Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1851: TO M. GUSTAVE DE BEAUMONT. - Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 2
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1851: TO M. GUSTAVE DE BEAUMONT. - Alexis de Tocqueville, Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 2 
Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville. Translated from the French by the translator of Napoleon’s Correspondence with King Joseph. With large Additions. In Two Volumes (London: Macamillan, 1861). 2 vols.
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TO M. GUSTAVE DE BEAUMONT.
Sorrento, January 5, 1851.
. . . We continue to delight in Sorrento. I have not had a day’s illness. The accounts you have heard of the cold of Sorrento were exaggerations. I have never known a month of May as uniformly warm and fine as the month of December which has just ended. The thermometer in the night has never fallen below 6° or 8°, and in the day it has in general risen to 12° or 15° (centigrade). Add to this a hot sun, and a total absence of wind, and you have what in France we should call magnificent May weather, minus the poetry which belongs to May—the sudden return of all animated beings to life, and the universal awakening of nature from her long sleep. We live here in utter solitude. Ampère has not yet arrived. His hieroglyphics keep him in Rome. However, though we are most anxious for his company, our isolation does not distress us. I try, as I told you before, to employ my mind without fatiguing myself, and I succeed. If I am pleased with what I am doing, I will read it to you on my return. Writing is a delightful occupation when one has plenty of leisure, and when one’s object is to please oneself and not the public. That judgment of the public in perspective spoils the enjoyment. . . .
The worst part of my present residence is, that one may study everything but Italy. I should like to learn, at least, what is going on close to me in this little space; but I find it very difficult. Fear, ignorance, or perfect indifference, closes every mouth. Besides, I find it hard to make acquaintances, though I am not particular as to the sort. The Italian middle classes, the only class to be found at Sorrento, do not care to visit you, because they do not care that you should visit them; and they do not care that you should visit them, because they live in garrets of which they are ashamed, and which they do not choose to convert into clean and comfortable apartments. You know, too, as well as I do, that conversation, especially in travelling, is an exchange, and that one can learn nothing from those who wish to learn nothing from you. How willingly I would allow these people to dispense with their low bows and their superlatives, if they would change them for the curiosity and precise information of those long Yankees, who used to go on chewing their tobacco while they were talking to us; but who every day taught us something that was new and useful.
I, therefore, learn only what my eyes teach me; and practical observation every day shows me that the population among whom I live is civil, well-behaved, easily led, not given to thieving, extremely ignorant and superstitious; in fact, in perpetual childhood. They are children of good dispositions, but ill brought up. Such a government as this could not be maintained with any other subjects. It is only on near view that one sees this. But how sad it is that, all the world over, governments are just as rascally as nations will allow them to be. This is the only limit to their vices. . . .
Sorrento, January 29, 1851.
. . . The last newspapers which I have received are those of the 19th. I learnt from them the vote of the Assembly on the 18th, adopting Sainte Beuve’s amendment,* and sounding an official note of defiance. . . .
. . . What will be the consequence, I cannot tell; but whatever takes place, I am very glad that it passed.
. . . Always supposing that this triumph of the Assembly will be complete, and that the President will accept his defeat, I no less continue to think, as I have done for a long time past, that the chances for the future are in his favour, and that common prudence will secure them to him. I attach more importance to the general aspect of the country than to any particular accident, however momentous. The general tendency seems to be a movement on the part of the nation from liberty towards a concentrated and permanent power. The fact that the most eminent political and military men are opposed to this movement, does not reassure me, for we live in a democratic age and society, where individuals, even the most distinguished, count for little. To form my own opinion, I listen neither to those who extol, nor to those who depreciate, the talents of the candidates. In these times the man himself is not of consequence, but the means by which he attains to power. A dwarf may be carried on the crest of a wave to the top of a cliff, which a giant could not climb from the beach. . . .
You know that Ampère came here a few days ago; we have also the Seniors, whose society we much enjoy. . . .
The following extracts contain some of the conversations alluded to by M. de Tocqueville, in his letter to Mr. Senior, of the 28th of November, 1851, and mentioned by M. Ampère, in his charming memoir of M. de Tocqueville, published in the Correspondant:—
“We used to take long walks over the mountains, for though so fragile, he was a great walker. Sometimes we halted in some lovely spot, with the sea spread out before us, and the sky of Naples above us. We rested to take breath, and then resumed our conversations.
“His inexhaustible mind, which at no time displayed more activity or more freedom, touched, without undue haste or too rapid transition, but with even flow and infinite variety, one subject after another. They succeeded each other without effort, from the most important and logical discussions down to the most piquant anecdotes. Though always perfectly simple, he preserved, in the most intimate and familiar conversations, the purity of expression and admirable choice of words which was a part of his very nature. While sitting on the rocks around Sorrento, I might have written down (and why did I not?) all that escaped his lips in those moments of friendly intercourse.”
Sorrento, Wednesday, January 29, 1851.
We had just heard the news of the vote of the Assembly of the 18th of January, that it had no confidence in the present French ministry.
“The last time,” said Tocqueville, “that a French Chamber agreed on such a vote was in June, 1830: an ominous recollection; but in 1830, the 221 had the country at their back.
“It is difficult to say how far the country sympathizes with the Assembly. The President makes no undignified appearance in public. His immense patronage throws all France at his feet. The framers of the constitution meant to render him merely the subordinate officer of the Assembly. Within the limits of the constitution the Assembly was to be sovereign; but they have given to the President means of power and influence with which they, the Assembly, find it difficult to cope. And I agree with Thiers, that if, in the struggle, the Assembly yields, we have the empire under another name. It is possible that he may make a compromise with them on the dotation question, give up his ministers, and receive his three millions: which, of course, would be dishonourable to him. It is more probable that his ministers will refuse to continue.
“To be censured by the Assembly, and treated by the President as mere clerks, is paying a high price for office.”
“It is unfortunate,” I said, “that Louis Napoleon has learnt so little in England.”
“He learnt in England,” said Tocqueville, “a good deal. He learnt, for instance, the value of private enterprise and skill. He is less inclined than most of his ministers are to interpose in all great works the action of the government; but he has not learnt even the principles of parliamentary government. He is resolved not only to be his own prime minister, but to be almost sole minister. He will not even submit to be controlled in his cabinet. Hence arises the anomaly, that the leading men in the Assembly vote against the ministry, and yet refuse to take office. They vote against the ministry, because they fancy that they see in them the accomplices of an usurpation; they refuse to take office, because they would incur responsibility without having free agency.”
“It seems to me,” I said, “that the Assembly ought to have made its stand against the autocratic pretensions of the President, in November, 1849; when, in defiance of the spirit of parliamentary government, he dismissed a ministry which was supported by a strong majority. By not resenting that aggression, you invited others.”
“That is true,” he answered; “but the Assembly was new, and the President was new; we were very anxious not to begin so early with a quarrel; and we, the retiring ministry, used our utmost efforts to obtain for our successors a fair trial. But perhaps, as you say, we were wrong.”
“What is the next move,” I asked, “if the ministers remain?”
“There are two means,” he answered, “by which the Assembly might endeavour to coerce the President. The direct taxes, which form the bulk of the revenue, are by the constitution only annual. It might refuse them, or it might pass laws directly aimed at his power. It might change, for instance, the constitution of the army. It might exclude the army from Paris; in fact, exercising despotically the whole power of legislation, on all points that are not determined by the constitution, it might seriously embarrass or even arrest his administration.”
“Would not either of these courses,” I said, “induce the people to take part with the President? Each of them, would in fact, be fighting the battle at the expense of the country, You want, I think, here the expedient of a dissolution. With us, if the King retain Ministers whom the House of Commons disapproves, it stops, or rather threatens to stop, the supplies; not as a party move, but as a means of forcing an appeal to the people. It is dissolved, and the ultimate umpire, the nation, decides. If it sends back, as it did in 1835, a house with the same opinions as its predecessors, the Ministers must go. If it sends one, as it did in 1784, with a ministerial majority, of course they remain. You seem to have no means of consulting the nation, but must wait till the Assembly has sat through its term.”
“A dissolution,” he said, “with us would be a revolution. The President, especially a Bonaparte, could not be left, even for a few weeks, unchecked by a countervailing force. Some years hence, perhaps, if we have then popular institutions, our chief magistrate may be allowed the power given to your sovereign, but not in our present state of transition.”
“But,” I said, “if you refuse to pass laws, and the President remains firm, what is to be the result?”
“If,” he answered, “his conduct were such as to justify our accusing him of an intention to subvert the constitution, we might seize the whole power of the state, and impeach him.”
“And these seditious cries, these promotions of those who uttered them, these dismissals of those who refused to join in them, this removal of the commander, on whose skill and fidelity the Assembly relied for its protection, are strong indications of plans of usurpation?”
“They might be urged,” said Ampère, “as implying a tendency, but the President may certainly keep within the limits of the law, and yet make legal government, except through his own ministers, impossible.”
“Was he wise,” I asked, “in indulging in an expenditure which forces him to apply to the chamber for a further allowance?”
“Very unwise,” answered Tocqueville; “he ought to have lived within his income, as the richest private man in France, without assuming princely magnificence. He would have been more respected, and really more powerful; I have told him so a hundred times; I have implored him to lay aside his extravagant retinue, and to discontinue his ostentatious fêtes.”
“But his instincts are towards expense, and his immediate adherents, who are as bad advisers as it is possible, stimulate an extravagance by which they profit. He is always thinking of his uncle. And the expense of the Imperial Court is, of course, the part of the empire most easily copied.”
“In what way,” I said, “does he get rid of so much money?”
“A great deal of it,” said Tocqueville, “goes in gifts to old officers: much, of course, in dinners and balls; but more in what is called coulage, waste, carelessness.”
“Of course,” I said, “he has gained something by this expenditure, though he may have lost more.”
“If,” answered Tocqueville, “his object be to become a sovereign, he may have forwarded it by accustoming people to see him surrounded by a state and splendour inconsistent with private life. But I do not believe that his extravagance has been the result of any deep political views. I fancy that his real motive has been the pleasure of spending money, of gratifying his immediate vanity, and the vanity of those around him.”
“It is wonderful how many men of talent and ambition have sacrificed their comfort, and even their independence to a taste for expense.”
“All that is going on,” continued Tocqueville, “fills me with uneasiness. I wish well to the President, and I wish well to the Assembly, and I see them on the way to destroy one another.”
“Among all the different courses which events may take, the one which has for some time appeared to me the least objectionable, is the prolongation of Louis Napoleon’s presidency, and I am grieved to see him make it the most objectionable.”
“What,” I asked, “will be the prophecy that I shall hear when I am in Paris next May? During the last three Mays, it has been an insurrection, and twice it has come true.”
“The prophecy,” he answered, “next May, will be a Coup d’État. Some of your friends will tell you that in a week the Assembly will declare itself in danger; appoint a guard of 40,000 men, under the command of one of its members, and use it to take the President to Vincennes.
“Others will assure you that the news which you may expect every morning is, that during the night the Palais National has been occupied by the troops; that the walls are covered with placards, declaring the Assembly dissolved; and that all the leading members of the majority are arrested or concealed. And I will not venture to predict that neither of these events, or, at least, that no event similar to one of them, will occur.
“In the present state of feeling,” he continued, “nothing would be easier than for the President to make himself a constitutional king. It is the form of government under which France has been most prosperous, it is the one which has the most friends, and the most effective ones. If one of the Orleans’ princes were president, we should slide into it almost unconsciously. But this is a rôle utterly repugnant to all Louis Napoleon’s prejudices and tastes. He cannot bear to be controlled by an assembly, to take his ministers from its majority, to submit his conduct to its criticism. I am convinced that he had much rather remain President of the Republic, with a vague, undefined, and, as he thinks, independent power, than become a constitutional king, acting under the advice of his ministers and with little real power of choosing them.
“Of course I do not mean to say that he is satisfied to be a mere president. What I affirm is, merely that he prefers it to being a constitutional king.
“What he would wish, is to be a king like Henry IV. or one of your Tudor sovereigns. He would not object perhaps to a senate, which might always pay him compliments, and sometimes give him advice, which might take on itself the details of legislation, and register and promulgate his decrees.
“But, like his uncle, he wishes to govern.”
Tuesday, February 4, 1851.
We expected, in the evening, letters and papers from France; but a continuance of easterly winds has delayed the packet, and none arrived.
Tocqueville is very uncomfortable.
“I voted,” he said, “against Louis Napoleon, partly for the very reason which induced the great majority to support him, because he is a Bonaparte, and partly from my deep distrust of his character. But when we had him, I was anxious that we should keep on good terms with him. To be sure he is essentially Prince, the rôle of Washington would have no charm for him. He has believed for twenty years that it is his destiny to be the permanent ruler of France, and his rashness is equal to his confidence. Still, I think that it would have been possible, for a time at least, to avoid a rupture, and I have done all in my power to avert one. In all my letters, I have urged my friends to endeavour to conciliate him.
“But now that the conflict has come, I earnestly wish that the Assembly may get the better. If the President succeeds, if his powers, already perhaps too large for a representative government, are prolonged and consolidated, he and his court will become the masters of France. . . . The late debates have shown us for the first time a party, calling itself the President’s friends. They are endeavouring to form into a permanent party, the minority of 286.*
“That minority consisted originally of as many shades as the majority. There were those who wished merely to blame one portion of the conduct of the ministers there there were those who did not intend even to blame, but merely to express regret I trust that it will dissolve now that the accident which created it has passed; but if it does not, if it crystallizes into a party, such a minority, opposed to such a disunited majority, will soon become the most powerful body in the Assembly.
“The people, too, are now in a state of mind in which whatever be its follies, or its usurpations, they will side with the executive. They are thoroughly sick of revolutions, and would sacrifice the constitution to avoid a contest.”
“It is lucky,” I said, “that if your constitution is in danger, it is not a more valuable one. If we were to lose ours, we should think our loss irreparable; but you could run up one as good as this in a few weeks.”
“The constitution,” he answered, “is detestable; but it gives us shelter.
“There is no saying what might happen in the interregnum. It is of some importance, too, to consider what is the character of the man who aspires to be our ruler. You think in England, I know, that he is essentially pacific; that he represents the party of order, and that it is safer to have to deal with him than with the Assembly. Just at present, while he is thinking only of the means of buying friends and crushing enemies, he is quiescent; but he has notions about the part which France ought to play in the affairs of Europe which might make him a very disagreeable, perhaps a very dangerous, member of the political world.”
Sorrento, Sunday, February 9, 1851.
The papers brought us in the evening the meagre result of the “interpellations” addressed to the new French Ministry on the 28th.
“The Assembly,” said Tocqueville, “has acted as a large heterogeneous body may be expected to act. It has made an attack, and recoiled—shown its anger, and perhaps its impotence. I have no fear that what may be called the liberties of France, such as they are, will be diminished. We have now enjoyed legal government for thirty-two years; and we shall retain it. But I fear that the monarchical element in our institutions will gain more strength, and that the representative body will be made weaker than has been the case with either of them since the Empire.
“As for the Assembly, the probability seems to be that until it is roused in May by the great question of the revision of the constitution, it will sink into inactivity. It has, indeed, much to do if it chooses to employ itself. There are the laws respecting mortgages to be almost re-made—there is a poor-law to be invented—there are municipal institutions to be created; but I fear that after the excitement of this struggle, it will be disgusted by its ill success, be unable to act cordially with the President, or with ministers whom it despises, and will fritter away the next two months on trifles, or in undignified disputes between the Royalist parties and the Montagne.”
“Will the revision of the constitution,” I said, “be a matter of earnest debate? I thought that everybody was agreed as to its necessity.”
“Everybody,” answered Tocqueville, “is agreed as to the badness of the constitution; but not only will it be a matter vehemently debated, but I doubt whether the requisite majority, three-fourths, will be obtained. All the parties who fear that it will be altered in a manner unfavourable to themselves will oppose the revision.
“The Montagnards, of course, will oppose it. They know that the next constitution will be less republican than this is; and I am not sure what will be the conduct of either the Legitimists, the Orleanists, or the Imperialists, if any one of them should fear to be a loser.”
Sorrento, February 10, 1851.
The ladies on donkies, the men on foot, walked to the mountain over the Cape, and thence home by a sort of staircase cut or beaten out on the face of the precipice.
We talked of the great writers of the eighteenth century. Les quatre, it was agreed, were Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Buffon.
“Whom,” said Ampère to Tocqueville, “do you put highest?”
“Voltaire,” answered Tocqueville. “Nothing can exceed the clearness, the finesse, the gaiety, and yet the simplicity of his style. He had a right to answer as he did, to a lady who talked to him about the beauty of his phrases. ‘Madame, je n’ai jamais fait une phrase de ma vie.’ ”*
“Next, perhaps as to style, comes Buffon, sometimes indeed a little on stilts; the reader easily believes what we are told, that he never wrote except full dressed, and bien poudré, but brilliant, and flowing, and sometimes even poetical. Montesquieu is a little artificial; and Rousseau in his earlier works, indulged in long sentences, managed it is true, with wonderful skill, but still giving to them a laboured air.—It is on his ‘Confessions’ that his fame will rest.”
We talked of Talleyrand. I said that he appeared to me, to have been very indiscreet—that nothing could be more indiscreet than his celebrated aphorism, “that language was given to a man to disguise his thoughts.”
“I do not know,” answered Tocqueville, “that he is to be called indiscreet; for indiscretion is the frankness of a man who does not know that he is laying bare what ought to be kept covered. Talleyrand knew perfectly well that he was talking imprudently; but he yielded to the temptation of a bon mot, a temptation which no Frenchman resists; and perhaps he was right in doing so, for the charms of his conversation were among the means of his success. It was principally through them that he captivated Bonaparte.”
“Had Bonaparte,” I asked, “good taste in society?”
“Better,” answered Tocqueville, “than in most other things. His feelings were all aristocratic. He liked people of birth and refinement. He never forgot that he was gentilhomme himself; and though there was something brusque in his general manner; he could be delightful when he chose.”
“The empire,” I said, “must have been an amusing time.”
“Not very much,” answered Tocqueville, “for civilians; they were obscured by the military reputations; and military life passed away almost too rapidly to be called amusing. I have heard of whole regiments which in a few years were killed three times over. It seems absurd to say so, but one gets accustomed to being killed. A short time before I left Paris, I was talking to an old friend, Rulhières, who passed through most of the campaigns of the Grand Armée. He told me that at Friedland his men stood motionless for two hours before a Russian battery; the only sound heard was the voice of an officer, who, whenever a man was struck cried, ‘Emportez le, et serrez vos rangs.’ Nothing but twenty years’ of war, that is to say, the traditionary rules of conduct formed during twenty years’ of war, could enable men to exhibit this patient self-devotion.
“Our revolutionary armies were fanatically daring; but they had not this passive heroism. They would have dashed at the battery, and have been blown to pieces.
“Rulhières,” he added, “told me a characteristic story of a Russian. He was a man of high rank, who had been sent to our head-quarters on a mission, and lived for some time on intimate terms with our staff, particularly with Rulhières. At the battle of Eylau Rulhières was taken prisoner. He caught the eye of his Russian friend, who came to offer his services. ‘You can do me,’ said Rulhières, ‘an important service. One of your Cossacks yonder has just seized my horse and cloak. I am dying of fatigue and cold. If you can get them for me, you may save my life.’
“The Russian went to the Cossack, talked to him rather sharply, probably on the wickedness of robbing a prisoner; got possession of the horse and cloak; put on the one, and mounted the other, and Rulhières never saw him again.”
Thursday, February 13, 1851.
We walked and rode to the Camaldoli convent, and returned by the eastern side of the mountain.
Tocqueville talked of the resemblance of the present state of affairs in France to that which existed under the constitution of l’an 3, or of 1795, before the coup d’état of the 18 Fructidor.
“In each case,” said Tocqueville, “the constitution was made by a single Assembly which had succeeded to a constitutional monarchy, and had ruled despotically, comprehending in itself absolute legislative and absolute executive power.
“In each case an attempt was made to keep the powers separate—to have an executive totally deprived of legislative authority, not possessing even a veto, and a legislative body confined to the business of legislation. In the constitution of 1795 the separation was made complete, for members of the legislative body were excluded from all public functions. The present constitution allows them to be ministers.
“At this instant, however, when not a single minister is a member of the Assembly, the practical result of each constitution is the same. And even when the ministers were taken from the Assembly, the number is so small that more than 740 members had nothing to do but to make laws.
“Now this is not enough to occupy them; and, even if it were, an Assembly elected by the people, and believing itself to be the supreme power, cannot resist the temptation to take part in the actual government of the country.
“The least that it requires is that the government should be carried on by ministers in whom it has confidence. But the supreme executive power has the same pretension. Not only the power, but the duty of selecting the ministers belongs to it. Under the constitution of 1795, therefore, as under that of 1848, the choice of ministers became a subject of quarrel between the executive and legislative authorities.
“The Directory was in appearance far less formidable than our President is. It was a composite body, and a fluctuating one. What was more important, it was nominated not by the people, but by the legislature; and what was more important still, the nation was against it.
“The nation, at least that part of the nation which then possessed political power, was royalist. Not, perhaps, Bourbonist, but, as it showed two years after the 18th Fructidor, monarchical. And yet the executive then trampled under foot the legislative, almost without a struggle. It did so, simply because the army was on its side. The mobs of Marseilles and Paris, and the army, were the only democratic bodies in France.
“We had conquered Europe, under the cry of war against kings. Every soldier hoped that, under democratic institutions, he should become an officer; and almost every officer who was a roturier, dreaded that if the ancien régime was re-established, he would lose all hope of advancement, perhaps even his commission. The army, therefore, sided with the democratic executive against the aristocratic or monarchical legislature. And it was irresistible—who can say that it would not be so now?
“Perhaps the best defence of a national guard is the enormous power of the army. It is seldom that a national guard can be relied on against a mob; but it is a great protection against the army, for the soldiers are not easily induced to fire on persons in uniform.”
TO THE COMTESSE DE CIRCOURT.
Sorrento, February 14, 1851.
About three weeks ago, Madame, I sent on, according to M. de Circourt’s instructions, the letter of introduction which you were so good as to give to me. General Filangieri has just returned a very polite answer, for which I am indebted solely to you. With it was a packet which I hasten to forward to you.
I seize this opportunity of thanking you for the kind and interesting letter that I received from you a short time since. How I should envy, Madame, those who spend their lives in the circles which you describe so well, and especially in yours, if one could be there without hearing of politics. But they poison everything, even the pleasure of returning home. The events in France, especially within the last month have, I own, made me cross and unsociable. I wish I could find some occupation for my mind in no way connected with public affairs; but this is more easily said than done. Political life is like certain women who, they say, have the power of agitating and exciting you long after you have ceased to love them.
What can I tell you, Madame, of this little world of Sorrento, in which you are so good as to interest yourself? It is as quiet and uniform as yours is varied and bustling. You know that there is nothing so tiresome as descriptions of still life. Besides, as I said before, the miserable state of our politics has disturbed and almost spoilt for me my retirement.
Voltaire used to say, that when anything annoyed him he wrote stories. I, who have no taste or talents that way, try to amuse myself by visiting all the environs.
I have seen Pompeii again, and I have been to Amalfi and Pœstum, which were new to me. The simple, melancholy grandeur of Pœstum filled me with emotion. But why do people say that these ruins stand in the midst of a desert; whereas their site is nothing more than a miserable, badly cultivated, scantily populated country, decaying like the temples themselves? Men always insist upon adorning truth instead of describing it. The greatest sometimes yield to this temptation. Even M. de Chateaubriand has painted the real wilderness, the one at least with which I am acquainted, in false colours. He seems to have travelled blindfold through the everlasting, cold, damp, melancholy, dark, and silent forest, from which you cannot escape even on the summits of the mountains or in the bosom of the valleys, which, more even than the ocean itself, impresses upon you the immensity of nature and the littleness of man.
We are told here that the winter is over: the truth is that it has not begun; we have scarcely had any autumn. What a delicious country, and how hard it would be to leave it were it not for the purpose of seeing one’s friends again! I trust that I have recovered my health here, though I dare not boast as yet.
Pray remember me to all who care about me. Thank M. de Circourt very much for his two letters. One was brought to me by an American with whom I was glad to renew my acquaintance; the second came with yours; both of them interested and instructed me. Adieu, Madame.
Sorrento, Monday, February 17, 1851.
I walked with Tocqueville and Ampère to Massa and round by the Deserto di St. Agatha. During the walk and in the evening we talked of the Roman expedition.
“Of its three motives,” I said, “the maintenance of French influence in Italy, the restoration of the Pope, and the introduction or preservation in Rome of liberal institutions, only the second has been obtained.”
“The first,” said Tocqueville, “cannot be said to have totally failed. It is true that we have not increased our popularity; the Roman people do not know—indeed nobody knows—the efforts that have been made in their behalf; they do not sufficiently feel that, if we had not interfered, Austria certainly would, and that Radetski would not have carried on the siege, or used the victory in quite the same spirit as Oudinot.
“But still we are there. Austria has it not all her own way. We have shown that we are able and willing to take a decisive part in Italian affairs. If we had refused the Pope’s application, and the Austrians had brought him back, as they certainly would have done, they would have had a pretence to object to any interference on our part. Now, as masters of Rome, we have at least a right to be heard. I am not bound, however, to defend the Roman expedition. It was no act of mine. When I entered the cabinet we were already at Civita Vecchia. All that I could do was to impress on Oudinot the necessity of so conducting the siege as to avoid injuring what is the property of the whole Christian world—the monuments of Rome. In this attempt we succeeded.”
“Yes,” said Ampêre, “almost the whole damage which the siege has done, is the destruction of the trees and frescoes in the Borghese gardens; and this was done not by us, but by the republican triumvirs, out of pure spite to the Prince, for it was totally useless.”
“This mode of conducting the siege,” continued Tocqueville, “actually occasioned to us some loss of men, and much of time; and exposed us to dangers which make me almost tremble when I think of them. If the unhealthy season had arrived at its usual time, and found our army encamped on the banks of the Tiber, it would have been laid waste by fever. If Rome had resisted for three weeks longer, this calamity would certainly have overtaken us, and there is no saying what political ones might have followed.
“Now the mode in which we were proceeding, making no use of shells, and directing our attacks only against the quarters where there was nothing valuable to injure, was so slow, that the day before the town surrendered our engineers estimated that it would hold out for twenty or twenty-one days longer. Happily the municipality, which the 20,000 foreign refugees had kept down by the terror of imprisonment, executions, and assassinations, took courage at last, and forced them to let us in; but it was a happiness that we had no right to expect. We owe it, in fact, principally to Ledru Rollin and his friends. The Roman garrison speculated on the assistance of the Parisian mob. When the failure of that silly insurrection showed that there was no hope from France, they lost heart, suffered the municipality to treat, and began to make their escape during the negotiation.
“The Cardinals at Gaëta during the siege were always contrasting our slow proceedings with the vigour with which the Austrians reduced Bologna. They did not, in so many words, require us to bombard Rome; but to obey them, and bring the siege to an end rapidly, that is what we must have done. And if any other of the Catholic powers, Spain, or Naples, or Austria, had taken on itself the settling of the Roman affair, the town would have been reduced in a week by destroying perhaps a third of it. From the time that Oudinot entered Rome in July, till we were turned out of office at the end of October, the whole object of my correspondence was, to induce the Pope to grant liberal institutions to his people. I considered this as the most important of the three objects of the expedition—as an object affecting not only our interests but our honour, as an object without which the whole expedition was a lamentable failure.”
“As between you and the Pope,” I said, “I suppose that you founded your right to make this demand on his having requested your aid?”
“Certainly,” he answered. “When a sovereign requests a friendly power to send an army into his territories, not to resist a foreign enemy, but to put down a domestic insurrection, he contracts a tacit engagement with that power to follow, at least to a considerable extent, its advice as to the use to be made of the victory. You occupied Sicily merely as auxiliaries, but you made the king give it a constitution.”
“And on what,” I asked, “did you found your right as against the Roman republic?”
“As against the triumvirs,” he answered, “on their being at the head of a horde of foreign ruffians, driven into Rome by the disgust and indignation of all other countries, who were oppressors of the Roman people.
“As against the Roman people, on the ground that France is the first Catholic power, that the spiritual authority of the Pope is essential to the welfare of the Catholic world, and that some degree of temporal power is necessary for the permanent exercise of his spiritual power. On these grounds, what appear to be the domestic affairs of Rome, and would be its domestic affairs if the Pope was at Avignon, have always been a matter in which the rest of Europe, Protestant as well as Catholic, has thought itself justified in interfering.”
“And what,” I said, “were the concessions which you required from the Pope?”
“They were five,” he answered. “First—A renewed recognition of the general principle of liberty and security proclaimed by the Pope in his celebrated statuto of the 17th March, 1848.
“Secondly—A new organization of the Roman courts of justice.
“Thirdly—A civil code resembling the code of Piedmont, or of Naples, which are in fact taken from the Code Napoléon.
“Fourthly—Elective municipal and national councils The Pope, by his motu proprio of the 14th October, 1847, created a National Assembly, called a “Consulta,” which was authorized to advise, but not to legislate. We required one which should have deliberative power on matters of taxation.
“Fifthly—The secularization of the public administration.
“Of these requisitions the two last were of course the most material. We, perhaps, attached most importance to vesting in an elected body the power of taxation; but as respects the feelings of the Roman people, the substitution of a lay for a clerical administration was the most urgent of all the reforms. Their hatred against their ecclesiastical rulers is indescribable. It is such that the Pope can retain them only while his capital is occupied by foreign troops; the instant that we go, unless the Austrians take our place, there will be a new revolution, which will sweep away every clerical functionary.”
“You did not seriously hope,” I replied, “to obtain all these demands?”
“I believe,” he answered, “that when we made them many of them were hopeless; though I thought it my duty to urge all of them as earnestly as if I expected to gain my point.
“But there was a time when they might at least have been promised, and perhaps ostensibly performed; that was when Pio Nono first asked our assistance. He had then quarrelled with Austria. Naples was democratic; he was on bad terms with Piedmont, and applied only to us.
“Cavaignac was timid and refused, but if we ought to have interfered at all, that was the time. When the Pope was at Gaëta, surrounded by the Spanish, Neapolitan, and Bavarian ministers, when he had lost Rossi, when he had thrown himself into the hands of the Cardinals, it was too late to prescribe terms to him.
“He seems to have thought seriously of trying to obtain some administrators from France, and he bitterly lamented the loss of Rossi. He said, ‘C’est le seul homme d’état capable de soutenir une nouvelle politique que j’ai pu trouver—et on me l’a tué.’*
“It was of great importance to us, to Rome, and, indeed, to the Pope himself, that he did not execute his original intention of taking refuge in France. The scheme was, that the Duc d’Harcourt, our minister in Rome, should arrange the means of taking him to France; and that Sparr, the Bavarian minister, should carry him to Gaëta, where he was to embark. So Harcourt, with all the Pope’s baggage, went to Civita Vecchia the same night that the Pope went to Gaëta. Harcourt found the Vauban at Civita Vecchia, and came round with her to Gaëta. By that time, the Pope had been two days in Gaëta, had been received with all sorts of honours and veneration, and found himself so comfortable, that he refused to move further. The whole influence of Naples was, of course, unfavourable to us; and it was exercised in the teazing, childish manner which was to be expected from them.
“When our minister reached Gaëta, carrying the first intelligence of our entry into Rome, he was put into quarantine, on the pretext that the Cerbere, which brought him, came from Toulon, and that there was cholera in Paris.
“He protested—the ministers could not venture to decide. The king was consulted; he asked for further explanations, and after a long delay, our minister was allowed to land; but his papers and his secretary were detained on board the Cerbere in quarantine, and it was only the following evening that the king was induced to connive at his going thither by night and stealing them.”
“How did the Austrians behave?” I asked.
“Better,” he answered, “than could have been expected. Austria was then professing to be constitutional, and affecting liberality. Esterhazy, who represented Austria at Gaëta, thoroughly approved, at least in his conversations, the secularization of the government, and the power of the Consulta in matters of taxation.
“It is remarkable, that one of the grounds on which the President dismissed us was, our not obtaining greater concessions from the Pope; but directly we were gone, he himself, or at least his ministers, gave up everything. His vanity was satisfied with having insulted the Pope, by his letter to Ney, and with having insulted the Chamber, by turning out a ministry without consulting it; and his interest in the affairs of Rome was then over.”
“But what,” I asked, “could you have done if you had remained, and the Pope had continued obstinate?”
“We should have set ourselves,” answered Tocqueville, “right with Europe; and we should have refused to sanction by our presence what we could not prevent.
“My intention was, in that event, to draw up a protest, stating all that we had asked on behalf of the Roman people; the grounds on which we had asked it, and the manner in which it had been refused, or eluded. . . . To present it to the Pope, to publish it in the Moniteur, and to withdraw our troops from Rome, leaving this appeal to Europe and to posterity.”
Thursday, February 20, 1851.
We talked in the evening of the memoirs of Louis XVIII.
I said that they had deceived Lord Granville, who told me in 1832 that he thought them authentic.
“They were written,” said Tocqueville, “by some one who had excellent information. Those memoirs, and those of an ‘Homme d’Etat,’ and the ‘Memorial de St. Hélène,’ are to be separated from the ordinary manufactures, such as those of Madame de Barry, Fouché, &c.”
“Who wrote,” I said, “the Memorial de St. Hélène?”
“An Abbé de Chateau Vieux,” said Tocqueville, “who kept the secret, except to one or two intimate friends, during his life, but revealed it by his will. He wrote nothing else very remarkable, and was not even a Parisian, which accounts for his never having been suspected.”
From the Memoirs of Louis XVIII. we passed to the man.
“He was,” said Tocqueville, “the only sovereign in France who has had the good sense or the patience to govern constitutionally. . . . He made a few mistakes at the beginning . . . offended the army by his Gardes du Corps, and still more by Ney’s execution; but during the remainder of his reign he took his ministers from the majority, and his policy from his ministers, and reigned in as parliamentary a manner as if he had been King of England. It has been said that the Bourbons are a worn-out race, and Louis XVI., Ferdinand I. of Naples, and Charles IV. of Spain, are used as examples; but what can be more thoroughly Bourbon than Louis Philippe’s family, the children of a French Bourbon by a Neapolitan Bourbon, and yet they would be a most distinguished family in private life. I cannot but believe that the French Bourbons are still destined to act a great part, and their present fortunes are preparing them for it.”
TO M. DUFAURE.
Sorrento, March 12, 1851.
I should have answered your letter sooner, my dear Friend, if I could have done so freely and openly; but the post here is so notoriously treacherous that a political correspondence is almost impossible, and even confidential intercourse is unpleasant. It must be owned that governments have a great power of spoiling all the advantages of civilization: they hamper every facility that it bestows upon us.
I console myself, however, for not being able to write to you upon politics as freely as I wish, by looking forward to the time when we shall be able to talk about them. I am making arrangements for reaching Paris towards the end of April. We are separated by five weeks at most. I cannot tell you how impatient I am to return; how much I have suffered by being away from my friends in the trying events which have just taken place; and by anticipating those, which, on different hypotheses, may occur. It is not that the part of a representative of the people seems to be now very agreeable. I know of none more ungrateful. But, after all, it is my duty, and as long as it is laid upon me I cannot endure with patience my banishment from the theatre where I ought to play it. The responsibility of absence in political times seems to me heavier than the responsibility of action. Thank God, I have nearly reached the term of my exile, and shall soon resume my place amongst you. I hope that nothing serious will occur in the interval. The positions assumed by the different parties are such as are not likely to change for the next few weeks. It seems to me as if they had all appointed a great field day, or rather, that public opinion has fixed it for them on the ground of the constitution, that is to say, about the middle of May. This idea helps me to endure patiently the remainder of the time which I must spend here.
Mr. Senior left Sorrento at the end of February, and met M. de Tocqueville in the following spring in Paris.
Paris, May 4, 1851.
I went early in the morning to Tocqueville.
“The political horizon,” he said, “is darker—that is to say, obscurer—than I ever knew it to be.
“At Sorrento I thought that I could see a little before me. Since I am in Paris I give up all attempts at prophecy, or even conjecture. One thing only is certain, that a legal solution of the questions that will have to be decided next year is impossible.
“The President will not consent to consider himself ineligible. Even if he were to do so, his friends would not act on that supposition. He will certainly be on the list of candidates; and the result perhaps most to be desired, or least to be deprecated, is that he should be re-elected by a majority so large as to be considered to speak the voice of the nation, and therefore to legalize its own acts, though opposed to the existing law. It must be remembered that by that time the new assembly will have been elected; and the present assembly, therefore, though technically possessed of its full powers, will have lost its moral influence, and will be unable to oppose the public will.
“But even this result, though less formidable than the simultaneous change of the holders of all executive power, and of all legislative power, will be an event of which the certain mischief will be great, the possible mischief enormous. What will be the effect on men’s minds of a violation of the constitution deliberately made by the nation at the instigation of its chief magistrate? Who will respect a constitution which the people has set aside in one of its most important provisions?
“That constitution, bad as it is, is our only bulwark. Nothing else stands between us and either anarchy or despotism. The President is formidable enough as he is. What will he be, when his mere election will have been a triumph over the only restraint that keeps him within the constitution? It is difficult even now to protect property from systematic plunder, and authority from organized revolt. What will be the difficulty, after the executive itself for many months has been employing thousands of agents to urge the people to break the law, and has succeeded? Every exit seems besieged by some frightful spectre.
“At present there is a lull; parties are preparing for the discussion as to the revision of the constitution, which cannot come on until the 28th.”
Paris, May 6, 1851.
Mrs. Grote and I drank tea with Tocqueville. Madame de Tocqueville was unwell and in bed.
We talked of T. K.’s theory as to the unfitness of France for a mixed government.
“I do not see,” said Tocqueville, “why what has been should not be again. We endured a mixed government for thirty-three years, why should we be incapable of enduring one now? I admit, however, that in order to enable a government in which the supreme power is divided to be permanent to last, as yours has done, for centuries, the ruling authorities must possess an amount of patience and forbearance which never has been granted to ours; and therefore I do not expect a mixed government in France to be permanent—that is to say, to be uninterrupted. Among thousands of possibilities, that which appears to me to be the least improbable, is that during the greater part of the next hundred years, France will be subject to a constitutional monarchy, from time to time interrupted by a despotic or by a democratic revolution.”
“Of course,” I said, “the form of mixed government under which you are living will not last?”
“Of course,” he answered, “it will not. A despotic monarchy, or a despotic aristocracy, may retain its power for centuries against the will of its subjects: but an unpopular democracy sounds like a contradiction in terms, and must soon become a contradiction in fact.
“As soon as the people has found the means of ascertaining and expressing its will, it will select, or accept, or submit to the master whom it prefers to self-government.
“Those who imposed on us this constitution knew that it would be unpopular. They tried to prolong its existence; first, by pre-determining the mode in which it should be altered; and secondly, by making that legal mode almost impracticable.
“Three-quarters of the Assembly will not join in a vote from which a third, perhaps nearly a half, of its members fear more than they hope.”
“Will you then break,” I said, “the band which you cannot untie? Will you proceed to a revision on a simple majority?”
“I believe,” he answered, “that the Government will make the attempt; and it was the fear of having to do this which prevented my friends and me from taking office. The danger of such a course is enormously increased by the new electoral law. Under a system of universal suffrage, the new constituent Assembly could not have been said to have been illegally elected. It would really have represented the whole nation. Now it will represent only a minority. Those who wish to resist its acts may proclaim them void, as the acts of a political body doubly illegal—illegally convoked, and illegally nominated. The whole conduct and tone of the present administration convinces me that they have considered this risk, and are resolved to encounter it. They are bolder than I am.”
May 18, 1851.
Tocqueville does not share in B.’s expectation that, on the question of revision, the minority will yield.
“It might yield,” he said, “if the majority were compact and earnest; it might yield if the majority were cordially supported by the nation. But the nation is divided; it knows that the constitution is faulty, but it is not sure that it will be exchanged for anything better. It would see with pleasure a few points selected for amendment; but it looks forward with terror to a new constituent assembly which may avow principles which were with difficulty rejected in 1848, which may bring back le droit au travail, and le droit au secours.* The majority shares these fears; and though it will vote for the revision, because it would be unable to justify to its constituents a refusal to amend what it admits to be defective, a large portion of it will not be sorry that the legal majority is not obtained.”
“But why,” I said, “not vote for a restricted revision? for the covering only of what experience has shown to be palpable blots?”
“Because,” he answered, “even a respectable majority cannot be obtained for the purpose . . . The instant you come to details, each party looks to its own interests, and there is scarcely a point on which even three out of five agree. I own that I am inclined to think that one of the least objectionable parts of our constitution is the difficulty which it throws in the way of change. Its framers foresaw that the period of revision would be one of great danger; and they wisely endeavoured to postpone it, at least, until the experiment of the Republic should have been made. . . .
“This has not yet been done; for a constitution which almost all who administer it are striving to overthrow cannot be said to have been fairly tried. This general desire for revision is not the result of an appreciation of the merits and defects of the constitution; it is the restlessness of a sick man who wishes to turn in his bed. All parties seem convinced that the revision will produce some form of monarchy. Hence the violence with which it is urged on by the Anti-republicans, and opposed by the Montagne. I do not share this conviction. Under our system of voting by lists, a compact minority which concentrates all its votes on its own candidates, has a great chance of beating a divided majority which supports as many candidates as it contains factions. I should not be surprised at seeing Rouge representatives from many of the departments on which the anti-republican parties now rely. So clearly do I see the dangers of the revision, that I could not bring myself to vote for it, if I saw any other less dangerous course.
“But danger surrounds us on every side. Great and general as the alarm is, I believe it to be less than that which is justified by our situation.
“The constitution,” he added, “with all its defects, might be endurable, if we could only believe in its permanence. But we read history. We see that republican institutions have never lasted in France, and we infer that these which we have now must be shortlived. This reading of history is our bane. If we could forget the past, we might apply a calm, impartial judgment to the present. But we are all always thinking of precedents. Sometimes we draw them from our own history; sometimes from yours. Sometimes we use the precedent as an example; sometimes as warning. But as the circumstances under which we apply it always differ materially from those under which it took place, it almost always misleads us.
“We indicted Louis for conspiracy against the nation because you had indicted Charles. We substituted Louis Philippe for Charles X., as you had substituted Mary for James.
“Louis XVI. believed that Charles I. had lost his crown and his life by raising his standard at Edge Hill. So he tried non-resistance. Charles X. saw that his brother’s submission was fatal, and had recourse to the ordonnances, and to his army.
“Louis Philippe recollected the fate of Charles X., and forbad his troops to act.
“Thus the pendulum oscillates, and generally oscillates wrong.”
In July, 1851, M. de Tocqueville inhabited a country-house near Versailles, belonging to M. Rivet, and attended the Legislative Assembly. He was a member of a Commission in which MM. de Montalembert, Jules Favre, Berryer, De Corcelle, De Broglie, Charras, Cavaignac, Odilon Barrot, and Baze, were among his colleagues, directed to consider the proposals for the revision of the constitution. He was the rapporteur, and his report, dated the 8th of July, 1851 (No. 2064 of the papers of that year), is a masterly production, but too long to be introduced in extenso. I cannot, however, resist the temptation of extracting a passage describing the constitution of 1848:—
“A single chamber, exclusively entitled to make laws: a single man exclusively entitled to preside over the application of all laws, and the direction of all public affairs, each of them elected directly by universal suffrage: the Assembly omnipotent within the limits of the constitution: the President required, within those limits, to obey the Assembly; but wielding, from the nature of his election, a moral force which makes his submission uneasy, and must suggest to him resistance, and possessed of all the prerogatives which belong to the executive in a country in which the central administration, everywhere active and everywhere powerful, has been created by monarchs, and for the purposes of monarchy:—these two great powers, equal as to their origin, unequal as to their rights, condemned by law to coerce one another, invited by law to mutual suspicion, mutual jealousy, and mutual contest, yet forced to live in close embrace, in an eternal tête-à-tête, without a third power, or even an umpire, to mediate or to restrain them—these are not conditions under which a government can be regular or strong.”
It is to the report that M. de Tocqueville alludes in the following letter.—Tr.
TO N. W. SENIOR, ESQ.
Versailles, July 27, 1851.
My dear Senior,
. . . I am satisfied with the general effect which my report has produced in France, and delighted by its reception in England. I care almost as much about what is said of me on your side of the channel as I do for what is said of me on ours. So many of my opinions and feelings are English, that England is to me almost a second country intellectually.
How comes it that my reasons in favour of the revision have not convinced you? What inconsistency is there between this report and my conversations with you at Sorrento?
I then thought the illegal re-election of the President very probable. I think so still. Although Louis Napoleon has completely disgusted the higher classes, and almost all our eminent political men—although his popularity among the lower classes has much diminished, and is diminishing every day—notwithstanding all this, I confess that I still think his re-election nearly inevitable, partly in consequence of the want of any competitor, and partly in consequence of our general anxiety. I believe that the Bonapartist current, if it can be turned aside at all, can be turned aside only by meeting a revolutionary current, which will be still more dangerous; and lastly, I believe that if he were to be illegally re-elected, any amount of attack on our liberties would become possible.
So convinced was I of all this six weeks ago, that I remember telling you that I should probably retire from public life, in order to have nothing to do with a government which may try to destroy, in law or in fact, all constitutional institutions, and perhaps, exhausted as we are, might for a time succeed.
The government which I should prefer, if I thought it possible, would be a republic; but believing its continuance impossible, I should see without regret Louis Napoleon become our permanent ruler, if I could believe that he would be supported by the higher classes, and would be able and desirous to rule constitutionally. But I told you then that I did not believe either of these things to be possible, and all that I see convinces me that I was right.
The President is as proof against all constitutional ideas as Charles X. was. He has his own legitimacy, and he believes as firmly in the imperial constitution as Charles X. did in divine right. Then he separates himself more and more every day from almost all the men whose talents or experience fit them for public business, and is reduced to rely on the instincts and passions of the peuple,* properly so called. His re-election, therefore, especially if illegal, may have disastrous consequences. And yet it is inevitable, unless resisted by an appeal, which I will not make, to revolutionary passions.
What is the result of this, but a desire for a revision, which may either, by changing the nature and the origin of the executive, render his re-election impossible, or by rendering it legal, may render it less dangerous.
Many persons in France, and some even in England, have reproached me for having stuck so firmly to the constitution, and for having led the Assembly to declare its adherence. I have been accused even of having supposed an illegal re-election, and of having urged the Assembly to resist one. This is an error, as any one who reads carefully my report will see.
I do not foretel, I did not wish to foretel, what the Assembly will do, or ought to do, on an unconstitutional re-election. It will depend on circumstances, particularly on the number of votes. There might be a manifestation of public opinion to which it might be prudent and patriotic to yield.
What I have said, and made the Assembly say, is, that during the interval which separates us from 1852, no illegality is to be permitted; that no party, not even the Government, is to be allowed to propose an illegal candidate; that we must act, and force every one else to act, in such a manner as to leave the nation mistress of herself, able to consult her own interests, and to follow her own opinions.
I have said all this as forcibly as I could. First, because I thought that to say so was useful to the country. Secondly, because I thought that to say so was useful to myself.
A time may come when I myself may think that the people ought to be allowed to violate the constitution. But I will let this be done by others. My hand shall never strike the flag of law.
Then this agitation for revision has two motives—one, a sincere wish for it, in order to improve the constitution; the other, an intrigue for the purpose of undermining and injuring the constitution. The former is mine; the latter I cannot join in.
In fact our situation is more complicated, more inextricable, and less intelligible, than it ever has been. We are always in one of those strange and terrible states in which nothing is impossible, and nothing can be foreseen. What is least improbable is the re-election of the President, and also the election of a new Assembly less favourable to him than is generally expected. If this be so, unless Louis Napoleon do not take advantage of the first popular impulse, which will enable him to rise to absolute power, he may find himself again opposed and hampered by a hostile Assembly.
Yet the nation, though it looks in the face this state of things, unexampled in history, is perfectly calm and not unprosperous. Trade, excepting agriculture, which has not recovered, does not fall off, perhaps increases. No one ventures on large speculations, but every one eagerly and perseveringly follows his own business, as if all that is to happen to-morrow were not uncertain. Yet no one can see 1852 approach without terror, great, perhaps exaggerated. We have all, however, been educated by revolutions. We all know that it is our fate to live like a soldier in a campaign, whom the chance of being killed to-morrow does not prevent from caring for his dinner, his bed, and even his amusements. When I see the attitude of the nation, I must admire it, and confess that, with all its follies and its weaknesses, it is a great people.
Your expectation that the habits of your people will render the Ecclesiastical Titles Act inoperative, seems to me probable. But why enact laws worse than your habits? I confess that I agree with all my heart and soul with those who, like Lord Aberdeen and Mr. Gladstone, oppose, in the spirit of liberty and of free institutions, these vain but dangerous attacks on liberty of conscience. Where will religious freedom fly if she is driven from England? If those whose principle is freedom of inquiry and toleration become intolerant, what right have they to reproach the intolerance of Rome? Rome, if she violates the conscience of individuals, does not violate her own principles.
It is imprudent to criticise a foreign country, but I cannot but think that, a few years hence, the disturbance created by the papal aggression will be compared to the passions which two centuries ago produced the belief in the popish plot. This agitation is less violent, but not less unreasonable. Even those who now take part in it will be as little able to account for their conduct as we are.
TO M. GUSTAVE DE BEAUMONT.
Versailles. Grille du Grand-Montreuil, September 14, 1851.
. . . The conseil général lasted for two full weeks, and ended only on the night of the 7th. . . . All passed as well as I could wish. The legal revision, as proposed by the Committee of the Assembly, was voted after a speech from me. . . . It is hard to ascertain the real state of public opinion in my department; so great is the reserve with which individuals express themselves, partly from prudence, and partly from not knowing what to think. There is almost universal silence. No people, while thinking of nothing but politics, ever talked of them so little. At last I think that I discovered as much as this:—no passionate attachment to the President of the Republic; great tolerance for his opponents; and a general inclination to re-elect him, because he is already there. Any other in his place would have almost the same chance, so strong is their dislike of agitation, and their horror of what they do not know. . . . I persist, then, in maintaining the opinion which, as you know, has always been mine, that the re-election of the President is inevitable, and that the only question is as to the amount of the majority. . . . The sort of light which falls on this one point in our future, does not make the rest of the picture more clear.
What will be the consequence of this popular coup d’état, I cannot tell. It seems to me, that it will be difficult to avoid a crisis of some sort, perhaps a period of considerable suffering. I think, with you, that we should hold ourselves, not aloof, but in reserve; and especially, as you say, without pledging ourselves to any civil war, with the hope that at the last moment we may be able to interpose, and if the President triumphs, to make our stand on constitutional liberty. But how little influence has one over events in such times as these! There is one resolution to which I am determined to hold: either to carry our liberties triumphantly through this crisis, or to fall with them; all the rest is secondary. But this is a question of life and death. . . .
The illusions of most people are wonderful. When I talk with some of them, I feel as if I were in a lunatic asylum. It is true that I do not possess the parent of all illusions—enthusiasm. I have no enthusiasm; how should I have any? Of the possible solutions, not one is to my taste; I see only a choice of evils. The nation lives upon illusions as to the real state of the country—on illusions as to the army. . . . As to the latter, yesterday a general, whom I will not name, described to me happily its spirit. “The army,” he said, “is like a young lady, well brought up, who asks for nothing better than to give herself away, but who will never submit to violence, nor bestow herself without the consent of her parents, her parents being the President and the Assembly.”
TO M. DE CORCELLE.
Versailles, September 13, 1851.
. . . Among many subjects of anxiety, you know how earnestly I desire to protect the interests of which you speak—those of religion and piety.
The reaction in favour of belief, and of those who profess to be believers, which we have witnessed since the Republic, can have astonished only those who do not reflect. It has not depended, and will not depend, on the influence of any one man, or even of any particular government; for the most striking characteristic of the times is the powerlessness both of men and of governments to direct the course of social or political changes. This reaction has two principal causes. 1st. The fear of socialism, which, for the time being, has produced on the middle classes an effect similar to that which the French Revolution formerly produced upon the upper ranks. 2dly. The having placed the Government in the hands of the masses, which, for the moment at least, has restored to the Church and to the landlords an influence which they have not enjoyed for sixty years, and which, in fact, even sixty years ago they had ceased to possess; for at that time their influence was merely a light reflected from that of the Government—now they receive it from the spontaneous feelings of the people. As long as these two great causes prevail, the effect which we rejoice in will (unless enormous blunders be committed by the clergy, and still more by their friends) continue.
This reminds me of my opinion, which I think you share, but which unfortunately is not that of most of our religious men, that no government of any description can ever propagate religion in France. They who are so clamorous for the despotic interference of the Government in these matters, or even for any considerable interference on its part, commit a serious error. A strong and absolute Government may interfere in other things with advantage, but not in this. Of this I am as sure as it is possible to be. Not that I deny that, at certain periods and in certain states of society, the ruling powers have exercised a great if not a lasting influence over the religious condition of the country, but on those occasions the Government was in accordance with the people—it only lent its aid.
With us, whoever may be elected as president, no serious or lasting religious reaction will ever take place, except as the result of the inward working of society left to itself. It will spring from individual experience of the necessity of a faith, of the daily need of it and of its special ministers felt by all, either to remedy the moral evils of the age, or to resist its political diseases. The direct action of the Government, instead of forwarding, will only impede this movement; and I will frankly confess that my fears of its being arrested arise from the ill-advised efforts to accelerate it. Think deeply on this last point, and remember, that I desire as ardently as you do to see religion reinstated in our country.
Urge, therefore, the friends of religion never to lose sight of the moral and intellectual condition of the nation. Remember that, on this matter, it is divided between old prejudices and new ideas; that it enters with hesitation into the path which you wish it to follow; that it is always harassed by two terrors, that of the socialists and that of the priests; that its tendency is always to take a step backward when it has made one forward; and further, that the nation is everything; that nothing real or lasting can be effected except by the free exercise of its will. Our endeavours must, therefore, be governed by the utmost prudence, moderation, and circumspection; we must feel always that the great object is not speed, but to make sure of every inch of ground that we gain, and that all merely apparent progress would be in reality a loss, an immense loss, if the public mind should become alarmed and old prejudices should revive. A thousand things fill me with anxious and fatal presentiments. I doubt, not the rectitude nor the good intentions of those who pursue this great object, but their prudence and their skill. And I earnestly hope that I am mistaken in thinking that their impetuosity and excessive confidence in temporal means will in the end cause a reaction, and that the nation will throw itself back into the arms of philosophy, in revenge for its alarm in having been dragged out of them with so much violence. I stop, for my hand is tired. I intended to send you two pages, and here is a volume. At least, it is another proof of the pleasure which I feel in opening my heart to you unreservedly.
TO N. W. SENIOR, ESQ.
Paris, November 28, 1851.
I was beginning, dear friend, to complain of your silence when your letter reached me. I read it with great pleasure, and it gave me still more pleasure to talk of you with our friend, Mrs. Grote, who is as agreeable as ever, but who seems to me to be less well in health than the last time that she was in Paris.
I had already heard, and Mrs. Grote, whom I questioned on the subject, confirmed to me, that you had been offered a high place in India. It was not right in you to tell me nothing about it, as you know the deep interest which I take in all that concerns you. It seems, however, that there was not much in it. I am delighted; I own that I should like you to leave England, but not to go so far, or to such a completely different climate. It would not have suited your friends, nor, perhaps, your health. What I should wish for you would be some important post in the Mediterranean, which would insure your keeping well, and enable such of your friends as, like myself, find great enjoyment in your society, to obtain it from time to time.
Permit me not to allude to our public affairs, in spite of the gravity of the present circumstances, or rather, on account of that very gravity. Not that there is any obstacle to the freest discussion. But our thoughts are so painful that the best way is not to express them, and even to try, if possible, not to think. There are things which cannot be contemplated calmly when they are close at hand, even though they may have been long foreseen. Our present condition is one of these things. It can end only by some great catastrophe. My clear view of the magnitude and of the proximity of the calamity is so bitterly painful, that I try as much as possible to divert from it my thoughts.
Mrs. Grote has forwarded to me the two valuable volumes containing your recollections of Paris and Sorrento. Our state of perpetual though useless excitement has prevented my looking into them. But I fully intend to do so. I shall especially enjoy reading all that will recal to me Sorrento, and the busy yet peaceful months which I spent on the shores of the Bay of Naples. I often look back with tender regret to the place itself, and to the time that I spent there. That delicious and tranquil retreat, coming as it did between the Revolution of 1848 and the one which is impending, was like a rest upon some Southern isle between two shipwrecks. Write to me sometimes, if only to tell me how you are.
The following translation from a letter of M. de Tocqueville, dated a few days earlier, is extracted, by permission, from the Times of the 11th December, 1851:—
TO THE EDITOR OF THE “TIMES.”
The opinion expressed by certain organs of the English press on the events which have just occurred in France has caused a painful surprise to men who, like myself, preserve a steadfast attachment to the principles of regulated liberty and a fixed respect for legality. We are grieved to remark the purpose to which these observations of a portion of the English press are turned by the new Government, and that any English writers should seem to applaud what all honest Frenchmen condemn. It is for this reason that, as a witness of these events, I wish to make them known to you in all sincerity, convinced as I am that when Englishmen approve violence and oppression, it is only because the truth is not yet before them.
Permit me to offer some general reflections before entering into details.
Louis Napoleon, in order to endeavour to palliate in France and abroad the audacious violation of the laws which he has just committed, has caused a report to be circulated that he only anticipated the hostile measures of the Assembly, which was conspiring against himself, and that if he had not struck that body it would have struck him. This sort of defence is no novelty to us in France. All our revolutionists have used it for these sixty years. The members of the Convention, who sent each other to the scaffold; invariably treated their adversaries as conspirators. But in the present instance this accusation, as far as the majority of the Assembly is concerned, is without a pretext, and can only pass current among strangers ignorant of the true course of events.
No doubt history will have weighty charges to bring against the Legislative Assembly which has just been illegally and violently dissolved. The parties of which that Assembly was composed failed to come to an understanding; this gave to the whole body an uncertain and sometimes contradictory policy, and finally discredited the Assembly, and rendered it incapable of defending either liberty or its own existence. History will record thus much; but history will reject with contempt the accusation which Louis Napoleon has preferred against us. If you do not believe my assurances, judge at least by the facts—not the secret facts which I could disclose to you, but the public facts printed in the Moniteur.
In the month of August last, the Assembly voted the revision of the Constitution by an immense majority. Why was the revision of the Constitution desired? Simply to legalize the re-election of Louis Napoleon. Was that an act of conspiracy against him?
The Assembly prorogued itself soon after this vote; the Conseils Généraux, convoked immediately afterwards, and principally consisting of representatives, also expressed an almost unanimous desire for the revision of the Constitution. Was that an act of conspiracy against Louis Napoleon?
The Assembly met again on the 4th of November. There was an Electoral Law—that of the 31st of May—which the great majority of the Assembly had voted. This law was unpopular, and to catch the favour of the people Louis Napoleon, who had been the first to propose and sanction the law of the 31st of May the year before, demands its abrogation, and proposes another law in a message insulting to the Assembly. The new electoral law proposed by him was, indeed, rejected, but by a majority of only two votes; and immediately afterwards the Chamber proceeded, in order to comply with the President’s policy, to adopt in another form most of the changes which he had proposed. Was that an act of conspiracy against Louis Napoleon?
Shortly afterwards a proposition was made by the Questors to enable us to place the Parliament in a state of defence, if attacked, and to call troops directly to our assistance. This proposition was, as nobody can deny, in strict conformity with the Constitution, and all that the proposed resolution did was to define the means of exercising a power which the Assembly incontestably possessed. Nevertheless, from fear of a collision with the Executive Power, the Legislature dared not assert this incontestable right. The proposition of the Questors was rejected by a large majority. Was that an act of conspiracy against Louis Napoleon? What! the Assembly was conspiring, and it renounced the command of the troops which might have defended it, and made them over to the man who was compassing its ruin! And when did these things happen? A fortnight ago.
Lastly, a bill on the responsibility of the President and the different officers of State was sent up to the Assembly by the Conseil d’État. Observe, that this proposition did not emanate from the Assembly, that the Assembly had no right, by law, to refuse to entertain it. The bill was, therefore, brought up, but the committee to which it was referred showed at once that its disposition was conciliatory. The provisions of the bill were rendered more mild, and the discussion was to be deferred, in order to avoid the displeasure of the Executive Power. Were these the actions of enemies and conspirators? And what was happening in the meanwhile? All the journals, notoriously paid by the President, insulted the Assembly day by day in the coarsest manner, threatened it, and tried by every means to cover it with unpopularity.
This is history—the truth of history. The acts of which I speak are the last of the National Assembly of France, and I defy our adversaries to find any other facts to oppose to them. That an Assembly of 750 members may have included in that number certain conspirators, it would be absurd to deny. But the manifest truth, proved by its acts, is that the majority of this Assembly, instead of conspiring against Louis Napoleon, sought for nothing so much as to avoid a quarrel with him; that it carried its moderation towards him to the verge of weakness, and its desire of conciliation to a degree of pusillanimity. That is the truth. You may believe my assertions, for I participated in the passions of none of its parties, and I have no reason either to flatter or to hate them.
Let us now proceed to examine what the Assembly did on the 2d of December; and here I cease to express any opinion—I merely relate, as an actual witness, the things I saw with my eyes and heard with my ears.
When the representatives of the people learned, on waking that morning, that several of their colleagues were arrested, they ran to the Assembly. The doors were guarded by the Chasseurs de Vincennes, a corps of troops recently returned from Africa, and long accustomed to the violences of Algerine dominion; and, moreover, stimulated by a donation of 5f. distributed to every soldier who was in Paris that day. The representatives, nevertheless, presented themselves to go in, having at their head one of their Vice-Presidents, M. Daru. This gentleman was violently struck by the soldiers, and the representatives who accompanied him were driven back at the point of the bayonet. Three of them, M. de Talhouet, Etienne, and Duparc, were slightly wounded. Several others had their clothes pierced. Such was the commencement.
Driven from the doors of the Assembly, the deputies retired to the Mairie of the 10th arrondissement. They were already assembled to the number of about 300, when the troops arrived, blocked up the approaches, and prevented a greater number of representatives from entering the apartment, though no one was at that time prevented from leaving it.
Who, then, were those representatives assembled at the Mairie of the 10th arrondissement, and what did they do there? Every shade of opinion was represented in this extemporaneous Assembly. But eight-tenths of its members belonged to the different Conservative parties which had constituted the majority. This Assembly was presided over by two of its Vice-Presidents, M. Vitet and M. Benoist d’Azy. M. Daru was arrested in his own house; the fourth Vice-President, the illustrious General Bedeau, had been seized that morning in his bed, and handcuffed like a robber. As for the President, M. Dupin, he was absent, which surprised no one. Besides its Vice-Presidents, the Assembly was accompanied by its secretaries, its ushers, and even its shorthand writer, who will reserve for posterity the records of this last and memorable sitting. The Assembly, thus constituted, began by voting a decree in the following terms:—
“In pursuance of Article 68 of the Constitution—viz. the President of the Republic, the Ministers, the agents, and depositaries of public authority are responsible, each in what concerns themselves respectively, for all the acts of the Government and the Administration—any measure by which the President of the Republic dissolves the National Assembly, prorogues it, or places obstacles in the exercise of its powers, is a crime of high treason.
“By this act merely the President is deprived of all authority, the citizens are bound to withhold their obedience, the executive power passes in full right to the National Assembly. The Judges of the High Court of Justice will meet immediately under pain of forfeiture; they will convoke the juries in the place which they will select to proceed to the judgment of the President and his accomplices; they will nominate the magistrates charged to fulfil the duties of public Ministers.
“And seeing that the National Assembly is prevented by violence from exercising its powers, it decrees as follows, viz.:—
“Louis Napoleon Bonaparte is deprived of all authority as President of the Republic. The citizens are enjoined to withhold their obedience. The executive power has passed in full right to the National Assembly. The Judges of the High Court of Justice are enjoined to meet immediately, under pain of forfeiture, to proceed to the judgment of the President and his accomplices; consequently, all the officers and functionaries of power and of public authority are bound to obey all requisitions made in the name of the National Assembly, under pain of forfeiture and of high treason.
“Done and decreed unanimously in public sitting, this 2d of December, 1851.
(Signed) Benoist D’Azy,President.
Moulin, } Secretaries.
(In all 230 representatives.)
All the members whose names I have here given were arrested. Several others, having left the room after having signed, could not be taken. Among these, the best known are M. de Tracy, M. de Malleville, Ferdinand de Lasteyrie, and General Rulhière.
After having voted this first decree, another was unanimously passed, naming General Oudinot commander of the public forces, and M. Tamisier was joined with him as chief of the staff. The choice of these two officers from distinct shades of political opinion showed that the Assembly was animated by one common spirit.
These decrees had scarcely been signed by all the members present, and deposited in a place of safety, when a band of soldiers, headed by their officers, sword in hand, appeared at the door, without, however, daring to enter the apartment. The Assembly awaited them in perfect silence. The President alone raised his voice, read the decrees which had just been passed to the soldiers, and ordered them to retire. The poor fellows, ashamed of the part they were compelled to play, hesitated. The officers, pale and undecided, declared that they should go for further orders. They retired, contenting themselves with blockading the passages leading to the apartment. The Assembly, not being able to go out, ordered the windows to be opened, and caused the decrees to be read to the people and the troops in the street below, especially that decree which, in pursuance of the 68th Article of the Constitution, pronounced the deposition and impeachment of Louis Napoleon.
Soon, however, the soldiers reappeared at the door, preceded this time by two Commissaires de Police. These men entered the room, and, amid the unbroken silence and total immobility of the Assembly, summoned the representatives to disperse. The President ordered them to retire themselves. One of the Commissaires was agitated, and faltered; the other broke out in invectives. The President said to him, “Sir, we are here the lawful authority and sole representatives of law and of right. We know that we cannot oppose to you material force, but we will leave this chamber only under constraint. We will not disperse. Seize us, and convey us to prison.” “All, all!” exclaimed the members of the Assembly. After much hesitation, the Commissaires de Police decided to act. They caused the two Presidents to be seized by the collar. The whole body then rose, and, arm-in-arm, two-and-two, they followed the Presidents, who were led off. In this order we reached the street, and were marched across the city, without knowing whither we were going.
Care had been taken to circulate a report among the crowd and the troops that a meeting of Socialist and Red Republican deputies had been arrested. But when the people beheld among those who were thus dragged through the mud of Paris on foot, like a gang of malefactors, men the most illustrious by their talents and their virtues,—ex-ministers, ex-ambassadors, generals, admirals, great orators, great writers, surrounded by the bayonets of the line, a shout was raised, “Vive l’Assemblée Nationale.” The representatives were attended by these shouts until they reached the barracks of the Quai d’Orsay, where they were shut up. Night was coming on, and it was wet and cold. Yet the Assembly was left two hours in the open air, as if the Government did not deign to remember its existence. The representatives here made their last roll-call in presence of their shorthand-writer, who had followed them. The number present was 218, to whom were added about twenty more in the course of the evening, consisting of members who had voluntarily caused themselves to be arrested. Almost all the men known to France and to Europe, who formed the majority of the Legislative Assembly, were gathered together in this place. Few were wanting, except those who, like M. Molé, had not been suffered to reach their colleagues. There were present, among others, the Duke de Broglie, who had come, though ill; the father of the house, the venerable Keratry, whose physical strength was inferior to his moral courage, and whom it was necessary to seat in a straw chair in the barrackyard; Odilon Barrot, Dufaure, Berryer, Rémusat, Duvergier de Hauranne, Gustave de Beaumont, De Tocqueville, De Falloux, Lanjuinais, Admiral Lainé and Admiral Cécille, Generals Oudinot and Lauriston, the Duke de Luynes, the Duke de Montebello; twelve ex-ministers, nine of whom had served under Louis Napoleon himself; eight members of the Institute; all men who had struggled for three years to defend society and to resist the demagogic faction.
When two hours had elapsed, this assemblage was driven into barrack-rooms upstairs, where most of them spent the night, without fire, and almost without food, stretched upon the boards. It only remained to carry off to prison these honourable men, guilty of no crime but the defence of the laws of their country. For this purpose the most distressing and ignominious means were selected. The cellular vans, in which forçats are conveyed to the bagne, were brought up. In these vehicles were shut up the men who had served and honoured their country, and they were conveyed like three bands of criminals, some to the fortress of Mont Valerien, some to the Prison Mazas in Paris, and the remainder to Vincennes. The indignation of the public compelled the Government two days afterwards to release the greater number of them; some are still in confinement, unable to obtain either their liberty or their trial.
The treatment inflicted on the generals arrested in the morning of the 2d December was still more disgraceful. Cavaignac, Lamoricière, Bedeau, Changarnier—the conquerors of Africa, were shut up in these infamous cellular vans, which are always inconvenient, and become almost intolerable on a lengthened journey. In this manner they were conveyed to Ham—that is, they were made to perform upwards of a day’s journey. Cavaignac, who had saved Paris and France in the days of June—Cavaignac, the competitor of Louis Napoleon at the last elections, shut up for a day and a night in the cell of a felon! I leave it to every honest man and every generous heart to comment on such facts. Can it be that indignities which surpass the actions of the King of Naples find a defender in England? No; England knows but a small portion of what is taking place. I appeal to her better judgment when these facts are known to the world.
Such are the indignities offered to persons. Let me now review the series of general crimes. The liberty of the press is destroyed to an extent unheard of even in the time of the Empire. Most of the journals are suppressed; those which appear cannot say a word on politics or even publish any news. But this is by no means all. The Government has stuck up a list of persons who are formed into a “Consultative Commission.” Its object is to induce France to believe that the Executive is not abandoned by every man of respectability and consideration among us. More than half the persons on this list have refused to belong to the commission; most of them regard the insertion of their names as dishonour. I may quote, among others, M. Léon Faucher, M. Portalis, First President of the Court of Cassation, and the Duke of Albuféra, as those best known. Not only does the Government decline to publish the letters in which these gentlemen refuse their consent, but even their names are not withdrawn from a list which dishonours them. The names are still retained, in spite of their repeated remonstrances. A day or two ago, one of them, M. Joseph Périer, driven to desperation by this excess of tyranny, rushed into the street to strike out his own name with his own hands from the public placards, taking the passers-by to witness that it had been placed there by a lie.
Such is the state of the public journals. Let us now see the condition of personal liberty. I say, again, that personal liberty is more trampled on than ever it was in the time of the Empire. A decree of the new Power gives the prefets the right to arrest, in their respective departments, whomsoever they please; and the prefets, in their turn, send blank warrants of arrest, which are literally lettres de cachet, to the sous-prefets under their orders. The Provisional Government of the Republic never went so far. Human life is as little respected as human liberty. I know that war has its dreadful necessities, but the disturbances which have recently occurred in Paris have been put down with a barbarity unprecedented in our civil contests; and when we remember that this torrent of blood has been shed to consummate the violation of all laws, we cannot but think that sooner or later it will fall back upon the heads of those who shed it. As for the appeal to the people, to which Louis Napoleon affects to submit his claims, never was a more odious mockery offered to a nation. The people is called upon to express its opinion, yet not only is public discussion suppressed, but even the knowledge of facts. The people is asked its opinion, but the first measure taken to obtain it is to establish military terrorism throughout the country, and to threaten with deprivation every public agent who does not approve in writing what has been done.
Such, Sir, is the condition in which we stand. Force overturning law, trampling on the liberty of the press and of the person, deriding the popular will, in whose name the Government pretends to act,—France torn from the alliance of free nations to be yoked to the despotic monarchies of the Continent,—such is the result of this coup d’état. If the judgment of the people of England can approve these military saturnalia, and if the facts I have related, and to the accurate truth of which I pledge myself, do not rouse its censures, I shall mourn for you and for ourselves, and for the sacred cause of legal liberty throughout the world; for the public opinion of England is the grand jury of mankind in the cause of freedom, and if its verdict were to acquit the oppressor the oppressed would have no other resource but in God.
One word more, to record a fact which does honour to the magistracy of France, and which will be remembered in its annals. The army refused to submit to the decree of the captive Assembly impeaching the President of the Republic; but the High Court of Justice obeyed it. These five judges, sitting in the midst of Paris enslaved, and in the face of martial law, dared to assemble at the Palace of Justice, and to issue process commencing criminal proceedings against Louis Napoleon, charged with high treason by the law, though already triumphant in the streets. I subjoin the text of this memorable edict:—
“The High Court of Justice,
“Considering the 68th Article of the Constitution, considering that printed placards commencing with the words ‘the President of the Republic,’ and bearing at the end the signatures of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte and De Morny, Minister of the Interior, which placards announce, among other things, the dissolution of the National Assembly, have this day been affixed to the walls of Paris; that this fact of the dissolution of the Assembly by the President of the Republic would fall under the case provided for by the 68th Article of the Constitution, and render the convocation of the High Court of Justice imperative, by the terms of that article declares, that the High Court is constituted, and names M. Renouard, counsellor of the Court of Cassation, to fill the duties of public accuser, and to fill those of Greffier M. Bernard, Greffier in Chief of the Court of Cassation; and, to proceed further in pursuance of the terms of the said 68th Article of the Constitution, adjourns until to-morrow, the 3d of December, at the hour of noon.
“Done and deliberated in the Council Chamber. Present, M. Hardouin, president, M. Pataille, M. Moreau, M. de la Palme, and M. Cauchy, judges, this 2d day of December, 1851.”
After this textual extract from the Minutes of the High Court of Justice there is the following entry—
“1. A procès-verbal stating the arrival of a Commissaire de Police, who called upon the High Court to separate.
“2. A procès-verbal of a second sitting held on the morrow, the 3d day of December (when the Assembly was in prison), at which M. Renouard accepts the functions of public prosecutor, charged to proceed against Louis Napoleon, after which the High Court, being no longer able to sit, adjourned to a day to be fixed hereafter.”
With these extracts from the judicial records I terminate this communication.
EXTRACTS FROM MR. SENIOR’S JOURNAL.
We drank tea with the Tocquevilles.
“This,” said Tocqueville, “is a new phase in our history. Every previous revolution has been made by a political party. This is the first time that the army has seized France, bound and gagged her, and laid her at the feet of its ruler.”
“Was not the 18th Fructidor,” I said, “almost a parallel case? Then as now, there was a quarrel between the Executive and the Legislature. The Directory, like Louis Napoleon, dismissed the ministers in whom the Legislature had confidence, and appointed its own tools in their places, denounced the Legislature to the country, and flattered and corrupted the army. The Legislature tried the usual tactics of parliamentary opposition, censured the Government, and refused the supplies. The Directory prepared a coup d’état. The Legislature tried to obtain a military force, and failed: they planned an impeachment of the Directory, and found the existing law insufficient. They brought forward a new law, defining the responsibility of the Executive, and, the night after they had begun to discuss it, their halls were occupied by a military force, and the members of the opposition were seized in the room in which they had met to denounce the treason of the Directory.”
“So far,” he answered, “the two events resemble one another. Each was a military attack on the Legislature by the Executive. But the directors were the representatives of a party. The councils, the greater part of the aristocracy and the Bourgeoisie were Bonapartists, the lower orders were Republican, the army was merely an instrument. It conquered not for itself, but for the Republican party.
“The 18th Brumaire was nearer to this, for that ended as this has begun, in a military tyranny. But the 18th Brumaire was almost as much a civil as a military revolution. A majority in the councils was with Bonaparte. Louis Napoleon had not a real friend in the Assembly. All the educated classes supported the 18th Brumaire; all the educated classes repudiate the 2d of December. Bonaparte’s consular chair was sustained by all the élite of France. This man cannot obtain a decent supporter.
“For a real parallel you must go back 1,800 years.”
I said that some persons, for whose judgment I had the highest respect, seemed to treat it as a contest between two conspirators, the Assembly and the President, and to think the difference between his conduct and theirs to be that he struck first.
“This,” said Tocqueville, “I utterly deny. He, indeed, began to conspire from the 10th of December, 1848. His direct instructions to Oudinot and his letter to Ney, only a few months after his election, showed his determination not to submit to parliamentary government. Then followed his dismissal of ministry after ministry, until he had degraded the office to a clerkship. Then came the semi-regal progress; then the reviews of Satory, the encouragement of treasonable cries, the selection for all the high appointments in the army of Paris of men whose characters fitted them to be tools. Then he publicly insulted the Assembly at Dijon; and at last, in October, we knew that his plans were laid. It was then only that we began to think what were our means of defence; but that was no more a conspiracy, than it is a conspiracy in travellers to look for their pistols when they see a band of robbers advancing.
“M. Baze’s proposition was absurd, only because it was impracticable. It was a precaution against immediate danger; but if it had been voted, it could not have been executed; the army had already been so corrupted, that it would have disregarded the orders of the Assembly. I have often talked over our situation with Lamoricière and my other military friends. We saw what was coming, as clearly as we now look back to it, but we had no means of preventing it.”
“But was not your intended law of responsibility,” I said, “an attack on your part?”
“That law,” he said, “was not ours. It was sent up to us by the Conseil d’Etat, which had been two years and a half employed on it, and ought to have sent it to us much sooner. We thought it dangerous—that is to say, we thought that, though quite right in itself, it would irritate the President—and that in our defenceless state it was unwise to do so. The Bureau to which it was referred refused to declare it urgent—a proof that it would not have passed with the clauses which, though reasonable, the President thought fit to disapprove. Our conspiracy was that of the lamb against the wolf.
“Though I have said,” he continued, “that he has been conspiring ever since his election, I do not believe that he intended to strike so soon. His plan was to wait till next March, when the fears of May, 1852, would be most intense. Two circumstances forced him on more rapidly. One was the candidature of the Prince de Joinville. He thought him the only dangerous competitor. The other was an agitation set on foot by the Legitimists, in the Conseils Généraux, for the repeal of the law of the 31st of May. That law was his moral weapon against the Assembly, and he feared that, if he delayed, it might be abolished without him.”
“And how long,” I asked, “will this Government last?”
“It will last,” he answered, “until it is unpopular with the mass of the people. At present the disapprobation is confined to the educated classes. We cannot bear to be deprived of the power of speaking or of writing. We cannot bear that the fate of France should depend on the selfishness, or the vanity, or the fears, or the caprice of one man, a foreigner by race and by education. We cannot bear that the people which carried the torch of liberty through Europe should now be employed in quenching all its lights. But these are not the feelings of the multitude. Their insane fear of socialism throws them headlong into the arms of despotism. As in Prussia, as in Hungary, as in Austria, as in Italy, so in France, the democrats have served the cause of the absolutists.
“May, 1852, was a spectre constantly swelling as it drew nearer. But now that the weakness of the red party has been proved—now that 10,000 of those who are supposed to be its most active members are to be sent to die of hunger and marsh fever in Cayenne—the people will regret the price at which their visionary enemy has been put down. Thirty-seven years of liberty have made a free press and free parliamentary discussion necessaries to us. If Louis Napoleon refuse them, he will be execrated as a tyrant; if he grant them, they must destroy him. We always criticise our rulers severely, often unjustly. It is impossible that so rash a man, surrounded by men whose defects are their recommendation to him, should not commit blunders and follies. They will be exposed, perhaps exaggerated, by thousands of enemies. As soon as he is discredited, the army will turn against him. It sympathizes with the people from which it came, and to which it is soon to return. It will never support an unpopular despot.
I have no fears, therefore, for the ultimate destinies of my country. It seems to me that the Revolution of the 2d of December is more dangerous to the rest of Europe than it is to us; that it ought to alarm England much more than it does us.
“We shall get rid of Louis Napoleon in a few years, perhaps in a few months; but there is no saying how much mischief he may do in those years, or even in those months, to his neighbours.”
“Surely,” said Madame de Tocqueville, “he will wish to remain at peace with England?”
“I am not sure at all of that,” said Tocqueville. “He cannot sit down a mere quiet administrator. He must do something to distract public attention; he must give us a substitute for the political excitement which amused us for the last forty years. Great social improvements are uncertain, difficult, and slow; but glory may be obtained in a week. A war with England, at its beginning, is always popular. How many thousand volunteers would he have for a ‘pointe’ on London? I know that you think that you can retain the French alliance, but it is impossible. It is impossible, even if Louis Napoleon should earnestly desire it. The nature of things, which is much stronger than any human will, drives him into an ultimate union with Russia and Austria.
“The best that can happen to you is to be excluded from the councils of the great family of despots. Besides, what is to be done to amuse these 400,000 bayonists, his masters, as well as ours? Crosses, promotions, honours, gratuities, are already showered on the army of Paris.
“It has already received a thing unheard of in our history—the honours and recompenses of a campaign for the butchery on the Boulevards. Will not the other armies demand their share of work and reward? As long as civil war in the provinces lasts, they may be employed there; but it will soon be over. What is then to be done with them? Are they to be marched on Switzerland, or on Piedmont, or on Belgium? And will England quietly look on?”
Paris, December 31, 1851.
I dined with the Tocquevilles, and met E. F. and G. H.
“The gayest time,” said Tocqueville, “that I ever passed, was in the Quai d’Orsay. The élite of France in education, and in birth, and in talents, particularly in the talents of society, was collected within the walls of that barrack.
“A long struggle was over, in which our part had not been timidly played. We had done our duty, we had gone through some perils, and we had some to encounter, and we were all in the high spirits which excitement and dangers shared with others, when not too formidable, create. From the courtyard in which we had been penned for a couple of hours, where the Duc de Broglie and I tore our chicken with our hands and teeth, we were transferred to a long sort of gallery, or garret, running along through the higher part of the building—a spare dormitory for the soldiers when the better rooms are filled. Those who chose to take the trouble went below, hired palliasses from the soldiers, and carried them up for themselves. I was too idle, and lay on the floor in my cloak. Instead of sleeping, we spent the night in shooting, from palliasse to palliasse, anecdotes, repartees, jokes, and pleasantries.
“C’était un feu roulant, une pluie, de bons mots.* Things amused us in that state of excitement which sound flat when repeated.
“I remember———, a man of great humour, exciting shouts of laughter, by exclaiming with great solemnity, as he looked round on the floor, strewed with mattresses and statesmen, and lighted by a couple of tallow candles,
“ ‘Voilà donc ou en est réduit ce fameux parti de l’ordre.’†
“Those who were kept au secret, deprived of mutual support, were in a very different state of mind. Some were depressed, others were enraged.
“———was left alone for twenty-four hours; at last a man came and offered him some sugar. He flew at his throat, and the poor turnkey ran off, fancying that his prisoner was mad.”
We talked of Louis Napoleon’s devotion to the Pope.
“It is of recent date,” said G. H. “In January and February, 1849, he was inclined to interfere in support of the Roman republic, against the Austrians. And when in April he resolved to move on Rome, it was not out of love for the Pope. In fact, the Pope did not then wish for us. He hoped to be restored by General Zucchi, who commanded a body of Roman troops in the neighbourhood of Bologna. No one at that time believed the Republican party in Rome to be capable of a serious defence. Probably they would not have made one, if they had not admitted Garibaldi and his band two days before we appeared before their gates.”
I mentioned to Tocqueville C. D.’s opinion that France will again become a republic.
“I will not venture,” he answered, “to affirm, with respect to any form whatever of government, that we shall never adopt it; but I own that I see no prospect of a French republic within any assigned period. We are, indeed, less opposed to a republic now than we were in 1848. We have found that it does not imply war, or bankruptcy, or tyranny; but we still feel that it is not the government that suits us. This was apparent from the beginning.
“Louis Napoleon had the merit, or the luck, to discover what few suspected, the latent Bonapartism of the nation.
“The 10th of December showed that the memory of the Emperor, vague and undefined, but therefore the more imposing, still dwelt like an heroic legend in the imaginations of the peasantry. When Louis Napoleon’s violence and folly shall have destroyed the charm with which he has worked, all eyes will turn, not towards a republic, but to Henri V.”
[*]“The assembly declares that it has not confidence in the ministry, and passes to the order of the day.”—Tr.
[*]On M. St. Beuve’s amendment.—Tr.
[*]“Never wrote a phrase in my life.”
[*]“He was the only statesman capable of managing a new policy, and they killed him.”
[*]“The right to employment” and “the right to relief.”
[*]The lower classes.—Tr.
[*]It was a running fire, a shower, of pleasantries.
[†]This, then, is the state to which the great party of order is reduced.