Louis Philippe - John S. C. Abbott

The Final Struggle


The Liberal party in France, despairing of any effectual reform under the government of Louis Philippe, began to turn their thoughts to the re-establishment of the Empire under Louis Napoleon, a young prince, the nephew and heir of Napoleon I., then residing in studious seclusion at Arnemberg, in Switzerland. The prince had already obtained some celebrity by his writings in favor of popular rights. One of the leading republicans wrote to him:

"The life of the king is daily threatened. If one of these attempts should succeed, we should be exposed to the most serious convulsions; for there is no longer in France any party which can lead the others, nor any man who can inspire general confidence. The great name which you bear, your opinions, your character, every thing, induces us to see in you a point of rallying for the popular cause. Hold yourself ready for action. When the time shall come, your friends will not fail you."

Every month there seemed to be rising enthusiasm in respect to the Napoleonic name. Louis Philippe had but just taken his seat upon the throne, when a petition was presented to the Chamber of Deputies praying that the remains of the Emperor might be claimed of the British Government, and transferred from St. Helena to Paris. In a speech made by M. Mortigny, on the occasion, he said:

"Napoleon established order and tranquillity in our country: he led our armies to victory: his sublime genius put an end to anarchy: his military glory made the French name respected throughout the world, and his name will ever be pronounced with emotion and veneration."

In the Place Vendome a column was reared in commemoration of the deeds of the French army. It had been surmounted by the statue of Napoleon. The Allies tore down the effigy. The people now demanded that the statue should be restored. The Government could not refuse. On the 28th of July, 1833, the statue of the emperor again rose to that proud summit, in the midst of, apparently, the universal acclaim of Paris and France.

On the 1st of August, 1834, a statue of the emperor was placed in the court-yard of the Royal Hotel des Invalides, accompanied by as imposing civil and religious ceremonies as France had ever witnessed.

In the year 1806, Napoleon I. had laid the foundations of the Arc de l'Etoile, at the entrance of the most superb avenue in the world. The people now demanded the completion of the monument. Preparations were made for a magnificent fete on the 29th of July, 1836, when the completed arc was to be unveiled. But Louis Philippe had become so excessively unpopular, he was so incessantly pursued by assassins, that it was not deemed safe for him to appear at the ceremony. The magnificent monument was unveiled without any ceremony—the Moniteur proclaiming to Europe the humiliating declaration that the king could no longer with safety appear in the streets of Paris. "The soil," writes a French annalist, "was so sown with assassins that there was no safety for the monarch but within the walls of his palace."

All over the kingdom insurrections were constantly bursting out, and there were bloody conflicts in Lyons, Marseilles, and other places. And now the demand became irresistible for the transfer of the remains of Napoleon to Paris. Such a scene of national homage as this great occasion manifested the world never witnessed before. In 1840, the eyes of the world were fixed upon this grand funereal pageant. The honored remains were transferred from the lonely grave at St. Helena, placed beneath the dome of the Invalides, and over those remains a nation's gratitude has reared a monument which attracts the admiration of the world.

[Illustration] from Louis Philippe by John S. C. Abbott


But these reluctant yieldings to popular sentiment did not add to the popularity of Louis Philippe. He was shot at so frequently that he received the sobriquet of the Target King! A volume might be filled with the recital of the foul attempts to assassinate him. His days must have passed in constant wretchedness. He was assailed in low blackguardism in the journals: he was assailed with envenomed eloquence, by such men as Lamartine, at the banquets; and his path was dogged, with dagger and pistol, by such brutal wretches as Fieschi, Boirier Meunier, Alibaud, and many others.

Louis Philippe, in the relations of private life, was one of the best of men. His character had been formed in the school of misfortune. He was not a man of generous affections; the fearful discipline through which he had passed rendered this almost impossible. He was greedy of money, and exceedingly desirous of aggrandizing his family by such matrimonial alliances as would strengthen his dynasty.

On the 13th of July, 1842, the king experienced one of the heaviest calamities of his life—a calamity quite irreparable. His eldest son, who, upon the enthronement of his father, had taken the title of the Duke of Orleans, was a very noble young man, quite popular with the people and in the army. He was believed to be far more liberal in his views than his father. He was driving in his carriage from Paris to Neuilly; the horses took fright, and the driver lost his control over them. The duke endeavored to leap from the carriage; his head struck the ground, and his brain was so injured that he breathed but a few hours, in insensibility, and died. Thus sadly the direct heir to the throne was cut off. The succession reverted to his son, the Count of Paris—an infant child, then in the arms of its nurse.

This young man—who subsequently married his cousin, a daughter of the Duke of Montpensier, and who has been residing much of the time at Twickenham, in England—is, at the present writing, the Orleans candidate for the throne of France. He is deemed a worthy man—has two children, but never has been placed in circumstances to develop any marked traits of character. As the Count of Chambord has no children, upon his death the Count of Paris becomes the legitimate candidate for the throne.

The Count of Chambord had married the Archduchess Maria Theresa-Beatrice, of Modena, eldest sister of the reigning duke of that principality, and the only prince in Europe who had refused to recognize Louis Philippe. "It was a singular proof of the mutations of fortune that the direct descendant of Louis XIV. deemed himself fortunate upon being admitted into the family of a third-rate Italian potentate."

Louis Philippe, during his reign of about eighteen years, encountered nothing but trouble. The advocates of legitimacy—of the divine right of kings—regarded him as an usurper. As the voice of the nation was not consulted in placing him upon the throne, the masses of the people deemed themselves defrauded of their rights, and hated him, as the representative only of the moneyed aristocracy of Paris. The bitterness with which he was assailed by the Liberal party may be inferred from the following extract from the "Revolution of 1848," by Louis Blanc:

"Whatever may have been the baseness of Rome under the Caesars, it was equalled by the corruption in France in the reign of Louis Philippe. Nothing like it had ever been witnessed in history. The thirst for gold having obtained possession of minds agitated by impure desires, society terminated by sinking into a brutal materialism. The formula of selfishness, every one by himself and for himself, had been adopted by the sovereign as the maxim of state; and that maxim, alike hideous and fatal, had become the ruling principle of government. It was the device of Louis Philippe—a prince gifted with moderation, knowledge, tolerance, humanity, but skeptical, destitute of either nobility of heart or elevation of mind—the most experienced corrupter of the human race that ever appeared on earth!"

There were thirty-four millions of people in France. Of these, but one hundred and fifty thousand of the richest proprietors enjoyed the right of suffrage. Consequently, the laws were framed to favor the rich. All the efforts of the people to secure a reform of the electoral law proved unavailing. The agitation of the subject increased every year, and the cry for parliamentary reform was ever growing louder and more menacing. Many of the illustrious men in France joined this reform party. Among others, there were M. Lafitte, the wealthy banker, M. Odillon Barrot, the renowned advocate, and M. Arago, the distinguished philosopher.

We may search history in vain for the record of any monarch so unrelentingly harassed as was Louis Philippe from the time he ascended the throne until he was driven from it. He was irreproachable in morals, a man who had seen much of the world in all its phases, sagacious and well meaning. But he was placed in a position in which no earthly wisdom could rescue him from the direst trouble. There were two antagonistic and very powerful parties watching him.

The one was the Liberal party in France, of varied shades of opinion, demanding equal rights for all men, hating the old dynastic despotisms of Europe, who had forced the Bourbons upon them, and hating those treaties of Vienna, of 1815, which had shorn France of a large portion of her territory, and had bound Europe hand and foot, so as to prevent any future uprising of the friends of popular liberty.

The other party consisted of the old aristocracy of France, the Legitimists, supported by the sympathies of all the courts of Europe, who were supposed to be not only willing but eager to unite their armies to maintain the principles of the old regime in France, and thus to prevent the establishment there of those principles of popular liberty which would endanger all their thrones.

The difference between these two parties was irreconcilable. As Louis Philippe was situated, he was compelled to choose between the two. He chose the latter. This involved him in unrelenting and unintermitted war with the former. Alison says: "Concession to the Republican party and a general change in external policy, so earnestly pressed upon him by the Liberals, would lead at once to a general war;" that is, the surrounding dynasties would not permit free institutions to be established in France.

Louis Philippe was a man of great decision of character, as his friends would say. His enemies called that trait stubbornness. In a letter purporting to have been written on the 9th of November, 1847, by his son, the Prince de Joinville, to the Duke de Nemours, the writer says to his brother:

"I write one word to you, for I am disquieted at the events which I see on all sides thickening around us. Indeed, I begin to be seriously alarmed. The king is inflexible. He will listen to no advice. His own will must prevail over every thing. There are no longer any ministers. Their responsibility is null. Every thing rests with the king. He has arrived at an age when observations are no longer listened to. He is accustomed to govern, and he loves to show that he does so."

The king is reported to have said, at the close of a cabinet meeting, in reply to some who urged concessions to the Liberal party, "Every one appears to be for reform. Some demand it, others promise it. For my part, I will never be a party to such weakness. Reform is another word for war. When the opposition succeed to power, I shall take my departure."

This was the declaration of the king that the surrounding dynasties would not permit popular rights in France. An ancient law of the old regime did not allow the people to assemble to discuss affairs of state. Louis Philippe revived the law, and enforced it vigorously. To evade this prohibition, large dinner-parties, or banquets, as they were called, were introduced, which afforded an opportunity of offering toasts and making speeches, in which the measures of Government were vehemently assailed. These banquets sprang up in all parts of the kingdom, and were attended by thousands. Arrangements were made for a mammoth banquet in the city of Paris on the 22nd of February, 1848. The place selected was a large open space near the Champs Elysees. It would accommodate six thousand persons at the tables, and was to be covered with a canvas awning.

The Government resolved to disperse the assembly by force. The leaders of the Opposition, aware that they were not prepared for a resort to arms, entered into a compromise with the Government. The guests were to meet at the appointed time and place for the banquet. The officers of the police were then to appear, order the assembly to disperse, and arrest the leaders, who were to be indicted for a breach of the law prohibiting political gatherings. Thus the question of the right thus to assemble was to be referred to the legal tribunals. This compromise was gladly acceded to by the Liberals, as many of them desired a change of ministry only, being very reluctant to run the hazard of a change of dynasty.

The Liberals accordingly announced to Paris, by a proclamation, that the banquet was interdicted by the Government, but that there would be a general demonstration by forming a procession on the largest possible scale, to march to the appointed place of meeting, and there peaceably to disperse at the orders of the police.

The Government was exceedingly alarmed when it learned that the banquet was converted into a procession. This was magnifying the danger. The excitement in Paris was intense. It soon became manifest that not less than one hundred thousand men would join in the procession. A decree was accordingly issued by the prefect of police, stating that all who chose to go to the banquet individually could do so, but that any attempt to form a procession would meet with forcible resistance. This rendered it necessary for the Liberals either to give up the plan of the procession, or to run the risk of a collision with the royal troops, for which they were by no means prepared.

The leaders of the Liberal party held a meeting, when the question was anxiously discussed. Opinions on the subject were divided. One of the most prominent men of the party, M. Lagrange, urged decided measures. "Let the democracy," said he, "hoist its standard, and descend boldly into the field of battle for progress. Humanity, in a mass, has its eyes upon you. Our standard will rally around us the whole warlike and fraternal cohorts. What more are we waiting for?"

On the other hand, Louis Blanc said, "Humanity restrains me. I ask if you are entitled to dispose of the blood of a generous people, without any prospect of advantage to the cause of democracy. If the patriots commence the conflict to-morrow they will infallibly be crushed, and the democracy will be drowned in blood. That will be the result of to-morrow's struggle. Do not deceive yourselves. Determine on insurrection, if you please; but for my part, if you adopt such a decision, I will retire to my home, to cover myself with crape and mourn over the ruin of democracy."

Ledru Rollin, following in the same strain, said, "Have we arms, ammunition, combatants ready? The Government is thoroughly prepared. The army only awaits the signal to crush us. My opinion is, that to run into a conflict in such circumstances is an act of madness."

Under the influence of such views, it was decided to abandon the procession. The regular troops in Paris at that time numbered twenty-five thousand. There were as many more garrisoned in neighboring towns, who could in a few hours be concentrated in the city. Orders had been already issued for all the military posts of the capital to be strongly occupied. In consequence of these various measures, excitement pervaded the whole metropolis. Many of the Liberal party were not satisfied with the decision of their leaders. Many of the populace were also ignorant of the resolutions to which the committees had come at a late hour of the evening of the day before the procession was to have been formed.

At an early hour in the morning of the 22nd, immense crowds had assembled in the Place de la Madeleine, the Place de la Concorde, and the Champs Elysees. Here they swayed to and fro, hour after hour, motiveless, awaiting the progress of events. M. Guizot was then Minister of Foreign Affairs, and M. Duchatel Minister of the Interior. In the afternoon a large band of students swept through the streets singing the Marseillaise, and shouting "Long live Reform!" "Down with Guizot!" Agitation was rapidly on the increase. Quite a large body of regular troops was stationed at the junction of the Rue Rivoli and the Rue St. Honore. Towards evening the excited mob pelted the troops with stones, and commenced erecting barricades in the vicinity. There was, however, no other serious disturbance during the day.

The Government, alarmed by these demonstrations, resolved to call out all its military force the next morning, both the regular troops and National Guard, to maintain order. Consequently, at an early hour in the morning of the 23rd, the generale was beat in all the streets, and the National Guard, more than forty thousand strong, hurried to their appointed places of rendezvous. This crowding of the streets with troops greatly increased the general excitement. All business was suspended. Many of the shops were closed. The whole population of Paris seemed to be upon the pavement.

The National Guard, composed of the middling class in the city of Paris, were most of them in favor of reform. Many of their officers belonged to the Liberal party. Their commander-in-chief, General Jacquemont, was ready to sustain the Government. He was powerless without the co-operation of his officers and men. In anticipation of the conflict which now seemed so menacing, large numbers of the officers held a secret meeting the night before, in which they decided to stand between the regular troops and the irresponsible populace. They would, on the one hand, assist the people in demanding reform, and would protect them from the assaults of the regular troops. On the other hand, they would defend the monarchy, and aid the troops in repelling insurrection and revolution. As the National Guard occupied every post conjointly with the regular troops, they would not allow the troops to disperse the assemblages of the people. It would have been destruction to the regular troops to engage in a conflict with the National Guard, supported as it would have been by the whole populace of Paris.

In this singular posture of affairs, the guard standing between the regulars and the people, and not unfrequently joining with the people in shouts of Vive la Reforme, the hours wore on. Many of the Liberal leaders were so encouraged by this state of things that they dispatched orders to the secret societies in the faubourgs immediately to come forth in all their banded strength, hoping to overawe the Government. These formidable bodies soon appeared, traversing the thoroughfares in appalling numbers. The cavalry received orders to clear the streets. The guard formed into line in front of one of these bands, and with fixed bayonets held the cavalry back. The populace, inspired with new zeal, seized arms wherever they could be found and commenced throwing up barricades.

The king was struck with consternation as these tidings were brought to him at the Tuileries. A cabinet council was hastily convened. In view of the peril of the hour the king sent for the queen and his son, the Duke de Montpensier, to be present at the meeting of the ministers. Lamartine has given an account of the interview. The queen and the Duke de Montpensier both urged the king to dismiss his obnoxious ministers, and replace them by a Liberal ministry who should introduce parliamentary reform. The king was in entire sympathy with his ministers. They were carrying out his own policy. With tears in his eyes he declared that he had rather abdicate the throne than be separated from them.

"You can not do that, my dear," said the queen; "you belong to France, and not to yourself. You can not abdicate."

"True," replied the king, mournfully, "I am more to be pitied than they. I can not resign."

M. Guizot, who was absent at the commencement of the meeting, had come in during the interview. The king turned to him and said, "My dear M. Guizot, is it your opinion that the Cabinet is in a situation to make head against the storm, and to triumph over it?"

The minister replied, "Sire, when the king proposes such a question he himself answers it. The Cabinet may be in a condition to gain the victory in the streets, but it can not conquer, at the same time, the royal family and the crown. To throw a doubt upon its support in the Tuileries is to destroy it in the exercise of power. The Cabinet has no alternative but to resign."

The king was deeply moved as he felt thus compelled to accept their resignation. Tears dimmed his eyes. Affectionately embracing them, he bade them adieu, saying, "How happy you are! You depart with honor, I remain with shame."

Guizot himself announced his resignation to the Chamber of Deputies, then in session. The announcement was received with shouts of applause from the Opposition benches. The tidings spread with electric speed through the streets. Night came, and large portions of the city blazed with illuminations, exultant bands surged through the streets, songs resounded, and the city presented an aspect of universal rejoicing. Still, with thinking men, there was great anxiety. Where would all this lead to? Would the triumphant populace be satisfied merely with a change of ministry? Might it not demand the overthrow of a dynasty? If so, what government would succeed? There were Legitimists, and Orleanists, and Imperialists, and moderate Republicans, and Socialists of every grade of ultra Democracy. Was France to be plunged into anarchy by the conflict of these rival parties? While the unreflecting populace drank, and sang, and danced, and hugged each other in exultant joy, thoughtful men paused, pondered, and turned pale with apprehension.

The ardent revolutionists began now to organize in bands in different parts of the city. Three large bodies were speedily gathered; one in front of the office of the Reform, another before that of the Nationale, and a third in the Place de la Bastile. These three columns, led by such men, born to command, as ever emerge from the populace in scenes of excitement, paraded the illuminated streets, with songs and shouts and flaming torches, until they formed a junction in the Boulevard des Italiens. It was manifest that some secret but superior intelligence guided their movements. The Hotel of Foreign Affairs, then the residence of M. Guizot, was in the Rue de Choiseul. At the head of that street a well-armed detachment broke off from one of the processions, and, bearing with them the blood-red flag of insurrection, advanced to surround the hotel.

A royal guard had been stationed here, consisting of a battalion of the line. The troops were drawn up across the street, presenting a rampart of bayonets to prevent the farther advance of the column. Here the insurgents halted, face to face with the troops, almost near enough to cross bayonets. The leader of this column is thus graphically pictured by Lamartine:

"A man about forty years of age, tall, thin, with hair curled and falling on his shoulders, dressed in a white frock, well worn and stained with dirt, marched, with a military step, at their head. His arms were folded over his chest, his head slightly bent forward with the air of one who was about to face bullets deliberately, and to brave death with exultation. In the eyes of this man, well known by the multitude, was concentrated all the fire of the Revolution. The physiognomy was the living expression of the defiance of opposing force. His lips, incessantly agitated, as if by a mental harangue, were pale and trembling. We are told that his name was Lagrange."

The commander of the royal troops sat on horseback in front of his line. The gleam of the torches and the waving of the insurgent banner frightened his horse. The animal reared, and, recoiling upon his haunches, broke through the line of troops, which in some confusion opened to let him pass to the rear. At this moment, either by accident or design, a musket-shot was discharged at the soldiers by some one of the insurgents; Alison says by Lagrange himself. The troops, in the gloom of the night, agitated by the terrible excitements of the hour, and by the confusion into which their ranks were thrown by the retreat of their commander through them, deeming themselves attacked, returned the fire, point-blank, in full volley. By that one discharge fifty of the insurgents were struck down upon the pavements, killed or wounded.

The street thus swept by bullets was crowded with men, women, and children. The discharge echoed far and wide through Paris, creating terrible alarm. Most who were present had not the remotest idea of danger, supposing that they had met only for a demonstration of joy. Apprehensive of another discharge, there was an immediate and tumultuous flight of the populace, the strong trampling the weak beneath their feet. The insurgents took with them their dead and wounded. This accidental slaughter roused Paris to frenzy. It was regarded as the revenge which the ministers had taken for their overthrow. Several large wagons were procured, and the dead, artistically arranged so as to display to the most imposing effect their blood and wounds, were placed in them. Torches were attached to the wagons, so as to exhibit the bodies of the slain. A woman was among the victims. Her lifeless body, half naked, occupied a very conspicuous position. A man stood by her side occasionally raising the corpse that it might be more distinctly seen.

Thus, in the gloom of a dark and clouded night, this ghastly procession traversed all the leading streets of Paris, the whole population, of a city of a million and a half of inhabitants, being then in the streets. The rage excited, and the cries for vengeance, were deep and almost universal. Louis Philippe had no personal popularity to sustain him. Legitimists and Republicans alike ignored his claims to the throne. He was regarded as intensely avaricious, notwithstanding his immense wealth, and as ever ready to degrade France in subserviency to the policy of foreign courts, that he might gain the co-operation of these courts in the maintenance of his crown, and secure exalted matrimonial alliances for his children. There have probably been few, if any, kings upon the throne of France, who have had fewer friends or more bitter enemies than Louis Philippe. The following statement from the North American Review correctly expresses the sentiment of most thoughtful men upon the character of his administration:

"During a reign in which his real authority and influence were immense, he did little for his country, little for the moral and intellectual elevation of his people, and nothing for the gradual improvement of the political institutions of his kingdom; because his time and attention were absorbed in seeking splendid foreign alliances for his children, and in manoeuvring to maintain a supple majority in the Chambers, and to keep those ministers at the head of affairs who would second more heartily his private designs."

While these scenes were transpiring, the king, though greatly chagrined at the compulsory dismissal of his ministers, yet supposed that he had thus appeased the populace, and that there was no longer danger of lawless violence. Helen, duchess of Orleans, widow of the king's eldest son, a woman of much intelligence, had been greatly alarmed in apprehension that the dynasty was about to be overthrown. Her little son, the Count de Paris, was heir to the crown. Relieved of her apprehensions by the dismissal of the obnoxious ministers, and not aware of what was transpiring in the streets, she pressed her child to her bosom, saying: "Poor child! your crown has been indeed compromised, but now Heaven has restored it to you."

M. Guizot, at the time the untoward event occurred in front of his hotel, chanced to be at the residence of M. Duchatel, the ex-Minister of the Interior. As they were conversing, the brother of M. Duchatel entered, breathless and in the highest state of agitation, to communicate the tidings that the troops had fired upon the people, that the whole populace of Paris was in a ferment of indignation, and that there was imminent danger that the streets of the metropolis were about to be the theatre of the most fearful carnage. Should either of these ministers fall into the hands of the exasperated populace, their instant death was certain. They both hastened to the Tuileries. It was midnight. The terrible news had already reached the ears of the king. They found him in his cabinet with his son, the Duke de Montpensier, and other important personages. All were in a state of great consternation. M. Thiers was immediately sent for. The crisis demanded the most decisive measures, and yet the councils were divided. There was a very energetic veteran general in Paris, Marshal Bugeaud, who had acquired renown in the war in Algeria. He was popular with the soldiers, but very unpopular with the people. Inured to the horrors of the battle-field, he would, without the slightest hesitation, mow down the people mercilessly with grape-shot.

The king was appalled, in view of his own peril and that of his family. He well knew how numerous and bitter were his enemies. He had not forgotten the doom of his predecessors in that palace, Louis XVI. and Maria Antoinette. For years assassins had dogged his path. All varieties of ingenious machines of destruction had been constructed to secure his death. He was appropriately called the Target King, so constantly were the bullets of his foes aimed at his life. Even a brave man may be excused for being terrified when his wife and his children are exposed to every conceivable indignity and to a bloody death. Under these circumstances the king consented to place the command of the army in the hands of the energetic Marshal Bugeaud. It was now two o'clock in the morning. The veteran marshal, invested with almost dictatorial powers, left the Tuileries in company with one of the sons of the king, the Duke de Nemours, to take possession of the troops, and to arrange them for the conflict which was inevitable on the morrow.

The impulse of a master-mind was immediately felt. Aided by the obscurity of the night, messengers were dispatched in every direction, and by five o'clock in the morning four immense columns of troops were advancing to occupy important strategic points, which would command the city. These arrangements being completed, the Duke de Nemours anxiously inquired of the marshal what he thought of the morrow. M. Bugeaud replied:

"Monseigneur, it will be rough, but the victory will be ours. I have never yet been beaten, and I am not going to commence to-morrow. Certainly it would have been better not to have lost so much time; but no matter, I will answer for the result if I am left alone. It must not be imagined that I can manage without bloodshed. Perhaps there will be much, for I begin with cannon. But do not be uneasy. To-morrow evening the authority of the king and of the law shall be re-established."