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France: The Restored Monarchy page 4

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Among the leaders of the liberal party were men of high character and commanding influence. Arago, Odillon Barrot, Louis Blanc, Thiers, Lamartine, were formidable assailants for the strongest government to encounter. Under their guidance the agitation for reform assumed dimensions exceedingly embarrassing and even alarming. For once France borrowed from England her method of political agitation. Reform banquets, attended by thousands of persons, were held in all the chief towns, and the pressure of a peaceful public opinion was employed to obtain the remedy of a great wrong. The police made feeble attempts to prevent such gatherings, but were ordinarily unsuccessful. But the king and M. Guizot, strong in the support of the army and a purchased majority of the deputies, and apparently little aware of the vehemence of the popular desire, made no effort to satisfy or propitiate.

Louis Philippe had wisely set a high value on the maintenance of cordial relations with England. During many years he clung so tenaciously to the English alliance as to bring upon him at home the charge of undignified subserviency. The Queen of England gratified him by a visit, which he returned a few months after. He did not conceal that he was pleased to have the world made aware that personal regard was added to political alliance ("The family of Louis Philippe have a strong feeling that, for the last thirteen years, they have been placed under a ban, as though they were lepers, by all Europe and by every court, and expelled from the society of reigning houses; and, therefore, they rate very highly the visit of the most powerful sovereign in Europe. The king said this to me over and over again." - Prince Albert to Baron Stockmar, 10th September 1843.). During these visits there was much conversation regarding a Spanish matter which was then of some interest. The Spanish government was looking around to find suitable husbands for their young queen and her sister. The hands of the princesses were offered to two sons of Louis Philippe. But however anxious the king may have been to make provision for his children, he was aware that the traditional policy of England looked with disfavour upon a close alliance between the crowns of France and Spain. The king would not offend England. He declined the hand of the Spanish queen, but accepted that of her sister for his fourth son, the Due de Montpensier. Queen Victoria and her ministers approved of that marriage on the condition voluntarily offered by King Louis, that it should not take place till the Spanish queen was married and had children. But in a few years the king violated his pledge, and pressed upon Spain an arrangement under which the two marriages were celebrated together. Looking back upon this transaction we readily perceive that the views entertained regarding its political significance were altogether mistaken, and that the order in which the Spanish ladies were married, and the choice which was made of husbands for them, were questions of importance only to the persons immediately concerned. But thirty years ago the decay of despotism had little more than begun, and the ideas of men were still moulded upon the traditions of personal government. A marriage union between the royal families of France and Spam still seemed to involve a junction of fleets for an attack upon England.

To Louis Philippe himself the transaction was calamitous. He had broken his kingly word, and he stood before Europe and before his own people a dishonoured man. The support which he had hitherto drawn from his cordiality with England was lost to him for ever. The English newspapers condemned in unmeasured terms the royal duplicity, and their denunciations were eagerly reproduced by the liberal journals of Paris. Queen Victoria, it was believed, had even written with her own hand a letter of courtly but firm rebuke (Two years after, when the mob sacked the Tuileries, there was found the draft of a letter of vindication, written by Louis Philippe to his daughter, the Queen of the Belgians. So much in earnest was the king, and so difficult does the task seem to have proved that he sat writing on three occasions till four in the morning, notwithstanding that his family "maintained he was killing himself" by the unwonted toil. The king mentions the letter of Queen Victoria, and states that it greatly grieved him. It was addressed to the Queen of the French. A long and very able letter of remonstrance and rebuke was also addressed by Queen Victoria to the Belgian queen. The entire correspondence was afterwards published in the " Life of the Prince Consort). To the causes which made Louis Philippe unpopular at home, there was now added the humiliating circumstance that he had incurred the contempt of Europe.

The king was not unaware of the hatred with which his government was now regarded. He would gladly have been more acceptable to his people, but he would not seek their favour by changing the policy which incurred their displeasure. His sole dependence was on the chamber and on the army, and he could bind them more closely to his cause only by favours which were degrading to him who gave and to them who received. Circumstances made it easy for the opposition to enhance the general discontent. Many evidences of shameless corruption were at this time brought to light. A cabinet minister was found guilty of accepting bribes; the ministry was accused by a newspaper editor of having sold peerages, and of having been bribed to grant license for a theatre; an arsenal was burned down to conceal, it was believed, the delinquencies of certain officials; the provisions supplied to the navy were found to be adulterated to an enormous extent "Public morals," said M. de Tocqueville, "are degraded, and private morals have come too closely to resemble them."

The crops failed in 1845 and 1846, and prices rose to a famine point. So gravely did public tranquillity seem to be endangered that the municipality of Paris borrowed a million sterling, and expended it in artificially cheapening the price of bread. The revenue fell off so seriously, that the last budget of Louis Philippe's reign showed a deficit of twelve million sterling.

The enemies of the government mustered their forces for a supreme effort. When the chambers met a debate took place which stretched over twenty days, and in which the fiery rhetoric of the opposition charged home upon the king and his ministers all the manifold evils afflicting the state. The demand for parliamentary reform became constantly more urgent; but M. Guizot heeded it not. The reformers took up again their work of agitation. They announced a great procession and reform banquet. The police, somewhat hesitatingly, interdicted the demonstration, and its promoters resolved to submit; but the people, insufficiently informed of these movements, gathered for the procession in the early morning. All that day the streets were thronged, and the excitement of the people increased from hour to hour; but few soldiers were seen, and consequently no conflict occurred. Next morning the strategic points of the city were garrisoned by a strong force of soldiers and national guards, and the people saw that the government feared them. Business was suspended, and the constantly rising agitation foretold irrepressible tumults. The men of the faubourgs appeared once more. Towards evening a few barricades were thrown up, and a few gunsmiths' shops were plundered. Worst of all, the national guard appeared to sympathize with the people.

Terror-stricken by these fearful indications, the king and his ministers met for counsel at the Tuileries. To appease the angry mob, no measure seemed so hopeful as the sacrifice of the ministry. Guizot resigned. Thiers and Odillon Barrot, chiefs of the liberal party, were received into the cabinet. Marshal Bugeaud was appointed to command the troops. But before the day closed a disaster had occurred which made all concession vain. Before one of the public offices there was stationed a battalion of infantry, around which there surged an excited crowd. A shot came from the crowd, and was promptly responded to by a volley which killed or wounded fifty persons. The bodies of the victims were placed on waggons and drawn along the streets, that the fury of the people might be excited to the highest pitch.

During that sleepless night, Marshal Bugeaud, skilfully directing the forces which he commanded, had taken the barricades and effectively checked the rioters. But in early morning the new ministers ordered him to desist and withdraw his troops. They deemed it useless to resist. Concession was, in their view, the only avenue to tranquillity. The soldiers retired; the crowds pressed on to the Tuileries.

The king had breakfasted, and was now in his cabinet surrounded by his family and great officers, waiting the course of events which he had no longer any power to direct. From afar the shouts of the approaching multitude were borne to the royal ears. The king took up his pen to write the names of a ministry still more radical than that which he had appointed a few hours before. Suddenly there entered the royal chamber Emile de Girardin, editor of a Paris newspaper, who, in abrupt and uncourtly terms, informed the helpless monarch that his immediate abdication was necessary. The king hesitated, but the urgency of his advisers and the sounds of strife, which waxed ever louder, overcame his reluctance, and he put his name to an abdication in favour of his grandson. The insurgents were now at the palace gates, and the personal safety of the dethroned monarch required to be secured without further delay. Along with the ladies of his family the king left the Tuileries and reached a cab-stand, where happily two vehicles stood "waiting to be hired. Availing themselves of the only means of safety left them, the royal family drove away from Paris. A week later they reached the coast and embarked for England, the home of so many expelled French sovereigns, their majesties travelling under the lowly but well-chosen incognito of Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Another of the numerous experiments which France made in her persevering search for liberty had thus closed in disappointment. The French people intended that Louis Philippe should represent their grand ideal of the sovereignty of the people; but he represented only the sovereignty of a small caste, and even that was transferred by the employment of corrupting agencies into his own hands. He was a despot not less than his predecessors had been. The French somewhat abruptly discharged him from their service, and resumed the weary search which for sixty years they had vainly prosecuted.

Immediately on the departure of the king, a provisional government was organized, with M. Lamartine at its head. Never surely did any body of men enter upon a more arduous task. The mob of Paris was excited beyond any capability of being guided by reason; the streets were cumbered with dead and wounded men; supplies of food had ceased to come from the provinces; already multitudes were famishing, and soon the entire population would suffer the pangs of hunger; a band of insurgents seized the Tuileries, and were holding high festival over the contents of the royal larder and cellar; a vast crowd surrounded the Hotel de Ville, and thronged the lobbies and stairs and even the rooms where the members of the government sat at work ("We proceeded to the Hotel de Ville at the head of a column of people, and were borne amidst a wall of pikes, sabres, and bayonets to a small table, on which we organized the government" (Lamartine). Twenty times during the first seventy-two hours M. Lamartine was "led, carried, or dragged" to door or window, to harangue " those men of a former age" who were clamorous for a new reign of terror). But M. Lamartine and his colleagues were equal to the occasion. A stream of decrees flowed, incessant, from that busy workshop of legislation. Within a day or two they had abolished all titles of nobility; engaged to find employment for the whole population; arranged for supplies of food; rewarded the patriots who had overturned the monarchy; changed the position of the colours on the national flag; planted trees of liberty; ordered the words Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, to be inscribed on the walls; organized a new military force; abolished the punishment of death for political offences ("Never shall I forget the moment when this proposition, emanating from our hearts, was carried unanimously; and throwing ourselves into each other's arms, we exchanged a long embrace." - Lamartine), and set up national workshops in which one hundred and twenty thousand citizens found, if not employment, what suited them as well, a daily wage of two francs.

An election of deputies was ordered, and the right of voting was at once extended to the adult male population. The work of framing a constitution was intrusted to a committee of the wisest members, and in due time a scheme was produced so acceptable to the assembly, that it was adopted by an almost unanimous vote. The form of government was declared to be republican. The legislature was one chamber, elected by universal suffrage. The executive was a president, elected for four years, appointing his own ministers, having control of the army, empowered to declare war and conclude treaties with foreign powers, and re-eligible indefinitely. He also was chosen by universal suffrage, and all votes were to be given by ballot. The vote by which this constitution was adopted (737 to 30) is sufficient evidence that government by the people was the deliberate choice of France; but years of cruel frustration were yet to elapse before she could reach what she had long desired.

While these peaceful labours were in progress, the rabble of Paris, dissatisfied with the insufficient provision made by government for their comfort, burst into an insurrection of gigantic dimensions. General Cavaignac was appointed to command the national troops, and immediately after was named dictator. The mob was powerful in numbers and courage, was well armed and led with skill. Barricades arose in every street, until there were nearly four thousand of these fortifications, chiefly in the faubourgs. During three days there was severe and bloody fighting. Cavaignac employed mortars and heavy siege-guns against the insurgents, and quelled them at last with enormous slaughter on both sides.

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