Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

Chap. entire change in the system of administration, both ex

XI1' ternal and internal; one session might undo everything.

1824. how beneficial soever, which the preceding session had done. The effect of this was not only to deprive Government of anything like a fixed or consistent character, but to keep alive party ambition and the spirit of faction in the legislature, from the near prospect which was constantly afforded to either party of dispossessing their antagonists, and seating themselves in power. Add to this, that the annual renewal of a fifth of the Chamber kept the people in a continual ferment, and aggravated the evils of corruption and undue influence, by concentrating the whole efforts of parties annually on a fifth only of the entire electors. And as to the danger of the lAnn Hist legislature ceasing to represent public opinion, that was u'm8vH4; 8reater m appearance than reality, because, as the king 276,277; had the power of dissolution, he could at any time give

Cap. vui. r .. .. , J °

265,271. the people an opportunity of making any change on this which they might desire."1

Strong as these arguments were, and powerfully as Argument they spoke to a Government now, for the first time for Bide. ten years, in possession of a decided majority in the popular branch of the legislature, there were considerations on the other side, less pressing at the moment, but perhaps still more important in the end. "The change," it was answered, "proposes to repeal a vital part of the Charter, which expressly provides for the annual renewal of a fifth of the Chamber, and, contrary to the whole principles of representative government, goes to introduce an entire change into the constitution. The great, the lasting danger to be apprehended from the alteration is, that it tends to make the king independent of the popular voice, and may bring his legislature into such discredit with the nation as, in troubled times, may induce the most terrible convulsions, in pacific, totally destroying its utility. What is the use, where is the moral influence, of a legislature which is at variance with the

XII.

18-23.

great body of the nation? A senate which is merely to Chap. record the decrees of an emperor, in order to take from him their responsibility, may be a convenient appendage of despotism, but it is no part of the institutions of a free people. But the legislature, if elected for seven years certain, without any means of infusing into it, during that long period, any new blood, any fresh ideas, runs the most imminent hazard of degenerating into such an instrument of despotism. In vain are we told that the monarch may dissolve it, and thus bring in another more in harmony with the general opinion at the moment. What security have we that he will adopt this wise and temperate course \ Is it not next to certain that he will do just the reverse? If the crown is at issue with the people upon some question which strongly interests both, is it probable that the Government will adopt the course of dissolving a legislature which is favourable to its views, and introducing one which is adverse to them \ As well may you expect a general to disband his faithful guards, and raise a new body of defenders from the ranks of his enemies. And what is to be expected from such a blind reliance of the Crown on an immovable legislature, but such an accumulation of discontent and ill-1 .An.,!;.Hist

vil. 1/1,

humour in the nation, as cannot fail, on the Grst occa- WS; Mosion when the passions of the people are strongly excited, Si), i823."y to overturn the monarchy I"1

Notwithstanding the strength of these arguments, the justice of which was so fatally verified by the event, the proposed bill, which fixed the duration of the Chamber at seven years, passed both branches of the legislature aAnn by large majorities, the numbers in the Deputies being vi. 104,203. 292 to 87, in the Peers 117 to 64.2

The next great measure of the session encountered a more serious opposition, and was ultimately unsuccessful. Law for the The project of Government, which was brought forward fnt^'toV* by the Finance Minister on 5th April, was to take ad- aheebrtion*l vantage of the present high rate of interest, to convert

Chap. the 5 per cents into 3 per cents, taking the latter at 75. x" They had made arrangements with the leading bankers

1823. iu Paris to advance the requisite funds to pay off such of the public creditors as should decline to submit to the reduction, the lenders of the money receiving the new 3 per cents stock at the same rate. This measure, it was calculated, would effect a reduction in the annual charge of the debt of 30,000,000 francs (£1,200,000), and at the same time would establish the credit of Government and the nation on the most solid foundation, by demoniAnn. Hist . strating the trust of the leading capitalists in the inte

vn. 36, 37; °. . . . ii 3

Moniteur, gnty of its administration, and the magnitude of its re1823; ctP!' sources; while, by effecting so great a diminution of the 285.283' public burdens, it might pave the way for ulterior measures, which would close the last wounds of the Revolution.1 It was ascertained at this time that there were 250,000 whieh'ia persons in France holders of Government annuities, of thTnepiL whom more than a half held right to only 500 francs thrown out (^0) a-year or under. The public funds were thus the ]pJn" great savings-bank of the nation; and it might easily have been foreseen, what the event soon proved, that the proposal to reduce their incomes would excite the most violent commotions. Nothing, accordingly, could exceed the violence with which it was assailed, both in the legislature and in the public journals; and every dav that the discussion lasted, the public excitement became greater. Such, however, was the influence of Government in the Royalist Chamber, that, after a prolonged discussion, and having encountered the most violent opposition, it passed the Deputies, on the 3d May, by a majority of 238 to 145. But the result was different in the Peers, where, on the 31st July, it was thrown out by a majority ,Moniteur of ^4, the numbers being 128 to 94. It was particularly Aug4|am1' observed, that M. de Chateaubriand, though holding the 1823; Ann. situation of Foreign Secretary, did not speak in favour 85,168.' of the ministerial project, and that several of his party, both in the Peers and Commons, voted against it.2

lu forming an opinion on this decision, it is necessary Chap. to distinguish between the situation of the holders of stock XI1'

in the English and French funds. In the former, where 1B23the whole debt has been contracted by money advanced Reflections at different times to Government, it is impossible to dis- cWon.* Depute that, if a succeeding administration are in a situation ["eKngUah to repay the capital sum borrowed, the holder of the stock J^tencb has no reason to complain. In this country, accordingly, various parts of the public debt have at different times undergone a reduction of interest, without the slightest complaint, or imputation of injustice to Government. But the case is widely different in France. There the public debt consisted almost entirely of perpetual annuities, or "rentes," as they are called, which were contracted by Government for no principal sum advanced at any one time, but as a compensation for the bankruptcies, spoliations, and confiscations of the Revolution, when twothirds of the national debt were swept away, or in consideration of sums advanced to extricate Government from its embarrassments, or to effect the liberation of the territory in 1818. It was an essential condition of all such advances and arrangements, that the annuity was to be perpetual, and it was the understanding that it was to be such which constituted its principal marketable value. To transfer to these holders of rents the principles rightly applied to the English loans of capital was obviously un-lu just, and therefore there seems to be no doubt that the 277,728;' decision of the House of Peers on this momentous question was consonant to justice.1

The rejection of this law gave the utmost satisfaction in Paris, and was celebrated by bonfires in the streets, Splendid and all the noisy ebullitions of popular rejoicing. It led Ke°ch»to one result, however, of a very important character, and tcaubriamlwhich, in its ultimate results, was eminently prejudicial to the Government of the Restoration. M. de Chateaubriand was not personally agreeable to Louis XVIII., and he was the object of undisguised jealousy to the whole

Chap, administration. This is noways surprising; genius always is so. Power hates intellectual influence, medio

1823- crity envies renown, ambition dreads rivalry. Obsequious talent, useful ability, is what they all desire, for they aid without endangering them. In truth, since the successful issue of the Spanish war, the position of Chateaubriand had become so commanding that it overbalanced that of the Prime Minister himself. He united in his own person the political influence of Mr Canning, and the literary fame of Sir Walter Scott. This was more than human nature could bear; a similar combination of political and military power had roused the jealousy which proved fatal to Marlborough. The conduct of Chateaubriand and his friends, on the question of reduction of the rentes, had indicated a desire to court popularity, which was suspected, not without reason, to spring from a secret design to supplant the Prime Minister.

M. de Villele saw his danger, and resolved to anticiHudimiss-pate the blow. The day after the vote in the Peers on ofiursha' the rentes, M. de Chateaubriand received a notification, Victor. in ^e col^est terms, from M. de Villele, that his services were no longer required at the Foreign Office; and, to make the dismissal the more galling, it was sent by a common menial. The portfolio of Foreign Affairs was bestowed on M. de Damas; and at the same time the office of Minister at War Mas given to M. ClermontTonnerre, in room of Marshal Victor, who received his bSndt*" dismissal. Chateaubriand, who was very ambitious, and, d-outre w'tn all ms great qualities, inordinately vain, felt his fall iT^h keenty , ne had not manliness enough to act a noble part 4l,?- , ifTM- on the occasion; he avenged the minister on the throne;

vii. 287

292; cap. and the pen which had mainly contributed to the restora312^ ' tion of the Bourbons, became one of the most powerful agents in bringing about their fall.1

The remainder of the session presented nothing worthy

« ForrigeFortsett »