VII. DEBATES IN THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY ON THE DAYS OF JUNE.
SESSION OF NOVEMBER 25, 1848.
What had to be determined before the Assembly and the country was upon whom devolved the heavy responsibility for the painful days of June. The Executive Committee was then in power; ought it not to have foreseen and provided against the insurrection? General Cavaignac, Minister of War, and, moreover, invested with dictatorial powers by the National Assembly, had alone issued orders.
Had he issued them in time? Could he not have crushed the riot at the outset instead of permitting it to gain strength, spread and develop into an insurrection? And, finally, had not the repression which followed victory been unnecessarily bloody, if not inhuman?
As the time for rendering an account approached Cavaignac became thoughtful and his ill-humour was manifest even in the Chamber.
One day Cr╗mieux took his seat on the ministerial bench, whence he approved with an occasional "Hear! Hear!" the remarks of the orator who occupied the tribune. The speaker chanced to belong to the Opposition.
"Monsieur Cr╗mieux," said Cavaignac, "you are making a good deal of noise."
"What does that matter to you?" replied Cr╗mieux.
"It matters that you are on the ministerial bench."
"Do you want me to leave it?"
Cremieux rose and quitted his bench, saying as he did so:
"General, you compel me to leave the Cabinet, and it was through me that you entered it."
Cr╗mieux, in point of fact, had, as a member of the Provisional Government, had Cavaignac appointed Minister of War.
During the three days that preceded the debate, which had been fixed for the 25th, the Chamber was very nervous and uneasy. Cavaignac's friends secretly trembled and sought to make others tremble. They said: "You will see!" They affected assurance. Jules Favre having alluded in the tribune to the "great and solemn debate" which was to take place, they burst into a laugh. M. Coquerel, the Protestant pastor, happening to meet Cavaignac in the lobby, said to him: "Keep yourself in hand, General!" "In a quarter of an hour," replied Cavaignac with flashing eyes, "I shall have swept these wretches away!" These wretches were Lamartine, Gamier-Pages, and Arago. There was some doubt about Arago, however. It was said that he was rallying to Cavaignac. Meanwhile Cavaignac had conferred the cross of the Legion of Honour upon the Bishop of Quimper, the Abb╗ Legraverand, who had accepted it.
"A cross for a vote," was the remark made in the Chamber. And these reversed roles, a general giving a cross to a bishop, caused much amusement.
In reality we are in the midst of a quarrel over the presidency. The candidates are shaking their fists at each other. The Assembly hoots, growls, murmurs, stamps its feet, crushes one, applauds the other.
This poor Assembly is a veritable ~fille a soldats~, in love with a trooper. For the time being it is Cavaignac.
Who will it be to-morrow?
General Cavaignac proved himself to be clever, and occasionally even eloquent. His defence partook more of the character of an attack. Frequently he appeared to me to be sincere because he had for so long excited my suspicion. The Assembly listened to him for nearly three hours with rapt attention. Throughout it was evident that he possessed its confidence. Its sympathy was shown every moment, and sometimes it manifested a sort of love for him.
Cavaignac, tall and supple, with his short frock-coat, his military collar, his heavy moustache, his bent brow, his brusque language, broken up by parentheses, and his rough gestures, was at times at once as fierce as a soldier and as passionate as a tribune. Towards the middle of his discourse he became an advocate, which, as far as I was concerned, spoiled the man; the harangue became a speech for the defence. But at its conclusion he roused himself again with a sort of real indignation. He pounded on the desk with his fist and overturned the glass of water, much to the consternation of the ushers, and in terminating he said:
"I have been speaking for I know not how long; I will speak again all the evening, all night, all day to-morrow, if necessary, and it will no longer be as an advocate, but as a soldier, and you will listen to me!"
The whole Assembly applauded him enthusiastically.
M. Barth╗lemy Saint Hilaire, who attacked Cavaignac, was an orator cold, rigid, somewhat dry and by no means equal to the task, his anger being without fierceness and his hatred without passion. He began by reading a memoir, which always displeases assemblies. The Assembly, which was secretly ill-disposed and angry, was eager to crush him. It only wanted pretexts; he furnished it with motives. The grave defect in his memoir was that serious accusations were built upon petty acts, a surcharge that caused the whole system to bend. This little pallid man who continually raised one leg behind him and leaned forward with his two hands on the edge of the tribune as though he were gazing down into a well, made those who did not hiss laugh. Amid the uproar of the Assembly he affected to write at considerable length in a copybook, to dry the ink by sprinkling powder upon it, and with great deliberation to pour the powder back into the powder-box, thus finding means to increase the tumult with his calmness. When M. Barth╗lemy Saint Hilaire descended from the tribune, Cavaignac had only been attacked. He had not then replied, yet was already absolved.
M. Garnier-Pag└s, tried Republican and honest man, but with a substratum of vanity and an emphatic manner, succeeded M. Barth╗lemy Saint Hilaire. The Assembly tried to crush him, too, but he rose again amid murmurs. He reminded his hearers of his past, invoked recollections of the Salle Voisin, compared the henchmen of Cavaignac to the henchmen of Guizot, bared his breast "which had braved the poignards of the Red Republic," and ended by resolutely attacking the general, with too few facts and too many words, but fairly and squarely, taking him, so to speak, as the Bible urges that the bull be taken, by the horns.
Garnier-Pages propped up the accusation that had almost been laid low. He brought the personal pronoun much too frequently into the discussion; he acted ill-advisedly, for everybody's personality ought to have been effaced in view of the seriousness of the debate and the anxiety of the country. He turned to all sides with a sort of disconsolate fury; he summoned Arago to intervene, Ledru-Rollin to speak, Lamartine to explain. All three remained silent, thus failing in their duty and destiny.
The Assembly, however, pursued Garnier-Pages with its hooting, and when he said to Cavaignac: "You wanted to throw us down," it burst into a laugh, at the sentiment as well as at the expression. Garnier-Pages gazed at the laughing house with an air of despair.
From all sides came shouts of: "The closure!"
The Assembly had reached a state in which it would not listen and could no longer hear.
M. Ledru-Rollin appeared in the tribune.
From every bench the cry arose: "At last!"
Ledru-Rollin's speech had a physical effect as it were; it was coarse, but powerful. Garnier-Pages had pointed out the General's political shortcomings; Ledru-Rollin pointed out his military shortcomings. With the vehemence of the tribune he mingled all the skill of the advocate. He concluded with an appeal for mercy for the offender. He shook Cavaignac's position.
When he resumed his seat between Pierre Leroux and de Lamennais, a man with long grey hair, and attired in a white frock-coat, crossed the Chamber and shook Ledru-Rollin's hand. He was Lagrange.
Cavaignac for the fourth time ascended the tribune. It was half past 10 o'clock at night. The noise of the crowd and the evolutions of the cavalry on the Place de la Concorde could be heard. The aspect of the Assembly was becoming sinister.
Cavaignac, who was tired, had decided to assume a haughty attitude. He addressed the Mountain and defied it, declaring to the mountaineers, amid the cheers of the majority and of the reactionaries, that he at all times preferred "their abuse to their praise." This appeared to be violent and was clever; Cavaignac lost the Rue Taitbout, which represented the Socialists, and won the Rue de Poitiers, which represented the Conservatives.
After this apostrophe he remained a few moments motionless, then passed his hand over his brow.
The Assembly shouted to him:
He turned towards Ledru-Rollin and exclaimed:
"You said that you had done with me. It is I who have done with you. You said: 'For some time.' I say to you: 'For ever!'"
It was all over. The Assembly wanted to close the debate.
Lagrange ascended the tribune and gesticulated amid hoots and hisses. Lagrange was at once a popular and chivalrous declaimer, who expressed true sentiments in a forced voice.
"Representatives," said he, "all this amuses you; well, it doesn't amuse me!"
The Assembly roared with laughter, and the roar of laughter continued throughout the remainder of his discourse. He called M. Landrin M. Flandrin, and the gaiety became delirious.
I was among those whom this gaiety made heavy at heart, for I seemed to hear the sobs of the people above these bursts of hilarity.
During this uproar a list which was being covered with signatures and which bore an order of the day proposed by M. Dupont de l'Eure, was passed round the benches.
Dupont de l'Eure, bent and tottering, read from the tribune, with the authority of his eighty years, his own order of the day, amid a deep silence that was broken at intervals by cheers.
The order of the day, which was purely and simply a reiteration of the declaration of June 28: "General Cavaignac has merited well of the fatherland," was adopted by 503 votes to 34.
Mine was among the thirty-four. While the votes were being counted, Napoleon Bonaparte, son of Jerome, came up to me and said:
"I suppose you abstained?"
"From speaking, yes; from voting, no," I replied.
"Ah!" he went on. "We ourselves abstained from voting. The Rue de Poitiers also abstained."
I took his hand and said:
"You are free to do as you like. For my part I am not abstaining. I am judging Cavaignac, and the country is judging me. I want the fullest light thrown upon my actions, and my votes are my actions."