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On Thursday, December 20, 1848, the Constituent Assembly, being in session, surrounded at that moment by an imposing display of troops, heard the report of the Representative Waldeck-Rousseau, read on behalf of the committee which had been appointed to scrutinize the votes in the election of President of the Republic; a report in which general attention had marked this phrase, which embodied its whole idea: "It is the seal of its inviolable authority which the nation, by this admirable application of the fundamental law, itself affixes on the Constitution, to render it sacred and inviolable."
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Copyright © 2017 by Victor Hugo
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December 20, 1848
ON THURSDAY, DECEMBER 20, 1848, the Constituent Assembly, being in session, surrounded at that moment by an imposing display of troops, heard the report of the Representative Waldeck-Rousseau, read on behalf of the committee which had been appointed to scrutinize the votes in the election of President of the Republic; a report in which general attention had marked this phrase, which embodied its whole idea: “It is the seal of its inviolable authority which the nation, by this admirable application of the fundamental law, itself affixes on the Constitution, to render it sacred and inviolable.” Amid the profound silence of the nine hundred representatives, of whom almost the entire number was assembled, the President of the National Constituent Assembly, Armaud Marrast, rose and said:—
“In the name of the French people,
“Whereas Citizen Charles-Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, born at Paris, fulfils the conditions of eligibility prescribed by Article 44 of the Constitution;
“Whereas in the ballot cast throughout the extent of the territory of the Republic, for the election of President, he has received an absolute majority of votes;
“By virtue of Articles 47 and 48 of the Constitution, the National Assembly proclaims him President of the Republic from this present day until the second Sunday in May, 1852.”
There was a general movement on all the benches, and in the galleries filled with the public; the President of the Constituent Assembly added:
“According to the terms of the decree, I invite the Citizen President of the Republic to ascend the tribune, and to take the oath.”
The representatives who crowded the right lobby returned to their places and left the passage free. It was about four in the afternoon, it was growing dark, and the immense hall of the Assembly having become involved in gloom, the chandeliers were lowered from the ceiling, and the messengers placed lamps on the tribune. The President made a sign, the door on the right opened, and there was seen to enter the hall, and rapidly ascend the tribune, a man still young, attired in black, having on his breast the badge and riband of the Legion of Honour.
All eyes were turned towards this man. A pallid face, its bony emaciated angles thrown into bold relief by the shaded lamps, a nose large and long, moustaches, a curled lock of hair above a narrow forehead, eyes small and dull, and with a timid and uneasy manner, bearing no resemblance to the Emperor,—this man was Citizen Charles-Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte.
During the murmurs which greeted his entrance, he remained for some instants, his right hand in the breast of his buttoned coat, erect and motionless on the tribune, the pediment of which bore these dates: February 22, 23, 24; and above which were inscribed these three words: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.
Before being elected President of the Republic, Charles-Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte had been a representative of the people for several months, and though he had rarely attended a whole sitting, he had been frequently seen in the seat he had selected, on the upper benches of the Left, in the fifth row in the zone commonly called the Mountain, behind his old preceptor, Representative Vieillard. This man, then, was no new figure in the Assembly, yet his entrance on this occasion produced a profound sensation. It was to all, to his friends as to his foes, the future that entered, an unknown future. Amid the immense murmur, produced by the whispered words of all present, his name passed from mouth to mouth, coupled with most diverse opinions. His antagonists detailed his adventures, his coups-de-main, Strasburg, Boulogne, the tame eagle, and the piece of meat in the little hat. His friends dwelt upon his exile, his proscription, his imprisonment, an excellent work of his on the artillery, his writings at Ham, which were marked, to a certain degree, with the liberal, democratic, and socialistic spirit, the maturity of the more sober age at which he had now arrived; and to those who recalled his follies, they recalled his misfortunes.
General Cavaignac, who, not having been elected President, had just resigned his power into the hands of the Assembly, with that tranquil laconism which befits republics, was seated in his customary place at the head of the ministerial bench, on the left of the tribune, and observed in silence, with folded arms, this installation of the new man.
At length silence was restored, the President of the Assembly struck the table before him several times with his wooden knife, and then, the last murmurs having subsided, said:
“I will now read the form of the oath.”
There was something almost religious about that moment. The Assembly was no longer an Assembly, it was a temple. The immense significance of the oath was rendered still more impressive by the circumstance that it was the only oath taken throughout the whole territory of the Republic. February had, and rightly, abolished the political oath, and the Constitution had, as rightly, retained only the oath of the President. This oath possessed the double character of necessity and of grandeur. It was an oath taken by the executive, the subordinate power, to the legislative, the superior power; it was even more than this—in contrast to the monarchical fiction by which the people take the oath to the man invested with power, it was the man invested with power who took the oath to the people. The President, functionary and servant, swore fidelity to the sovereign people. Bending before the national majesty, manifest in the omnipotent Assembly, he received from the Assembly the Constitution, and swore obedience to it. The representatives were inviolable, and he was not. We repeat it: a citizen responsible to all the citizens, he was, of the whole nation, the only man so bound. Hence, in this oath, sole and supreme, there was a solemnity which went to the heart. He who writes these lines was present in his place in the Assembly, on the day this oath was taken; he is one of those who, in the face of the civilized world called to bear witness, received this oath in the name of the people, and who have it still in their hands. Thus it runs:—
“In presence of God, and before the French people, represented by the National Assembly, I swear to remain faithful to the democratic republic, one and indivisible, and to fulfil all the duties imposed upon me by the Constitution.”
The President of the Assembly, standing, read this majestic formula; then, before the whole Assembly, breathlessly silent and attentive, intensely expectant, Citizen Charles-Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, raising his right hand, said, in a firm, loud voice:
“I swear it!”
Representative Boulay (de la Meurthe), since Vice-President of the Republic, who had known Charles-Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte from his childhood, exclaimed: “He is an honest man, he will keep his oath.”
The President of the Assembly, still standing, proceeded thus (I quote verbatim the words recorded in the Moniteur): “We call God and man to witness the oath which has just been sworn. The National Assembly receives that oath, orders it to be transcribed upon its records, printed in the Moniteur, and published in the same manner as legislative acts.”
It seemed that the ceremony was now at an end, and we imagined that Citizen Charles-Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, thenceforth, until the second Sunday in May, 1852, President of the Republic, would descend from the tribune. But he did not; he felt a magnanimous impulse to bind himself still more rigorously, if possible; to add something to the oath which the Constitution demanded from him, in order to show how largely the oath was free and spontaneous. He asked permission to address the Assembly. “You have the floor,” said the President of the Assembly.
There was more profound silence, and closer attention than before.
Citizen Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte unfolded a paper and read a speech. In this speech, having announced and installed the ministry appointed by him, he said:—
“I desire, in common with yourselves, citizen representatives, to consolidate society upon its true basis, to establish democratic institutions, and earnestly to seek every means calculated to relieve the sufferings of the generous and intelligent people who have just bestowed on me so signal a proof of their confidence.”
He then thanked his predecessor in the executive power, the same man who, later, was able to say these noble words: “I did not fall from power, I descended from it;” and he glorified him in these terms:—
“The new administration, in entering upon its duties, is bound to thank that which preceded it for the efforts it has made to transmit the executive power intact, and to maintain public tranquillity.
“The conduct of the Honourable General Cavaignac has been worthy of the manliness of his character, and of that sentiment of duty which is the first quality requisite in the chief of the State.”
The Assembly cheered these words, but that which especially struck every mind, which was profoundly graven in every memory, which found its echo in every honest heart, was the declaration, the wholly spontaneous declaration, we repeat, with which he began his address.
“The suffrages of the nation, and the oath I have just taken, command my future conduct. My duty is clearly marked. I will fulfil it as a man of honour.
“I shall regard as the enemies of the country all who seek to change, by illegal means, that which all France has established.”
When he had done speaking, the Constituent Assembly rose, and uttered as with a single voice, the exclamation: “Long live the Republic!”
Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte descended from the tribune, went up to General Cavaignac, and offered him his hand. The general, for a few instants, hesitated to accept the grasp. All who had just heard the words of Louis Bonaparte, pronounced in a tone so instinct with good faith, blamed the general for his hesitation.
The Constitution to which Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte took oath on December 20, 1848, “in the face of God and man,” contained, among other articles, these:—
“Article 36. The representatives of the people are inviolable.
“Article 37. They may not be arrested on a criminal charge unless taken in the fact, or prosecuted without the permission of the Assembly first obtained.
“Article 68. Every act by which the President of the Republic dissolves the National Assembly, prorogues it, or impedes the execution of its decrees, is high treason.
“By such act, of itself, the President forfeits his office, the citizens are bound to refuse him obedience, and the executive power passes, of absolute right, to the National Assembly. The judges of the Supreme Court shall thereupon immediately assemble, under penalty of forfeiture; they shall convoke the jurors in such place as they shall appoint, to proceed to the trial of the President and his accomplices; and they shall themselves appoint magistrates who shall proceed to execute the functions of the ministry.”
In less than three years after this memorable day, on the 2nd of December, 1851, at daybreak, there might be read on all the street corners in Paris, this placard:—
“In the name of the French people, the President of the Republic:
“Article 1. The National Assembly is dissolved.
“Article 2. Universal suffrage is re-established. The law of the 31st of May is repealed.
“Article 3. The French people are convoked in their comitia.
“Article 4. A state of siege is decreed throughout the first military division.
“Article 5. The Council of State is dissolved.
“Article 6. The Minister of the Interior is charged with the execution of this decree.
“Done at the Palace of the Élysée, December 2, 1851.
At the same time Paris learned that fifteen of the inviolable representatives of the people had been arrested in their homes, during the night, by order of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte.
MISSION OF THE REPRESENTATIVES
Those who, as representatives of the people, received, in trust for the people, the oath of the 20th of December, 1848, those, especially who, being twice invested with the confidence of the nation, had as representatives heard that oath sworn, and as legislators had seen it violated, had assumed, with their writ of summons, two duties. The first of these was, on the day when that oath should be violated, to rise in their places, to present their breasts to the enemy, without calculating either his numbers or his strength, to shelter with their bodies the sovereignty of the people and as a means to combat and cast down the usurper, to grasp every sort of weapon, from the law found in the code, to the paving stone that one picks up in the street. The second duty was, after having accepted the combat and all its chances to accept proscription and all its miseries, to stand eternally erect before the traitor, his oath in their hands, to forget their personal sufferings, their private sorrows, their families dispersed and maltreated, their fortunes destroyed, their affections crushed, their bleeding hearts; to forget themselves, and to feel thenceforth but a single wound—the wound of France to cry aloud for justice; never to suffer themselves to be appeased, never to relent, but to be implacable; to seize the despicable perjurer, crowned though he were, if not with the hand of the law, at least with the pincers of truth, and to heat red-hot in the fire of history all the letters of his oath, and brand them on his face.
He who writes these lines is one of those who did not shrink, on the 2nd of December, from the utmost effort to accomplish the first of these two great duties; in publishing this book he performs the second.
NOTICE OF EXPIRATION OF TERM
It is time that the human conscience should awaken.
Ever since the 2nd of December, 1851, a successful ambush, a crime, odious, repulsive, infamous, unprecedented, considering the age in which it was committed, has triumphed and held sway, erecting itself into a theory, pluming itself in the sunlight, making laws, issuing decrees, taking society, religion, and the family under its protection, holding out its hand to the kings of Europe, who accept it, and calling them, “my brother,” or “my cousin.” This crime no one disputes, not even those who profit by it and live by it; they say simply that it was necessary; not even he who committed it, who says merely that he, the criminal, has been “absolved.” This crime contains within itself all crimes, treachery in the conception, perjury in the execution, murder and assassination in the struggle, spoliation, swindling, and robbery in the triumph; this crime draws after it as integral parts of itself, suppression of the laws, violation of constitutional inviolabilities, arbitrary sequestration, confiscation of property, midnight massacres, secret military executions, commissions superseding tribunals, ten thousand citizens banished, forty thousand citizens proscribed, sixty thousand families ruined and despairing. These things are patent. Even so! it is painful to say it, but there is silence concerning this crime; it is there, men see it, touch it, and pass on to their business; shops are opened, the stock jobbers job, Commerce, seated on her packages, rubs her hands, and the moment is close at hand when everybody will regard all that has taken place as a matter of course. He who measures cloth does not hear the yard-stick in his hand speak to him and say: “‘Tis a false measure that governs.” He who weighs out a commodity does not hear his scales raise their voice and say: “‘Tis a false weight that reigns.” A strange order of things surely, that has for its base supreme disorder, the negation of all law! equilibrium resting on iniquity!
Let us add,—what, for that matter is self-evident,—that the author of this crime is a malefactor of the most cynical and lowest description.
At this moment, let all who wear a robe, a scarf, or a uniform; let all those who serve this man, know, if they think themselves the agents of a power, that they deceive themselves; they are the shipmates of a pirate. Ever since the 2nd of December there have been no office-holders in France, there have been only accomplices. The moment has come when every one must take careful account of what he has done, of what he is continuing to do. The gendarmes who arrested those whom the man of Strasburg and Boulogne called “insurgents,” arrested the guardians of the Constitution. The judge who tried the combatants of Paris or the provinces, placed in the dock the mainstays of the law. The officer who confined in the hulks the “condemned men,” confined the defenders of the Republic and of the State. The general in Africa who imprisoned at Lambassa the transported men bending beneath the sun’s fierce heat, shivering with fever, digging in the sun-baked soil a furrow destined to be their grave, that general sequestrated, tortured, assassinated the men of the law. All, generals, officers, gendarmes, judges, are absolutely under forfeiture. They have before them more than innocent men,—heroes! more than victims,—martyrs!
Let them know this, therefore, and let them hasten to act upon the knowledge; let them, at least, break the fetters, draw the bolts, empty the hulks, throw open the jails, since they have not still the courage to grasp the sword. Up, consciences, awake, it is full time!
If law, right, duty, reason, common sense, equity, justice, suffice not, let them think of the future! If remorse is mute, let responsibility speak!
And let all those who, being landed proprietors, shake the magistrate by the hand; who, being bankers, fête a general; who, being peasants, salute a gendarme; let all those who do not shun the hôtel in which dwells the minister, the house in which dwells the prefect, as he would shun a lazaretto; let all those who, being simple citizens, not functionaries, go to the balls and the banquets of Louis Bonaparte and see not that the black flag waves over the Élysée,—let all these in like manner know that this sort of shame is contagious; if they avoid material complicity, they will not avoid moral complicity.
The crime of the 2nd of December bespatters them.
The present situation, that seems so calm to the unthinking, is most threatening, be sure of that. When public morality is under eclipse, an appalling shadow settles down upon social order.
All guarantees take wing, all supports vanish.
Thenceforth there is not in France a tribunal, nor a court, nor a judge, to render justice and pronounce a sentence, on any subject, against any one, in the name of any one.
Bring before the assizes a malefactor of any sort: the thief will say to the judges: “The chief of the State robbed the Bank of twenty-five millions;” the false witness will say to the judges: “The chief of the State took an oath in the face of God and of man, and that oath he has violated;” the sequestrator will say: “The chief of the State has arrested, and detained against all law, the representatives of the sovereign people;” the swindler will say: “The chief of the State got his election, got power, got the Tuileries, all by swindling;” the forger will say: “The chief of the State forged votes;” the footpad will say: “The chief of the State stole their purses from the Princes of Orleans;” the murderer will say: “The chief of the State shot, sabred, bayonetted, massacred passengers in the streets;” and all together, swindler, forger, false witness, footpad, robber, assassin, will add: “And you judges, you have been to salute this man, to praise him for having perjured himself, to compliment him for committing forgery, to praise him for stealing and swindling, to thank him for murdering! what do you want of us?”
Assuredly, this is a very serious state of things! to sleep in such a situation, is additional ignominy.
It is time, we repeat, that this monstrous slumber of men’s consciences should end. It must not be, after that fearful scandal, the triumph of crime, that a scandal still more fearful should be presented to mankind: the indifference of the civilized world.
If that were to be, history would appear one day as an avenger; and from this very hour, as the wounded lion takes refuge in the solitudes, the just man, veiling his face in presence of this universal degradation, would take refuge in the immensity of public contempt.
MEN WILL AWAKEN
But it is not to be; men will awaken.
The present book has for its sole aim to arouse the sleepers. France must not even adhere to this government with the assent of lethargy; at certain hours, in certain places, under certain shadows, to sleep is to die.
Let us add that at this moment, France—strange to say, but none the less true—knows not what took place on the 2nd of December and subsequently, or knows it imperfectly; and this is her excuse. However, thanks to several generous and courageous publications, the facts are beginning to creep out. This book is intended to bring some of those facts forward, and, if it please God, to present them in their true light. It is important that people should know who and what this M. Bonaparte is. At the present moment, thanks to the suppression of the platform, thanks to the suppression of the press, thanks to the suppression of speech, of liberty, and of truth,—a suppression which has had for one result the permitting M. Bonaparte to do everything, but which has had at the same time the effect of nullifying all his measures without exception, including the indescribable ballot of the 20th of December,—thanks, we say, to this stifling of all complaints and of all light, no man, no fact wears its true aspect or bears its true name. M. Bonaparte’s crime is not a crime, it is called a necessity; M. Bonaparte’s ambuscade is not an ambuscade, it is called a defence of public order; M. Bonaparte’s robberies are not robberies, they are called measures of state; M. Bonaparte’s murders are not murders, they are called public safety; M. Bonaparte’s accomplices are not malefactors, they are called magistrates, senators, and councillors of state; M. Bonaparte’s adversaries are not the soldiers of the law and of right, they are called Jacquerie, demagogues, communists. In the eyes of France, in the eyes of Europe, the 2nd of December is still masked. This book is a hand issuing from the darkness, and tearing that mask away.
Now, we propose to scrutinize this triumph of order, to depict this government so vigorous, so firm, so well-based, so strong, having on its side a crowd of paltry youths, who have more ambition than boots, dandies and beggars; sustained on the Bourse by Fould the Jew, and in the Church by Montalembert the Catholic; esteemed by women who would fain pass for maids, by men who want to be prefects; resting on a coalition of prostitutions; giving fêtes; making cardinals; wearing white neck-cloths and yellow kid gloves, like Morny, newly varnished like Maupas, freshly brushed like Persigny,—rich, elegant, clean, gilded, joyous, and born in a pool of blood!
Yes, men will awaken!
Yes, men will arouse from that torpor which, to such a people, is shame; and when France does awaken, when she does open her eyes, when she does distinguish, when she does see that which is before her and beside her, she will recoil with a terrible shudder from the monstrous crime which dared to espouse her in the darkness, and of which she has shared the bed.
Then will the supreme hour strike!
The sceptics smile and insist; they say:
“Hope for nothing. This government, you say, is the shame of France. Be it so, but this same shame is quoted on the Bourse. Hope for nothing. You are poets and dreamers if you hope. Why, look about you: the tribune, the press, intelligence, speech, thought, all that was liberty, has vanished. Yesterday, these things were in motion, alive; to-day, they are petrified. Well, people are satisfied with this petrification, they accommodate themselves to it, make the most of it, conduct business on it, and live as usual. Society goes on, and plenty of worthy folk are well pleased with this state of things. Why do you want to change it, to put an end to it? Don’t deceive yourselves, it is all solid, all firm; it is the present and the future.”
We are in Russia. The Neva is frozen over. Houses are built on the ice, and heavy chariots roll over it. It is no longer water, but rock. The people go to and fro upon this marble which was once a river. A town is run up, streets are marked out, shops opened; people buy, sell, eat, drink, sleep, light fires on what once was water. You can do whatever you please there. Fear nothing. Laugh, dance; it is more solid than terra firma. Why, it rings beneath the foot, like granite. Long live winter! Long live the ice! This will last till doomsday! And look at the sky: is it day? is it night? what is it? A pale, misty light steals over the snow; one would say that the sun is dying!
No, thou art not dying, O liberty! One of these days, at the moment when thou art least expected, at the very hour when they shall have most utterly forgotten thee, thou wilt rise!—O dazzling vision! the star-like face will suddenly be seen issuing from the earth, resplendent on the horizon! Over all that snow, over all that ice, over that hard, white plain, over that water become rock, over all that wretched winter, thou wilt cast thy arrow of gold, thy ardent and effulgent ray! light, heat, life! And then, listen! hear you that dull sound? hear you that crashing noise, all-pervading and formidable? ‘Tis the breaking up of the ice! ‘tis the melting of the Neva! ‘tis the river resuming its course! ‘tis the water, living, joyous, and terrible, heaving up the hideous, dead ice, and crushing it.—’Twas granite, said you; see, it splinters like glass! ‘tis the breaking up of the ice, I tell you: ‘tis the truth returning, ‘tis progress recommencing, ‘tis mankind resuming its march, and uprooting, carrying off, mingling, crushing and drowning in its waves, like the wretched furniture of a submerged hovel, not only the brand-new empire of Louis Bonaparte, but all the structures and all the work of the eternal antique despotism! Look on these things as they are passing. They are vanishing for ever. You will never behold them again. That book, half submerged, is the old code of iniquity; that sinking framework is the throne; that other framework, floating off, is the scaffold!
And for this immense engulfment, this supreme victory of life over death, what was needed? One glance from thee, O sun! one of thy rays, O liberty!
Charles-Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, born at Paris, on April 20, 1808, is the son of Hortense de Beauharnais, who was married by the Emperor to Louis-Napoleon, King of Holland. In 1831, taking part in the insurrections in Italy, where his elder brother was killed, Louis Bonaparte attempted to overthrow the Papacy. On the 30th of October, 1836, he attempted to overthrow Louis Philippe. He failed at Strasburg, and, being pardoned by the King, he embarked for America, leaving his accomplices behind him to be tried. On the 11th of November he wrote: “The King, in his clemency, has ordered me taken to America;” he declared himself “keenly affected by the King’s generosity,” adding: “Certainly, we were all culpable towards the government in taking up arms against it, but the greatest culprit was myself;” and he concluded thus: “I was guilty towards the government, and the government has been generous to me.”He returned from America, and went to Switzerland, got himself appointed captain of artillery at Berne, and a citizen of Salenstein, in Thurgovia; equally avoiding, amid the diplomatic complications occasioned by his presence, to call himself a Frenchman, or to avow himself a Swiss, and contenting himself, in order to satisfy the French government, with stating in a letter, dated the 20th of August, 1838, that he lived “almost alone,” in the house “where his mother died,” and that it was “his firm determination to remain quiet.”
On the 6th of August, 1840 he disembarked at Boulogne, parodying the disembarkation at Cannes, with the petit chapeau on his head,carrying a gilt eagle on the end of a flag-staff, and a live eagle in a cage, proclamations galore, and sixty valets, cooks, and grooms, disguised as French soldiers with uniforms bought at the Temple, and buttons of the 42nd Regiment of the Line, made in London. He scatters money among the passers-by in the streets of Boulogne, sticks his hat on the point of his sword, and himself cries, “Vive l’Empereur!” fires a pistol shot at an officer,which hits a soldier and knocks out three of his teeth, and finally runs away. He is taken into custody; there are found on his person 500,000 francs, in gold and bank-notes;the procureur-general, Franck-Carrè, says to him in the Court of Peers: “You have been tampering with the soldiers, and distributing money to purchase treason.” The peers sentenced him to perpetual imprisonment. He was confined at Ham. There his mind seemed to take refuge within itself and to mature: he wrote and published some books, instinct, notwithstanding a certain ignorance of France and of the age, with democracy and with progress: “The Extinction of Pauperism,” “An Analysis of the Sugar Question,” “Napoleonic Ideas,” in which he made the Emperor a “humanitarian.” In a treatise entitled “Historical Fragments,” he wrote thus: “I am a citizen before I am a Bonaparte.” Already in 1852, in his book “Political Reveries,” he had declared himself a republican. After five years of captivity, he escaped from the prison of Ham, disguised as a mason, and took refuge in England.
February arrived; he hailed the Republic, took his seat as a representative of the people in the Constituent Assembly, mounted the tribune on the 21st of September, 1848, and said: “All my life shall be devoted to strengthening the Republic;” published a manifesto which may be summed up in two lines: liberty, progress, democracy, amnesty, abolition of the decrees of proscription and banishment; was elected President by 5,500,000 votes, solemnly swore allegiance to the Constitution on the 20th of December, 1848, and on the 2nd of December, 1851, shattered that Constitution. In the interval he had destroyed the Roman republic, and had restored in 1849 that Papacy which in 1831 he had essayed to overthrow. He had, besides, taken nobody knows how great a share in the obscure affair of the lottery of the gold ingots. A few weeks previous to the coup d’état, this bag of gold became transparent, and there was visible within it a hand greatly resembling his. On December 2, and the following days, he, the executive power, assailed the legislative power, arrested the representatives, drove out the assembly, dissolved the Council of State, expelled the high court of justice, suppressed the laws, took 25,000,000 francs from the bank, gorged the army with gold, swept the streets of Paris with grape-shot, and terrorized France. Since then, he has proscribed eighty-four representatives of the people; stolen from the Princes of Orleans the property of their father, Louis Philippe, to whom he owed his life; decreed despotism in fifty-eight articles, under the name of Constitution; throttled the Republic; made the sword of France a gag in the mouth of liberty; pawned the railways; picked the pockets of the people; regulated the budget by ukase; transported to Africa and Cayenne ten thousand democrats; banished to Belgium, Spain, Piedmont, Switzerland, and England forty thousand republicans, brought grief to every heart and the blush of shame to every brow.
Louis Bonaparte thinks that he is mounting the steps of a throne; he does not perceive that he is mounting those of a scaffold.
Louis Bonaparte is a man of middle height, cold, pale, slow in his movements, having the air of a person not quite awake. He has published, as we have mentioned before, a moderately esteemed treatise on artillery, and is thought to be acquainted with the handling of cannon. He is a good horseman. He speaks drawlingly, with a slight German accent. His histrionic abilities were displayed at the Eglinton tournament. He has a heavy moustache, covering his smile, like that of the Duke of Alva, and a lifeless eye like that of Charles IX.
Judging him apart from what he calls his “necessary acts,” or his “great deeds,” he is a vulgar, commonplace personage, puerile, theatrical, and vain. Those persons who are invited to St. Cloud, in the summer, receive with the invitation an order to bring a morning toilette and an evening toilette. He loves finery, display, feathers, embroidery, tinsel and spangles, big words, and grand titles,—everything that makes a noise and glitter, all the glassware of power. In his capacity of cousin to the battle of Austerlitz, he dresses as a general. He cares little about being despised; he contents himself with the appearance of respect.
This man would tarnish the background of history; he absolutely sullies its foreground. Europe smiled when, glancing at Haiti, she saw this white Soulouque appear. But there is now in Europe, in every intelligent mind, abroad as at home, a profound stupor, a feeling, as it were, of personal insult; for the European continent, whether it will or no, is responsible for France, and whatever abases France humiliates Europe.
Before the 2nd of December, the leaders of the Right used freely to say of Louis Bonaparte: “He is an idiot.“ They were mistaken. To be sure that brain of his is awry, and has gaps in it, but one can discern here and there thoughts consecutive and concatenate. It is a book whence pages have been torn. Louis Napoleon has a fixed idea; but a fixed idea is not idiocy; he knows what he wants, and he goes straight to it; through justice, through law, through reason, through honour, through humanity, it may be, but straight on none the less.
He is not an idiot. He is a man of another age than our own. He seems absurd and mad, because he is out of his place and time. Transport him to Spain in the 16th century, and Philip II would recognise him; to England, and Henry VIII would smile on him; to Italy, and Cæsar Borgia would jump on his neck. Or even, confine yourself to setting him outside the pale of European civilization,—place him, in 1817, at Janina, and Ali-Tepeleni would grasp him by the hand.
There is in him something of the Middle Ages, and of the Lower Empire. That which he does would have seemed perfectly simple and natural to Michael Ducas, to Romanus Diogenes, to Nicephorus Botoniates, to the Eunuch Narses, to the Vandal Stilico, to Mahomet II, to Alexander VI, to Ezzelino of Padua, as it seems perfectly simple and natural to himself. But he forgets, or knows not, that in the age wherein we live, his actions will have to traverse the great streams of human morality, set free by three centuries of literature and by the French Revolution; and that in this medium, his actions will wear their true aspect, and appear what they really are—hideous.
His partisans—he has some—complacently compare him with his uncle, the first Bonaparte. They say: “The one accomplished the 18th Brumaire, the other the 2nd of December: they are two ambitious men.” The first Bonaparte aimed to reconstruct the Empire of the West, to make Europe his vassal, to dominate the continent by his power, and to dazzle it by his grandeur; to take an arm-chair himself, and give footstools to the kings; to cause history to say: “Nimrod, Cyrus, Alexander, Hannibal, Cæsar, Charlemagne, Napoleon;” to be a master of the world. And so he was. It was for that that he accomplished the 18th Brumaire. This fellow would fain have horses and women, be called Monseigneur, and live luxuriously. It was for this that he accomplished the 2nd of December. Yes: they are both ambitious; the comparison is just.
Let us add, that, like the first Bonaparte, the second also aims to be emperor. But that which somewhat impairs the force of the comparison is, that there is perhaps, a slight difference between conquering an empire and pilfering it.
However this may be, that which is certain and which cannot be veiled, even by the dazzling curtain of glory and of misfortune on which are inscribed: Arcola, Lodi, the Pyramids, Eylau, Friedland, St. Helena—that which is certain, we repeat, is that the 18th Brumaire was a crime, of which the 2nd of December has aggravated the stain on the memory of Napoleon.
M. Louis Bonaparte does not object to have it whispered that he is a socialist. He feels that this gives him a sort of vague field which ambition may exploit. As we have already said, when he was in prison, he passed his time in acquiring a quasi-reputation as a democrat. One fact will describe him. When, being at Ham, he published his book “On the Extinction of Pauperism,” a book having apparently for its sole and exclusive aim, to probe the wound of the poverty of the common people, and to suggest the remedy, he sent the book to one of his friends with this note, which we have ourselves seen: “Read this book on pauperism, and tell me if you think it is calculated to do me good.”
The great talent of M. Louis Bonaparte is silence. Before the 2nd of December, he had a council of ministers who, being responsible, imagined that they were of some consequence. The President presided. Never, or scarcely ever, did he take part in their discussions. While MM. Odillon Barrot, Passy, Tocqueville, Dufaure, or Faucher were speaking, he occupied himself, says one of these ministers, in constructing, with intense earnestness, paper dolls, or in drawing men’s heads on the documents before him.
To feign death, that is his art. He remains mute and motionless, looking in the opposite direction from his object, until the hour for action comes; then he turns his head, and leaps upon his prey. His policy appears to you abruptly, at some unexpected turning, pistol in hand, like a thief. Up to that point, there is the least possible movement. For one moment, in the course of the three years that have just passed, he was seen face to face with Changarnier, who also, on his part, had a scheme in view. “Ibant obscuri,” as Virgil says. France observed, with a certain anxiety, these two men. What was in their minds? Did not the one dream of Cromwell, the other of Monk? Men asked one another these questions as they looked on the two men. In both of them, there was the same attitude of mystery, the same policy of immobility. Bonaparte said not a word, Changarnier made not a gesture; this one did not stir, that one did not breathe; they seemed to be playing the game of which should be the most statuesque.
This silence of his, Louis Bonaparte sometimes breaks; but then he does not speak, he lies. This man lies as other men breathe. He announces an honest intention; be on your guard: he makes an assertion, distrust him: he takes an oath, tremble.
Machiavel made small men; Louis Bonaparte is one of them.
To announce an enormity against which the world protests, to disavow it with indignation, to swear by all the gods, to declare himself an honest man,—and then, at the moment when people are reassured, and laugh at the enormity in question, to execute it. This was his course with respect to the coup d’état, with respect to the decrees of proscription, with respect to the spoliation of the Princes of Orleans;—and so it will be with the invasion of Belgium, and of Switzerland, and with everything else. It is his way; you may think what you please of it; he employs it; he finds it effective; it is his affair. He will have to settle the matter with history.
You are of his familiar circle; he hints at a project, which seems to you, not immoral,—one does not scrutinize so closely,—but insane and dangerous, and dangerous to himself; you raise objections; he listens, makes no reply, sometimes gives way for a day or two, then resumes his project, and carries out his will.
There is in his table, in his office at the Élysée, a drawer, frequently half open. He takes thence a paper; reads it to a minister; it is a decree. The minister assents or dissents. If he dissents, Louis Bonaparte throws the paper back into the drawer, where there are many other papers, the dreams of an omnipotent man, shuts the drawer, takes out the key, and leaves the room without saying a word. The minister bows and retires, delighted with the deference which has been paid to his opinion. Next morning the decree is in the Moniteur.
Sometimes with the minister’s signature.
Thanks to this modus operandi, he has always in his service the unforeseen, a mighty weapon, and encountering in himself no internal obstacle in that which is known to other men as conscience, he pursues his design, through no matter what, no matter how, and attains his goal.
He draws back sometimes, not before the moral effect of his acts, but before their material effect. The decrees of expulsion of eighty-four representatives of the people, published on January 6 in the Moniteur, revolted public sentiment. Fast bound as France was, the shudder was perceptible. The 2nd of December was not long past; there was danger in popular excitement. Louis Bonaparte understood this. Next day a second decree of expulsion was to have appeared, containing eight hundred names. Louis Bonaparte had the proof brought to him from the Moniteur; the list occupied fourteen columns of the official journal. He crumpled the proof, threw it into the fire, and the decree did not appear. The proscriptions proceeded without a decree.
In his enterprises, he needs aids and collaborators; he needs what he calls “men.” Diogenes sought them with a lantern, he seeks them with a banknote in his hand. And finds them. There are certain sides of human nature which produce a particular species of persons, of whom he is the centre, and who group around him ex necessitate
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