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Chapter 29

HIS ELEVATION TO THE PRESIDENCY.

December 1848.

The proclamation of Louis Bonaparte as President of
the Republic was made on December 20.

The weather, which up to then had been admirable, and
reminded one more of the approach of spring than of the
beginning of winter, suddenly changed. December 20 was
the first cold day of the year. Popular superstition had it
that the sun of Austerlitz was becoming clouded.

This proclamation was made in a somewhat unexpected
manner. It had been announced for Friday. It was made
suddenly on Wednesday.

Towards 3 o'clock the approaches to the Assembly were
occupied by troops. A regiment of infantry was massed
in rear of the Palais d'Orsay; a regiment of dragoons was
echeloned along the quay. The troopers shivered and looked
moody. The population assembled in great uneasiness, not
knowing what it all meant. For some days a Bonapartist
movement had been vaguely spoken of. The faubourgs,
it was said, were to turn out and march to the Assembly
shouting: "Long live the Emperor!" The day before the
Funds had dropped 3 francs. Napoleon Bonaparte, greatly
alarmed, came to see me.

The Assembly resembled a public square. It was a number
of groups rather than a parliament. In the tribune a
very useful bill for regulating the publicity of the sessions
and substituting the State Printing Office, the former
Royal Printing Office, for the printing office of the
"Moniteur," was being discussed, but no one listened. M. Bureau
de Puzy, the questor, was speaking.

Suddenly there was a stir in the Assembly, which was
being invaded by a crowd of Deputies who entered by the
door on the left. It was the committee appointed to count
the votes and was returning to announce the result of the
election to the Presidency. It was 4 o'clock, the chandeliers
were lighted, there was an immense crowd in the public
galleries, all the ministers were present. Cavaignac,
calm, attired in a black frock-coat, and not wearing any
decoration, was in his place. He kept his right hand thrust
in the breast of his buttoned frock-coat, and made no reply
to M. Bastide, who now and then whispered in his ear.
M. Fayet, Bishop of Orleans, occupied a chair in front of
the General. Which prompted the Bishop of Langres, the
Abbé Parisis, to remark: "That is the place of a dog, not
a bishop."

Lamartine was absent.

The ~rapporteur~ of the committee, M. Waldeck-Rousseau,
read a cold discourse that was coldly listened to.
When he reached the enumeration of the votes cast, and
came to Lamartine's total, 17,910 votes, the Right burst
into a laugh. A mean vengeance, sarcasm of the unpopular
men of yesterday for the unpopular man of to-day.

Cavaignac took leave in a few brief and dignified words,
which were applauded by the whole Assembly. He announced
that the Ministry had resigned in a body, and that
he, Cavaignac, laid down the power. He thanked the
Assembly with emotion. A few Representatives wept.

Then President Marrast proclaimed "the citizen Louis
Bonaparte" President of the Republic.

A few Representatives about the bench where Louis
Bonaparte sat applauded. The remainder of the Assembly
preserved a glacial silence. They were leaving the lover
for the husband.

Armand Marrast called upon the elect of the nation to
take the oath of office. There was a stir.

Louis Bonaparte, buttoned up in a black frock-coat, the
decoration of Representative of the people and the star of
the Legion of Honour on his breast, entered by the door
on the right, ascended the tribune, repeated in a calm voice
the words of the oath that President Marrast dictated to
him, called upon God and men to bear witness, then read,
with a foreign accent which was displeasing, a speech that
was interrupted at rare intervals by murmurs of approval.
He eulogized Cavaignac, and the eulogy was noted and
applauded.

After a few minutes he descended from the tribune, not
like Cavaignac, amid the acclamations of the Chamber, but
amid an immense shout of "Long live the Republic!"
Somebody shouted "Hurrah for the Constitution!"

Before leaving Louis Bonaparte went over to his former
tutor, M. Vieillard, who was seated in the eighth section
on the left, and shook hands with him. Then the President
of the Assembly invited the committee to accompany
the President of the Republic to his palace and have
rendered to him the honours due to his rank. The word
caused the Mountain to murmur. I shouted from my
bench: "To his functions!"

The President of the Assembly announced that the
President of the Republic had charged M. Odilon Barrot
with the formation of a Cabinet, and that the names of the
new Ministers would be announced to the Assembly in a
Message; that, in fact, a supplement to the Moniteur would
be distributed to the Representatives that very evening.

It was remarked, for everything was remarked on that
day which began a decisive phase in the history of the
country, that President Marrast called Louis Bonaparte
"citizen" and Odilon Barrot "monsieur."

Meanwhile the ushers, their chief Deponceau at their
head, the officers of the Chamber, the questors, and among
them General Lebreton in full uniform, had grouped
themselves below the tribune; several Representatives had joined
them; there was a stir indicating that Louis Bonaparte
was about to leave the enclosure. A few Deputies rose.
There were shouts of "Sit down! Sit down!"

Louis Bonaparte went out. The malcontents, to manifest
their indifference, wanted to continue the debate on
the Printing Office Bill. But the Assembly was too
agitated even to remain seated. It rose in a tumult and
the Chamber was soon empty. It was half past 4. The
proceedings had lasted half an hour.

As I left the Assembly, alone, and avoided as a man
who had disdained the opportunity to be a Minister,
I passed in the outer hall, at the foot of the stairs, a group
in which I noticed Montalembert, and also Changarnier in
the uniform of a lieutenant-general of the National Guard.
Changarnier had just been escorting Louis Bonaparte to the
Elysee. I heard him say: "All passed off well."

When I found myself in the Place de la Revolution,
there were no longer either troops or crowd; all had
disappeared. A few passers-by came from the
Champs-Elysees. The night was dark and cold. A bitter wind
blew from the river, and at the same time a heavy storm-cloud
breaking in the west covered the horizon with silent
flashes of lightning. A December wind with August
lightning--such were the omens of that day.


Victor Hugo