Report of the French senatorial committee on the petitions to change the Second Republic into a Second Empire

Messieurs les Senateurs: France, attentive and excited, now demands from you a great political act—to put an end to her anxieties and to secure her future.

But this act, however serious it may be, does not meet with any of those capital difficulties which hold in suspense the wisdom of legislators. You know the wishes expressed by the councils general, the councils of arrondissement, and the addresses of the communes of France: wishes for stability in the government of Louis Napoleon, and for return to a political form which has struck the world by the majesty of its power and by the wisdom of its laws. You have heard that immense petition of a whole people rushing on the steps of its liberator, and those enthusiastic cries, which we may almost call a plébiscite by anticipation, proceeding from the hearts of thousands of agriculturists and workmen, manufacturers and tradesmen. Such manifestations simplify the task of statesmen. There are circumstances in which fatal necessities prevent the firmest legislator from acting in accordance with public opinion and with his own reason; there are others where he requires a long consideration in order to solve questions on which the country has not sufficiently decided. You, gentlemen, are not exposed either to this constraint or to this embarrassment. The national will presses and supplicates you, and your exalted experience tells you that in yielding to her entreaties you will contribute to replace France in the paths which are suitable to her interests, to her grandeur, and to the imperious necessities of her situation. All this is in fact explained by the events which take place before you.

After great political agitations, it always happens that nations throw themselves with joy into the arms of the strong man whom Providence sends to them. It was the fatigue of civil wars which made a monarch of the conqueror of Actium; it was the horror of revolutionary excesses, as much as the glory of Marengo, which raised the imperial throne. In the midst of the recent dangers of the country, this strong man showed himself, on the 10th of December, 1848, and on the 2d of December, 1851, and France confided to him her standard, which was ready to perish. If she has declared her will to confide it to him forever in this memorable journey, which was only one suite of triumphs, it is because, by his courage and by his prudence, the man has shown himself equal to the task; it is because, when a nation feels herself tormented by the agitations of a stormy government, a necessary reaction leads it towards him who can best secure order, stability and repose.

Louis Napoleon, therefore, is in this wonderful situation, that he alone holds in his hands these inestimable gifts. He has in the eyes of France, his immense services, the magic of his popularity, the souvenirs of his race, the imperishable remembrance of order, of organization, and of heroism, which make the hearts of all Frenchmen beat. He again revives in the eyes of Europe the greatest name of modern days, no more for the military triumphs for which his history is so rich, but for chaining down the political and social tempests, for endowing France with the conquests of peace, and for strengthening and fertilizing the good relations of states. Both at home and abroad it is to him that is attached a vast future of pacific labor and of civilization. That future must not be delivered to the chance of events and to the surprise of factions.

That is why France demands the monarchy of the emperor; that is to say, order in revolution, and rule in democracy. She wished it on the 10th December, when the artifices of an inimical constitution prevented the people from expressing their opinion. She wished it again on December 20, when the moderation of a noble character prevented its being demanded. But now the public sentiment overflows like a torrent; there are moments when enthusiasm has also the right of solving questions. For some time past visible signs announced what must be the mission of Louis Napoleon, and the foreseeing reason of statesmen put itself in accordance with the popular instinct in order to fix the character of it. After the bitter sarcasm which put the heir to a crown at the head of the republic, it was evident that France, still democratic from her habits, never ceased to be monarchical in her instincts, and that she wished for the re-establishment of the monarchy in the person of the prince who revealed himself to her as the conciliator of two ages and of two minds, the line of union of the government and of the people, the monarchical symbol of organized democracy.

At the end of the last century, the preponderance of the democratic element gave rise to a belief in speculative or ardent minds that France ought to mark the new era into which she had entered by a divorce between her government and the monarchical form. The republic was borrowed from the souvenirs of antiquity. But in France political imitations seldom succeed. Our country, although taxed with frivolity, is invincibly attached to certain national ideas and to certain traditional habits, by which it preserves the originality of which it is proud. The republic could not acclimatize itself on the French soil. It perished from its own excesses, and it only went into those excesses because it was not in' the instincts of the nation. It was but an interval, brilliant abroad, and terrible at home, between two monarchies.

At that period, glory had raised to power one of those men who found dynasties and who traverse ages. It is on that new stem that France saw flourish a monarchy suitable to modern times, and which yielded to no other in its grandeur and in its power. Was it not a great lesson to see a similar fortune reserved, fifty years after, for a second trial of the republican form? Is it not a striking example of the perseverance of the French mind in things which are like the substance of her political life? Is not the proof complete and decisive?

It will be the more so, as the imperial monarchy has all the advantages of the republic without its dangers. The other monarchical régimes (the illustrious services of which we will not depreciate) have been accused of having placed the throne too far from the people, and the republic, boasting of its popular origin, skilfully entrenched itself against them in the masses, who believed themselves to be forgotten and overlooked. But the empire, stronger than the republic on democratic grounds, removes that objection. It was the government the most energetically supported and the most deeply regretted by the people. It is the people who have again found it in their memory to oppose it to the dreams of ideologists and to the attempts of perturbators. On the one hand, it is the only one which can glorify itself in the right recognized by the old monarchy, that it is to the French nation that it belongs to choose its king; on the other, it is the only one which has not had quarrels to settle with the people. When it disappeared in 1814, it was not by a struggle of the nation against its government. The chances of an unequal foreign war brought about that violent divorce. But the people have never ceased to see in the empire its emanation and its work; and they placed it in their affections far above the republic—an anonymous and tumultuous government, which they remember much more by the violence of its proconsuls than by the victories which were the price of French valor.

That is why the Napoleonic monarchy absorbed the republic a first time, and must absorb it a second time. The republic is virtually in the empire, on account of the contract-like character of the institution, and of the communication and express delegation of power by the people. But the empire is superior to the republic, because it is also the monarchy; that is to say, the government of all confided to the moderating action of one, with hereditary succession as a condition, and stability as its consequence. Monarchy has the excellent quality of yielding admirably to all the progress of civilization: by turns feudal, absolutist, and mixed; always old and always modern, it only remains to it to reopen the era of its democratic transformation, which was inaugurated by the emperor. That is what France now wishes; it is what is asked of you by a country fatigued with utopian ideas, incredulous with respect to political abstractions, and whose genius, a union of sound sense and poesy, is so constituted that it only believes in power under the figure of a hero or a prince.

Even if the love of Frenchmen for monarchy be only a prejudice, it must be respected; a people can only be governed in accordance with its ideas. But it must in particular be respected, because it is inspired by the most essential wants and the most legitimate interests of the country.

France is a great state which wishes to preserve at home and abroad the force which a vast territory and thirty-five millions of inhabitants give. She is both agricultural and commercial. Notwithstanding the fertility of her soil, she would be poor if manufactures were not to add immense personal to real capital, and if the tastes for polite enjoyments and moderate luxury did not give to labor an aliment always new. But labor, in order to arrive at the result of its enterprises, should be seconded by so many advances of funds, and such a persevering continuance of efforts, that all success would escape it if it were interrupted or troubled by the storms of disquieting and subversive policy. It demands, therefore, stability of institutions, as the source of confidence and the mother of credit.

All these conditions of a regular and prosperous life the monarchy procures to France; any other form can only compromise them.

Monarchy is the government of great states, to which institutions made for duration are marvellously suitable, as the most solid foundations are required for a vast edifice. The republic, on the contrary, is only the government of small states, if we except the United States of America, which, by their geographical position, form an exception to all rules, which, besides, are only a federation; a republic has never been able to establish itself except in small nations, in which the embarrassments of that difficult and complicated form of government are corrected by the small extent of territory and population.

Ancient Rome, so far from contradicting this rule, fully confirms it. The republic was only in the city and for the city. Beyond it there were only avaricious masters and oppressed subjects. If ever France can be said to have had a sort of neighborhood with the republic, it was in the middle ages, when the republican spirit, extinguished from the time of the Cæsars, had become awakened in a part of Europe; when France was only a chess-board of almost independent provinces; and when the feudal principalities were in all parts menaced by the communal movement. But since that movement all the interior action of France has removed her from the republican form. She, in particular, separated from it, when she gave herself a united territory and thirty-five millions of inhabitants living under the same laws, in the same country, and united by an infinite chain of dependent interests, which the same movement of circulation causes to terminate in a sole centre. Such a people is not to be shaken, as were the citizens of a single city, even if called Athens or Rome. A country which lives by its labor, and not by the labor of slaves and presents from the state, cannot be occupied with speeches of the forum, with the permanent agitation of comitia, with the anxieties of politics always in ebullition. This fever, to which democratic republics give the name of political life, cannot with impunity be communicated to a nation whose splendor particularly consists in the pacific development of its wealth, and in the regular and intelligent activity of its private interests.

Our fathers learned these truths in the rude school of public and private misfortunes. They compose all the interior policy of the commencement of this century. Why should incorrigible innovators have in these latter times inflicted the too palpable demonstration of them upon us? We have seen altars raised to instability and to periodical convulsions—the two plagues of the social body; we have seen laws made to reduce to solemn precepts the febrile and terrible crisis which may ruin a people; we have seen the vessel of the state launched on an unknown sea, without a fixed point to guide itself by, without an anchor to cast out, and no one can say what would have become of the future of France, if Providence, watching over her, had not raised up the man of intrepid heart who extended his hand to her.

France, with full knowledge of what she is doing, intends to return to her natural state; she longs to find again her real position and to resume her equilibrium. The French people, in its admirable common sense, is not so infatuated with its superior qualities that it is not aware of its weak points. It feels itself variable in its impressions, prompt to be worked on, and easy to be led away. And because it distrusts the rapidity of a first movement, it seeks a fixed point in its institutions, and desires to be retained on a stable and solid basis. The French democracy has sometimes been compared to that of Athens. We have no objection to the comparison as far as politeness and elegance of mind are concerned, but we in all other respects utterly disclaim the similitude. The Greek democracies were nothing but a perpetual flux and reflux, never accepting the corrective of their levity. They were, besides, idle and grasping, living on the civic oboli and distributions of food. On the other hand, the French democracy, of a more masculine and more haughty character, does not look to the state for the care of its well-being; it depends on its own efforts for support, and most joyfully submits to the eternal law of God—daily labor. Its speculations comprise the whole world; it cultivates the earth with its free hands; it furrows the mighty deep with its vessels; it multiplies its industrial creations, engenders capital, and renders the future tributary to its able and immense combinations. When a nation thus founds its enterprise on credit and durability, when sometimes not less than half a century is necessary to it to reap the benefit of its operations, it is not the institutions of a day that can give it any hope of their success. It would be senseless if it did not desire to make the moving sphere of its interests turn round the motionless axis of a monarchy.

It is true that in France equality is an object of absolute worship, and a monarchy has, as its very first condition, the privileged existence of those grand and rare individualities which God raises above their fellows to form dynasties, and which are less human beings than the personification of a people and the concentrated radiation of a civilization. But equality, such as we conceive it in France, admits without jealousy those providential grandeurs, rendered legitimate by state reasons, below which it finds its level. At Rome and Athens equality consisted in rendering each citizen admissible to the supreme authority; and it is therefore that men considered all equality at an end when Augustus had converted the republic into a monarchy. In France we considered it as saved and confirmed forever, under the reign of the emperor. The reason is, that in this country of equality there is nothing that is less supported than the government of one's equals; because equality is there fully satisfied in holding everything in its grasp, places, credit, wealth, and renown, and in having a wide and open road before it to arrive at everything except that extreme point of power, that inaccessible summit, which the care of the public tranquillity has placed high above all private competition. By that the democracy wonderfully agrees with the monarchy, and that union is so much the more solid that common sense unites with the habits of the people in cementing it.

But should cavilling minds, believing themselves more wise than the whole country, bring forward as an objection to the desire expressed for the hereditary empire, the inconveniences which minorities and bad princes may, at certain intervals, produce in monarchical states, we would reply that all human institutions contain within themselves certain defects and weaknesses. The monarchy has not the privilege of perfection; it has simply, for France, the merit of an incontestable superiority over the system of perpetual election, which only offers an eternal series of struggles and hazards, and which solves one difficulty only for the purpose of immediately leaving another in suspense.

Some ancient states, believing that they were improving on the monarchical system, had placed in sovereign and immovable assemblies that element of stability which dynasties represent. But have not such assemblies also had their moments of weakness? Does not their history exhibit melancholy instances of venality or tyranny? Has not their baseness given them insolent and seditious guardians? And in the point of view of moral responsibility, which is one of the great checks on the conscience, there is not the slightest comparison between a man and an assembly. In assemblies, the responsibility of the body effaces that of the individuals; and as a collective responsibility is very nearly illusory, it comes to pass that that irresponsibility, which sometimes constitutes the force and independence of assemblies, is also the cause of their excesses. In a prince, on the contrary, the responsibility is undivided and inevitable, and presses with all its weight on the side of duty. In fine, when evil creeps into a sovereign political body, it continues there as a precedent, increases as a tradition, and the thing itself can only be kept up by keeping up the evil. On the contrary, if evil glides to the throne, it causes alarm only by temporary and intermittent perils, which are, besides, extenuated by the institutions and the modifications which are more easily effected in the case of a man than in that of an assembly. The feeble Louis XIII. was followed by the grand Louis XIV.; and, besides, Louis XIII. is, in the eyes of posterity, covered by his minister, Richelieu.

The general considerations appear to us to prove sufficiently that the national sentiment which addresses itself to you, gentlemen, as to sage mediators between the people and the prince, is neither a frivolous caprice nor a fleeting infatuation. Behind the fascination of a great name, and above the gratitude which is felt for the acts of a noble and patriotic courage, there are grand thoughts, powerful interests, and an admirable intuitive perception of the public wants. France, gentlemen, desires to have the life of a great nation, and not that precarious and sickly existence which wastes away the social body. During the last four years, whilst subjected to perilous experiments, she has known how to correct by her good sense the evils of a deplorable situation. But it is necessary that such a situation should be brought to a close. Up to the present time, she had been able to find, in the midst of the tempests which assailed her, only transitory gleams of safety, on which no future prosperity could possibly be based. At present, she is about to enter the port, to found, by means of the fortunate pilot whom she greets with joy, the edifice of her prosperity on the solid ground of monarchy.

Let us now look to the details of the draft of the senatus-consultum.

Louis Napoleon will take the name of Napoleon III. It is that name which re-echoed in the acclamations of the people; it is the name which was inscribed on the triumphal arches and trophies. We do not specially select it; we merely accept it from a natural and spontaneous election. It has, besides, that profound good sense which is always to be met with in the wonderful instincts of the people. It is a homage to Napoleon I., whom the people never forgets; and it is a pious remembrance for his youthful son, who was constitutionally proclaimed emperor of the French, and whose reign, short as it was, has not been effaced by the obscure existence of the exile. It solves for the future the question of succession, and signifies that the empire will be hereditary after Louis Napoleon, as it has been for himself. In fine, it connects the political phase to which we owe our safety with the glorious name which was also the safety of past times.

And yet, by the side of the traditional element, contemporary events preserve their proper value and their peculiar signification. If Louis Napoleon is called on at present to resume the work of his uncle, it is not merely because he is the heir of the emperor, but because he deserves to be so; it is on account of his devoted-ness to France, and of that spontaneous and personal action which has rescued the country from the horrors of anarchy. It is not sufficient for him to be the heir of the emperor; he must be again elected, for the third time, by the people. Thus the succession and the election will be in accord to double his force, the modern feet rendering the old one young and vigorous by the puissance of a reiterated consent and a second contract.

The senatus-consultum next invests Louis Napoleon with the right to adopt an heir, in default of a direct successor. Adoption, which is a common right in private families, cannot be an exception in dynastic families; for, when no natural heir exists, it is a principle in public law that the choice of the monarch belongs to the people. But that rule is that of ordinary times, and cannot suit in an absolute manner an order of things which again resumes a new course after a long interruption, and in the midst of the most extraordinary circumstances.

Louis Napoleon, the depositary of the confidence of the people, charged by it to draw up a constitution, can, on infinitely stronger grounds, receive the mandate to provide for certain eventualities, and to prevent certain crises in which that constitution might perish. The strokes of nature have been often terrible in reigning families, and have set at naught the councils of wisdom. The French people will not imagine that it makes too great a sacrifice of its rights in abandoning itself once more to the prudence of the prince whom it has made the arbiter of its destinies. This provision, besides, is borrowed from the imperial constitution. The empire which revives ought not to be less powerful in its means than was the empire at its commencement. And in order to remain within the letter and the spirit of that precedent, the senatus-consultum proposes to you not to admit of such adoption, except for the male descendants, natural and legitimate, of the brothers of Napoleon I. The right of unlimited adoption would be in manifest contradiction with the popular wish for the re-establishment of the empire, which is the guiding star of our deliberations. In fact, the empire is inseparable from the name of Bonaparte; and cannot be conceived without a member of that family with which the new form of the monarchy was stipulated in France. Everything ought to remain consistent in the work which we are considering.

But above that combination, solely of a political character, France places a hope which more than anything constitutes her faith in the future; and that is, that, at no distant period, a wife will take her place on the throne which is about to be raised and will give to the emperor scions worthy of his great name and of this great country. That debt was imposed on the prince on the day when the cries of Vive l'Empereur hailed him on his passage; and he will accept it virtually but necessarily the day when the crown will be placed on his head. For, since the empire is established with a view to the future, it ought to carry with it all the legitimate consequences which preserve that future from uncertainty and shocks.

In default of the direct line and of the adoptive line, the case of succession in the collateral line must be provided for. On that point we propose to you a clause, by which the people should confer on Louis Napoleon the right of regulating by an organic decree that order of succession in the Bonaparte family. By that means, our senatus-consultum will remain more perfectly in accord with the popular wish, which in its unlimited confidence has placed in Louis Napoleon's hands the destinies of the country; it will likewise be more in conformity with the political changes which France has entered into since 2d December. The greatest political genius of Italy, in the sixteenth century, was accustomed to say, in those rare and solemn moments in which the question is to found a new state, that the will of a single man was indispensable. That is what the nation comprehended so admirably when it remitted to Louis Napoleon the task of drawing up the constitution which governs us. At present, that a capital modification is taking place in one of the very foundations of that constitution, it appears natural and logical to again confer on Louis Napoleon a portion of the constituent power, in order that, in the special point which concerns most intimately the interests of the dynasty of which the nation declares him the head, he may fix on such provisions as appear to him best appropriated to the public interest and the interest of the monarch. For his family, as well as for the country, Louis Napoleon is the man of an exceptional situation, and no fear must be entertained of adding to his power, in order that, with the assent of all, he may settle it by the authority of a single person. We, therefore, propose to you, after a conference with the organs of the government, which has led to unanimity of opinion, an article thus worded: Art. 4. Louis Napoleon Bonaparte regulates, by an organic decree addressed to the senate and deposited in the archives, the order of succession to the throne in the Bonaparte family, in case he should not leave any direct or adopted heir.

It is not necessary for us to say to you that in this system the formula to be submitted to the French people ought to contain an express mention of that delegation. It will be necessary, according to the constitution, that the French people be called on to declare whether it desires or not to invest Louis Napoleon with the power which we conceive ought to be conferred on him.

After having thus spoken of the succession to the imperial crown, the senatus-consultum carries the attention to the condition of the family of the emperor. It divides it into two parts: 1, the imperial family, properly so called, composed of the persons who may by possibility be called to the throne, and of their descendants of both sexes; and 2, of the other members of the Bonaparte family.

The situation of the princes and princesses of the imperial family is to be regulated by senatus-consulta; and they cannot marry without the emperor's consent. Article 6 pronounces for any infraction of this regulation of public interest the penalty of losing all right to the succession, with the proviso, however, that in case of the dissolution of the marriage by the death of the wife, without issue, the right is at once recovered.

As to the other members of the Bonaparte family, who compose the civil family, it is to the emperor, and not any longer to senatus-consulta, that it appertains to fix by statutes their titles and situation. It is useless to insist on this distinction, as it is explained by the difference which exists between the civil family and that uniting in itself the double character of civil family and political family.

We have also to request your special attention to the final paragraph of Article 6, which confers on the emperor full and entire authority over all the members of his family. These special powers are called for by the gravest considerations, and belong to the right generally instituted for reigning families. Princes are placed in so elevated a position by public right and national interest, that they are, in many respects, out of the pale of the common law. The greater their privileges are, the more their duties are immense towards the country. Montesquieu has said: It is not for the reigning family that the order of succession is established, but because it is for the interest of the state that there should be a reigning family. They belong, therefore, to the state by stricter ties than other citizens, and on account even of their very greatness must be retained in a sort of perpetual ward-dom, under the guardianship of the emperor, the defender of their dignity, the appreciator of their actions, and serving to them as father as much as guardian, in order to preserve to the nation this patrimony in fact.

If these reasons do not apply in all their extent to the members of the private family, there are others of not less importance, which are drawn from the conjoint responsibility imposed by a name which is the property of the nation, as much as of the persons who have the honor of bearing it.

Besides, several of these persons have the privilege of being the only ones in the state that the emperor can place by adoption in the rank of the persons who may succeed to the crown. But there is no public privilege which ought not to be paid for by duties specially created to justify its necessity, and to co-operate in the object of its establishment.

There is another point which it is sufficient for us to remind you of—the maintenance of the Salic law in the imperial dynasty. In France, the Salic law is, so to speak, incorporated with the monarchy, and, although its origin goes back to the remotest periods, it has so completely penetrated into our way of thinking, and is so completely in accord with the rules of French policy, that it is inseparable from all transformations in the monarchical principle.

Finally, gentlemen, the senatus-consultum provides for the case in which the throne should be vacant: if ever the nation should be so unfortunate as to experience this affliction, (to use the language of the celebrated edict of July, 1717,) it would be for the nation itself to repair it. Article 5 formally recognizes this fundamental, essential, and inalienable right. At the same time it provides for the means of preparing a choice worthy of the French people, by its prudence and maturity. In consequence, an organic senatus-consultum, proposed to the senate by the ministers formed into a council of government, with the addition of the president of the senate, the president of the legislative body, and the president of the council of state, shall be submitted to the free acceptance of the people, and will give to France a new emperor.

Such, gentlemen, are the principal provisions of the senatus-consultum, now submitted to you for consideration, and which will prepare the august contract of the nation with its chief. Should you adopt it, you will order by a concluding article, in virtue of the constitution, that the people be consulted concerning the re-establishment of the imperial dignity in the person of Louis Napoleon, with the succession of which we have just explained to you the combinations. But, gentlemen, we may affirm, whilst bending at present before a public will which only asks for an occasion to burst forth afresh, that the empire is accomplished. And that empire, the dawn of which has lighted up the path of Louis Napoleon in the departments of the south, rises over France, surrounded by the most auspicious auguries. Everywhere hope revives in men's minds; everywhere capital, restrained by the uncertainty of the future, rushes with ardor into the channels of business; and everywhere the national sap circulates, and vivifies to produce the most abundant fruits.

This reign, gentlemen, will not be cradled in the midst of arms and in the camp of insurgent praetorian guards. It is the work of the national feeling, most spontaneously expressed; it has been produced in our commercial towns, in our ports, in the most peaceful centres of agriculture and manufactures, and in the midst of the joy of an affectionate people; it will consequently be the Empire of Peace—that is to say, the revolution of ‘89, without its revolutionary ideas, religion without intolerance, equality without the follies of equality, love for the people without socialist charlatanism, and national honor without the calamities of war. Ah! if the great shade of the emperor should cast a glance at this France which he loved so much, it would thrill with joy at beholding the gloomy predictions of St. Helena, at one moment so near being realized, totally disproved. No; Europe will not be delivered up to disorder and anarchy! No; France will not lose the grandeur of her institutions, and it is the ideas of Napoleon directed towards peace by a generous-minded prince, which will be the safeguard of civilization.

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This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.


This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.