France - Differences between the President and the Assembly - Solemn "Vows and Protestations of Louis Napoleon in favour of the Inviolability of the Constitution - Secret Preparations for the Coup d'état - Selection of Trusty Associates - The Coup d'état - Arrest of the leading Members of the Assembly, the Members of the Government, and the Generals of the Army, in the middle of the night - Their Incarceration - Conduct of Louis Napoleon during the progress of these events - Expulsion of the Assembly by the Military - Their Impeachment by the President - The Judges of the Supreme Court dragged from the Bench - Massacre of the Citizens by the Military - Proclamations by the President and his Agents in the Conspiracy - Election of the President for ten years by Universal Suffrage, the alternative being Louis Napoleon or Anarchy - Lord Palmerston expresses his approval of the Coup d'état, and is dismissed - Fall of the Russell Administration - General Election - The Derby Cabinet and its Measures - The Militia Act - Resignation of Lord Derby - The Coalition Ministry under the Earl of Aberdeen- Death of the Duke of Wellington - His Funeral.Pages: <1> 2 3
We have already seen how solemnly and vehemently Louis Napoleon, when President of the French Republic, vowed to maintain the constitution. These vows were repeated from time to time in his speeches and declarations, which he was always ready to volunteer. So late as November 13th, 1851, he gave his idea of the criminality which would be involved in violating the constitution which he had sworn to maintain: - " He considered," he said, "as great criminals those who, by personal ambition, compromised the small amount of stability secured by the constitution. That if the constitution contained defects and dangers, the Assembly was competent to expose them to the eyes of the country; but that he alone, bound by his oath, restrained himself within the strict limits traced by that act." He declared, that " the first duty of the authorities was to inspire the people with respect for the law, by never deviating from it themselves; and that his anxiety was not," he assured the Assembly, " to know who would govern France in 1852, but to employ the time at his disposal so that the transition, whatever it might be, should be effected without agitation or disturbance; for the noblest object, and the most worthy of an exalted mind, is not to seek, when in power, how to perpetuate it, but to labour incessantly to fortify, for the benefit of all, those principles of authority and morality which defy the passions of mankind and the instability of laws."
The National Assembly, however, had strongly suspected him for some time to be entertaining treasonable designs, and plotting the ruin of the Republic. One of the symptoms of this state of mind was found in the rumours propagated in France about the failure of parliamentary government, and the designs of the Red Republicans. In this way vague fears were generated that another sanguinary revolution was impending, and that, in order to save the state, it was necessary to have a strong government. In fact, the conviction gained ground that a monarchical régime was the best fitted for France. The army was probably inclined the same way. The first thing the President did, of course, was to sound its disposition, and ascertain how far he might be able to wield its irresistible power against the liberties of his country. But, however the soldiers might be disposed to aid his designs, it was well known that its generals would not allow a shot to be fired, without orders from the Minister of War; and the man who held that post was not a character likely to lend himself as the instrument of a treasonable plot. Louis Napoleon therefore found it necessary to enlist others in his service. The principal of these were daring and needy adventurers namely - M. Morny, a great speculator in shares; Major Fleury, a young officer who had squandered his fortune in dissipation, entered the army as a common soldier, and risen from the ranks; St. Arnaud, an Algerian officer; M. Maupas, who had been a prefect, and had been guilty of conspiracy to destroy innocent persons by a false accusation of treason; and Persigny, a man who had descended from a noble family, but had entered the army as a non-commissioned officer. St. Arnaud was made Minister of War, and Maupas Prefect of Police. The National Guard was kept from acting by superseding General Perrot, who was insulted by an offensive appointment on his staff, which had the desired effect of compelling him to resign. General Lawecstine was appointed in his stead. General Magnan, the Commander-in-Chief of the army at Paris, readily entered into the plot. He filled the garrisons of the city with regiments that he could rely upon, and which were known to be exasperated against the people, in consequence of former conflicts and recent proceedings in the Assembly. Magnan, however, requested that he might not be apprised of what he was required to do till the moment for acting arrived; so that he might be able to produce the order of the Minister of War as his warrant for acting, without being implicated in any plot. On the 27th of November he invited twenty generals who were under his command to meet at his house. There they matured their plans, and after vows of mutual fidelity, they solemnly embraced one another. In the meantime the common soldiers were pampered with food and wine, stimulated by flattery and exasperated by falsehood against the " Bedouins " of Paris. On Monday night, the 1st of December, the President had an assembly at the Elysée, which included Ministers and others who were totally ignorant of the plot. The company departed at the usual hour, and at eleven o'clock only three of the guests remained - Morny, who had shown himself at one of the theatres, Maupas, and St. Arnaud. These, with Colonel Beville, an orderly, and Mocquard, the President's private secretary, went together into a cabinet.
Meantime the State printing-office was surrounded by gendarmerie, and the compositors were all made prisoners, and compelled to print a number of documents which had been sent from the President. These were a number of decrees, which appeared on the walls of Paris at daybreak next morning, to the utter astonishment of the population. They read in them that the National Assembly was dissolved, that the Council of State was dissolved, and that universal suffrage was re-established. They read an attack upon the Assembly, in which it was charged with forging arms for civil war, with provocations, calumnies, and outrages against the President. These things were said to be done by the men who had already destroyed two monarchies, and who wanted to overthrow the republic; but he, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, would baffle their perfidious projects. He submitted to them, therefore, a plan of a new constitution: a responsible chief, named for ten years, ministers dependent on the executive alone, a council of state, a legislative corps, a second chamber - in fact, a Napoleonic constitution. There was also an appeal to the army, which told the soldiers to be proud of their mission, for they were to save their country, and to obey him, the legitimate representative of the national sovereignty. He told them that their enemy, the Assembly, had ceased to exist, and that they, the élite of the nation, had been treated as a vanquished army in 1830 and 1848. He did not speak to them of the recollections attached to his name, they were engraven on their hearts. " Your history," he said, " is mine. There is between us and the past a community of glory and misfortunes. There shall be the future a community of sentiments and resolutions for the repose and grandeur of France."
At half-past six o'clock in the morning M. de Morny took possession of the Hotel of the Interior, accompanied by 250 Chasseurs de Vincennes. The army and the police were distributed through the town and had all received their respective orders. Among these were the arrest of seventy-eight persons, of whom eighteen were representatives and sixty alleged chiefs of secret societies and barricades. All these arrests were effected accordingly. At the appointed minute, and while it was still dark, the designated houses were entered. The most famous generals of France were seized and dragged forth from their beds - Changarnier, Bedeau, Lamoricière, Cavaignac, Leflo - all were placed in carriages, ready at their doors to receive them, and conveyed to prison through the sleeping city. Precisely at the same moment the chief members and officers of the Assembly shared the same fate.
All the trusted chiefs and guides of the people being thus disposed of, De Morny from the Home Office touched the chords of centralisation, and conveyed to every village in France the unbounded enthusiasm with which the still sleeping city had hailed the joyful news of the revolution which had been effected. When the free members of the Assembly heard of the arrest of their brethren, they ran to the Hôtel de Ville, the entrance of which was guarded. Those who had got in by a private passage were rudely expelled, some of them being violently struck by the soldiers. They then reassembled at the Mairie of the 10th Arrondissement, at which they passed the following resolution: - " By this act merely the President is deprived of all authority. The citizens are bound to withhold their obedience. The executive power passes in full right to the National Assembly. The judges of the High Court of Justice will meet immediately, under pain of forfeiture; they Will convoke the juries in the place which they will select to proceed to the judgment of the President and his accomplices; they will nominate the magistrates charged to fulfil the duties of public ministers. And seeing that the National Assembly is prevented by violence from exercising its powers, it decrees as follows, viz., Louis Napoleon Bonaparte is deprived of all authority as President of the Republic. The citizens are enjoined to withhold their obedience. Consequently, all the officers and functionaries of power and of public authority are bound to obey all requisitions made in the name of the National Assembly, under pain of forfeiture and high treason. Done and decreed unanimously in public sitting, this 2nd of December, 1851."
" In the course of the morning, the President, accompanied by his uncle, Jerome Bonaparte, and Count Flahault, and attended by many general officers, and a numerous staff, rode through some of the streets of Paris. It would seem that his theatric bent had led Prince Louis to expect from this ride a kind of triumph, upon which his fortunes would hinge; and certainly the unpopularity of the Assembly, and the suddenness and perfection of the blow which he had struck during the night, gave him fair grounds for his hope; but he was hardly aware of the light in which his personal pretensions were regarded by the keen, laughing people of Paris. " Thenceforth, for the most part, he remained close shut up in the Elysée. There, in an inner room, still decked in red trousers, but with his back to the daylight, they say he sat bent over a fireplace for hours and hours together, resting his elbows on his knees, and burying his face in his hands. What is better known is, that in general, during this period of danger, tidings were not suffered to go to him straight. It seems that, either in obedience to his own dismal mistrust, or else because his associates had determined to prevent him from ruining them by his gloom, he was kept sheltered from immediate contact with alarming messengers. It was thought more wholesome for him to hear what Persigny or the resolute Fleury might think it safe to tell him, than to see with his own eyes an aide-decamp fresh come from St. Arnaud or Magnan, or a commissary full fraught with the sensations which were shaking the health of Maupas."
The Chamber was not long permitted to deliberate in peace. A band of soldiers, headed by their officers, sword in hand, appeared at the door, but did not enter. They hesitated, evidently from shame of the infamous part they had to play. The officer sent for further orders. Two commissaries of police soon entered, and summoned the representatives to disperse. "Retire," said the President. One of the commissaries was agitated and faltered, the other was rude and insolent. " Sir," said the President, "we are here the lawful authority; sole representatives of law and order." After some hesitation the commissaries seized the President by the collar, and dragged him forth. The whole body then rose, 220 in number, and declaring that they yielded to force, walked out, two and two, between files of soldiery. In this way they were marched through the street, General Forey riding beside the column. They passed through Rue de Grenelle, the Rue St. Guillaume, the Rue de l'Université, the Rue de Beuné, and into the Quai d'Orsay, where they were shut up in the barracks, without any accommodation for their comfort. During the day eleven more deputies were brought to the barracks, three of whom came for the express purpose of being incarcerated with their brethren. Night was coming on, and it was wet and cold, yet the Assembly was left for two hours in the open air, as if the usurpers did not deign to remember its existence. It contained nearly all the Frenchmen that were favourably known in Europe. Few were absent, except those who, like Molé, had not been permitted to reach their colleagues.
The unanimity of these martyrs of constitutional government was as wonderful as it was noble. Some were there who, like the Duc de Broglie, had come to the post of danger and of honour though suffering from illness. M. Kerratry, the father of the Assembly, was obliged to be seated in a straw chair while waiting in the barrack-yard. The imprisoned Assembly included the illustrious names of Thiers, Berryer, Odillon Barrot, Dufaure, Remusat, Gustave de Beaumont, De Tocqueville, &c. There were among them twelve ex-ministers, nine of whom had served under Louis Napoleon; there were eight members of the Institute; and all of them were men of tried loyalty, who had struggled for three years to defend society against anarchy. After being left for hours on a winter's evening in the open air, the Assembly were driven into the barrack rooms up-stairs, where they were left without fire, almost without food, and were obliged to lie upon the bare boards.
But there remained for representative France another indignity, a cruel degradation, which the French must be the most volatile, or the most enslaved of people, ever to forget or forgive. It was a deed of darkness, and therefore it was put off till ten o'clock at night. Most of the 220 members of Parliament were thrust into large prison vans, like felons, and were carried off, some to the fort of Mont Valerien, some to the fortress of Vincennes, and some to the prison of Mazas. Before dawn on the 3rd of December, all the great statesmen and great generals of France, all the men who had made her name respected abroad, were lying in prison. No coup d'état so audacious as this had ever occurred in Europe since the worst days of the Roman empire. The men who had committed this great crime were Louis Bonaparte, Morny, Maupas, St. Arnaud, Persigny, and Fleury.
All, the constituted authorities were true to themselves in this great emergency. We have seen how nobly the members of the Assembly stood together. The High Court of Justice acted with equal dignity and courage. It met on the 2nd of December, and having referred to the placards that had been issued that morning, made provision for the impeachment of Louis Napoleon and his fellow-conspirators. But while the court was sitting, an armed force entered the hall, and drove the judges from the bench. Before they were thrust out, they adjourned the court to " a day to be named hereafter," and they ordered a notice of impeachment to be served upon the President at the Elysée.
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