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- History of Modern Europe 1792-1878 - 80/202 -

to the crown, was still what he had been in his youth, the chief of a party: with Louis XVIII. and Richelieu at the head of the State, the Ultra-Royalists became the adversaries of royal prerogative and the champions of the rights of Parliament. Before the Revolution the noblesse had possessed privileges; it had not possessed political power. The Constitution of 1814 had unexpectedly given it, under representative forms, the influence denied to it under the old monarchy. New political vistas opened; and the men who had hitherto made St. Louis and Henry IV. the subject of their declamations, now sought to extend the rights of Parliament to the utmost, and to perpetuate in succeeding assemblies the rule of the present majority. An electoral law favourable to the great landed proprietors was the first necessity. This indeed was but a means to an end; another and a greater end might be attained directly, the restoration of a landed Church, and of the civil and social ascendancy of the clergy.

[Ecclesiastical schemes of the reaction.]

It had been admitted by King Louis XVIII. that the clause in the Charta relating to elections required modification, and on this point the Ultra-Royalists in the Chamber were content to wait for the proposals of the Government. In their ecclesiastical policy they did not maintain the same reserve. Resolutions in favour of the State-Church were discussed in the form of petitions to be presented to the Crown. It was proposed to make the clergy, as they had been before the Revolution, the sole keepers of registers of birth and marriage; to double the annual payment made to them by the State; to permit property of all kinds to be acquired by the Church by gift or will; to restore all Church lands not yet sold by the State; and, finally, to abolish the University of France, and to place all schools and colleges throughout the country under the control of the Bishops. One central postulate not only passed the Chamber, but was accepted by the Government and became law. Divorce was absolutely abolished; and for two generations after 1816 no possible aggravation of wrong sufficed in France to release either husband or wife from the mockery of a marriage-tie. The power to accept donations or legacies was granted to the clergy, subject, however, in every case to the approval of the Crown. The allowance made to them out of the revenues of the State was increased by the amount of certain pensions as they should fall in, a concession which fell very far short of the demands of the Chamber. In all, the advantages won for the Church were scarcely proportioned to the zeal displayed in its cause. The most important question, the disposal of the unsold Church lands, remained to be determined when the Chamber should enter upon the discussion of the Budget.

[Electoral Bill, Dec. 18, 1815.]

The Electoral Bill of the Government, from which the Ultra-Royalists expected so much, was introduced at the end of the year 1815. It showed in a singular manner the confusion of ideas existing within the Ministry as to the nature of the Parliamentary liberty now supposed to belong to France. The ex-préfet Vaublanc, to whom the framing of the measure was entrusted, though he imagined himself purged from the traditions of Napoleonism, could conceive of no relation between the executive and the legislative power but that which exists between a substance and its shadow. It never entered his mind that the representative institutions granted by the Charta were intended to bring an independent force to bear upon the Government, or that the nation should be treated as more than a fringe round the compact and lasting body of the administration. The language in which Vaublanc introduced his measure was grotesquely candid. Montesquieu, he said, had pointed out that powers must be subordinate; therefore the electoral power must be controlled by the King's Government. [273] By the side of the electors in the Canton and the Department there was accordingly placed, in the Ministerial scheme, an array of officials numerous enough to carry the elections, if indeed they did not actually outnumber the private voters. The franchise was confined to the sixty richest persons in each Canton: these, with the officials of the district, were to elect the voters of the Department, who, with a similar contingent of officials, were to choose the Deputies. Re-affirming the principle laid down in the Constitution of 1795 and repeated in the Charta, Vaublanc proposed that a fifth part of the Assembly should retire each year.

[Counter-project of Villèle.]

If the Minister had intended to give the Ultra-Royalists the best possible means of exalting the peculiar policy of their class into something like a real defence of liberty, he could not have framed a more fitting measure. The creation of constituent bodies out of mayors, crown-advocates, and justices of the peace, was described, and with truth, as a mere Napoleonic juggle. The limitation of the franchise to a fixed number of rich persons was condemned as illiberal and contrary to the spirit of the Charta: the system of yearly renovation by fifths, which threatened to curtail the reign of the present majority, was attributed to the dread of any complete expression of public opinion. It was evident that the Bill of the Government would either be rejected or altered in such a manner as to give it a totally different character. In the Committee of the Chamber which undertook the task of drawing up amendments, the influence was first felt of a man who was soon to become the chief and guiding spirit of the Ultra-Royalist party. M. de Villèle, spokesman of the Committee, had in his youth been an officer in the navy of Louis XVI. On the dethronement of the King he had quitted the service, and settled in the Isle of Bourbon, where he gained some wealth and an acquaintance with details of business and finance rare among the French landed gentry. Returning to France under the Empire, he took up his abode near Toulouse, his native place, and was made Mayor of that city on Napoleon's second downfall. Villèle's politics gained a strong and original colour from his personal experience and the character of the province in which he lived. The south was the only part of France known to him. There the reactionary movement of 1815 had been a really popular one, and the chief difficulty of the Government, at the end of the Hundred Days, had been to protect the Bonapartists from violence. Villèle believed that throughout France the wealthier men among the peasantry were as ready to follow the priests and nobles as they were in Provence and La Vendée. His conception of the government of the future was the rule of a landed aristocracy, resting, in its struggle against monarchical centralisation and against the Liberalism of the middle class, on the conservative and religious instincts of the peasantry. Instead of excluding popular forces, Villèle welcomed them as allies. He proposed to lower the franchise to one-sixth of the sum named in the Charta, and, while retaining a system of double-election, to give a vote in the primary assemblies to every Frenchman paying annual taxes to the amount of fifty francs. In constituencies so large as to include all the more substantial peasantry, while sufficiently limited to exclude the ill-paid populace in towns, Villèle believed that the Church and the noblesse would on the whole control the elections. In the interest of the present majority he rejected the system of renovation by fifths proposed by the Government, and demanded that the present Chamber should continue unchanged until its dissolution, and the succeeding Chamber be elected entire.

[Result of debates on Electoral Bill.]

Villèle's scheme, if carried, would in all probability have failed at the first trial. The districts in which the reaction of 1815 was popular were not so large as he supposed: in the greater part of France the peasantry would not have obeyed the nobles except under intimidation. This was suspected by the majority, in spite of the confident language in which they spoke of the will of the nation as identical with their own. Villèle's boldness alarmed them: they anticipated that these great constituencies of peasants, if really left masters of the elections, would be more likely to return a body of Jacobins and Bonapartists than one of hereditary landlords. It was not necessary, however, to sacrifice the well-sounding principle of a low franchise, for the democratic vote at the first stage of the elections might effectively be neutralised by putting the second stage into the hands of the chief proprietors. The Assembly had in fact only to imitate the example of the Government, and to appoint a body of persons who should vote, as of right, by the side of the electors chosen in the primary assemblies. The Government in its own interest had designated a troop of officials as electors: the Assembly, on the contrary, resolved that in the Electoral College of each Department, numbering in all about 150 persons, the fifty principal landowners of the Department should be entitled to vote, whether they had been nominated by the primary constituencies or not. Modified by this proviso, the project of Villèle passed the Assembly. The Government saw that under the disguise of a series of amendments a measure directly antagonistic to their own had been carried. The franchise had been altered; the real control of the elections placed in the hands of the very party which was now in open opposition to the King and his Ministers. No compromise was possible between the law proposed by the Government and that passed by the Assembly. The Government appealed to the Chamber of Peers. The Peers threw out the amendments of the Lower House. A provisional measure was then introduced by Richelieu for the sake of providing France with at least some temporary rule for the conduct of elections. It failed; and the constitutional legislation of the country came to a dead-lock, while the Government and the Assembly stood face to face, and it became evident that one or the other must fall. The Ministers of the Great Powers at Paris, who watched over the restored dynasty, debated whether or not they should recommend the King to resort to the extreme measure of a dissolution.

[Contest on the Budget.]

[The Chambers prorogued, April 29.]

The Electoral Bill was not the only object of conflict between Richelieu's Ministry and the Chamber, nor indeed the principal one. The Budget excited fiercer passions, and raised greater issues. It was for no mere scheme of finance that the Government had to fight, but against a violation of public faith which would have left France insolvent and creditless in the face of the Powers who still held its territory in pledge. The debt incurred by the nation since 1813 was still unfunded. That part of it which had been raised before the summer of 1814 had been secured by law upon the unsold forests formerly belonging to the Church, and upon the Communal lands which Napoleon had made the property of the State: the remainder, which included the loans made during the Hundred Days, had no specified security. It was now proposed by the Government to place the whole of the unfunded debt upon the same level, and to provide for its payment by selling the so-called Church forests. The project excited the bitterest opposition on the side of the Count of Artois and his friends. If there was one object which the clerical and reactionary party pursued with religious fervour, it was the restoration of the Church lands: if there was one class which they had no scruple in impoverishing, it was the class that had lent money to Napoleon. Instead of paying the debts of the State, the Committee of the Chamber proposed to repeal the law of September, 1814, which pledged the Church forests, and to compel both the earlier and the later holders of the unfunded debt to accept stock in satisfaction of their claims, though the stock was worth less than two-thirds of its nominal value. The resolution was in fact one for the repudiation of a third part of the unfunded debt. Richelieu, seeing in what fashion his measure was about to be transformed, determined upon withdrawing it altogether: the majority in the Chamber, intent on executing its own policy and that of the Count of Artois, refused to recognise the withdrawal. Such a step was at once an insult and a usurpation of power. So great was the scandal and alarm caused by the scenes in the Chamber, that the Duke of Wellington, at the instance of the Ambassadors, presented a note to King Louis XVIII. requiring him in plain terms to put a stop to the machinations of his brother. [274] The interference of the foreigner provoked the Ultra-Royalists, and failed to excite energetic action on the part of King Louis, who dreaded the sour countenance of the Duchess of Angoulême more than he did Wellington's reproofs. In the end the question of a settlement of the unfunded debt was allowed to remain open. The Government was unable to carry the sale of the Church forests, the Chamber did not succeed in its project of confiscation. The Budget for the year, greatly altered in the interest of the landed proprietors, was at length brought into shape. A resolution of the Lower

History of Modern Europe 1792-1878 - 80/202

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