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France: The Restored Monarchy page 3

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It was now resolved that France should deliver Europe from this shame. A powerful expedition took, without serious difficulty, the town of Algiers, and preparations were made for a permanent occupation by French troops on the African shores of the Mediterranean. France was pleased with the achievement, which, however, was unavailing to turn the tide of disfavour now flowing so strongly against the government.

Down to the very close of Louis Philippe's reign, France toiled to establish her supremacy over that portion of northern Africa which she had marked as her own. It was a fair and ample region - the Libya of the Romans, and one of the chief sources of their supply of wheat. In extent it is nearly twice as large as Great Britain. Once it had maintained a population of twenty million, but these were now dwindled to one-tenth of their former strength. The natives refused to yield to their new masters. Incessant and pitiless war was waged. One tribe, which had specially displeased the French commander, was annihilated. Another tribe had found refuge in a vast cave, and refused to come forth and submit. The soldiers piled fagots at the entrance to the cave, and kept up the fire till five hundred persons were suffocated. This atrocity was loudly condemned in France, and even Marshal Soult, who was then minister of war, offered no defence.

The most formidable antagonist encountered by the French was the emir Abd-el-Kader. This chief ruled the Arabs in the province of Oran with the double authority of prince and prophet. His reputation for piety, his military genius, and his frequent success gained for him an extraordinary ascendency over the wandering tribes by whom he was obeyed and who listened to his words as to those of Deity. For thirteen years Abd-el-Kader withstood the invaders. Often he was defeated and his forces scattered to the winds - only to recombine, formidable as ever, in some unexpected quarter. Occasionally he was able to inflict a sharp repulse upon the invaders. France continued to accumulate forces until she had over one hundred thousand men in Algeria. Her people seemed pleased to have the excitement of a perpetual war which did not cost many lives and did not add appreciably to their burdens. In Algeria glory was gained cheaply. The generals were skilful, the soldiers were brave, and the delights of victory were enjoyed at a cost which, to those who remembered the awful triumphs of Napoleon, seemed utterly insignificant. At the battle of Isly the French gained a really brilliant and decisive victory over the Moors with no greater loss than twenty-seven men killed and ninety-six wounded. And all the while their soldiers and officers were acquiring the experience of veterans, and qualifying themselves to play their part on bloodier fields should the occasion arise.

At length the fortune of war pronounced so conclusively against the emir that he offered his submission to General Lamoriciere, on condition of being allowed to retire to Egypt. The general accepted this surrender, and the Due d'Aumale, the king's son, confirmed it. But the compact was basely violated by the French government. Abd-el-Kader was sent to France, and kept in close confinement for five years. He was set at liberty at length by Louis Napoleon, and received from the government an allowance suitable to his former rank.

France was now in undisputed possession of her African territory. Twenty years ago, when she put her hand to the chastisement of the Algerines, England exacted from her a pledge that she would attempt no permanent occupation in Africa. The benefits which France has conferred show how idle and pernicious are frequently the jealousies which divide the European powers. Under French rule the imports of Algiers have risen from two hundred and eighty thousand pounds to five million. Her exports are seven million. Where the wandering Arab camped are now roads and bridges and four hundred miles of railway. Where the pirate lurked are lighthouses and harbours. The civilian population has grown to three million, of which two hundred thousand are European. The discounts of the Bank of Algeria amounted in one year to eight million sterling. The inhabitants peacefully cultivate the fertile soil, and add to the comfort of mankind by raising abundant crops of wheat, cotton, grapes, olives, oranges, tobacco, flax, and silk.

For several years, after the early agitations of Louis Philippe's reign were quelled, France was tranquil and apparently satisfied. No voice of complaint reached the royal ear. The press used with moderation the liberty allowed to it. The tone of the chamber was loyal and dutiful. The questions presented to that body were ordinarily of an unexciting character, and, after being subjected to a temperate and decorous examination, were decided in accordance with the wish of the government. The country enjoyed unwonted prosperity. The king's chief care in his foreign policy was to preserve his country from the calamity of war. Never before had France enjoyed for so lengthened a period the blessings of peace; never, therefore, had her wealth grown so rapidly. Her population, her commerce, her revenue were all steadily increasing. The citizen class, to which the king owed his elevation, and which alone was influential in the national affairs, approved with its whole heart the unexampled reign of peace and commercial expansion.

France had surpassed England in the excellence of her roads - insomuch that the Englishmen who travelled in France during the eighteenth century never failed to remark the surprising contrast. But, in her construction of railways, France was content to borrow the inventions and wait for the experience of her neighbour. Several years after the Liverpool and Manchester railway was opened, M. Arago was directed by the French government to prepare a report on the subject of railways. A system of great trunk lines was sketched out, radiating almost wholly from Paris out to the extremities of the kingdom. But it was not proposed to construct these at once. M. Arago prudently recommended to proceed slowly, so that advantage might be taken of the improvements which were to be expected. A strong party desired that these great works should be wholly executed and controlled by the state. But those who preferred private enterprise with the larger opportunity afforded for private gain were in the ascendant, and it was determined to leave the construction of railways to the voluntary combination of capitalists. But the French were slow to put confidence in this new form of investment. In two years only one of the proposed lines had been constructed. The government was at length obliged to undertake the work, but not until France had fallen very far behind her neighbouring states.

The course of peaceful years brought forgetfulness of the miseries which the empire had inflicted and a reviving pride in its glories. The heart of the nation was turning once more to the hero who had raised France so high and brought her so low. A pension was granted to his sister, the dethroned and widowed Queen of Naples. Numerous monuments to the emperor were erected, and the strength of the party which favoured the restoration of his dynasty constantly increased.

M. Thiers, on the part of the government, gave expression to the changed national feeling when he asked England to restore to France the bones of Napoleon. Lord Palmerston acceded courteously to the request. He hoped that all remaining animosity between the nations would be buried in the tomb of the emperor. A French ship-of-war was sent to bear the remains home to France. The lonely grave under the willow tree at St. Helena was opened. The body had been so skilfully embalmed that nineteen years of death had not effaced the expression of the well-remembered features. Men looked once more with reverence and pity upon the almost unchanged countenance of him who had been the glory and the scourge of his age.

The funeral procession passed slowly through the streets of Paris to the Church of the Invalides, attended by countless multitudes of the population. The king and all the royal family took part in the ceremonial. The enthusiasm of the people was boundless, and the cries which proceeded from the crowd showed that Paris thought no more of her agony and shame, but remembered only the unmatched splendours of the emperor's reign (Down to 1853 the will of Napoleon remained in Doctors' Commons. The interesting document was presented to France under the influence of the cordiality which prevailed during the early years of the second empire).

While these honours were bestowed upon the remains of Napoleon, his nephew and heir had just entered upon a captivity which was to continue for six years. Louis Napoleon - silent and inscrutable then as afterwards - reading with a too hopeful eye the indications of returning popular favour, deemed that the time had come for the assertion of his claims. With a small band of comrades he embarked at London and landed at Boulogne. He proclaimed to his countrymen that "the ashes of the emperor should not come but into regenerated France," and that he had arrived to effect that needful renovation. It was not impossible he should succeed, but his fate must depend upon the attitude assumed to his enterprise by the troops whom he first encountered. The officer in command at Boulogne refused to be corrupted, and was able to hold his soldiers to their duty. Prince Louis and his friends fled to their boats, but were all captured, and he was condemned to imprisonment for life.

From an early period in the reign of Louis Philippe the fortification of Paris had engaged the attention of the government. Recent history revealed a twofold danger from which protection had to be sought. Twice the capital had been taken with ease by foreign invaders. Many times it had been in lawless possession of its own rabble. To the government of the barricades it probably seemed that, of the two, the internal danger was the more real and urgent. The king favoured defence by means of a series of detached forts, each independent and capable from its own resources of enduring a siege. Each of these forts must be silenced before an assailant could approach the city, and they were to be so placed that their fire could be made to converge, destructively, upon any point where insurrection revealed itself. The opposition supported defence by a wall surrounding the city, and strengthened by bastions and a ditch - a scheme which, it was supposed, would not prevent the citizens from taking up arms when they saw grounds for doing so. Ultimately a combination of the two methods was adopted, and carried out at a cost of six million sterling. The government consented, by way of concession, that the forts should not be armed without a vote of the chamber. Two thousand pieces of artillery were stored at some distance, to be ready when the emergency arose.

Underneath the peaceful surface of French politics there were elements of disturbance which were steadily consolidating towards revolution. The middle class was rapidly accumulating wealth, and was satisfied. But wages were low, and the working population did not appear to participate in the prosperity of their employers. The small owners of land - forming with their families almost one-half of the population - were so heavily burdened with taxation and debt, that they obtained with difficulty the means of a scanty and precarious subsistence. In Paris trade combinations were formed, and resulted in extensive strikes. Numerous arrests took place; for by French law it was an offence for a number of men simultaneously to desist from work. Alarming riots followed, and to secure tranquillity it-was necessary to fill Paris with troops. The distressed labourers attempted to protect themselves against the abhorred despotism of capital by schemes of co-operation. But the time was not ripe for such undertakings, and no relief was gained Peaceful as his reign had been, the government of Louis Philippe had been enormously expensive. The army by which he supported his throne and maintained the national dignity numbered six hundred and forty thousand men. Over twenty million sterling was expended on public works. The total expenditure of the country had swelled from the moderate forty million of 1829 to the enormous aggregate of sixty million. The revenue was not sufficient for these outlays, and there was for years a deficit, larger than that which hastened the first revolution. A heavier rate of taxation was deemed impracticable, but it was resolved to order a new valuation, whereby the area on which taxation was levied might be enlarged. This resolution encountered grave opposition, and produced results permanently injurious. A multitude of local authorities openly counselled resistance, and the valuation was not completed without rioting and copious bloodshed.

The population of France was then thirty-four million, and the privilege of the political franchise was vested exclusively in those who paid in direct taxes a sum not less than eight pounds. This class numbered little more than two hundred thousand. It was a class with interests which were held to be antagonistic to those of the great mass of the people, and was not, therefore, in any sense representative of those who were excluded from political influence. The chamber elected by this inconsiderable body did not enjoy the confidence of the people. Nor, in truth, was it deserving of this confidence by its character more than by its origin. A large proportion of its members were needy adventurers, who made their way into the chamber with no higher aim than that of selling their support to the government in return for lucrative places to themselves and their friends. Nor were such hopes often disappointed. The government had one hundred and thirty thousand places at its disposal, and the use which was made of these during the eighteen years of Louis Philippe's reign was productive of corruption more widespread and shameless than France had known since the first revolution. In the scarcely exaggerated language used by M. de Lamartine, the government had "succeeded in making of a nation of citizens a vile band of beggars."

It was obvious to all who desired the regeneration of France that reform must begin with the representation of the people. To this end the liberals directed much effort. They did not as yet propose universal suffrage, and their leaders were divided between an extension of the franchise to all who paid two pounds of direct taxes and an extension which went no lower than four pounds. The demand for reform was resisted by the government. The king himself was opposed to it. It was " a malady of the age," he considered, and it would pass away. His majesty was growing old, and looked coldly upon all political novelties. And at best his views were narrow, his perceptions were not acute, and his sympathies with the age in which he lived and the people over whom he ruled were extremely imperfect.

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