This series has four easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Should the Emperor Be Dethroned?.
As this story begins the French are badly losing the Franco-Prussian War to the Germans. Their Emperor Napoleon III is a captive of the enemy.
This selection is from Government of the National Defense by Jules Favre published in 1875. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Jules Favre (1809-1880) was a moderate who was one of the founders of the Third Republic.
The news of the capitulation of Sedan and the surrender of the Emperor spread throughout the city, causing universal indignation. In the evening immense crowds thronged the boulevards; the police strove in vain to disperse them by means that had been hitherto successful but now only excited popular rage. Cries were heard from the crowd demanding the fall of the Government. Many persons were armed. There was no more time for illusions; the insurrection had begun; the Government had virtually fallen; not a moment was to be lost in constituting a new one.
We visited M. Joseph Schneider at 9 A.M. to consult with him regarding the forming of a new government. We begged him to lose no time in convoking the Assembly; and I did not hide from him that I desired, in my own name and that of my friends, to propose the question of the deposing of the Emperor. In his endeavor to retain the Regent and the Prince Imperial, and thinking to avoid a revolt by gaining time, he brought forward objections—moderate, sad, but courteous—and disputed the hopelessness of the situation.
We persuaded him to convene the Assembly, which could easily be done, as nearly all our colleagues were in the Salle des Conférences, or in the antechambers of the Palace. We saw him again at half-past eleven; the conversation was long, but it resulted in nothing decisive.
In the interval we had arranged our plan. This was to bring about the assumption of supreme power by the Chamber. To this we added the deposing of Napoleon III, who had already practically acquiesced in it by his surrender at Sedan.
We were at this critical moment as free from personal interest as we had been on August 7th, when I had sought an audience with M. Schneider, the President. We had no other design than to consummate, without a revolution, an act of justice which had now become inevitable. On this occasion, if the Chamber had voted as we requested, the insurrection of the morrow would have had no cause to take place, and we should have been excluded from the new Government chosen by the majority.
I can affirm, without hesitation, that not one of us aspired to take part in it. M. Thiers, M. Ernest Picard, and I discussed names. We thought the Comte de Palikao should be retained on account of his knowledge of the military operations already begun. We included M. Schneider, President of the Corps Législatif. M. Picard and I endeavored to persuade M. Thiers to form the third member of the Commission. He opposed this suggestion, and was proposing the names of other colleagues, when we were informed that the President had taken his seat. It was one o’clock in the morning; the 4th of September had dawned.
In spite of the gravity of the news received, in spite of the agitation of the population of Paris, the Cabinet had not thought proper to meet. The Minister of War was found in bed, and, after saying that Sedan had capitulated, and that the Emperor had been taken prisoner, he requested that the deliberations should be postponed until noon, that he might have an opportunity of consulting his colleagues. It would have been in vain for us to oppose this delay, which the Chamber hastened to accord; but we thought it our duty to give notice of the proposition for the dethronement. Paris required to know, on awakening, that its representatives had not lost courage. I quote from the Officiel the few words I spoke for the Opposition:
“If the Chamber is of opinion that, in the grave and painful situation described by the Minister of War, it is wise to post pone the deliberation till noon, I have no motive for opposing it; but, as we have to urge deliberation upon the part to be taken, in the absence of all authority, we request permission to place on this table a proposition which I shall do myself the honor to read, without at present adding any further remarks: “‘We beg the Chamber to consider the following motion: “
‘1st Article. Louis Napoleon Bonaparte and his dynasty are declared to have forfeited the power given to them by the Constitution.“
‘2d Article. A government commission shall be named by the Corps Législatif, composed of (you will fix the number of members you think fit to choose from your majority), which will be invested with full authority of government, and whose ex press mission shall be to resist the invasion to the last, and to expel the enemy from our territory.“
‘3d Article. General Trochu shall retain his office of Governor of the City of Paris. “
‘Signed. Jules Favre, Isaac Crémieux, Barthélemy St. Hilaire, Desseaux, Etienne Garnier-Pages, Larrieu, Gagneur, Steen akers, Magnin, Dorian, Ordinaire, Emmanuel Arago, Jules Si mon, Eugène Pelletan, Wilson, Ernest Picard, Léon Gambetta, Comte de Kératry, Guyot-Montpeyroux, Tachard, Lecesne, Rampon, Giraud, Marion, Léopold, Javal, Jules Ferry, Paul Bethmont.”
“I will add nothing to this proposition, which I offer to your wise deliberations, and tomorrow, or rather today at noon, we shall have the honor of giving the urgent reasons that appear to oblige every patriot to adopt it.”
The Chamber then separated, without offering any opposition — for the following words of M. Pinard cannot be called such, and, for my part, I did not hear them:
“We can take provisional measures; we cannot declare the dethronement.”
M. Thiers offered me a seat in his carriage. At the Place de la Concorde a dense crowd stopped us. The excitement was intense. We were asked whether the motion for dethronement had been voted upon. We replied that it would be voted upon at noon. We begged the populace to remain calm; wisdom and moderation were more than ever necessary; an exercise of these qualities would enable us to remain ﬁrm and so to fulﬁl our duty to the end. The people applauded M. Thiers, and we sought the repose that was so necessary to us.
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