Page images

of May-which ushered in so remarkable an episode in the Parliament of France-becoming known, there was a general meeting of the Republican majority, at which about 250 members of the Chamber of Deputies were present. M. Gambetta, in addressing the meeting, recommended moderation, and declared he had no idea of attacking the President, but only those evil advisers who were misleading him, and he proposed the following declaration, drawn up by the bureaux of the three sections of the majority, which was passed without discussion:-"The Chamber, considering that it is incumbent upon it in the present crisis, in order to accomplish the mandate which it received from the country, to recall the fact that the preponderance of the Parliamentary power exercised through Ministerial responsibility is the first condition of the government of the country by the country-to establish which was the object of the constitutional laws-declares that the confidence of the majority will only be enjoyed by a Cabinet which is free in its action and resolved to govern in accordance with Republican principles, which can alone secure order and prosperity at home and abroad."

The next day, at a full sitting of the Chamber, M. Gambetta vehemently denounced those "secret advisers who were urging the first magistrate to his ruin." He proposed to spare the Marshal, "whose mind," he said, "was too military to be cognisant of political affairs; " but the country, "sole sovereign, was determined to have the Republic sage et définitif," and to "rid itself, once for all, of those livid faces which hung over it like a nightmare"-" a metaphor" (it was remarked by a Paris correspondent of a London paper) "which seemed quite as appropriate to M. Gambetta's own ambercoloured visage as those to whom it was addressed."

The order of the day (which had been approved of the day before at the general meeting of the Republican majority already noticed) was voted by 355 to 154.

On the day following, Friday, the Government was prepared with its answer to the interpellation and order of the day passed by the Chamber; and a message from the President was read in both Houses. In it Marshal MacMahon maintained that he had scrupulously conformed to the Constitution. He chose the Cabinets of M. Dufaure and M. Jules Simon for the purpose of placing himself in accord with the majority of the Chamber. Those Cabinets were, however, unable to command a majority in the Chamber capable of causing proper ideas to prevail. He could not proceed farther in this direction without appealing to the Republican faction, which desires a radical modification of all the institutions of the country.

"Neither my conscience nor my patriotism," he continued, "permits me to share, even afar off and as regards the future, in the triumph of those ideas. I do not think it opportune, either to-day, or to-morrow, or at any period, that they should prevail. They would only engender disorder and the degradation of France.

I will neither try its application myself nor facilitate its trial by my successors. As long as I am the depositary of power, I shall make use of it to the whole extent of its legal limits, to oppose what I regard as the ruin of my country. But I am convinced that the country thinks as I do. It was not the triumph of these theories which it wished at the last elections. That is not what was announced to it by those who took advantage of my name, and declared themselves resolved to sustain my power. I· remain none the less now, as hitherto, firmly resolved to respect and maintain the institutions which are the work of the Assembly from which I hold power, and which have constituted the Republic. Until 1880 I am the only man who could propose a change. I meditate nothing of the kind. All my advisers are, like me, determined to work the institutions loyally, and are incapable of striking any blow at them."

[ocr errors]

During the reading of the message in the Senate, the behaviour of the Left was disgraceful, and almost defied description. "They behaved," said an eye-witness, "as the mountain of old might have done. In vain the Duc d'Audiffret-Pasquier begged them to remember that it was a message from the President of the Republic that was being read from the tribune. He was answered by shouts, or rather howls, of Let him speak the truth! Let him speak the truth!' while some of these Senators actually left their seats to clench their fists almost under M. de Broglie's nose!" In the Senate M. Jules Simon begged to offer some political explanations; but the constitution forbids all discussion, after the decree of prorogation (and this followed immediately upon the message) without the permission of Government, and that the Duc de Broglie refused. In the Chamber of Deputies M. Gambetta was gagged by the same means. The Government, in fact, was in no way conciliatory, but acted with a high hand in both Chambers, which were prorogued until June 16, with a prospect of dissolution, should the Senate assent to that measure.

The prorogation of the Chambers was followed immediately by another meeting of the Republican Deputies, and this resulted in their issuing a manifesto to the country, signed by 345 out of 533 Deputies, protesting against the new Ministère de Combat, and M. Thiers' name appeared at the foot of the appeal, in ominous conjunction with such names as Barodet, Louis Blanc, Clemenceau, Floquet, Spuller, Raspail, and others. The text of this historical document, which represented Republicans of every shade, was as follows:

"Dear fellow-citizens,-A decree which has just struck a blow at your representatives is the first act of the new Ministry de Combat, which aspires to hold in check the will of France. The message of the President of the Republic leaves no doubt as to the intentions of his counsellors. The Chamber is adjourned for a month, till the decree to dissolve it is obtained from the Senate. A Cabinet which had never lost the majority in any vote has been

dismissed without discussion. The new Ministers knew that if they had allowed Parliament to speak, the day that witnessed their advent would have also witnessed their fall. As it is impossible for us to publicly express our reprobation from the tribune, our first thought is to turn towards you, and tell you, like the Republicans of the National Assembly of the 24th of May, 1873, that the efforts of the men who have returned to power will be once more powerless. France wishes the Republic. She said so on the 20th of February, 1876. She will say so again every time she is consulted, and it is because universal suffrage has to renew this year the Departmental and Communal Councils that it is attempted to stop the expression of the national will, and that the first step taken is to shut your representatives' mouths. As after the 24th of May the nation will show, by its coolness, patience, and resolution, that an incorrigible minority cannot wrest from it its own government. However painful this unexpected trial may be which is disturbing the interest, and which might compromise the success of the grand efforts of our industry for the great and pacific Universal Exhibition of 1878, whatever be the national anxiety amid the complications of European politics, France will let herself neither be deceived nor intimidated. She will resist every provocation. The Republican functionaries will remain at their posts and await the decree which separates them from constituencies whose confidence they have. Those of our countrymen who have been called into the elective councils of the nation will redouble their zeal and activity, their devotion and patriotism, to maintain the rights and liberties of the country. We shall enter into direct communication with you. We call upon you to pronounce between the policy of reaction, which overturns all that six years have so painfully gained— and the wise and firm, pacific and progressive policy which you have already consecrated. The trial will not be long. five months at most France will speak; the Republic will issue, stronger than ever, from the popular urns; the parties of the past will be finally vanquished; and France will be able to face the future with calmness and confidence."


Marshal MacMahon had indeed got rid of a minister he disliked in, no doubt, an arbitrary and high-handed fashion, but he had not as yet violated the strict letter of the Constitution. Nor would he do so if (at the request of his new Ministry and with the consent of the Senate) he dissolved the National Parliament and appealed from the Chamber to the country.

The powers, in fact, vested in the President by the Constitution were very considerable, and they may be briefly summarised as follows:

"1. The right of dissolving the Chamber of Deputies, in conjunction with the Senate; 2. The right of proroguing the Chambers, but the prorogation cannot exceed one month, nor can the Chambers be prorogued more than twice in one session; 3. The right of pronouncing the termination of the parliamentary session,

the duration of which is fixed at the minimum of five months per annum; 4. The right of suspending the promulgation of laws, by requesting the Chambers, by means of a message, to consider their decision: the two Chambers cannot refuse; 5. The right of demanding or proposing the entire or partial revision of the constitutional laws; 6. The right of disposing of the army and navy, of nominating to all civil and military appointments, &c., on the condition of each act being countersigned by a Minister; 7. The right of proclaiming martial law with, its consequences. The President of the Republic can also choose his own Ministers."

During the four weeks' prorogation the Duc de Broglie and M. de Fourtou, in view of an approaching dissolution, were energetically employed in preparing the country for the approaching elections. Accordingly, a clean sweep was made of all Republican functionaries-prefects, sub-prefects, judges and justices of the peace, the press was sternly regulated, political meetings were forbidden, and the Government screw was tightened in every possible manner, but, at the same time, Marshal MacMahon repeatedly declared that he would lend himself to no coup-de-main of any kind whatever. He believed that the nation was with him, and, though it had been entrapped into returning Radical candidates in 1876 by a misuse of his name, he felt confident that the result at the next elections would be very different.


Reopening of the Chambers-The President's Message-Debate upon the Ministry — Dissolution of the Chamber-Death of M. Thiers-Its Political Importance-M. Thiers' Funeral-Marshal MacMahon's Tour-His Manifesto-Official DecreesDeath of M. Le Verrier.

THE Chambers reassembled at Versailles, after a four weeks' prorogation, on June 16, and the opening of the session was as stormy as might have been anticipated from the nature of the crisis. Political excitement was at fever heat, party animosity had become virulent, and the result was that the minorities in both houses denounced each other in the wildest excesses of language and demeanour.

In the Senate, the Duc de Broglie read the President's new message, asking the consent of that body to an immediate dissolution of the Chamber of Deputies.

His message (which was at least outspoken and to the point) stated plainly why he considered that a dissolution was necessaryviz., that he could appoint no Ministry capable of working with the Chamber of Deputies then sitting, but one which must be of itself more or less subservient to the Radicals, whose instrument he would then be in carrying into practice their pernicious doctrines.

The Left expressed their disapprobation by loud vociferations;

but as the Right kept silence an unseemly conflict was avoided. The text of the President's message was as follows:

"MM. les Sénateurs,-By virtue of Article 3 of the Constitutional Law of the 25th of February, 1875, the President of the Republic is invested with the right of dissolving the Chamber of Deputies, with the concurrence of the Senate. This serious step now appears to me necessary. I ask you to give your assent to it. My Ministers are deputed to explain to you the reasons which actuate me. On the 16th of May I had to declare to the country that disagreements existed between the Chamber of Deputies and myself. I showed that no Ministry could maintain itself in that Chamber without seeking the alliance and meeting the conditions of the Radical party. A Government bound to such a necessity is no longer master of its own actions. Whatever its personal intentions, it is reduced to serving the ends of those whose support it has accepted and to paving the way for their accession. It is this to which I would no longer lend myself. When such want of accord exists between the public powers, dissolution is the means provided by the constitution itself for putting an end to it. I should, however, have preferred the date of it being delayed, in particular that before separating the Chambers should have been able to vote the Budget of 1878. The month's prorogation which has just elapsed might have served to pacify men's minds and restore to them the calmness necessary for the discussion of affairs. This result has not been obtained. Scarcely was the prorogation pronounced when more than 300 deputies protested in a manifesto, with whose terms you are acquainted, against the use I had made of my constitutional right. That manifesto has been circulated wholesale. A large number of those who signed it have supported it either by their letters to their constituents or by speeches delivered at numerously attended meetings. Some, even under the protection of Parliamentary privilege, have made use of such expressions that justice has had to proceed against the newspapers which reproduced them. Such an agitation could not be prolonged without causing profound trouble. Those indulging in it cannot be surprised at my summoning them before the country which they have themselves addressed. I confine myself, therefore, to asking the Chamber of Deputies to vote some urgent bills which the patriotism of all parties will surely not allow to be challenged. The dissolution, then, promply pronounced, will enable the new Chamber to meet in time to ensure the supplies of next year. I shall address myself with confidence to the nation. France, like me, desires to maintain intact the institutions which govern us. She desires as much as I that these institutions should not be disfigured by the action of Radicalism. She does not desire that in 1880-the day when the Constitutional laws may be revised-everything should be prepared beforehand for the disorganisation of all the moral and material forces of the country. Warned in time, guarding against all misunderstanding and ambiguity, France, I am sure, will do justice to

« PreviousContinue »