The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

Chapter ii.

The Proceedings of the Committee

As soon as it was daylight we had assembled in the house of our imprisoned colleague, M. Grévy. We had been installed in his private room. Michel de Bourges and myself were seated near the fireplace; Jules Favre and Carnot were writing, the one at a table near the window, the other at a high desk. The Left had invested us with discretionary powers. It became more and more impossible at every moment to meet together again in session. We drew up in its name and remitted to Hingray, so that he might print it immediately, the following decree, compiled on the spur of the moment by Jules Favre:—

“FRENCH REPUBLIC.

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

“The undersigned Representatives of the People who still remain at
liberty, having met together in an Extraordinary Permanent Session,
considering the arrest of the majority of their colleagues, considering
the urgency of the moment;

“Seeing that the crime of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte in violently
abolishing the operations of the Public Powers has reinstated the
Nation in the direct exercise of its sovereignty, and that all which
fetters that sovereignty at the present time should he annulled;

“Seeing that all the prosecutions commenced, all the sentences
pronounced, by what right soever, on account of political crimes or
offences are quashed by the imprescriptible right of the People;

“DECREE:

“ARTICLE I. All prosecutions which have begun, and all sentences which
have been pronounced, for political crimes or offences are annulled as
regards all their civil or criminal effects.

“ARTICLE II. Consequently, all directors of jails or of houses of
detention are enjoined immediately to set at liberty all persons
detained in prison for the reasons above indicated.

“ARTICLE III. All magistrates’ officers and officers of the judiciary
police are similarly enjoined, under penalty of treason, to annul all
the prosecutions which have been begun for the same causes.

“ARTICLE IV. The police functionaries and agents are charged with the
execution of the present decree.

“Given at Paris, in Permanent Session, on the 4th December, 1851.”

Jules Favre, as he passed me the decree for my signature, said to me, smiling, “Let us set your sons and your friends at liberty.” “Yes,” said I, “four combatants the more on the barricades.” The Representative Duputz, a few hours later, received from our hands a duplicate of the decree, with the charge to take it himself to the Concièrgerie as soon as the surprise which we premeditated upon the Prefecture of Police and the Hôtel de Ville should have succeeded. Unhappily this surprise failed.

Landrin came in. His duties in Paris in 1848 had enabled him to know the whole body of the political and municipal police. He warned us that he had seen suspicious figures roving about the neighborhood. We were in the Rue Richelieu, almost opposite the Théâtre Français, one of the points where passers-by are most numerous, and in consequence one of the points most carefully watched. The goings and comings of the Representatives who were communicating with the Committee, and who came in and out unceasingly, would be inevitably noticed, and would bring about a visit from the Police. The porters and the neighbors already manifested an evil-boding surprise. We ran, so Landrin declared and assured us, the greatest danger. “You will be taken and shot,” said he to us.

He entreated us to go elsewhere. M. Grévy’s brother, consulted by us, stated that he could not answer for the people of his house.

But what was to be done? Hunted now for two days, we had exhausted the goodwill of nearly everybody, one refuge had been refused on the preceding evening, and at this moment no house was offered to us. Since the night of the 2d we had changed our refuge seventeen times, at times going from one extremity of Paris to the other. We began to experience some weariness. Besides, as I have already said, the house where we were had this signal advantage — a back outlet upon the Rue Fontaine–Molière. We decided to remain. Only we thought we ought to take precautionary measures.

Every species of devotion burst forth from the ranks of the Left around us. A noteworthy member of the Assembly — a man of rare mind and of rare courage — Durand–Savoyat — who from the preceding evening until the last day constituted himself our doorkeeper, and even more than this, our usher and our attendant, himself had placed a bell on our table, and had said to us, “When you want me, ring, and I will come in.” Wherever we went, there was he. He remained in the ante-chamber, calm, impassive, silent, with his grave and noble countenance, his buttoned frock coat, and his broad-brimmed hat, which gave him the appearance of an Anglican clergyman. He himself opened the entrance door, scanned the faces of those who came, and kept away the importunate and the useless. Besides, he was always cheerful, and ready to say unceasingly, “Things are looking well.” We were lost, yet he smiled. Optimism in Despair.

We called him in. Landrin set forth to him his misgivings. We begged Durand–Savoyat in future to allow no one to remain in the apartments, not even the Representatives of the People, to take note of all news and information, and to allow no one to penetrate to us but men who were indispensable, in short, as far as possible, to send away every one in order that the goings and comings might cease. Durand–Savoyat nodded his head, and went back into the ante-chamber, saying, “It shall be done.” He confined himself of his own accord to these two formulas; for us, “Things are looking well,” for himself, “It shall be done.” “It shall be done,” a noble manner in which to speak of duty.

Landrin and Durand–Savoyat having left, Michel de Bourges began to speak.

“The artifice of Louis Bonaparte, imitator of his uncle in this as in everything,” said Michel de Bourges, “had been to throw out in advance an appeal to the People, a vote to be taken, a plebiscitum, in short, to create a Government in appearance at the very moment when he overturned one. In great crises, where everything totters and seems ready to fall, a People has need to lay hold of something. Failing any other support, it will take the sovereignty of Louis Bonaparte. Well, it was necessary that a support should be offered to the people, by us, in the form of its own sovereignty. The Assembly,” continued Michel de Bourges, “was, as a fact, dead. The Left, the popular stump of this hated Assembly, might suffice for the situation for a few days. No more. It was necessary that it should be reinvigorated by the national sovereignty. It was therefore important that we also should appeal to universal suffrage, should oppose vote to vote, should raise erect the Sovereign People before the usurping Prince, and should immediately convoke a new Assembly.” Michel de Bourges proposed a decree.

Michel de Bourges was right. Behind the victory of Louis Bonaparte could be seen something hateful, but something which was familiar — the Empire; behind the victory of the Left there was obscurity. We must bring in daylight behind us. That which causes the greatest uneasiness to people’s imagination is the dictatorship of the Unknown. To convoke a new Assembly as soon as possible, to restore France at once into the hands of France, this was to reassure people’s minds during the combat, and to rally them afterwards; this was the true policy.

For some time, while listening to Michel de Bourges and Jules Favre, who supported him, we fancied we heard, in the next room, a murmur which resembled the sound of voices. Jules Favre had several times exclaimed, “Is any one there?”

“It is not possible,” was the answer. “We have instructed Durand–Savoyat to allow no one to remain there.” And the discussion continued. Nevertheless the sound of voices insensibly increased, and ultimately grew so distinct that it became necessary to see what it meant. Carnot half opened the door. The room and the ante-chamber adjoining the room where we were deliberating were filled with Representatives, who were peaceably conversing.

Surprised, we called in Durand–Savoyat.

“Did you not understand us?” asked Michel de Bourges.

“Yes, certainly,” answered Durand–Savoyat.

“This house is perhaps marked,” resumed Carnot; “we are in danger of being taken.”

“And killed upon the spot,” added Jules Favre, smiling with his calm smile.

“Exactly so,” answered Durand–Savoyat, with a look still quieter than Jules Favre’s smile. “The door of this inner room is shrouded in the darkness, and is little noticeable. I have detained all the Representatives who have come in, and have placed them in the larger room and in the ante-chamber, whichever they have wished. A species of crowd has thus been formed. If the police and the troops arrive, I shall say to them, ‘Here we are.’ They will take us. They will not perceive the door of the inner room, and they will not reach you. We shall pay for you. If there is any one to be killed, they will content themselves with us.”

And without imagining that he had just uttered the words of a hero, Durand–Savoyat went back to the antechamber.

We resumed our deliberation on the subject of a decree. We were unanimously agreed upon the advantage of an immediate convocation of a New Assembly. But for what date? Louis Bonaparte had appointed the 20th of December for his Plebiscitum; we chose the 21st. Then, what should we call this Assembly? Michel de Bourges strongly advocated the title of “National Convention,” Jules Favre that its name should be “Constituent Assembly,” Carnot proposed the title of “Sovereign Assembly,” which, awakening no remembrances, would leave the field free to all hopes. The name of “Sovereign Assembly” was adopted.

The decree, the preamble of which Carnot insisted upon writing from my dictation, was drawn up in these terms. It is one of those which has been printed and placarded.

“DECREE.

“The crime of Louis Bonaparte imposes great duties upon the
Representatives of the People remaining at liberty.

“Brute force seeks to render the fulfilment of these duties impossible.

“Hunted, wandering from refuge to refuge, assassinated in the streets,
the Republican Representatives deliberate and act, notwithstanding the
infamous police of the coup d’état.

“The outrage of Louis Napoleon, in overturning all the Public Powers,
has only left one authority standing — the supreme authority — the
authority of the people: Universal Suffrage.

“It is the duty of the Sovereign People to recapture and reconstitute
all the social forces which to-day are dispersed.

“Consequently, the Representatives of the People decree:—

“ARTICLE I. — The People are convoked on the 21st December, 1851, for
the election of a Sovereign Assembly.

“ARTICLE II. — The election will take place by Universal Suffrage,
according to the formalities determined by the decree of the
Provisional Government of March 5, 1848.

“Given at Paris, in Permanent Session, December 4, 1851.”

As I finished signing this decree, Durand–Savoyat entered and whispered to me that a woman had asked for me, and was waiting in the ante-chamber. I went out to her. It was Madame Charassin. Her husband had disappeared. The Representative Charassin, a political economist, an agriculturist, a man of science, was at the same time a man of great courage. We had seen him on the preceding evening at the most perilous points. Had he been arrested? Madame Charassin came to ask me if we knew where he was. I was ignorant. She went to Mazas to make inquiries for him there. A colonel who simultaneously commanded in the army and in the police, received her, and said, “I can only permit you to see your husband on one condition.” “What is that?” “You will talk to him about nothing.” “What do you mean Nothing?” “No news, no politics.” “Very well.” “Give me your word of honor.” And she had answered him, “How is it that you wish me to give you my word of honor, since I should decline to receive yours?”

I have since seen Charassin in exile.

Madame Charassin had just left me when Théodore Bac arrived. He brought us the protest of the Council of State.

Here it is:—

“PROTEST OF THE COUNCIL OF STATE.

“The undersigned members of the Council of State, elected by the
Constituent and Legislative Assemblies, having assembled together,
notwithstanding the decree of the 2d of December, at their usual place,
and having found it surrounded by an armed force, which prohibited their
access thereto, protest against the decree which has pronounced the
dissolution of the Council of State, and declare that they only ceased
their functions when hindered by force.

“Paris, this 3d December, 1851.

“Signed: BETHMONT, VIVIEN, BUREAU DE PUZY, ED. CHARTON, CUVIER, DE
RENNEVILLE, HORACE SAY, BOULATIGNIER, GAUTIER DE RUMILLY, DE JOUVENCEL,
DUNOYER, CARTERET, DE FRESNE, BOUCHENAY-LEFER, RIVET, BOUDET, CORMENIN,
PONS DE L’HERAULT.”

Let us relate the adventure of the Council of State.

Louis Bonaparte had driven away the Assembly by the Army, and the High Court of Justice by the Police; he expelled the Council of State by the porter.

On the morning of the 2d of December, at the very hour at which the Representatives of the Right had gone from M. Daru’s to the Mairie of the Tenth Arrondissement, the Councillors of State betook themselves to the Hotel on the Quai d’Orsay. They went in one by one.

The quay was thronged with soldiers. A regiment was bivouacking there with their arms piled.

The Councillors of State soon numbered about thirty. They set to work to deliberate. A draft protest was drawn up. At the moment when it was about to be signed the porter came in, pale and stammering. He declared that he was executing his orders, and he enjoined them to withdraw.

Upon this several Councillors of State declared that, indignant as they were, they could not place their signatures beside the Republican signatures.

A means of obeying the porter.

M. Bethmont, one of the Presidents of the Council of State, offered the use of his house. He lived in the Rue Saint–Romain. The Republican members repaired there, and without discussion signed the protocol which has been given above.

Some members who lived in the more distant quarters had not been able to come to the meeting. The youngest Councillor of State, a man of firm heart and of noble mind, M. Edouard Charton, undertook to take the protest to his absent colleagues.

He did this, not without serious risk, on foot, not having been able to obtain a carriage, and he was arrested by the soldiery and threatened with being searched, which would have been highly dangerous. Nevertheless he succeeded in reaching some of the Councillors of State. Many signed, Pons de l’Hérault resolutely, Cormenin with a sort of fever, Boudet after some hesitation. M. Boudet trembled, his family were alarmed, they heard through the open window the discharge of artillery. Charton, brave and calm, said to him, “Your friends, Vivien, Rivet, and Stourm have signed.” Boullet signed.

Many refused, one alleging his great age, another the res angusta domi, a third “the fear of doing the work of the Reds.” “Say ‘fear,’ in short,” replied Charton.

On the following day, December 3d, MM. Vivien and Bethmont took the protest to Boulay de la Meurthe, Vice–President of the Republic, and President of the Council of State, who received them in his dressing-gown, and exclaimed to them, “Be off! Ruin yourselves, if you like, but without me.”

On the morning of the 4th, M. de Cormenin erased his signature, giving this unprecedented but authentic excuse: “The word ex-Councillor of State does not look well in a book; I am afraid of injuring my publisher.”

Yet another characteristic detail. M. Béhic, on the morning of the 2d, had arrived while they were drawing up the protest. He had half opened the door. Near the door was standing M. Gautier de Rumilly, one of the most justly respected members of the Council of State. M. Béhic had asked M. Gautier de Rumilly, “What are they doing? It is a crime. What are we doing?” M. Gautier de Rumilly had answered, “A protest.” Upon, this word M. Béhic had reclosed the door, and had disappeared. He reappeared later on under the Empire — a Minister.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38