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The Recollections of Alexis de Tocqueville By Alexis de Tocqueville Characters: 33745

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

We were victorious, but our real difficulties were only about to commence, and I expected them. I have always held as a maxim, moreover, that it is after a great success that one generally comes across the most dangerous chances of ruin: so long as the peril lasts, one has only his adversaries to deal with, and he triumphs; but after the victory, one begins to have to reckon with himself, his slackness, his pride, the imprudent security inspired by victory, and he succumbs.

I was not exposed to this last danger, for I never imagined that we had surmounted our principal obstacles. I knew that these lay with the very men with whom we would have to govern the country, and that the rapid and signal defeat of the Montagnards, instead of guaranteeing us against the ill-will of the former, would expose us to it without delay. We should have been much stronger if we had not succeeded so well.

The majority consisted in the main, at that time, of three parties (the President's party in Parliament was as yet too few in number and of too evil repute to count). Sixty to eighty members at the utmost were sincerely with us in our endeavours to found a Moderate Republic, and these formed the only body we could rely upon in that huge Assembly. The remainder of the majority consisted of Legitimists, to the number of some one hundred and sixty, and of old friends or supporters of the Monarchy of July, for the most part representing those middle classes who had governed, and above all exploited, France during eighteen years. I felt at once that of these two parties, that of which we could most easily make use in our plans was the Legitimist party. The Legitimists had been excluded from power under the last government; they therefore had no places and no salaries to regret. Moreover, being for the most part considerable land-owners, they had not the same need of public functions as the middle class; or, at least, custom had not taught them the sweetness of place. Although in principles more irreconcilable to the Republic than the others, they were better able than most to accept its duration, for it had destroyed their destroyer, and had opened up to them a prospect of power; it had served at once their ambition and their desire for revenge; and it only aroused against itself their fear, which was, in truth, very great. The old Conservatives, who formed the bulk of the majority, were much more eager to do away with the Republic; but as the furious hatred which they bore it was strongly held in check by the fear of the risk they would run in endeavouring prematurely to abolish it, and as, moreover, they had long been accustomed to follow in the wake of power, it would have been easy for us to lead them had we been able to obtain the support, or even the mere neutrality of their leaders, of whom the principal were then, as is known, M. Thiers and M. Molé.

Appreciating this position of affairs, I understood that it was necessary to subordinate all secondary objects to the principal end in view, which was to prevent the overthrow of the Republic and especially to hinder the establishment of the bastard monarchy of Louis Napoleon. This was at the time the nearest threatening danger.

I thought first of guaranteeing myself against the mistakes of my friends, for I have always considered as profoundly sensible the old Norman proverb which says, "Lord, preserve me from my friends: I will preserve myself from mine enemies."

At the head of our adherents in the National Assembly was General Lamoricière, and I greatly dreaded his petulancy, his imprudent observations, and especially his idleness. I endeavoured to appoint him to an important and distant embassy. Russia had spontaneously recognized the new Republic; it was proper that we should resume the diplomatic relations with her which had been almost interrupted under the last Government. I cast my eyes upon Lamoricière in order to entrust him with this extraordinary and distant mission. He was, besides, a man cut out for a post of this kind, in which few but generals, and celebrated generals, succeed. I had some difficulty in persuading him, but the most difficult thing was to persuade the President of the Republic. He at first resisted, and told me on that occasion, with a sort of simplicity which pointed less to candour than to his difficulty in finding words in which to express himself (these very rarely gave utterance to his thoughts, but sometimes permitted them to glimmer through), that he wished to be represented at the principal Courts by ambassadors devoted to himself. This was not my view of the matter; for I, who was called upon to instruct the ambassadors, was quite determined to devote myself only to France. I therefore insisted, but I should have failed if I had not summoned M. de Falloux to my aid. Falloux was the only man in the Ministry in whom the President at that time had confidence. He persuaded him with arguments, of which I do not know the purport, and Lamoricière left for Russia. I shall say later what he did.

His departure reassured me as to the conduct of our friends, and I thought of winning or retaining the necessary allies. Here the task was more difficult on all points; for, outside my own department, I was unable to do anything without the consent of the Cabinet, which contained a number of the most honest minds that one could meet, but so inflexible and narrow in matters of politics, that I have sometimes gone so far as to regret not having rather had to do with intelligent rascals.

As to the Legitimists, my opinion was that they should be allowed to retain great influence in the direction of Public Instruction. This proposal had its drawbacks, but it was the only one which could satisfy them, and which could ensure us their support in return, when it should become a question of restraining the President and preventing him from upsetting the Constitution. This plan was followed. Falloux was given a free hand in his own department, and the Council allowed him to bring before the Assembly the plan of Public Instruction, which since became law on the 15th of March 1850. I also advised my colleagues to all the extent of my power to keep up good relations individually with the principal members of the Legitimist party, and I followed this line of conduct myself. I soon became and remained, of all the members of the Cabinet, the one who lived in the best understanding with them. I even ended by becoming the sole intermediary between them and ourselves.

It is true that my birth and the society in which I had been brought up gave me great facilities for this which the others did not possess; for, although the French nobility have ceased to be a class, they have yet remained a sort of freemasonry, of which all the members continue to recognize one another through certain invisible signs, whatever may be the opinions which make them strangers to one another, or even adversaries.

It so happened, therefore, that after annoying Falloux more than anyone else had done before entering the Cabinet, I had no sooner joined it than I easily became his friend. For that matter, he was a man worth taking the trouble of coaxing. I do not think that during my whole political career I ever met anyone of a rarer nature. He possessed the two essentials necessary for good leadership: an ardent conviction, which constantly drove him towards his aim without allowing itself to be turned aside by mortifications or dangers, and a mind which was both firm and supple, and which applied a great multiplicity and prodigious variety of means to the execution of a single plan. He was sincere in this sense, that he only considered, as he declared, his cause and not his private interest; but otherwise very sly, with a very uncommon and very effective slyness, for he succeeded, for the time being, in mingling truth and falsehood in his own belief, before serving up the mixture to the minds of others. This is the great secret which gives falsehood all the advantages of sincerity, and which permits its exponent to persuade to the error which he considers beneficial those whom he works upon or directs.

In spite of all my efforts, I was never able to bring about, I will not say a good understanding, but even a polite understanding between Falloux and Dufaure. It must be admitted that these two men had precisely the opposite qualities and defects. Dufaure, who in the bottom of his heart had remained a good west-country bourgeois, hostile to the nobles and the priests, was unable to put up with either Falloux's principles or his charming, refined manners, however agreeable they might seem to me. I succeeded, however, with great difficulty, in persuading him that he must not interfere with him in his own department; but as to allowing him to exercise the smallest influence upon what went on at the Ministry of the Interior (even within the limits where this was permissible and necessary), he would never hear speak of it. Falloux had in Anjou, where he came from, a prefect with whom he had reason to find fault. He did not ask that he should be dismissed, or even refused promotion; all he wanted was that he should be transferred, as he thought his own position compromised so long as no change took place, a change which was, moreover, demanded by the majority of the deputies for Maine-et-Loire. Unfortunately, this prefect was a declared friend to the Republic; and this was enough to fill Dufaure with distrust, and to persuade him that Falloux's only object was to compromise him by making use of him to strike at those of the Republicans whom he had not been able to reach till then. He refused, therefore; the other insisted; Dufaure grew still more obstinate. It was very amusing to watch Falloux spinning round Dufaure, pirouetting cleverly and gracefully, without finding a single opening by which to penetrate into his mind.

Dufaure let him have his say, and then confined himself to laconically replying, without looking at him, or only turning a dull, wry glance in his direction:

"I should like to know why you did not take advantage of your friend M. Faucher's period at the Home Office to rid yourself of your prefect."

Falloux contained himself, although he was naturally, I believe, of a very hasty temper; he came and told me his troubles, and I saw the bitterest spleen trickling through the honey of his speech. I thereupon intervened, and tried to make Dufaure understand that this was one of those demands which one cannot refuse a colleague unless one wishes to quarrel with him. I spent a month in this way, acting as a daily intermediary between the two, and expending more effort and diplomacy than I had employed, during the same period, in treating the great affairs of Europe. The Cabinet was more than once on the verge of breaking up over this puny incident. Dufaure gave way at last, but with such bad grace that it was impossible to thank him for it; so that he gave up his prefect without getting Falloux in exchange.

But the most difficult portion of our r?le was the conduct which we had to display towards the old Conservatives, who formed the bulk of the majority, as I have already said.

These had at one and the same time general opinions which they wished to force through and a number of private passions which they desired to satisfy. They wanted us to re-establish order energetically: in this we were their men; we wanted it as much as they did, and we did it as well as they could wish, and better than they could have done. We had proclaimed the state of siege in Lyons and several of the neighbouring departments, and by virtue of the state of siege we had suspended six Paris revolutionary papers, cashiered the three regiments of the Paris National Guard which had displayed indecision on the 13th of June, arrested seven representatives on the spot, and applied for warrants against thirty others. Analogous measures were taken all over France. Circulars addressed to all the agents showed them that they had to do with a Government which knew how to make itself obeyed, and which was determined that everything should give way before the law. Whenever Dufaure was attacked on account of these different acts by the Montagnards remaining in the Assembly, he replied with that masculine, nervous, and sharp-edged eloquence of which he was so great a master, and in the tone of a man who fights after burning his boats.

The Conservatives not only wanted us to administrate with vigour; they wished us to take advantage of our victory to pass preventive and repressive laws. We ourselves felt the necessity of moving in this direction, although we were not willing to go as far as they.

For my part, I was convinced that it was both wise and necessary to make great concessions in this respect to the fears and the legitimate resentment of the nation, and that the only means which remained, after so violent a revolution, of saving liberty was to restrict it. My colleagues were of the same opinion: we therefore brought in successively a law to suspend the clubs; another to suppress, with even more energy than had been done under the Monarchy, the vagaries of the press; and a third to regulate the state of siege.

"You are establishing a military dictatorship," they cried.

"Yes," replied Dufaure, "it is a dictatorship, but a parliamentary dictatorship. There are no individual rights which can prevail against the inalienable right of Society to protect itself. There are imperious necessities which are the same for all governments, whether monarchies or republics; and who has given rise to these necessities? To whom do we owe the cruel experience which has given us eighteen months of violent agitations, incessant conspiracies, formidable insurrections? Yes, no doubt you are quite right when you say that, after so many revolutions undertaken in the name of liberty, it is deplorable that we should be once again compelled to veil her statue and to place terrible weapons in the hands of the public powers. But whose fault is it, if not yours, and who is it that serves the Republic best, those who favour insurrections, or those who, like ourselves, apply themselves to suppressing them?"

These measures, these laws and this language pleased the Conservatives without satisfying them; and to tell the truth, nothing would have contented them short of the destruction of the Republic. Their instinct constantly impelled them in that direction, although their prudence and their reason restrained them on the road.

But what they desired above all things was to oust their enemies from place and to instal in their stead their partisans or their private friends. We were again brought face to face with all the passions which had brought about the fall of the Monarchy of July. The Revolution had not destroyed them, but only made them the more greedy; this was our great and permanent danger. Here again, I considered that we ought to make concessions. There were still in the public offices a very large number of those Republicans of indifferent capacity or bad character whom the chances of the Revolution had driven into power. My advice was to get rid of these at once, without waiting to be asked for their dismissal, in such a way as to inspire confidence in our intentions and to acquire the right to defend all the honest and capable Republicans; but I could never induce Dufaure to consent to this. He had already held the Ministry of the Interior under Cavaignac. Many of the public servants whom it would be necessary to dismiss had been either appointed or supported by him. His vanity was involved in the question of maintaining them in their positions, and his mistrust of their detractors would in any event have sufficed to persuade him to oppose their representations. He accordingly resisted. It was, therefore, not long before he himself became the object of all their attacks. No one dared tackle him in the tribune, for he was too sturdy a swordsman there; but he was constantly struck at from a distance and in the shade of the lobbies, and I soon saw a great storm gathering against him.

"What is it we have undertaken to do?" I often asked him. "To save the Republic with the assistance of the Republicans? No, for the majority of those who bear that name would assuredly kill us together with it; and those who deserve to bear the name do not number one hundred in the Assembly. We have undertaken to save the Republic with the assistance of parties which do not love it. We can only, therefore, govern with the aid of concessions; only, we must never yield anything substantial. In this matter, everything depends upon the degree. The best, and perhaps the only guarantee which the Republic at this moment possesses lies in our continuance in

power. Every honourable means should therefore be taken to keep us there."

To this he replied that fighting, as he did every day, with the greatest energy, against socialism and anarchy, he must satisfy the majority; as though one could ever satisfy men by thinking only of their general welfare, without taking into account their vanity and their private interests. If even, while refusing, he had been able to do so gracefully: but the form of his refusal was still more disobliging than the matter of it. I could never conceive how a man who was so much the master of his words in the tribune, so clever in the art of selecting his arguments and the words best calculated to please, so certain of always keeping to the expressions which would compel most agreement with his thought, could be so embarrassed, so sullen, and so awkward in conversation. This came, I believe, from his original education. He was a man of much intelligence, or rather talent-for of intelligence properly so-called he had hardly any-but of no knowledge of the world. In his youth he had led a laborious, concentrated, and almost savage life. His entrance into political life had not to any extent changed his habits. He had held aloof not only from intrigues, but from the contact of parties, assiduously occupying himself with affairs, but avoiding men, detesting the movement of assemblies, and dreading the tribune, which was his only strength. Nevertheless, he was ambitious after his fashion, but with a measured and somewhat inferior ambition, which aimed at the management rather than at the domination of affairs. His manner, as a minister, of treating people was sometimes very strange. One day, General Castellane, who was then in great credit, asked for an audience. He was received, and explained at length his pretensions and what he called his rights. Dufaure listened to him long and attentively; and then rose, led the general with many bows to the door, and left him standing aghast, without having answered a single word. When I reproached him with this conduct:

"I should only have had to say disagreeable things to him," he replied; "it was more reasonable to say nothing at all!"

It is easy to believe that one rarely left a man of this kind except in a very bad temper.

Unfortunately, he had as a sort of double a permanent secretary who was as uncouth as himself, and very stupid besides; so that when the solicitants passed from the Minister's office into the secretary's, in the hope of meeting with a little comfort, they found the same unpleasantness, minus the intelligence. It was like falling from a quickset hedge on to a bundle of thorns.

In spite of these disadvantages, Dufaure obtained the support of the Conservatives; but he was never able to win over their leaders.

The latter, as I had indeed foreseen, would neither undertake the government themselves nor allow any one else to govern with a free hand. They were unable to see without jealousy ministers at the head of affairs who were not their creatures, and who refused to be their instruments. I do not believe that, between the 13th of June and the last debates on the Roman question, in other words, during almost the whole life of the Cabinet, a single day passed without some ambush being laid for us. They did not fight us in the tribune, I admit; but they incessantly excited the majority secretly against us, blamed our decisions, criticized our measures, put unfavourable interpretations upon our speeches; unable to make up their minds to overthrow us, they arranged in such a way that, finding us wholly unsupported, they were always in a position, with the smallest effort, to hurl us from power. After all, Dufaure's mistrust was not always without grounds. The leaders of the majority wanted to make use of us in order to take rigorous measures, and to obtain repressive laws which would make the task of government easy to our successors, and our Republican opinions made us fitter for this, at that moment, than the Conservatives. They did not fail to count on soon bowing us out, and on bringing their substitutes upon the scene. Not only did they wish us not to impress our influence upon the Assembly, but they laboured unceasingly to prevent us from establishing it in the mind of the President. They persisted in the delusion that Louis Napoleon was still happy in their leading-strings. They continued to beset him, therefore. We were informed by our agents that most of them, but especially M. Thiers and M. Molé, were constantly seeing him in private, and urging him with all their might to overthrow, in concert with them, and at their common expense and to their common profit, the Republic. They formed, as it were, a secret ministry at the side of the responsible Cabinet. Commencing with the 13th of June, I lived in a state of continuous alarm, fearing every day that they would take advantage of our victory to drive Louis Napoleon to commit some violent usurpation, and that one fine morning, as I said to Barrot, the Empire should slip in between his legs. I have since learnt that my fears were even better founded than I at that time believed. Since leaving the ministry, I have learnt from an undoubted source that a plot was formed towards the month of July 1849 to alter the Constitution by force by the combined enterprise of the President and the Assembly. The leaders of the majority and Louis Napoleon had come to an agreement, and the blow only failed because Berryer, who no doubt feared lest he should be making a fool's bargain, refused his support and that of his followers. Nevertheless, the idea was not renounced, but only adjourned; and when I think that at the time when I am writing these lines, that is to say, two years only after the period of which I speak, the majority of these same men are growing indignant at seeing the people violate the Constitution by doing for Louis Napoleon precisely what they themselves at that time proposed to him to do, I find it difficult to imagine a more noteworthy example of the versatility of men and of the vanity of the great words "Patriotism" and "Right" beneath which petty passions are apt to cloak themselves.

We were no more certain, as has been seen, of the President than of the majority. In fact, Louis Napoleon was, for ourselves as well as for the Republic, the greatest and the most permanent danger.

I was convinced of this; and yet, when I had very attentively studied him, I did not despair of the possibility of establishing ourselves in his mind, for a time at least, in a fairly solid fashion. I soon discovered that, although he never refused to admit the majority leaders to his presence and to receive their advice, which he sometimes followed, and although he plotted with them when it suited his purpose, he nevertheless endured their yoke with great impatience; that he felt humiliated at seeming to walk in their leading-strings; and that he secretly burned to be free of them. This gave us a point of contact with him and a hold upon his mind; for we ourselves were quite resolved to remain independent of these great wire-pullers, and to uphold the Executive Power against their attacks.

It did not seem impossible to me, moreover, for us to enter partly into Louis Napoleon's designs without emerging from our own. What had always struck me, when I reflected upon the situation of that extraordinary man (extraordinary, not through his genius, but through the circumstances which had combined to raise his mediocrity to so high a level), was the need which existed to feed his mind with hope of some kind if we wished to keep him quiet. That a man of this stamp could, after governing France for four years, be dismissed into private life, seemed very doubtful to me; that he would consent to withdraw into private life, seemed very chimerical; that he could even be prevented, during the length of his term of office, from plunging into some dangerous enterprise seemed very difficult, unless, indeed, one were able to place before his ambition some point of view which might, if not charm, at least restrain him. This is to what I, for my part, applied myself from the beginning.

"I will never serve you," I said to him, "in overthrowing the Republic; but I will gladly strive to assure you a great position in it, and I believe that all my friends will end by entering into my plan. The Constitution can be revised; Article 45, which prohibits re-election, can be changed. This is an object which we will gladly help you to attain."

And as the chances of revision were doubtful, I went further, and I hinted to him as to the future that, if he governed France peacefully, wisely, modestly, not aiming at more than being the first magistrate of the nation, and not its corrupter or its master, he might possibly be re-elected at the end of his term of office, in spite of Article 45, by an almost unanimous vote, since the Monarchical parties did not see the ruin of their hopes in the limited prolongation of his power, and the Republican party itself looked upon a government such as his as the best means of accustoming the country to the Republic and giving it a taste for it.

I told him all this in a tone of sincerity, because I was sincere in saying it. What I advised him seemed to me, in fact, and still seems to me, the best thing to be done in the interest of the country, and perhaps in his own. He readily listened to me, without giving a glimpse of the impression my language made upon him: this was his habit. The words one addressed to him were like stones thrown down a well; their sound was heard, but one never knew what became of them. I believe, however, that they were not entirely lost; for there were two distinct men in him, as I was not long in discovering. The first was the ex-conspirator, the fatalistic dreamer, who thought himself called to govern France, and through it to dominate Europe. The other was the epicurean, who luxuriously made the most of his new state of well-being and of the facile pleasures which his present position gave him, and who did not dream of risking it in order to ascend still higher. In any case, he seemed to like me better and better. I admit that, in all that was compatible with the good of the public service, I made great efforts to please him. Whenever, by chance, he recommended for a diplomatic appointment a capable and honest man, I showed great alacrity in placing him. Even when his protégé was not very capable, if the post was an unimportant one, I generally arranged to give it him; but most often the President honoured with his recommendations a set of gaol-birds, who had formerly thrown themselves in desperation into his party, not knowing where else to betake themselves, and to whom he thought himself to be under obligations; or else he attempted to place at the principal embassies those whom he called "his own men," which most frequently meant intriguers and rascals. In that case I went and saw him, I explained to him the regulations, which were opposed to his wish, and the political reasons which prevented me from complying with it. I sometimes even went so far as to let him see that I would rather resign than retain office by doing as he wished. As he was not able to see any private reasons for my refusal, nor any systematic desire to oppose him, he either yielded without complaining or postponed the business.

I did not get off as cheaply with his friends. These were unspeakably eager in their rush for the spoil. They incessantly assailed me with their demands, with so much importunity, and often impertinence, that I frequently felt inclined to have them thrown out of the window. I strove, nevertheless, to restrain myself. On one occasion, however, when one of them, a real gallows-bird, haughtily insisted, and said that it was very strange that the Prince should not have the power of rewarding those who had suffered for his cause, I replied:

"Sir, the best thing for the President to do is to forget that he was ever a pretender, and to remember that he is here to attend to the affairs of France and not to yours."

The Roman affair, in which, as I shall explain later, I firmly supported his policy, until the moment when it became extravagant and unreasonable, ended by putting me entirely into his good graces: of this he one day gave me a great proof. Beaumont, during his short embassy in England at the end of 1848, had spoken very strongly about Louis Napoleon, who was at that time a candidate for the Presidency. These remarks, when repeated to the latter, had caused him extreme irritation. I had several times endeavoured, since I had become a minister, to re-establish Beaumont in the President's mind; but I should never have ventured to propose to employ him, capable as he was, and anxious though I was to do so. The Vienna embassy was to be vacated in September 1849. It was at that time one of the most important posts in our diplomatic service, because of the affairs of Italy and Hungary. The President said to me of his own accord:

"I suggest that you should give the Vienna embassy to M. de Beaumont. True, I have had great reason to complain of him; but I know that he is your best friend, and that is enough to decide me."

I was delighted. No one was better suited than Beaumont for the place which had to be filled, and nothing could be more agreeable to me than to offer it him.

All my colleagues did not imitate me in the care which I took to gain the President's good-will without doing violence to my opinions and my wishes. Dufaure, however, against every expectation, was always just what he should be in his relations towards him. I believe the President's simplicity of manners had half won him over. But Passy seemed to take pleasure in being disagreeable to him. I believe that he considered that he had degraded himself by becoming the minister of a man whom he looked upon as an adventurer, and that he endeavoured to regain his level by impertinence. He annoyed him every day unnecessarily, rejecting all his candidates, ill-treating his friends, and contradicting his opinions with ill-concealed disdain. No wonder that the President cordially detested him.

Of all the ministers, the one who was most in his confidence was Falloux. I have always believed that the latter had gained him by means of something more substantial than that which any of us were able or willing to offer him. Falloux, who was a Legitimist by birth, by training, by society, and by taste, if you like, belonged at bottom to none but the Church. He did not believe in the triumph of the Legitimism which he served, and he only sought, amid all our revolutions, to find a road by which he could bring back the Catholic religion to power. He had only remained in office so that he might watch over its interests, and, as he said to me on the first day with well-calculated frankness, by the advice of his confessor. I am convinced that from the beginning Falloux had suspected the advantages to be gained from Louis Napoleon towards the accomplishment of this design, and that, familiarizing himself at an early date with the idea of seeing the President become the heir of the Republic and the master of France, he had only thought of utilizing this inevitable event in the interest of the clergy. He had offered the support of his party without, however, compromising himself.

From the time of our entrance into affairs until the prorogation of the Assembly, which took place on the 13th of August, we did not cease to gain ground with the majority, in spite of their leaders. They saw us every day struggling with their enemies before their eyes; and the furious attacks which the latter at every moment directed against us advanced us gradually in their good graces. But, on the other hand, during all that time we made no progress in the mind of the President, who used to suffer our presence in his counsels rather than to admit us to them.

Six weeks later it was just the opposite. The representatives had returned from the provinces incensed by the clamour of their friends, to whom we had refused to hand over the control of local affairs; and on the other hand, the President of the Republic had drawn closer to us; I shall show later why. One would have said that we had advanced on that side in the exact proportion to that in which we had gone back on the other.

Thus placed between two props badly joined together and always tottering, the Cabinet leant now upon one, now upon the other, and was always liable to tumble between the two. It was the Roman affair which brought about the fall.

Such was the state of things when the parliamentary session was resumed on the 1st of October 1849, and when the Roman affair was handled for the second and last time.

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