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France: The Restored Monarchy

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The condition of France after the overthrow of Napoleon was miserable beyond anything which the experience of modern Europe presented. Although the defeat of Waterloo visibly closed the war, and left France without the means of further resistance, the armies of the allies continued their advance. Nearly every European nation was represented in this majestic scene of triumph and of vengeance. British, Russians, Austrians, Prussians, Belgians, Italians, Bavarians, Saxons, Hungarians, Hanoverians, Spaniards - all combined to humiliate the unhappy people from whose merciless hand they had all endured injuries so deep. The tide of armed men did not cease to flow into France till there were eleven hundred thousand foreign soldiers within her territory. All these had to be maintained by France. Indemnities amounting to sixty million sterling were exacted by the allies, and untold sums were wrung from the defenceless people by the half-savage hordes of unrestrained soldiery. The remnants of Napoleon's army were disbanded. A foreign army of one hundred and fifty thousand men, commanded by the Duke of Wellington, was for five years to maintain order, and preserve the stability, if not the dignity, of the restored dynasty - France bearing the heavy costs of this occupation. Taxation could not be collected, for the exactions of the foreigners left to the people nothing beyond the barest subsistence. The miseries of the fallen nation were deep, abject, unutterable.

And yet it cannot justly be said that the allies were unreasonable in the severities which they inflicted. The territory of France was suffered to remain undiminished from its extent in 1792. The works of art of which Napoleon had plundered the galleries of conquered states were reclaimed, but nothing to which France had any just title was withdrawn. And huge as were the pecuniary exactions which the allies levied, they bore a small proportion to the sums which Napoleon had wrung from his victims during the years of his ruthless supremacy.

Nothing in France is more wonderful than her power of recovery. Her miseries had been unexampled. In 1815 she was utterly defenceless: her army was extinct; her soil was held by her bitterest enemies; the strength of her population had perished in war; her trade was destroyed; the enormous demands of her conquerors drained the remnants of her substance. Her five per cent, funds were selling at fifty-seven; a forced loan was resorted to in order to meet the most urgent liabilities. In 1816, as if to bestow upon her sorrows the last enhancement of which they were susceptible, the harvest was exceedingly deficient, and prices ranged up to famine level. Government was obliged to sell grain at reduced rates to avert widespread mortality among the poor. Three years later, and the sun was again shining on poor wasted France. Her trade had largely increased; her agriculture had become greatly more productive; the claims of her conquerors had been satisfied, and their forces withdrawn even before the period fixed by treaty. She was again a respectable military power, and was beginning to regain her lost consideration among the nations. France had thrown off her gloom. The wealth of her soil, and the patient, cheerful industry of her people, had already in great measure restored her fallen fortunes.

The Bourbons, returning to France in the train of the conquerors, were forcibly restored to the high place from which the nation had flung them a quarter of a century before. It seemed probable that they would become in consequence a symbol of defeat and humiliation to a large portion of the people. But fickleness, as the French historian (Lamartine) feels bound to acknowledge, is the vice of the nation. France suffers from an instability "more sudden and prodigious" than that which characterizes the movements of public opinion among any other modern race. This quality of mind made the restoration easy, and prepared for the Bourbons a reception which was embarrassing only by its extravagant warmth. Every family had suffered bereavement; every interest had sustained intolerable loss; every political party, - republican, royalist, and liberal, - had seen its cherished beliefs ruthlessly trampled down; every town and village had endured the presence of a triumphant invader, and had groaned beneath the weight of his merciless exactions. And now, by a universal impulse, these sorrows were avenged on Napoleon. A "paroxysm of anger burst from every heart" against the fallen chief, the glories of whose career had so lately been the pride of France. The French people accepted with eagerness the refuge offered to them from the destructive and now abhorred rule of Napoleon. They elected a legislative chamber which was more royalist than the king himself. The first care of this body was to enact laws of a severely repressive character for the protection of the restored government against the wiles of the disaffected. A cry seditious or insulting to the king was punished by prolonged imprisonment. It was a capital offence to display the flag under which Napoleon had led his soldiers to victory. Individual liberty was placed, without limitation, in the power of the police. The king viewed these severities with just disfavour; but the flaming loyalty of the deputies refused to be modified. In the southern provinces the reaction assumed a still darker aspect, and numerous murders of Bonapartists, and of Protestants suspected of sympathies with the fallen cause, stained the skirts of the restoration.

Louis XVIII. was in his sixtieth year when he ascended the throne from which Napoleon had been driven. It was no easy task which the old man undertook. He had to appease the just indignation of Europe, and negotiate peace on terms which would not inflict undue humiliation upon France. He had to lead a people to whom he was unknown, and who had been long used to the intoxication of military glory, back to the love of peaceful industry. He had to hold with firm and impartial hand the balance between fiercely contending and irreconcilable factions. He brought to the difficult work no remarkable capacity; but he brought good sense, firmness, a kind heart, and a disposition to conciliate. He could read with tolerable accuracy the time in which he lived, and adapt himself to its requirements. "He possessed the temperate, flexible, and negotiating genius of restorations." Where men greatly his superiors would have ignominiously failed, Louis achieved a measure of success creditable to his own skill in ruling, and eminently advantageous to France.

But the reign of the first restored Bourbon could not be otherwise than bitter. The nation was humiliated; worse than that, it was poor. The early fervours of the restoration passed away, and a sharp reaction set in among the unstable people. Those who had purchased for nominal prices, or obtained on still easier terms, the estates of emigrants, were suspicious and apprehensive. The disbanded soldiers yearned for the old excitements. The Bonapartist faction, bereaved of honour and emolument, missed no opportunity to promote the general discontent. Republican feeling, held in abeyance by the glories of the empire, regained strength under the prosaic Bourbon rule. The mob of Paris, disapproving highly of certain government measures, waged for days incessant war with the troops. In the provinces there occurred insurrections, which were quenched in bloodshed greatly more copious than their importance seemed to warrant. Secret societies maintained the perilous organization of revolt. The heir to the throne - the Due de Berri - was stabbed to death by a Bonapartist fanatic, who expressed by the felon blow nothing more intelligent than the rancour and hatred which raged throughout the baffled and suffering nation. Under the influence of that same feeling, M. Decazes, the prime minister, was gravely charged in the Chamber of Deputies as an accomplice in the murder of the prince, and was driven from office by the popular belief in his guilt.

After a reign of eight years Louis XVIII. died. Those years had been unquiet, but they had not been unfruitful. Political strife did not stay the course of French industry. The French peasant ploughed and reaped; he spun and weaved; he hoarded his earnings, and soon began to feel himself passing rich. Agriculture became more intelligent; food was abundant; steamers multiplied on the rivers; the coasting trade doubled in a few years. Silk and cotton manufactures were especially prosperous - a gratifying evidence that the people were gaining an increased command of the comforts of life. The foreign trade increased by one-half. The funds, which had been so low as fifty-seven, were now one hundred and four. The revenue exceeded expenditure, owing, not to the imposition of new taxes, but to the increasing productiveness of the old. And France was again a formidable power, with an army of two hundred and fifty thousand men, and a fleet of ninety ships of the line and frigates.

The king died childless, and was succeeded by his younger brother Charles, then a man of sixty-six Charles had spent the best years of his life in exile, but even in the school of adversity he had learned little. He was a man of pleasing and affable manners, quick of apprehension, ready and felicitous in his talk, but superficial and frivolous. He was a matchless rider, and retained to the last a boyish delight in the joys of the hunting-field. A piety sincere but unenlightened enabled the priests to gain control over his conscience, and thus to exercise disastrous influence over his policy.

His reign opened hopefully. There had been a succession of bountiful harvests, and the people were prosperous and contented. The king uttered liberal and loving sentiments; he pledged himself to rule by the charter; on the evening before he entered Paris he signed an edict releasing the press from the censorship which his brother had established. The satisfied people hailed the opening of a happier era than had ever dawned upon France.

One bold and wise measure confirmed the general hope. Till now those families which had been despoiled of their estates by the revolution had not ceased to remonstrate against the wrong which they had endured. The new possessors experienced the discomfort of insecurity. The value of all landed property was injuriously depressed by the uncertainty of the titles under which it was held. It was now resolved to silence for ever, by one great act of tardy justice, the murmurs of the disinherited, and to free the land of France from the evil of a doubtful tenure. A sura equal to forty million sterling was distributed among those whom the nation in its fury had wronged. The measure was warmly opposed in the chambers, but the general opinion of the French people approved a liberality whose justice was indisputable.

But very early in his reign it began to be whispered that the priests exercised an undue ascendency over the mind of the king. Ere long the apprehension with which the people regarded the superstitious piety of their monarch received fatal confirmation. The ministry introduced and carried a law which decreed the penalty of death as the punishment of sacrilege. The offender who profaned the sacred vessels suffered death. He who was guilty of the graver offence of profaning the consecrated wafer endured some measure of torture before he was permitted to die. The church blindly availed herself of the royal weakness to make her odious ascendency conspicuous. The streets of Paris now witnessed sacred processions, in which there walked the royal family, the great officers of state, and the members of the two chambers. Among the rest was to be seen Marshal Soult, walking with reverential mien and bearing a penitential candle in his hand. The people looked on with ill-disguised contempt. In time the rumour ran that the king himself was a Jesuit, sworn to gain for that dreaded society supreme power in France. It was certain that he appointed an avowed Jesuit one of the tutors of the heir to the throne. The confidence of the nation in its sovereign perished, and a sinister meaning was attached to every action which he performed.

The liberated press criticised freely and denounced with vehemence the hated domination of the priests. The king sought to free himself from this annoyance by the re-establishment of a rigid censorship. But the public indignation forced him so to modify the proposed enactment that little of it remained. The popularity of Charles was now entirely gone. At a review the national guard - the citizen army of Paris - hissed him and insulted him by seditious cries. Next day the king in wrath disbanded the national guard, leaving, however, to the indignant warriors their arms, ready to be used against him when occasion called.

Ever the popular mistrust deepened. Growing suspicion and hatred waited upon every step of the unhappy monarch. A ministry, somewhat less bigoted and unwise than himself, wrung from him edicts which limited the number of the Jesuits, and excluded them from taking any part in the education of the people. But soon this ministry fell, and the king chose the Prince de Polignac as the head of the new government.

The prince was an amiable man, but a shallow politician - unreasoning and fanatical in his love of royalty, and animated by a narrow, monk-like piety. His appointment gave hope to the banished Jesuits and all the party of the priests, but it awakened gloomy forebodings everywhere else.

Between the Chamber of Deputies and the new ministry there existed from the first violent hostility. The chamber addressed the king in polite but unsparing denunciation of a government which it was alleged was not in sympathy with the people. The government avenged itself by dissolving the chamber. The angry people elected new representatives more obdurately hostile than before.

The newspaper press of Paris was at that time conducted with remarkable ability, and exercised in consequence a commanding influence upon public sentiment. The liberal papers were vehement in their hostility against the government, and never ceased to fan the flame of popular resentment. The Prince Polignac had persuaded himself that the people were contented, and that the dangerous agitation which now prevailed was due wholly to the malign influence of the newspapers. The king, remembering how, as it had seemed to him, concession ruined his brother and led him to the scaffold, determined that no repetition of similar weakness should endanger the restored throne. He would maintain the royal dignity against the evil persons by whom it was impugned. To do this effectively it was judged needful that the king, ceasing for the moment to govern constitutionally, should for public safety assume a temporary dictatorship. Ordinances were prepared which dissolved the new chamber before it had even met; which modified the electoral law so as to secure the choice of a more courtly representation; and which suspended the liberty of the press. There was profound silence in the royal cabinet as Charles and his ministers put their hands to those awful documents which sealed the ruin of a line of sixty kings. So obvious was the peril, that even the printer to whom the publication of the ordinances was committed hesitated to enter upon the task until he had besought ministers to reconsider their decision. But the Prince Polignac pledged himself that the tranquillity of Paris would be unbroken, and the king consoled himself with the persuasion that the step which he had taken was indispensable.

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