The Allied Sovereigns issue a Proclamation that they will not treat with Buonaparte – A Provisional Government is named by the Conservative Senate, who also decree the forfeiture of Napoleon – This decree is sanctioned by all the Public Bodies in Paris – The legality of these proceedings discussed – Feelings towards Napoleon, of the Lower Classes, and of the Military – On 4th April, Buonaparte issues a document abdicating the Throne of France – His subsequent agitation, and wish to continue the war – The deed is finally despatched.
While Napoleon breathed nothing save the desire of recovering by war what war had taken from him, or at least that of making such a peace as should leave him at the head of the French government, political events were taking place in Paris which pointed directly at the overthrow of his power.
His great military talents, together with his extreme inflexibility of temper, had firmly impressed the allied monarchs with the belief, that no lasting peace could be made in Europe while he remained at the head of the French nation. Every concession which he had seemed willing to make at different times, had been wrung from him by increasing difficulties, and was yielded with such extreme reluctance, as to infer the strongest suspicion that they would all be again resumed, should the league of the allies be dissolved, or their means of opposing his purposes become weaker. When, therefore, Caulaincourt came to Paris on the part of his master, with power to subscribe to all and each of the demands made by the allies, he was not indeed explicitly refused audience; but, before he was admitted to a conference with the Emperor Alexander, to whom his mission was addressed, the sovereigns had come under engagements which precluded them altogether from treating with Napoleon.32
When the Emperor of Russia halted, after the progress of the allied sovereigns through the city, it was at the hotel of Talleyrand. He was scarcely arrived there ere the principal Royalists, and those who had acted with them, waited on him to crave an audience. Besides the Emperor Alexander, the King of Prussia, and Prince Schwartzenberg, were present General Pozzo di Borgo, Nesselrode, Lichtenstein, the Duke Dalberg, Baron Louis, the Abbé de Pradt, and others. Three points were discussed, 1st, The possibility of a peace with Napoleon, upon sufficient guarantees; 2d, The plan of a regency; 3d, The restoration of the Bourbons.
The first proposition seemed inadmissible. The second was carefully considered. It was particularly urged that the French were indifferent to the cause of the Bourbons – that the allied monarchs would observe no mark of recollection of them exhibited by the people of France – and that the army seemed particularly averse to them. The united testimony of the French gentlemen present was offered to repel these doubts; and it was at length agreed, that the third proposition – the restoration of the ancient family, and the ancient limits – should be the terms adopted for the settlement of France.33 A proclamation was immediately dispersed, by which the sovereigns made known their determination not to treat with Buonaparte or any of his family.34
But more formal evidence, in the shape of legal procedure, was necessary to establish the desire of the French people to coincide in the proposed change of government. The public body which ought naturally to have taken the lead on such an important affair, was the Legislative Assembly, in whom Napoleon's constitution vested some ostensible right of interference when the state was in danger; but so far had the Emperor been from recognising such a power in practice, that the instant when the Assembly assumed the right of remonstrating with him, though in the most respectful terms, he suspended their functions, and spurned them from the footstool of his throne, informing them, that not they, but He, was the representative of the people, from whom there lay no appeal, and besides whom, no body in the state possessed power and efficacy. This legislative council, therefore, being dispersed and prorogued, could not take the initiative upon the present occasion.
The searching genius of Talleyrand sought an organ of public opinion where few would have looked for it – in the Conservative Senate, namely, whose members had been so long the tools of Buonaparte's wildest projects, and the echoes of his most despotic decrees – that very body, of which he himself said, with equal bitterness and truth, that they were more eager to yield up national rights than he had been to demand the surrender, and that a sign from him had always been an order for the Senate, who hastened uniformly to anticipate and exceed his demands. Yet when, on the summons of Talleyrand, who knew well with whom he was dealing, this Senate was convoked, in a meeting attended by sixty-six of their number, forming a majority of the body, they at once, and without hesitation, named a Provisional Government, consisting of Talleyrand, Bournonville, Jaucourt, Dalberg, and the Abbé de Montesquieu; men recommended by talents and moderation, and whose names, known in the Revolution, might, at the same time, be a guarantee to those who dreaded a renovation of the old despotic government with the restoration of the ancient race of kings.
On the 2d and 3d of April the axe was laid to the roots. A decree of the Senate sent forth the following statement: – 1st, That Napoleon, after governing for some time with prudence and wisdom, had violated the constitution, by raising taxes in an arbitrary and lawless manner, contrary to the tenor of his oath. – 2d, That he had adjourned without necessity the Legislative Body, and suppressed a report of that assembly, besides disowning its right to represent the people. – 3d, That he had published several unconstitutional decrees, particularly those of 5th March last, by which he endeavoured to render national a war, in which his own ambition alone was interested. – 4th, That he had violated the constitution by his decrees respecting state prisons. – 5th, That he had abolished the responsibility of ministers, confounded together the different powers of the state, and destroyed the independence of judicial authorities. – 6th, That the liberty of the press, constituting one of the rights of the nation, had been uniformly subjected to the arbitrary censure of his police; while, at the same time, he himself had made use of the same engine to fill the public ear with invented fictions, false maxims, doctrines favourable to despotism, and insults upon foreign governments. – 7th, That he had caused acts and reports, adopted by the Senate, to be altered by his own authority, before publication. – 8th, That instead of reigning, according to his oath, for the honour, happiness, and glory of the French nation, he had put the finishing stroke to the distresses of the country, by a refusal to treat on honourable conditions – by the abuse which he had made of the means intrusted to him, in men and money – by abandoning the wounded, without dressing or sustenance – and by pursuing measures of which the consequences have been the ruin of towns, the depopulation of the country, famine and pestilence. From all these inductive causes, the Senate, considering that the Imperial government, established by the decree of 28th Floreal, in the year XII., had ceased to exist, and that the manifest desire of all Frenchmen was to obtain an order of things, of which the first result should be peace and concord among the great members of the European family: Therefore, the Senate declared and decreed, 1st, That Napoleon Buonaparte had forfeited the throne, and the right of inheritance established in his family. – 2d, That the people and army of France were disengaged and freed from the oath of fidelity, which they had taken to Napoleon and his constitution.35
About eighty members of the Legislative Body, at the summons of the Provisional Government, assembled on the 3d April, and formally adhered to the above decree of forfeiture. The consequences of these bold measures showed, either that Napoleon had in reality never had more than a slight hold on the affections of the people of France, or that the interest they took in his fortunes had been in a great degree destroyed by the fears and passions excited by the immediate crisis. Even before the Senate could reduce its decree into form, the council-general of the department of the Seine had renounced Napoleon's authority, and imputed to him alone the present disastrous state of the country. The decree of the Senate was followed by declarations from all the public bodies in and around Paris, that they adhered to the Provisional Government, and acquiesced in the decree of forfeiture. Numerous individuals, who had been favoured and enriched by Buonaparte, were among the first to join the tide when it set against him. But it had been always his policy to acquire adherents, by addressing himself rather to men's interests than to their principles; and many of his friends so gained, naturally became examples of the politic observation, "that if a prince places men in wealthy circumstances, the first thing they think of, in danger, is how to preserve the advantages they have obtained, without regard to his fate to whom they owe them."
We do not believe that it occurred to any person while these events were passing, to question either the formality or the justice of the doom of forfeiture against Napoleon; but Time has called out many authors, who, gained by the brilliancy of Napoleon's reputation, and some of them bound to him by ties of gratitude or friendship, have impugned, more or less directly, the formality of the Senate's procedure, as well as the justice of their sentence. We, therefore, feel it our duty to bestow some consideration upon this remarkable event in both points of view.
The objection proposed against the legality of the Senate's acting as the organ of the people, in pronouncing the doom of forfeiture, rests upon the idea, that the right of dethroning the sovereign, who shall be guilty of oppression beyond endurance, can only be exercised in a peculiar and formal manner, or, as our law-phrase goes, "according to the statute made and provided in that case." This seems to take a narrow view of the subject. The right of redressing themselves under such circumstances, does not belong to, and is not limited by, any peculiar forms of civil government. It is a right which belongs to human nature under all systems whatever. It exists in every government under the sun, from that of the Dey of Algiers to the most free republic that ever was constructed. There is, indeed, much greater latitude for the exercise of arbitrary authority in some governments than in others. An Emperor of Morocco may, with impunity, bathe his hands to the elbows in the blood of his subjects shed by his own hand; but even in this the most absolute of despotisms, there are peculiar limits which cannot be passed by the sovereign without the exercise of the natural right of resistance on the part of his subjects, although their system of government be as arbitrary as words can declare it to be, and the Emperor is frequently dethroned and slain by his own guards.
In limited governments, on the other hand, like that of Great Britain, the law imposes bounds, beyond which the royal authority shall not pass; but it makes no provision for what shall take place, should a monarch, as in the case of James II., transgress the social compact. The constitution averts its eyes from contemplating such an event – indeed it is pronounced impossible; and when the emergency did arrive, and its extrication became a matter of indispensable necessity, it was met and dealt with as a concurrence of circumstances which had not happened before, and ought never to be regarded as being possible to occur again. The foreigner who peruses our constitution for the forms of procedure competent in such an event as the Revolution, might as well look in a turnpike act for directions how to proceed in a case resembling that of Phaeton.
If the mode of shaking off an oppressive yoke, by declaring the monarchy abdicated or forfeited, be not a fixed form in a regular government, but left to be provided for by a convention or otherwise, as a case so calamitous and so anomalous should demand, far less was it to be supposed that a constitution like that of France, which Buonaparte had studiously deprived of every power and means of checking the executive, should contain a regular form of process for declaring the crown forfeited. He had been as careful as despot could, to leave no bar in existence before which the public might arraign him; but will it be contended, that the public had therefore forfeited its natural right of accusing and of obtaining redress? If he had rendered the Senate the tame drudges which we have described, and prorogued the Legislative Body by an arbitrary coup d'état, was he therefore to escape the penalty of his misgovernment? On the contrary, the nation of France, like Great Britain at the time of the Revolution 1688, was to proceed as it best could in taking care, Ne quid detrimenti respublica capiat. The Senate was not, perhaps, the best organ for expressing public opinion, but it was the only one Napoleon had left within reach, and therefore it was seized upon and made use of. That it was composed of men who had so long gone on with Napoleon's interest, and now were able to keep up in course with him no longer, made his misrule even yet more glaring, and the necessity of the case more evident.
It is of far more importance to be enabled to form an accurate judgment respecting the justice of the sentence of forfeiture pronounced against this eminent man, than upon its mere formality. That we may examine this question with the impartiality it deserves, we must look upon it not only divested of our feelings as Britons, but as unconnected with the partisans either of the Bourbons or of Buonaparte. With these last there could be no room either for inquiry or conviction. The Royalist must have been convinced that Napoleon deserved, not deprivation only, but death also, for usurping the throne of his rightful sovereign; and the Buonapartist, on the other hand, would hold it cowardly treason to desert the valiant Emperor, who had raised France to such a state of splendour by his victories, more especially to forsake him in the instant when Fortune was looking black upon his cause. There could be no argument between these men, save with their good swords in a fair field.
But such decided sentiments were not entertained upon the part of the great bulk of the French nation. A large number of the middle classes, in particular, remembering the first terrors of the Revolution, had showed their willingness to submit to the yoke which gradually assumed a despotic character, rather than, by a renewed struggle for their liberties, to run the risk of reviving the days of Terror and Proscription. It is in the person of such an individual, desirous of the honour and advantage of his country, and anxious at the same time for the protection of his own family and property, that we now endeavour to consider the question of Napoleon's forfeiture.
The mind of such a person would naturally revert to the period when Buonaparte, just returned from Egypt, appeared on the stage like a deity descending to unloose a perplexing knot, which no human ingenuity could extricate. Our citizen would probably admit, that Napoleon used the sword a little too freely in severing the intricacies of the noose; or, in plain words, that the cashiering the Council of Five Hundred, at the head of his grenadiers, was an awkward mode of ascending to power in a country which still called itself free. This feeling, however, would be greatly overbalanced by recollecting the use which was made of the power thus acquired; the subjugation, to wit, of foreign enemies, the extinction of civil dissensions, the protection of property, and, for a time, of personal liberty also. Napoleon's having elevated France from the condition of a divided and depressed country, in the immediate apprehension of invasion, into that of arbitress of Europe, would at once justify committing the chief authority to such able hands, and excuse the means he had used for attaining it; especially in times when the violent and successive changes under which they had long suffered, had made the nation insensible to irregularities like those attached to the revolution of the 18th Brumaire. Neither would our citizens probably be much shocked at Napoleon's assuming the crown. Monarchy was the ancient government of France, and successive changes had served to show that they could not fix on any other form of constitution, labour how they would, which was endowed with the same degree of permanence. The Bourbons had, indeed, the claim by birth to mount that throne, were it to be again erected. But they were in exile, separated by civil war, party prejudices, the risk of reaction, and a thousand other difficulties, which seemed at the time absolutely insurmountable. Buonaparte was standing under the canopy, he grasped the regal sceptre in his hand, his assuming the royal seat passed almost as a matter of course.
Our supposed Parisian has next to review a course of years of such brilliancy as to baffle criticism, and charm reason to silence, till the undertakings of the Emperor seem to rise above each other in wonder, each being a step towards the completion of that stupendous pyramid, of which the gradations were to be formed by conquered provinces, until the refractory and contumacious isle of Britain should be added to complete the pile, on the top of which was destined to stand the armed form of Napoleon, trampling the world under his foot. This is the noble work which France and her monarch were in the act of achieving. It requires the sacrifice of children or relatives to fill their ranks; they go where Honour calls, and Victory awaits them. These times, however, are overclouded; there come tidings that the stone heaved by such portentous exertion so high up the hill, has at length recoiled on him who laboured to give it a course contrary to nature. It is then that the real quality of the fetters, hitherto gilded over by success, begins to be felt, and the iron enters into the soul. The parent must not weep aloud for the child – the Emperor required his service; – the patriot must not speak a word on public affairs – the dungeon waits for him.
While news of fresh disasters from Spain and Moscow were every day arriving, what comfort could a citizen of France find in adverting to past victories? These had brought on France the hatred of Europe, the tears of families, the ruin of fortunes, general invasion, and wellnigh national bankruptcy. Every year had the children of France undergone decimation – taxes to the amount of fifteen hundred millions of francs yearly, had succeeded to the four hundred millions imposed under the reign of the Bourbons – the few remaining ships of France rotted in her harbours – her bravest children were slaughtered on their native soil – a civil war was on the point of breaking out – one half of France was overrun by the foreign enemy. Was this most melancholy state of the country brought about in defending strongly, but unfortunately, any of the rights of France? No – she might have enjoyed her triumphs in the most profound peace. Two wars with Spain and Russia, which gave fire to this dreadful train of calamities, were waged for no national or reasonable object, but merely because one half of Europe could not satisfy the ambition of one man. Again, our citizen inquires, whether, having committed the dreadful error of commencing these wars, the Emperor has endeavoured to make peace with the parties injured? He is answered, that repeated terms of peace have been offered to Napoleon, upon condition of ceding his conquests, but that he had preferred hazarding the kingdom of France, to yielding up that which he termed his glory, a term which he successively conferred on whatever possession he was required to surrender; that even at Chatillon, many days passed when he might have redeemed himself by consenting that France should be reduced within the limits which she enjoyed under the Bourbons; but that the proposal when half admitted, had been retracted by him in consequence of some transient success; and finally, that in consequence of his intractability and obstinacy, the allied sovereigns had solemnly declared they would not enter into treaty with him, or those who acted with him. Our citizen would naturally look about for some means of escaping the impending danger, and would be informed that the peace which the allied princes refused to Buonaparte, they held out with ready hand to the kingdom of France under any other government. He would learn that if these terms were accepted, there was every prospect that a secure and lasting peace would ensue; if refused, the inevitable consequence would be a battle between two large armies fought under the walls of Paris, which city was almost certain to be burnt, whichever party got the advantage.
In consequence of this information, the citizen of Paris would probably be able to decide for himself. But if he inquired at a jurist, he would be informed that Napoleon held the crown not by right of blood, but by the choice, or rather permission of the people, as an administrator bound to manage for their best advantage.
Now, every legal obligation may be unloosed in the same way in which it is formed. If, therefore, Napoleon's government was no longer for the advantage of France, but, on the contrary, tended plainly to her ruin, she had a right to rid herself of him, as of a servant unfit for duty, or as if mariners had taken aboard their vessel a comrade intended to act as pilot, but who had proved a second Jonas, whom it was necessary to sacrifice to appease a storm which had come upon them through his misconduct. Upon such reasoning, certainly neither unwise nor unpatriotic, the burghers of Paris, as well as all those who had any thing to lose in the struggle, may be supposed to have acted.
The lower, or rather the lowest class of inhabitants, were not accessible to the same arguments. They had been bequeathed to Buonaparte as an heir-loom of the Republic, of which he has been truly called the heir. His police had industriously maintained connexions amongst them, and retained in pay and in dependence on the government, their principal leaders. Names had changed around men of that ignorant condition, without their feeling their situation much altered. The Glory of France was to them as inspiring a watchword as the Rights of Man had been; and their quantum of sous per day, when employed, as they frequently were, upon the public works, was no bad exchange for Liberty and Equality, after they had arrived at the discovery of the poor cobbler, who exclaimed – "Fine Liberty, indeed, that leaves me cobbling shoes as she found me!" Bulletins and Moniteurs, which trumpeted the victories of Napoleon, were as animating and entertaining to the inhabitants of the suburbs as the speeches of republican orators; for in such triumphs of a nation, the poor have a share as ample as their wealthier neighbours. The evils of the war were also less felt by the poor. Their very poverty placed them beneath taxation, and the children, of whom they were bereaved by the conscription, they must otherwise have parted with, in all probability, that they might seek subsistence elsewhere. In the present circumstances the hatred to foreigners, proper to persons of their class, came to aid their admiration of Buonaparte. In a battle, they had something to gain and nothing to lose, saving their lives, of which their national gallantry induced them to take small heed. Had Napoleon been in Paris, he might have made much use of this force. But in his absence, the weight of property, prudently directed, naturally bore down the ebullitions of those who had only brute strength to throw into the balance, and the overwhelming force of the allied army kept the suburbs in subjection.
The disposition of the military was a question of deep importance. Accustomed to follow Napoleon through every climate, and every description of danger, unquestionably their attachment to his person was of the most devoted and enthusiastic kind. But this can only be said in general of the regimental officers, and the soldiers. The maréchals, and many of the generals, were tired of this losing war. These, with many also of the inferior officers, and even of the soldiers, began to consider the interest of their general, and that of France, as having become separated from each other. It was from Paris that the changes had emanated by which the army was governed during every revolutionary crisis; and they were now required to engage in an undertaking which was likely to be fatal to that metropolis. To advance upon the allies, and fight a battle under the capital, was to expose to destruction the city, whose name to every Frenchman has a sacred and inviolable sound. The maréchals, in particular, were disgusted with a contest, in which each of them had been left successively without adequate means of resistance, to stem, or attempt to stem, a superior force of the enemy; with the certainty, at the same time, to be held up to public censure in the next bulletin, in case of failure, though placed in circumstances which rendered success impossible. These generals were more capable than the army at large of comprehending the nature of the war in which they were likely to be engaged, and of appreciating the difficulties of a contest which was to be maintained in future without money, ammunition, or supplies, excepting such as should be extorted from that part of the country over which they held military possession; and this, not only against all the allies now in France, and the insurgent corps of Royalists in the west, but also against a second, or reserved line of three or four hundred thousand Russians, Austrians, and other allied troops which had not yet crossed the frontier.
Besides, the soldiers with which an attack upon the allied army must have been undertaken, were reduced to a disastrous condition, by their late forced marches, and the want of succours and supplies of every description; the cavalry were in a great measure dismounted; the regiments not half complete; the horses unshod; the physical condition of the army bad, and its moral feelings depressed, and unfit for enterprise. The period seemed to have arrived, beyond which Napoleon could not maintain his struggle, without destruction to himself, to Paris, and to France. These sentiments were commonly entertained among the French general officers. They felt their attachment to Napoleon placed in opposition to the duty they owed their country by the late decree of the Senate, and they considered the cause of France as the most sacred. They had received intelligence from Bournonville of what had passed at Paris, and considering the large proportion of the capital which had declared against Buonaparte, and that an assault on Paris must have occasioned much effusion of French blood, and have become the signal of civil war, the maréchals and principal general officers agreed they could not follow Napoleon in such an attack on the city, or against the allies' line of defence around it, both because, in a military point of view, they thought the attempt desperate, considering the state of the army, and because, in a political position, they regarded it as contrary to their duty as citizens.36
In the night betwixt the 2d and 3d of April, Caulaincourt returned from his mission to Paris. He reported, that the allies persisted in their determination to entertain no treaty with Buonaparte; but he was of opinion, that the scheme of a regency by the Empress, as the guardian of their son, might even yet be granted. Austria, he stated, was favourable to such an arrangement, and Russia seemed not irreconcilably averse to it. But the abdication of Buonaparte was a preliminary condition. As this news circulated among the maréchals, it fixed them in their resolution not to march against Paris, as, in their opinion, the war ought to be ended by this personal sacrifice on the part of Napoleon.
Buonaparte had not, probably, expected this separation between the duties of a soldier and of a citizen. On the 4th April, he reviewed a part of his troops, addressed them on the display of the white colours in France by some factious persons, reminded them that the three-coloured cockade was that of victory and honour, and that he intended to march on the capital, to punish the traitors by whom it had been vilified.37 He was answered by shouts of "Paris, Paris!" and had no reason to fear that the troops would hesitate to follow him in his effort. The orders were given to advance the imperial quarters from Fontainbleau to Essonne.
But after the review was over, Berthier, Ney, Macdonald, Caulaincourt, Oudinot, Bertrand, and other officers of the highest rank, followed the Emperor into his apartment, and explained to him the sentiments which they entertained on the subject of the proposed movement, their opinion that he ought to negotiate on the principle of personal abdication, and the positive determination which most of them had formed, on no account to follow him in an attack upon Paris.38
There is no doubt that, by an appeal to officers of an inferior rank and consideration, young Seids, who knew no other virtue than a determined attachment to their chief, through good or evil, Napoleon might have filled up, in a military point of view, the vacancy which the resignation of the maréchals must have created in his list of generals. But those who urged to him this unpleasant proposal, were the fathers of the war, the well-known brave and beloved leaders of large armies. Their names might be individually inferior to his own; but with what feelings would the public hear that he was deprived of those men, who had been so long the pride and dread of war? and what were likely to be the sentiments of the soldiery, upon whom the names of Ney, Macdonald, Oudinot, and others, operated like a war-trumpet.
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