Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

executive possessed no power to provide for the public safety. The choice was anarchy or despotism. The fact is not to be disguised that Louis Napoleon was under no obligation to shelter the French from the consequences of their perversity. As simply President of the Republic, he was at liberty to resign office if circumstances shewed that his rule was no longer practicable or acceptable. That is the strictly logical view of the matter. Why, then, did he not retire from his mfortless position, and leave France to its fate? We can only understand that, by taking an irregular step, he hoped to avert the threatened dissolution of society. He seemed to perceive that there was but one course to follow for this purposema coup d'état. The resolution once formed, the measures necessary to give it effect were framed with a completeness and precision which insured success.

On the night of December i the prince president held a grand reception at the Elysée. When the citizens of Paris awoke on the 2d, they found' a presidential decree posted on the walls announcing the step which had been taken; and also proclamations addressed to the people, calling on them to affirm or negative the step. The Assembly was declared to be dissolved, and universal suffrage reestablished. In his address to the nation, the president said : • Persuaded that the instability of the government and the preponderance of a single Assembly are permanent causes of trouble and disorder, I submit to your wills the following basis of a constitution: 1. A responsible head, named for two years. 2. Ministers dependent on the executive power alone. 3. A council of state formed of the most eminent men, preparing the laws, and supporting the discussion of them before the legislative body. 4. A legislative body discussing and voting laws, and to be nominated by universal suffrage without scrutin de liste, which falsifies the election. 5. A second Assembly, formed of all the eminent men in the country, a preponderating power, guardian of the fundamental compact and of public liberties.

“The system founded by the First Consul at the commencement of the century has already given to France repose and prosperity ; and it would again guarantee them to it. Such is my profound conviction. If you share in it, declare it by your suffrages. If, on the contrary, you prefer a government without strength, monarchical or republican, borrowed from I know not what past, or from some chimerical future, reply negatively. Thus, then, for the first time since 1804, you will vote with a knowledge of what you are doing, knowing well for whom and what. If I do not obtain the majority of your suffrages, I will then call for the meeting of a new Assembly, and I will give up the charge which I have received from you. But if you believe that the cause, of which my name is the symbol--that is to say, France regenerated by the Revolution of '89, and organised by the emperor—is still your own, proclaim it by consecrating the powers which I ask from you. Then will France and Europe be preserved from anarchy; obstacles will be removed, rivalries will have disappeared, for all will respect, in the decision of the people, the decree of Providence.'

Such was the famous coup d'état, a step which, according to some persons, was one of unmixed treachery, fraud, injustice, and spoliation; but which others regard as not only necessary in the state of parties and the general 'dead-lock' to which the government had come, but also as one of the wisest and most salutary measures that have ever been recorded in history, and thoroughly justified by the good results which followed on its adoption.

Early in the morning, a number of officers, deputies, and other individuals who were likely to offer resistance to the object in view, were arrested. Several members of the Assembly, who, on going to the chamber, found it occupied by troops, met at the mairie of the tenth arrondissement, were bidden to disperse, and on refusing to do so, were placed under arrest. On the two following days, some blood was shed in the streets of Paris, in repressing the first symptoms of a Socialistic outbreak. But this summary proceeding averted still greater evils; and it is certain that had it not been executed thus suddenly, the streets of Paris once more would have run red with blood.

The next step was to ascertain, by universal suffrage, the real verdict of the nation at large upon the important measures which the president had found it necessary to take for the interests of the country. On the 20th and 21st, the vote was taken by ballot, and the coup d'état was approved by a majority of votes, still more overwhelming than that which had raised the prince to the presidential chair-namely, 7,439,219 against 640,737.

On the 16th of the following month of January (1852), the official journal of Paris contained a proclamation in which the president laid down the heads of the new constitution. The system now inaugurated was that of the Empire, the grand principle of the constitution being the responsibility of the head of the state to the people of France—in a word, to the national will. It was but a revival of the design of the first Napoleon, with slight modifications; and the prince avowed that with its adoption his own most ardent hopes would be fulfilled, and his ómission' be 'accomplished.?

The imperial system being thus inaugurated, Louis Napoleon at once commenced a series of measures for the encouragement of industry and of public works, which have always been a conspicuous feature in his policy, as they were in that of his uncle. France soon began to feel the benefits of the change. Vigour, energy, and consistency of action took the place of inertness, distraction, and discord both in the city and the provinces. Commerce gradually revived, and industry began to flourish.

The year 1852 was pre-eminently one of revival and progress

6

throughout France, and these benefits were largely increased by the heartiness and sincerity of the pacific policy which the prince adopted in all his dealings with England. Meantime, though grateful for the benefits which it had already begun to reap from the adoption of the imperial system, the nation felt one ground of uneasiness in the thought that as yet the power which wielded it was not as complete and permanent as was desirable. An imperial system without an imperial head was an anomaly. _In a word, the mind of the people went on from the idea of the Empire' to-that which it logically implied-an "emperor.' Accordingly, wherever and whenever the prince appeared in public, he found himself addressed by municipal and other bodies in terms which implied a desire that the Empire should be fully restored in his person. In the autumn, his tour or progress was one continuous ovation, and the crowds of all classes, ranks, and sexes as with one voice exclaimed :

Vive l'empereur!'. On his return to Paris, deputations, addresses, memorials from every part of France, poured in upon him at the Tuileries, demanding formally 'the restoration of the Empire.'

It was not likely that Louis Napoleon would long hesitate to accept the gift thus forced upon him, the end and aim as it had been of his every aspiration in exile or in prison, at home or abroad. He convoked the Senate, and communicated to it the national desire, expressing his own strong wish that the constitution of 1852 should be maintained as the basis of the Empire. He laid down also the memorable maxim, L'Empire c'est la Paix; and publicly declared that while the re-establishment of that form of government

satisfied the just pride of the nation, it also enabled France nobly to avenge its former reverses without shedding any blood, or making a single victim, or threatening the peace of the world.

On the 25th of November he addressed the Legislative Assembly in similar terms, begging it also to 'attest the spontaneous nature of that national movement which was bearing him to the imperial crown. An appeal on the question forthwith made to the country, as before, by universal suffrage, shewed the following result of votes: affirmative, 7,864,180 ; negative or neutral, 316,471. History records no more marked example of unity in the expression of a national feeling. Deeply impressed with the sense of the responsibilities of his position, the emperor elect declared that nothing cheered him so much as the perfect concord of the national voice. In order to aid you, sire, in this great work,' said the president of the legislative body, 'France surrounds you with all her sympathies; she commits herself freely to you. Take then, sire, from the hands of France, that glorious crown which in our person she offers you. Never has a royal brow worn one more legitimate or more popular.'

Unwilling to seem to ignore the title, regular though ephemeral, of his cousin, the Duc de Reichstadt, the prince took the oath of loyalty to France under the title of Napoleon III. ; and then,

[ocr errors]

6

the one

addressing the Senate, he said: “Assist me, messieurs, all of you, to establish in this land, harassed by so many revolutions, a stable government, based on religion, justice, and probity, and on the love of the humbler classes. And here receive my oath that I will use every exertion to insure the prosperity of the country; and that, whilst maintaining peace, I will never yield anything which affects the honour and dignity of France.'

Early in the following year, he gave a proof of his belief that the country with whose destinies he had always identified himself so closely had at length attained an assured and secure position. On the 22d of January following (1853), he announced to the Senate his intention to marry the Countess Eugénie de Theba, a lady of princely though scarcely of royal descent, and in whose veins flowed some of the best blood of Spain and Scotland. In announcing to the Senate his marriage, he paid a graceful tribute to the memory of the Empress Josephine, the first consort of his uncle, as woman, not the issue of royal blood, but modest and good, who alone seemed to bring happiness, and to live more than all others in the memory of the people ;' and then he proceeded as follows : ‘She who has been the object of my preference is of princely descent. French in heart, by education, and the recollection of the blood shed by her father in the cause of the Empire, she has, as a Spaniard, the advantage of not having in France a family to whom it might be necessary to give honours

and fortune. Endowed with all the qualities of the mind, she will be the ornament of the throne. In the day of danger, she would be one of its courageous supporters. A Catholic, she will address to Heaven the same prayers with me for the happiness of France. In fine, by her grace and her goodness, she will, I firmly hope, endeavour to revive in the same position the virtues of the Empress Josephine.'

Without delay the emperor proceeded to the cathedral of NotreDame in state, and presented the empress to the people and the army. The marriage was celebrated in the midst of_general rejoicing at Notre-Dame, on the 29th of the same month. The only issue of the marriage, as our readers are aware, is a son, known as the ' Prince Imperial, who was born at the Tuileries on the 16th of March 1856, and baptised by the name of Napoleon-EugèneLouis-Jean-Joseph.

The rest of the history of the French emperor is so thoroughly mixed up with the history of the people over whom he rules, and in its chief events it stands in such close proximity to the days in which we live, that we are obliged to content ourselves with the briefest possible outline of its leading features.

Towards the close of 1853, rumours arose of a difficulty that had arisen between Russia and Turkey, which threatened to increase and spread until it assumed the proportions of a European war, and involved the western powers as well as the eastern. The

Emperor Nicholas made overtures to France (as indeed he had done to England) to settle 'Turkey comfortably by a private understanding or arrangement. But the emperor, who had always declared himself most desirous of being at peace with England, most honourably refused to act in concert with Russia or to desert his ally; and joining his policy and his forces with those of Great Britain early in the following year, he heartily united with England in its crusade against the spread of the Russian power in the Black Sea and the Baltic. Jointly with England he sent out an army to the Crimea, Marshal St Arnaud, and, after his death, Marshal Pelissier being united in the command with Lord Raglan, and after his death, with Generals Simpson and Codrington. His troops joined heart and soul with England in the battle of the Alma and the siege of Sebastopol, and fought side by side with the English flag at Inkermann and Balaklava. With England they stormed the Redan and the Malakoff, and in perfect concert with England, the emperor made peace with Russia, when the objects of that war had been fully attained. While that war was still pending, in the early summer of 1855, the emperor and his empress paid a state visit to London and Windsor. And it may be supposed that an immense change had come over the feelings of the English people in the interim, when we state that the visit of that same individual who was regarded with suspicion and almost with hatred by our countrymen in 1852, as president, was greeted in 1855 with a hearty festivity-not a mere outward display of courtly hospitality, but really and truly with a popular ovation. The merchant princes of London addressed him formally, as men of business expressing their sense of the benefits which had arisen from the imperial policy, and their sincere hope for the continuance of those blessings. In his reply the emperor said: 'I am grateful that your Queen has allowed me such an opportunity of paying my respects to her, and of shewing my sentiments of sympathy and esteem towards the English people. I hope that the two nations will always continue united in peace as in war; for I am convinced it will be for the welfare of the whole world and for their own prosperity.'

Scarcely had he quitted our shores and returned to France when Englishmen learned, with horror and disgust, that the emperor's life, on which the peace of the world so greatly depended, had been attempted by an assassin; and we then began to realise how valuable was the life of so faithful an ally, not only to France, but to England and the world.

On the 30th of March in the following year (1856) peace with Russia was signed at the Tuileries between the plenipotentiaries of the eastern and the western powers; and it was not without good reason that our government declared in parliament that 'the happy termination of a season of trial, suffering, and sacrifice must be ascribed in a very great measure to the cordial co-operation and

« ForrigeFortsæt »