History of Prussia - John S. C. Abbott

The Political Embarrassments

There is no satisfactory evidence, that, at any time during the war, the masses of the people in France were in sympathy with the self-constituted committees in Paris and Bordeaux. For obvious reasons, the populace in large cities are more liable to sudden impulses and to fickle changes than the inhabitants of the rural districts. Still, in the great cities there was no harmony of views in accepting what was called the Republic,—a usurpation which did not dare to appeal to the votes of the nation for its recognition. Even in Paris, the democratic party was so divided, that there were insurrections against the Government for the National Defence, and fearful menaces of civil war, even when the bombardment of the Prussians was shaking the windows of the Hotel de Ville.

Jules Favre, who may, perhaps, be considered a moderate republican, was at the head of the government in Paris. Gambetta, a red  republican of the most crimson die, was the leader of that portion of the government which had taken refuge in Tours, and afterwards, upon the approach of the Prussians, had escaped to Bordeaux. From the commencement of the so-called republican government, there had been ever-increasing discord between these two sections of the ruling power.

Upon the surrender of the army in Paris as prisoners of war, it is estimated that there was the almost incredible number of eight hundred thousand of unwounded French prisoners in German hands, including the emperor and the marshals of France. The victors had also captured six thousand cannon and rifles, and military stores of all kinds in amount which can scarcely be estimated. This had all been accomplished in six months. It is safe to say that no such achievements had ever before been performed in the history of this world.

Gambetta, while calling himself a republican, was probably as bitterly opposed to a true republic as any man in the empire. What he demanded was a dictatorship, with himself at its head. He forbade the convening of a National Assembly, silenced the remonstrances of the press, and suppressed the councils-general of the departments, which, under the empire, were steadily advancing in the path of local self-government. It is a painful and discouraging fact, that none have shown greater hostility to republican institutions than the French "'republicans."

Upon the announcement of the armistice by Jules Favre, Gambetta issued a very fiery proclamation, urging France to improve the short armistice in getting ready to renew the fight. The dictatorial acts of Leon Gambetta were daily assuming an aspect of increasing audacity. As Bismarck utterly refused to recognize the irresponsible Government of National Defence, and demanded the convocation of a National Assembly to organize a government which should have some claim to represent the French nation, Gambetta could not resist that demand. He, however, issued a decree, declaring that no man should be a candidate for that Assembly who was a member of any of the families which had reigned over France since 1789. This ostracized all relatives of the Bourbon, the Orleans, and the Bonaparte families. He also declared all to be disqualified for election, who, under the empire, had held office, or been candidates for office, as ministers, senators, councillors of state, or prefects of the departments.

It was his object to limit the suffrages of the French people to republican candidates alone. It would be difficult to find, under any regime, more despotic decrees than were issued by Gambetta. The Assembly was to consist of seven hundred and fifty-three delegates for all of France. "All the detailed conditions," writes a correspondent from London, "laid down for the management of the elections, are grossly in favor of the republicans now in power." On the 2nd of February, Gambetta caused a new Committee of Public Safety to be organized in Bordeaux, by which such extremists in the radical ranks as Rochefort, Louis Blanc, and Duportal, were associated with him in power.

The Paris government issued loud remonstrances against these despotic acts. In the midst of these exciting scenes of tumult and of woe, there were, every day, increasing indications that large numbers in France were earnestly desiring the return of the captive emperor, under whose sway France had enjoyed twenty years of prosperity and happiness unparalleled in all her ancient annals. A correspondent from Wilhelmshohe gives us the following glimpse of the appearance of the illustrious prisoner during these days of trial:—

"Ever since the first dispatch announcing the commencement of the bombardment of Paris reached the imperial prisoner, he seems to have been overwhelmed with grief at the misfortunes of the fair city. How very deeply it moved him is evident from a remarkable change in his features; their painful and melancholy expression indicating how he loved dear Paris, that city from which he has experienced so much wrong.

"Of the millions in and outside of France mourning its terrible destruction, who has reason to be more distressed than Napoleon III.? Are its architectural splendors, and the beauty of its boulevards and noble streets, not a monument erected, as it were, to himself, and commemorating a work, to the execution of which, during nearly twenty years, he has devoted untiring energy and pride? The beautiful city would have been an imperishable monument, speaking to generations to come of the so well-abused empire in better and more truthful language than the journals and pamphlets of the present epoch.

"Of the many who are discussing the probability of a return of the Napoleonic dynasty, none consider for a moment that the greatest of all obstacles has first to be overcome; namely, that the emperor may refuse his consent. The possibility of such an occurrence may be doubted by those who have endeavored, for a series of years, to portray the Emperor of the French in false colors, and to caricature him before their contemporaries. They may doubt that the prisoner of Wilhelmshohe would reject that dignity of which he has been deprived by a comparatively small number of demagogues. Let me endeavor to give you a few hints respecting the aforementioned obstacles.

"At first, there is that sentiment expressed by the emperor, spoken of in a former letter to you,—that the whole people only, through their legal representatives, have a right to recall the emperor. Neither the army, nor the Prussian Government, nor the demands of party, could induce his return. The entire people are entitled to repair the great wrong perpetrated against his person by those political leaders who forced him into this war, and who profited by the hour of misfortune to carry out their long-prepared and sinister designs."

Each day brought increasing indications of the antagonism between Jules Favre with his associates at Paris, and Leon Gambetta and his associates at Bordeaux. Messages of defiance passed between them. The following extracts from the public journals will show the state of affairs on the 7th of February, the day before the general election of members for the National Assembly was to take place:—

"There is little to be expected from the Bordeaux wing of the government. The very power at present wielded by the fire-eaters who control it is a usurpation of the legitimate authority which really belongs to the Paris government. Yet from this very hot-bed of the worst radicalism, misnamed republicanism, which the world has witnessed in this generation, the immediate destinies of a great nation must come forth. If the teachings of Gambetta and his followers prevail, the most direful results to the French people must follow.

"Henri Rochefort is again coming to the surface from the obscurity into which the startling events of the past year had cast him. Now he appears on the stage, if report speaks truly, as an advocate of assassination. Gambetta, Rochefort, Flourens,—these, and men of like character and similar associations, are the men who propose to regenerate France, and found what they call a republic, but what sensible and thinking people consider would prove a despotism far worse than that of the empire.

"The situation to-day is pitiful, and in all respects unworthy of a great people. France herself is divided. The Imperialists are in bad repute; the Orleanists are of doubtful value; the Legitimists are nowhere; the Republicans—behold the situation of the hour!"

Feb. 8, 1871.—The news flashed across the wires from ill-fated France to-day was as follows:—

"France presents the melancholy spectacle of a once proud and powerful nation at the mercy of a noisy, turbulent, and unprincipled crew of demagogues. Special dispatches from Paris, Bordeaux, Lyons, and other points throughout the country, serve to show the wretched character of the majority of the men who are candidates for the National Assembly. It seems as though the very slums of Paris, Bordeaux, Lyons, and Marseilles, have thrown up their refuse to be used by the unprincipled demagogues who wield temporary power in France. While famishing people cry for bread in the streets of Paris, the mob yell for a Robespierre and the guillotine. In the agony of their despair, the terror-stricken people suffer in silence, afraid to speak their thoughts, or raise their hands to save themselves from the tide of violence which threatens them with destruction. The mob rule, and despotism is the law. Truly France is suffering. Bleeding from every pore, paralyzed in every part, humiliated, cast down, and prostrate, she is even now, in this bitter hour, tormented by the dissensions and evil teachings of her children." [Correspondence of the New York Herald.]

Jules Favre and his colleagues were in disfavor because they had agreed to an armistice. The feeling against Gambetta was increasing. Red republicanism of the worst type began to show itself. One orator at a public meeting declared that a Robespierre was required, and that the guillotine alone could save France. This declaration, so bloodthirsty, was received with yells of delight.

"In keeping with this atrocious sentiment, we have the fact that most of the Paris candidates for the Assembly are men taken from the slums of Belleville and St. Antoine,—men notorious for their violence, recklessness, and lack of ability. We have no doubt that these villains, madmen, and fanatics are a minority of the population: but, unfortunately; they are the party of action; compact, and united against the party of order; divided, and irreconcilable in their division."

Jules Favre and his colleagues seem to dread approaching anarchy. Already their arrest and trial were advocated; and one speaker (M. Gaillard) denounced them as twelve bandits who have sold Paris for gold. Rochefort's and Pyat's newspapers breathed nothing but revolution and vengeance. While the political situation was thus terrible, the horrors of starvation were commencing their reign.

On the 8th of February, the election of delegates to the National Assembly took place throughout France. In view of this event, the Emperor Napoleon, from his captivity at Wilhelmshohe, issued the following proclamation to the French people. The proclamation gave great satisfaction to his friends, and was reviled by his enemies.

"Wilhelmshones, Feb. 8, 1871.

"Betrayed by fortune, I have kept, since my captivity, a profound silence, which is misfortune's mourning. As long as the armies confronted each other, I abstained from any steps or words capable of causing party dissensions; but I can no longer remain silent before my country's disaster without appearing insensible to its sufferings. When I was made a prisoner, I could not treat for peace, because my resolutions would appear to have been dictated by personal considerations. I left a regent to decide whether it was for the interest of the nation to continue the struggle. Notwithstanding unparalleled reverses, France was unsubdued; but her strongholds were reduced, her departments invaded, and Paris brought into a state of defence. The extent of her misfortunes might possibly have been limited; but, while attention was directed to her enemies, insurrection arose at Paris, the seat of representatives was violated, the safety of the empress threatened, and the empire, which had been three times acclaimed by the people, was overthrown and abandoned.

"Stilling my presentiments, I exclaimed, 'What matter my dynasty, if the country is saved?' Instead of protesting against the violation of my right, I hoped for the success of the defence, and admired the patriotic devotion of the children of France. Now, when the struggle is suspended, and all reasonable chance of victory has disappeared, is the time to call to account the usurpers for the bloodshed and ruin and squandered resources. It is impossible to abandon the destinies of France to an unauthorized government to which was left no authority emanating from universal suffrage. Order, confidence, and solid peace, are only recoverable when the people are consulted  respecting the government most capable of repairing the disasters to the country. It is essential that France should be united in her wishes. For myself, banished by injustice and bitter deceptions, I do not know or claim my repeatedly confirmed rights. There is no room for personal ambition. But till the people are regularly assembled, and express their will, it is my duty to say that all acts are illegitimate. There is only one government, in which resides the national sovereignty, able to heal wounds, to bring hope to fire-sides, to re-open profaned churches, and to restore industry, concord, and peace."

The result of these elections proved that France was by no means disposed to intrust her destiny to those reckless men, who, by the aid of the mob of Paris, had usurped the government, and established a despotism which they dared not submit to the suffrages of the French people, and which they yet absurdly called the Republic. Notwithstanding there were several hundred thousand imperial soldiers prisoners in Germany, and who consequently could not vote, France, by a vote of more than four to one, rejected the self-constituted government of Jules Favre, Leon Gambetta, and their colleagues, and elected candidates pledged to some form of monarchy. Though the great cities chose as delegates the most radical of the red republicans, the departments returned men of a very different character.

"The loose materials of the great cities, which have nothing to lose and much to gain from a republic of the communist order, calling for a new division of all the lands and property in France among all the people, have gone for the Gambetta republicans. On the other hand, the property-holders, including the peasantry on their small estates, prefer things as they are to any change which threatens to dispossess them. And, again, the Catholic clergy in France see in Gambetta, Garibaldi, and company, only the enemies of their church, aiming at its destruction; and so the influence of the Church has been wielded against the republic."

On the 16th of February, reliable tidings were received in this country of the result of the elections, and of the probable character of the Assembly. In view of the facts announced, The New York Herald  makes the following remarks, which will commend themselves to the intelligent reader:—

"To-day France presents a fresh spectacle for world-wide observation and study. No part of the world looks on more attentively, or questions more acutely, than the United States of America; and it is not unfair to say that this people have ceased to have any faith in France.

"This day, while we write, she is no longer the hope of Europe: what is worse, she is either the object of pity or the object of contempt. Republicans as we are, we have to confess it with sorrow, that we can no longer look to France as the possible regenerator of Europe. She had a glorious first opportunity. That first was lost or flung away. The opportunity has been again and again repeated, but always with the same result. How can we longer hope or trust?

"We are now face to face with new facts. After a defeat which has no parallel in history, France has been, by the magnanimity of the conqueror, permitted to pronounce on her own destiny. She has had, perhaps, the fairest chance of speaking out the thoughts that are within her that she ever had in her whole history; and she has once again, and most emphatically, spoken in a manner which is disappointing to all those who love republican institutions.

"The results of the recent elections are clearly, as all our readers must now be fully convinced, in favor of monarchy. It is not yet time to say what is the exact complexion of the Assembly; but if it be true that the house of Orleans has practically polled four hundred votes as against a hundred and fifty for the republic, fifty for the old Bourbons or Legitimists, and twenty for the Bonapartes, we have no choice but say France is not yet ripe and ready for citizen sovereignty. Look at the National Assembly to-day from what point of view we may, we can come to no other conclusion than this,—that France has heartily, and with not a little emphasis, condemned the empire and the Bonapartes, condemned the republic and the infidels and the communists, condemned divine right, and the old Bourbons, and gone in, if not for Philip Egalite, at least for the principles represented by his son, the citizen-king. No more empire, no more republic, but the constitution of 1830, and a citizen-king,—that is the result of the elections which have just been finished in France, and which are represented in the National Assembly of to-day.

"Why is it so? Why are our republican hopes once more blasted?" Why is this fresh French opportunity lost to France and the world? The answer to these questions is not far to seek. Under the bright sunshine of the empire, France indulged in proud memories, was happy and gay, despised all shadow, and dreamed of no sorrow. What had the empire not done? It had made France the central, the pivotal power of Europe. For twenty years, the word of France, spoken by the emperor, was a word of authority which no nation on the face of the earth could afford to despise. Did not the empire humble Russia? Did not the empire give Italy unity? Did not the empire compel Prussia to halt at Sadowa? Was not the empire the bulwark of the Papacy? Was it not the hope of all struggling nationalities? Was it not, as it once had been, a match for the world in arms? Was not Paris, adorned by the empire, the eye of the civilized world, even as Corinth, was once said to be the eye of Greece?

"Since Sedan, the so-called republic, headed by men who dared not appeal to the French people,—because they knew that French Catholics could not and would not trust infidels, and that French proprietors could not and would not trust communists,—has had its chance; but the failure of the so-called republic has been more complete, more disastrous, and, if possible, more ignominious, than that of the empire. If France was humbled by the surrender of Sedan, France is squelched by the surrender and occupation of Paris. It is not for us to say whether France has been just or unjust to the empire, just or unjust to the republic. We must accept facts. The facts are represented in the National Assembly; and the National Assembly is just as little imperialist or republican as it is legitimist. If the stars have any meaning, the star which France and the rest of the civilized world see rising out of this six-months' darkness shines benignantly on the house of Orleans."

The victory of Prussia is complete. France is humbled and prostrate beyond all possibility of retrievement for generations to come. And what has Germany gained? Upon this theme The New York World  makes the following sensible observations:—

"But the most far-reaching consequence of this war is the unification of Germany. It brings under one government a territory and population about equal to those of France at the beginning of the war. The area of the new German Empire is 206,575 English square miles; containing, in 1867, a population of 38,522,336. Both area and population will be somewhat increased by the French provinces retained. The area of France, previous to her losses, was 207,480 square miles; and her population, in 1866, was 38,067,094: so she will hereafter be inferior to Germany both in territory and inhabitants. She will have the further disadvantage of a much heavier public debt. The national debt of France in 1869 was, in round numbers, $2,766,000,000 of our money; while the aggregate debts of the several countries now united to form the German Empire amounted, in the same year, to only $538,500,000, and bore quite as low a rate of interest. The public debt of France was five times as great as the collective debts which will be consolidated by German unity; and the disproportion will be greatly increased by this terrible war, since France, besides defraying her own expenses, will have to reimburse a part of the expenses of Germany.

"What advantages, aside from national weight and importance, will attend the knitting-together of the German States into one empire, cannot yet be estimated. At present, the prospect looks unfavorable to the development of free institutions. The empire will be too powerful to be resisted by any of the small States which have been merged in it. None of the local governments will be any further respected than suits the convenience of the central authority for purposes of local administration. The present rulers of Germany are the last men in Europe to make any voluntary concessions to popular rights; and their power of repression is manifestly strengthened by the new ascendency which this war has given them over the national mind. But the Emperor William, who will complete his seventy-fourth year on the 22nd of March must, in the course of nature, give place ere long to the Crown Prince, who may not inherit his father's narrow and bigoted notions and arrogant temper. His education has been more liberal; and his English marriage would naturally have brought him into contact with some people who might give his mind, if it is at all open and receptive, some tincture of British politics. But, if the haughty and unscrupulous Bismarck should continue to be prime-minister, his stronger character and astuter intellect would be likely to mould the government."