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TO THE EDITOR OF THE “TIMES.” - 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 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:—