Front Page Titles (by Subject) EXTRACTS FROM MR. SENIOR'S JOURNAL. - Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 2
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EXTRACTS FROM MR. SENIOR’S JOURNAL. - 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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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.”
TO N. W. SENIOR, ESQ.
March 9, 1852.
I send you, my dear Senior, an introduction to Lamoricière. This letter will be short; you know that I do not write at any length by the post.
It will contain nothing but thanks for your long and interesting letter brought by Rivet, who returned delighted with the English in general, and with you in particular.
I see that the disturbed state of parties, occasioned by Sir Robert Peel’s policy, is passing away, and that your political world is again dividing itself into the two great sects, one of which tries to narrow, the other to extend, the area of political power—one of which tries to lift you into aristocracy, the other to depress you.
The political game will be simpler. I can understand better the conservative policy of Lord Derby than the democratic one of Lord John Russell. As the friends of free trade are more numerous than those of democracy, I think that it would have been easier to attack the government on its commercial than on its political illiberality.
Then in this great nation, called Europe, similar currents of opinions and feelings prevail, different as may be the institutions and characters of its different populations. We see over the whole continent so general and so irresistible a reaction against democracy, and even against liberty, that I cannot believe that it will stop short on our side of the Channel; and if the Whigs become Radical, I shall not be surprised at the permanence in England of a Tory government, allied to foreign despots.
But I ought not to talk on such matters, for I live at the bottom of a well, seeing nothing, and regretting that it is not sufficiently closed above to prevent my hearing anything. Your visions of 29,000 troops at Cherbourg, to be followed by 29,000 more, are mere phantoms. There is nothing of the kind, and there will be nothing. I speak with knowledge, for I come from Cherbourg. I have been attending an extraordinary meeting of our conseil général on the subject of a projected railway. My reception touched and delighted me. I was unanimously, and certainly freely, elected president.
[*]It was a running fire, a shower, of pleasantries.
[†]This, then, is the state to which the great party of order is reduced.