Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO N. W. SENIOR, ESQ. - Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 2
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TO N. W. SENIOR, ESQ. - 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 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.
[*]The lower classes.—Tr.