Saturday, 1 August 2015

THE NEW FRENCH CONSTITUTION.

To the Editor of the Times.

Sir- The "Constitution" of the 14th of January is now at work. The world may study and it must admire the operation of "the right derived from the people, and of the force that comes from God." The tyranny that appropriates the one is worthy of the blasphemy that arrogates the other. That "Constitution" created in the name of seven millions and a half of votes, which were a sham—of 1789, which it falsifies—and of universal suffrage, which it throttles and it cheats ; a President, a Senate, a Council of State, and a Legislature. The Senate and Council of State are directly and avowedly named by the President, who, in point of fact, has named himself ; and the Legislature, though ostensibly elected by the people, has really been nominated by the same omnivorous authority. The progress of natural philosophy has simplified our conceptions of the laws that govern the material universe. In lieu of half a dozen conflicting forces, we find that attraction is the agent which determines vast or motion, which makes an apple fall, a temple stand, or a planet swing in space. M. Bonaparte's political philosophy is equally concise. Attraction is its sum and substance, attraction which begins and ends in him. He is the centre of a solar system, and only satellites revolve around him. 

Each vital organism has functions corresponding exactly with its structure, of which they are simply the effects. The comparative anatomist examines some fossil impressions on a rock, marks their zoological characters, and recalls into existence an antediluvian world. The political anatomist may predict with almost equal precision the results of social organizations. A plain and a free people will produce a Leonidas, a Cincinnatus, or a Washington ; a polished and turbulent Democracy will breed a Themistocles or an Alcibiades ; a dissolute and degenerate Aristocracy and a pauper Plebs will receive a master in a Julius or Augustus ; a Praetorian camp and a debauched community will hatch a Commodus or a Heliogabalus. What may we expect from the "Constitution" of France.

The Presidential perquisites and powers might be comprised in the exclamation of Louis XIV.— "L'état! C'est moi." That compendious despotism had the merit of simplicity and frankness. ' It would be difficult to say, what part of the State belongs to itself, or indeed to anybody else, by the side of a "Chief" who organizes, disorganizes, and commands the forces by sea and land—decides war and peace—makes treaties offensive, defensive, and commercial—appoints to all employments and deprives of all—regulates and decrees the execution of the laws, and monopolizes their infraction—dispenses justice and dispenses with it—has the sole initiative of legislation, and the liberum veto too—declares martial law and goes beyond it—has the power of pardon and converts it to a sinecure or employs it only to debauch—makes and breaks Ministers and Ministries—and names his own successor. Call it what we may Presidency or Empire, this is an absolute Autocracy. To work, it requires but a Council of State, or a divan, an army of Janizaries, and a nation of slaves. Force is its vital principle. If viable at all, it must live on terror, and the first symptom of weakness it exhibits is the signal for opposition and the tocsin of its fall. Unless history is no better than "an old almanack" it proclaims this.

M. Bonaparte comprehends the logic of his situation. He is Cæsar or nothing. He substitutes "authority" for liberty, and he must make "authority" felt, and tread liberty out—he pits the will of one against the intelligence of all, and between intelligence and him there must be war to the death. It may admit of doubt if such a Power is wise in even shamming Representative forms. While strong it plays with them—when weak, they master it. The best thing, perhaps, for M. Bonaparte would be no Legislature at all—the next best thing is to render it contemptible. In this, he has perfectly succeeded.

By the last article of the "Constitution," the decrees issued between the 2nd of December and the convocation of "the great bodies of the State," are to have "the force of law." This was not meant to be a brutum fulmen. After the confiscation of the Orleans' property, the ukases were few and inoffensive, and the week or two preceding the legislative elections were almost a calm. The commercial optimists plunged into their fool's paradise, as usual, and babbled of confidence, clemency, economy, a vast reduction of the army, prosperity, and peace. The elections over the scene changed. A diarrhoea of decrees succeeded the temporary dictatorial costiveness, and scattered confusion over France. The Tyrant who announced that "he was the State," consistently added, " après moi le Déluge."

Land banks, or the Crédit Foncier, had long been a favourite scheme of the Socialists. In operation, good or bad, in Germany, they had been proposed to the Constituent Assembly, and voted against by Louis Napoleon, through the medium of his Ministers. To catch the electors of the 29th of February, the Crédit Foncier was decreed on the 28th, and ten millions of the Orleans' revenues were liberally given to set it up. It will promote the spirit of speculation, accelerate the impending monetary crisis, and enable the peasant proprietors of France to borrow at six or seven per cent., in order to buy land which will pay them three.

To purify the administration of justice and to carry out the article in the Napoleonic Constitution, which affirms their irremovability, magistrates from 70 to 75 years of age are made removable. The option of removing them rests with the Government, which can thus reward the good and smite the bad. The Court of Cassation may dismiss them at any age for "grave misconduct." As political and Press offences are now decided by the Judges, the opportunities for such "misconduct," as well as for its chastisement are rife. The condemnation, on appeal, of M. Bocher shows how well this provision acts. The prudence of the Bench responds to the vigour of the President.

On the 3rd of March a little gentle pressure compelled the Bank of France to reduce its rate of discount to 3 per cent. In consideration of an extension of its privilege, which, it would seem, it had a right to claim, it accepts by instalments spread over 15 years, the repayment by the State of 75 millions duo in 1852. By this excellent arrangement, M. D'Argout continues to keep his place, the Bank can encourage speculation by advances upon railway shares, its weekly returns, which exhibited the deplorable state of trade are exchanged for monthly, and more convenient ones, the Government can squander the 75 millions to-day, and put off its debts till tomorrow.

Concurrently with this financial "operation," an order was issued for 13 different costumes for 13 sets of functionaries. We are not informed if the Bank may make advances upon them, though the vast amount of the precious metals consumed in their decoration would, perhaps, warrant it in doing so. As a later decree has transferred the direction of the Monts de Piététo the Prefect of the Seine and the Minister of the Interior, they may soon enjoy the opportunity of estimating at their market value, the habits of many of their friends. If the coup d'état has plunged the half of France in mourning, it has put the other half in livery.

In the middle of January the Constitutionnel announced the proximate conversion of the Five per Cents. This was instantly and flatly contradicted by the Moniteur. That contradiction rendered the occurrence highly probable. Early in March, similar rumours led to a similar denial. The rentiers went to sleep on the night of the 13th officially, if not comfortably reassured, and awoke next morning to ascertain, from that same Moniteur, that they had lost the tenth of their income. Those who approved of the immortal Plébiscite, and voted oui for the President will not regret that paltry diminution. They shouted exultingly that "France was saved," and surely its salvation is worth a half per cent. The millions squeezed from them will adorn the civil list, and will sustain those faithful Senators and patriotic Prefects who are the Corinthian pillars of the Napoleonian edifice. M. Bineau made a trivial mistake in his calculation of the cost of the "conversion." Thirty to forty millions must be directly reimbursed ; and the country was only snatched from insolvency and a "convulsion" by the banking and the railway millionaires. The Plutocracy was coaxed and bullied to fly to the rescue of the Government, with enormous and desperate purchases of stock guaranteed by it. This virtually amounts to a loan of from two to three hundred millions. If these financial coups d'état are backed and carried through by capitalists, they may find them Pyrrich victories.

The Constitution informed the Corps Législatif that it would be suffered "to discuss and vote the taxes," to lay the imposts on the nation's back, but to have no voice in their expenditure. So popular a privilege was worthy so popular a body. The very fact of that small permission being granted afforded, however, a natural presumption that it would be withdrawn. Accordingly on the 19th March, ten days before the "Legislature" met, the Budget came out in a decree. The proceeding was not without advantages. It made the Corps Législatif ridiculous—it was consistent with the practice of M. Bonaparte, who is far too great to respect a promise it asserted the imperial dogma of authority —it dispensed with parlage—it cut short impertinent curiosity—it prevented scandals, which the "eternal enemies of order" might extract from the balance sheet of the coup d'etat, the household and the Ministry—and it exhibited the delightful spectacle of a Budget positively in equilibrium.

There are various kinds of equilibrium. The vulgar one is to stand upon both feet, but there is nothing singular in that. A gentleman astonishes the streets of London by poising a pipe on the tip of his nose—another stands with his head on a spear—a third borrows the brawny limbs of a fellow mountebank and hangs by them in various and extraordinary fashions. The equilibrium of the Budget is a pose arithmetique of this description. It is a deep financial exercitation, worthy of the most "pleasant" days of Hudson. To a common-place economist, who merely trusts in figures, this most miraculous equilibrium would seem a deficit of 53 millions now, and when the civil list and "the supplementary credits" are thrown in, of 100 millions at the least.

Since this Budget by proclamation, a charming item has not added to the income. The 35 millions appropriated by M. Bonaparte from the Orleans' spoil to assurance societies, labourers' lodgings, the Legion of "Honour," and the curates' fund, are now to be raised by the sale of the national forests. The confiscated property is taken in pawn to secure repayment. A revolution may disturb this larcenous thimble-rig, and "the little pea" may not be found where M. Bonaparte has seemed to put it. The 35 millions of bribes in the mean time, go to assist the "equilibrium."

The Prefects are deservedly in good odour. Their exertions during the last twelve months have been most exemplary. They were the elegiasts of the Emperor gone, the trumpeters of the Emperor to come—they hunted down the Socialist game which M. Carlier started — they cooked for the gobemouches of " the groat party of order," the daily dèjeûner in the morning journals of departmental Jacqueries, conspiracies, and carmagnoles—they organised the claqueurs for the Presidential progresses, and brigaded the Bonapartist troupe for the balls and banquets they managed the petitioning against the Constituent Assembly and that for the revision of the Constitution—they covered the coup d'état with the pretended rising of the Red Republicans—they manufactured the seven millions and a half of votes—they took charge of universal suffrage and freedom of election for the Corps Légistif—and they are destined for the glorious mission of duly getting up the Empire. Gratitude is said to be a lively sense of future favours ; M. Bonaparte makes it a retaining fee for future services. His decree on what he jocosely christens "decentralization" is both a reward and bribe. The Prefects obtain the monopoly of the business and of the jobs of their departments. They are more than Pashas in irresponsible authority, and they only need the horse tails, the bowstring, and the bastinado. Their salaries are augmented as liberally as their perquisites. The celebrated commissaries of Ledru Rollin passed for the incarnation of republican rapacity. These cormorants pouched for three months' work £150. a piece. As a set off against this profligate profusion, the Republic reduced the income of the Prefects a third below the standard of the Revolution of July. M. Bonaparte has raised it above that level, and has almost doubled the budget of the Prefectures, by the trifling addition of nearly two millions to the prosperous budget of the State. Another help to the " equilibrium."

The Legion of Honour already owed much to Louis Napoleon. Its riband was like the recruiting sergeant's, and was fastened on all who would enlist for Bonaparte. The "legion" was as numerous and almost as respectable as the gendarmerie. It was a mark of singularity not to belong to it. The position it now holds is higher still. On the 21st March, the President reviewed the Parisian regiments, paternally addressed them, in imitation of Feargus O'Connor, as his "glorious children," and generously bestowed on a considerable number of "distinguished" privates, the order, a medal, and 100 francs per annum filched from the House of Orleans. Twenty of these new ornaments of the Legion were selected for their exploits in the great days of December. These heroes of the Boulevard have no reason to complain. Five francs, and upwards, for the job, a jollification on eau-de-vie, brutal arrests of unarmed representatives, brilliant assaults on undefended barricades, and a battue of the bourgeoisie are "glorious" claims for decoration and a pension. Their brothers in riband must be gratified to think that these fresh associates are the " butchers" of their parents, relatives, and friends. M. Bonaparte, however, has stamped a new chivalry upon the corps, by conferring on it the enviable privilege, though rather difficult task, of swearing a solemn oath of fidelity to honour and to him.

The speakers of the Peace Society inquire with ingenious simplicity, what motive could possibly impel French soldiers to assail their British brothers Fraternity ? is, we know, a military virtue, and armies are not drilled to passive obedience, broken to discipline, formed and flogged to do the bidding of the State, fond of plunder, greedy of promotion, given to gazettes and glory, nor disposed to do a little quiet business in blood, rape, robbery, and arson. Admitting these too obvious truisms, it is still questionable if the soldiery of France would decidly refuse to execute a "razzia" upon "merry England," Peace Society and all, were the order issued and the feat possible. The bandits who, in their own capital, for four shillings and two-pence each, poured drunken volleys into first floor windows, shot at their doors unresisting citizens, bayonetted their flying shrieking country-women, and were dubbed for this new massacre of St. Bartholomew, " heroes" in the order of the day, "glorious children" of the President, and pensionaries of the Legion of Honour, are not likely to be more particular in their dealings with "Perfidious Albion." Those amateur preachers of peace at all price are the elite of monomaniacs. They require keepers, not reporters—their place is Hanwell, not the London Tavern—and their chairman should be Dr. Connolly. 

Oaths appear to share with "costumes" Louis Napoleon's leisure hours. Extensive practice and personal experience render him a high authority in both. In November, 1836, he pledged his "honour" to Louis Philippe that he would trouble France no more. The expedition to Boulogne was the ratification of the promise. On the 20th December, 1848, he swore "in the presence of God and man," to be true to the Republic and the Constitution. On three subsequent occasions, he clinched that oath with now, spontaneous, and uncalled for sanctions. The "honour" pledged to Louis Phillippe having come again into his possession, was pawned to the Republic, for the benefit of it and his "successor." On the 2d of December, "God and man" saw that "honour" a second time redeemed, those asservations verified, and those oaths fulfilled. M. Bonaparte thinks with Hudibras,

He that imposes an oath makes it,
Not he that, for convenience, takes it,
Then how can any man be said,
To break an oath he never made?'

To those who rise to a philosophic view of the obligations of truth and swearers, this reasoning will probably be satisfactory. Perhaps, it is on some such theory that M. Bonaparte, who has imposed on all, "imposes" oaths on every functionary. From Judges to the runners of the Court, from Senators to door-keepers, from Prefects to their touters, from the Council of State to the Gardes Champetres, all swear allegiance to the President and to their places, and plunge with the same readiness into livery and perjury. They conceive, no doubt, that they are bound to follow M. Bonaparte's example, and that the most delicate compliment which they can offer, is to keep their oaths as he has done.

The vulgar perjurer who receives his sentence from a Bench awful with wigs and ermine, imagines, perhaps, that those solemn lips which consign him to the hulks, are the sacred sanctuary of truth and justice. The Judges of France are wiser in their generation. They naturally ask—

Why should not conscience have vacation,
 As well as other Courts i' the nation ?

In their holyday exhilaration those venerable men display quite a juvenile alacrity in swearing. Their president, Portalis, who had sworn in turns to the Empire, the Restoration, and the Revolution of July, and who would have sworn to the Republic, had it wanted him, has twice already with gaité de cour taken an oath to M. Bonaparte. He has attained the age of 75, the grand climacteric of Napoleonian Judges, when the slightest indiscretion may lay them on the shelf. The "head" of the magistracy has been followed by its "body," who have swallowed their oaths in globo. This devotion to their country is the more laudable, as some had attainted M. Bonaparte as traitor in the High Court of Justice, and some had condemned him to imprisonment for life after the invasion of Boulogne.

In all France there are four men who have refused to swear to successful usurpation. Three Republican deputies, Cavaignac, Carnot, and Henon, have protested in a simple and a noble letter, and one poor hussier has resigned his place rather than violate his conscience. Legitimist nobles, Orleanist millionares, the princes of the Church, and the dignitaries of the judgment seat, have "murmured" at the audacity and laughed, we may be sure, at the squeamishness of those recusants, and affronted with indifference the penalties of Heaven and contempt of men. Before this swelling tide of official perjury, France, will become a people of liars, and every man, woman, and child a Jesuit.

With a view to effect, the eve of the assemblage of "the great bodies of the State" was signalised by a decree, which proclaimed the cessation of the state of siege in "Continental France," and announced that, in future, all arrests would be "according to law." As trial by jury has become a myth, as the Judges are punishable and removable, as the habeas corpus for Judge or prisoner would be somewhat difficult to serve, and as "law" means M. Bonaparte's good pleasure, the boon may be placed in the same category with universal suffrage, freedom of election, the "Republic," the Constitution," and many other peculiar Bonapartist blessings.

The "dictatorship" and the "decrees" have terminated, like most public entertainments, by a grand finale. It would be useless to count and most narcotic to detail the titles of the motley group. They range from cod-bangers to cathedral chapters, from pawnbrokers to Presbyterian synods, from the Society Islands to the slums of Paris. They "protect" soda, sugar, and maid-servants—annihilate public meetings and create private monopolies—multiply oaths, dictate prayers, and, stimulate gambling and speculation—declare alike the wages of the Senate, the salaries of chaplains, and the rewards of convicts—muzzle the printers and license the Bank—extend a bonus to cavalry horses and to railway " stags"—amnesty deserters and exile magistrates—settle the duties on salted fish, and unsettle those of the whole community.

M. Bonaparte proclaims to his crouching helots and his gaping dupes that his "mission" is the restoration of "authority." Authority in the Imperial vocabulary is the reign of Jesuitism, hypocrisy, and lies —the deification of perjury and adoration of success—intelligence burked by the gagging of the press, or brutalised by its degradation—morality poisoned by the narcotism of corruption—society stilled by the hand of the police, and the domestic hearth polluted by the spy—liberty crushed beneath the heel of the cuirassier and the gendarme—public slavery rivetted by private vice— the Legislature a sham and swindle, and legislators mere tax gatherers and lackeys—finance a chaos of rapacity, clap-trap, and profusion — the altar partitioned between Loyola and Machiavelli—trickery and violence nick-named "Government"—crime termed "Providence" — and blasphemy called "God."

If this be the "mission" of tyrannies and tyrants, then England has her "mission" too. It is to feed those beacon lights of Liberty, which, dead or dying on the Continent of Europe, blaze only on her head lands ; for she is its Vestal Virgin, and must watch by night and day lest the sacred flame expire.

April 12.

AN ENGLISHMAN.

Empire 24 August 1852

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