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TO M. DUFAURE. - 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. 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.
[*]“The right to employment” and “the right to relief.”