Sivut kuvina

them to despair—is to force them to adopt, under other conductors, a different conduct and other political maxims. Besides, what they affirm here by a vague instinct, it is our duty to desire by a profound examination of the situation.

"The situation is both strange and novel. If the election of the President of the Republic had taken place at the natural period pointed out by the Constitution, that is on May 12, 1849, the Presidential powers would have survived those of this Assembly by one year; and it is only in 1861, after a twelve years' trial, that the fact of the head of the Executive power and the Legislative Assembly ceasing at the same time their functions would have been witnessed. But by the accidental effect of the law of October 28, 1848, a law called for by article 116 of the Constitution, the President was elected on December 10, 1848, and will nevertheless have arrived at the end of his magistracy in the course of May next. Thus, in the same month, and within a few days' distance of each other, the Executive power and the Legislative power will change hands. Assuredly, never will a great people, as yet ill prepared for the use of Republican liberty, have been cast all at once by the law itself into such a hazard; never will a youthful Constitution have been subjected to so rude a trial. And in what country of the globe is this total . eclipse of the Government to take place? Amongst that people which, although it has more frequently overturned its Government perhaps than any other, feels more than any other the want of being governed Even if the peril

were only in the imaginations of the citizens, is it very certain that it would be the less great? If its .only effect were to over-excite the culpable hopes of some persons, and to push to an extreme the apprehensions of the greater number, would that itself not be a great peril—the greatest, perhaps, of all those which are to be dreaded? If we do not hasten to come to the aid of the people in the occurrence which appears to it, with reason, so extraordinary and so critical, who will insure to us that that people, in the excess of its anxiety, will not attempt to save itself by having recourse to some irregular proceeding, more dangerous than all the rest? . . . . The nation was surprised by the events of February. On that day it was discontented, but was not yet revolutionary. Sixty years of novelties, of agitation, and of political labours, had fatigued it; it had not yet had time to rest itself completely, when the unexpected fall of the Monarch of July precipitated it into one of the most singular, if not one of the most violent, crises of its long revolution. It was necessary for it, in spite of itself, to enter the arena, to do violence to its new habits, to neglect the affairs and the works to which it had given its heart, and to return against its wish to the field of revolutions, and there to fight. It did so with a courage and a resignation which were admirable—with a sustained energy and a practical wisdom of which its detractors did not consider it capable, and which will be to its eternal honour among men. It has succeeded, for it has momentarily put down faction, and vanquished anarchy. But it has only succeeded in this at the price of much time, of sacrifices, of struggles, of anguish, and of losses. To-day again the nation is weary; but at the same time again disquieted and agitated. Is it not to be feared that, in that moment of anxiety and anguish which may arise at the last moment, the electors may find themselves driven, not by enthusiasm for a name or for a man, but by terror of the inconnu, the horror of anarchy, to maintain illegally, and by a sort of popular assault, the executive power in the hands which now hold it?

"The mode of Presidential election established by the Constitution itself facilitates as far as it can do this revolutionary and mischievous result. A great nation, spread over a very large space—a nation in which the sphere of the executive power is almost without limit, and in which the only representative of that power is elected by the universality of the citizens voting directly and separately, without having had any means of becoming enlightened, of acquiring information, or of coming to an understanding,—that is a state of things, we do not fear to say so, which has never been seen in any nation on the earth. The only country in the world which offers anything analogous is America. But see what a prodigious difference! In America direct and universal suffrage is the common law; only one exception to this great principle has been introduced, and it applies precisely to the election of the President. The President of the United States of America emanates also from universal suffrage, but not directly. And still the duties of the Executive power in the Union, compared with what it is and always will be

in France, notwithstanding all that may be done, is small; notwithstanding that in that country, where the Republic existed, it may be said, since its origin under the Monarchy, in its habits, ideas, and manners, and where it had rather to appear than to be born—in that country, they have not ventured to entrust the election of the representative and of the executive power to the direct and universal vote. The power to be elected appeared still too great, and, above all, too remote from the elector, to allow him to make an enlightened and mature choice. The American nation only elects delegates, who choose a President. These delegates represent, no doubt, the general spirit of the country, its tendencies, its tastes, and frequently its passions and prejudices; but they are, at least, possessed with knowledge, which the people could not have. They can form to themselves a precise idea of the general wants of the country and of its real perils, know the candidates, compare them with each other, weigh, and choose that which each citizen, in the depths of his home and frequently of his ignorance, in the midst of the labours and pre-occupations of private life, is incapable of doing. Thus we have seen, within the last sixty years, the Americans frequently keep out of the first magistracy of the Republic citizens well known, and frequently very illustrious, to choose men who were comparatively obscure, but who answered better to the political necessities of the moment. If the danger of universal and direct circumstances in such a matter had moved the legislators of the United States, how much more ought it to strike us—we who live in a country where the great majority of the citizens have not yet acquired the habit of occupying themselves with political affairs, who never think of such things excepting by accident, and who do not know, even by name, the greater portion of those who conduct, or think they conduct, the public affairs; and who besides have sufficiently contracted the passions which democracy suggests not to like to place at the head of the Government an equal, and who have not acquired enough of the light and experience which democratic nations require to enable them to perform the duties which devolve on them! Where was there, with the exception perhaps of the famous demagogues whose interested and violent passions designate and recommend, or princes whose birth makes them conspicuous at a distance—where was the personage whose name could easily arrive at the knowledge and fix itself easily in the memory of the million of rural electors who cover the surface of France, if it were not that of the man by whom the public power has been exercised for years, who has personified, during a long time, in the eyes of each citizen, that central administration which with us is to be seen everywhere, which is felt in everything, and which is to be discovered every day without being sought for?

"Yet does any one believe that the only consequence of an unconstitutional election would be the abolition of an article in the Constitution? No; the whole Constitution would be upset, and France would be once more delivered up to the caprices of the crowd and the chances of force. Is it not to be feared that in the intestine war

which would arise, that party which is the natural and common enemy of all Government would appear and remain the master? If, therefore, nothing but a great crisis can result from the status quo, and if such crisis must lead almost of necessity either to usurpation or anarchy, and in every case to the ruin of the Republic and perhaps of liberty, honest and gravely pmdering men will doubtless conclude, that among the many formidable dangers of the future the convocation of a Constituent is the lesser. Such is the opinion of the majority of the Committee.

"But of what sort shall the revision be, partial or total? There was a semblance of maintaining," said the report, referring to arguments used by General Cavaignae, "that the Republican principle in France is now above every law; that no person can deprive the citizens of the inseparable right of self-government, or fetter future generations, by founding a system of government which from its nature was, or pretended to be, immortal. These ideas were rejected by a very large majority of the Committee. We cannot for a moment admit that out of the pale of the moral world, which is no more subject to the. empire of the majority than to that of kings, there can be anything which is not to be under the sovereignty of the people, particularly in a country where that sovereignty is the principle of the laws and their sanction; that a nation can be eternally held back, and as if bound hands and feet, in spite of itself, in the political forms which it might deem contrary to its habits, its way of thinking, its grandeur, and its happiness.

"On the other hand, the Com

mittee have not felt at liberty to put forward for decision the question of Republic or Monarchy. They agreed that they have not the right, even if they had the desire, to propose to the nation to quit the Republic. Nor has the Assembly the right to impose the Republic as a general formula of government on the next Constituent. In fact, there would be something puerile in attempting to enchain beforehand the decisions of a sovereign assembly, which absorbs within itself all the powers, and which exercises all; for the Constitution, foreseeing that two National' Assemblies could not sit at the same time, took care to declare that the Constituent, independently of its natural labours, should have the faculty of passing urgent laws. How could an Assembly which was not originally named to occupy itself with the Constitution, and which, besides, has already more than two years' existence, pretend to limit an Assembly issuing from the people, and which has just received the national will?

"The representatives are, however, the natural counsellors of the nation—the only political men in a position to judge the ensemble of affairs, the natural wants of the country, the state of parties, and what can and cannot be done. It will neither be wise nor honest in them to shrink from the office. The Committee therefore, by a majority of nine to six, adopts the motion submitted by its President, M. de Broglie, that the following resolution be recommended to the Assembly:—

•' 'The Legislative Assembly, having considered the 11 lth article of the Constitution, expresses a wish that the Constitution should

be revised in totality, conformably to the said article.'"

"But, contemplating the possibility that in spite of all legal efforts towards unanimity by dignified and honest concession, the necessary votes for a legal revision might not be given, they recommend that the Assembly should at all events express its firm conviction that unconstitutional measures would be criminal, and its determination that the Constitution must be strictly and universally obeyed."

The report concluded thus :— "You have arrived at one of those solemn, and, happily, rare epochs in the life of nations, when an Assembly whose powers are about to expire, but which is still master of itself and of the future, holds in its hand the destinies of a whole people, and may by a word cause them to weigh down on one side or on the other. Whatever resolution you may come to, we may be sure beforehand that much of the good or of the evil which is in store for a long time to come will be justly attributed to it. We shall earn the approval or the censure not only of those who this day anxiously await our decisions, but also of the next generation. In the presence of so terrible and so long a responsibility, every one, doubtless, will forget his private interests, his passions of the moment, his rivalries, his hatreds, his very friendships, to think only of his country and of history."

A long but not very interesting debate took place upon this report, which lasted several days, and in the course of it M. Victor Hugo made a bitter and sarcastic speech, and was called to order by the President, M. Dupin, for insulting the Assembly and the President of the Republic. The discussion closed on the 19th of July, when the result was that out of 724 members, 446 voted for revision, and 278 against it. The majority being 97 short of the required three-fourths of the whole votes, the motion for revision was lost.

Among those who voted against the revision were, Generals Cavaignae, Bedeau, Lamoriciere, and Changarnier; MM. Thiers, de Remusat, de Lamartine, Piscatory, and Creton; among the Legitimists, , MM. Leo de Labord and Larochejaquelein.

On the 21st M. de Melun presented a report on the petitions for revision, in which he complained that undue influence had been exercised by the prefects and functionaries in some departments in getting up petitions. A special order of the day was forthwith moved by M. Baze, censuring the Government; and it was carried by 333 to 32U.

Upon this defeat the Ministry tendered their resignations to the President, but he refused to accept them; and they retained office for nearly three months longer.

On the 10th of August the Assembly was prorogued; a Committee of Permanence having been first appointed as usual, to act on behalf of the Assembly during the recess.

It will be remembered that in the month of May last year, an Electoral Law was passed which, by imposing the qualification of domiciliary residence for a certain . time previous to voting, considerably abridged the number of electors throughout the kingdom. This measure had been introduced with the full concurrence and support of the President at the time,

and was deemed by all friends of order a salutary modification of the right of universal suffrage. Now, however, the views of Louis Napoleon were different. He saw that it was impossible to expect in the Assembly a sufficient majority to effect a revision of the Constitution by a fundamental law of which he was excluded from being a candidate for the Presidency at the expiration of his term of office, and that his only chance was an overwhelming demonstration in his favour by the people, with the lower masses of whom he was unquestionably the favourite. He therefore became extremely anxious to repeal the Electoral Law of May, 1850, and exerted all his influence to induce his Ministry to acquiesce in his views. They, however, refused to be parties to such a measure, and the dissension between them and the chief of the State became such, that on the 14th of October, after a Cabinet Council had been held, all the Ministers tendered their resignations, which the President accepted.

A fortnight now elapsed before a new Cabinet could be formed. M. Billault made the attempt and failed, and the President again had recourse to a provisional Ministry.

The crisis was at length terminated by the appearance in the lloniteur, on the 27th of October, of the following list of the new Ministry:—

Interior—M. Tiburce de Thorigny, formerly Advocate-General of the Court of Appeal at Paris, in the room of M. Leon Faucher.

Foreign Affairs—M. Turgot, exPeer of France, in the room of M. Baroche.

« EdellinenJatka »