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Conversations. - Alexis de Tocqueville, Correspondence and Conversations of Alexis de Tocqueville with Nassau William Senior from 1834-1859, vol. 2 (1834-1851) 
Correspondence and Conversations of Alexis de Tocqueville with Nassau William Senior from 1834-1859, ed. M.C.M. Simpson, in Two Volumes (London: Henry S. King & Co., 1872). Vol. II.
Part of: Correspondence and Conversations of Alexis de Tocqueville with Nassau William Senior from 1834-1859, 2 vols.
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Paris, Hôtel Bedford.—Friday, March 2, 1855.—We slept on the 27th at Calais, on the 28th at Amiens, and reached this place last night.
Tocqueville called on us this morning. We talked of the probability of Louis Napoleon’s going to the Crimea.
I said, ‘that the report made by Lord John Russell, who talked the matter over with him, was, that he certainly had once intended to go, and had not given it up.’
‘I do not value,’ said Tocqueville, ‘Lord John’s inferences from anything that he heard or saw in his audiences. All Louis Napoleon’s words and looks are, whether intentionally or not, misleading. Now that his having direct issue seems out of the question, and that the deeper and deeper discredit into which the heir presumptive is falling, seems to put him out of the question too, we are looking to this journey with great alarm. We feel that, for the present, his life is necessary to us, and we feel that it would be exposed to many hazards. He ought to incur some military risks, if he is present at a battle or an assault, and his courage and his fatalism will lead him to many which he ought to avoid. But it is disease rather than bullets that we fear. He will have to travel hard, and to be exposed, under exciting circumstances, to a climate which is not a safe one even to the strong.’
‘But,’ I said, ‘he will not be exposed to it long. I have heard thirty, or at most forty, days proposed as the length of his absence.’
‘Who can say that?’ answered Tocqueville. ‘If he goes there, he must stay there until Sebastopol falls. It will not do for him to leave Paris in order merely to look at the works, pat the generals on the back, compliment the army, and leave it in the trenches. Unless his journey produces some great success—in short, unless it gives us Sebastopol—it will be considered a failure; and a failure he cannot afford. I repeat that he must stay there till Sebastopol falls. But that may be months. And what may months bring forth in such a country as France? In such a city as Paris? In such times as these? Then he cannot safely leave his cousin—Jérôme Plon swears that he will not go, and I do not see how he can be taken by force.’
‘I do not understand,’ I said, Jérôme’s conduct. It seemed as if he had the ball at his feet. The rôle of an heir is the easiest in the world. He has only to behave decently in order to be popular.’
‘Jérôme’s chances,’ answered Tocqueville, ‘of the popularity which is to be obtained by decent behaviour were over long before he became an heir. His talents are considerable, but he has no principles, and no good sense. He is Corsican to the bone. I watched him among his Montagnards in the Constituent.
‘Nothing could be more perverse than his votes, nor more offensive than his speeches. He is unfit to conciliate the sensible portion of society, and naturally throws himself into the arms of those who are waiting to receive him—the violent, the rapacious, and the anarchical: this gives him at least some adherents.’
‘What do you hear,’ I asked, ‘of his conduct in the East?’
‘I hear’, said Tocqueville, ‘that he showed want, not so much of courage, as of temper and of subordination. He would not obey orders; he would not even transmit them, so that Canrobert was forced to communicate directly with the officers of Napoleon’s division, and at last required him to take sick leave, or to submit to a court-martial.’
‘I thought,’ I said, ‘that he was really ill.’
‘That is not the general opinion,’ said Tocqueville.
‘He showed himself at a ball directly after his return, with no outward symptoms of ill health.’
The conversation turned on English politics.
‘So many of my friendships,’ said Tocqueville, ‘and so many of my sympathies, are English, that what is passing in your country, and respecting your country, gives me great pain, and greater anxiety. To us, whom unhappily experience has rendered sensitive of approaching storms, your last six months have a frightfully revolutionary appearance.
‘There is with you, as there was with us in 1847, a general malaise in the midst of general prosperity. Your people seem, as was the case with ours, to have become tired of their public men, and to be losing faith in their institutions. What else do these complaints of what is called “the system” mean? When you complain that the Government patronage is bartered for political support, that the dunces of a family are selected for the public service, and selected expressly because they could not get on in an open profession; that as their places are a sort of property, they are promoted only by seniority, and never dismissed for any, except for some moral, delinquency; that therefore the seniors in all your departments are old men, whose original dulness has been cherished by a life without the stimulus of hope or fear, you describe a vessel which seems to have become too crazy to endure anything but the calmest sea and the most favourable winds. You have tried its sea-worthiness in one department, your military organisation, and you find that it literally falls to pieces. You are incapable of managing a line of operations extending only seven miles from its base. The next storm may attack your Colonial Administration. Will that stand any better? Altogether your machinery seems throughout out of gear. If you set to work actively and fearlessly, without reference to private interests, or to private expectations, or to private feelings, to repair, remove and replace, you may escape our misfortunes; but I see no proofs that you are sufficiently bold, or indeed that you are sufficiently alarmed. Then as to what is passing here. A year ago we probably overrated your military power. I believe that now we most mischievously under-rate it. A year ago nothing alarmed us more than a whisper of the chance of a war with England. We talk of one now with great composure. We believe that it would not be difficult to throw 100,000 men upon your shores, and we believe that half that number would walk over England or Ireland. You are mistaken if you think that these opinions will die away of themselves, or will be eradicated by anything but some decisive military success. I do not agree with those who think that it is your interest that Russia should submit while Sebastopol stands. You might save money and men by a speedy peace, but you would not regain your reputation. If you are caught by a peace before you have an opportunity of doing so, I advise you to let it be on your part an armed peace. Prepare yourselves for a new struggle with a new enemy, and let your preparations be, not only as effective as you can make them, but also as notorious.’1
Paris, Saturday, March 3.—Tocqueville called on us soon after breakfast.
We talked of the loss and gain of Europe by the war. We agreed that Russia and England have both lost by it. Russia probably the most in power, England in reputation. That Prussia, though commercially a gainer, is humiliated and irritated by the superiority claimed by Austria and conceded to her.
‘You cannot,’ said Tocqueville, ‘estimate the opinions of Germany without going there. There is a general feeling among the smaller Powers of internal insecurity and external weakness, and Austria is looked up to as the supporter of order against the revolutionists, and of Germany against Russia. Austria alone has profited by the general calamities. Without actually drawing the sword she has possession of the Principalities, she has thrust down Prussia into the second rank, she has emancipated herself from Russia, she has become the ally of France and of England, and even of her old enemy Piedmont, she is safe in Italy. Poland and Hungary are still her difficulties, and very great ones, but as her general strength increases, she can better deal with them.’
‘Has not France,’ I said, ‘been also a gainer, by becoming head of the coalition against Russia?’
‘Whatever we have gained,’ answered Tocqueville, ‘has been dearly purchased, so far as it has consolidated this despotism. For a whole year we have felt that the life, and even the reign, of Louis Napoleon was necessary to us. They will continue necessary to us during the remainder of the war. We are acquiring habits of obedience, almost of resignation. His popularity has not increased. He and his court are as much shunned by the educated classes as they were three years ago; we still repeat “que ça ne peut pas durer,” but we repeat it with less conviction.’
We passed the spring in Algeria, and returned to Paris the latter part of May.
Paris, May 26, 1855.—After breakfast I went to the Institut.
M. Passy read to us a long paper on the Art of Government. He spoke so low and so monotonously that no one attended. I sat next to Tocqueville, and, as it was not decent to talk, we conversed a little in writing. He had been reading my Algiers Journal, and thus commented upon it:—
‘Il y a tout un côté, particulièrement curieux, de l’Algérie, qui vous a échappé, parce que vous n’avez pu ou voulu vous imposer l’ennui de causer souvent avec les colons, et que ce côté-là ne se voit pas en parlant avec les gouvernants; c’est l’abus de la centralisation. L’Afrique peut être considérée comme le tableau le plus complet et le plus extraordinaire des vices de ce système.
‘Je suis convaincu que seul, sans les Arabes, le soleil, le désert, et la fièvre, il suffirait pour nous empêcher de coloniser. Tout ce que la centralisation laisse entrevoir de défauts, de ridicules et absurdités, d’oppression, de paperasseries en France, est grossi en Afrique au centuple. C’est comme un pou vu dans un microscope.’
‘J’ai causé,’ I answered, ‘avec Violar et avec mon hôte aux eaux ferrugineuses. Mais ils ne se sont pas plaints de la centralisation.’
‘Ils ne se sont pas plaints,’ he answered, ‘du mot que, peut-être, ils ne connaissaient pas. Mais si vous les aviez fait entrer dans les détails de l’administration publique, ou même de leurs affaires privées, vous auriez vu que le colon est plus gêné dans tous ses mouvements, et plus gouverné, pour son plus grand bien, que vous ne l’avez été quand il s’est agi de votre passeport.
‘Violar faisait allusion à cela quand il vous a dit que les chemins manquaient parce que le Gouvernement ne voulait pas laisser les gouvernés s’en mêler.’1
Monday, May 28.—Tocqueville called on me.
I asked him for criticisms on my article on the State of the Continent in the ‘North British Review’ of February 1855.1
‘Of course,’ I said, ‘it must be full of blunders. No one who writes on the politics of a foreign country can avoid them. I want your help to correct a few of them.’
‘Since you ask me,’ he answered, ‘for a candid criticism, I will give you one. I accuse you rather of misappreciation than of misstatement. First with respect to Louis Napoleon. After having described accurately, in the beginning of your paper, his unscrupulous, systematic oppression, you end by saying that, after all, you place him high among our sovereigns.’
‘You must recollect,’ I answered, ‘that the article was written for the “Edinburgh Review,” the organ of our Government, edited by Lord Clarendon’s brother-in-law—and that the editor thought its criticisms of Louis Napoleon so severe, that after having printed it, he was afraid to publish it. I went quite as far as I prudently could. I accused him, as you admit, of unscrupulous oppression, of ignorance of the feelings of the people, of being an idle administrator, of being unacquainted with business himself, and not employing those who understand it, of being impatient of contradiction, of refusing advice and punishing censure—in short, I have praised nothing but his foreign policy—and I have mentioned two errors in that.’
‘But I have a graver accusation to bring against you,’ replied Tocqueville. ‘You couple as events mutually dependent the continuance of the Imperial Government and the continuance of the Anglo-Gallic Alliance. I believe this opinion not only to be untrue, but to be the reverse of the truth. I believe the Empire and the Alliance to be not merely, not mutually dependent, but to be incompatible, except upon terms which you are resolved never to grant. The Empire is essentially warlike—and war in the mind of a Bonaparte, and of the friends of a Bonaparte, means the Rhine. This war is merely a stepping stone. It is carried on for purposes in which the mass of the people of France take no interest. Up to the present time its burthens have been little felt, as it has been supported by loans, and the limits of the legal conscription have not been exceeded. But when the necessity comes for increased taxation and anticipated conscriptions, Louis Napoleon must have recourse to the real passions of the French bourgeoisie and peasantry—the love of conquest, et la haine de l’Anglais. Don’t fancy that such feelings are dead, they are scarcely asleep. They might be roused in a week, in a day, and they will be roused as soon as he thinks that they are wanted.
‘What do you suppose was the effect in France of Louis Napoleon’s triumph in England?
‘Those who know England attributed it to the ignorance and childishness of the multitude. Those who thought that the shouts of the mob had any real meaning either hung down their heads in shame at the felf-degradation of a great nation, or attributed them to fear. The latter was the general feeling. “Il faut,” said all our lower classes, “que ces gens-là aient grande peur de nous.”
‘You accuse, in the second place, all the Royalist parties of dislike of England.
‘Do you suppose that you are more popular with the others? That the Republicans love your aristocracy, or the Imperialists your freedom? The real friends of England are the friends of her institutions. They are the body, small perhaps numerically, and now beaten down, of those who adore Constitutional Liberty. They have maintained the mutual good feeling between France and England against the passions of the Republicans and the prejudices of the Legitimists. I trust, as you trust, that this good feeling is to continue, but it is on precisely opposite grounds. My hopes are founded, not on the permanence, but on the want of permanence, of the Empire. I do not believe that a great nation will be long led by its tail instead of by its head. My only fear is, that the overthrow of this tyranny may not take place early enough to save us from war with England, which I believe to be the inevitable consequence of its duration.’
We left Paris soon after this conversation.
[The following are a few extracts from the article in the ‘North British Review.’—Ed.]
‘The principal parties into which the educated society of Paris is divided, are the
‘The Royalists may be again subdivided into Orleanists, Legitimists, and Fusionists; and the Fusionists into Orleanist-Fusionists, and Legitimist-Fusionists.
‘The Imperialists do not require to be described. They form a small party in the salons of Paris, and much the largest party in the provinces.
‘Those who are Royalists without being Fusionists are also comparatively insignificant in numbers. There are a very few Legitimists who pay to the elder branch the unreasoning worship of superstition; who adore Henri V. not as a means but as an end; who pray for his reign, not for their own interests, not for the interests of France, but for his own sake; who believe that he derives his title from God, and that when the proper time comes God will restore him; and that to subject his claims to the smallest compromise—to admit, for instance, as the Fusionists do, that Louis Philippe was really a king, and that the reign of Henri V. did not begin the instant that Charles X. expired—would be a sinful contempt of Divine right, which might deprive his cause of Divine assistance.
‘There are also a very few Orleanists who, with a strange confusion of ideas, do not perceive that a title founded solely on a revolution was destroyed by a revolution; that if the will of the people was sufficient to exclude the descendants of Charles X., it also could exclude the descendants of Louis Philippe; and that the hereditary claims of the Comte de Paris cannot be urged except on the condition of admitting the preferable claims of the Comte de Chambord.
‘The bulk, then, of the Royalists are Fusionists; but though all the Fusionists agree in believing that the only government that can be permanent in France is a monarchy, and that the only monarchy that can be permanent is one depending on hereditary succession; though they agree in believing that neither of the Bourbon branches is strong enough to seize the throne, and that each of them is strong enough to exclude the other, yet between the Orleanist-Fusionists and the Legitimist-Fusionists the separation is as marked and the mutual hatred as bitter, as those which divide the most hostile parties in England.
‘The Orleanist-Fusionists are generally roturiers. They feel towards the noblesse the hatred which has accumulated during twelve centuries of past oppression and the resentment excited by present insolence. Of all the noble families of France the most noble is that of Bourbon. The head of that house has always called himself le premier gentilhomme de France. The Bourbons therefore suffer, and in an exaggerated degree, the odium which weighs down the caste to which they belong. It was this odium, this detestation of privilege and precedence and exclusiveness, or, as it is sometimes called, this love of equality, which raised the barricades of 1830. It was to flatter these feelings that Louis Philippe sent his sons to the public schools and to the National Guard, and tried to establish his Government on the narrow foundation of the bourgeoisie. Louis Philippe and one or two of the members of his family, succeeded in obtaining some personal popularity, but it was only in the comparatively small class, the pays légal, with which they shared the emoluments of Government, and it was not sufficient to raise a single hand in their defence when the masses, whom the Court could not bribe or caress, rose against it. The Orleanist-Fusionists are Bourbonists only from calculation. They wish for the Comte de Paris for their king, not from any affection for him or for his family, but because they think that such an arrangement offers to France the best chance of a stable Government in some degree under popular control: and they are ready to tolerate the intermediate reign of Henri V. as an evil, but one which must be endured as a means of obtaining something else, not very good in itself but less objectionable to them than a Bonapartist dynasty or a Republic.
. . . . . . .
‘The Legitimists have been so injured in fortune and in influence, they have been so long an oppressed caste, excluded from power, and even from sympathy, that they have acquired the faults of slaves, have become timid, or frivolous, or bitter. Their long retirement from public life has made them unfit for it. The older members of the party have forgotten its habits and its duties, the younger ones have never learnt them. Their long absence from the Chambers and from the departmental and municipal councils, from the central and from the local government of France, has deprived them of all aptitude for business. The bulk of them are worshippers of wealth, or ease, or pleasure, or safety. The only unselfish feeling which they cherish is attachment to their hereditary sovereign. They revere Henri V. as the ruler pointed out to them by Providence: they love him as the representative of Charles X. the champion of their order, who died in exile for having attempted to restore to them the Government of France. They hope that on his restoration the canaille of lawyers, and littérateurs, and adventurers, who have trampled on the gentilshommes ever since 1830, will be turned down to their proper places, and that ancient descent will again be the passport to the high offices of the State and to the society of the Sovereign. The advent of Henri V., which to the Orleanist branch of the Fusionists is a painful means, is to the Legitimist branch a desirable end. The succession of the Comte de Paris, to which the Orleanists look with hope, is foreseen by the Legitimists with misgivings. The Fusionist party is in fact kept together not by common sympathies but by common antipathies; each branch of it hates or distrusts the idol of the other, but they co-operate because each branch hates still more bitterly, and distrusts still more deeply, the Imperialists and the Republicans.
‘Among the educated classes there are few Republicans, using that word to designate those who actually wish to see France a republic. There are indeed, many who regret the social equality of the republic, the times when plebeian birth was an aid in the struggle for power, and a journeyman mason could be a serious candidate for the Presidentship, but they are alarmed at its instability. They have never known a republic live for more than a few years, or die except in convulsions. The Republican party, however, though small, is not to be despised. It is skilful, determined, and united. And the Socialists and the Communists, whom we have omitted in our enumeration as not belonging to the educated classes, would supply the Republican leaders with an army which has more than once become master of Paris.
‘The only party that remains to be described is that to which we have given the name of Parliamentarians. Under this designation—a designation that we must admit that we have invented ourselves—we include those who are distinguished from the Imperialists by their desire for a parliamentary form of government; and from the Republicans, by their willingness that that government should be regal; and from the Royalists, by their willingness that it should be republican. In this class are included many of the wisest and of the honestest men in France. The only species of rule to which they are irreconcilably opposed is despotism. No conduct on the part of Louis Napoleon would conciliate a sincere Orleanist, or Legitimist, or Fusionist, or Republican. The anti-regal prejudices of the last, and the loyalty of the other three, must force them to oppose a Bonapartist dynasty, whatever might be the conduct of the reigning emperor. But if Louis Napoleon should ever think the time, to which he professes to look forward, arrived—if he should ever grant to France, or accept from her, institutions really constitutional; institutions, under which the will of the nation, freely expressed by a free press and by freely chosen representatives, should control and direct the conduct of her governor—the Parliamentarians would eagerly rally round him. On the same conditions they would support with equal readiness Henri V. or the Comte de Paris, a president elected by the people, or a president nominated by an Assembly. They are the friends of liberty, whatever be the form in which she may present herself.’
. . . . . .
‘Although our author visits the Provinces, his work contains no report of their political feelings. The explanation probably is, that he found no expression of it. The despotism under which France is now suffering is little felt in the capital. It shows itself principally in the subdued tone of the debates, if debates they can be called, of the Corps Législatif, and the inanity of the newspapers. Conversation is as free in Paris as it was under the Republic. Public opinion would not support the Government in an attempt to silence the salons of Paris. But Paris possesses a public opinion, because it possesses one or two thousand highly educated men whose great amusement, we might say whose great business, is to converse, to criticise the acts of their rulers, and to pronounce decisions which float from circle to circle, till they reach the workshop, and even the barrack. In the provinces there are no such centres of intelligence and discussion, and, therefore, on political subjects, there is no public opinion. The consequence is, that the action of the Government is there really despotic; and it employs its irresistible power in tearing from the departmental and communal authorities all the local franchises and local self-government which they had extorted from the central power in a struggle of forty years.
‘Centralisation, though it is generally disclaimed by every party that is in opposition, is so powerful an instrument that every Monarchical Government which has ruled France since 1789 has maintained, and even tried to extend it.
‘The Restoration, and the Government of July, were as absolute centralisers as Napoleon himself. The local power which they were forced to surrender they made over to the narrow pays légal, the privileged ten-pounders, who were then attempting to govern France. The Republic gave the election of the Conseils généraux to the people, and thus dethroned the notaries who governed those assemblies when they represented only the bourgeoisie. The Republic made the Maires elective; the Republic placed education in the hands of the local authorities. Under its influence the communes, the cantons, and the departments were becoming real administrative bodies. They are now geographical divisions. The Préfet appoints the Maires; the Préfet appoints in every canton a Commissaire de Police, seldom a respectable man, as the office is not honourable; the Gardes champêtres, who are the local police, are put under his control; the Recteur, who was a sort of local Minister of Education in every department, is suppressed; his powers are transferred to the Préfet; the Préfet appoints, promotes, and dismisses all the masters of the écoles primaires. The Préfet can destroy the prosperity of every commune that displeases him. He can displace the functionaries, close its schools, obstruct its public works, and withhold the money which the Government habitually gives in aid of local improvement. He can convert it, indeed, into a mere unorganised aggregation of individuals, by dismissing every communal functionary, and placing its concerns in the hands of his own nominees. There are many hundreds of communes that have been thus treated, and whose masters are now uneducated peasants. The Préfet can dissolve the Conseil général of his department, and although he cannot actually name their successors, he does so virtually. No candidate for an elective office can succeed unless he is supported by the Government. The Courts of law, criminal and civil, are the tools of the executive. The Government appoints the judges, the Préfet provides the jury, and la Haute Police acts without either. All power of combination, even of mutual communication, except from mouth to mouth, is gone. The newspapers are suppressed or intimidated, the printers are the slaves of the Préfet, as they lose their privilege if they offend; the secrecy of the post is habitually and avowedly violated; there are spies in every country town to watch and report conversation; every individual stands defenceless and insulated, in the face of this unscrupulous executive, with its thousands of armed hands and its thousands of watching eyes. The only opposition that is ventured is the abstaining from voting. Whatever be the office, and whatever be the man, the candidate of the Préfet comes in; but if he is a man who would have been unanimously rejected in a state of freedom, the bolder electors show their indignation by their absence.
‘In such a state of society the traveller can learn little. Even those who rule it, know little of the feelings of their subjects. The vast democratic sea on which the Empire floats is influenced by currents, and agitated by ground swells which the Government discovers only by their effects. It knows nothing of the passions which influence these great apparently slumbering masses. Indeed, it takes care, by stifling their expression, to prevent their being known.
. . . . . .
‘We disapprove in many respects of the manner in which Louis Napoleon employs his power, as we disapprove in all respects of the means by which he seized it; but, on the whole, we place him high among the sovereigns of France. As respects his foreign policy we put him at the very top. The foreign policy of the rulers of mankind, whether they be kings, or ministers, or senates, or demagogues, is generally so hateful, and at the same time so contemptible, so grasping, so irritable, so unscrupulous, and so oppressive—so much dictated by ambition, by antipathy and by vanity, so selfish, often so petty in its objects, and so regardless of human misery in its means, that a sovereign who behaves to other nations with merely the honesty and justice and forbearance which are usual between man and man, deserves the praise of exalted virtue. The sovereigns of France have probably been as good as the average of sovereigns. Placed indeed at the head of the first nation of the Continent, they have probably been better; but how atrocious has been their conduct towards their neighbour! If we go back no further than to the Restoration, we find Louis XVIII. forming the Holy Alliance, and attacking Spain without a shadow of provocation, for the avowed purpose of crushing her liberties and giving absolute power to the most detestable of modern tyrants. We find Charles X. invading a dependence of his ally, the Sultan, and confiscating a province to revenge a tap on the face given by the Bey of Algiers to a French consul. We find Louis Philippe breaking the most solemn engagements with almost wanton faithlessness; renouncing all extension of territory in Africa and then conquering a country larger than France—a country occupied by tribes who never were the subjects of the Sultan or of the Bey, and who could be robbed of their independence only by wholesale and systematic massacre; we find him joining England, Spain, and Portugal in the Quadruple Alliance, and deserting them as soon as the time of action had arrived; joining Russia, Prussia, Austria and England, in the arrangement of the Eastern question, on the avowed basis that the integrity of the Ottoman empire should be preserved, and then attempting to rob it of Egypt. We find him running the risk of a war with America, because she demanded, too unceremoniously, the payment of a just debt, and with England because she complained of the ill-treatment of a missionary. We find him trying to ruin the commerce of Switzerland because the Diet arrested a French spy, and deposing Queen Pomare because she interfered with the sale of French brandies; and, as his last act, eluding an express promise by a miserable verbal equivocation, and sowing the seeds of a future war of succession in order to get for one of his sons an advantageous establishment in Spain.
‘The greatest blot in the foreign policy of Louis Napoleon is the invasion of Rome, and for that he is scarcely responsible. It was originally planned by Louis Philippe and Rossi. The expedition which sailed from Toulon in 1849 was prepared in 1847. It was despatched in the first six months of his presidency, in obedience to a vote of the Assembly, when the Assembly was still the ruler of France; and Louis Napoleon’s celebrated letter to Ney was an attempt, not, perhaps constitutional or prudent, but well-intentioned, to obtain for the Roman people liberal and secular institutions instead of ecclesiastical tyranny.
‘His other mistake was the attempt to enforce on Turkey the capitulations of 1740, and to revive pretentions of the Latins in Jerusalem which had slept for more than a century. This, again, was a legacy from Louis Philippe. It was Louis Philippe who claimed a right to restore the dome, or the portico, we forget which, of the Holy Sepulchre, and to insult the Greeks by rebuilding it in the Latin instead of the Byzantine form. Louis Napoleon has the merit, rare in private life, and almost unknown among princes, of having frankly and unreservedly withdrawn his demands, though supported by treaty, as soon as he found that they could not be conceded without danger to the conceding party.
‘With these exceptions, his management of the foreign relations of France has been faultless. To England he has been honest and confiding, to Russia conciliatory but firm, to Austria kind and forbearing, and he has treated Prussia with, perhaps, more consideration than that semi-Russian Court and childishly false and cunning king deserved. He has been assailed by every form of temptation, through his hopes and through his fears, and has remained faithful and disinterested. Such conduct deserves the admiration with which England has repaid it.
‘We cannot praise him as an administrator. He is indolent and procrastinating. He hates details, and therefore does not understand them. When he has given an order he does not see to its execution; indeed, he cannot, for he does not know how it ought to be executed. He directed a fleet to be prepared to cooperate with us in the Baltic in the spring. Ducos, his Minister of Marine, assured him that it was ready. The time came, and not a ship was rigged or manned. He asked us to suspend the expedition for a couple of months. We refused, and sailed without the French squadron. If the Russians had ventured out, and we either had beaten them single-handed, or been repulsed for want of the promised assistance, the effect on France would have been frightful. We have reason to believe that it was only in the middle of February that he made up his mind to send an army to Bulgaria. They arrived by driblets, without any plan of operations, and it was not until August that their battering train left Toulon. It ought to have reached Sebastopol in May. In time, however, he must see the necessity of either becoming an active man of business himself, or of ministering, like other sovereigns, through his Ministers. Up to the present time many causes have concurred to occasion him to endeavour to be his own Minister, and to treat those to whom he gives that name as mere clerks. He is jealous and suspicious, fond of power, and impatient of contradiction. With the exception of Drouyn de l’Huys, the eminent men of France, her statesmen and her generals, stand aloof from him. Those who are not in exile have retired from public life, and offer neither assistance nor advice. Advice, indeed, he refuses, and, what is still more useful than advice, censure, he punishes.
‘But the war, though it must last longer, and cost more in men and in money than it would have done if it were managed with more intelligence and activity, must end favourably. Ill managed as it has been by France, it has been worse managed by Russia. It is impossible that that semi-barbarous empire, with its scarcely sane autocrat, its corrupt administration, its disordered finances, and its heterogeneous populations, should ultimately triumph over the two most powerful nations of Europe, flanked by Austria, and disposing of the fanatical valour of Turkey. If Louis Napoleon pleases the vanity of France by military glory, and rewards her exertions by a triumphant peace; if he employs his absolute power in promoting her prosperity by further relaxing the fetters which encumber her industry; if he takes advantage of the popularity which a successful war, an honourable peace, and internal prosperity must confer on him, to give to her a little real liberty and a little real self-government; if he gradually subsides from a Tύραννος to a Bασιλεύς; if he allows some liberty of the press, some liberty of election, some liberty of discussion, and some liberty of decision; he may pass the remainder of his agitated life in the tranquil exercise of limited, but great and secure power, the ally of England, and the benefactor of France.
‘If this expectation should be realised—and we repeat, that among many contingencies it appears to us to be the least improbable—it affords to Europe the best hope of undisturbed peace and progressive civilisation and prosperity. An alliance with England was one of the favourite dreams of the first Napoleon. He believed, and with reason, that England and France united could dictate to all Europe. But in this respect, as indeed in all others, his purposes were selfish. Being master of France, he wished France to be mistress of the world. All that he gave to France was power, all that he required from Europe was submission. The objects for which he desired our co-operation were precisely those which we wished to defeat. The friendship from which we recoiled in disgust, almost in terror, was turned into unrelenting hatred; and in the long struggle which followed, each party felt that its safety depended on the total ruin of the other.
‘The alliance which the uncle desired as a means of oppressing Europe, the nephew seeks for the purpose of setting her free. The heavy continued weight of Russia has, ever since the death of Alexander, kept down all energy and independence of action, and even of thought, on the Continent. She has been the patron of every tyrant, the protector of every abuse, the enemy of every improvement. It was at her instigation that the Congress of Verona decreed the enslavement of Spain, and that in the conferences of Leybach it was determined to stifle liberty in Italy. Every court on the Continent is cursed with a Russian party; and woe be to the Sovereign and to the Minister who is not at its head: all the resources of Russian influence and of Russian corruption are lavished to render his people rebellious and his administration unsuccessful. From this peine forte et dure we believe that Europe will now be relieved; and if the people or the sovereigns of the Continent, particularly those of Germany and Italy, make a tolerable use of the freedom from foreign dictation which the weakness of Russia will give to them, we look forward to an indefinite course of prosperity and improvement. Unhappily, experience, however, forbids us to be sanguine. Forty years ago, an event, such as we are now contemplating, occurred. A Power which had deprived the Continent of the power of independent action fell, and for several years had no successor. Germany and Italy recalled or re-established their sovereigns, and entrusted them with power such as they had never possessed before. How they used it may be inferred from the general outbreak of 1848. A popular indignation, such as could have been excited only by long years of folly, stupidity, and tyranny, swept away or shook every throne from Berlin to Palermo. The people was everywhere for some months triumphant; and its abuse of power produced a reaction which restored or introduced despotism in every kingdom except Prussia and Piedmont, and even in Prussia gave to the King power sufficient to enable him, up to the present moment, to maintain a policy, mischievous to the interests, disgusting to the sympathies, and injurious to the honour of his people. But while the Anglo-Gallic alliance continues, the Continent will be defended from the worst of all evils, the prevention of domestic improvement, and the aggravation of domestic disturbance, by foreign intervention. That alliance has already preserved the liberty of Piedmont. If it had been established sooner, it might have preserved that of Hesse, and have saved Europe from the revolting spectacle of the constitutional resistance of a whole people against an usurping tyrant and a profligate minister crushed by brutal, undisguised violence.
‘We repeat that we are not sanguine, that we do not expect the tranquil, uninterrupted progress which would be the result of the timely concession on the part of the sovereigns, and of the forbearance and moderation on the part of their subjects, which, if they could profit by the lessons of history, would be adopted by both parties. The only lesson, indeed, which history teaches is, that she teaches none either to subjects or to sovereigns. But we do trust that when the ruler and his people are allowed to settle their own affairs between one another, they will come from time to time to coarse and imperfect, but useful arrangements of their differences. Rational liberty may advance slowly and unequally; it may sometimes be arrested, it may sometimes be forced back, but its march in every decennial period will be perceptible. Like an oak which has grown up among storms, its durability will be in proportion to the slowness of its progress.’
Note inserted by M. de Tocqueville in my Journal, after reading the preceding conversation.
‘One whole side, and that a very curious one, of Algeria, has escaped you, because you could not, or would not, inflict on yourself the bore of talking frequently with the colonists, and this side cannot be seen in conversing with officials—it is the abuse of centralisation. Africa may be considered as the most complete and most extraordinary picture of the vices of this system. I am convinced that it alone, without the Arabs, the sun, the desert and the fever, would be enough to prevent us from colonising. All the defects of centralisation, its oppressions, its faults, its absurdities, its endless documents, which are dimly perceived in France, become one hundred times bigger in Africa. It is like a louse in a microscope.’
See p. 107.