The German Empire, 1867-1914, and the Unity Movement - Vol. 1

By William Harbutt Dawson | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER IX
(1870-1871) THE WAR WITH FRANCE

THE, French Government having decided on war, all that remained was to justify it to the nation and to Europe, and to wage it with resolution. A manifesto was issued on July 15th in which the events of the preceding fortnight were reviewed and the actions of the Ministry defended in the name of national honour. It ended with the protestation by which, in one form or other, every war between civilized nations has been justified by every combatant: "We have done everything in order to avert war. We now prepare to meet the struggle which has been forced upon us, leaving every one to bear his due share of responsibility." The declaration was read in the Senate by the Duc de Gramont and in the House of Deputies by Ollivier, who added the now historical words: "We have taken upon ourselves a great responsibility, but we accept it with a light heart."1 All political parties were almost solidly behind the Government. Thiers declared that the Chamber was going to war "sur une question de susceptibilité,"

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The phrase has given rise to a, perhaps, unjustifiable amount of controversy owing to the assumption, for which there appears to be no warrant, that Ollivier took the approaching war lightly. In his story of the origin of the war Ollivier gives an explanation of how the words slipped from his lips which seems needlessly forced: he was the victim of an "abstraction oratoire." "Ma démonstration terminée," he writes, "j'eu une de ces abstractions oratoires que connaissent bien les hommes de tribune." Forgetting all the other orators -- Thiers, Favre, and the rest -- and even the Assembly itself, and thinking only of the brave men who were soon to fall on the battlefield, and of posterity, "je me rappelai les malédictions bibliques sur les impies aux cœurs pesants" ( Luke xxiv., 25-6). It was while under the compulsion of these reflections that he said: "Oui, de ce jour commençe pour les ministres, mes collégues et moi, une grande responsabilité. Nous l'acceptons le cœur leger." A voice cried: "Dîtes attristté!" but what Ollivier had said he meant, and he thereupon repeated the words, explaining that by a "light heart" he did not mean that Ministers entered upon the struggle with joy, but that they were free from remorse, and confident in the assurance of a good conscience ( L'Empire Libéral, vol. xiv., pp. 421-2).

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