Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Happy would it have been for all parties if the Assembly had taken this advice, and by convoking the nation without delay, sought from the only authority which they could both legitimately acknowledge a solution of the otherwise irreconcilable difficulties which had arisen between them ; but the Assembly were well aware that the issue of such an appeal would have been the consolidation and increase of the President's power, and their own political annihilation. They preferred, therefore, to wait.

That the evil day was inevitable could not be a matter of doubt to any one at the close of 1850. On the part of the President every thing was ready. He had made the most of his position, and collected in a focus all the different sources of power or influence of which it was susceptible He must also have seen--none more clearly-that the existing state of things could not continue. The machine was unworkable. The State had nearly come to that point when salus populi is su prema lex.

On the 19th of January, 1851, the Assembly adopted an order of the day, implying censure of the President's policy, the consequence of which was the resignation of his ministry. This was probably the very thing Louis Napoleon desired, he accepted the resignation, and formed in their stead what he was pleased to call a Ministry of Transition. He communicates this somewhat drily in a message to the Assembly.

On the first of June, the President is at Dijon, engaged in his favorite occupation of opening a railway. In his address on the occasion, the following passages occur :

“ France wishes neither the return of the ancient regime, whatever be the form which disguises it, nor the trial of fatal and impracticable Utopias."

other, petitions are signed, demanding the revision of the Constitution. I wait with confidence the manifestations of the country, and the decisions of the Assembly wlio will be inspired by the single hope of the public good. If France recognizes that no one has the right of disposing of her without her own consent, France has only to say so; iny courage and my energy will not fail her."

We thus see the hints and feelers the President has been all along throwing out, taking form and consistence. He has made the most of the material advantages of his position, he now brings the logic of his case into a focus of gradually increasing clearness and intensity.

He is not, however, so communicative this year. He has nearly said his say, and put his case on the best ground of which it is susceptible. He has only now to put the Assembly in the wrong, and to bring home to them a violation of the letter of that institution they were so fond of pressing on him. Now he had kept himself as yet on the “windy side of the law;" or if he had gone beyond the limits of the Constitution, it was in one instance only, and the Assembly were his accomplices.

On the 31st May, the Assembly, with the concurrence of the President, had passed a law excluding from the privileges of universal suffrage all who had not resided for three years in the commune.

But it is now time for Louis Napoleon to repent of this encroachment on the sovereignty of the people, and in a lengthened address to the Assembly, he proposes to return to the former law of unrestricted suffrage. His arguments are ingenious. The law of the 13th May seemed reasonable at the time it was passed, its object being to strengthen the hands of the friends of order ; but far from answering this purpose, it had served as a pretext to the anarchists to assume the character of the only true republicans; and it could not be denied they had a plausible ground for this assumption, since the effect of the law of the 13th May, going far beyond what he had anticipated, had actually disfranchiseil three millions of electors.

But there was another objection ; the Constitution required that, of the ten millions of electors in France, at least two millions, or one-fifth, should

The reader will notice the comprehensive way in which this sentence disposes of both classes of his opponents. France is neither Monarchical nor Republican ; there is another alternative which he does not mention, but it is clearly implied, namely, that France is Bonapartist :

“A new phase of our political era com mences. From one end of France to the

“ Frenchmen, the actual position can no longer endure. Every day which passes by aggravates the danger of the country. The Assembly, which ought to be the firmest support of order, has become a centre of conspiracy; the patriotism of three hundred of its members could not check its fatal tendercies. In place of making laws for the public welfare, it forges the arms of ciril war; it attacks the power which I hold directly from the people ; it encourages all evil passions; it compromises the repose of France I have dissolved it, and I make the entire people the judge between me and it."

concur in the election of the President-otherwise it fell to the Assembly to elect him ; but if three millions of electors were arbitrarily struck off the roll, the President would require to have a third, instead of a fifth of the voters to secure his election. So that in effect, this law of 31st May might take the election of the President out of the hands of the people, and give it to the Assembly, contrary to the Constitution.

Louis Napoleon could not have argued more adroitly. The inconsistency of Republicans of the French school restricting universal suffrage, was undeniable, but the bearing of the restriction on the election of the President, so far from weighing with the Assembly as a reason for its repeal, would rather act as a motive to them to retain it; or even to pass a law of a still more restrictive character, having more decidedly the tendency to throw the election of the President into the hands of the Assembly. They accordingly fell into the snare; they refused to repeal the obnoxious law; and Louis Napoleon thenceforth stood forward as the champion of the Constitution, and especially of universal suffrage ; when the Assembly confessedly took the the position of a reactionary body who wished to destroy the very power from which they derived their authority.

The quarrel was as “pretty a one” for the President as could be; a Coup d'Etat was now justifiable, in order to save the Constitution. Henceforth events rapidly culminated.

On the 9th November he addresses the officers of the army who had recently arrived in Paris, and tells them that “if ever the day of danger should arrive, I will not do like the governments which have preceded me; I will not say to you, March, I follow you' ; but I will say to you, ‘I march follow me!'”

Under date the 2d December, the following brief notice is inserted in this wolume:

“ The National Assembly is dissolved. The President addresses the two proclamations which follow, to the people and the army."

In his address to the people, he states his position with his usual felicity :-

Persuaded that the preponderance of a single Assembly is the cause of all the trouble and discord, he proposes to the people, "the only sove reign which I recognize in France," — the programme of a new government:

1. One responsible chief elected for ten years.

2. Ministers dependent on the executive power alone.

3. A council of state formed of the most distinguished men, preparing the laws, and supporting the discussion of them before the legislative body.

4. A legislative body discussing and voting laws, nominated by universal suffrage.

5. A second Assembly formed of all the illustrious of the country, a preponderating power, the guardian of the fundamental paction of the public liberties.

If he does not obtain their suffrages as President with this programme, he is to invoke the reunion of a new Assembly, and to remit into their hands the mandate he has received from the nation.

There was no very great choice in this. As things stood, it was Louis Napoleon or Anarchy; and Louis Napoleon had the army on his side, whereas Anarchy could only boast of her usual adherents, the mob of Paris, assisted on this occasion by a few of the minor Ideologues, the magnates of that party having been in the meantime very judiciously put in prison.

The address to the army is in the tone of a man who is sure of their support. They are to vote like the other citizens ; but their general is ordered immediately after ascertaining the result to burn the lists, so that the President might be ignorant of the names of those who voted against him.

On the 8th December all opposi

tion, which indeed never for a moment assumed any formidable proportions, had been quelled. The President again addresses the people.

“ Frenchmen, the troubles are appeased; whatever may be the decision of the people, society is saved. The first part of any task is accomplished. The appeal to the nation to terminate our contests would not, I knew, crcate any serious risk to public tranquillity."

And further on :

“If I do not possess your confidence, if your ideas have changed, there is no need for shedding precious blood. You have only to deposit a negative vote in the urn. I will always respect the decision of the people."

That decision was formally intimated on the 31st December. In his address to the members of the Commission who had superintended the voting, occur the following passages :

"France lias answered to the loyal appeal I made to lier. She has understood that I only went out of legality in order to return into right. I felicitate myself on this immense adhesion; it is not from pride, but be. cause it gives me the force to speak and to act as it becomes the chief of a great nation like ours."

instead of melting it; but the result has been often predicted by ancient and modern historians, nor are the reasons on which these predictions were founded of a very recondite nature. In all states of society the good things of the world are for the few, while the majority can with difficulty provide the necessaries of existence. So long as the established order of things continues, so long as society rests on its ancient hierarchical foundations, the majority acquiesce in this as part of the economy of nature. But disturb the established order by revolutionary ideas, and they begin to question the fact of the immutability of such an arrangement ; and although there are reasons which demonstrate that it cannot be otherwise, these are too philosophical for the apprehension of the masses, who are swayed by passion and not by reason. And once the revolutionary instincts are aroused, envy towards the rich becomes a predominant feeling, which soon ferments into hatred, assisted not a little by the distant and haughty manners of the rich, which, now that they are no longer believed to be a superior order of beings, seem an insult. Now suppose in such a state of things that the entire nation, voting per capita, were called on to decide whether they would have a continuance of the existing government, or the despotism of one man who proposes to reduce the upper and middle classes to a perfect equality with the labouring population in the eye of the law, and to take up the cause of the latter, and we have no doubt whatever that in any country the despot would have a large majority of votes. It is the conviction of this necessary and natural tendency of democracy which is the main reason why we have always advocated Conservative principles, and deprecated any rash extension of the suffrage.

The year 1852 was ushered in with the proclamation of the Constitution, purporting to be developed from the programme of the Coup d'Etat. In the preamble the President asserts he has taken for his model the institutions of the Consulate and the Empire.

In France as it is, he says, the Chief must be responsible; “ to write at the head of a charte' that the

He might well say so ; seven millions of votes had justified the boldest and best planned step in political action which the world had seen since the days of Cromwell, for the Coups d'Etat of Napoleon I. were neither undertaken at such risk, nor prepared for with such consummate sagacity.

So closed 1851, leaving Louis Na poleon in the possession of absolute power; for it need hardly be remarked that his Council of State, his Senate and Legislative Assembly, with their limited attributions, did not even in appearance come betwixt him and the exercise of undisputed authority. The political cycle had returned upon itself; the two extreme ends had united-from the most unlimited democracy the most unlimited despotism had legitimately sprung ; universal suffrage had formally and deliberately selected autocracy. To the casual observer, to the Utopian Republican, no result could be less expected; it would seem to them as probable that heat should form ice

Chief is irresponsible, is to give the can be changed without its will lie to poblic sentiment."

Bat the President does not inform us On the contrary, the new Constitu- how this will is to be expressed, and we tion proclaimed that the Chief elected see no other way than by insurrection, is responsible to the people. But, a right which the people have under being responsible, it follows that his any kind of government whatever; action honld be free and without though, perhaps, there are few in obstacles, " that his ministry should which it would be less safe to exercise be the honored and powerful auxi- it than in that of Louis Napoleon. liaries of his thought, but that they The Constitution is formulated in should not form a responsible council fifty-eight articles, which are here composed of members liable for one given in extenso, and to which we another, a continual obstacle to the beg to refer the reader, if he is curioz impulse given by the Chief of the as to the Constitution of France. State, the expression of a political These articles, with the exception of opinion emanating from the Chamber, those defining, or rather stating the and thereby exposed to frequent power of the President for definition changes which hinder all unity, all implies limits-are vaguely expressed, regular system.”

and each of them seems capable of This is pretty distinct, but in order being developed in detail into a that there may be no mistake he volume. anks,“ What will then be the control The remaining speeches and adexercised by the Assembly ?" and he dresses this year contain, according proceeds to answer the question at to Louis Napoleon's manner, proteslength, in rather more words than is tats of abnegation-he is content hiy usual custom, and the more un- to remain simply President; followed necessary in this case as the simple by hints and indications, gradually answer, “ Nothing," would have been getting clearer and clearer, till they the true response to his query.

reach their result in the proclamation One of several sentences may prove of the Empire. All which was hardly this as to the Chamber Legislative, necessary, since, as he ultimately says “ the Chamber being no longer in himself, the change would be only in presence of the ministry, and the pro- name. jects of law being supported by the His address on the 29th March, at oratory of the Council of State, time the opening of the Session of the will not be lost in vain interpellations, Senate and the Corps Legislatif, is in frivolous accusations, in passionate on the whole, a good specimen of his encounters, whose golitary object it style ; the peculiar feature of which was to overthrow the ministry in is a frugality of words, so skillfully order to take their places."

selected, that it is impossible to misAs to the Senate whose inertia bas take his meaning; unless, which is been recently animadverted on by the sometimes the case, he is not desirous Moniteur, it is difficult to discover of being understood. We will extract what they are expected to do

a few passages from this address :" It is the depository of the fundamental “A few months ago, you will recollect, paction, and of the liberties compatible with the more I restricted myself within the narrow the Constitution, and it is only sur le rap circle of my attributions, the more they tried port des grands principes sur lesquels repose to restrict it, in order to deprive me of notre societé qu'il examine toutes les lois et movement and action; often discouraged, I qu'ii en propose de nouvelles au pouvoir avow, I had the thought of abandoning a

power so contested; but that which restrained

me was, that I saw only ono thing to succeed We give this in the original French; me, and that was anarchy." what it means the reader must discover for himself; and if so, he will There is a considerable similarity be cleverer than the Senate, who, between the speeches and character according to the Moniteur, and that of Louis Napoleon and Cromwell. is an oracle of inspiration, have not Both indulge in the same self-denying yet made the discovery.

asseverations; and if Cromwell de But whatever be this Constitution, nounces the malignants, our author “the people remains always master denounces the Ideologues : while the of its destiny, nothing fundamental people of God' of the Puritan, may be

[ocr errors]

represented by the men of order of the President. In action both pursue a line of conduct which, whether planned a priori, or gradually suggested to them by the course of events, appears to those who review it, the most admirably calculated to forward their ambition; both give adequate time for the pear to come to maturity, ample rope to their opponents to hang themselves; and when the crisis is come, both accomplish their ends by violent measures, as bold as they are exquisitely concerted.

The only difference betwixt them seems to be that Louis Napoleon is a translation of Cromwell, from the somewhat crabbed and obscure dialect of a difficult language into a version of admirable plainness and perspicuity; for takeany oneof Cromwell's speeches, and find out the plain common sense of it, if you can, and ten to one you will find an address of the President expressing the same sentiments. Or, to take the reverse process : get Carlyle to translate the speeches of Louis Napoleon, not into English, but into his own dialect, and you will have a prelection of Cromwell to a committee of his officers.

But to return from this digression. In the speech under consideration Louis Napoleon goes on to say :

plished long ago; neither the means nor the opportunities have been wanting to me."

He could have done so, he says, in 1818, or on the 13th June, 1849, and still more easily on the 2d December, 1851.

In a message to the Corps Legislatif, on 28th June, he thus states the idea of his government. “A government animated by faith and the love of good ; which reposes on the people, source of all power ; upon the army, source of all force ; upon religion, source of all justice.” In which definition, it will be remarked that the basis of the force of the government is expressed in somewhat clearer terms than that of the other principles of his government; 'faith' and religion being generic terms, susceptible of infinite meaning.

In an address on the 29th September at Lyons, the Empire is shadowed forth with slightly increasing distinctness. At ali points of his progress he says he has been saluted with cries of Vive l'Empereur, “a cry, which is to me rather a souvenir which touches my heart than a hope which flatters my pride ;” but, if the modest title of President could facilitate the mission which was confided to me, and before which I have not retreated, it is not I who, from personal interest, would desire to change that title for that of Emperor.”

Throughout the career of Louis Napoleon, which this volume illustrates, he has always shewn a disposition to court the clergy. There are several addresses illustrating his manner of canvassing that important interest. On the whole, his expressions are manly and honorable, without any affectation of exaggerated devotion. On one occasion, about this time, while laying the foundation of the cathedral of Marseilles, he says, “ My government, I say it with pride, is one of the few which has supported religion for itself. It supports it, not as an instrument, not to please a political party, but solely from conviction and from the love of good which it inspires, like the truths which it teaches." Still it must be confessed that Paganism would be a sufficient platform for all the religious opinions which the President possesses. A belief in the Etre Supréme under the idea of fate will suffice.

“ Among political institutions, in effect, those alone hare duration, which fix in an equitable manner the limit where cach power ought to stop. There is no other means of arriving at a useful and beneficent application of liberty ; the examples are not far from us.

" Why, in 1814, did we see with satisfaction, in spite of our reverses, the inauguration of the parliamentary regime? It was because the Emperor, let us not fear to avow it, lad been drawn, on account of the war, to a too absolute exercise of power.

“In fine, why is France not excited on account of the restrictions imposed on the liberty of the press and on individual liberty? It is that the one had degenerated into license, and that the other, in place of being the regular exercise of the right of each, had by odious excesses inenaced the right of all."

A little further on in this speech occurs the first hint of the Empire :

“ Seeing we re-establish the institutioas and souvenirs of the Empire, people often say that I desired to re-establish the Empire itself. If such was my constant pre-occupation, that transformation would be accom

« AnteriorContinuar »