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Chapter 22

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 Crémieux 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 Crémieux," said Cavaignac, "you are making
a good deal of noise."

"What does that matter to you?" replied Crémieux.

"It matters that you are on the ministerial bench."

"Do you want me to leave it?"

"Well--"

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."

Crémieux, 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 Abbé 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. Barthélemy 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. Barthélemy Saint Hilaire descended from
the tribune, Cavaignac had only been attacked. He had
not then replied, yet was already absolved.

M. Garnier-Pagès, tried Republican and honest man,
but with a substratum of vanity and an emphatic manner,
succeeded M. Barthélemy 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!"

Silence ensued.

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:

"Enough! Enough!"

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."

Victor Hugo