A swarm of workmen soon covered the vicinity of Paris: but to increase the effect, that the fortification of this city would produce both in France and in foreign countries, Napoleon caused it to be suggested to the national guard, to join in the work. Immediately detachments from the legions, accompanied by a number of citizens and federates from the suburbs of St. Antoine, and St. Marceau, repaired to Montmartre and Vincennes, and proceeded to the opening of the trenches with songs. The grenadiers of the guard would not remain idle; and came to take their part in the labour with their band of music at their head. The Emperor, accompanied only by a few of the officers of his household, frequently went to encourage the zeal of the workmen. His presence and his words fired their imagination: they fancied they saw Thermopylae in every pass they fortified and, like new Spartans, swore with enthusiasm, to defend them till death.
The federates did not stop at these demonstrations of their zeal, empty as they often are; they called for arms, and were angry, at the dilatoriness with which they were given them. They complained no less eagerly, that they had not yet been reviewed by the Emperor.
To pacify them, the Emperor hastened to announce to them, that he would admit them with pleasure to file off before him on the first parade day.
On the 24th of May, they presented themselves at the Tuileries. Their battalions were composed in great part of old soldiers and laborious work people: but some of those vagabonds, who abound in great cities, had crept in among them; and these, with their jailbird countenances, and ragged clothes, recalled to mind but too forcibly those murderous bands, who formerly stained the dwelling of the unfortunate Louis XVI. with blood.
When Louis XIII., and the arrogant Richelieu, invoked the assistance of the corporations of arts and trades, they admitted their deputies to a solemn audience, took them by the hand, and embraced them all, history says, down to the very cobblers. Napoleon, though in a far more critical situation, would not humble himself before necessity: he preserved his dignity, and, in spite of himself, suffered symptoms to escape him of what he felt, at being obliged by circumstances to accept such assistance.
The chiefs of the confederation addressed him in a speech, in which the following passages were principally remarked.
"You, sire, are the man of the nation, the defender of our country: from you we expect independence, and a sage liberty. You will secure to us these two precious possessions; you will render sacred for ever the rights of the people: you will reign according to the constitution and the laws. We come to offer you our arms, our courage, and our blood, for the safety of the capital.
"Ah! sire, why had we not arms at the time when foreign kings, emboldened by treason, advanced up to the walls of Paris? ... we shed tears of rage, at seeing our hands useless to the common cause: ... we are almost all of us old defenders of our country; our country should give arms with confidence to those, who have shed their blood for her. Give us arms in her name ... we are not the instruments of any party, the agents of any faction.... As citizens, we are obedient to our magistrates, and to the laws; as soldiers, we are obedient to our chiefs....
"Long live the nation, long live liberty, long live the Emperor!"
The Emperor answered them in the following terms:
"Soldiers, federates of the suburbs of St. Antoine and St. Marceau: I returned alone, because I reckoned on the people of the towns, the inhabitants of the country, and the soldiers of the army, whose attachment to the honour of the nation I well knew. You have all justified my confidence. I accept your offer. I will give you arms; to lead you, I will give you officers covered with honourable scars, and accustomed to see the enemy flee before them. Your robust limbs, inured to the most laborious work, are better adapted than any other, to handle arms. As to courage, you are Frenchmen: you shall be the skirmishers (eclaireurs) of the national guard. I shall be without any anxiety for the capital, while the national guard and you are employed in its defence: and if it be true, that foreigners persist in the impious design of attacking our independence and our honour, I may avail myself of victory, without being checked by any solicitude.
"Soldiers, federates; if there be men among the higher classes of society, who have dishonoured the French name; the love of our country, and the sentiment of national honour, have been preserved entire among the people of our towns, the inhabitants of the country, and the soldiers of the army. I am glad to see you. I have confidence in you: long live the nation!"
Notwithstanding his promise, however, the Emperor, under the pretence, that there was not a sufficient number of muskets, only gave arms to those federates who were on duty; so that they passed daily from one hand to another, and consequently did not remain in the possession of any one. Various motives induced him, to take this precaution. He wished to preserve to the national guard a superiority, which it would have lost, if the whole of the federates had been armed. He was afraid, also, that the republicans, whom he ever considered as his most implacable enemies, would obtain sway over the minds of the federates; and induce them, in the name of liberty, to turn against himself those arms, that he had put into their hands. Fatal prejudice! that induced him to place his reliance elsewhere than on the people, and consequently deprived him of his firmest support.
At the moment when the population of Paris was testifying the most faithful attachment to the Emperor and their country, the alarm-bell of insurrection resounded through the plains of la Vendee.
As early as the 1st of May, some symptoms of commotion had been observed in le Bocage. The brave but unfortunate Travot had effected by his firmness, and by his persuasions, the restoration of order; and every thing appeared quiet, when emissaries arrived from England, to kindle the flames anew.
[Footnote 14: A small county in Lower Normandy, the common focus of the rebellion.]
MM. de la Roche-jaquelin, d'Autichamp, Suzannet, Sapineau, Daudigne, and some others of the chiefs of la Vendee, re-assembled. A civil war was determined on. On the 15th of May, the day appointed, the alarm-bell was heard; energetic proclamations called the inhabitants of Anjou, la Vendee, and Poitou, to arms; and the assembling of a confused body of seven or eight thousand peasants was effected.
The English agents had announced, that the Marquis Louis de la Roche-jaquelin was bringing to the provinces in the West arms, ammunition, and money. The insurgents immediately repaired to Croix de Vic, to favour his landing. A few custom-house officers, assembled in haste, opposed them in vain: la Roche-jaquelin triumphantly delivered into the hands of the unfortunate Vendeans the fatal presents of England.
[Footnote 15: The succours, so pompously announced by the royalist emissaries, amounted only to 2400 muskets, and a few barrels of gunpowder. The chiefs of the insurrection, disappointed in their expectations, bitterly reproached M. de la Roche-jaquelin with having deceived and implicated them by false promises.]
The news of this insurrection, considerably exaggerated by inaccurate accounts, reached the Emperor in the night of the 17th. He called me to his bedside; made me set down on the map the positions of the French and of the insurgents; and dictated to me his commands.
He directed a part of the troops stationed in the neighbouring divisions, to march with all possible speed for Niort and Poitiers; General Brayer, to hasten post to Angers, with two regiments of the young guard; and General Travot, to call in his detachments, and concentrate his force, till he received fresh orders. Experienced officers d'ordonnances were appointed, to go and reconnoitre the country; and General Corbineau, whose talents, moderation, and firmness were known to the Emperor, was sent to the spot, to appease the revolt, or preside over the military operations in case of need. All these arrangements being made, the Emperor quietly closed his eyes; for the faculty of tasting at pleasure the sweets of sleep was one of the prerogatives conferred on him by nature.
Telegraphic despatches soon brought more circumstantial and more heartening accounts. "It was known, that the peasants, who had been ordered to furnish merely four men from each parish, had shown hesitation and ill will; and that the chiefs had found great trouble in collecting four or five thousand men, consisting in great part of vagabonds, and workmen out of employ." In fine it was known, that General Travot, having been informed of the landing, and the road the convoy had taken, went in pursuit of the insurgents, came up with them in advance of St. Gilles, killed about three hundred men, and seized the greater part of the arms and ammunition.
The Emperor thought, that this insurrection might be quashed by other means than by force; and, adopting in this respect the conciliatory views proposed by General Travot, he directed the minister of police to invite MM. de Malartie and two other Vendean chiefs, MM. de la Beraudiere and de Flavigny, to repair in the character of pacificators to their ancient companions in arms; and remonstrate with them, that it was not in the plains of the West, the fate of the throne would be decided; and that, the final expulsion or restoration of Louis XVIII. depending neither on their efforts, nor on their defeat, the French blood, which they were about to shed in la Vendee, would be spilt to no purpose.
He sent orders to General Lamarque, whom he had just invested with the supreme direction of this war, to favour the negotiations of M. de Malartie to the utmost of his power: at the same time he directed him, to declare formally to la Roche-jaquelin, and to the other chiefs of the insurgents, that, if they persisted in continuing the civil war, quarter would no longer be given them, and their houses and possessions should be sacked and burned.
[Footnote 16: The Emperor had intended this command in chief for the Duke of Rovigo, or General Corbineau: but he foresaw, that it might perhaps be necessary, to proceed to rigorous measures; and he was unwilling, that these should be conducted by an officer attached to his own person.]
[Footnote 17: The Emperor considered this rigorous measure as a just reprisal for the means employed by the Vendean chiefs, to recruit their army. They are the following:
When the families, that reign in la Vendee, have resolved on war, they send orders to their agents, to travel over the country, preaching up revolt, and indicating to every parish the number of men, that it must furnish. The chiefs of the insurrection in each parish then point out the peasants, who are to go; and enjoin them, to be at such an hour, on such a day, at the place appointed for assembling. If they fail, armed bands are sent in quest of them, generally composed of the men most dreaded in the country: if they resist, they are threatened with being shot, or having their houses burnt; and as this is never an empty threat, the unhappy peasants obey, and set out.
It has been asserted, that the Emperor had given orders, to set a price on the heads of the chiefs of the insurgents. The instructions given to the ministers at war were transcribed by me, and I have not the least recollection of any such order having been given.]
He likewise recommended to him, to press as closely as possible on the bands of la Vendee, in order to leave them no hope of safety but in prompt submission. But this recommendation was superfluous. By unexpected attacks, skilful marches, and continually increasing successes, General Travot had already struck such terror and alarm into the insurgents, that they took much more pains to shun than to fight him.
In pursuing the movement of concentration, that had been prescribed him, this general accidentally fell in with the royal army by night, at Aisenay. A few musket shots spread dismay and disorder through their ranks; they rushed one upon another, and dispersed so completely, that MM. de Sapineau and Suzannet were several days without soldiers. M. d'Autichamp, though distant from the place of engagement, experienced the same fate. His troops abandoned him with no less readiness, than he had found difficulty in assembling them.
This defection was not solely the effect of the terror, with which the imperial army could not fail naturally to inspire a body of wretched peasants; it was promoted by several other circumstances. In the first place it resulted from the little confidence of the insurgents in the experience and capacity of their General in chief, the Marquis de la Roche-jaquelin. They did justice to his conspicuous bravery; but he had forfeited their good opinion, by incessantly endangering them through false manoeuvres, and by endeavouring to subject them to a regular service, incompatible with their domestic habits, and with their mode of making war.
In the next place it arose from the dissension, that had introduced itself among their generals from the commencement of the war. The Marquis de la Roche-jaquelin, ardent and ambitious, had arrogated to himself the supreme command; and the old founders of the royal army, the Autichamps, Suzannets, and Sapineaus, did not obey without regret the imperious orders of a young officer, hitherto without experience or reputation.
But the first, the fundamental cause of the slackness or inactivity of the Vendeans, was still more the change, that had taken place in the political and military state of France since the coronation of Napoleon. They knew, that the time when they struck terror into the blues, and made themselves masters of their artillery with clubs, was no more. They knew, that the days of terror, of anarchy, were terminated for ever; and that they had no longer to dread those abuses, or those excesses, or those crimes, which had provoked and fomented their first insurrection. As to the attachment for the Bourbon family, which they had inherited from their fathers, this, though not banished from their hearts, was balanced by the fear of seeing the calamities and devastations of the late civil war revived; by the uneasiness they felt from the renewal of the double despotism of the nobles and priests; and perhaps also by the remembrance of the kindness of Napoleon. It was he, who had restored to them their churches and their ministers; who had raised from their ruins their desolate habitations; and who had freed them at once from revolutionary exactions, and from the plunderings of chouanry.
[Footnote 18: Fourteen millions of francs had been appropriated to the rebuilding of the houses burned down.]
The Emperor, having no doubt of the approaching termination and happy issue of this war, announced it openly at a public audience. "Every thing will soon be finished," said he, "in la Vendee. The Vendeans will not fight any more. They are retiring to their homes one by one; and the fight will be at an end for want of combatants."
The news he received from the King of Naples by no means inspired him with the same satisfaction.
This prince, as I have said above, after having obtained several tolerably brilliant advantages, had advanced to the gates of Placentia; and was preparing, to march through the Piedmontese territory to Milan; when Lord Bentinck notified to him, that England would declare against him, if he did not respect the dominions of the King of Sardinia. Joachim, apprehensive of the English making a diversion against Naples, consented to alter his course. The Austrians had time to come up, and Milan was saved.
While these things were going on, a Neapolitan army, that had penetrated into Tuscany, and driven General Nugent before it, was surprised, and forced to retire precipitately to Florence.
This unexpected check, and the considerable reinforcements, that the Austrians received, determined Joachim to fall back. He retreated slowly to Ancona.
The English, who had hitherto remained neutral, now declared against him, and joined Austria and the Sicilians. Joachim, menaced and pressed on all sides, concentrated his forces. A general engagement took place at Tolentino. The Neapolitans, animated by the presence and valour of their king, briskly attacked General Bianchi, and every thing foreboded victory, when the arrival of General Neipperg, at the head of fresh troops, changed the aspect of affairs. The Neapolitan army was broken, quitted the field of battle, and fled to Macerata.
A second battle, equally disastrous, was fought at Caprano; and the capture of this city by the Austrians opened them an entrance into the kingdom of Naples, while the corps of General Nugent, which had marched from Florence to Rome, penetrated into the Neapolitan territory by another road.
The rumour of the defeat and death of the king, the approach of the Austrian armies, and the proclamations issued by them, excited a sedition at Naples. The Lazaroni, after having assassinated a few Frenchmen, and massacred the minister of police, repaired to the royal palace, with the design of murdering the Queen. This princess, worthy of the blood that circulated in her veins, was not affrighted by their shouts and threats; she courageously made head against them, and obliged them, to return to their obedience.
[Footnote 19: These announced and promised to the Neapolitans the restoration of Ferdinand, their former king, to the throne.]
Joachim, remaining erect amid the ruins of his army, sustained with heroic firmness the efforts of his enemies. Resolved to fall with arms in his hand, he rushed on the battalions, and carried terror and death into the midst of their ranks. But his valour could only ennoble his fall. Still repulsed, still invulnerable, he relinquished the hope of meeting death or victory. In the night of the 19th of March he returned to Naples: the Queen appeared indignant at seeing him. "Madame," said he to her, "I was not able to find death." He departed immediately, that he might not fall into the hands of the Austrians, and came to take refuge in France. The Queen, notwithstanding the dangers, that threatened her life, resolved to remain at Naples, till her fate and that of the army were decided. When the treaty was signed, she withdrew on board an English vessel and repaired to Trieste.
The catastrophe of the King made the most profound impression on the superstitious mind of Napoleon; but the French it inspired with little regret, and no fear. I say no fear, for the nation was familiarised with the idea of war. The patriotism and energy, with which it felt itself animated, filled it with such confidence, that it deemed itself sufficiently strong, to dispense with the support of the Neapolitans, and struggle alone against the coalition. It recalled to mind the campaign of 1814; and, if at that period Napoleon, with sixty thousand soldiers, had beaten and held in check the victorious foreign armies, what might it not hope now, when an army of three hundred thousand fighting men would form, in case of need, only the advanced guard of France? The royalists and their newspapers, by repeating the manifestoes of Ghent and Vienna, enumerating the foreign armies, and exaggerating our dangers, had indeed succeeded in abating the courage of a few, and shaking their opinions; but the sentiments of the bulk of the nation had lost nothing of their vigour and energy. Every day fresh offerings were deposited on the altar of their country; and every day new corps of volunteers, equally numerous and formidable, were establishing, under the names of lancers, partisans, federates, mountain chasseurs, and tirailleurs.
[Footnote 20: The departments of the Centre, and of the East, particularly distinguished themselves. A great number of their inhabitants gave considerable sums, and equipped at their own expense companies, battalions, whole regiments, of partisans or national guards.
A single citizen of Paris, Mr. Delorme, proprietor of the fine passage of the same name, offered his country a hundred thousand francs.
Another, one day when the national guard was reviewed, caused a roll of paper, tied with a ribbon of the legion of honour, to be delivered to the Emperor. On opening it, it was found to contain twenty-five thousand francs, in notes on the Bank, with these words: "for Napoleon, for my country." The Emperor was desirous of knowing the person, who had made this delicate and mysterious offering; and at length discovered, that it was M. Gevaudan, whose noble sentiments and patriotism had already been proved by several actions of a similar kind.]
The Parisians, so frequently peaceable spectators of events, participated in this burst of patriotism: not contented with erecting their intrenchments with their own hands, they solicited the honour of defending them; and twenty thousand men, composed of national guards, federates of the suburbs, and citizens of all ranks, were formed into battalions for actual service under the denomination of tirailleurs of the national guard.
Napoleon applauded the noble efforts of the great nation: but unfortunately our arsenals had been plundered in 1814; and, notwithstanding the activity of our workmen, he was grieved to the heart at his inability, to arm every hand raised in his defence. This would have required six hundred thousand muskets; and scarcely could enough be supplied, to arm the troops of the line, and the national guards, that were sent to garrison the fortified towns.
But while Paris was contemplating its ramparts on the one hand, on the other it saw the preparations for the festival of the Champ de Mai completing. On both there was an equal crowd; and the French, always the same, always brave and frivolous, traversed with equal pleasure the spots where they were to fight, and those where they expected to amuse themselves.
At length the assembly of the Champ de Mai, which several unforeseen circumstances had delayed, took place on the 1st of June. The Emperor believed, that he ought to display at it all the imperial pomp; but in this he was wrong. He was about to appear before old patriots, whom he had deceived; and he should have avoided awakening their memories, and clouding their brows.
His dress, and that of his brothers and his court, made at first a disagreeable impression; but it soon vanished, and gave place to the sensations, that this grand union of the nation excited. What in fact could be more impressive, than the aspect of a people, threatened with a tremendous war, forming peaceably a solemn compact with the sovereign, of whom its enemies were desirous of depriving it; and joining with him, to defend together the honour and independence of its country, in life or death?
An altar was erected in the midst of the vast and superb enclosure of the Champ de Mars; and the ceremony commenced with the invocation of the Supreme Being. The homage paid to God in the presence of nature seems more fully to inspire man with religion, confidence, and respect. At the instant of the elevation of the host, this crowd of citizens, soldiers, officers, magistrates, and princes, prostrated themselves in the dust, and implored for France, with a tender and religious emotion, the tutelary protection of the sovereign Arbiter of kings and people. The Emperor himself, usually so absent, displayed a great deal of inward devotion. All eyes were fixed on him: people called to mind his victories and his disasters, his greatness and his fall; they were softened by the fresh dangers, that accumulated round his head; and they put up prayers, truly sincere prayers, that he might triumph over his implacable enemies.
A deputation, composed of five hundred electors, advanced to the foot of the throne; and one of them, in the name of the French people, addressed him in the following terms:
"The French people had decreed you the crown; you laid it down, without their consent their suffrages impose on you the duty of resuming it.
"A new compact is formed between the nation and your Majesty.
"Assembled from all parts of the empire round the tables of the law, on which we are come to inscribe the wish of the people, the wish that constitutes the only legitimate source of power, it is impossible for us, not to proclaim aloud the voice of France, of which we are the immediate organs; and not to say, in the face of Europe, to the august chief of the nation, what it expects of him, and what he has to expect of it.
"Our words are as serious, as the circumstances by which they are inspired.
"What means this league of allied kings, with that preparation for war, with which it appals Europe, and grieves humanity?
"By what act, what transgression, have we provoked their vengeance, or given cause for an attack?
"Have we attempted, to impose laws on them, since the peace? We only wish, to make and follow such, as are adapted to our manners.
"We refuse the chief, whom our enemies choose for us; and we choose him, whom they refuse us.
"They dare to proscribe you personally: you, sire, who, so many times master of their capitals, had generously confirmed them on their tottering thrones! This hatred of our enemies adds to our love of you: were they to proscribe the most insignificant of our citizens, it would be our duty, to defend him with the same energy; he would be, like you, under the aegis of the laws and power of France.
"We are threatened with an invasion; yet, confined within frontiers, which nature did not impose on us; and which victory, and even peace, had extended, long before your reign; we have not overstepped this narrow boundary, out of regard to treaties, which you did not sign, yet have offered to respect.
"Do they demand only guarantees? They have them in our institutions; and in the will of the French people, henceforward united with yours.
"Are they not afraid of reminding us of times, of a state of things, but lately so different, and which may again return?
"It would not be the first time, that we have vanquished Europe in arms against us.
"It is to the French nation, that they dare refuse a second time, in the nineteenth century; in the face of the civilised world, those sacred, imprescriptible rights, which the smallest tribe never claimed in vain at the tribunal of history and justice.
"Because France resolves to be France, must it be degraded, torn to pieces, dismembered and is the fate of Poland reserved for us? Vainly would they conceal their fatal intentions, under the appearance of the sole design of separating you from us, to give us to masters, with whom we have no longer any thing in common, and who can no longer understand us.
"The three branches of the legislature are about to enter into a state of activity: one sentiment will animate them. Confiding in the promises of your Majesty, we resign to you, we resign to our representatives and to the chamber of peers, the care of revising, consolidating, and perfecting in concert, without precipitancy, without concussion, maturely, and with wisdom, our constitutional system, and the institutions that must guaranty it.
"And if, however, we be compelled to fight, let one sole voice resound from every heart. Let us march against the enemy, that would treat us as the lowest of nations. Let us all press around the throne, on which is seated the father and chief of the people and of the army.
"Sire, nothing is impossible: nothing shall be spared, to ensure our honour and independence, possessions dearer than life: every thing shall be attempted, every thing done, to repel an ignominious yoke. We say it to the nations, may their rulers hear us! if they accept your offers of peace, the French people will expect from your strong, liberal, and paternal government, motives of consolation for the sacrifices, which the peace has cost them: but if they leave us no other alternative, than war or disgrace, the whole nation is for war; it is ready to absolve you from the offers, perhaps too moderate, that you have made, in order to spare Europe fresh convulsions. Every Frenchman is a soldier: victory will follow your eagles; and our enemies, who have reckoned on a division, will soon regret their having provoked us."
This speech being ended, the result of the votes was proclaimed, and the acceptance of the constitutional act.
Votes, Affirmative 1,288,357 Negative 4,207 Armies, Affirmative 222,000 Negative 320 Navy, Affirmative 22,000 Negative 275
Eleven departments did not send their registers in time. A great number of soldiers, unable to write their names, did not vote; and the registers of fourteen regiments did not arrive, till the votes had been summed up.]
The Emperor then, turning toward the electors, said:
"Gentlemen, electors of the colleges of departments and circles;
"Gentlemen, deputies of the armies by sea and land to the Champ de Mai:
"Emperor, consul, soldier, I hold every thing from the people. In prosperity, in adversity; on the field of battle, in the council chamber; on the throne, and in exile; France has been the sole and constant object of my thoughts, and of my actions.
"Like the King of Athens, I sacrificed myself for my people, in the hope of seeing the promise realized, that had been given, to preserve to France its natural integrity, its honours, and its rights.
"Indignation at seeing these sacred rights, acquired by five and twenty years of victory, disregarded, and lost for ever; the cry raised by, French honour disgraced; and the wishes of the nation; have brought me back to the throne, which is dear to me, because it is the palladium of the independence, the honour, and the rights of the people.
"Frenchmen, from the public joy, amid which I traversed the different provinces of the empire, to arrive at my capital, I could not but reckon on a long peace; for nations are bound by the treaties concluded with their governments, be these what they may.
"My thoughts were then turned wholly on the means of establishing our liberty by a constitution conformable to the will and the interests of the people. I convened the Champ de Mai.
"It was not long before I learned, that the princes, who have disregarded all principles, and wounded the opinions and dearest interests of so many nations, resolved to make war on us. They purpose, to enlarge the kingdom of the Netherlands, to give it for barriers all our strong places on the North, and to reconcile the differences, which still keep them at variance, by dividing among them Lorraine and Alsace.
"It was necessary, to prepare for war.
"However, before incurring personally the dangers of battle, my first care necessarily was, to consult the nation without delay. The people has accepted the act I have laid before it.
"Frenchmen, when we have repelled these unjust aggressions, and Europe is convinced of what is due to the rights and independence of twenty-eight millions of Frenchmen, a solemn law, made according to the forms willed by the constitutional act, shall combine the different arrangements of our constitutions, that are at present scattered.
"Frenchmen, you are about to return to your departments. Tell the citizens, that the present circumstances are important! That with union, energy, and perseverance, we shall rise victorious from this struggle of a great people against its oppressors; that generations to come will severely scrutinize our conduct; and that a nation has lost every thing, when it has lost its independence. Tell them, that the foreign kings, whom I raised to a throne, or who are indebted to me for the preservation of their crowns; all of whom, in the days of my prosperity, courted my alliance, and the protection of the French people; now direct their blows against my person. Did I not see, that it is our country at which they really aim, I would place at their mercy this life, against which they appear so exasperated. But tell the citizens also, that, as long as the French retain for me those sentiments of affection, of which they have given me so many testimonies, this rage of our enemies will prove impotent.
"Frenchmen, my will is that of the people: my rights are its rights; my honour, my glory, my happiness, can be no others than the honour, the glory, and the happiness of France."
These words of Napoleon, pronounced with a strong and emphatic voice, produced the most lively sensation. A cry of "Long live the Emperor!" resounded in an instant throughout the immense space of the Champ de Mars, and was repeated from one to another in the places around.
The Emperor, after having sworn on the Gospels, to observe, and cause to be observed, the constitutions of the empire, made the archchancellor proclaim the oath of fealty of the French people, represented by the electors. This oath was spontaneously repeated by thousands and thousands of voices.
The ministers of war and of the navy, in the name of the armies by land and sea, and at the head of their deputations; the minister of the interior, in the name of the national guards of France, and at the head of the electors; the staff of the imperial guard, and that of the national guard; afterwards advanced to take the oath, and receive from the hands of the Emperor the eagles intended for them.
This ceremony ended, the troops, making about fifty thousand men, filed off before Napoleon and the festival concluded, as it had commenced, amid the acclamations of the people, the soldiers, and the majority of the electors: but to the discontent of a certain number of them, who complained, and with reason, that the Emperor had substituted a steril distribution of colours, instead of the grand national congress, which he had convened.
The parties too, that already began to pullulate, were not better satisfied with the issue of the Champ de Mai.
The old revolutionists would have wished Napoleon, to have abolished the empire, and re-established a republic.
The partisans of the regency reproached him for not having proclaimed Napoleon II.
And the liberals maintained, that he ought to have laid down the crown, and left to the sovereign nation the right of restoring it to him, or offering it to the most worthy.
Were these different pretensions well founded? No.
The re-establishment of the republic would have ruined France.
The abdication in favour of Napoleon II. would not have saved it. The allies had explained their intentions at Bale: they would not have laid down their arms, till the Emperor had consented, to deliver himself up. "A circumstance, that, being to a prince the greatest of misfortunes, can never form a condition of peace?"
[Footnote 22: Montesquieu. Greatness and Decline of the Romans.]
As to the latter proposition, I confess, that Napoleon, if on the 21st of March, or the 12th of April, he had returned into the hands of the French the sceptre, which he had just torn from those of the Bourbons, would have stamped a character completely heroic on the revolution of the 20th of March. He would have disconcerted the foreign powers, augmented his popularity, centuplicated his forces: but on the first of June it was too late: the additional act had appeared.
[Footnote 23: The day on which the Act of Congress appeared.]
Unhappily for himself, therefore, Napoleon could do nothing better at the Champ de Mai, than what he did: namely, to endeavour to conceal the emptiness of the day under the pomp of a religious and military solemnity, calculated to move the heart, and strengthen by fresh bands the union, already subsisting between him, the people, and the army.
The Emperor had not been able to deliver with his own hands to the electors the eagles of their departments. It had not been concealed from him, that some among them appeared dissatisfied; and he wished to attempt to dissipate their ill-humour, and revive their zeal. Ten thousand persons were assembled in the vast galleries of the Louvre; on one side were seen the deputies and electors of the nation; on the other, its glorious defenders. The eagle of each department, and that of each deputation from the armies, were placed at the head of groups of citizens or warriors; and nothing could exhibit a more animated, and more impressive picture, than this confused assembly of Frenchmen, of all the orders of the state, crowding mutually around the standards and the hero, that were to conduct them to victory and to peace.
The Emperor was polite, affectionate, amiable: with infinite art he accommodated his manners to every body, and almost every body was enchanted with him. He was convinced of the mischief he had done himself by the additional act: and, in order to regain the good opinion of the public, he repeated to satiety, to the representatives and electors, that he would employ himself in concurrence with the two chambers, to collect together those provisions of the constitutional laws, that were not abrogated, and form the whole into one sole constitution, that should become the fundamental law of the nation.
This retraction was the consequence of the remonstrances of his ministers, and particularly of M. Carnot. "Sire," he was incessantly repeating to him, "do not strive, I conjure you, against public opinion. Your additional act has displeased the nation. Promise it, that you will modify it, and render it conformable to its wishes. I repeat to you, Sire, I have never deceived you; your safety and ours depend on your deference to the national will. This is not all, Sire; the French are become a free people. The appellation of 'subject,' which you are continually giving them, wounds and humbles them. Call them citizens, or your children. Neither suffer your ministers, your marshals, your great officers, to be called 'monseigneur:' there is no seigneur in a country, where equality forms the basis of the laws; there are none but citizens."
The Emperor, however, did not see the opening of the chambers approach, without a certain degree of apprehension. His intention was, frankly to submit to the principles and consequences of a representative government; in the first place, because he wished to reign, and was convinced, that he could not retain the throne, unless he governed as the nation demanded.
In the second place, because he was persuaded, that the nation now placed its ideas of happiness on a representative government; and because, greedy of every kind of celebrity, he found, as he told me at Lyons, that it was glorious, to render a great people happy. But, whatever were the sentiments and good inclinations of Napoleon, he had not had time, to divest himself completely of his old notions and ancient prejudices. The remembrance of our preceding assemblies besieged him still in spite of himself: and he appeared to fear, that the French had too much warmth of imagination, instability of will, and propensity to abuse their rights, to be capable of enjoying on a sudden, without any preparation, the benefits of absolute liberty. He feared, too, that the opposition inherent in representative governments would not be rightly comprehended in France, and would make a bad impression; that it would degenerate into resistance; and that it would clog the action of the sovereign power, take from it its illusion, its moral strength, and make of it nothing but an instrument of oppression.
[Footnote 24: At the time of the discussion of the additional act, M. de Bassano, conversing with the Emperor on the chamber of deputies, said to him, that the muteness of the legislative body, was one of the things, that had contributed most to discredit the imperial government. "My mute legislative body," answered Napoleon, with a smile, "was never well understood. It was a grand legislative jury. If it be thought right, that twelve jurymen shall pronounce on the life and honour of their fellow citizens by a simple yes, or no; why deem it strange or tyrannical, that five hundred jurymen, selected from the most eminent men in the nation, should pronounce in a similar manner on the simple interests of society?"]
Independently of these general considerations, Napoleon had still other motives, to dread the approaching assembly of the chambers. They were going to meet under circumstances, in which it was indispensable, that the chief of the state should govern without contradiction: yet he foresaw, that the representatives, misled by their ardent love of liberty, and by the fear of despotism, would seek to fetter his exercise of authority, instead of seconding its full display.
"When a war has commenced," said he one day, "the presence of a deliberative body is as embarrassing, as it is fatal. It must have victories. If the monarch meet with any check, fear seizes the timid, and renders them unconsciously the instruments and accomplices of the audacious. The apprehension of danger, and the desire of withdrawing from it, derange every head. Reason has no longer any sway: physical feelings are everything. The turbulent, the ambitious, greedy of rule, of popularity, of making a noise, erect themselves of their own authority into advocates of the people, and advisers of the prince: they want to know all, regulate all, direct all. If no regard be paid to their counsels, from advisers they become censors, from censors factionaries, and from factionaries rebels. The necessary consequence then is, that the prince must either submit to their yoke, or expel them; and in either case he almost always compromises his crown and the state."
Napoleon, tormented by the anxiety, which the sudden and inconsiderate application of the popular system, and the dispositions of the deputies, inspired, rested all his security on the chamber of peers. He hoped, that this chamber would influence the representatives by its example, or check them by its firmness.
The ministers received orders, each to present to him a list of candidates.
M. Delavalette, in whom the Emperor had particular confidence, was also desired to furnish him with a list.
Formerly an aide-de-camp of Napoleon, and connected with him by marriage, M. Delavalette had vowed to him an attachment proof against all temptations. Phocion said to Antipater, "I cannot be at once thy flatterer, and thy friend:" and M. Delavalette, thinking like Phocion, had abjured every kind of flattery, to adhere to the rigid language of friendship. Endowed with a cool head, and sound judgment, he appreciated events with skill and sagacity. Reserved in the world, frank and open with Napoleon, he avowed his opinions to him with the freedom of an affectionate, pure, and upright heart. Accordingly Napoleon set much value on his advice; and confessed with noble candour, that he had frequently had to congratulate himself for having followed it.
[Footnote 25: He had married a Miss Beauharnais, since so celebrated for her generously risking her own life to save his.]
The lists presented to the Emperor exhibited a complete assortment of ancient nobles, senators, generals, land-holders, and merchants. The Emperor, it is right to say, had only the trouble of choosing, but this was great.
[Footnote 26: It was the Duke of Vicenza, who first conceived the idea of conferring the peerage on great land-holders, and distinguished merchants. He was not of opinion, that the peerage should be hereditary, and that the choice of peers should be left exclusively to the crown. He would have wished, that men of great landed property, manufacturers, merchants of the first rank, the men of letters, civilians, and lawyers, who had acquired a great name, should be allowed to propose a list of candidates, out of which the Emperor should be at liberty to choose a certain number of peers.]
On the one hand he could have wished, both from self-love and a spirit of conciliation, to have had in the chamber of peers some of those great names, that sound so gratefully to the ear. On the other hand he was desirous, as I have said above, that this chamber should hold the deputies in check; and he could not conceal from himself, that, if he introduced into it any of the ancient nobility, it would have no influence over that of the representatives, and probably be on very bad terms with it.
He decided, therefore, to sacrifice his inclinations to the good of the cause; and, instead of granting the peerage to that crowd of parchment nobles, who had humbly solicited it, he conferred it only on a few of them, noted for their patriotism, and their attachment to liberal principles. Many of these illustrious solicitors have since boasted of having refused it. This is very natural, but is it true? I leave it to their own hearts, their own consciences, to answer the question.
The Emperor, fearful of refusals, had taken the precaution to have the inclinations of the doubtful candidates previously sounded. Some hesitated; others plainly refused. Of all these refusals, direct and indirect, which amounted but to five or six at most, no one more painfully disappointed Napoleon, than that of Marshal Macdonald. He had not forgotten the noble fidelity that the Marshal preserved towards him in 1814, to the last moment; and he regretted, that his scruples deprived him of a dignity, to which he was called by his rank, his services, and the public esteem.
The 3d of June being come, the chamber of representatives assembled in the ancient palace of the legislative body, and formed itself provisionally under the presidency of the oldest of its members.
The constitution had left to the representatives the right of choosing their president. The Emperor hoped, that their suffrages would be given in favour of his brother Lucien; and in this hope he did not publish immediately the list of peers, that he might retain the power of comprising this prince in it, or not, according as he should or should not be appointed to the presidency. But the chamber, notwithstanding the esteem and confidence, with which the principles and character of Prince Lucien inspired it, thought, that his election would be considered as a deference to the will of the Emperor; and resolved therefore, to make a different choice, in order to prove to France, and to the foreign powers, that it was, and would remain, free and independent. M. Lanjuinais was elected: and Napoleon, who knew that M. Lanjuinais, a malecontent by nature, had never been able to agree with any government, was doubly vexed, that Prince Lucien had been rejected, and that such a successor had been given him.
[Footnote 27: Lucien Bonaparte had not been acknowledged as a prince of the imperial family by the ancient statutes. Consequently he might be considered, as not making a part of the chamber of peers by right.]
[Footnote 28: This opinion did not prevent the Emperor from doing justice to the courage and patriotism, which M. Lanjuinais had displayed on some trying occasions.]
The sitting of the day following gave Napoleon another subject of dissatisfaction. The assembly had expressed its wish the day before, to be acquainted with the list of the members of the Chamber of Peers. The Emperor, from the motive I have mentioned, made answer, that this list would not be fixed, till after the opening of the session. This answer excited violent murmurs: one member proposed, to declare, that the chamber would not proceed to constitute itself definitively, till it was furnished with the list, which it had required. Thus from its entrance on its career, and even before it was installed, the chamber announced its design, of establishing itself in a state of insurrection against the head of the government.
The third sitting witnessed an opprobrium, hitherto unheard of in our national assemblies. The same member, M. Dupin, advanced, that the oath to be taken to the sovereign by the nation, in order to be valid and legitimate, should not be administered by virtue of a decree, that emanated from the will of the prince alone, but by virtue of a law, which is the will of the nation constitutionally expressed. In consequence he proposed, to resolve, that no oath could be required of it, but in execution of a law; and that this oath should no way prejudice its right, subsequently to improve the constitution.
[Footnote 29: A celebrated counsel, who defended Marshal Ney, and the three generous liberators of M. Delavalette, Wilson, Bruce, and Hutchinson.]
This proposal, seconded by M. Roi, tended to declare null in law and fact the oath, which the nation and army, represented by their electors and deputies, had just taken to the Emperor and the constitution in the solemnity of the Champ de Mai: and as it was this oath, that hitherto formed the only tie binding the nation to the Emperor, and Napoleon to the nation, it followed that the annulling it deprived the Emperor of that character of sovereignty and legitimacy, with which he had been invested, and rendered his rights a subject of deliberation.
[Footnote 30: Since minister of finance to the king.]
The motion of M. Dupin was rejected unanimously: but the chamber, in complaisantly permitting a man, to dare within its walls, to call in question the legitimacy of the Emperor and his authority, and endeavour to render him foreign to the nation, was guilty of an act of weakness and indifference, that deeply grieved Napoleon. "I perceive with sorrow," he said, "that the deputies are not disposed, to act in union with me; and that they let no opportunity escape of seeking a quarrel. Of what have they to complain? What have I done to them? I have given them liberty with an unsparing hand; I have given them perhaps too much; for kings in the present day have more need than nations of guarantees. I will act with them as long as I can: but if they think to make of me a King Log, or a second Louis XVI., they are mistaken; I am not a man to receive the law from counsellors, or to allow my head to be cut off by factionaries."
[Footnote 31: MM. Dupin and Roi, who appeared to him the heads of the party of insurgents.]
The hostile disposition of the representatives would have given him no uneasiness at any other time: the constitution conferred on him the right of dissolving the chamber, and he would have availed himself of it: but on the eve of a war, and in the critical situation in which he was placed, he could not have recourse to such an expedient, without endangering the fate of France. He resolved, therefore, to conceal his vexation and ill humour, and permit what he could not prevent.
On the 7th of June he repaired to the legislative body, to open the chambers; and, after having received the oaths of the peers and deputies, delivered the following speech:
"Gentlemen of the chamber of peers, and gentlemen of the chamber of representatives:
"Circumstances, and the confidence of the people, have invested me these three months with unlimited power. To-day the most urgent desire of my heart is accomplished: I come to commence the constitutional monarchy.
"Men are too feeble, to ensure the future: institutions alone fix the fate of nations. Monarchy is necessary in France, to guaranty the liberty, the independence, and the rights of the people.
"Our constitution is made up of scattered parts: one of our most important occupations will be, to unite them within one frame, and arrange them in one simple design. This labour will transmit the fame of the present period to future generations.
"I am ambitious of seeing France enjoy all the liberty possible: I say possible, because anarchy always leads to an absolute government.
"A formidable coalition of kings aims at our independence: their armies are arriving on our frontiers.
"The frigate la Melpomene has been attacked and taken in the Mediterranean, after a bloody engagement, by an English seventy-four. Blood has been shed during peace.
[Footnote 32: She was attacked and taken near the island of Ischia, on the 30th of April.]
"Our enemies reckon upon our intestine divisions. They are exciting and fomenting civil war. Meetings have taken place; and a communication is kept up with Ghent, as in 1792 it was with Coblentz. Legislative measures are indispensable: to your patriotism, your intelligence, and your attachment to my person, I confide myself without reserve.
"The liberty of the press is inherent in our present constitution: no change can be made in this, without altering our whole political system: but we want repressive laws, particularly in the present state of the nation. I recommend this important subject to your consideration.
"The ministers will make known to you the state of our affairs.
"The finances would be in a satisfactory condition, were it not for the increased expense, which the present circumstances have required.
"Still we might answer the whole, if the sums to be received, included in the budget, could all be realised in the course of the year; and my minister of finance will turn your attention to the means of attaining this result.
"It is possible, that the first duty of a prince may soon call me, to fight for our country at the head of the children of the nation. The army and I will do our duty.
"Do you, peers and representatives, set the nation an example of confidence, energy, and patriotism: and, like the senate of the great people of antiquity, resolve rather to die, than to survive the dishonour and degradation of France. The sacred cause of our country will be triumphant!"
This speech, full of moderation and reason, made a profound impression on the assembly. Shouts of "Long live the Emperor!" much more numerous than had burst out at his arrival, were heard, and continued long after his departure.
The next day, the chamber of representatives was employed in drawing up its address.
An indiscreet admirer of Napoleon, after having observed, that flattery had decreed the surname of Desired to a prince, whom the nation had neither called nor expected, moved, that the title of Saviour should be decreed to Napoleon, who had come to save France from regal slavery. This ridiculous motion, smothered by ironical laughter, gave rise to a multitude of sarcasms and offensive reflections, which were reported to Napoleon, and which, without personally wounding him, for he had too high a sense of his glory, to think it affected by such clamours, injured him in the opinion of France.
Napoleon, like all great men, loved praise: public censure, when he thought it unjust, made no impression on him. This indifference did not arise from the pride of the diadem; it was the result of the contempt he felt for the judgment of men in general. "He was accustomed to look for the reward of the pains and labours of life only in the opinion of posterity."
The assembly rejected the adulatory proposal of M. *****; and in this it did right. But it did wrong, not to express its decision so as to soften what there was in it of harsh, unjust, and disagreeable to the Emperor, who had not provoked it.
This rudeness did not surprise him: experience had already convinced him, that the chamber would let no opportunity of vexing him escape it.
This chamber, notwithstanding, was composed entirely of partisans of the 20th of March: but all the deputies were not partisans of Napoleon, if they were of the revolution; some in consequence of personal enmity, others from remembrance of his despotism, and fear of its return.
The enemies of Napoleon, disguising their hatred under the cloak of a love of liberty, had insinuated themselves into the minds of the patriots; and, with the additional act in their hands, had drawn them into their ranks, under the apparent pretence of combating and bridling the incurable tyranny of the Emperor.
On the other hand, the friends of Napoleon, while they refused to join in this coalition, did not attempt to break it; because they inwardly dreaded the encroachments of the imperial power, and were not sorry to leave to others the task of opposing it.
Thus the whole assembly, though instigated by different motives, joined to set themselves in a state of hostile opposition to the head of the government; without perceiving, that this inconsiderate, unjust, and ill-timed opposition, would occasion anxiety, mistrust, and irresolution, in the minds of all; and destroy that national harmony, that union of interests, wills, and sentiments, the only source of strength to Napoleon, of safety to France.
Be this as it may, the chamber of deputies, after having spent two days in discussing the substance and style of its address, was admitted, as well as the chamber of peers, to appear at the foot of the throne.
The chamber of peers spoke first, and said:
"Sire; your readiness to subject to constitutional forms and rules that absolute power, which circumstances, and the confidence of the people, had imposed on you; the past guarantee given to the rights of the nation; the devotion, that leads you into the midst of the perils, which the army is about to brave; penetrate every heart with profound gratitude. The peers of France are come to offer to your Majesty the homage of this sentiment.
"You have manifested, Sire, principles, that are those of the nation: they must necessarily be ours. Yes, all power proceeds from the people, is instituted far the people; a constitutional monarchy is necessary for the French nation, as a guarantee of its liberty, and of its independence.
"Sire, while you shall be on the frontiers, at the head of the children of the country, the chamber of peers will concur with zeal in all the legislative measures, that circumstances may require, to compel foreigners to acknowledge the independence of the nation, and render the principles sanctioned by the will of the people triumphant at home.
"The interest of France is inseparable from yours. If fortune should deceive your efforts, disasters, Sire, will not weaken our perseverance, and would redouble our attachment to you.
"If success should correspond to the justice of our cause, and the hopes; we are accustomed to conceive from your genius and the valour of our armies, France desires no other fruit from it than peace. Our institutions are a pledge to Europe, that the French government can never be hurried on by the seductions of victory."
The Emperor answered:
"The contest in which we are engaged is serious. The ardour of prosperity is not the danger that threatens us at present. Foreigners are desirous of making us pass under the Caudine forks!
"The justice of our cause, the public spirit of the nation, and the courage of the army, are potent grounds, to hope for success; but, if we should experience disasters, then in particular I should wish, to see all the energy of this great people displayed; then I should find in the chamber of peers proofs of attachment to their country, and to myself.
"It is in times of difficulty, that great nations, like great men, display all the energy of their character, and become an object of admiration to posterity.
[Footnote 33: This is a remarkable sentence; as it expresses a sound principle: events have shown, how little the French deserve the name of a great nation. Tr.]
"Mr. President and gentlemen deputies of the chamber of peers, I thank you for the sentiments which you have expressed to me in the name of the chamber."
Count Lanjuinais, at the head of the deputation of the chamber of representatives, then delivered the following speech:
"Sire, the chamber of representatives received with profound emotion the words pronounced from the throne at the solemn sitting, when your Majesty, laying down the extraordinary power you were exercising, proclaimed the commencement of a constitutional monarchy.
"The principal bases of this monarchy, the guardian of the liberty, equality, and happiness of the people, have been acknowledged by your Majesty, who, voluntarily meeting every scruple, as well as every wish, has declared, that the care of collecting together our scattered constitutions, and arranging them in one whole, was among the most important occupations reserved for the legislature. Faithful to its mission, the chamber of representatives will fulfil the task that is devolved to it, in this noble work: it demands, that, to satisfy the will of the public, as well as the wishes of your Majesty, the deliberations of the nation shall rectify, as soon as possible, what the urgency of our situation may have produced defective, or left imperfect, in the whole of our constitutions.
"But at the same time, Sire, the chamber of representatives will not show itself less eager, to proclaim its sentiments and its principles with regard to the terrible conflict, that threatens to ensanguine the fields of Europe. After a series of disastrous events, invaded France appeared listened to for a moment on the establishment of its constitution, only to see itself almost immediately subjected to a royal charter, emanating from absolute power, to a system of reformation, in its nature always revocable....
"Resuming now the exercise of its rights; rallying round the hero, whom its confidence invests anew with the government of the state; France is astonished and grieved, to see sovereigns in arms demand of it the reason of an internal change, which is the result of the national will, and affects neither its existing connexions with other governments, nor their security. France cannot admit the distinctions, under which the coalized powers endeavour to cloak their aggression. To attack the monarch of its choice is to attack the independence of the nation. It is entirely in arms, to defend this independence; and to repel every family, and every prince, that they may dare wish to impose on it. No ambitious project enters into the thoughts of the French people: even the will of a victorious prince would be impotent, to carry the nation beyond the limits of its own defence. But to protect its territory, to maintain its liberty, its honour, its dignity, it is ready to make any sacrifice. Why are we not allowed, Sire, still to hope, that these preparations for war, caused perhaps by the irritations of pride, and by illusions that every day must weaken, will vanish before the want of a peace necessary to all the nations of Europe; and which would restore to your Majesty your consort, to the French the heir to the throne? But already blood has been shed: the signal of battles, prepared against the independence and liberty of the French, has been given in the name of a people, who carry to the highest point their zeal for independence and liberty. No doubt among the communications, which your Majesty has promised us, the chambers will find proofs of the efforts you have made, to maintain the peace of the world. If all these efforts must remain useless, may the calamities of the war fall on those, by whom it has been provoked!
"The chamber of deputies waits only for the documents, that have been announced to it, to concur with all its power in the measures, that the success of a war so legitimate may demand. It is eager, to be acquainted with the wants and resources of the state, in order to enunciate its wishes: and while your Majesty, opposing to the most unjust aggression the valour of our national armies, and the force of your genius, seeks in victory only the means of arriving at a durable peace, the chamber of representatives is persuaded, that it shall be proceeding toward the same end, by labouring unremittingly at the compact, the perfecting of which must cement still more closely the union between the people and the throne; and strengthen in the eyes of Europe the pledge of our engagements, by the improvement of our institutions."
The Emperor answered:
"I find with satisfaction my own sentiments, in those you express to me. Under our present weighty circumstances, my thoughts are absorbed by the imminent war, to the success of which are attached the honour and independence of France.
"I shall set out this night, to place myself at the head of my armies: the movements of the different corps of the enemy render my presence there indispensable. During my absence, I shall see with pleasure, that a committee named by each chamber is meditating on our constitution.
"The constitution is our rallying point: it should be our pole-star in this season of tempests. Every public discussion, that would tend, directly or indirectly, to diminish the confidence we ought to have in its arrangements, would be a misfortune to the state: we should find ourselves in the midst of shoals, without a compass, and without a chart. The crisis in which we are engaged is violent. Let us not imitate the example of the Lower Empire, which, pressed on all sides by the barbarians, rendered itself the laughing-stock of posterity, by engaging in abstract discussions, at the moment when the battering ram was bursting open the gates of the city.
"Independently of the legislative measures, which internal circumstances require, you will deem it useful perhaps, to occupy yourselves on regulating laws, calculated to render the constitution active. These may be subjects of your public labours without any inconvenience.
"Mr. President, and gentlemen deputies of the chamber of representatives, the sentiments expressed in your address sufficiently demonstrate the attachment of the chamber to my person, and all the patriotism, with which it is animated. In all events my course will ever be straight and firm. Assist me to save our country. The first representative of the people, I have contracted the obligation, which I renew, of employing, in times of greater tranquillity, all the prerogatives of the crown, and the little experience I have acquired, to second you in the improvement of our institutions."
The voice of Napoleon, naturally emphatic, gave prominence to the masculine thoughts, that sparkled throughout both these speeches: and when he arrived at this passage, "every public discussion, that would tend to diminish the confidence," &c.; and at this, "let us not imitate the Lower Empire;" he gave these salutary exhortations with a penetrating look, that made the instigators of discord cast down their eyes. The sound part of the representatives approved the Emperor's answer: the rest considered it as a lecture offensive to the dignity of the chamber. There are some men, who think they may be allowed to push remonstrance to insult, yet cannot listen to the most prudent and temperate advice, without being offended.
The Emperor set out, as he had announced, in the night of the 12th of May.
The question of deciding, whether he ought to be the first, to give the signal for hostilities, or not, had frequently recurred to his reflections.
By attacking the enemy, he had the advantage of engaging before the arrival of the Russians, and of carrying the war out of the French territories. If he were victorious, he might raise up Belgium, and detach from the coalition a part of the old confederation of the Rhine, and perhaps Austria.
By waiting to be attacked, he retained it in his power to choose his field of battle, to increase his means of resistance in an infinite degree, and of carrying the strength and devotion of his army to the highest pitch. An army of Frenchmen, fighting under the eyes of their mothers, their wives, and their children, for the preservation of their well-being, and in defence of the honour and independence of their country, would have been invincible. It was the latter alternative, to which Napoleon gave the preference: it agreed with the hope he involuntarily cherished of coming to an agreement with the foreign powers, and with his fear of gaining the ill-will of the chamber, if he commenced the war without previously exhausting all means of obtaining peace.
But Napoleon felt, that, to render a war national, all the citizens must be united in heart and will with their chief: and convinced, that the untoward disposition of the chamber would increase daily, and introduce division and trouble into the state, he resolved to commence the war; hoping, that fortune would favour his arms, and that victory would reconcile him to the deputies, or furnish him with the means of reducing them to order.
The Emperor entrusted the government during his absence to a council, composed of the fourteen persons following:
Prince Joseph, president. Prince Lucien.
Ministers. Prince Cambaceres. The prince of Eckmuhl. The duke of Vicenza. The duke of Gaeta. The duke of Decres. The duke of Otranto. Count Mollien. Count Carnot.
Ministers of State. Count Defermon. Count Regnaud de St. Jean d'Angeli. Count Boulay de la Meurthe. Count Merlin.
[Footnote 34: Ministers without any ostensible office, for their conduct in which they would be responsible. We have had members somewhat similar in our privy council. Tr.]
He said to them: "To-night I set off: do your duty: the French army and I will do ours: I recommend to you union, zeal, and energy."
It appeared strange, in a representative monarchy, where responsibility bore hard on ministers, to see ministers of state, who were not responsible, associated in the government.
This was remarked to the Emperor, and he answered, that he had added ministers of state to the council, that they might be the interpreters of the government to the chamber of deputies; that he wished the ministers at the head of particular offices, to appear in this chamber as little as possible, as long as their constitutional education was incomplete; that they were not familiarized to the tribune; that they might there disclose opinions or principles, without intending it, that government could not avow; and that it would be inconvenient and difficult, to contradict the words of a minister, while those of a minister of state might be disavowed, without implicating the government, or wounding its dignity.
[Footnote 35: The members of the French chambers do not speak in their places, but from a pulpit erected for the purpose. Tr.]
Were these the only motives? I think not. He distrusted the perfidy of the Duke of Otranto, and the indifference of more ministers than one; and he was glad to find a reason, or a pretence, for introducing into the council of regency the four ministers of state, whose devotion and unshaken fidelity appeared to him an additional guarantee. When he made known his intention of commencing the war, the Duke of Vicenza solicited the favour of attending him to the army, "If I do not leave you at Paris," answered Napoleon, "on whom can I depend?" How much is expressed in these few words!
The day after his departure, the ministers of the interior and for foreign affairs repaired to the chamber of peers. M. Carnot laid before it a statement of the situation of the Emperor and the empire.
"His Majesty," said he, "enlightened by past events, has returned, having at heart the full desire and hope of preserving peace abroad, and of governing paternally at home....
"If the Emperor were less secure of the firmness of his character, and the purity of his resolutions, he might consider himself as placed between two shoals, the partisans of the expelled dynasty, and those of the republican system. But the former, having been unable to retain what they possessed, must be still less capable of seizing on it anew: the latter, undeceived by long experience, and bound by gratitude to the prince, who has been their deliverer, are become his most zealous defenders; their candour, as well known as their philanthropic ardour, surround the throne occupied by the august founder of a new dynasty, who glories in having issued from the ranks of the people."
After this declaration, to which the republican opinions of M. Carnot gave great weight, he entered into an examination of the several branches of the public administration in succession.
He disclosed the state, to which the calamities of the times, and the mismanagement of the regal government, had reduced the finances of the communes, the hospitals, religious worship, public works, mines, manufactures, commerce, and public instruction; and made known the system of improvement, which the Emperor had formed, and already commenced, to restore to the communes and hospitals their former resources, to public works their activity, to commerce its scope, to the university its lustre, to manufactures their prosperity, to the clergy that respect and easiness of circumstances, which it had forfeited through the persecutions, directed by it, at the instigation of the emigrants, against the pretended spoilers of their property.
When come to the war department, he announced, that the Emperor had re-established on its old foundations the army, the elements of which had been intentionally dispersed by the late government. That since the 20th of March our forces had been raised by voluntary enlistments, and the recall of the ancient soldiery, from a hundred thousand men, to three hundred and seventy-five thousand. That the imperial guard, the noblest ornament of France during peace, and its strongest rampart during war, would soon amount to forty thousand men. That the artillery, notwithstanding the twelve thousand six hundred pieces of ordnance delivered to the enemy by the fatal convention of the 23d of April, 1814, had risen from its ruins, and now reckoned a hundred batteries, and twenty thousand horses. That our disorganised arsenals had resumed their labours, and were replacing the army stores. That our manufactories of arms, lately abandoned and empty, had made or repaired four hundred thousand muskets in the course of two months. That a hundred and seventy fortified towns, or fortresses, both on the frontiers and in the interior, had been provisioned, repaired, and put into a condition, to resist an enemy. That the national guard, completely re-organised, had already supplied for the defence of the frontiers two hundred and forty battalions, or a hundred and fifty thousand men; and that the successive formation of the other battalions of flank companies would produce more than two hundred thousand men. That the volunteers in the walled towns, and the pupils of the Lyceums and special schools, had been formed into companies of artillery, and constituted a body of more than twenty-five thousand excellent gunners. So that eight hundred and fifty thousand Frenchmen would defend the independence, the liberty, and the honour of the country; while the sedentary national guards were preparing themselves in the interior, to furnish fresh resources for the triumph of the national cause.
[Footnote 36: These were schools intended for finishing public education.—Tr.]
In fine, after having taken a hasty view of the hostile dispositions of our enemies, of the interior disturbances they had excited, and of the means the Emperor had adopted to suppress them, M. Carnot concluded his report by expressing a wish, that the two chambers might soon bestow on France, in concert with the Emperor, those organising laws, which were necessary to prevent licentiousness from assuming the place of liberty, and anarchy that of order.
This report, in which M. Carnot did not totally conceal the apprehensions, with which the progress of that spirit of insubordination and demagogism, manifested by certain members of the chamber, inspired the Emperor and the nation, was immediately followed by one from the Duke of Vicenza, on the menacing dispositions of foreign powers, and the fruitless efforts, that the Emperor had made, to bring them to moderate and pacific sentiments. Their hostile resolutions he ascribed chiefly to the suggestions of the cabinet of London. He afterward made known the military preparations of the four great powers, the leagues renewed or recently formed against us, and concluded thus:
"To believe it possible, to maintain peace, at present, therefore, would be a dangerous blindness: war surrounds us on all sides, and it is on the field of battle alone, that peace can be regained by France. The English, the Prussians, the Austrians, are in line of battle; the Russians are in full march. It becomes a duty, to hasten the day of engagement, when too long hesitation might endanger the welfare of the state."
These two reports were presented to the chamber of deputies by ministers of state, at the same time when the ministers were making them known to the chamber of peers. Instead of impressing upon the representatives the necessity of frankly joining the Emperor, and, as one of them observed, of not entering into a contest with the government, at a moment when the blood of Frenchmen was about to be shed, they suggested to them only steril discussions of the impropriety of the connexion of ministers of state with the chamber, and of the urgency of appointing a committee, to remould the additional act. An immoderate desire of speechifying, and of making laws, had seized the greater number of the deputies: but a state is not to be saved by empty words, and schemes of a constitution. The Romans, when their country was in danger, instead of deliberating, suspended the sway of the laws, and gave themselves a dictator.
The next day, the 17th, a new report, made to the Emperor by the minister of police, on the moral state of France, was communicated to the two chambers.
"Sire," said this minister, "it is my duty, to tell you the whole truth. Our enemies are emboldened by instruments without, and supporters within. They wait only for a favourable moment, to realize the plan they conceived twenty years ago, and which during these twenty years has been continually frustrated, of uniting the camp of Jales to Vendee, and seducing a part of the multitude into that confederacy which extends from the Mediterranean to the Channel.
"In this system, the plains on the left bank of the Loire, the population of which it is most easy to mislead, are the principal focus of the insurrection; which, by the help of the wandering bands of Britanny, is to spread into Normandy, where the vicinity of the islands, and the disposition of the coasts, will render communication more easy. On the other side it rests on the Cevennes, to extend thence to the banks of the Rhone by the revolts, that may be excited in some parts of Languedoc and Provence. Bordeaux has been the centre of the direction of these movements from the beginning.
"This plan is not abandoned. Nay more: the party has been increased, at every change in our revolution, by all the malecontents, that events have produced; by all the factious, that a certainty of amnesty has encouraged; and by all the ambitious, who have been desirous of acquiring some political importance in the changes they foreboded.
"...... It is this party, that now disturbs the interior. Marseilles, Toulouse, and Bordeaux, are agitated by it. Marseilles, where the spirit of sedition animates even the lowest classes of the population; where the laws have been disregarded: Toulouse, which seems still under the influence of that revolutionary organisation, which was imparted to it some months ago: Bordeaux, where all the germs of revolt are deposited, and intensely fermenting.
"It is this party, which by false alarms, false hopes, distribution of money, and the employment of threats, has succeeded in stirring up peaceable agriculturists, throughout the territory included between the Loire, la Vendee, the ocean, and the Rhone. Arms and ammunition have been landed there. The hydra of rebellion revives, re-appears wherever it formerly exercised its ravages, and is not destroyed by our successes at St. Gilles and Aisenay. On the other side of the Loire, bands are desolating the department of Morbihan, and some parts of those of Isle and Vilaine, the Coasts of the North, and Sarthe. They have invaded in a moment the towns of Aurai, Rhedon, and Ploermel, and the plains of Mayenne as far as the gates of Laval; they stop the soldiers and sailors, that are recalled; they disarm the land-holders; increase their numbers by peasants, whom they compel to march with them; pillage the public treasures, annihilate the instruments of administration, threaten the persons in office, seize the stage coaches, stop the couriers, and for a moment intercepted the communication between Mans and Angers, Angers and Nantes, Nantes and Rennes, and Rennes and Vannes.
"On the borders of the Channel, Dieppe and Havre have been agitated by seditious commotions. Throughout the whole of the 15th division, the battalions of the national militia have been formed only with the greatest difficulty. The soldiers and sailors have refused, to answer their call; and have obeyed it only by compulsion. Caen has twice been disturbed by the resistance of the royalists; and in some of the circles of the Orne bands are formed as in Britanny and Mayenne.
"In fine, all kinds of writings, that can discourage the weak, embolden the factious, shake confidence, divide the nation, bring the government into contempt; all the pamphlets, that issue from the printing-offices of Belgium, or the clandestine presses of France; all that the foreign newspapers publish against us, all that the party-writers compose; are distributed, hawked about, and diffused with impunity, for want of restrictive laws, and from the abuse of the liberty of the press.
"Firm in the system of moderation, which your Majesty had adopted, you have thought it right, to wait for the meeting of the chambers, that legal precautions only might be opposed to manoeuvres, which by the ordinary course of law are not always punishable, and which it could neither foresee, nor prevent......"
The Duke of Otranto, entering on the subject, then discussed the laws, which, issued under analogous circumstances, might have been applied on the present occasion; and, as these laws appeared to him, impolitic, dangerous, and inadequate, he concluded, that it was indispensable for the chambers, immediately to set about framing new laws, which were necessary to check the licentiousness of the press, and circumscribe personal liberty, till internal peace and order were restored.
This report did not make the impression, that might have been expected from it. The deputies, accurately acquainted with what was passing in their departments, knew, that facts had been misrepresented. They persuaded themselves, that the melancholy picture of the situation of France, presented to them by M. Fouche, had been drawn up by order of the Emperor, with the view to alarm them, and render them more docile to his will.
The separate committees of the chamber rung with the contradictions, more or less direct, that each representative gave to the assertions of the minister. One of the members of the deputation from Calvados, would not rest satisfied with this civil way of giving him the lie, but declared openly from the tribune, that the agents of the minister had deceived their principal, by describing to him a personal quarrel of no consequence, and quelled on the spot, as a general insurrection of the royalists. They might have spared themselves the trouble of telling M. Fouche, that his report exaggerated the truth, and transformed private occurrences into public events: he knew this. Already devoted to the cause of the Bourbons, he had intentionally distorted facts, with the design of giving hope and consistency to the royalists, and of intimidating, cooling, and dividing, the partisans of Napoleon.
[Footnote 37: The Duke of Otranto excelled in the art of bending facts to his own liking. He exaggerated or extenuated them with so much skill, grasped them with so much address, and deduced consequences from them so naturally, that he was often able, to fascinate Napoleon. More securely to deceive and seduce him, he loaded him in his reports with protestations of attachment and fidelity; and he took care to contrive occasions of adding marginal notes with his own hand, in which he adroitly displayed in a distinguished manner his devotion, discernment, and activity. All his reports in general bore the same stamp: with much of cunning, and much of talent, they offered to the eye a rare and valuable assemblage of quickness and judgment, of moderation and firmness: at every word you might discover the able minister, the profound politician, the consummate statesman: in short, M. Fouche would have wanted nothing, to place him in the rank of great ministers, had he been what I shall call an honest statesman (un ministre honnete homme.)]
The chamber, instead of occupying itself on laws and measures for promoting the public safety, the introduction of which had been referred to them, left to the minister the task of proposing them. It preferred the resumption of its discussions on its favourite subject, the additional act; and I shall leave it, to waste its time in abstract dissertations, while I return to Napoleon.
The Emperor, who set out on the 12th at three in the morning, had gone over the fortifications of Soissons and Laon in his way, and arrived at Avesnes on the 13th. His anxious thoughts were incessantly turned toward Paris. Placed as it were between two fires, he seemed less to dread the enemies he had before him, than those he left behind.
On the 14th of June the whole of his forces amounted to three hundred thousand men; of which only a hundred and fifty thousand infantry, and thirty-five thousand cavalry, were in a state to take the field.
These hundred and eighty-five thousand men he had formed into four armies, and four corps of observation.
The first, under the name of the grand army, was intended to act immediately under his own orders. This was subdivided into five principal corps, commanded
The 1st by Count d'Erlon;
The 2d by Count Reille;
The 3d by Count Vandamme;
The 4th by Count Gerard;
The 5th (called the 6th) by Count de Lobau:
[Footnote 38: The 5th corps became the army of the Rhine, and the 6th, which at first was only a corps of reserve, took its place, without changing its number.]
And into a corps of cavalry commanded by Marshal Grouchy.
This army, exclusive of the imperial guard, which was 4500 horse, and 14,000 foot, amounted to a hundred thousand men, or thereabouts, of whom sixteen thousand were cavalry.
The second, entitled the army of the Alps, was commanded by Marshal the Duke of Albufera. It was to occupy the passes of Italy, and the border country of the Pays de Gex. Its strength might be twelve thousand men.
The third, styled the army of the Rhine, had at its head General Count Rapp; and its business was, to protect the frontiers of Alsace. It was estimated at eighteen thousand men.
The fourth, called the army of the West, was employed in La Vendee; and, after that country was quieted, it was to be incorporated in the grand army. It consisted of seventeen thousand men; and General Lamarque was its commander-in-chief.
The first corps of observation, stationed at Beford, was commanded by General Lecourbe. It had to defend the passages from Switzerland, and Franche Comte; and to form a communication, according to circumstances, by its left with the army of the Alps, or by its right with the army of the Rhine.
[Footnote 39: Surely the army of the Alps must have been on its right, and that of the Rhine on its left, unless it was stationed with its rear to the enemy.—Tr.]
The other three corps, the commanders of which were Marshal Brune at Marseilles, General Clausel at Bordeaux, and General Decaen at Toulouse, were to maintain the tranquillity of the country; and, in case of need, to oppose any invasion, that the Spaniards might attempt on the one side, or the Piedmontese and English on the other.
These four corps of observation amounted together to about twenty thousand men.
They were to be supported and reinforced by ten thousand soldiers, and fifty thousand national guards receiving pay.
The two armies of the Rhine and of the Alps were to be the same, fifty thousand men of the line, and a hundred thousand chasseurs and grenadiers of the national guard.
In fine, the army commanded by the Emperor in person was to be augmented by a hundred thousand national guards, who would have been stationed in a second line; and by sixty thousand regulars, who, as well as those mentioned above, were daily forming in the depots.
All these resources, when they should be disposable, and they might be before the end of the campaign, would have mounted the strength of the acting army to more than three hundred thousand fighting men; and that of the army of reserve, namely the national guards in the second line, or in the fortified towns, to four hundred thousand men. They would have been recruited, the first by levies from the conscriptions of 1814 and 1815; the second, by calling into service fresh battalions of the flank companies.
The whole army was superb, and full of ardour: but the Emperor, more a slave, than could have been believed, to his remembrances and habitudes, committed the fault of replacing it under the command of its former chiefs. Most of these, notwithstanding their addresses to the King, had not ceased to pray for the triumph of the imperial cause; yet they did not appear disposed to serve it with the ardour and devotion, that circumstances demanded. They were not now the men, who, full of youth and ambition, were generously prodigal of their lives, to acquire rank and fame; they were men tired of war, and who, having reached the summit of promotion, and being enriched by the spoils of the enemy or the bounty of Napoleon, had no further wish, than peaceably to enjoy their good fortune under the shade of their laurels.
The colonels and generals, who entered on their career subsequent to them, murmured at finding themselves placed under their tutelage. The soldiers themselves were dissatisfied: but this dissatisfaction did not abate their confidence of victory, for Napoleon was at their head.
[Footnote 40: The ascendancy he possessed over the minds and courage of the soldiers was truly incomprehensible. A word, a gesture, was sufficient, to inspire them with enthusiasm, and make them face with joyful blindness the most terrible dangers. If he ordered them mal-a-propos, to rush to such a point, to attack such another, the inconsistency or temerity of the manoeuvre at first struck the good sense of the soldiers: but immediately they thought, that their general would not have given such an order, without a motive for it, and would not have exposed them wantonly. "He knows what he is about," they would say, and immediately rush on death, with shouts of "Long live the Emperor!"]
On the 14th the Emperor directed the following proclamation, to be issued in the orders of the day.
"Avesnes, June 14, 1815.
"This is the anniversary of Marengo and of Friedland, which twice decided the fate of Europe: then, as after Austerlitz, as after Wagram, we were too generous! We trusted to the protestations and oaths of the princes, whom we left on the throne! Now, however, in coalition against us, they aim at the independence and the most sacred rights of France, They have commenced the most unjust of aggressions. Let us then march to meet them: are not they and we still the same men?
"Soldiers, at Jena, against these same Prussians, now so arrogant, you were but one to three, and at Montmirail one to six! Let those among you, who were prisoners to the English, give you an account of their hulks (pontons), and of the dreadful miseries they endured.
"The Saxons, the Belgians, the Hanoverians, the soldiers of the confederation of the Rhine, groan at being obliged to lend their arms to the cause of princes, who are enemies to justice, and to the rights common to all people. They know, that this coalition is insatiate. After having devoured twelve millions of Polanders, twelve millions of Italians, a million of Saxons, six millions of Belgians, it would devour all the states of the second order in Germany.
"Madmen! a moment of prosperity has blinded them. The oppression and humiliation of the French people are out of their power! If they enter France, they will find in it their graves.
"Soldiers, we have forced marches to make, battles to fight, hazards to run; but, with firmness, victory will be ours: the rights, the honour, and the happiness of our country will be reconquered.
"To every Frenchman, who has any heart, the moment is come, to conquer or die!"
The plan of the campaign adopted by the Emperor was worthy the courage of the French, and the high reputation of their chief.
Information given by a hand to be depended upon, and agents furnished by the Duke of Otranto, had made known the position of the allies in all its particulars. Napoleon knew, that the army of Wellington was dispersed over the country from the borders of the sea to Nivelles: that the right of the Prussians rested on Charleroy; and that the rest of their army was stationed in echelon indefinitely as far as the Rhine. He judged, that the enemies' lines were too much extended; and that it would be practicable for him, by not giving them time to close up, to separate the two armies, and fall in succession on their troops thus surprised.
[Footnote 41: These agents, paid by the king, went and came from Ghent to Paris, and from Paris to Ghent. The Duke of Otranto, who, no doubt, had good reasons for knowing them, offered the Emperor, to procure him news of what passed beyond the frontiers; and it was by their means the Emperor knew in great part the position of the enemies' armies. Thus the Duke of Otranto, if we may credit appearances, with one hand betrayed to the enemy the secrets of France, and with the other to Napoleon the secrets of the Bourbons and the foreign powers.]
For this purpose he had united all his cavalry into a single body of twenty thousand horse, with which he intended to dart like lightning into the midst of the enemies' cantonments.
If victory favoured this bold stroke, the centre of our army would occupy Brussels on the second day, while the corps of the right and of the left drove the Prussians to the Meuse, and the English to the Scheldt. Belgium being conquered, he would have armed the malecontents, and marched from success to success as far as the Rhine, where he would have solicited peace anew.
On the 14th, in the night, our army, the presence of which the Emperor had taken care to conceal, was to commence its march: nothing indicated, that the enemy had foreseen our irruption, and every thing promised us grand results; when Napoleon was informed, that General Bourmont, Colonels Clouet and Villoutreys, and two other officers, had just deserted to the enemy.
He knew from Marshal Ney, that M. de Bourmont, at the time of the occurrences at Besancon, had shown some hesitation, and was backward to employ him. But M. de Bourmont, having given General Gerard his word of honour, to serve the Emperor faithfully; and this general, whom Napoleon highly valued, having answered for Bourmont; the Emperor consented, to admit him into the service. How could he have supposed, that this officer, who had covered himself with glory in 1814, would, in 1815, go over to the enemy on the eve of a battle?
Napoleon immediately made such alterations in his plan of attack, as this unexpected treason rendered necessary, and then marched forward.
On the 15th, at one in the morning, he was in person at Jumiguan on the Eure.
At three, his army moved in three columns, and debouched suddenly at Beaumont, Maubeuge, and Philippeville.