The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

Chapter iv.

The Workmen’s Societies Ask Us for the Order to Fight

In presence of the fact of the barricade of the Faubourg St. Antoine so heroically constructed by the Representatives, so sadly neglected by the populace, the last illusions, even mine, should have been dispersed. Baudin killed, the Faubourg cold. Such things spoke aloud. It was a supreme, manifest, absolute demonstration of that fact, the inaction of the people, to which I could not resign myself — a deplorable inaction, if they understood, a self-treason, if they did not understand, a fatal neutrality in every case, a calamity of which all the responsibility, we repeat, recoiled not upon the people but upon those who in June, 1848, after having promised them amnesty, had refused it, and who had unhinged the great soul of the people of Paris by breaking faith with them. What the Constituent Assembly had sown the Legislative Assembly harvested. We, innocent of the fault, had to submit to the consequence.

The spark which we had seen flash for an instant through the crowd — Michel de Bourges from the height of Bonvalet’s balcony, myself from the Boulevard du Temple — this spark seemed extinguished. Maigne firstly, then Brillier, then Bruckner, later on Charmaule, Madier de Montjau, Bastide, and Dulac came to report to us what had passed at the barricade of St. Antoine, the motives which had decided the Representatives present not to await the hour appointed for the rendezvous, and Baudin’s death. The report which I made myself of what I had seen, and which Cassal and Alexander Rey completed by adding new circumstances, enabled us to ascertain the situation. The Committee could no longer hesitate: I myself renounced the hopes which I had based upon a grand manifestation, upon a powerful reply to the coup d’état, upon a sort of pitched battle waged by the guardians of the Republic against the banditti of the Elysée. The Faubourgs failed us; we possessed the lever — Right, but the mass to be raised, the People, we did not possess. There was nothing more to hope for, as those two great orators, Michel de Bourges and Jules Favre, with their keen political perception, had declared from the first, save a slow long struggle, avoiding decisive engagements, changing quarters, keeping Paris on the alert, saying to each, It is not at an end; leaving time for the departments to prepare their resistance, wearying the troops out, and in which struggle the Parisian people, who do not long smell powder with impunity, would perhaps ultimately take fire. Barricades raised everywhere, barely defended, re-made immediately, disappearing and multiplying themselves at the same time, such was the strategy indicated by the situation. The Committee adopted it, and sent orders in every direction to this effect. At that moment we were sitting at No. 15, Rue Richelieu, at the house of our colleague Grévy, who had been arrested in the Tenth Arrondissement on the preceding day, who was at Mazas. His brother had offered us his house for our deliberations. The Representatives, our natural emissaries, flocked around us, and scattered themselves throughout Paris, with our instructions to organize resistance at every point. They were the arms and the Committee was the soul. A certain number of ex-Constituents, intrepid men, Garnier–Pagès, Marie, Martin (de Strasbourg), Senart, formerly President of the Constituent Assembly, Bastide, Laissac, Landrin, had joined the Representatives on the preceding day. They established, therefore, in all the districts where it was possible Committees of Permanence in connection with us, the Central Committee, and composed either of Representatives or of faithful citizens. For our watchword we chose “Baudin.”

Towards noon the centre of Paris began to grow agitated.

Our appeal to arms was first seen placarded on the Place de la Bourse and the Rue Montmartre. Groups pressed round to read it, and battled with the police, who endeavored to tear down the bills. Other lithographic placards contained in two parallel columns the decree of deposition drawn up by the Right at the Mairie of the Tenth Arrondissement, and the decree of outlawry voted by the Left. There were distributed, printed on gray paper in large type, the judgment of the High Court of Justice, declaring Louis Bonaparte attainted with the Crime of High Treason, and signed “Hardouin” (President), “Delapalme,” “Moreau” (of the Seine), “Cauchy,” “Bataille” (Judges). This last name was thus mis-spelt by mistake, it should read “Pataille.”

At that moment people generally believed, and we ourselves believed, in this judgment, which, as we have seen, was not the genuine judgment.

At the same time they posted in the populous quarters, at the corner of every street, two Proclamations. The first ran thus:—



“The Constitution is confided to the keeping and to the patriotism of
French citizens. Louis NAPOLEON is outlawed.

“The State of Siege is abolished.

“Universal suffrage is re-established.



“For the United Mountain.

“The Delegate, VICTOR HUGO.”

The second ran thus:—


“The National Guards and the People of the Departments are marching on
Paris to aid you in seizing the TRAITOR, Louis Napoléon BONAPARTE.

“For the Representatives of the People,

“VICTOR HUGO, President.

“SCHOELCHER, Secretary.”

This last placard, printed on little squares of paper, was distributed abroad, says an historian of the coup d’état, by thousands of copies.

For their part the criminals installed in the Government offices replied by threats: the great white placards, that is to say, the official bills, were largely multiplied. On one could be read:—


“Decree as follows:—

“ARTICLE I. All meetings are rigorously prohibited. They will be
immediately dispersed by force.

“ARTICLE II. All seditious shouts, all reading in public, all posting
of political documents not emanating from a regularly constituted
authority, are equally prohibited.

“ARTICLE III. The agents of the Public Police will enforce the execution
of the present decree.

“Given at the Prefecture of Police, December 3, 1851.

“DE MAUPAS, Prefect of Police.

“Seen and approved,

“DE MORNY, Minister of the Interior.”

On another could be read —


“By virtue of the Law on the State of Siege,


“Every person taken constructing or defending a barricade, or carrying

“General of Division,

“Minister of war,


We reproduce this Proclamation exactly, even to the punctuation. The words “Will be shot” were in capital letters in the placards signed “De Saint–Arnaud.”

The Boulevards were thronged with an excited crowd. The agitation increasing in the centre reached three Arrondissements, the 6th, 7th, and the 12th. The district of the schools began to disorderly. The Students of Law and of Medicine cheered De Flotte on the Place de Panthéon. Madier de Montjau, ardent and eloquent, went through and aroused Belleville. The troops, growing more numerous every moment, took possession of all the strategical points of Paris.

At one o’clock, a young man was brought to us by the legal adviser of the Workmen’s Societies, the ex-Constituent Leblond, at whose house the Committee had deliberated that morning. We were sitting in permanence, Carnot, Jules Favre, Michel de Bourges, and myself. This young man, who had an earnest mode of speaking and an intelligent countenance, was named King. He had been sent to us by the Committee of the Workmen’s Society, from whom he was delegated. “The Workmen’s Societies,” he said to us, “place themselves at the disposal of the Committee of Legal Insurrection appointed by the Left. They can throw into the struggle five or six thousand resolute men. They will manufacture powder; as for guns, they will be found.” The Workmen’s Society requested from us an order to fight signed by us. Jules Favre took a pen and wrote — “The undersigned Representatives authorize Citizen King and his friends to defend with them, and with arms in their hands, Universal Suffrage, the Republic, the Laws.” He dated it, and we all four signed it. “That is enough,” said the delegate to us, “you will hear of us.”

Two hours afterwards it was reported to us that the conflict had begun. They were fighting in the Rue Aumaire.

10 A typographical error — it should read “Article LXVIII.” On the subject of this placard the author of this book received the following letter. It does honor to those who wrote it:—

“CITIZEN VICTOR HUGO — We know that you have made an appeal to arms. We
have not been able to obtain it. We replace it by these bills which we
sign with your name. You will not disown us. When France is in danger
your name belongs to all; your name is a Public Power.



Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56