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Chapter 19

LETTER XIX.

Garden of the Tuileries.—The French Parliament.—Parliamentary
Speakers.—The Tribune.—Royal Initiative.—The Charter.—Mongrel
Government.—Ministerial Responsibility.—Elections in
France.—Doctrinaires.—Differences of Opinion.—Controversy.

TO JACOB SUTHERLAND, ESQ. NEW YORK.

The Chambers have been opened with the customary ceremonies and parade. It is usual for the king, attended by a brilliant cortège, to go, on these occasions, from the Tuileries to the Palais Bourbon, through lines of troops, under a salute of guns. The French love spectacles, and their monarch, if he would be popular, is compelled to make himself one, at every plausible opportunity.

The garden of the Tuileries is a parallelogram, of, I should think, fifty acres, of which one end is bounded by the palace. It has a high vaulted terrace on the side next the river, as well as at the opposite end, and one a little lower, next the Rue de Rivoli. There is also a very low broad terrace, immediately beneath the windows of the palace, which separates the buildings from the parterres. You will understand that the effect of this arrangement is to shut out the world from the persons in the garden, by means of the terraces, and, indeed, to enable them, by taking refuge in the woods that fill quite half the area, to bury themselves almost in a forest. The public has free access to this place, from an early hour in the morning to eight or nine at night, according to the season. When it is required to clear them, a party of troops marches, by beat of drum, from the chateau, through the great allée, to the lower end of the garden. This is always taken as the signal to disperse, and the world begins to go out, at the different gates. It is understood that the place is frequently used as a promenade, by the royal family, after this hour, especially in the fine season; but, as it would be quite easy for any one, evilly disposed, to conceal himself among the trees, statues, and shrubs, the troops are extended in very open order, and march slowly back to the palace, of course driving every one before them. Each gate is locked, as the line passes it.

The only parts of the garden, which appear, on the exterior, to be on a level with the street, though such is actually the fact with the whole of the interior, are the great gate opposite the palace, and a side gate near its southern end; the latter being the way by which one passes out, to cross the Pont Royal.

In attempting to pass in at this gate the other morning, for the first time, at that hour, I found it closed. A party of ladies and gentlemen were walking on the low terrace, beneath the palace windows, and a hundred people might have been looking at them from without. A second glance showed me, that among some children, were the heir presumptive, and his sister Mademoiselle d'Artois. The exhibition could merely be an attempt to feel the public pulse, for the country-house of La Bagatelle, to which the children go two or three times a week, is much better suited to taking the air. I could not believe in the indifference that was manifested, had I not seen it. The children are both engaging, particularly the daughter, and yet these innocent and perfectly inoffensive beings were evidently regarded more with aversion than with affection.

The display of the opening of the session produced no more effect on the public mind, than the appearance on the terrace of les Enfans de France. The Parisians are the least loyal of Charles's subjects, and though the troops, and a portion of the crowd, cried "Vive le Roi!" it was easy to see that the disaffected were more numerous than the well-affected.

I have attended some of the sittings since the opening, and shall now say a word on the subject of the French Parliamentary proceedings. The hall is an amphitheatre, like our own; the disposition of the seats and speaker's chair being much the same as at Washington. The members sit on benches, however, that rise one behind the other, and through which they ascend and descend, by aisles. These aisles separate the different shades of opinion, for those who think alike sit together. Thus the gauche or left is occupied by the extreme liberals; the centre gauche, by those who are a shade nearer the Bourbons. The centre droit, or right centre, by the true Bourbonists, and so on, to the farthest point of the semi-circle. Some of the members affect even to manifest the minuter shades of their opinions by their relative positions in their own sections, and I believe it is usual for each one to occupy his proper place.

You probably know that the French members speak from a stand immediately beneath the chair of the president, called a tribune. Absurd as this may seem, I believe it to be a very useful regulation, the vivacity of the national character rendering some such check on loquacity quite necessary. Without it, a dozen would often be on their feet at once; as it is, even, this sometimes happens. No disorder that ever occurs in our legislative bodies, will give you any just notion of that which frequently occurs here. The president rings a bell as a summons to keep order, and as a last resource he puts on his hat, a signal that the sitting is suspended.

The speaking of both chambers is generally bad. Two-thirds of the members read their speeches, which gives the sitting a dull, monotonous character, and, as you may suppose, the greater part of their lectures are very little attended to. The most parliamentary speaker is M. Royer Collard, who is, just now, so popular that he has been returned for seven different places at the recent election.

M. Constant is an exceedingly animated speaker, resembling in this particular Mr. M'Duffie. M. Constant, however, has a different motion from the last gentleman, his movement being a constant oscillation over the edge of the tribune, about as fast, and almost as regular, as that of the pendulum of a large clock. It resembles that of a sawyer in the Mississippi. General Lafayette speaks with the steadiness and calm that you would expect from his character, and is always listened to with respect. Many professional men speak well, and exercise considerable influence in the house; for here, as elsewhere, the habit of public and extemporaneous speaking gives an immediate ascendency in deliberative bodies.

Some of the scenes one witnesses in the Chamber of Deputies are amusing by their exceeding vivacity. The habit of crying "Écoutez!" prevails, as in the English parliament, though the different intonations of that cry are not well understood. I have seen members run at the tribune, like children playing puss in a corner; and, on one occasion, I saw five different persons on its steps, in waiting for the descent of the member in possession. When a great question is to be solemnly argued, the members inscribe their names for the discussion, and are called on to speak in the order in which they stand on the list.

The French never sit in committee of the whole, but they have adopted in its place an expedient, that gives power more control over the proceedings of the two houses. At the commencement of the session, the members draw for their numbers in the bureaux, as they are called. Of these bureaux, there are ten or twelve, and, as a matter of course, they include all the members. As soon as the numbers are drawn, the members assemble in their respective rooms, and choose their officers; a president and secretary. These elections are always supposed to be indicative of the political tendency of each bureau; those which have a majority of liberals, choosing officers of their own opinions, and vice versa. These bureaux are remodelled, periodically, by drawing anew; the term of duration being a month or six weeks. I believe the chamber retains the power to refer questions, or not, to these bureaux; their institution being no more than a matter of internal regulation, and not of constitutional law. It is, however, usual to send all important laws to them, where they are discussed and voted on; the approbation of a majority of the bureaux being, in such cases, necessary for their reception in the chambers.

The great evil of the present system is the initiative of the king. By this reservation in the charter, the crown possesses more than a veto, all laws actually emanating from the sovereign. The tendency of such a regulation is either to convert the chambers into the old lits de justice, or to overthrow the throne, an event which will certainly accompany any serious change here. As might have been, as would have been anticipated, by any one familiar with the action of legislative bodies, in our time, this right is already so vigorously assailed, as to give rise to constant contentions between the great powers of the state. All parties are agreed that no law can be presented, that does not come originally from the throne; but the liberals are for putting so wide a construction on the right to amend, as already to threaten to pervert the regulation. This has driven some of the Bourbonists to maintain that the chambers have no right, at all, to amend a royal proposition. Any one may foresee, that this is a state of things which cannot peaceably endure for any great length of time. The ministry are compelled to pack the chambers, and in order to effect their objects, they resort to all the expedients of power that offer. As those who drew up the charter had neither the forethought, nor the experience, to anticipate all the embarrassments of a parliamentary government, they unwittingly committed themselves, and illegal acts are constantly resorted to, in order that the system may be upheld. The charter was bestowed ad captandum, and is a contradictory mélange of inexpedient concessions and wily reservations. The conscription undermined the popularity of Napoleon, and Louis XVIII. in his charter says, "The conscription is abolished; the recruiting for the army and navy shall be settled by a law." Now the conscription is not abolished; but, if pushed on this point, a French jurist would perhaps tell you it is now established by law. The feudal exclusiveness, on the subject of taxation, is done away with, all men being equally liable to taxation. The nett pay of the army is about two sous a day; this is settled by law, passed by the representatives of those who pay two hundred francs a year, in direct taxation. The conscription, in appearance, is general and fair enough; but he who has money can always hire a substitute, at a price quite within his power. It is only the poor man, who is never in possession of one or two thousand francs, that is obliged to serve seven years at two sous a day, nett.

France has gained, beyond estimate, by the changes from the old to the present system, but it is in a manner to render further violent changes necessary. I say violent, for political changes are everywhere unavoidable, since questions of polity are, after all, no other than questions of facts, and these are interests that will regulate themselves, directly or indirectly. The great desideratum of a government, after settling its principles in conformity with controlling facts, is to secure to itself the means of progressive change, without the apprehension of convulsion. Such is not the case with France, and further revolutions are inevitable. The mongrel government which exists, neither can stand, nor does it deserve to stand. It contains the seeds of its own destruction. Here, you will be told, that the King is a Jesuit, that he desires to return to the ancient regime, and that the opposition wishes merely to keep him within the limits of the charter. My own observations lead to a very different conclusion. The difficulty is in the charter itself, which leaves the government neither free nor despotic; in short, without any distinctive character.

This defect is so much felt, that, in carrying out the details of the system, much that properly belongs to it has been studiously omitted. The king can do no wrong, here, as in England, but the ministers are responsible. By way of making a parade of this responsibility, every official act of the king is countersigned by the minister of the proper department, and, by the theory of the government, that particular minister is responsible for that particular act. Now, by the charter, the peers are the judges of political crimes. By the charter, also, it is stipulated that no one can be proceeded against except in cases expressly provided for by law and in the forms prescribed by the law. You will remember that, all the previous constitutions being declared illegal, Louis XVIII. dates his reign from the supposed death of Louis XVII. and that there are no fundamental precedents that may be drawn in to aid the constructions, but that the charter must be interpreted by its own provisions. It follows, then, as a consequence, that no minister can be legally punished until a law is enacted to dictate the punishment, explain the offences, and point out the forms of procedure. Now, no such law has ever been proposed, and although the chambers may recommend laws to the king, they must await his pleasure in order even to discuss them openly, and enlist the public feeling in their behalf. The responsibility of the ministers was proposed ad captandum, like the abolition of the conscription, but neither has been found convenient in practice.[27]

[Footnote 27: When the ministers of Charles X. were tried, it was without law, and they would probably have escaped punishment altogether, on this plea, had not the condition of the public mind required a concession.]

The electors of France are said to be between eighty and one hundred thousand. The qualifications of a deputy being much higher than those of an elector, it is computed that the four hundred and fifty members must be elected from among some four or five thousand available candidates. It is not pretended that France does not contain more than this number of individuals who pay a thousand francs a year in direct taxes, for taxation is so great that this sum is soon made up; but a deputy must be forty years old, a regulation which at once excludes fully one half the men, of itself; and then it will be recollected that many are superannuated, several hundreds are peers, others cannot quit their employments, etc. etc. I have seen the number of available candidates estimated as low, even, as three thousand.

The elections in France are conducted in a mode peculiar to the nation. The electors of the highest class have two votes, or for representatives of two descriptions. This plan was an after-thought of the king, for the original charter contains no such regulation, but the munificent father of the national liberties saw fit, subsequently, to qualify his gift. Had Louis XVIII. lived a little longer, he would most probably have been dethroned before this; the hopes and expectations which usually accompany a new reign having, most probably, deferred the crisis for a few years. The electors form themselves into colleges, into which no one who is not privileged to vote is admitted. This is a good regulation, and might be copied to advantage at home. A law prescribing certain limits around each poll, and rendering it penal for any but those authorized to vote at that particular poll, to cross it, would greatly purify our elections. The government, here, appoints the presiding officer of each electoral college, and the selection is always carefully made of one in the interests of the ministry; though in what manner such a functionary can influence the result, is more than I can tell you. It is, however, thought to be favourable to an individual's own election to get this nomination. The vote is by ballot, though the charter secures no such privilege. Indeed that instrument is little more than a declaration of rights, fortified by a few general constituent laws.

The same latitude exists here, in the constructions of the charter, as exists at home, in the constructions of the constitution. The French have, however, one great advantage over us, in daring to think for themselves; for, though there is a party of doctrinaires, who wish to imitate England, too, it is neither a numerous nor a strong party. These doctrinaires, as the name implies, are men who wish to defer to theories, rather than facts; a class that is to be found all over the world. For obvious reasons, the English system has admirers throughout Europe, as well as in America, since nothing can be more agreeable, for those who are in a situation to look forward to such an advantage, than to see themselves elevated into, as Lafayette expresses, so many "little legitimacies." The peerage, with its exclusive and hereditary benefits, is the aim of all the nobility of Europe, and wishes of this sort make easy converts to any philosophy that may favour the desire.

One meets, here, with droll evidences of the truth of what I have just told you. I have made the acquaintance of a Russian of very illustrious family, and he has always been loud and constant in his eulogiums of America and her liberty. Alluding to the subject, the other day, he amused me by naïvely observing, "Ah, you are a happy people—you are free—and so are the English. Now, in Russia, all rank depends on the commission one bears in the army, or on the will of the Emperor. I am a Prince; my father was a Prince; my grandfather, too; but it is of no avail. I get no privileges by my birth; whereas, in England, where I have been, it is so different—And I dare say it is different in America, too?" I told him it was, indeed, "very different in America." He sighed, and seemed to envy me.

The party of the doctrinaires is the one that menaces the most serious evil to France. It is inherently the party of aristocracy; and, in a country as far advanced as France, it is the combinations of the few, that, after all, are most to be apprehended. The worst of it is, that, in countries where abuses have so long existed, the people get to be so disqualified for entertaining free institutions, that even the disinterested and well-meaning are often induced to side with the rapacious and selfish, to prevent the evils of reaction.

In a country so much inclined to speculate, to philosophize, and to reason on everything, it is not surprising that a fundamental law, as vaguely expressed as the charter, should leave ample room for discussion. We find that our own long experience in these written instruments does not protect us from violent differences of opinion, some of which are quite as extravagant as any that exist here, though possibly less apt to lead to as grave consequences.[28]

[Footnote 28: The discussion which grew out of the law to protect American industry, affords a singular instance of the manner in which clever men can persuade themselves and others into any notion, however extravagant. The uncouth doctrine of nullification turned on the construction that might be put on the intimacy of the relations created by the Union, and on the nature of the sovereignties of the states.

Because the constitution commences with a declaration, that it is formed and adopted by "we the people of the United States," overlooking, not only all the facts of the case, but misconceiving the very meaning of the words they quote, one party virtually contended, that the instrument was formed by a consolidated nation. On this point their argument, certainly sustained in part by unanswerable truth, mainly depends.

The word "people" has notoriously several significations. It means a "population;" it means the "vulgar;" it means any particular portion of a population, as, "rich people," "poor people," "mercantile people," etc. etc. In a political sense, it has always been understood to mean that portion of the population of a country, which is possessed of political rights. On this sense, then, it means a constituency in a representative government, and so it has always been understood in England, and is understood to-day in France. When a question is referred to the "people" at an election in England, it is not referred to a tithe of the population, but to a particular portion of it. In South Carolina and Louisiana, in the popular sense of Mr. Webster, there is no "people" to refer to, a majority of the men of both states possessing no civil rights, and scarcely having civil existence. Besides, "people," in its broad signification, includes men, women, and children, and no one will contend, that the two latter had anything to do with the formation of our constitution. It follows, then, that the term has been used in a limited sense, and we must look to incidental facts to discover its meaning.

The convention was chosen, not by any common constituency, but by the constituencies of the several states, which, at that time, embraced every gradation between a democratical and an aristocratically polity. Thirteen states existed in 1787, and yet the constitution was to go into effect when it was adopted by any nine of them. It will not be pretended that this decision would be binding on the other four, and yet it is possible that these four dissenting states should contain more than half of all the population of the confederation. It would be very easy to put a proposition, in which it might be demonstrated arithmetically, that the constitution could have been adopted against a considerable majority of whole numbers. In the face of such a fact, it is folly to suppose the term "people" is used in any other than a conventional sense. It is well known, in addition to the mode of its adoption, that every provision of the constitution can be altered, with a single exception, by three-fourths of the states. Perhaps more than half of the entire population (excluding the Territories and the District), is in six of the largest states, at this moment. But whether this be so or not, such a combination could easily he made, as would demonstrate that less than a third of the population of the country can at any time alter the constitution.

It is probable that the term "we the people," was used in a sort of contradistinction to the old implied right of the sovereignty of the king, just as we idly substituted the words "God save the people" at the end of a proclamation, for "God save the king." It was a form. But, if it is desirable to affix to them any more precise signification, it will not do to generalize according to the argument of one party; but we are to take the words, in their limited and appropriate meaning and with their accompanying facts. They can only allude to the constituencies, and these constituencies existed only through the states, and were as varied as their several systems. If the meaning of the term "we the people" was misconceived, it follows that the argument which was drawn from the error was worthless. The constitution of the United States was not formed by the people of the United States, but by such a portion of them as it suited the several states to invest with political powers, and under such combinations as gave the decision to anything but a majority of the nation. In other words, the constitution was certainly formed by the states as political bodies, and without any necessary connexion with any general or uniform system of polity.

Any theory based on the separate sovereignties of the states, has, on the other hand, a frail support. The question was not who formed the constitution, but what was formed. All the great powers of sovereignty, such as foreign relations, the right to treat, make war and peace, to control commerce, to coin money, etc. etc. are expressly ceded. But these are not, after all, the greatest blows that are given to the doctrine of reserved sovereignty. A power to alter the constitution, as has just been remarked, has been granted, by which even the dissenting states have become bound. The only right reserved, is that of the equal representation in the senate, and it would follow, perhaps, as a legitimate consequence, the preservation of the confederated polity; but South Carolina could, under the theory of the constitution, be stripped of her right to control nearly every social interest; every man, woman and child in the state dissenting. It is scarcely worth while to construct a sublimated theory, on the sovereignty of a community so situated by the legitimate theory of the government under which it actually exists!

No means can be devised, that will always protect the weak from the aggressions of the strong, under the forms of law; and nature has pointed out the remedy, when the preponderance of good is against submission; but one cannot suppress his expression of astonishment, at finding any respectable portion of a reasoning community, losing sight of this simple and self-evident truth, to uphold a doctrine as weak as that of nullification, viewed as a legal remedy.

If the American statesmen (quasi and real) would imitate the good curate and the bachelor of Don Quixote, by burning all the political heresies, with which their libraries, not to say their brains, are now crammed, and set seriously about studying the terms and the nature of the national compact, without reference to the notions of men who had no connexion with the country, the public would be the gainers, and occasionally one of them might stand a chance of descending to posterity in some other light than that of the mere leader of a faction.]

James Fenimore Cooper

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