OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

France: The Second Empire page 2

Pages: 1 <2> 3 4 5

But about this time the universal activity of the emperor began to awaken alarms in Great Britain. The British people have been liable to occasional panics on the subject of invasion (This was the third panic on the subject of French invasion within a few years. In 1847 Louis Philippe's son, the Prince de Joinville, wrote a foolish pamphlet. The Duke of Wellington, in the decay of his great powers, wrote a letter which ought never to have been published. The English people straight way became alarmed lest the king of the French should invade them, and were not comforted till they learned that that monarch, dethroned and fugitive, had sought refuge on their shores. Again, after the coup d'&tat, the alarm burst out afresh. It was promoted by Lord Palmerston, who was bold enough to assert that a French army might land on our coasts without our knowing before that such a measure was in contemplation. Soon after, we were allied with the French to defend the Turks. The emperor was our guest - welcomed with enthusiasm; and the senseless and humiliating fear passed as quickly as it had risen).

There was not now any shadow of warrant for the alarm which prevailed. But none the less firmly, in utter defiance of reason and evidence, did the British people cherish the fear that the Emperor Napoleon designed their overthrow, and was probably able to effect it. The fear was childish, but the action following upon it was manly. The people offered themselves to the government for military training and service in such numbers that within a few weeks two hundred thousand men were under drill, of whom forty thousand were reported able to take their place in line of battle. The confidence of England was of political value to the emperor, and it vexed him to be so mistrusted. But he bore the annoyance, as Mr. Cob-den, who was then in Paris, informs us, with calmness, and watched in surprise the strange mania which was running its course among his neighbours. He appealed to Lord Pal-merston with abundant protestations of the excellence of his.... intentions. "Let us," he said, "understand one another in good faith, like honest men, as we are, and not like thieves, who desire to cheat each other." But it was vain to reason with a nation in panic. In course of time the alarm subsided, but men never admitted that it had been, baseless. The opinion continued to prevail that the intentions of the emperor had been bad, and that the volunteer movement alone restrained him from attempting the subjugation of the British people.

A few months after the restoration of peace with Austria, disorders of an aggravated character broke out in Syria. Many hundreds of Christians were massacred; the French consulate of Damascus was destroyed, and its inmates owed their preservation to the timely friendship of Abd-el-Kader. The Turkish troops who should have repressed these excesses themselves aided the murderers. Here was an attractive field for the beneficent activities of the emperor. An English government would have addressed vain remonstrances to the Sublime Porte. The emperor preferred to seek redress by more direct methods. "With admirable promptitude (The massacre at Damascus began on 9th July; the French troops sailed 4th August) an expedition was despatched to Syria, and order was at once restored. The troops were not recalled when their work was done. It seemed that the emperor meditated a continued occupation. In that case, the French would, at their own cost, have made roads and railways and harbours, greatly to the advantage of Syria and the world. But Lord Palmerston would not suffer this to be. He was still the protector of the Turks. Most likely he trembled for our communications with India. The French troops were withdrawn, and Syria returned to her habitual lawlessness.

But Europe and Asia did not afford adequate scope for the scheming and restless emperor. The western shores of the American continent were the home of a people given over to perpetual revolution and wasteful civil strife. Mexico, always a wild chaos of misrule and disorder, had become lately so intolerable that France, England, and Spain were provoked into sending out a military force, in the futile hope of ' applying a remedy to evils which were a scandal to Christendom. Napoleon, as it may be supposed, originated the design (His object was "to assure the preponderance of France over the Latin races, and to augment the influence of these races in America."). England, joining the league with some hesitation, was contented to play a subordinate part. She contributed one line-of-battle ship and two frigates, with seven hundred marines; France and Spain sent six thousand soldiers. The United States government wisely declined to share in the enterprise. England and Spain after a time withdrew their forces, having made the discovery that their efforts could not result in good. The more tenacious emperor adhered to his purpose, and his troops passed on to the Mexican capital. The Mexican president fled, and Napoleon had upon his hands a country without a government. He procured from a Mexican assembly a resolution to found a hereditary monarchy, and to offer the crown to the Archduke Maximilian, brother to the Emperor of Austria. The unhappy young man accepted with joy the fatal gift. So long as the French soldiers upheld him, he maintained with success an incessant conflict with the republican authority which he had displaced. But Prance became wearied of this expensive and useless strife. Her army was withdrawn. The Emperor Maximilian sent his young wife to Europe to beg for help. In an. interview with the pope, the poor empress revealed the first symptoms of the insanity by which the whole of her remaining life was darkened. But help, even if European powers had been disposed to afford it, would have come too late. Maximilian was betrayed into the hands of enemies who knew no pity, and by whom he was promptly put to death. So great had been his misery that death, he said, was for him a happy deliverance, and not an agony. Thus disastrously closed the intervention of the Emperor Napoleon in the affairs of Mexico.

The emperor could not keep his hand from the concerns of his neighbours. He ardently desired to recognize the independence of the revolted American states, and repeatedly urged the British government to join him in doing so. His overtures were received with judicious coldness and one of his despatches, as he complained, was communicated to America. Happily for his credit he was "determined to act with England " on the American question, and the better judgment of the English ministers saved him from the folly which he was eager to commit.

But the empire was not exclusively intervention in the affairs of foreign countries. The emperor did some more useful work than this profitless "making war for an idea." England had now enjoyed for thirteen years the vast benefits which a policy of free trade bestowed upon her. It had been expected that all civilized nations, instructed by the experience of England, would, like her, have emancipated themselves from the evils of restriction. But this had not come to pass. Disappointed by the prevailing "blindness, Richard Cobden informed his government that it was his intention to visit Paris, and there if possible to convince the emperor of the evils of a protective policy. The emperor received him, and discussed the subject at great length. The influence which the reasoning of Mr. Cobden exercised on the minds'of the emperor and his ministers was such that a commercial treaty between the two countries was agreed upon, and Cobden himself was appointed on the part of England to arrange the details. It was a difficult task he had undertaken. The French protectionists were powerful and resolute. The emperor, whose conversion was imperfect (His leaning to a more liberal commercial policy was not, however, entirely new. Six years before, he had reduced the import duties on corn and cattle, on iron and coal, despite the clamour of protectionists), vacillated painfully during the early period of the adjustment. No reinforcement of his infirm purposes was to be gained from public opinion, which was wholly unenlightened. Then, at the very crisis of the negotiation, Lord Palmerston proposed a scheme for the fortification of arsenals, and spoke openly of the danger of French invasion. Even then the emperor, inspired by his trust in Cobden, did not suffer the work to be interrupted. After twelve months of toil the treaty was perfected. Its purpose was to remove, in so far as was possible, all obstacles to commercial intercourse between the countries. England swept out of her tariff some fragments of protection which still lingered there, and reduced her duties on wines and brandy. France, on her part, substituted moderate duties on the chief articles of British export, many of which her tariff had till now altogether prohibited. Since these changes were effected the exports of France to England have increased from seventeen to forty-six million sterling, and the exports of England to France from five to fifteen million.

For centuries France had been to Germany a most undesirable neighbour. It had been her hereditary policy to repress and weaken to the utmost the multitudinous states which lay beyond the Rhine - to maintain their paralyzing divisions, to foster every antipathy, to exercise a destructive predominance in the internal affairs of a race which might become a formidable rival. France, united, aggressive, and swift in movement, found an easy prey in Germany - divided, discordant, unwieldy. Louis XI. frustrated Burgundy in her natural desire to unite with Germany, and held her as his own. Francis I. intrigued to gain the dignity of emperor, as Louis XIV. did after him. Louis XIV. took Alsace and Lorraine, and would have taken much more unless he had been prevented. Louis XV. devised the erection of four German kingdoms, whose policy France would direct. Napoleon stole German territory, and gave it away or kept it in his own family as inclination dictated. He assumed the subserviency of Prussia as his right, and chastised her hesitating assertion of independence by blows which were almost annihilating. For fifty years after his fall Prussia had rest from French aggression, and grew in power by the wisdom of her government and the peaceful industry of her people. Her rise was regarded with unfriendly eye, and with a jealousy which became, year by year, more intense. In process of time there occurred the war in which Prussia was signally victorious over Austria. She was now the head of a united northern Germany, and all men foresaw the early adhesion of the southern states also. France resented as an affront to her own majesty this unparalleled increase of power. A cry arose for immediate war. But the army had been lately reduced, and it was not yet furnished with the new musket which in Prussian hands had proved so deadly. The emperor perceived that he was not ready, and he "resisted with all his strength," as he himself tells, "the bellicose ideas which had taken possession of a portion of the public." He restrained the untimely zeal of his followers, but he addressed himself with diligence to the work of preparing to abate the audacious strength of Germany. The law of 1868 increased largely the number of his recruits; breech-loading muskets were served out as rapidly as they could be produced; vast stores were accumulated, or appeared to be so; the emperor himself gave much thought to the organization of the army, and wrote voluminous memoranda regarding its minutest details.

In a short while it seemed to her chiefs that France was now ready to set about reducing the intolerable strength of her neighbour. The minister of war asserted his possession of an army which, after all needful deductions, would enable him to place four hundred thousand men on the frontier. Organization was faultless. The stores of clothing were inexhaustible; not even "a gaiter-button" was awanting. There were cartridges enough to maintain for years the slaughter of offending Germans. Elaborated in secret, and known to the world only by dark whispers, was the terrible mitrailleuse, whose prowess was now to be revealed in destruction hitherto unexampled. The emperor satisfied himself that northern Germany could place on the Rhine no more than three hundred and thirty thousand men. Even should the southern states cast in their lot with their northern brethren - a contingency which he scarcely apprehended - this number would be raised only to four hundred and twenty thousand. He might thus outnumber his enemies; he could not be appreciably outnumbered by them. "With a natural confidence in the fortune of his house, in his own military skill and the high fighting qualities of his people, the expectation that his march would lead him to Berlin did not appear wholly unwarranted.

There was only required now some pretext of quarrel - not necessarily credible, but at least susceptible of being expressed in the decorous language of diplomacy. This was opportunely found. The distracted Spaniards, searching among the royal families of Europe for a king, chanced upon a certain Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern, to whom they addressed the prayer that he would rule over them. This potentate was kinsman to the King of Prussia. He stood in a closer degree of relationship to the emperor himself, but the king might be regarded as head of the family of which he was a member, and might therefore plausibly be held responsible for his actions. It was intimated that France would not approve the occupancy of the throne of Spain by any member of the house of Hohenzollem. The king, caring little about the affairs of the Peninsula, disclaimed all knowledge or responsibility in regard to the proceedings of his relative. "What was still more to the purpose, that relative himself, who at first inclined a favourable ear to the petition of Spain, announced decisively his refusal of the vacant throne. It seemed that France had lost her pretext for declaring that war upon which she was resolved. But the emperor was equal even to this emergency. He demanded, with premeditated rudeness, a pledge that the king would never, in any future time, permit his kinsman to accept the overtures of Spain. The desired refusal was promptly given. Prussia, said the king, was in no way concerned in the transactions of Prince Leopold and the Spanish government,, and would not mix herself up with them. Eight days later, the formal declaration of war was delivered at Berlin.

There is no room to doubt that in the visible decline of the second empire a successful war had become, for personal and dynastic reasons, necessary to the emperor. The country had prospered under the empire-as France must always do when she is suffered to be at peace. But in process of years cussing constitutional theories, and apply to moral and social ameliorations." But the "persons of uneasy minds" rejected his counsel; and their influence was sufficient to force him, after fifteen years of despotism, into the path of reform. He partially removed the fetters which the newspaper press had long worn. He permitted meetings of an economical and industrial character. Next year he announced that in future he would choose his ministers from the majority in the chambers, thus granting the large concession of ministerial responsibility. His prefects were instructed to please the people by promises of new roads, bridges, and railways, and hint to voters that they would be leniently dealt with in regard to payment of taxes. Finally, liberty of the press was granted, and "every class of public sentiment was allowed free expression." Hoping that these concessions would revive his waning popularity, the emperor submitted to a plebiscite the constitutional changes which he had introduced. He begged the people for a favourable vote, which, he said, "would seat order and liberty on a solid basis, and render easier the transmission of the crown to my son." Seven million and a quarter of the voters granted and a million and a half refused the support which he desired. The minority was larger than it had been before, and the ominous fact was known that many of the soldiers voted in opposition to the wish of the emperor.

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 <2> 3 4 5

Pictures for France: The Second Empire page 2

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About