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Chapter 16


A RETROSPECT

Louis Bonaparte had tested the majority as engineers test a bridge; he
had loaded it with iniquities, encroachments, enormities, slaughters on
the Place du Havre, cries of "Long live the Emperor," distributions of
money to the troops, sales of Bonapartist journals in the streets,
prohibition of Republican and parliamentary journals, reviews at Satory,
speeches at Dijon; the majority bore everything.

"Good," said he, "It will carry the weight of the _coup d'état_."

Let us recall the facts. Before the 2d of December the _coup d'état_ was
being constructed in detail, here and there, a little everywhere, with
exceeding impudence, and yet the majority smiled. The Representative
Pascal Duprat had been violently treated by police agents. "That is very
funny," said the Right. The Representative Dain was seized. "Charming."
The Representative Sartin was arrested. "Bravo." One fine morning when
all the hinges had been well tested and oiled, and when all the wires
were well fixed, the _coup d'état_ was carried out all at once,
abruptly. The majority ceased to laugh, but the trick, was done. It had
not perceived that for a long time past, while it was laughing at the
strangling of others, the cord was round its own neck.

Let us maintain this, not to punish the past, but to illuminate the
future. Many months before being carried out, the _coup d'état_ had been
accomplished. The day having come, the hour having struck, the mechanism
being completely wound up, it had only to be set going. It was bound not
to fail, and nothing did fail. What would have been an abyss if the
majority had done its duty, and had understood its joint responsibility
with the Left, was not even a ditch. The inviolability had been
demolished by those who were inviolable. The hand of gendarmes had
become as accustomed to the collar of the Representatives as to the
collar of thieves: the white tie of the statesman was not even rumpled
in the grasp of the galley sergeants, and one can admire the Vicomte de
Falloux--oh, candor!--for being dumfounded at being treated like Citizen
Sartin.

The majority, going backwards, and ever applauding Bonaparte, fell into
the hole which Bonaparte had dug for it.


Victor Hugo