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Chapter XLVII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 2


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The retirement of the army to Versailles left the Central Committee and the International Society masters of the situation. They were not long in seizing upon the spoils of victory. Their emissaries seized the public offices and the greater part of the Mairies, and raised money in all kinds of dubious or unlawful ways. Most of the respectable inhabitants who could leave Paris did so, and the number of persons who left the capital during the ten days ending the 30th March was estimated at upwards of 160,000. The new regime was inaugurated by a frightful crime. General Lecomte, as we have seen, was allowed by his own soldiers to fall into the hands of the insurgents at Montmartre; and on the same day, and near the same place, General Clement Thomas, ex-commandant of the National Guard, was captured by the mob. He was in plain clothes walking about among the crowd near the Place St. Pierre; but being recognised he was arrested, and his captors seem to have resolved from the first to murder him. He was dragged into a house in the Rue des Rosiers, and after a pretended trial was sentenced to be shot. He was a grand-looking old man, with grey hair and an austere countenance. Being dragged into a little garden at the back of the house, lie was placed against a wall, and several National Guards, standing a few yards off, and not raising their rifles to the shoulder, shot him dead. He faced them without flinching or protesting, and at the last moment exclaimed " Cowards! " General Lecomte was shortly afterwards brought to the same garden. " When he reached the fatal spot, he was visibly effected on beholding the corpse of General Clement Thomas. Being compelled to pass before the body, he uncovered, and then, calmly replacing his kêpi, faced towards the firing party with uplifted head and folded arms. He was very pale, and uttered a few words of protest. The firing party was composed of soldiers belonging to the 88th Regiment of the line. 'It is your turn now,' they cried; 'you gave the order to fire on the people.' At the third shot he threw up his hands, and plunged head foremost on to the ground, a corpse."

Having the army concentrated at Versailles, General Vinoy energetically commenced the task of re-organisation. But the list of misfortunes and treasons was not even yet exhausted. The fort of Vincennes, garrisoned by 3,500 artillerymen, was capable of resisting every attack from the troops of the émeute, and had accordingly been exempted from the order of evacuation sent to the commandants of the other forts. Nevertheless it surrendered (March 23) on the first summons, and many of the trained artillerymen who formed its garrison took service with the insurrection, and, as we shall see hereafter, made the work of the Army of Versailles much harder. Only a happy accident saved Mont Valerien itself from falling into the hands of the insurgents. Through a misapprehension of orders, it was evacuated, at the same time with the southern forts, on the night of the 18th instant, and remained defenceless during the 19th. The fact was fortunately unknown in Paris; and as soon as it became known to Vinoy, he obtained leave of M. Thiers to send the 119th Regiment from "Versailles, early in the morning of the 20th, to re-occupy the fortress. The fortnight between March 19 and April 2 may be described as, for the Army and Government of Versailles, a time of preparation. The formidable character of the resistance that would be offered to the re-occupation of Paris being now recognised, permission was obtained from the Emperor William to raise the French army from 40,000 men (which was the amount to which it was limited at that time under the treaty of peace) to 80,000. The prisoners of Metz and Sedan began rapidly to arrive from Germany; those that came by sea were received into a large temporary camp at Cherbourg, while those sent by land were quartered in a similar camp near Cambrai, and thence after being partially re-formed, sent on to Paris. At Versailles everything was reconstituted with that energy and sureness of insight which distinguish the French intellect. The reins of discipline were drawn tight; new temporary cadres were formed; and the private soldier, ashamed of the temporary aberration into which the despair caused by overpowering misfortune had betrayed him, might again be counted on as the servant of duty.

Notwithstanding the terrible significance of what had occurred on the 18th March, there were still many persons, both in and out of Paris, who would not believe in the possibility of a civil war, but thought that by some adroit compromise - some ingenious combination of half measures - the insurgents and the Versailles Government could be brought to a common understanding. This intermediate party was variously composed, - the political sympathies of one portion of it attracting them strongly towards the insurrection; while the majority, though weak-minded and timorous, were at heart sincerely loyal to the National Assembly. The first-mentioned class was represented by the deputies for Paris and other extreme republican members of the Assembly. Certain concessions to the demands of the people would, in their opinion, conjure the rising demon of civil strife. They issued a manifesto on the 20th March, in which they said that in the ardent hope of avoiding a collision, and being convinced that the best way to achieve that result was "to satisfy the legitimate wishes of the people," they were resolved to ask the National Assembly to sanction two measures, the adoption of which, they hoped, would contribute to restore tranquillity - viz., the election by the rank and file of all chiefs in the National Guard; and the creation of a Municipal Council, elected by universal suffrage. This was signed by Louis Blanc, Langlois, Millière, and others. The Mayors of several arrondissements in Paris, men for the most part of moderate views, adopted the same programme as the last plank between them and destruction. A deputation from their number went to Versailles, and entreated the Government to remove d'Aurelle de Paladines from the command of the National Guard, and to substitute for him the more popular General Langlois. M. Thiers, wisely resolving that the insurgents should have no excuse for perpetuating their revolt, granted the request. The new commander, proceeding to the Hôtel de Ville, was met there by M. Brunet, the leader of the malcontent National Guards. M. Brunet asked him whether he recognised the Central Committee - a question to which General Langlois, of course, replied in the negative. "Then," rejoined M. Brunet, "I do not recognise your authority." Finding himself powerless, Langlois had no alternative but to resign.

The party of compromise, little understanding, as it would seem, with what description of men they had to deal, now projected a great peaceable demonstration, in favour alike of the Republic as a form of government and of the National Assembly, the moral effect of which, they hoped, would overawe the turbulent and confirm the wavering. A large number of respectable citizens belonging to the party of order assembled, about one o'clock on the 22nd March, in front of the New Opera House. Their number continually received accessions; in excited groups they discussed the intolerable condition of affairs; presently shouts were raised of " Vive la République!" " Vive l'Assemblée Nationale!" Unarmed, but many of them wearing the uniform of the National Guard, the demonstrators walked down the Rue de la Paix, towards the Place Vendôme, which was strongly occupied by the insurgent National Guards who obeyed the Central Committee. A line of Red Republican Guards stopped them at the entrance of the Place, but they still pressed forward, uttering the same cries, and endeavouring to induce their opponents to fraternise. Some few did so; but in a moment the drums on the Place Vendome beat the charge, and the insurgent Guards, lowering their pieces, fired into the unarmed throng. A scene of fearful confusion and carnage ensued. About sixty persons were killed and wounded; the crowd sought safety in precipitate flight; and the notion of putting down the Committee by peaceful demonstrations was blown to the winds.

One more effort was made before Paris was abandoned to the insurrection. Admiral Saisset had been appointed in the place of Langlois to the command of the National Guard, and he endeavoured, in concert with several of the Mayors, to organise the loyal portion of the National Guard for a forcible resistance. For two or three days he occupied the Bourse and the adjoining streets, the head-quarters of the insurgents being in the Place Vendôme. But he soon discovered that the forces at his command were enormously inferior to those which obeyed the Central Committee, and that the latter were also better supplied with guns and ammunition. He therefore abandoned the enterprise as hopeless (March 25), left Paris in disguise, and reported to M. Thiers at Versailles that it would require an army of 300,000 men to reduce Paris to submission. Yet, even till the 31st March, the loyal National Guards were in possession of the gates and rampart in the neighbourhood of Passy; it was only on that day that the Central Committee were in complete possession of Paris.

The Red faction now ruled supreme in the doomed city. Who then were these men who set at defiance the freely and lawfully elected Parliament of their country, and claimed the right of organising Paris according to their own ideas, whatever might be the desire or opinion of the rest of France P The reader who desires full information on the subject will find it in the lucid and masterly exposition of the origin of the Commune contained in "Cassell's History of the War." There he will find it explained how a combination of fortuitous and permanent circumstances gave, after the capitulation of Paris, an opportunity to the sects which are ever striving to undermine religion and society, such as the nineteenth century had not afforded them before. The aims and opinions of. these sects - their hatred of God, their thirst for power and pleasure, their envy of the rich - aided by the pure intellectual enthusiasm of a small number for the principles which condemn inequality and antagonism, and seek to make man, by means of improved social arrangements, the Providence of his own destiny, and earth a " paradis terrestrewere the permanent elements of the combination. The fortuitous and temporary elements were - the discouragement of the better sort, the arms left in the hands of the men of Bellevilio which they had borne during the siege, the irritation and exasperation which the humiliations incurred by tho morbid vanity of the Parisians through the events and issue of the war had accumulated in a hundred thousand breasts. Discord as to methods of execution prevailed among the leaders throughout the struggle, and hastened their downfall; but, in regard to principles, there was perfect harmony between the Jacobin majority in the Commune, who simply sought to overturn the Versailles Government and take their places, and the minority which owed allegiance to the International Society. " The business of the International," says one of its adherents, " is political, but only in the sense of destroying all that is political. It must destroy all existing institutions - State, Church, banks, armies, and police. We must overturn these institutions throughout the world." In the able and interesting report, laid before the National Assembly in 1872, on the causes and circumstances of the insurrection of the 18th March, the system which the International and other similar societies were and are aiming to establish is characterised in the following manner: - "The doctrine on which rests the socialism of the different schools may be summed up in a few words. According to it, all men have a right to happiness - they have an equal, an absolute right to it. By happiness is meant the enjoyment of all good things, whether those which are natural and primitive, or those which are created by human labour - an enjoyment which has no other limits than the needs and appetites of each individual Human existence being bounded by this life, there being no hereafter, there is no compensation to be looked for elsewhere for him who has been baulked of his share of enjoyment here. Society, therefore, must be organised in such a manner that nothing can raise an obstacle to the claims of each of its members. But the good things of life are become, in consequence of the accumulated labours of successive generations, the special property of certain men, certain families, or certain classes. For Socialists, this fact of property is a violation of the primordial right, possessed by the men of one and the same generation, to enjoy, all in an equal degree, that which is the common treasure of humanity. Thence is drawn the logical consequence that property ought to be abolished, as an impediment to the realisation of the right which each human being brings with him into the world, to take his proportional share of the good things accumulated by the labour of past generations. Thus all Socialist systems, whatever modes of action they may plume themselves upon, arrive at the same result - the abolition, namely, of individual property, and of all social institutions which have property for their basis."

It was, however, clearly ascertained, through the researches instituted by order of the National Assembly, that the International Society had nothing to do, as such, with the success obtained over the troops on the 18th March. That success was due to the efforts of the Central Committee of the National Guard, and was hardly expected even by themselves. Under the stress of the long siege, the organisation of the International had given way; its sections ceased to meet; and it was only late in January that attempts began to be made to reconstitute them, and at the same time to elect a Federal Council, as the principal organ of the society in France. The leaders were absorbed in questions relating to strikes and the organisation of labour, and had no idea that a great political opportunity was in store for them, through the suppression of all pre-existing and extra- Parisian authority in Paris. After the 18th March, the Federal Council formed a close alliance with the Central Committee, and an intermediate Commission was formed in order to ensure more swift and practical effect to that alliance. When the Commune was elected, on the 26th March, the Internationalists returned to it seventeen of their members. Still the organisations remained distinct to the end, and it remains an unascertained problem how far the International was responsible for the massacres and conflagrations which followed the entry of the Versailles troops.

The deputies for Paris, we have seen, spoke of the necessity of electing a Municipal Council. After the departure of Admiral Saisset, the Central Committee resolved that this election should immediately take place, and fixed the day for it on their own authority. Most of the Mayors, though the Assembly and the Government withheld their sanction, came to an agreement with the insurgents respecting the arrangements for the election. This culpable weakness was thus described by M. Thiers in a circular addressed to the departments: " An agreement, to which the Government has remained a stranger, has been established between the pretended Commune and the Mayors to appeal to the elections. They will take place without liberty, and will therefore be destitute of moral authority. Let not the country be troubled, but have confidence; order will be re-established at Paris as elsewhere." However, the name of Commune was not yet heard, and was only adopted on the day after the elections; till then only the name Municipal Council was mentioned. Owing to the compliance of the Mayors, a considerable number of respectable bourgeois took part in the voting (March 26), which resulted in the election of eighty-six councillors. Of these, thirteen belonged to the Central Committee; seventeen to the International; twenty to the party of Blanqui, the Radical press, and the ultra-revolutionists; twenty-one were public speakers from the clubs; and the remaining fifteen belonged to the moderate or bourgeois party. Nearly all of these, seeing what strange colleagues they would be associated with, sent in their resignation without having even taken their seats. Six others, among whom was M. Ranc, resigned their seats between the 7th and the 10th April. On the other hand, M. Delescluze and M. Cournet, who, though deputies sitting in the National Assembly, had been elected to the Commune, wrote to the President of the Assembly that they preferred the municipal to the national distinction, and resigned their seats as representatives of the people.

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Pictures for Chapter XLVII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 2

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