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Chapter 10

THE COUNCIL OF STATE AND THE CORPS LÉGISLATIF


There is also a Council of State and a Corps Législatif: the former joyous, well paid, plump, rosy, fat, and fresh, with a sharp eye, a red ear, a voluble tongue, a sword by its side, a belly, and embroidered in gold; the Corps Législatif, pale, meagre, sad, and embroidered in silver. The Council of State comes and goes, enters and exits, returns, rules, disposes, decides, settles, and decrees, and sees Louis Napoleon face to face. The Corps Législatif, on the contrary, walks on tiptoe, fumbles with its hat, puts its finger to its lips, smiles humbly, sits on the corner of its chair, and speaks only when questioned. Its words being naturally obscene, the public journals are forbidden to make the slightest allusion to them. The Corps Législatif passes laws and votes taxes by Article 39; and when, fancying it has occasion for some instruction, some detail, some figures, or some explanation, it presents itself, hat in hand, at the door of the departments to consult the ministers, the usher receives it in the antechamber, and with a roar of laughter, gives it a fillip on the nose. Such are the duties of the Corps Législatif.

Let us state, however, that this melancholy position began, in June, 1852, to extort some sighs from the sorrowful personages who form a portion of the concern. The report of the commission on the budget will remain in the memory of men, as one of the most heart-rending masterpieces of the plaintive style. Let us repeat those gentle accents:--

"Formerly, as you know, the necessary communications in such cases were carried on directly between the commissioners and the ministers. It was to the latter that they addressed themselves to obtain the documents indispensable to the discussion of affairs; and the ministers even came personally, with the heads of their several departments, to give verbal explanations, frequently sufficient to preclude the necessity of further discussion; and the resolutions formed by the commission on the budget after they had heard them, were submitted direct to the Chamber.

"But now we can have no communication with the government except through the medium of the Council of State, which, being the confidant and the organ of its own ideas, has alone the right of transmitting to the Corps Législatif the documents which, in its turn, it receives from the ministers.

"In a word, for written reports, as well as for verbal communications, the government commissioners have superseded the ministers, with whom, however, they must have a preliminary understanding.

"With respect to the modifications which the commission might wish to propose, whether by the adoption of amendments presented by the deputies, or from its own examination of the budget, they must, before you are called upon to consider them, be sent to the Council of State, there to undergo discussion.

"There (it is impossible not to notice it) those modifications have no interpreters, no official defenders.

"This mode of procedure appears to be derived from the Constitution itself; and if we speak of the matter now, it is solely to prove to you that it must occasion delays in accomplishing the task imposed upon the commission on the budget."[1]

[1] Report of the commission on the budget of the Corps Législatif, June, 1852.

Reproach was never so mildly uttered; it is impossible to receive more chastely and more gracefully, what M. Bonaparte, in his autocratic style, calls "guarantees of calmness,"[2] but what Molière, with the license of a great writer, denominates "kicks."[3]

[2] Preamble of the Constitution.

[3] See Les Fourberies de Scapin.

Thus, in the shop where laws and budgets are manufactured, there is a master of the house, the Council of State, and a servant, the Corps Législatif. According to the terms of the "Constitution," who is it that appoints the master of the house? M. Bonaparte. Who appoints the servant? The nation. That is as it should be.


Victor Hugo