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Chapter 45


M. Louis Bonaparte is president of this diligence. Let us recall a few principles.

For a political ballot to be valid, three absolute conditions must exist: First, the vote must be free; second, the vote must be intelligent; third, the figures must be accurate. If one of these three conditions is wanting, the ballot is null. How is it when all three are wanting?

Let us apply these rules.

First. That the vote must be free.

What freedom there was in the vote of the 20th of December, we have just pointed out; we have described that freedom by a striking display of evidence. We might dispense with adding anything to it. Let each of those who voted reflect, and ask himself under what moral and physical violence he dropped his ballot in the box. We might cite a certain commune of the Yonne, where, of five hundred heads of families, four hundred and thirty were arrested, and the rest voted "aye;" or a commune of the Loiret, where, of six hundred and thirty-nine heads of families, four hundred and ninety-seven were arrested or banished; the one hundred and forty-two who escaped voted "aye." What we say of the Loiret and the Yonne might be said of all the departments. Since the 2nd of December, each town has its swarm of spies; each village, each hamlet, its informer. To vote "no" was imprisonment, transportation, Lambessa. In the villages of one department, we were told by an eye-witness, they brought "ass-loads of 'aye' ballots." The mayors, flanked by gardes-champêtres, distributed them among the peasants. They had no choice but to vote. At Savigny, near Saint-Maur, on the morning of the vote, some enthusiastic gendarmes declared that the man who voted "no" should not sleep in his bed. The gendarmerie cast into the house of detention at Valenciennes M. Parent the younger, deputy justice of the peace of the canton of Bouchain, for having advised certain inhabitants of Avesne-le-Sec to vote "no." The nephew of Representative Aubry (du Nord), having seen the agents of the prefect distribute "aye" ballots in the great square of Lille, went into the square next morning, and distributed "no" ballots. He was arrested and confined in the citadel.

As to the vote of the army, a part of it voted in its own cause; the rest followed.

But even as to the freedom of this vote of the soldiers, let us hear the army speak for itself. This is what is written by a soldier of the 6th Regiment of the Line, commanded by Colonel Garderens de Boisse:--

"So far as our company was concerned, the vote was a roll-call. The subaltern officers, the corporals, the drummers, and the soldiers, arranged in order of rank, were named by the quartermaster in presence of the colonel, the lieutenant-colonel, the major, and the company officers; and as each man named answered, 'Here!' his name was inscribed by the sergeant-major. The colonel, rubbing his hands, was saying, 'Egad, gentlemen, this is going on wheels!' when a corporal of the company to which I belong approached the table at which the sergeant-major was seated, and requested him to let him have the pen, that he might himself inscribe his name on the 'no' register, which was intended to remain blank.

"'What!' cried the colonel; 'you, who are down for quartermaster, and who are to be appointed on the first vacancy,--you formally disobey your colonel, and that in the presence of your company! It would be bad enough if this refusal of yours were simply an act of insubordination, but know you not, wretched man, that by your vote you seek to bring about the destruction of the army, the burning of your father's house, the annihilation of all society! You hold out your hand to debauchery! What! X----, you, whom I intended to urge for promotion, you come here to-day and admit all this?'

"The poor devil, it may be imagined, allowed his name to be inscribed with the rest."

Multiply this colonel by six hundred thousand, and the product is the pressure of the functionaries of all sorts--military, political, civil, administrative, ecclesiastical, judicial, fiscal, municipal, scholastic, commercial, and consular--throughout France, on the soldier, the citizen, and the peasant. Add, as we have above pointed out, the fictitious communist Jacquerie and the real Bonapartist terrorism, the government imposing by phantasmagoria on the weak, and by dictatorship on the refractory, and brandishing two terrors together. It would require a special volume to relate, expose, and develop the innumerable details of that immense extortion of signatures, which is called "the vote of the 20th of December."

The vote of the 20th of December prostrated the honour, the initiative, the intelligence, and the moral life of the nation. France went to that vote as sheep go to the slaughter-house.

Let us proceed.

Second. That the vote must be intelligent.

Here is an elementary proposition. Where there is no liberty of the press, there is no vote. The liberty of the press is the condition sine quâ non, of universal suffrage. Every ballot cast in the absence of liberty of the press is void ab initio. Liberty of the press involves, as necessary corollaries, liberty of meeting, liberty of publishing, liberty of distributing information, all the liberties engendered by the right--antedating all other rights--of informing one's self before voting. To vote is to steer; to vote is to judge. Can one imagine a blind pilot at the helm? Can one imagine a judge with his ears stuffed and his eyes put out? Liberty, then,--liberty to inform one's self by every means, by inquiry, by the press, by speech, by discussion,--this is the express guarantee, the condition of being, of universal suffrage. In order that a thing may be done validly, it must be done knowingly. Where there is no torch, there is no binding act.

These are axioms: outside of these axioms, all is ipso facto null.

Now, let us see: did M. Bonaparte, in his ballot of the 20th of December, obey these axioms? Did he fulfil the conditions of free press, free meetings, free tribune, free advertising, free inquiry. The answer is an immense shout of laughter, even from the Élysée.

Thus you are yourself compelled to admit that it was thus that "universal suffrage" was exercised.

What! I know nothing of what is going on: men have been killed, slaughtered, murdered, massacred, and I am ignorant of it! Men have been arbitrarily imprisoned, tortured, banished, exiled, transported, and I scarcely glimpse the fact! My mayor and my curé tell me: "These people, who are taken away, bound with cords, are escaped convicts!" I am a peasant, cultivating a patch of land in a corner of one of the provinces: you suppress the newspaper, you stifle information, you prevent the truth from reaching me, and then you make me vote! in the uttermost darkness of night! gropingly! What! you rush out upon me from the obscurity, sabre in hand, and you say to me: "Vote!" and you call that a ballot.

"Certainly! a 'free and spontaneous' ballot," say the organs of the coup d'état.

Every sort of machinery was set to work at this vote. One village mayor, a species of wild Escobar, growing in the fields, said to his peasants: "If you vote 'aye,' 'tis for the Republic; if you vote 'no,' 'tis against the Republic." The peasants voted "aye."

And let us illuminate another aspect of this turpitude that people call "the plebiscite of the 20th of December." How was the question put? Was any choice possible? Did he--and it was the least that a coup d'état man should have done in so strange a ballot as that wherein he put everything at stake--did he open to each party the door at which its principles could enter? were the Legitimists allowed to turn towards their exiled prince, and towards the ancient honour of the fleurs-de-lys? were the Orleanists allowed to turn towards that proscribed family, honoured by the valued services of two soldiers, M M. de Joinville and d'Aumale, and made illustrious by that exalted soul, Madame la Duchesse d'Orleans? Did he offer to the people--who are not a party, but the people, that is to say, the sovereign--did he offer to the people that true republic before which all monarchy vanishes, as night before day; that republic which is the manifest and irresistible future of the civilized world; the republic without dictatorship; the republic of concord, of learning, and of liberty; the republic of universal suffrage, of universal peace, and of universal well-being; the republic, initiator of peoples, and liberator of nationalities; that republic which after all and whatever any one may do, "will," as the author of this book has said elsewhere,[1] "possess France to-morrow, and Europe the day after." Did he offer that? No. This is how M. Bonaparte put the matter: there were in this ballot two candidates; first candidate, M. Bonaparte; second candidate--the abyss. France had the choice. Admire the adroitness of the man, and, not a little, his humility. M. Bonaparte took for his opponent in this contest, whom? M. de Chambord? No! M. de Joinville? No! The Republic? Still less. M. Bonaparte, like those pretty Creoles who show off their beauty by juxtaposition with some frightful Hottentot, took as his competitor in this election a phantom, a vision, a socialistic monster of Nuremberg, with long teeth and talons, and a live coal in its eyes, the ogre of Tom Thumb, the vampire of Porte Saint-Martin, the hydra of Theramenes, the great sea-serpent of the Constitutionnel, which the shareholders have had the kindness to impute to it, the dragon of the Apocalypse, the Tarask, the Drée, the Gra-ouili, a scarecrow. Aided by a Ruggieri of his own, M. Bonaparte lit up this pasteboard monster with red Bengal fire, and said to the scared voter: "There is no possible choice except this or myself: choose!" He said: "Choose between beauty and the beast; the beast is communism; the beauty is my dictatorship. Choose! There is no medium! Society prostrate, your house burned, your barn pillaged, your cow stolen, your fields confiscated, your wife outraged, your children murdered, your wine drunk by others, yourself devoured alive by the great gaping-jaws yonder, or me as your emperor! Choose! Me or Croque-mitaine!"

[1] Littérature et Philosophie Mêlées 1830.

The citizen, affrighted, and consequently a child; the peasant, ignorant, and consequently a child, preferred M. Bonaparte to Croque-mitaine. Such is his triumph!

Observe, however, that of ten millions of voters, five hundred thousand would, it seems, have preferred Croque-mitaine.

After all, M. Bonaparte only had seven million five hundred thousand votes.

Thus, then, and in this fashion,--freely as we see, knowingly as we see,--that which M. Bonaparte is good enough to call universal suffrage, voted. Voted what?

Dictatorship, autocracy, slavery, the republic a despotism, France a pachalik, chains on all wrists, a seal on every mouth, silence, degradation, fear, the spy the soul of all things! They have given to a man--to you!--omnipotence and omniscience! They have made that man the supreme, the only legislator, the alpha of the law, the omega of power! They have decreed that he is Minos, that he is Numa, that he is Solon, that he is Lycurgus! They have incarnated in him the people, the nation, the state, the law! and for ten years! What! I, a citizen, vote, not only for my own dispossession, my own forfeiture, my own abdication, but for the abdication of universal suffrage for ten years, by the coming generations, over whom I have no right, over whom you, an usurper, force me to usurp power, which, by the way, be it said in passing, would suffice to nullify that monstrous ballot, if all conceivable nullities were not already piled, heaped and welded upon it. What! is that what you would have me do? You make me vote that all is finished, that nothing remains, that the people is a slave! What! you say to me: "Since you are sovereign, you shall give yourself a master; since you are France, you shall become Haiti!" What an abominable farce!

Such is the vote of the 20th of December,--that sanction, as M. de Morny says; that absolution, as M. Bonaparte says.

Assuredly, a short time hence,--in a year, in a month, perhaps in a week,--when all that we now see has vanished, men will be ashamed of having, if only for an instant, bestowed upon that infamous semblance of a ballot, which they call the ballot of seven million five hundred thousand votes, the honour of discussing it. Yet it is the only basis, the only support, the only rampart of this prodigious power of M. Bonaparte. This vote is the excuse of cowards, this vote is the buckler of dishonoured consciences. Generals, magistrates, bishops, all crimes, all prevarications, all degrees of complicity, seek refuge for their ignominy behind this vote. France has spoken, say they: vox populi, vox Dei, universal suffrage has voted; everything is covered by a ballot.--That a vote! that a ballot? One spits on it, and passes by.

Third. The figures must be accurate. I admire that figure: 7,500,000! It must have had a fine effect, through the fog of the 1st of January, in letters of gold, three feet high, on the portal of Notre-Dame.

I admire that figure. Do you know why? Because I consider it humble. Seven million five hundred thousand. Why seven million five hundred thousand? It is not many. No one refused M. Bonaparte full measure. After what he had done on the 2nd of December, he was entitled to something better than that. Tell us, who played him that trick? Who prevented him from putting down eight millions, or ten millions,--a good round sum? As for myself, I was quite disappointed in my hopes. I counted on unanimity. coup d'état, you are indeed modest!

How now! a man has done all we have recalled or related: has taken an oath and perjured himself; was the guardian of a constitution and destroyed it, was the servant of a republic and betrayed it, was the agent of a sovereign assembly and violently crushed it; used the military pass-word as a poignard to kill military honour, used the standard of France to wipe away mud and shame, put handcuffs on the generals of Africa, made the representatives of the people travel in prison-vans, filled Mazas, Vincennes, Mont Valérien, and Sainte-Pélagie with inviolable men, shot down point-blank, on the barricade of the law, the legislator girt with that scarf which is the sacred and venerable symbol of the law; gave to a colonel, whom we could name, a hundred thousand francs to trample duty under foot, and to each soldier ten francs a day; distributed in four days forty thousand francs' worth of brandy to each brigade; covered with the gold of the Bank the card-tables of the Élysée, and said to his friends, "Help yourselves!" killed M. Adde in his own house, M. Belval in his own house, M. Debaecque in his own house, M. Labilte in his own house, M. de Couvercelle in his own house, M. Monpelas in his own house, M. Thirion de Mortauban in his own house; massacred on the boulevards and elsewhere, shot anybody anywhere, committed numerous murders, of which he modestly confesses to only one hundred and ninety-one; changed the trenches about the trees on the boulevards into pools of blood; spilt the blood of the infant with the blood of the mother, mingling with both the champagne of the gendarmes!--a man has done all these things, has taken all this trouble; and when he asks the nation: "Are you satisfied?" he obtains only seven million five hundred thousand voters!--Really, he is underpaid.

Sacrifice one's self "to save society," indeed! O, ingratitude of nations!

In truth, three millions of voices replied "No." Who was it, pray, who said that the South Sea savages call the French the "oui-ouis?"

Let us speak seriously. For irony is painful in such tragic matters.

Coup d'état men, nobody believes in your seven million five hundred thousand votes.

Come, be frank, and confess that you are more or less swindlers, that you cheat a little. In your balance-sheet of the 2nd of December you set down too many votes,--and not enough corpses.

Seven million five hundred thousand! What figure is that? Whence comes it? What do you want us to do with it?

Seven million, eight million, ten million, what does it matter? We concede you everything, and we contest everything with you.

The seven million you have, plus the five hundred thousand; the round sum, plus the odd money; you say so, prince, you affirm it, you swear it; but what proves it?

Who counted? Baroche. Who examined? Rouher. Who checked? Piétri. Who added? Maupas. Who certified? Troplong. Who made the proclamation? Yourself!

In other words, servility counted, platitude examined, trickery checked, forgery added, venality certified, and mendacity proclaimed.

Very good.

Whereupon, M. Bonaparte ascends to the Capitol, orders M. Sibour to thank Jupiter, puts a blue and gold livery on the Senate, a blue and silver livery on the Corps Législatif, and a green and gold livery on his coachman; lays his hand on his heart, declares that he is the product of "universal suffrage," and that his "legitimacy" has issued from the ballot-box. That box is a wine-cup.

Victor Hugo