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Chapter 9

THE SENATE


This lively and piquant dialogue is carried on by the Council of State, the Corps Législatif and the Senate.

Is there a Senate then? Certainly. This "great body," this "balancing power," this "supreme moderator," is in truth the principal glory of the Constitution. Let us consider it for a moment.

The Senate! It is a senate. But of what Senate are you speaking? Is it the Senate whose duty it was to deliberate on the description of sauce with which the Emperor should eat his turbot? Is it the Senate of which Napoleon thus spoke on April 5, 1814: "A sign was an order for the Senate, and it always did more than was required of it?" Is it the Senate of which Napoleon said in 1805: "The poltroons were afraid of displeasing me?"[1] Is it the Senate which drew from Tiberius almost the same exclamation: "The base wretches! greater slaves than we require them to be!" Is it the Senate which caused Charles XII to say: "Send my boot to Stockholm."--"For what purpose, Sire?" demanded his minister.--"To preside over the Senate," was the reply.

[1] Thibaudeau. History of the Consulate and the Empire.

But let us not trifle. This year they are eighty; they will be one hundred and fifty next year. They monopolise to themselves, in full plenitude, fourteen articles of the Constitution, from Article 19 to Article 33. They are "guardians of the public liberties;" their functions are gratuitous by Article 22; consequently, they have from fifteen to thirty thousand francs per annum. They have the peculiar privilege of receiving their salary, and the prerogative of "not opposing" the promulgation of the laws. They are all illustrious personages."[2] This is not an "abortive Senate,"[3] like that of Napoleon the uncle; this is a genuine Senate; the marshals are members, and the cardinals and M. Leboeuf.

[2] "All the illustrious persons of the country." Louis Bonaparte's Appeal to the people. December 2, 1851.

[3] "The Senate was an abortion; and in France no one likes to see people well paid merely for making some bad selections." Words of Napoleon, Memorial from St. Helena.

"What is your position in the country?" some one asks the Senate. "We are charged with the preservation of public liberty."--"What is your business in this city?" Pierrot demands of Harlequin.--"My business," replies Harlequin, "is to curry-comb the bronze horse."

"We know what is meant by esprit-de-corps: this spirit will urge the Senate by every possible means to augment its power. It will destroy the Corps Législatif, if it can; and if occasion offers it will compound with the Bourbons."

Who said this? The First Consul. Where? At the Tuileries, in April, 1804.

"Without title or authority, and in violation of every principle, it has surrendered the country and consummated its ruin. It has been the plaything of eminent intriguers; I know of no body which ought to appear in history with greater ignominy than the Senate."

Who said this? The Emperor. Where? At St. Helena.

There is actually then a senate in the "Constitution of January 14." But, candidly speaking, this is a mistake; for now that public hygiene has made some progress, we are accustomed to see the public highway better kept. After the Senate of the Empire, we thought that no more senates would be mixed up with Constitutions.


Victor Hugo