EVERYTHING FOR AND BY THE PEOPLE
« For the Honour of France, for the sacred interests of Humanity »
(Napoleon the Great, 17th of Ventôse Year VIII – Saturday 8th March 1800)
Monsieur Chapuys-Montlaville, having had the idea of writing a French Plutarch intended for reading by the People, had spoken of the project to Monsieur de Lamartine. On this occasion, the illustrious representative wrote a letter containing a passage in which the Consulate and Empire were so abused, that Louis-Napoléon considered it his duty to reply by the following letter, equally addressed to Monsieur Chapuys-Montlaville.
« The Fort of Ham, 23rd of August 1843.
« To Monsieur Chapuys-Montlaville, Member of Parliament.
I have just read the letter which Monsieur de Lamartine sent to you, and in which he exposes his ideas on the character that publications addressed to the people should have. This letter contains an assessment so unjust of the Consulat and of the Empire, that I believe it my duty to reply, convinced that, in your impartiality, you are disposed to welcome my reflections on this great era.
The influence that the emperor Napoleon exercised on civilisation is judged thus by Monsieur de Lamartine :
« This man appears ; he stops the movement of the Revolution precisely at the moment when it ceased to be violent and became creative. He makes of himself a reaction against freedom, which had already begun to assert itself. He arms himself with all the repentences, all the hatreds and all the apostasies that a revolution always sows along its path. He crushes newborn liberty with the very débris of everything that it has overthrown in order to blossom, he re-establishes an Old Regime with the things and the names of yesterday ; he retrogrades the press into censorship, the tribune into silence, equality into a plebian nobility, liberty into State prisons, the philosophy and independence of worship into a concordat, into a State religion, an instrument of his régime, into an anointing, into the oppression and imprisonment of a pontiff. He stifles throughout Europe the love and the peaceful light of French ideas, allowing only to shine the odious arms of violence and conquest. What is the final result of this one man drama ?! One more name in History ; but Europe twice in Paris ; but the borders of France restricted by the dark mistrust and hostility of the entire disaffected West ; England achieving without a rival the universal monarchy over the seas, and in France even, liberty and the masses set back by the same occasion by this episode of glory, and even perhaps destined to walk another century to regain the territory lost in a single day ; that is the 18th of Brumaire. »
On reading this passage, in which the facts, the most patent of the History of our time, are openly deformed, one has difficulty in believing that these lines came from the pen of the illustrious member of parliament for Mâcon, most of all when we hear him solemnly declare, in the same letter, that : « It is before truth alone that one must stand when writing History for the people ».
Let us see if Monsieur de Lamartine has remained faithful to this maxim.
I defend neither the principle of the revolution of the 18th of Brumaire, nor the brutal manner in which it took place. An insurrection against an established government may be a necessity, never an example of which one might make a principle. The 18th of Brumaire was a flagrant violation of the constitution of Year III [of the Republic] ; but it must be admitted also that this constitution had already been audaciously broken three times : on the 18th of Fructidor, when the government struck at the independence of the Legislative Body, by condemning its members to be deported without trial ; on the 30th of Priarial, when the Legislative Body struck at the independence of the government : finally, on the 22nd of Floréal, when, by a sacrilegious decree, the government and the Legislative Body struck at the sovereignty of the people, in cancelling the results of the elections voted by the people.
The important question to resolve is whether the 18th of Brumaire saved the Republic or not, and to answer that question, it is enough to consider the state of the country before this event, and the state of the country afterwards.
Monsieur de Lamartine is the first author who has dared to say that, under the Directory, the movement of the Revolution had ceased to be violent and become creative. It is, on the contrary, known to all, that of the Convention, the Directory had preserved only its hatreds, without conserving its truths nor its energy. France was perishing from corruption and disorder. Society was led by suppliers and speculators, men with neither consciences nor patriotism. The generals of armies, such as Championnet in Naples and Brime in Italy, sensing that they were stronger than the civil government, no longer obeyed it, and imprisoned its representatives. Others fraternised with the leaders of the Chouans and betrayed the Republic. Credit was annihilated, the treasury empty, the stock exchange fallen to 11 francs, the resources of the country were wasted by a venal administration ; France was infested with the most appalling highway robbery ; the West was still in revolt ; Italy had been lost, and despite the victory at Zurich, the Old Regime, encouraged by our defeats, by our internal feuding, by the weakness of the government, was advancing threateningly at the head of the foreign coalition. Liberty, instead of reacting by itself, as Monsieur de Lamartine says, was an empty word ; for the only laws respected were those of banishment or of proscription. 145,000 Frenchmen were exiles. The former members of the Convention were barred from all employment. The author whose words appeared to attack the existing form of government could be sentenced to death. The law of hostages, which destroyed the safety of 200,000 families, was maintained in all its severity. Countless shackles halted freedom of worship. The persecutions of theophilanthropists had provoked an uprising in Belgium ; non-swearing priests and sworn priests alike sighed in prison or in exile. The law of forced lending had the most dire effects on property ; national domaines were no longer sold, and the resources of public revenues had dried up. Such was the spirit, such was the freedom which reigned in these unhappy times. General Bonaparte lands at Fréjus, and « France », says Monsieur de Cormenin, a man of sense and patriotism, « France, threatened from without, troubled within, throws herself before a man, his hands full of power, and says to him « Save me ! » (Essay on Centralisation). The populations violate the laws on quarantine to bring him more quickly to land, crying : « We prefer the plague to an invasion » ; and the First Consul, barely in power, restores order in the moral world as in the physical world, appeasing tension, unites all the republicans against the common enemy, the Old Regime ; creates regularity in the country’s finances, in justice, in the administration, and brings to heel under his command the army which was murmuring. He lays the foundations of equality by establishing the Civil Code, « monument of legislation », says Monsieur de Cormenin, « the most lasting of modern times by the solidity of its materials, the most magnificent by the simplicity of its organisation, the most unitary by the fusion of all the systems of customary law and written law ». By his centralised organisation, he assures French unity and national spirit ; by the Concordat, he reconciles the clergy, restores religion, proclaims freedom of worship, and buttresses one of the principal achievements of the Revolution, in having the pope approve the sale of ecclesiastical property. The First Consul heals all the wounds of the country, opens the prisons to free 9,000 political prisoners ; he brings back the proscribed, among whom there were members of the Constituant Assembly ; he recalls Lafayette, Latour-Maubourf, Bureau de Puzy, and men condemned to deportation, such as Carnot, Portalis, Siméon, Barbé-Marbois ; he brings back into service all the glorious memories ; he comes to the aid of the last of the Duguesclins, as he does to the widow of Bailly, president of the famous scene of the Tennis Court Oath, and to the aid of the sister of Robespierre. He pacifies the Vendée, appeases the troubles in Toulouse, the discontent in the South, the insurrection in Belgium. No longer needing, as the Directory did, soldiers to keep the peace in Paris, he launches them at the frontiers, reconquers Italy, obtains peace, and obliges all the sovereigns of Europe to recognise the French Republic and her glorious representative. Such were the consequences of the 18th of Brumaire ; this is what Monsieur de Lamartine calls « arming himself with all the repentences, with all the all the hatreds and all the apostasies ! » The Consulate saved the Republic and the future of the Revolution from complete ruin, and this achieved, all the Republicans who were men of conscience, such as Carnot, Thibaudeaun, Cormenin, Carrel, recognised it ; to say the contrary is to deny what is evident. The Empire conflicted with some of the new ideas, and neglected certain truths, but the Consulate remains, for all true patriots, the purest emblem of the Revolution, one of the most beautiful pages of our History. If today there still exists a sincere and patriotic spirit that has taken up the mission of reviving republican forms, it is because there are still a great many higher minds, who look back fondly on this government of creation and organisation, composed of two elected houses, a council of State and a head of State accountable to the people with a civil list of two million per year. They miss this honest, thrifty, administration, which with a budget of 700 million, spread prosperity everywhere ; lastly, they miss this powerful and proud policy, which made us the foremost nation in the world.
Another grievance : Napoleon stifles everywhere in Europe the love « and the peaceful light of French ideas ». Yet, when General Bonaparte seized the helm, the Republic was at war with all of Europe ; foreign peoples without exception were all exasperated against France, the magnificent truths proclaimed by our assemblies had been obscured by so many passions that they were no longer visible ! Where then was the peaceful light of which Monsieur de Lamartine speaks ? It was Napoleon, on the contrary, who, by calming the passions of the French Revolution, caused its truths to triumph throughout Europe. It was he who established in Poland, in Italy, in Germany, in Spain, in Switzerland, the civilising ideas and laws of France. Who does not know that in Germany, with a stroke of his pen, he caused two hundred and fifty three small feudal states to disappear ; that from the Vistula to the Rhine he destroyed serfdom, the abuses of feudalism, introduced the French Civil Code and established freedom of worship ? Who does not know that in Poland, in Italy, he created mighty seeds of national spirit, raised national tribunes, and spread all the blessings of an enlightened government ? Who does not know that in Switzerland he pacified the cantons, and gave them a federal pact that remains to this day sorely missed. Finally, who does not know that even in Spain he destroyed the Inquisition, feudalism and made all efforts to establish there a more liberal constitution and a more enlightened government than all those that we have seen there for twenty eight years ? Once more, Coblentz, in illuminating her streets, because Prussia had failed to take away her French laws, paid a beautiful hommage to the memory of the Emperor.
« The result of the Empire », says the illustrious author whom I refute with sorrow, « is Europe twice in Paris », it is England « achieving without a rival the universal monarchy of the seas », it is in « France, reason, liberty and the masses held back indefinitely « by this period of glory ». That is true insofar as these disastrous results came not from the triumph, but from the fall of the Emperor. Weep then with us, with France, with the peoples, the defeats of our arms, for if they had always been victorious until the end, England would have been laid low, the European oligarchy vainquished, the nations of the neighbouring peoples resurrected, liberty at last established in Europe !
I do not systematically defend all the institutions of the Empire, nor all the acts of the Emperor, I explain them. I regret the creation of a nobility which, no later than the morrow of the fall of its chief, forgot its plebeian origins and supported the oppressors ; I regret certain acts of violence that were of no use to a power founded on the will of the people : but what I state, is that of all the governments that preceded or that followed the Consulate and the Empire, none, even during peacetime, did for the prosperity of France, the thousandth part of what the Emperor achieved during wartime.
Open the magnificent work of Monsieur de Cormenin on centralisation, and you will read there this remarquable passage : « The division of France in départements, the codification of the law, the accounts keeping in the finances, the administration of the interior, the army disciplined, the police organised and national unity, are the envy of, and are admired throughout, Europe ! ». Well ! Except for the division of the territory of France into départements, all these foundations were created by the Emperor.
Let Monsieur de Lamartine remember the organic laws of the Empire, and he will see that, despite their faults, the Senate with its elected members, the Legislative Body with its members reimbursed, the electoral colleges and the cantonal assemblies had a more democratic base than the houses sitting today. Let him study the organisation of the imperial Council of State, composed of all the most renowned specialists, and let him say whether he believes that with the Charters of 1814 or 1830, with bastardised aristocracies, with hastily written laws, voted in one session, stuffed with contradictory amendments ; if he believes, I say, that one may thus continue the immortal work of the Civil Code, and anchor deeply in France respect for the law ?
Let him consult the report addressed to the king by Monsieur de Villemain on public instruction, and he will see that the Emperor, who organised primary and secondary instruction, and who then created the [Imperial] University, in 1812, had more lycées and municipal colleges, and more pupils in these establishments, that there were in France in 1840. Let him consult the criminal statistics, and he will see that, since the fall of the Empire, crime has always been in constant progression.
Let him consult the interests of the working classes, and he will see that salaries under the Empire were the double of what they are today, and that the institution of prud’hommes [labour tribunals] has neither been developed, nor improved, lastly, that the workhouses for beggars have been destroyed but not replaced by other establishments.
Let him cast his eyes over the official documents gathered by the ship’s captain Laignal, and he will see that the Emperor, despite the disasters of Aboukir and Trafalgar, despite the continental wars, had, in ten years, rebuilt 130 vessels of the Line, whereas since 1814 and up to 1842, the Restoration and the present government [the July Monarchy] have only built four entirely.
Lastly, even, these State prisons, so railed against, were founded on a system that was more humane, more legal and less arbitrary than the prisons of the Restoration, than the prisons of Doullens and of Mont-St-Michel of the present regime. Under the Restoration, the political prisoners were mixed with the convicts ; today they can only express their complaints to inspectors or prefects, men too dependent to dare defend enemies of the government. Under the Empire, the State prisons were visited by councillors of State on extraordinary missions, the highest-ranking civil servants after ministers, and whom, by the political nature of their office, could cause to triumph without fear, justice and humanity.
As a philosopher, and as a man of conscience, as it pleases me to judge him, let Monsieur de Lamartine scrutinise impartially the actions of Napoleon, and he will give him his just recognition as the foremost organiser of French democracy, as the most fervent promoter of civilisation.
Napoleon had his faults and his passions ; but what will forever distinguish him from all other sovereigns in the eyes of the masses, is that he was the king of the people, whereas the others were the kings of the nobles and of the privileged.
GLORIOUS REIGN OF 19 YEARS
HOW HE HAS GOVERNED FOR 15 YEARS
As a citizen, as a man devoted to the liberties of my country, I make a great distinction between the Consulate and the Empire ; as a philosopher, I make none, because, as Consul or as Emperor, the mission of Napoleon was always the same. As Consul, he established in France the principle blessings of the Revolution ; as Emperor, he spread these same blessings throughout Europe. His mission, at first purely French, became humanitarian. It is painful to see a man of genius such as Monsieur de Lamartine ignore such great truths ; but how can we be surprised, when we remember that a year ago, it pleased the member of parliament for Mâcon, in a speech to his voters, to deny the influence of Rome on the civilisation of the world, and attribute to Carthage an influence that she never wielded ! The poet who forgets that we other peoples of the West owe everything to Rome, everything, including our language, to which he himself lends new lustre, this poet, I say, can also forget the civil glory, the civilising influence of the Emperor, for the vestiges of the genius of Rome, like the vestiges of the genius of Napoleon, are engraved, in letters that cannot be erased, in our soil as in our laws.
I cannot understand how a man who accepts the magnificent role of the advocate of democratic interests remains insensitive to the wonders born of the struggle of all the European aristocraties against the representative of the Revolution, that he be inflexible for his errors, without pity for his reverses, he whose harmonious voice is always ready to raise itself to bewail the misfortunes, and excuse the failings of the Bourbons. (See the latest speech of Monsieur de Lamartine at the banquet in Mâcon). What ? Monsieur de Lamartine has nostalgia and weeps for the violence of the ministry of Polignac, yet his eyes remain dry and his words bitter for the spectacle of our eagles falling at Waterloo, and our plebeian Emperor dying at Saint Helena !
It is in the name of historical truth, the most beautiful thing in the world after religion, that Monsieur de Lamartine addressed his letter to you ; it is equally in the name of this same historical truth that I address mine to you. Public opinion, that queen of the Universe, will judge which of us has truly understood the era of the Consulate and the Empire.
I take this opportunity with pleasure to express, Sir, the high esteem in which I hold you, and ask you to receive the assurance of my distinguished sentiments.