Correspondence & Conversations of Alexis de Tocqueville
Category: History
Level 11.27 8:37 h
Alexis Charles Henri Clérel, comte de Tocqueville was a French aristocrat, diplomat, political scientist, political philosopher and historian. He is best known for his works Democracy in America (appearing in two volumes, 1835 and 1840) and The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856).

Correspondence & Conversations of Alexis De Tocqueville

With Nassau William Senior
from 1834 to 1859

Alexis De Tocqueville

Edited by
M.C.M. Simpson

In Two Volumes
volume II

Correspondence & Conversations of Alexis de Tocqueville

Tocqueville during the Empire

From December 23, 1851 to April 20, 1858


Paris, 1851-2

[The coup d’état took place on the 2nd, and Mr. Senior reached Paris on the 21st of December. — ED.]

Paris, December 23, 1851. — I dined with Mrs. Grot and drank tea with the Tocquevilles.

‘This,’ said Tocqueville, ‘is a new phase in our history. Every previous revolution has been made by a political party. This is the first time that the army has seized France, bound and gagged her, and laid her at the feet of its ruler.’

‘Was not the 18th fructidor,’ I said, ‘almost a parallel case? Then, as now, there was a quarrel between the executive and the legislature. The Directory, like Louis Napoleon, dismissed the ministers, in whom the legislature had confidence, and appointed its own tools in their places, denounced the legislature to the country, and flattered and corrupted the army. The legislature tried the usual tactics of parliamentary opposition, censured the Government, and refused the supplies. The Directory prepared a coup d’état. The legislature tried to obtain a military force, and failed; they planned an impeachment of the Directory, and found the existing law insufficient. They brought forward a new law defining the responsibility of the executive, and the night after they had begun to discuss it, their halls were occupied by a military force, and the members of the opposition were seized in the room in which they had met to denounce the treason of the Directory.’

‘So far,’ he answered, ‘the two events resemble one another. Each was a military attack on the legislature by the executive. But the Directors were the representatives of a party. The Councils and the greater part of the aristocracy, and the bourgeoisie, were Bonapartists; the lower orders were Republican, the army was merely an instrument; it conquered, not for itself, but for the Republican party.

‘The 18th brumaire was nearer to this — for that ended, as this has begun, in a military tyranny. But the 18th brumaire was almost as much a civil as a military revolution. A majority in the Councils was with Bonaparte. Louis Napoleon had not a real friend in the Assembly. All the educated classes supported the 18th brumaire; all the educated classes repudiate the 2nd of December. Bonaparte’s Consular Chair was sustained by all the élite of France. This man cannot obtain a decent supporter. Montalembert, Baroche, and Fould — an Ultramontane, a country lawyer, and a Jewish banker — are his most respectable associates. For a real parallel you must go back 1,800 years.’

I said that some persons, for whose judgment I had the highest respect, seemed to treat it as a contest between two conspirators, the Assembly and the President, and to think the difference between his conduct and theirs to be that he struck first.

‘This,’ said Tocqueville, ‘I utterly deny. He, indeed, began to conspire from November 10, 1848. His direct instructions to Oudinot, and his letter to Ney, only a few months after his election, showed his determination not to submit to Parliamentary Government. Then followed his dismissal of Ministry after Ministry, until he had degraded the·office to a clerkship. Then came the semi-regal progress, then the reviews of Satory, the encouragement of treasonable cries, the selection for all the high appointments in the army of Paris of men whose infamous characters fitted them to be tools. Then he publicly insulted the Assembly at Dijon, and at last, in October, we knew that his plans were laid. It was then only that we began to think what were our means of defence, but that was no more a conspiracy than it is a conspiracy in travellers to look for their pistols when they see a band of robbers advancing.

‘M. Baze’s proposition was absurd only because it was impracticable. It was a precaution against immediate danger, but if it had been voted, it could not have been executed. The army had already been so corrupted, that it would have disregarded the orders of the Assembly. I have often talked over our situation with Lamoricière and my other military friends. We saw what was coming as clearly as we now look back to it; but we had no means of preventing it.’

‘But was not your intended law of responsibility,’ I said, ‘an attack on your part?’

‘That law,’ he said, ‘was not ours. It was sent up to us by the Conseil d’État which had been two years and a half employed on it, and ought to have sent it to us much sooner. We thought it dangerous — that is to say, we thought that, though quite right in itself, it would irritate the President, and that in our defenceless state it was unwise to do so. The bureau, therefore, to which it was referred refused to declare it urgent: a proof that it would not have passed with the clauses which, though reasonable, the President thought fit to disapprove. Our conspiracy was that of the lambs against the wolf.

‘Though I have said,’ he continued, ‘that he has been conspiring ever since his election, I do not believe that he intended to strike so soon. His plan was to wait till next March when the fears of May 1852 would be most intense. Two circumstances forced him on more rapidly. One was the candidature of the Prince de Joinville. He thought him the only dangerous competitor. The other was an agitation set on foot by the Legitimists in the Conseils généraux for the repeal of the law of May 31. That law was his moral weapon against the Assembly, and he feared that if he delayed, it might be abolished without him.’

‘And how long,’ I asked, ‘will this tyranny last?’

‘It will last,’ he answered, ‘until it is unpopular with the mass of the people. At present the disapprobation is confined to the educated classes. We cannot bear to be deprived of the power of speaking or of writing. We cannot bear that the fate of France should depend on the selfishness, or the vanity, or the fears, or the caprice of one man, a foreigner by race and by education, and of a set of military ruffians and of infamous civilians, fit only to have formed the staff and the privy council of Catiline. We cannot bear that the people which carried the torch of Liberty through Europe should now be employed in quenching all its lights. But these are not the feelings of the multitude. Their insane fear of Socialism throws them headlong into the arms of despotism. As in Prussia, as in Hungary, as in Austria, as in Italy, so in France, the democrats have served the cause of the absolutists. May 1852 was a spectre constantly swelling as it drew nearer. But now that the weakness of the Red party has been proved, now that 10,000 of those who are supposed to be its most active members are to be sent to die of hunger and marsh fever in Cayenne, the people will regret the price at which their visionary enemy has been put down. Thirty-seven years of liberty have made a free press and free parliamentary discussion necessaries to us. If Louis Napoleon refuses them, he will be execrated as a tyrant. If he grants them, they must destroy him. We always criticise our rulers severely, often unjustly. It is impossible that so rash and wrong-headed a man surrounded, and always wishing to be surrounded, by men whose infamous character is their recommendation to him, should not commit blunders and follies without end. They will be exposed, perhaps exaggerated by the press, and from the tribune. As soon as he is discredited the army will turn against him. It sympathises with the people from which it has recently been separated and to which it is soon to return. It will never support an unpopular despot. I have no fears therefore for the ultimate destinies of my country. It seems to me that the Revolution of the 2nd of December is more dangerous to the rest of Europe than it is to us. That it ought to alarm England much more than France. We shall get rid of Louis Napoleon in a few years, perhaps in a few months, but there is no saying how much mischief he may do in those years, or even in those months, to his neighbours.’

‘Surely,’ said Madame de Tocqueville, ‘he will wish to remain at peace with England.’

‘I am not sure at all of that,’ said Tocqueville. ‘He cannot sit down a mere quiet administrator. He must do something to distract public attention; he must give us a substitute for the political excitement which has amused us during the last forty years. Great social improvements are uncertain, difficult, and slow; but glory may be obtained in a week. A war with England, at its beginning, is always popular. How many thousand volunteers would he have for a “pointe” on London?

‘The best that can happen to you is to be excluded from the councils of the great family of despots. Besides, what is to be done to amuse these 400,000 bayonets, his masters as well as ours? Crosses, promotions, honours, gratuities, are already showered on the army of Paris. It has already received a thing unheard of in our history — the honours and recompenses of a campaign for the butchery on the Boulevards. Will not the other armies demand their share of work and reward? As long as the civil war in the Provinces lasts they may be employed there. But it will soon be over. What is then to be done with them? Are they to be marched on Switzerland, or on Piedmont, or on Belgium? And will England quietly look on?’

Our conversation was here interrupted by the entrance of the Abbé Gioberti, and of Sieur Capponi, a Sicilian.

Paris, December 31, 1851. — I dined with the Tocquevilles and met Mrs. Grote, Rivet, and Corcelle.

‘The gayest time,’ said Tocqueville, ‘that I ever passed was in the Quai d’Orsay. The élite of France in education, in birth, and in talents, particularly in the talents of society, was collected within the walls of that barrack.

‘A long struggle was over, in which our part had not been timidly played; we had done our duty, we had gone through some perils, and we had some to encounter, and we were all in the high spirits which excitement and dangers shared with others, when not too formidable, create. From the courtyard in which we had been penned for a couple of hours, where the Duc de Broglie and I tore our chicken with our hands and teeth, we were transferred to a long sort of gallery, or garret, running along through the higher part of the building, a spare dormitory for the soldiers when the better rooms are filled. Those who chose to take the trouble went below, hired palliasses from the soldiers, and carried them up for themselves. I was too idle and lay on the floor in my cloak. Instead of sleeping we spent the night in shooting from palliasse to palliasse anecdotes, repartees, jokes, and pleasantries. “C’était un feu roulant, une pluie de bons mots.” Things amused us in that state of excitement which sound flat when repeated.

‘I remember Kerrel, a man of great humour, exciting shouts of laughter by exclaiming, with great solemnity, as he looked round on the floor, strewed with mattresses and statesmen, and lighted by a couple of tallow candles, “Voilà donc où en est réduit ce fameux parti de l’ordre.” Those who were kept au secret, deprived of mutual support, were in a very different state of mind; some were depressed, others were enraged. Bédeau was left alone for twenty-four hours; at last a man came and offered him some sugar. He flew at his throat and the poor turnkey ran off, fancying his prisoner was mad.’

We talked of Louis Napoleon’s devotion to the Pope.

‘It is of recent date,’ said Corcelle. ‘In January and February 1849 he was inclined to interfere in support of the Roman Republic against the Austrians. And when in April he resolved to move on Rome, it was not out of any love for the Pope. In fact, the Pope did not then wish for us. He told Corcelle that he hoped to be restored by General Zucchi, who commanded a body of Roman troops in the neighbourhood of Bologna. No one at that time believed the Republican party in Rome to be capable of a serious defence. Probably they would not have made one if they had not admitted Garibaldi and his band two days before we appeared before their gates.’

I mentioned to Tocqueville Beaumont’s opinion that France will again become a republic.

‘I will not venture,’ he answered, ‘to affirm, with respect to any form whatever of government, that we shall never adopt it; but I own that I see no prospect of a French republic within any assignable period. We are, indeed, less opposed to a republic now than we were in 1848. We have found that it does not imply war, or bankruptcy, or tyranny; but we still feel that it is not the government that suits us. This was apparent from the beginning. Louis Napoleon had the merit, or the luck, to discover, what few suspected, the latent Bonapartism of the nation. The 10th of December showed that the memory of the Emperor, vague and indefinite, but therefore the more imposing, still dwelt like an heroic legend in the imaginations of the peasantry. When Louis Napoleon’s violence and folly have destroyed the charm with which he has worked, all eyes will turn, not towards a republic, but to Henri V.’

‘Was much money,’ I asked, ‘spent at his election?’

‘Very little,’ answered Tocqueville. ‘The ex-Duke of Brunswick lent him 300,000 francs on a promise of assistance as soon as he should be able to afford it; and I suppose that we shall have to perform the promise, and to interfere to restore him to his duchy; but that was all that was spent. In fact he had no money of his own, and scarcely anyone, except the Duke, thought well enough of his prospects to lend him any. He used to sit in the Assembly silent and alone, pitied by some members and neglected by all. Silence, indeed, was necessary to his success.

Paris, January 2nd, 1852. — I dined with Mrs. Grote and drank tea with the Tocquevilles.

‘What is your report,’ they asked, ‘of the President’s reception in Notre Dame. We hear that it was cold.’

‘So,’ I answered, ‘it seemed to me.’

‘I am told,’ said Tocqueville, ‘that it was still colder on his road. He does not shine in public exhibitions. He does not belong to the highest class of hypocrites, who cheat by frankness and cordiality.’

‘Such,’ I said, ‘as Iago. It is a class of villains of which the specimens are not common.’

‘They are common enough with us,’ said Tocqueville. ‘We call them faux bonshommes. H. was an instance. He had passed a longish life with the character of a frank, open-hearted soldier. When he became Minister, the facts which he stated from the tribune appeared often strange, but coming from so honest a man we accepted them. One falsehood, however, after another was exposed, and at last we discovered that H. himself, with all his military bluntness and sincerity, was a most intrepid, unscrupulous liar.

‘What is the explanation,’ he continued, ‘of Kossuth’s reception in England? I can understand enthusiasm for a democrat in America, but what claim had he to the sympathy of aristocratic England?’

‘Our aristocracy,’ I answered, ‘expressed no sympathy, and as to the mayors, and corporations, and public meetings, they looked upon him merely as an oppressed man, the champion of an oppressed country.’

‘I think,’ said Tocqueville, ‘that he has been the most mischievous man in Europe.’

‘More so,’ I said, ‘than Mazzini? More so than Lamartine?’

At this instant Corcelle came in.

‘We are adjusting,’ said Tocqueville, ‘the palm of mischievousness.’

‘I am all for Lamartine,’ answered Corcelle; ‘without him the others would have been powerless.’

‘But,’ I said, ‘if Lamartine had never existed, would not the revolution of 1848 still have occurred?’

‘It would have certainly occurred’ said Tocqueville; ‘that is to say, the oligarchy of Louis Philippe would have come to an end, probably to a violent one, but it would have been something to have delayed it; and it cannot be denied that Lamartine’s eloquence and courage saved us from great dangers during the Provisional Government. Kossuth’s influence was purely mischievous. But for him, Austria might now be a constitutional empire, with Hungary for its most powerful member, a barrier against Russia instead of her slave.’

‘I must put in a word,’ said Corcelle, ‘for Lord Palmerston. If Lamartine produced Kossuth, Lord Palmerston produced Lamartine and Mazzini and Charles Albert — in short, all the incendiaries whose folly and wickedness have ended in producing Louis Napoleon.’

‘Notwithstanding,’ I said, ‘your disapprobation of Kossuth, you joined us in preventing his extradition.’

‘We did,’ answered Tocqueville. ‘It was owing to the influence of Lord Normanby over the President. It was a fine succès de tribune. It gave your Government and ours an occasion to boast of their courage and of their generosity, but a more dangerous experiment was never made. You reckoned on the prudence and forbearance of Austria and Russia. Luckily, Nicholas and Nesselrode are prudent men, and luckily the Turks sent to St. Petersburg Fuad Effendi, an excellent diplomatist, a much better than Lamoricière or Lord Bloomfield. He refused to see either of them, disclaimed their advice or assistance, and addressed himself solely to the justice and generosity of the Emperor. He admitted that Russia was powerful enough to seize the refugees, but implored him not to set such an example, and — he committed nothing to paper. He left nothing, and took away nothing which could wound the pride of Nicholas; and thus he succeeded.

‘Two days after, came a long remonstrance from Lord Palmerston, which Lord Bloomfield was desired to read to Nesselrode, and leave with him. A man of the world, seeing that the thing was done, would have withheld an irritating document. But Bloomfield went with it to Nesselrode. Nesselrode would have nothing to say to it. “Mon Dieu!” he said, “we have given up all our demands; why tease us by trying to prove that we ought not to have made them?” Bloomfield said that his orders were precise. “Lisez donc,” cried Nesselrode, “mais il sera très-ennuyeux.” Before he had got half through Nesselrode interrupted him. “I have heard all this,” he said, “from Lamoricière, only in half the number of words. Cannot you consider it as read?” Bloomfield, however, was inexorable.’

I recurred to a subject on which I had talked to both of them before — the tumult of January 29, 1849.

‘George Sumner,’ I said, ‘assures me that it was a plot, concocted by Faucher and the President, to force the Assembly to fix a day for its dissolution, instead of continuing to sit until it should have completed the Constitution by framing the organic laws which, even on December 2 last, were incomplete. He affirms that it was the model which was followed on December 2; that during the night the Palais Bourbon was surrounded by troops; that the members were allowed to enter, but were informed, not publicly, but one by one, that they were not to be allowed to separate until they had fixed, or agreed to fix, the day of their dissolution; and that under the pressure of military intimidation, the majority, which was opposed to such a dissolution, gave way and consented to the vote, which was actually carried two days after.’

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