The Second Empire

The Second Empire

The Second Empire

The Second Empire


IT WAS LATE AFTERNOON ON A WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 20, 1848. In awed silence the National Assembly watched a short little man make his way towards the speaker's platform. He was dressed in a black swallow-tail. The badge of the Légion d'honneur glittered on his chest. As he walked along he twirled the points of a brown mustache but not, apparently, in nervousness. Sideburns and a goatee suggested a retired officer of the Empire. He looked still young. His pale face gave an impression of gentleness. Reaching the top of the steps he turned and faced the Assembly, motionless, expectant, his blue eyes half-closed.

Armand Marrast, the chairman of the Assembly, rapped on his table with a paper-cutter and proceeded to read the oath of office of a president of the Second Republic:

"In the presence of God and of the French people here represented in its National Assembly I swear fidelity to the democratic Republic one and indivisible, and to fulfill all the duties laid upon me by the Constitution."

Just then a gun thundered at the Invalides. Louis Napoleon raised a white-gloved hand and answered:

"I swear."

Marrast was an adversary whom the Prince's victory at the polls had not disconcerted. In a threatening tone he commented:

"We have God and men as witnesses to the oath that has just been taken."

There were signs of restlessness on the Left, but Boulay de la Meurthe called out:

"He's an honest man. He will keep his oath."

It had been assumed that the Prince would at once return to his seat on the Floor. Instead he drew a folded sheet of paper from . . .

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