Louis Napoleon and the Second Empire

By J. M. Thompson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
THE PRESIDENT (1848-1852)

His greatness weigh'd, his will is not his own,
For he himself is subject to his birth:
He may not, as unvalu'd persons do,
Carve for himself, for on his choice depends
The safety and the health of the whole state;
And therefore must his choice be circumscrib'd
Unto the voice and yielding of that body
Whereof he is the head.

Hamlet, I, iii


I

LOUIS' induction as President was fixed for December 20th. It is said that General Changarnier, who was in command of the troops escorting the new President to his official residence, said to Molé: 'Suppose I were to take him to the Tuileries instead of the Elysée?' -- 'Be sure you don't,' replied Molé, 'he will go there soon enough of his own accord.' Both buildings were almost in the same street. It was not much further from the Republican to the Imperial Palace than (as they had once warned Mirabeau) from the Capitol to the Tarpeian Rock. The enemies of the new President guessed that he had his eyes on the Tuileries; his friends were urging him to occupy it; Louis himself intended to -- but not yet.

'Don't go to the Assembly', was Persigny's advice: 'send them a message saying that you will take your oath to the Constitution provided that it first receives the ratification of the people'. Ratification by plébiscite was in fact consistent with democratic precedent, and had been proposed by a small number of deputies: but the majority voted against it, for they knew that the people took no interest in their Constitution, and feared that it might take the opportunity to declare for an Empire. Louis would not accept a plan which involved all the hazards of a coup d'état. Was he wrong? Ought he to have taken the overwhelming vote of December 10th as a national call to the throne? Were not his subsequent troubles -- the broken oath to the Constitution, the bloodshed and proscriptions of December 1851, his subservience to the Liberals and to the Church, and the sacrifice of British friendship -- largely due to the four years' delay between Presidency and Empire?

If ever a historical parallel is justified, it would be justified here,

-97-

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Louis Napoleon and the Second Empire
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • Illustrations xii
  • Chapter I - THE HEIR (1808-1831) 1
  • Chater II - THE PRETENDER (1831-1840) 30
  • Chapter III - THE OUTLAW (1840-1848) 63
  • Chapter IV - THE PRESIDENT (1848-1852) 97
  • Chapter V - THE EMPEROR (1852-1856) 137
  • Chapter VI - THE LIBERATOR (1856-1859) 167
  • Chapter VII - THE ADVENTURER (1859-1869) 196
  • Chapter VIII - THE LIBERAL (1860-1869) 224
  • Chapter IX - THE GAMBLER (1863-1869) 255
  • Chapter X - THE FATALIST (1869-1870) 287
  • EPILOGUE 314
  • Notes 323
  • Index 339
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