could not be obtained, they tried to prevent the creation of the port.
‘Very early, however, in his parliamentary life, he had found that an independent member–a member who supporting no party is supported by no party—is useless. He allowed himself therefore to be considered a member of the Gauche; but I never could persuade him to be tolerably civil to them. Once, after I had been abusing him for his coldness to them, he shook hands with Romorantin, then looked towards me for my applause, but I doubt whether he ever shook hands with him again. In fact almost his only point of contact with them was their disapprobation of the inactivity of Louis Philippe. Many of them were Bonapartists like Abbatucci and Romorantin. Some were Socialists, some were Republicans; the majority of them wished to overthrow the Monarchy, and the minority looked forward with indifference to its fall.
‘They hated him as much as he did them, much more indeed, for his mind was not formed for hatred. They excluded him from almost all committees.’
‘Would it not have been wise in him,’ I asked, ‘to retire from the Chamber during the King’s life, or at least until it contained a party with whom he could cordially act?’
‘Perhaps,’ said Beaumont, ‘that would have been the wisest course for him–and indeed for me. I entered the Chamber reluctantly. All my family were convinced that a political man not in the Chamber was nothing. So I let myself be persuaded. Tocqueville required no persuasion, he was anxious to get in, and when in it was difficult to persuade oneself to go out. We always hoped for a change. The King might die, or he might be forced–as he had been forced before–to submit to a liberal Ministry which might have been a temporary cure, or even to a Parliamentary reform which might have been a complete cure. Duchatel, who is a better politician than Guizot, was superseding him in the confidence of the King and of the Chamber.
‘In fact, the liberal Ministry and Parliamentary reform did come at last, though not until it was too late to save the Monarchy.
‘If Tocqueville had retired in disgust from the Chamber of Deputies, he might not have been a member of the Constituent, or of the Legislative Assembly. This would have been a misfortune–though the shortness of the duration of the first, and the hostility of the President during the second, and also the state of his health, prevented his influencing the destinies of the Republic as much as his friends expected him to do, and indeed as he expected himself.’
‘I have often,’ I said, ‘wondered how you and Tocqueville, and the other eminent men who composed the committee for preparing the Constitution, could have made one incapable of duration, and also incapable of change.’
‘What,’ he asked, ‘are the principal faults which you find in the Constitution?’
‘First,’ I said, ‘that you gave to your President absolute authority over the army, the whole patronage of the most centralised and the most place-hunting country in the world, so that there was not one of your population of 36,000,000 whose interests he could not seriously affect; and, having thus armed him with irresistible power, you gave him the strongest possible motives to employ it against the Constitution by turning him out at the end of his four years, incapable of re-election, unpensioned and unprovided for, so that he must have gone from the Elysee Bourbon to a debtor’s prison.
‘Next, that, intending your President to be the subordinate Minister of the Assembly, you gave him the same origin, and enabled him to say, “I represent the people as much as you do, indeed much more. They _all_ voted for me, only a fraction of them voted for any one of you.” Then that origin was the very worst that could possibly be selected, the votes of the uneducated multitude; you must have foreseen that they would give you a demagogue or a charlatan. The absence of a second Chamber, and the absence of a power of dissolution, are minor faults, but still serious ones. When the President and the Assembly differed, they were shut up together to fight it out without an umpire.’
‘That we gave the President too much power,’ said Beaumont, ‘the event has proved. But I do not see how, in the existing state of feeling in France, we could have given him less. The French have no self-reliance. They depend for everything on their administrators. The first revolution and the first empire destroyed all their local authorities and also their aristocracy. Local authorities may be gradually re-created, and an aristocracy may gradually arise, but till these things have been done the Executive must be strong.
‘If he had been re-eligible, our first President would virtually have been President for life. Having decided that his office should be temporary, we were forced to forbid his immediate re-election.
‘With respect to his being left unprovided for, no man who had filled the office decently would have been refused an ample provision on quitting it. As for this man, no provision that we could have made for him, if we had given him three or four millions a year, would have induced him to give up what he considered a throne which was his by descent. He swore to the Constitution with an _idee fixe _to destroy it. He attempted to do so on the 29th of January 1849, not two months after his election.
‘I agree with you that the fault of the Constitution was that it allowed the President to be chosen by universal suffrage; and that the fault of the people was that they elected a pretender to the throne, whose ambition, rashness, and faithlessness had been proved.
‘No new Constitution can work if the Executive conspires against it. But deliberating and acting in the midst of _emeutes_, with a Chamber and a population divided into half a dozen hostile factions, the two Royalist parties hating one another, the Bonapartists bent on destroying all freedom, and the Socialists all individual property, what could we do? My wish and Tocqueville’s was to give the election to the Chamber. We found that out of 650 members we could not hope that our proposition would be supported by more than 200. You think that we ought to have proposed two Chambers. The great use of two Chambers is to strengthen the Executive by enabling it to play one against the other; but we felt that our Executive was dangerously strong, and we believed, I think truly, that a single Chamber would resist him better than two could do. The provision which required more than a bare majority for the revision of the Constitution was one of those which we borrowed from America. It had worked well there. In the general instability we wished to have one anchor, one mooring ring fixed. We did not choose that the whole framework of our Government should be capable of being suddenly destroyed by a majority of one, in a moment of excitement and perhaps by a parliamentary surprise.
‘With respect to your complaint that, there being no power of dissolution, there was no means of taking the opinion of the people, the answer is, that to give the President power of dissolution would have been to invite him to a _coup d’etat._ With no Chamber to watch him, he would have been omnipotent.
‘I agree with you that the Constitution was a detestable one. But even now, looking back to the times, and to the conditions under which we made it, I do not think that it was in our power to make a good one.’
‘Tocqueville,’ I said, ‘told me that Cormenin was your Solon, that he brought a bit of constitution to you every morning, and that it was usually adopted.'
‘Tocqueville’s memory,’ answered Beaumont, ‘deceived him. Cormenin was our president. It is true that he brought a bit of constitution every morning. But it scarcely ever was adopted or capable of being adopted. It was in general bad in itself, or certain to be rejected by the Assembly. He wished to make the President a puppet. But he exercised over us a mischievous influence. He tried to revenge himself for our refusal of all his proposals by rendering our deliberations fruitless. And as the power of a president over a deliberative body is great, he often succeeded.
‘Many of our members were unaccustomed to public business and lost their tempers or their courage when opposed. The Abbe Lamennais proposed a double election of the president. But of thirty members, only four, among whom were Tocqueville and I, supported him. He left the committee and never returned to it. Tocqueville and I were anxious to introduce double election everywhere. It is the best palliative of universal suffrage.’
‘The double election,’ I said, ‘of the American President is nugatory. Every elector is chosen under a pledge to nominate a specified candidate.’
‘That is true,’ said Beaumont, ‘as to the President, but not as to the other functionaries thus elected. The senators chosen by double election are far superior to the representatives chosen by direct voting.
‘We proposed, too, to begin by establishing municipal institutions. We were utterly defeated. The love of centralisation is almost inherent in French politicians. They see the evil of local government–its stupidity, its corruption, its jobbing. They see the convenience of centralisation–the ease with which a centralised administration works. Feelings which are really democratic have reached those who fancy themselves aristocrats. We had scarcely a supporter.
‘We should perhaps have a few now, when experience has shown that centralisation is still more useful to an usurper than it is to a regular Government.’
[Footnote 1: See Vol. I. p. 212.–ED.]
_August_ 18.–We drove in the afternoon to the coast, and sat in the shade of the little ricks of sea-weed, gazing on an open sea as blue as the Mediterranean.
We talked of America.
‘I can understand,’ said Madame de Tocqueville, ‘the indignation of the North against you. It is, of course, excessive, but they had a right to expect you to be on their side in an anti-slavery war.’
‘They had no right,’ I said, ‘to expect from our Government anything but absolute neutrality.’
‘But you need not,’ she replied, ‘have been so eager to put the South on the footing of belligerents.’
‘On what other footing,’ I asked, ‘could we put them? On what other footing does the North put them? Have they ventured, or will they venture, to hang a single seceder?’
‘At least,’ she said, ‘you might have expressed more sympathy with the North?’
‘I think,’ I answered, ‘that we have expressed as much sympathy as it was possible to feel. We deplore the combat, we hold the South responsible for it, we think their capricious separation one of the most foolish and one of the most wicked acts that have ever been committed; we hope that the North will beat them, and we should bitterly regret their forcing themselves back into the Union on terms making slavery worse, if possible, than it is now. We wish the contest to end as quickly as possible: but we do not think that it can end by the North subjugating the Southerns and forcing them to be its subjects.
‘The best termination to which we look forward as possible, is that the North should beat the South, and then dictate its own terms of separation.
‘If they wish to go farther than this, if they wish us to love or to admire our Northern cousins in their political capacity, they wish for what is impossible.
‘We cannot forget that the Abolitionists have been always a small and discredited party; that the Cuba slave trade is mainly carried on from New York; that they have neglected the obligations formally entered into by them with us to co-operate in the suppression of the slave trade; that they have pertinaciously refused to allow us even to inquire into the right of slavers to use the American flag; that it is the capital of the North which feeds the slavery of the South; that the first act of the North, as soon as the secession of the South from Congress allowed it to do what it liked, was to enact a selfish protective tariff; that their treatment of us, from the time that they have felt strong enough to insult us, has been one unvaried series of threats, bullying, and injury; that they have refused to submit their claims on us to arbitration, driven out our ambassadors, seized by force on disputed territory, and threatened war on every pretence.’
‘It is true,’ said Beaumont, ‘that during the last twenty years American diplomacy has not been such as to inspire affection or respect But you must recollect that during all that time America has been governed by the South.’
‘It is true,’ I said, ‘that the presidents have generally been Southerns, but I am not aware that the North has ever disavowed their treatment of us. This is certain, that throughout the Union, insolence to England has been an American statesman’s road to popularity.’
_Monday., August _19.–We walked in the afternoon over the commons overlooking the sea, and among the shady lanes of this well-wooded country.
We came on a group of about twelve or thirteen reapers taking their evening meal of enormous loaves of brown bread, basins of butter, and kegs of cider.
M. Roussell, the farmer in whose service they were, was sitting among them. He was an old friend and constituent of Tocqueville, and for thirty years was Maire of Tocqueville. He has recently resigned. He rose and walked with us to his house.
‘I was required,’ he said, ‘to support the prefect’s candidate for the _Conseil general_. No such proposition was ever made to me before. I could not submit to it. The prefect has been unusually busy of late. The schoolmaster has been required to send in a list of the peasants whose children, on the plea of poverty, receive gratuitous education. The children of those who do not vote with the prefect are to have it no longer.’
I asked what were the wages of labour.
‘Three francs and half a day,’ he said, ‘during the harvest, with food–which includes cider. In ordinary times one franc a day with food, or a franc and a half without food.’
‘It seems then,’ I said, ‘that you can feed a man for half a franc a day?’
‘He can feed himself,’ said M. Roussell, ‘for that, but I cannot, or for double that money.’
The day labourer is generally hired only for one day. A new bargain is made every day.
The house was not uncomfortable, but very untidy. There are no ricks, everything is stored in large barns, where it is safe from weather, but terribly exposed to vermin.
A bright-complexioned servant-girl was in the kitchen preparing an enormous bowl of soup, of which bread, potatoes, and onions were the chief solid ingredients.
‘Roussell,’ said Beaumont, ‘is superior to his class. In general they are bad politicians. It is seldom difficult to get their votes for the nominee of the prefect. They dislike to vote for anyone whom they know, especially if he be a gentleman, or be supported by the gentry. Such a candidate excites their democratic envy and suspicion. But the prefect is an abstraction. They have never seen him, they have seldom heard of his name or of that of his candidate, and therefore they vote for him.
‘Lately, however, in some of my communes, the peasants have adapted a new practice, that of electing peasants. I suspect that the Government is not displeased.
‘The presence of such members will throw discredit on the _Conseils generaux_, and, if they get there, on the _Corps legislatif,_ much to the pleasure of our democratic master, and they will be easily bribed or frightened. Besides which the fifteen francs a day will be a fortune to them, and they will be terrified by the threat of a dissolution. I do not think that even yet we have seen the worst of universal suffrage.’
‘What influence,’ I asked, ‘have the priests?’
‘In some parts of France,’ said Beaumont, ‘where the people are religious, as is the case here, much. Not much in the north-east, where there is little religion; and in the towns, where there is generally no religion, their patronage of a candidate would ruin him. I believe that nothing has so much contributed to Louis Napoleon’s popularity with the _ouvriers_ as his quarrel with the Pope. You may infer the feelings of the lower classes in Paris from his cousin’s conduct.’
‘I study Prince Napoleon,’ said Ampere, ‘with interest, for I believe that he will be the successor.’
‘If Louis Napoleon,’ I said, ‘were to be shot tomorrow, would not the little prince be proclaimed?’
‘Probably,’ said Ampere, ‘but with Jerome for regent, and I doubt whether the regency would end by the little Napoleon IV. assuming the sceptre.
‘Louis Napoleon himself does not expect it. He often says that, in France, it is more than two hundred years since a sovereign has been succeeded by his son.
‘On the whole,’ continued Ampere, ‘I had rather have Jerome than Louis Napoleon. He has more talent and less prudence. He would bring on the crisis sooner.
‘On the 31st of October, 1849,’ said Madame de Tocqueville, ‘I was in Louis Napoleon’s company, and he mentioned some matter on which he wished to know my husband’s opinion. I could not give it. “It does not much signify,” he answered, “for as I see M. de Tocqueville every day, I will talk to him about it myself.” At that very time, the _ordonnance_ dismissing M. de Tocqueville had been signed, and Louis Napoleon knew that he would probably never see him again.’
‘I do not,’ said Ampere, ‘give up the chance of a republic. I do not wish for one. It must be a very bad constitutional monarchy which I should not prefer to the best republic. My democratic illusions are gone. France and America have dispelled them: but it must be a very bad republic which I should not prefer to the best despotism. A republic is like a fever, violent and frightful, but not necessarily productive of organic mischief. A despotism is a consumption: it degrades and weakens, and perverts all the vital functions.
‘What is there now in France worth living for? I find people proud of our Italian campaign. Why should the French be proud that their master’s soldiers have been successful in a war as to which they were not consulted; which, in fact, they disapproved, which was not made for their benefit, which was the most glaring proof of their servility and degradation? We knew before that our troops were better than the Austrians. What have we gained by the additional example of their superiority?
‘I fear,’ I said, ‘that a republic, at least such a republic as you are likely to have, would begin by some gross economical enormities–by the _droit au travail_, by the _impot progressif sur la fortune presumtee_, by a paper currency made a legal tender without limitation of its amount.’
‘The last republic,’ said Ampere, ‘did some of these things, but very timidly and moderately. It gave to its paper a forced currency, but was so cautious in its issue, that it was not depreciated. It created the _ateliers nationaux,_ but it soon dissolved them, though at the expense of a civil war. Its worst fault was more political than economical: it was the 45 centimes, that is to say, the sudden increase by 45 per cent, of the direct taxes. It never recovered that blow. Of all its acts it is the one which is best recollected. The Provisional Government is known in the provinces as “ces gredins des quarante-cinq centimes.” The business of a revolutionary government is to be popular. It ought to reduce taxation, meet its expenditure by loans, abolish octrois and prohibitions, and defer taxation until it has lasted long enough to be submitted to as a _fait accompli_.’
‘I fear,’ said Madame de Tocqueville, ‘that our working classes are in a much worse frame of mind than they were in 1848. Socialist opinions–the doctrine that the profits of capitalists are so much taken fraudulently or oppressively from the wages of labourers, and that it is unjust that one man should have more of the means of happiness than another–are extending every day. The workpeople believe that the rich are their enemies and that the Emperor is their friend, and that he will join them in an attempt to get their fair share, that is, an equal share, of the property of the country–and I am not sure that they are mistaken.’
‘Nor am I,’ said Beaumont ‘_Celui-ci_ fully sympathises with their feelings, and I do not think that he has intelligence enough to see the absurdity of their theories.’
‘You do not deny him,’ I said, ‘intelligence?’
‘Not,’ said Beaumont, ‘for some purposes, and to some extent, practical intelligence. His ends are bad, but he is often skilful in inventing and pertinacious in employing means for effecting those bad ends. But I deny him theoretic intelligence. I do not think that he has comprehension or patience to work out, or even to follow, a long train of reasoning; such a train as that by which economical errors and fallacies are detected.’
‘Are there strikes,’ I asked, ‘among your workmen?’
‘They are beginning,’ said Beaumont. ‘We have had one near us, and the authorities were afraid to interfere.’
‘I suppose,’ I said, that they are illegal?’
‘They are illegal,’ he answered, ‘and I think that they ought to be so. They are always oppressive and tyrannical. The workman who does not join in a strike is made miserable. They are generally mischievous to the combined workmen themselves, and always to those of other trades. Your toleration of them appears to me one of the worst symptoms of your political state of health. It shows among your public men an ignorance or a cowardice, or a desire of ill-earned popularity, which is generally a precursor of a democratic revolution.’
‘It is certain,’ said Ampere, ‘that the masters are becoming afraid of their workmen. Pereire brings his from their residences to the Barriere Malesherbes in carriages. You are not actually insulted in the streets of Paris, but you are treated with rude neglect. A _fiacre_ likes to splash you, a _paveur_ to scatter you with mud. Louis Napoleon began with Chauvinism. He excited all the bad international passions of the multitude. He has now taken up Sansculotteism. Repulsed with scorn and disgust by the rich and the educated, he has thrown himself on the poor and ignorant The passions with which he likes to work are envy, malignity, and rapacity.
‘I do not believe that he feels them. He is what is called a good-natured man. That is to say, he likes to please everyone that he sees. But his selfishness is indescribable.
‘No public interest stands in the way of his slightest caprice. He often puts me in mind of Nero. With the same indifference to the welfare of others with which Nero amused himself by burning down Rome, he is amusing himself by pulling down Paris.’
* * * * * *
[We left Tocqueville on the following day with great regret The same party was never to meet again–the only survivors are Madame de Beaumont and myself and the Beaumonts’ son, then a very intelligent boy of ten years old.
One day my father and I visited the little green churchyard on a cliff near the sea where Tocqueville is buried. The tomb is a plain grey stone slab–on it a cross is cut in bas-relief, with these words only:–
ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE.
NE 24 FEVRIER 1805. MORT 16 AVRIL 1859.
My father laid a wreath of _immortelles_ on the tomb.–ED.]
MONTALEMBERT’S speech was afterwards published in the _Moniteur_ but with considerable alterations. In Mr. Senior’s journal in 1854 (which has not been published), he says, under the date of April 26, I called on Montalembert and took him my report of his speech. He has promised to add to it any notes that it may require. “The printed report,” he said, “is intentionally falsified. Before it was struck off I asked to see the proofs. I was told that, as such an application was new, the President of the Bureau would meet and decide on its admissibility. They decided that it could not be granted.”‘
[The following is Mr. Senior’s report, with M. de Montalembert’s own corrections and additions in French.–ED.]
At length Montalembert rose. He stood near the extreme right, with his side towards the tribune, and his face towards the centre gallery, in which I sat. His voice and delivery are so good, and the house was so silent, that I did not lose a word. I believe that the following report is a tolerably accurate abridgment of his speech.
‘Gentlemen, I must begin by expressing to you my deep gratitude for the attention which you have paid to this unhappy business. I am grieved at having occasioned the waste of so much public time. I am still more grieved at having been the occasion of division among my colleagues.’
[_Note by Montalember_.–‘J’aurais voulu faire plus qu’exprimer le regret: j’aurais voulu me preter a tous les arrangements qui m’ont ete suggeres par des voix amies pour mettre un terme a cette discussion. Je n’aurais recule devant aucun sacrifice qui eut ete compatible avec l’honneur. Mais vous comprenez tous que sous le coup d’une poursuite, d’un danger, je ne puis rien desavouer, rien retracter, rien retirer de ce que j’ai ecrit, de ce que j’ai pense. Si j’agissais autrement il vous resterait un collegue absous, mais deshonore et dont vous ne sauriez que faire.’]
‘More than all I am grieved when I think of the time at which this has occurred. A time when we are engaged in an honourable and serious war–a war in which, with the great and faithful ally whom I have always desired, and the sympathy of all Europe, we are defending civilisation against an enemy, barbarous indeed, but so formidable as to require our undivided energy and our undivided attention.
But you must recollect _when_ that letter was written. It was in last September, in profound peace, when our whole thoughts were employed, and were properly employed, on our internal affairs.
‘Aujourd’hui il en est autrement; l’etat de guerre impose a tous les citoyens des devoirs speciaux: il doit aussi imposer un certain frein a l’esprit de critique. Aucun Francais, quel que soit sa foi politique, ne peut vouloir discrediter le pouvoir des dissidents, des mecontents, mais il n’y a plus d’emigres, ni a l’interieur, ni a l’exterieur.’
[_Note by N.W. Senior._–This seems to be an allusion to a passage in Thiers’s celebrated speech of the 17th of February, 1851. ‘I1 ne faut emigrer, ni au dehors, ni au dedans.’]
[‘J’aurais su contenir les sentiments les plus passiones de mon ame, plutot que de paraitre affaiblir en quoi que ce soit la main qui porte l’epee et le drapeau de la France. Ce n’est pas toutefois que j’admette que toute liberte de parole ou de presse soit incompatible avec l’etat de guerre. L’Angleterre a conserve toutes ses libertes en faisant la guerre aux plus redoutables ennemis: aujourd’hui encore l’opposition, d’accord avec le gouvernement sur la question exterieure, maintient les resistances et les critiques a l’interieur. Et certes personne ne dira que l’Angleterre, pour avoir conserve la liberte de discussion la plus entiere, n’ait pas deploye pour le moins autant de prevoyance et d’energie que nous dans la conduite de la guerre ou nous entrons. Il n’y a que les nations ou la vie publique circule dans toutes les veines du corps social, qui sachent resister aux epreuves et aux chances d’une guerre prolongee. La liberte de la contradiction centuple le prix d’une libre adhesion; et a force de mettre une sourdine a toutes les emotions du pays, il faut prendre garde qu’on ne se trouve un jour dans l’impossibilite de faire vibrer les cordes les plus essentielles quand le moment des dangers et des sacrifices sera arrive.’]
‘I deeply regret the publication of that letter. But with that publication I repeat that I am utterly unconnected. I never sanctioned it, I never wished for it, I never even thought it possible. There are passages in the letter itself which I might modify if I were to re-write it, but it would rather be by adding to them than by taking from them. Two accusations have been directed against its substance. One that it is hostile to the Emperor; the other that it is hostile to this assembly. No one who knows my character, and knows my history, will believe that I can have intended to injure the Emperor. Our relations have been such as to make it impossible.
[‘J’ai eu l’occasion de defendre le chef actuel de l’Etat dans des circonstances infiniment difficiles, et ou rien n’etait plus douteux que le succes. Je ne pretends pas l’avoir constitue par cela mon debiteur, car en le defendant, je ne voulais servir, comme toujours, que la justice, l’interet du pays, la liberte moderee qui se personnifiaient en lui a mes yeux, mais enfin, aux yeux du public il est mon oblige, et je ne suis pas le sien. Si j’avais eu la pensee d’offenser publiquement l’Empereur, et si j’y avais cede, nous serions _quittes_. Or, je tiens beaucoup a ce que nous ne le soyons pas. Il n’y aurait pour moi ni honneur ni avantage a ce changement de position. Tous les hommes de bon gout, tous les coeurs delicats, me comprendront.’]
‘It is equally impossible that I should have wished to offend this assembly. It contains men by whose sides I have fought the great battles of property and law. I love many of its members. I respect almost all. If I have offended any, it was done unconsciously. Again, it is said that the tone of my letter is violent. Expressions may be called violent by some which would be only called _passionnes_ by others. Now I admit that I am _passionne_. It is in my nature. I owe to that quality much of my merit, whatever that merit may be. Were I not _passionne_, I should not have been, during all my life, _la sentinelle perdue de la liberte_. I should not have thrown myself into every breach: sometimes braving the attacks of anarchy, sometimes heading the assault on tyranny, and sometimes fighting against the worst of all despotisms, the despotism that is based on democracy.’
[‘Allons plus au fond, et vous reconnaitrez que les opinions enoncees dans la lettre ne sont autres que celles toujours professees par moi. Elles peuvent toutes se ramener a une seule, a mon eloignement pour le pouvoir absolu. Je ne l’aime pas: je ne l’ai jamais aime. Si j’ai tant combattu l’anarchie avant et apres 1848, si j’ai suscite contre moi dans le parti demagogique ces haines virulentes qui durent encore et qui ne perdent jamais une occasion d’eclater contre moi, c’est parce que j’ai compris de bonne heure les affinites naturelles du despotisme et de la democratie; c’est parce que j’ai prevu et predit que la democratie nous conduirait au pouvoir absolu. Oui, je crois, comme je l’ai dit, que le despotisme abaisse les caracteres, les intelligences, les consciences. Oui, je deplore le systeme qui rend un seul homme tout-puissant et seul responsable des destinees d’une nation de 36 millions d’hommes; et trouve que cela ressemble trop au gouvernement russe, contre lequel nous allons en guerre, et trop peu au gouvernement anglais, dont nous prisons si haut l’alliance.’]
‘I am told again, and the accusation is sanctioned by the _requisitoire_ of the Procureur-General, that my letter is inconsistent with the fidelity which I have sworn to the Emperor and to the constitution. When a man swears fidelity to a sovereign and to a constitution, his oath engages him only as to matters within his own power. He swears not to conspire against them. He swears not to attempt to subvert them. He cannot swear to approve the acts of the sovereign, or the working of the constitution, for he cannot foresee what either of them will be. I have kept, and I shall keep, my oath to the Emperor and my oath to the constitution. I have not attempted, and I shall not attempt, to overthrow either of them. But my approbation of either of them does not depend on me. I accepted the _coup d’etat_, comme vous l’avez tous fait, comme notre seule chance de salut dans les circonstances d’alors. I expected a Government _honnete et modere_. I have been disappointed.’
Here a violent exclamation ran through the assembly. Baroche rose and cried out, ‘You hear him, gentlemen. He says that he expected honesty and moderation from the Government, and that he has been disappointed. I appeal to you, Mr. President, to decide whether we are to sit and listen to such infamies.’
[Voix diverses:–‘Expliquez vos paroles.’ ‘Retirez vos paroles.’ M. de Montalembert.–‘Je les maintiens et je les explique.’]
‘I expected _un gouvernement honnete et modere_. I have been disappointed. Its _honnete_ may be judged by the confiscation of the Orleans property.’
Here was another hubbub, and another protest of Baroche’s.
‘What is going on before you,’ continued Montalembert, ‘is a sample of its moderation. It is now attempting in my person to introduce into our criminal law a new _delit_, “communication.” Until now it was supposed that nothing was criminal until it was published. It was believed that a man might write his opinions and his reflections, and might exchange them with his friends; that nothing was libellous that was confidential. _Now_ this Government holds a man responsible for every thought that an indiscreet or an incautious friend, or a concealed enemy, or a tool of power reveals. If it succeeds in this attempt, it will not rest satisfied with this victory over the remnant of our freedom. It is not in the nature of things that it should. A Government that will not tolerate censure must forbid discussion. You are now asked to put down writing. When that has been done, conversation will be attacked. Paris will resemble Rome under the successors of Augustus. Already this prosecution has produced a _malaise_ which I never felt or observed before. What will be the feelings of the nation when all that is around it is concealed, when every avenue by which light could penetrate is stopped; when we are exposed to all the undefined terrors and exaggerated dangers that accompany utter darkness? The misfortune of France, a national defect which makes the happiness enjoyed by England unattainable by us, is, that she is always oscillating between extremes; that she is constantly swinging from universal conquest to _la paix a tout prix_, from the desire of nothing but glory to the desire of nothing but wealth, from the wildest democracy to the most abject servility. Every new Government starts with a new principle. Every Government in a few years perishes by carrying that principle to an extreme. The First Republic was destroyed by the intemperance with which it trampled on every sort of tradition and authority, the First Empire by its abuse of victory and war, the Restoration by its exaggerated belief in divine right and legitimacy, the Royalty of July by its exaggerated reliance on purchased voters and Parliamentary majorities, the Second Republic by the conduct of its own Republicans. The danger to the Second Empire–its only internal danger, but I fear a fatal one–is its abuse of authority. With every phase of our sixty years’ long revolution, we have a new superstition, a new _culte_. We are now required to become the worshippers of authority. I lament that with the new religion we have not new priests. Our public men would not be discredited by instantaneous apostasy from one political faith to another. I am grieved, gentlemen, if I offend you; though many of you are older in years than I am, not one probably is so old in public life. I may be addressing you for the last time, and I feel that my last words ought to contain all the warnings that I think will be useful to you. This assembly will soon end, as all its predecessors have ended. Its acts, its legislation, may perish with it, but its reputation, its fame, for good or for evil, will survive. Within a few minutes you will do an act by which that reputation will be seriously affected; by which it may be raised, by which it may be deeply, perhaps irrevocably, sunk. Your vote to-night will show whether you possess freedom, and whether you deserve it. As for myself, I care but little. A few months, or even years, of imprisonment are among the risks which every public man who does his duty in revolutionary times must encounter, and which the first men of the country have incurred, _soit en sortant des affaires, soit avant d’y entrer_. But whatever may be the effect of your vote on _my_ person, whatever it may be on _your_ reputation, I trust that it is not in your power to inflict permanent injury on my country. Among you are some who lived through the Empire. They must remember that the soldiers of our glorious army cherished as fondly the recollection of its defeats as of its victories. They must see that the lessons which those defeats taught, and the feelings which they inspired, are now among the sources of our military strength. Your Emperor himself, in one of his earlier addresses, talked hopefully of the period when France would be capable of more liberty than he now thinks good for her, “Un jour,” he exclaimed, “mon oeuvre sera couronnee par la liberte.” I join in that hope. I look sanguinely towards the time when she will be worthy of the English constitution, and she will obtain it. Vous tenez le corps de la France, mais vous ne tenez pas son ame. Cette ame, aujourd’hui effrayee, engourdie, endormie, cette ame c’est la liberte. Elle se reveillera un jour et vous echappera. La certitude de ce reveil suffit pour consoler et fortifier ses vieux et fideles soldats a traverser la nuit de l’epreuve. Cette liberte honnete et moderee, sage et sainte, j’y ai toujours cru, et j’y crois encore. Je l’ai toujours servie, toujours aimee, toujours invoquee, tantot pour la religion, tantot pour le pays; hier contre le socialisme, aujourd’hui contre un commencement de despotisme; et, quelle que soit votre decision, je me feliciterai toujours d’avoir eu cette occasion solennelle de la confesser encore une fois devant vous, et, s’il le faut, de souffrir un peu pour elle.’
These concluding words were drowned in universal murmurs.