Today’s installment concludes The Coup D’etat of Louis Napoleon,
our selection from Memoir, Letters, and Remains by Alexis De Tocqueville published in 1861.
Previously in The Coup D’etat of Louis Napoleon.
There were present, among others, the Duc de Broglie, who had come, though ill; the father of the House, the venerable Kératry, whose physical strength was inferior to his moral courage, and whom it was necessary to seat in a straw chair in the barrack yard; Odilon Barrot, Dufaure, Berryer, Rémusat, Duvergier de Hauranne, Gustave de Beaumont, De Tocqueville, De Falloux, Lanjuinais, Admiral Lainé and Admiral Cécille, Generals Oudinot and Lauriston, the Due de Luynes, the Due de Montebello; twelve ex-ministers, nine of whom had served under Louis Napoleon himself; eight members of the Institute — all men who had struggled for three years to defend society and to resist the demagogic faction.
When two hours had elapsed this assemblage was driven into barrack-rooms upstairs, where most of them spent the night, without fire and almost without food, stretched upon the boards. It only remained to carry off to prison these honorable men, guilty of no crime but the defence of the laws of their country. For this purpose the most distressing and ignominious means were selected. The cellular vans, in which convicts are conveyed to prison, were brought up. In these vehicles were shut up the men who had served and honored their country, and they were conveyed like three bands of criminals, some to the fortress of Mont Valerien, some to the prison Mazas in Paris, and the remainder to Vincennes. The indignation of the public compelled the Government two days afterward to release the greater number of them; some remained in confinement, unable to obtain either their liberty or a trial.
The treatment inflicted upon the generals arrested in the morning of December 2d was still more disgraceful. Cavaignac, Lamoricière, Bedeau, Changarnier, the conquerors of Africa, were shut up in these infamous cellular vans, which are always inconvenient and become almost intolerable on a lengthened journey. In this manner they were conveyed to Ham — that is, they were made to perform more than a day’s journey. Cavaignac, who had saved Paris and France in the days of June — Cavaignac, the competitor of Louis Napoleon at the last elections, shut up for a day and a night in the cell of a felon! I leave it to every honest man and every generous heart to comment on such facts. Such were the indignities offered to eminent men.
Let me now review the series of general crimes. The liberty of the press is destroyed to an extent unheard of even in the time of the empire. Most of the journals are suppressed, those which appear cannot say a word on politics or even publish any news. But this is by no means all. The Government has stuck up a list of persons who are formed into a “consultative commission.” Its object is to induce France to believe that the Executive is not abandoned by every man of respectability and consideration among us. More than half the persons on this list have refused to belong to the commission; most of them regard the insertion of their names as dishonor. I may quote, among others, M. Léon Faucher, M. Portalis, First President of the Court of Cassation, and the Duc de Albuféra, as those best known. Not only does the Government decline to publish the letters in which these gentlemen refuse their consent, but even their names are not withdrawn from the list which dishonors them. The names are still retained in spite of their repeated remonstrances. A day or two ago, one of them, M. Joseph Perier, driven to desperation by this excess of tyranny, rushed into the street to strike out his own name, with his own hands, from the public placards, taking the passers-by to witness that it had been placed there by a lie.
Such is the state of the public journals. Let us now see the condition of personal liberty. I say again that personal liberty is more trampled on than ever it was in the time of the empire. A decree of the new power gives the préfets the right to arrest, in their respective departments, whomsoever they please; and the préfets, in their turn, send blank warrants of arrest, which are literally lettres de cachet, to the sobs-préfets under their orders. The Provisional Government of the Republic never went so far. Human life is as little respected as human liberty. I know that war has its dreadful necessities, but the disturbances which have recently occurred in Paris have been put down with a barbarity unprecedented in our civil contests; and when we remember that this torrent of blood has been shed to consummate the violation of all law, we cannot but think that sooner or later it will fall back upon the heads of those who shed it. As for the appeal of the people, to whom Louis Napoleon affects to submit his claims, never was a more odious mockery offered to a nation. The people is called upon to express its opinion, yet not only is public discussion suppressed, but even the knowledge of facts. The people is asked its opinion, but the first measure taken to obtain it is to establish military terrorism throughout the country, and to threaten with deprivation every public agent that does not approve in writing what has been done.
Such is the condition in which we stand. Force overturning law, trampling on the liberty of the press and of the person, deriding the popular will, in whose name the Government pretends to act. France torn from the alliance of free nations to be classed with the despotic monarchies of the Continent — such is the result of this coup d’état.
The army refused to submit to the decree of the captive Assembly impeaching the President of the Republic; but the High Court of Justice obeyed it. The five judges composing it, sitting in the midst of Paris enslaved and in the face of martial law, dared to assemble at the Palace of Justice, and to issue a process beginning criminal proceedings against Louis Napoleon, charged with high treason by the law, though already triumphant in the streets. I subjoin the text of this memorable edict:
The High Court of Justice, considering the sixty-eighth article of the constitution, considering that printed placards, beginning with the words ‘The President of the Republic,’ and bearing at the end the signatures of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte and De Moony, Minister of the Interior, which placards announce among other things, the dissolution of the National Assembly, have this day been affixed to the walls of Paris; that this fact of the dissolution of the Assembly by the President of the Republic would fall under the case provided for by the sixty-eighth article of the constitution, and render the convocation of the High Court of Justice imperative, by the terms of that article declares that the High Court is constituted, and names M. Renouard, counsellor of the Court of Cassation, to fill the duties of public accuser; and to fill those of greffier, M. Bernard, Greffier-en-chef of the Court of Cassation; and, to proceed further in pursuance of the terms of the said sixty-eighth article of the constitution, adjourns until to-morrow, December 3d, at the hour of noon.
Done and deliberated in the Council Chamber. Present, M. Hardouin, President; M. Pataille, M. Moreau, M. de la Palme, and M. Cauchy, judges, this second day of December, 1851.”
After this textual extract from the minutes of the High Court of Justice there is the following entry: “(1) A procès-verbal announcing the arrival of a commissaire de police, who called upon the High Court to separate. (2) A procès-verbal of a second sitting held on the morrow, the third day of December (when the Assembly was in prison), at which M. Renouard accepts the functions of public prosecutor, charged to proceed against Louis Napoleon, after which the High Court, being no longer able to sit, adjourned to a day to be fixed hereafter.”
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