The Representatives, having come out from M. Daru, rejoined each other and assembled in the street. There they consulted briefly, from group to group. There were a large number of them. In less than an hour, by sending notices to the houses on the left bank of the Seine alone, on account of the extreme urgency, more than three hundred members could be called together. But where should they meet? At Lemardelay’s? The Rue Richelieu was guarded. At the Salle Martel? It was a long way off. They relied upon the Tenth Legion, of which General Lauriston was colonel. They showed a preference for the Mairie of the Tenth Arrondissement. Besides, the distance was short, and there was no need to cross any bridges.
They formed themselves into column, and set forth.
M. Daru, as we have said, lived in the Rue de Lille, close by the Assembly. The section of the Rue de Lille lying between his house and the Palais Bourbon was occupied by infantry. The last detachment barred his door, but it only barred it on the right, not on the left. The Representatives, on quitting M. Daru, bent their steps on the side of the Rue des Saints-Pères, and left the soldiers behind them. At that moment the soldiers had only been instructed to prevent their meeting in the Palace of the Assembly; they could quietly form themselves into a column in the street, and set forth. If they had turned to the right instead of to the left, they would have been opposed. But there were no orders for the other alternative; they passed through a gap in the instructions.
An hour afterwards this threw St. Arnaud into a fit of fury.
On their way fresh Representatives came up and swelled the column. As the members of the Right lived for the most part in the Faubourg St. Germain, the column was composed almost entirely of men belonging to the majority.
At the corner of the Quai d’Orsay they met a group of members of the Left, who had reunited after their exit from the Palace of the Assembly, and who were consulting together. There were the Representatives Esquiros, Marc Dufraisse, Victor Hennequin, Colfavru, and Chamiot.
Those who were marching at the head of the column left their places, went up to the group, and said, “Come with us.”
“Where are you going?” asked Marc Dufraisse.
To the Mairie of the Tenth Arrondissement.”
“What do you intend to do there?”
“To decree the deposition of Louis Bonaparte.”
“Afterwards we shall go in a body to the Palace of the Assembly; we will force our way in spite of all resistance, and from the top of the steps we will read out the decree of deposition to the soldiers.”
“Very good, we will join you,” said Mare Dufraisse.
The five members of the Left marched at some distance from the column. Several of their friends who were mingled with the members of the Right rejoined them; and we may here mention a fact without giving it more importance than it possesses, namely, that the two fractions of the Assembly represented in this unpremeditated gathering marched towards the Mairie without being mingled together; one on each side of the street. It chanced that the men of the majority kept on the right side of the street, and the men of the minority on the left.
No one had a scarf of office. No outward token caused them to be recognized. The passers-by stared at them with surprise, and did not understand what was the meaning of this procession of silent men through the solitary streets of the Faubourg St. Germain. One district of Paris was as yet unaware of the coup d’état.
Strategically speaking, from a defensive point of view, the Mairie of the tenth Arrondissement was badly chosen. Situated in a narrow street in that short section of the Rue de Grenelle–St.-Germain which lies between the Rue des Saints-Pères and the Rue du Sépulcre, close by the cross-roads of the Croix–Rouge, where the troops could arrive from so many different points, the Mairie of the Tenth Arrondissement, confined, commanded, and blockaded on every side, was a pitiful citadel for the assailed National Representation. It is true that they no longer had the choice of a citadel, any more than later on they had the choice of a general.
Their arrival at the Mairie might have seemed a good omen. The great gate which leads into a square courtyard was shut; it opened. The post of the National Guards, composed of some twenty men, took up their arms and rendered military honors to the Assembly. The Representatives entered, a Deputy Mayor received them with respect on the threshold of the Mairie. “The Palace of the Assembly is closed by the troops,” said the Representatives, “we have come to deliberate here.” The Deputy Mayor led them to the first story, and admitted them to the Great Municipal Hall. The National Guard cried, “Long live the National Assembly!”
The Representatives having entered, the door was shut. A crowd began to gather in the street and shouted “Long live the Assembly!” A certain number of strangers to the Assembly entered the Mairie at the same time as the Representatives. Overcrowding was feared, and two sentries were placed at a little side-door, which was left open, with orders only to allow members of the Assembly who might come afterwards to enter. M. Howyn Tranchère stationed himself at this door, and undertook to identify them.
On their arrival at the Mairie, the Representatives numbered somewhat under three hundred. They exceeded this number later on. It was about eleven o’clock in the morning. All did not go up at once into the hall where the meeting was to take place. Several, those of the Left in particular, remained in the courtyard, mingling with the National Guards and citizens.
They talked of what they were going to do.
This was the first difficulty.
The Father of the meeting was M. de Kératry.
Was he going to preside?
The Representatives who were assembled in the Great Hall were in his favor.
The Representatives remaining in the courtyard hesitated.
Marc Dufraisse went up to MM. Jules de Lasteyrie and Léon de Maleville, who had stayed behind with the Representatives of the Left, and said to them, “What are they thinking of upstairs? To make Kératry President? The name of Kératry would frighten the people as thoroughly as mine would frighten the middle classes.”
A member of the Right, M. de Keranflech, came up, and intending to support the objection, added, “And then, think of Kératry’s age. It is madness to pit a man of eighty against this hour of danger.”
But Esquiros exclaimed —
“That is a bad reason! Eighty years! They constitute a force.”
“Yes; where they are well borne,” said Colfavru. “Kératry bears them badly.”
“Nothing is greater,” resumed Esquiros, “than great octogenarians.”
“It is glorious,” added Chamiot, “to be presided over by Nestor.”
“No, by Gerontes,”5 said Victor Hennequin.
These words put an end to the debate. Kératry was thrown out. MM. Léon de Maleville and Jules de Lasteyrie, two men respected by all parties, undertook to make the members of the Right listen to reason. It was decided that the “bureau”6 should preside. Five members of the “bureau” were present; two Vice–Presidents, MM. Benoist d’Azy and Vitet, and three Secretaries, MM. Griumult, Chapot, and Moulin. Of the two other Vice–Presidents, one, General Bedrau, was at Mazas; the other, M. Daru, was under guard in his own house. Of the three other Secretaries, two, MM. Peapin and Lacaze, men of the Elysée, were absentees; the other, M. Yvan, a member of the Left, was at the meeting of the Left, in the Rue Blanche, which was taking place almost at the same moment.
In the meantime an usher appeared on the steps of the Mairie, and cried out, as on the most peaceful days of the Assembly, “Representatives, to the sitting!”
This usher, who belonged to the Assembly, and who had followed it, shared its fortunes throughout this day, the sequestration on the Quai d’Orsay included.
At the summons of the usher all the Representatives in the courtyard, and amongst whom was one of the Vice–Presidents, M. Vitei, went upstairs to the Hall, and the sitting was opened.
This sitting was the last which the Assembly held under regular conditions. The Left, which, as we have seen, had on its side boldly recaptured the Legislative power, and had added to it that which circumstances required — as was the duty of Revolutionists; the Left, without a “bureau,” without an usher, and without secretaries, held sittings in which the accurate and passionless record of shorthand was wanting, but which live in our memories and which History will gather up.
Two shorthand writers of the Assembly, MM. Grosselet and Lagache, were present at the sitting at the Mairie of the Tenth Arrondissement. They have been able to record it. The censorship of the victorious coup d’état has mutilated their report and has published through its historians this mangled version as the true version. One lie more. That does not matter. This shorthand recital belongs to the brief of the 2d December, it is one of the leading documents in the trial which the future will institute. In the notes of this book will be found this document complete. The passages in inverted commas are those which the censorship of M. Bonaparte has suppressed. This suppression is a proof of their significance and importance.
Shorthand reproduces everything except life. Stenography is an ear. It hears and sees not. It is therefore necessary to fill in here the inevitable blanks of the shorthand account.
In order to obtain a complete idea of this sitting of the Tenth Arrondissement, we must picture the great Hall of the Mairie, a sort of parallelogram, lighted on the right by four or five windows overlooking the courtyard; on the left, along the wall, furnished with several rows of benches which had been hastily brought thither, on which were piled up the three hundred Representatives, assembled together by chance. No one was sitting down, those in front were standing, those behind were mounted on the benches. Here and there were a few small tables. In the centre people walked to and fro. At the bottom, at the end opposite the door, was a long table furnished with benches, which occupied the whole width of the wall, behind which sat the “bureau.” “Sitting” is merely the conventional term. The “bureau” did not “sit;” like the rest of the Assembly it was on its feet. The secretaries, M.M. Chapot, Moulin, and Grimault wrote standing. At certain moments the two Vice–Presidents mounted on the benches so as to be better seen from all points of the room. The table was covered by an old green tablecloth, stained with ink, three or four inkstands had been brought in, and a quire of paper was scattered about. There the decrees were written as soon as they were drawn up. They multiplied the copies, some Representatives became secretaries on the spur of the moment, and helped the official secretaries.
This great hall was on a level with the landing. It was situated, as we have said, on the first floor; it was reached by a very narrow staircase.
We must recollect that nearly the whole of the members present were members of the Right.
The first moment was a serious one. Berryer came out to advantage. Berryer, like all those extemporizers without style, will only be remembered as a name, and a much disputed name, Berryer having been rather a special pleader than an orator who believed what he said. On that day Berryer was to the point, logical and earnest. They began by this cry, “What shall we do?” “Draw up a declaration,” said M. de Falloux. “A protest,” said M. de Flavigny. “A decree,” said Berryer.
In truth a declaration was empty air, a protest was noise, a decree was action. They cried out, “What decree?” “Deposition,” said Berryer. Deposition was the extreme limit of the energy of the Right. Beyond deposition, there was outlawry; deposition was practicable for the Right, outlawry was only possible for the Left. In fact it was the Left who outlawed Louis Bonaparte. They did it at their first meeting in the Rue Blanche. We shall see this later on. At deposition, Legality came to an end; at outlawry, the Revolution began. The recurrence of Revolutions are the logical consequences of coups d’état. The deposition having been voted, a man who later on turned traitor, Quentin Bauchart, exclaimed, “Let us all sign it.” All signed it. Odilon Barrot came in and signed it. Antony Thouret came in and signed it. Suddenly M. Piscatory announced that the Mayor was refusing to allow Representatives who had arrived to enter the Hall. “Order him to do so by decree,” said Berryer. And the decree was voted. Thanks to this decree, MM. Favreau and Monet entered; they came from the Legislative Palace; they related the cowardice of Dupin. M. Dahirel, one of the leaders of the Right, was exasperated, and said, “We have received bayonet thrusts.” Voices were raised, “Let us summon the Tenth Legion. Let the call to arms be beaten. Lauriston hesitates. Let us order him to protect the Assembly.” “Let us order him by decree,” said Berryer. This decree was drawn up, which, however, did not prevent Lauriston from refusing. Another decree, again proposed by Berryer, pronounced any one who had outraged the Parliamentary inviolability to be a traitor, and ordered the immediate release of those Representatives who had been wrongfully made prisoners. All this was voted at once without debate, in a sort of great unanimous confusion, and in the midst of a storm of fierce conversations. From time to time Berryer imposed silence. Then the angry outcries broke forth again. “The coup d’état will not dare to come here.” “We are masters here.” “We are at home.” “It would be impossible to attack us here.” “These wretches will not dare to do so.” If the uproar had been less violent, the Representatives might have heard through the open windows close at hand, the sound of soldiers loading their guns.
A regiment of Chasseurs of Vincennes had just entered silently into the garden of the Mairie, and, while waiting for orders, were loading their guns.
Little by little the sitting, at first disorderly and tumultuous, had assumed an ordinary aspect. The uproar had relapsed into a murmur. The voice of the usher, crying “Silence, gentlemen,” had succeeded in overcoming the hubbub. Every moment fresh Representatives came in, and hastened to sign the decree of deposition at the “bureau.” As there was a great crowd round the “bureau” waiting to sign, a dozen loose sheets of paper to which the Representatives affixed their signatures were circulated in the great Hall and the two adjoining rooms.
The first to sign the decree of deposition was M. Dufaure, the last was M. Betting de Lancastel. Of the two Presidents, one, M. Benoist d’Azy, was addressing the Assembly; the other, M. Vitet, pale, but calm and resolute, distributed instructions and orders. M. Benoist d’Azy maintained a decorous countenance, but a certain hesitation in his speech revealed an inner agitation. Divisions, even in the Right, had not disappeared at this critical moment. A Legitimist member was overheard saying in a low voice, while speaking of one of the Vice–Presidents, “This great Vitet looks like a whited sepulchre.” Vitet was an Orleanist.
Given this adventurer with whom they had to deal, this Louis Bonaparte, capable of everything, the hour and the man being wrapt in mystery, some Legitimist personages of a candid mind were seriously but comically frightened. The Marquis of — — who acted the fly on the coach-wheel to the Right, went hither and thither, harangued, shouted, declaimed, remonstrated, proclaimed, and trembled. Another, M. A—— N— — perspiring, red-faced, out of breath, rushed about distractedly. “Where is the guard? How many men are there? Who commands them? The officer! send me the officer! Long live the Republic! National Guard, stand firm! Long live the Republic!” All the Right shouted this cry. “You wish then to kill it,” said Esquiros. Some of them were dejected; Bourbousson maintained the silence of a vanquished placeman. Another, the Viscount of — — a relative of the Duke of Escars, was so alarmed that every moment he adjourned to a corner of the courtyard. In the crowd which filled the courtyard there was a gamin of Paris, a child of Athens, who has since become am elegant and charming poet, Albert Glatigny. Albert Glatigny cried out to this frightened Viscount, “Hulloa there! Do you think that coups d’état are extinguished in the way Gulliver put out the fire?”
Oh, Laughter, how gloomy you are when attended with Tragedy!
The Orleanists were quieter, and maintained a more becoming attitude. This arose from the fact that they ran greater danger.
Pascal Duprat replaced at the top of the decrees the words, “République Française,” which had been forgotten.
From time to time men who were not speaking on the subject of the moment mentioned this strange word, “Dupin,” open which there ensued shouts of derision and bursts of laughter. “Utter the name of that coward no more,” cried Antony Thouret.
There were motions and counter-motions; it was a continual uproar interrupted by deep and solemn silences. Alarmist phrases circulated from group to group. “We are in a blind alley.” “We are caught here as in a rat trap;” and then on each motion voices were raised: “That is it!” “It is right!” “It is settled!” They agreed in a low voice upon a rendezvous at No. 19, Rue de la Chaussée-d’Antin, in case they should be expelled from the Mairie. M. Bixio carried off the decree of deposition to get it printed. Esquiros, Marc Dufraisse, Pascal Duprat, Rigal, Lherbette, Chamiot, Latrade, Colfavru, Antony Thouret, threw in here and there energetic words of advice. M. Dufaure, resolute and indignant, protested with authority. M. Odilon Barrot, motionless in a corner, maintained the silence of stupefied silliness.
MM. Passy and de Tocqueville, in the midst of the groups, described that when they were Ministers they had always entertained an uneasy suspicion of a coup d’état, and that they clearly perceived this fixed idea in the brain of Louis Bonaparte. M. de Tocqueville added, “I said to myself every night, ‘I lie down to sleep a Minister; what if I should awake a prisoner?’” Some of those men who were termed “men of order,” muttered while signing the degree of deposition, “Beware of the Red Republic!” and seemed to entertain an equal fear of failure and of success. M. de Vatimesnil pressed the hands of the men of the Left, and thanked them for their presence. “You make us popular,” said he. And Antony Thouret answered him, “I know neither Right nor Left to-day; I only see the Assembly.”
The younger of the two shorthand writers handed their written sheets to the Representatives who had spoken, and, asked them to revise them at once, saying, “We shall not have the time to read them over.” Some Representatives went down into the street, and showed the people copies of the decree of deposition, signed by the members of the “bureau.” One of the populace took one of these copies, and cried out, “Citizens! the ink is still quite wet! Long live the Republic!”
The Deputy–Mayor stood at the door of the Hall; the staircase was crowded with National Guards and spectators. In the Assembly several had penetrated into the Hall, and amongst them the ex-Constituent Beslay, a man of uncommon courage. It was at first wished to turn them out, but they resisted, crying, “This is our business. You are the Assembly, but we are the People.” “They are right,” said M. Berryer.
M. de Falloux, accompanied by M. de Kéranflech, came up the Constituent Beslay, and leaned by his side on the stove, saying to him, “Good-day, colleague;” and reminded him that they both had formed part of the Committee of the National Workshops, and that they had together visited the Workmen at the Parc Monceaux. The Right felt themselves falling; they became affectionate towards Republicans. The Republic is called To-morrow.
Each spoke from his place; this member upon a bench, that member on a chair, a few on the tables. All contradictory opinions burst forth at once. In a corner some ex-leaders of “order” were scared at the possible triumph of the “Reds.” In another the men of the Right surrounded the men of the Left, and asked them: “Are not the faubourgs going to rise?”
The narrator has but one duty, to tell his story; he relates everything, the bad as well as the good. Whatever may have taken place, however, and notwithstanding all these details of which it was our duty to speak, apart from the exceptions which we had mentioned, the attitude of the men of the Right who composed the large majority of this meeting was in many respects honorable and worthy. Some of them, as we have just mentioned, even prided themselves upon their resolution and their energy, almost as though they had wished to rival the members of the Left.
We may here remark — for in the course of this narrative we shall more than once see the gaze of some members of the Right turned towards the people, and in this no mistake should be made — that these monarchical men who talked of popular insurrection and who invoked the faubourgs were a minority in the majority — an imperceptible minority. Antony Thouret proposed to those who were leaders there to go in a body through the working-class neighborhoods with the decree of deposition in their hands. Brought to bay, they refused. They declared that they would only protect themselves by organized powers, not by the people. It is a strange thing to say, but it must be noted, that with their habits of political shortsightedness, the popular armed resistance, even in the name of the Law, seemed sedition to them. The utmost appearance of revolution which they could endure was a regiment of the National Guard, with their drums at their head; they shrank from the barricade; Right in a blouse was no longer Right, Truth armed with a pike was no longer Truth, Law unpaving a street gave them the impression of a Fury. In the main, however, and taking them for what they were, and considering their position as politicians, these members of the Right were well-advised. What would they have done with the people? And what would the people have done with them? How would they have proceeded to set fire to the masses? Imagine Falloux as a tribune, fanning the Faubourg St. Antoine into a flame!
Alas! in the midst of this dense gloom, in these fatal complications of circumstances by which the coup d’état profited so odiously and so perfidiously, in that mighty misunderstanding which comprised the whole situation, for kindling the revolutionary spark in the heart of the people, Danton himself would not have sufficed.
The coup d’état entered into this meeting impudently, with its convict’s cap on its head. It possessed an infamous assurance there, as well as everywhere else. There were in this majority three hundred Representatives of the People. Louis Napoleon sent a sergeant to drive them away. The Assembly, having resisted the sergeant, he sent an officer, the temporary commander of the sixth battalion of the Chasseurs de Vincennes. This officer, young, fair-haired, a scoffer, half laughing, half threatening, pointed with his finger to the stairs filled with bayonets, and defied the Assembly. “Who is this young spark?” asked a member of the Right. A National Guard who was there said, “Throw him out of the window!” “Kick him downstairs!” cried one of the people.
This Assembly, grievous as were its offences against the principles of the Revolution — and with these wrongs Democracy alone had the right to reproach it — this Assembly, I repeat, was the National Assembly, that is to say, the Republic incarnate, the living Universal Suffrage, the Majesty of the Nation, upright and visible. Louis Bonaparte assassinated this Assembly, and moreover insulted it. A slap on the face is worse than a poniard thrust.
The gardens of the neighborhood occupied by the troops were full of broken bottles. They had plied the soldiers with drink. They obeyed the “epaulettes” unconditionally, and according to the expression of eyewitnesses, appeared “dazed-drunk.” The Representatives appealed to them, and said to them, “It is a crime!” They answered, “We are not aware of it.”
One soldier was heard to say to another, “What have you done with your ten francs of this morning?”
The sergeants hustled the officers. With the exception of the commander, who probably earned his cross of honor, the officers were respectful, the sergeants brutal.
A lieutenant showing signs of flinching, a sergeant cried out to him, “You are not the only one who commands here! Come, therefore, march!”
M. de Vatimesnil asked a soldier, “Will you dare to arrest us — us, the Representatives of the People?”
“Assuredly!” said the soldier.
Several soldiers hearing some Representatives say that they had eaten nothing since the morning, offered them their ration bread. Some Representatives accepted. M. de Tocqueville, who was unwell, and who was noticed to be pale and leaning on the sill of a window, received from a soldier a piece of this bread, which he shared with M. Chambolle.
Two Commissaries of Police appeared in “full dress,” in black coats girded with their sash-girdles and their black corded hats. One was an old man, the other a young man. The first was named Lemoine–Tacherat, and not Bacherel, as has been wrongly printed: the second was named Barlet. These names should be noted. The unprecedented assurance of this Barlet was remarked. Nothing was wanting in him — cynical speech, provoking gesture, sardonic intonation. It was with an inexpressible air of insolence that Barlet, when summoning the meeting to dissolve itself, added, “Rightly or Wrongly.” They murmured on the benches of the Assembly, “Who is this scoundrel?” The other, compared to him, seemed moderate and inoffensive. Emile Péan exclaimed, “The old man is simply working in his profession, but the young man is working out his promotion.”
Before this Tacherat and this Barlet entered, before the butts of the muskets had been heard ringing on the stones of the staircase, this Assembly had talked of resistance. Of what kind of resistance? We have just stated. The majority could only listen to a regular organized resistance, a military resistance in uniform and in epaulets. Such a resistance was easy to decree, but it was difficult to organize. The Generals on whom the Assembly were accustomed to rely having been arrested, there only remained two possible Generals, Oudinot and Lauriston. General Marquis de Lauriston, ex-peer of France, and at the same time Colonel of the Tenth Legion and Representative of the People, drew a distinction between his duty as Representative and his duty as Colonel. Summoned by some of his friends of the Right to beat to arms and call together the Tenth Legion, he answered, “As Representative of the People I ought to indict the Executive Power, but as Colonel I ought to obey it.” It appears that he obstinately shut himself up in this singular reasoning, and that it was impossible to draw him out of it.
“How stupid he is!” said Piscatory.
“How sharp he is!” said Falloux.
The first officer of the National Guard who appeared in uniform, seemed to be recognized by two members of the Right, who said, “It is M. de Perigord!” They made a mistake, it was M. Guilbot, major of the third battalion of the Tenth Legion. He declared that he was ready to march on the first order from his Colonel, General Lauriston. General Lauriston went down into the courtyard, and came up a moment afterwards, saying, “They do not recognize my authority. I have just resigned,” Moreover, the name of Lauriston was not familiar to the soldiers. Oudinot was better known in the army. But how?
At the moment when the name of Oudinot was pronounced, a shudder ran through this meeting, almost exclusively composed of members of the Right. In fact at this critical time, at this fatal name of Oudinot, reflections crowded upon each other in every mind.
What was the coup d’état?
It was the “Roman expedition at home.” Which was undertaken against whom? Against those who had undertaken the “Roman expedition abroad.” The National Assembly of France, dissolved by violence, could find only one single General to defend it in its dying hour. And whom? Precisely he, who in the name of the National Assembly of France had dissolved by violence the National Assembly of Rome. What power could Oudinot, the strangler of a Republic, possess to save a Republic? Was it not evident that his own soldiers would answer him, “What do you want with us? That which we have done at Rome we now do at Paris.” What a story is this story of treason! The French Legislature had written the first chapter with the blood of the Roman Constituent Assembly: Providence wrote the second chapter with the blood of the French Legislature, Louis Bonaparte holding the pen.
In 1849, Louis Bonaparte had assassinated the sovereignty of the People in the person of its Roman Representatives; in 1851 he assassinated it in the person of its French Representatives. It was logical, and although it was infamous, it was just. The Legislative Assembly bore at the same time the weight of two crimes; it was the accomplice of the first, the victim of the second. All these men of the majority felt this, and were humbled. Or rather it was the same crime, the crime of the Second of July, 1849, ever erect, ever alive, which had only changed its name, which now called itself the Second of December, and which, the offspring of this Assembly, stabbed it to the heart. Nearly all crimes are parricidal. On a certain day they recoil upon those who have committed them, and slay them.
At this moment, so full of anxiety, M. de Falloux must have glanced round for M. de Montalembert. M. de Montalembert was at the Elysée.
When Tamisier rose and pronounced this terrifying word, “The Roman Question?” distracted M. de Dampierre shouted to him, “Silence! You kill us!”
It was not Tamisier who was killing them — it was Oudinot.
M. de Dampierre did not perceive that he cried “Silence!” to history.
And then without even reckoning the fatal remembrance which at such a moment would have crushed a man endowed in the highest degree with great military qualities, General Oudinot, in other respects an excellent officer, and a worthy son of his brave father, possessed none of those striking qualities which in the critical hour of revolution stir the soldier and carry with them the people. At that instant to win back an army of a hundred thousand men, to withdraw the balls from the cannons’ mouths, to find beneath the wine poured out to the Praetorians the true soul of the French soldier half drowned and nearly dead, to tear the flag from the coup d’état and restore it to the Law, to surround the Assembly with thunders and lightnings, it would have needed one of those men who exist no longer; it would have needed the firm hand, the calm oratory, the cold and searching glance of Desaix, that French Phocion; it would have needed the huge shoulders, the commanding stature, the thundering voice, the abusive, insolent, cynical, gay, and sublime eloquence of Kléber, that military Mirabeau. Desaix, the countenance of a just man, or Kléber, the face of the lion! General Oudinot, little, awkward, embarrassed, with an indecisive and dull gaze, red cheeks, low forehead, with grizzled and lank hair, polite tone of voice, a humble smile, without oratory, without gesture, without power, brave before the enemy, timid before the first comer, having assuredly the bearing of a soldier, but having also the bearing of a priest; he caused the mind to hesitate between the sword and the taper; he had in his eyes a sort of “Amen!”
He had the best intentions in the world, but what could he do? Alone, without prestige, without true glory, without personal authority, and dragging Rome after him! He felt all this himself, and he was as it were paralyzed by it. As soon as they had appointed him he got upon a chair and thanked the Assembly, doubtless with a firm heart, but with hesitating speech. When the little fair-haired officer dared to look him in the face and insult him, he, holding the sword of the people, he, General of the sovereign Assembly, he only knew how to stammer out such wretched phrases as these, “I have just declared to you that we are unable, ‘unless compelled and constrained,’ to obey the order which prohibits us from remaining assembled together.” He spoke of obeying, he who ought to command. They had girded him with his scarf, and it seemed to make him uncomfortable. He inclined his head alternately first to one shoulder and then to the other; he held his hat and cane in his hand, he had a benevolent aspect. A Legitimist member muttered in a low voice to his neighbor, “One might imagine he was a bailiff speechifying at a wedding.” And his neighbor, a Legitimist also, replied, “He reminds me of the Duc d’Angoulême.”
What a contrast to Tamisier! Tamisier, frank, earnest confident, although a mere Captain of Artillery, had the bearing of a General. Had Tamisier, with his grave and gentle countenance, high intelligence, and dauntless heart, a species of soldier-philosopher, been better known, he could have rendered decisive services. No one can tell what would have happened if Providence had given the soul of Tamisier to Oudinot, or the epaulets of Oudinot to Tamisier.
In this bloody enterprise of December we failed to find a General’s uniform becomingly worn. A book might be written on the part which gold lace plays in the destiny of nations.
Tamisier, appointed Chief of the Staff some instants before the invasion of the hall, placed himself at the disposal of the Assembly. He was standing on a table. He spoke with a resonant and hearty voice. The most downcast became reassured by this modest, honest, devoted attitude. Suddenly he drew himself up, and looking all that Royalist majority in the face, exclaimed, “Yes, I accept the charge you offer me. I accept the charge of defending the Republic! Nothing but the Republic! Do you perfectly understand?”
A unanimous shout answered him. “Long live the Republic!”
“Ah!” said Beslay, “the voice comes back to you as on the Fourth of May.”
“Long live the Republic! Nothing but the Republic!” repeated the men of the Right, Oudinot louder than the others. All arms were stretched towards Tamisier, every hand pressed his. Oh Danger! irresistible converter! In his last hour the Atheist invokes God, and the Royalist the Republic. They cling to that which they have repudiated.
The official historians of the coup d’état have stated that at the beginning of the sitting two Representatives had been sent by the Assembly to the Ministry of the Interior to “negotiate.” What is certain is that these two Representatives had no authority. They presented themselves, not on behalf of the Assembly, but in their own name. They offered themselves as intermediaries to procure a peaceable termination of the catastrophe which had begun. With an honesty which bordered on simplicity they summoned Morny to yield himself a prisoner, and to return within the law, declaring that in case of refusal the Assembly would do its duty, and call the people to the defence of the Constitution and of the Republic. Marny answered them with a smile, accompanied by these plain words, “If you appeal to arms, and if I find any Representatives on the barricades, I will have them all shot to the last man.”
The meeting in the Tenth Arrondissement yielded to force. President Vitet insisted that they should forcibly arrest him. A police agent who seized him turned pale and trembled. In certain circumstances, to lay violent hands upon a man is to lay them upon Right, and those who dare to do so are made to tremble by outraged Law. The exodus from the Mairie was long and beset with obstructions. Half-an-hour elapsed while the soldiers were forming a line, and while the Commissaries of Police, all the time appearing solely occupied with the care of driving back the crowd in the street, sent for orders to the Ministry of the Interior. During that time some of the Representatives, seated round a table in the great Hall, wrote to their families, to their wives, to their friends. They snatched up the last leaves of paper; the pens failed; M. de Luynes wrote to his wife a letter in pencil. There were no wafers; they were forced to send the letters unsealed; some soldiers offered to post them. M. Chambolle’s son, who had accompanied his father thus far, undertook to take the letters addressed to Mesdames de Luynes, de Lasteyrie, and Duvergier de Hauranne. General Forey — the same who had refused a battalion to the President of the Constituent Assembly, Marrast, who had promoted him from a colonel to a general — General Forey, in the centre of the courtyard of the Mairie, his face inflamed, half drunk, coming out, they said, from breakfast at the Elysée, superintended the outrage. A member, whose name we regret we do not know, dipped his boot into the gutter and wiped it along the gold stripe of the regimental trousers of General Forey. Representative Lherbette came up to General Forey, and said to him, “General, you are a coward.” Then turning to his colleagues, he exclaimed, “Do you hear? I tell this general that he is a coward.” General Forey did not stir. He kept the mud on his uniform and the epithet on his cheek.
The meeting did not call the people to arms. We have just explained that it was not strong enough to do so; nevertheless, at the last moment, a member of the Left, Latrade, made a fresh effort. He took M. Berryer aside, and said to him, “Our official measures of resistance have come to an end; let us not allow ourselves now to be arrested. Let us disperse throughout the streets crying, ‘To arms!’” M. Berryer consulted a few seconds on the matter with the Vice–President, M. Benoist d’Azy, who refused.
The Deputy Mayor, hat in hand, reconducted the members of the Assembly as far as the gate of the Mairie. As soon as they appeared in the courtyard ready to go out between two lines of soldiers, the post of National Guards presented arms, acid shouted, “Long live the Assembly! Long live the Representatives of the People!” The National Guards were at once disarmed, almost forcibly, by the Chasseurs de Vincennes.
There was a wine-shop opposite the Mairie. As soon as the great folding gates of the Mairie opened, and the Assembly appeared in the street, led by General Forey on horseback, and having at its head the Vice–President Vitet, grasped by the necktie by a police agent, a few men in white blouses, gathered at the windows of this wine-shop, clapped their hands and shouted, “Well done! down with the ‘twenty-five francs!’"7
They set forth.
The Chasseurs de Vincennes, who marched in a double line on each side of the prisoners, cast at them looks of hatred. General Oudinot said in a whisper, “These little infantry soldiers are terrible fellows. At the siege of Rome they flung themselves at the assault like madmen. These lads are very devils.” The officers avoided the gaze of the Representatives. On leaving the Mairie, M. de Coislin passed by an officer and exclaimed, “What a disgrace for the uniform!” the officer retaliated with angry words, and incensed M. de Coislin. Shortly afterwards, during the march, he came up to M. de Coislin and said to him, “Sir, I have reflected; it is I who am wrong.”
They proceeded on the way slowly. At a few steps from the Mairie the precession met M. Chegaray. The Representatives called out to him, “Come!” He answered, while making an expressive gesture with his hands and his shoulders, “Oh! I dare say! As they have not arrested me. . . . ” and he feigned as though he would pass on. He was ashamed, however, and went with them. His name is found in the list of the roll-call at the barracks.
A little further on M. de Lespérut passed them. They cried out to him. “Lespérut! Lespérut!” “I am with you,” answered he. The soldiers pushed him back. He seized the butt-ends of the muskets, and forced his way into the column.
In one of the streets through which they went a window was opened. Suddenly a woman appeared with a child; the child, recognizing its father amongst the prisoners, held out its arms and called to him, the mother wept in the background.
It was at first intended to take the Assembly in a body straight to Mazas, but this was counter-ordered by the Ministry of the Interior. It was feared that this long walk, in broad daylight, through populous and easily aroused streets, might prove dangerous; the D’Orsay barracks were close at hand. They selected these as a temporary prison.
One of the commanders insolently pointed out with his sword the arrested Representatives to the passers-by, and said in a fond voice, “These are the Whites, we have orders to spare them. Now it is the turn of the Red Representatives, let them look out for themselves!”
Wherever the procession passed, the populace shouted from the pavements, at the doors, at the windows, “Long live the National Assembly!” When they perceived a few Representatives of the Left sprinkled in the column they cried, “Vive la République!” “Vive la Constitution!” and “Vive la Loi!” The shops were not shut, and passers-by went to and fro. Some people said, “Wait until the evening; this is not the end of it.”
A staff-officer on horseback, in full uniform, met the procession, recognized M. de Vatimesnil, and came up to greet him. In the Rue de Beaune, as they passed the house of the Démocratic Pacifique a group shouted, “Down with the Traitor of the Elysée!”
On the Quai d’Orsay, the shouting was redoubled. There was a great crowd there. On either side of the quay a file of soldiers of the Line, elbow to elbow, kept back the spectators. In the middle of the space left vacant, the members of the Assembly slowly advanced between a double file of soldiers, the one stationary, which threatened the people, the other on the march, which threatened tire Representatives.
Serious reflections arise in the presence of all the details of the great crime which this book is designed to relate. Every honest man who sets himself face to face with the coup d’état of Louis Bonaparte hears nothing but a tumult of indignant thoughts in his conscience. Whoever reads our work to the end will assuredly not credit us with the intention of extenuating this monstrous deed. Nevertheless, as the deep logic of actions ought always to be italicized by the historian, it is necessary here to call to mind and to repeat, even to satiety, that apart from the members of the Left, of whom a very small number were present, and whom we have mentioned by name, the three hundred Representatives who thus defiled before the eyes of the crowd, constituted the old Royalists and reactionary majority of the Assembly. If it were possible to forget, that — whatever were their errors, whatever were their faults, and, we venture to add, whatever were their illusions — these persons thus treated were the Representatives of the leading civilized nation, were sovereign Legislators, senators of the people, inviolable Deputies, and sacred by the great law of Democracy, and that in the same manner as each man bears in himself something of the mind of God, so each of these nominees of universal suffrage bore something of the soul of France; if it were possible to forget this for a moment, it assuredly would be a spectacle perhaps more laughable than sad, and certainly more philosophical than lamentable to see, on this December morning, after so many laws of repression, after so many exceptional measures, after so many votes of censure and of the state of siege, after so many refusals of amnesty, after so many affronts to equity, to justice, to the human conscience, to the public good faith, to right, after so many favors to the police, after so many smiles bestowed on absolution, the entire Party of Order arrested in a body and taken to prison by the sergents de ville!
One day, or rather, one night, the moment having come to save society, the coup d’état abruptly seizes the Demagogues, and finds that it holds by the collar, Whom? the Royalists.
They arrived at the barracks, formerly the barracks of the Royal Guard, and on the pediment of which is a carved escutcheon, whereon are still visible the traces of the three fleurs de lis effaced in 1830. They halted. The door was opened. “Why!” said M. de Broglie, “here we are.”
At that moment a great placard posted on the barrack wall by the side of the door bore in big letters —
“REVISION OF THE CONSTITUTION.”
It was the advertisement of a pamphlet, published two or three days previous to the coup d’état, without any author’s name, demanding the Empire, and was attributed to the President of the Republic.
The Representatives entered and the doors were closed upon them. The shouts ceased; the crowd, which occasionally has its meditative moments, remained for some time on the quay, dumb, motionless, gazing alternately at the closed gate of the Barracks, and at the silent front of the Palace of the Assembly, dimly visible in the misty December twilight, two hundred paces distant.
The two Commissaries of Police went to report their “success” to M. de Morny. M. de Morny said, “Now the struggle has begun. Excellent! These are the last Representatives who will be made prisoners.”
5 The Gerontes, or Gerontia, were the Elders of Sparta, who constituted the Senate.
6 The “bureau” of the Assembly consists of the President, for the time being of the Assembly, assisted by six secretaries, whose duties mainly lie in deciding in what sense the Deputies have voted. The “bureau” of the Assembly should not be confounded with the fifteen “bureaux” of the Deputies, which answer to our Select Committees of the House of Commons, and are presided over by self-chosen Presidents.
7 An allusion to the twenty-five francs a day officially payable to the members of the Assembly.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51