering.
In the course of the week preceding that in which the Monarchy was overthrown, a certain number of Conservative deputies began to feel an anxiety which was not shared by the Ministers and their colleagues. They thought that it was more advisable to overthrow the Cabinet, provided that this could be done without violence, than to risk the adventure of the banquets. One of them, M. Sallandrouze, made the following proposal to M. Billault (the banquet was to take place on Tuesday the 22nd) that on the 21st M. Dufaure and his friends should move an urgent order of the day, drawn up in consultation with Sallandrouze and those in whose name he spoke, some forty in number. The order of the day should be voted by them on condition that, on its side, the Opposition should give up the banquet and restrain the people.
On Sunday, the 20th of February, we met at Rivet’s to discuss this proposal. There were present, as far as I am able to remember, Dufaure, Billault, Lanjuinais, Corcelles, Ferdinand Barrot, Talabot, Rivet, and myself.
Sallandrouze’s proposal was explained to us by Billault; we accepted it at once, and drafted an order of the day in consequence. I myself drafted it, and this draft, with some modifications, was accepted by my friends. The terms in which it was couched (I no longer remember them) were very moderate, but the adoption of this order of the day would inevitably entail the resignation of the Cabinet.
There remained to be fulfilled the condition of the vote of the Conservatives, the withdrawal of the banquet. We had had nothing to do with this measure, and consequently we were not able to prevent it. It was agreed that one of us should at once go in search of Duvergier de Hauranne and Barrot, and propose that they should act according to the condition demanded. Rivet was selected for this negociation, and we adjourned our meeting till the evening to know how he had succeeded.
In the evening he came and reported to us as follows:
Barrot had eagerly entered into the opening offered him; he effusively seized Rivet’s hands, and declared that he was prepared to do all that he was asked in this sense; he seemed relieved of a great weight on beholding the possibility of escaping from the responsibility of the banquet. But he added that he was not engaged in this enterprise alone, and that he must come to an understanding with his friends, without whom he could do nothing. How well we knew it!
Rivet went on to Duvergier’s, and was told that he was at the Conservatoire of Music, but that he would return home before dinner. Rivet waited. Duvergier returned. Rivet told him of the proposal of the Conservatives and of our order of the day. Duvergier received this communication somewhat disdainfully; they had gone too far, he said, to draw back; the Conservatives had repented too late; he, Duvergier, and his friends could not, without losing their popularity and perhaps all their influence with the masses, undertake to make the latter give up the proposed demonstration. “However,” he added, “I am only giving you my first and personal impression; but I am going to dine with Thiers, and I will send you a note this evening to let you know our final decision.”
This note came while we were there; it said briefly that the opinion expressed by Duvergier before dinner was also that of Thiers, and that the idea which we had suggested must be abandoned. We broke up at once: the die was cast!
I have no doubt that, among the reasons for Thiers’ and Duvergier’s refusal, the first place must be given to this, which was not expressed: that if the Ministry fell quietly, by the combined effect of a part of the Conservatives and ourselves, and upon an order of the day presented by us, we should come into power, and not those who had built up all this great machinery of the banquets in order to attain it.
Dufaure’s conduct on the 24th of February 1848.
Rivet told me to-day (19 October 1850) that he had never talked with Dufaure of what happened to him on the 24th of February; but that he had gathered the following from conversation with members of his family or of his immediate surroundings:
On the 23rd of February, at about a quarter past six, M. Molé, after concerting with M. de Montalivet, sent to beg Dufaure to come and see him. Dufaure, on his road to M. Molé’s, called on Rivet and asked him to wait for him, because he intended to come back to Rivet on leaving M. Molé. Dufaure did not return, and Rivet did not see him till some time after, but he believed that, on arriving at Molé’s, Dufaure had a rather long conversation with him, and then went away, declaring that he did not wish to join the new Cabinet, and that, in his opinion, circumstances called for the men who had brought about the movement, that is to say, Thiers and Barrot.
He returned greatly alarmed at the appearance of Paris, found his wife and mother-in-law still more alarmed, and, at five o’clock in the morning of the 24th, set out with them and took them to Vauves. He himself came back; I saw him at about eight or nine o’clock, and I do not remember that he told me he had taken this morning journey. I was calling on him with Lanjuinais and Corcelles; but we soon separated, arranging to meet at twelve at the Chamber of Deputies. Dufaure did not come; it seems that he started to do so, and in fact arrived at the Palace of the Assembly, which had, doubtless, been just at that moment invaded. What is certain is that he went on and joined his family at Vauves.
MY CONVERSATION WITH BERRYER, ON THE 21ST OF JUNE, AT AN APPOINTMENT WHICH I HAD GIVEN HIM AT MY HOUSE. WE WERE BOTH MEMBERS OF THE COMMITTEE FOR THE REVISION OF THE CONSTITUTION.
I thus opened the conversation:
“Let us leave appearances on one side, between you and me. You are not making a revisionist but an electoral campaign.”
He replied, “That is true; you are quite right.”
“Very well,” I replied; “we shall see presently if you are well advised. What I must tell you at once is that I cannot join in a manœuvre of which the sole object is to save a section only of the moderate party at the next elections, leaving out of the calculation many others, and notably that to which I belong. You must either give the moderate Republicans a valid reason for voting for the Revision, by giving it a republican character, or else expect us to do our best to spike your guns.”
He agreed, but raised difficulties that originated with the passions and prejudices of his party. We discussed for some time what was to be done, and at last we came to the policy which he was following.
This is what I said to him on this subject, of which I particularly wish to retain the impression. I said:
“Berryer, you are dragging us all, in spite of ourselves, into a plight for which you will have to bear the sole responsibility, you may be quite sure of that. If the Legitimists had joined those who wished to fight against the President, the fight might still be possible. You have dragged your party, in spite of itself, in an opposite direction; henceforth, we can no longer resist; we cannot remain alone with the Montagnards; we must give way, since you give way; but what will be the consequence? I can see your thought, it is quite clear: you think that circumstances render the President’s ascendancy irresistible and the movement which carries the country towards him insurmountable. Unable to fight against the current, you throw yourselves into it, at the risk of making it more violent still, but in the hope that it will land you and your friends in the next Assembly, in addition to various other sections of the party of order, which is not very sympathetic with the President. There alone you think that you will find a solid resting-place from which to resist him, and you think that, by working his business to-day, you will be able to keep together, in the next Assembly, a group of men able to cope with him. To struggle against the tide which carries him at this moment is to make one’s self unpopular and ineligible and to deliver the party to the Socialists and the Bonapartists, neither of whom you wish to see triumph: well and good! Your plan has its plausible side, but it fails in one principal respect, which is this: I could understand you if the election were to take place to-morrow, and if you were at once to gather the fruits of your manœuvre, as at the December election; but there is nearly a year between now and the next elections. You will not succeed in having them held in the spring, if you succeed in having them held at all. Between now and then, do you imagine that the Bonapartist movement, aided, precipitated by you, will cease? Do you not see that, after asking you for a Revision of the Constitution, public opinion, stirred up by all the agents of the Executive and led by our own weakness, will ask us for something more, and then for something more still, until we are driven openly to favour the illegal re-election of the President and purely and simply to work his business for him? Can you go as far as that? Would your party be willing to, if you are? No! You will therefore come to a moment when you will have to stop short, to stand firm on your ground, to resist the combined effort of the nation and the Executive Power; in other words, on the one hand to become unpopular, and on the other to lose that support, or at least that electoral neutrality, of the Government which you desire. You will have enslaved yourselves, you will have immensely strengthened the forces opposed to you, and that is all. I tell you this: either you will pass completely and for ever under the President’s yoke, or you will lose, just when it is ripe for gathering, all the fruit of your manœuvre, and you will simply have taken upon yourself, in your own eyes and the country’s, the responsibility of having contributed to raise this Power, which will perhaps, in spite of the mediocrity of the man, and thanks to the extraordinary power of circumstances, become the heir of the Revolution and our master.”
Barrot seemed to me to rest tongue-tied, and the time having come to part, we parted.
This clearly shows, independently of what Beaumont told me positively, how absolutely the new Cabinet had made up its mind to yield.