Frederick Engels in The Northern Star
Source: MECW Volume 6, p. 213;
Written: 26 June 1847;
First published: in The Northern Star July 3, 1847 with an editorial note: “From our own correspondent in the French capital”
The English stage had better give over playing The School for Scandal [Sheridan, The School for Scandal], for, indeed, the greatest school of this sort has been set up in Paris, in the Chamber of Deputies. The amount of scandalous matter collected and brought forward there during the last four or five weeks, is really unprecedented in the annals of parliamentary discussion. You recollect the inscription Mr. Duncombe once proposed for your own glorious House of Commons, “The most degrading and infamous proceedings take place within these walls”. Well, here is a match for your own set of middle-class legislators; here are proceedings which will put British rascality to the blush. The honour of Old England is saved; Mr. Roebuck is outdone by. M. de Girardin; Sir James Graham is beaten by M. Duchâtel.
I shall not undertake to give you the whole list of scandalous affairs brought to the light within the last few weeks; I shall not say a word about the several dozen of bribery cases brought before the juries; not a word about M. Gudin, the ordnance officer of the King, who, not without some degree of cleverness, made an attempt to introduce the habits of the swell mob into the, palace of the Tuileries; I shall not give you a lengthy report of the dirty affair of Gen. Cubières, peer of France, formerly Minister of War, who, under pretext of bribing the ministry into granting the concession of allowing the formation of a mining company, cheated the said company out of forty shares, which he coolly put into his own pocket, and on account of which he is now under trial before the Chamber of Peers. No; I shall give you only a few choice bits — a few samples taken from two or three sittings of the Deputies, which will enable you to judge of the rest.
M. Emile de Girardin, deputy and editor of the daily paper La Presse, supporting in both characters the new party of Progressive Conservatives, and for a considerable time past one of the most violent opponents of the Ministry, whom until lately he had supported, is a man of great talent and activity, but without any principles. From the beginning of his public career he unhesitatingly employed any means to make himself an important public character. It was he who forced Armand Carrel, the celebrated editor of the National, to a duel, and shot him, thus delivering himself from a dangerous competitor. The support of such a man, proprietor of an influential paper, and member of the Chamber of Deputies, was of course very important to the government; but M. de Girardin sold his support (for he always sold it) at a very high price. There was a deal of business transacted between M. de Girardin and the Ministry, but not always to the complete satisfaction of both parties. In the meantime, M. de Girardin prepared himself for any turn which affairs might take. Foreseeing the probability of a rupture with the Guizot Ministry, he collected accounts of scandalous transactions, bribings, and traffickings, which he was in the best position to learn, and which were brought to him by his friends and agents in high places. The turn which party discussions took this session showed to him that the fall of Guizot and Duchâtel was approaching. He was one of the principal actors in the formation of the new “Progressive Conservative” party, and repeatedly threatened the government with the full weight of his wrath, if they persisted in their course. M. Guizot refused, in pretty scornful terms, any compromise with the new party. These detached themselves from the majority, and annoyed the government by their opposition. The financial and other discussions of the Chamber unveiled so much scandal, that MM. Guizot and Duchâtel were obliged to throw several of their colleagues overboard in order to save themselves. The vacant places, however, were filled by such insignificant men, that no party was satisfied, and the Ministry were rather weakened than fortified. Then came Cubières’ affair, which elicited some doubts, even in the majority, as to the possibility to keep M. Guizot in office. Now, at last, when he saw the Ministry totally disorganised and weakened, now M. de Girardin thought the moment had arrived when he might bring forth his Pandora’s box of scandal, and achieve the ruin of a tottering government, by revelations fit to shake the faith even of the “belly” of the Chamber.
He commenced by accusing the Ministry of having sold a peerage for 80,000 francs, but of not having kept their promise, after pocketing the money! The House of Peers found themselves insulted by this assertion made in La Presse, and asked leave from the Deputies to bring M. de Girardin before their bar. This demand occasioned a discussion in the Deputies, in the course of which M. de Girardin fully maintained his assertion, declaring he was in possession of the proofs, but refusing to give any names, as he would not play the part of a delator. He said, however, that three times he had mentioned the matter privately to M. Guizot, who never denied the fact, and that once he spoke about it to M. Duchâtel, who replied — “It was done during my absence, and I afterwards disapproved of it; it was M. Guizot who did it.” The whole of this was flatly denied by M. Duchâtel. “Then,” said M. de Girardin, “I will give you the proof that the Ministry is quite in the habit of proposing such transactions”; and he read a letter from General Alexander de Girardin (the father, I believe, of M. Emile de Girardin; the latter is an illegitimate child) to the King. This letter expressed General de G.’s gratitude for the offer of a peerage made to him, but said at the same time, that M. Guizot having afterwards made it a condition of the grant that he (General de C.) should use his influence with M. Emile de G. to prevent him opposing the government, General de G. would be no party to such ;i transaction, and, therefore, declined the peerage. “O!” said M. Duchâtel, “if this is all, we will just mention that M. Emile de Girardin himself offered to us to cease his opposition if we would make him a peer, but we declined that offer.” Hinc illae lacrimae! [Hence these tears — Terence, Andria] But Duchâtel replied not a word to the allegation contained in the letter. The Chamber then voted that M. Emile de G . should be delivered up to the peers for trial. He was tried, sustained the allegation, but declared, the sold peerages not having been made out, he could not have attacked the Chamber of Peers, but only the government. The peers then acquitted him. Girardin then brought forward another scandalous affair. There was got up last year a large paper, called the Epoque, which was to support the government, to beat all opposition papers out of the market, and to supersede the costly support of M. de Girardin’s Presse. The experiment signally failed; partly, too, through the intrigues of M. de Girardin himself, who has his finger in every pie of that sort. Now, M. Duchâtel had answered, when charged with bribing the press, that the government had never paid any subsidies to any paper. M. de Girardin, against this assertion, maintained the notorious fact, that M. Duchâtel, after a deal of begging on the part of the editors of the Epoque, had told them: “Well, gold and silver I have none; but what I have that will I give unto you”; and had given them the privilege for a third opera-house for Paris, which privilege the “gents” of the Epoque sold for 100,000 f., of which sum 60,000 f. were spent in support of the paper, and the remaining 40,000 f. went nobody knows where to. This, too, was flatly denied by M. Duchâtel; but the fact is notorious.
There were, besides, some similar transactions brought forward by M. de Girardin, but these samples will be quite sufficient. Yesterday, in the Chamber of Deputies, M. de Girardin again got up and read some letters, from which it appeared that M. Duchâtel has caused the discussion in the above peerage affair to be printed at the public expense, and sent it to all town councils in the country; but that in this ministerial report neither M. de Girardin’s nor M. Duchâtel’s speeches were correctly reported; but, on the contrary, both of them were arranged so as to make M. de Girardin appear as a ridiculous calumniator, and M. Duchâtel in the light of the purest and most virtuous of men. As to the matter itself, he repeated all his assertions, and defied the government either to have them disproved by a parliamentary committee, or to bring him before a jury as a slanderer. In both cases, he said, he should be bound to give the names of the parties and all particulars, and thus be enabled to prove his accusations without placing himself in the position of a common informer. This excited a general storm in the Chamber. M. Duchâtel denied; M. de Girardin re-asserted; M. Duchâtel re-denied: M. de Girardin re-reasserted, and so on, the whole accompanied by the shouts and counter-shouts of the “choruses” of the Chamber. Other opposition members again defied the Ministry to have the matter looked into either by parliamentary inquiry, or by a trial. At last M. Duchâtel said, —
“A Parliamentary inquiry, gentlemen, would presuppose a doubt in the integrity of the government on the part of the majority; and, therefore, the day this inquiry should be granted our places would be occupied by others than us; if you have any doubt tell us so plainly, and we shall resign immediately."
"Then,” said M. de Girardin, “there remains nothing but a trial. I am ready to undergo it; place me before a jury, if you dare."
"No,” said M. Hébert, Minister of Justice, “we shall not, because the majority of the Chamber will judge."
"But,” said M. Odilon Barrot, “this is not a political question; it is a legal one, and such a question is not within our competence, but of that of the public courts of law. if M. de Girardin has calumniated the government in his paper, why do you not have him tried for it?"
"Well, but there is a plain allegation against other parties, too, of trafficking in peerages; why not bring them up? And this affair with the Epoque and the opera privilege — if you are no parties to that, as you say, why do you not bring up those who are parties to such villainous traffic? Here are plain incriminations, and even partial proofs of crimes said to have been committed; why do not the lawyers of the Crown prosecute the alleged perpetrators of these crimes, as is their duty?"
"We do not get up a prosecution,” replied M. Hébert, “because the character of the allegations, and the character of those who bring them forward, is not such as to make the truth of these allegations anything like probable to the legal advisers of the Crown!”
All this was every moment interrupted by groaning, shouting, knocking and all sorts of noises in general. This incomparable sitting, which has shaken the Guizot Ministry to its very foundation, was concluded by a vote, which proves, that if the faith of the majority may be shaken, their system of voting is not!
“The Chamber, after having heard the explanations of the Ministry, and found them satisfactory, passes to the order of the day!”
What do you think of that.? Which do you prefer, the ministry or the majority, the Deputies of France or your own Commons? M. Duchâtel or Sir James Graham? I dare say you will find the choice a difficult one. There ;s, however, one difference betwixt them. The English middle classes have, up to this day, to struggle against an aristocracy, which, although in a state of dissolution and decomposition, is not yet removed. The aristocracy of England — always found some support in one fraction or the other of the middle classes themselves, and it was this division of the middle classes that saved the aristocracy from total ruin. At this moment the aristocracy is supported by the fund-holders, bankers, and owners of fixed incomes, and by a large part of the shipping trade against the manufacturers. The whole agitation for the repeal of the Corn Laws proves this. The advanced fraction of the English middle classes, therefore (I mean the manufacturers) will yet be able to carry out some progressive political measures which will more and more decompose the aristocracy. They will even be obliged to do so; they must extend their markets, which they cannot do without reducing their prices, which reduction must be preceded by a reduced cost of production, which reduced cost of production is mainly obtained by reduced wages, for reducing which there is no safer means than reduced price of the necessaries of life; and, to obtain this, they have no other means but reducing the taxes. This is the logical chain which ties the manufacturers of England to the necessity of destroying the Established Church, and reducing, or “equitably adjusting”, the National Debt. Both these measures, and others in the same spirit, they will be forced to carry out as soon as they find, which they must, the market of the world insufficient to continually and regularly buy up their produce. Thus the English middle classes are, as yet, in a progressive direction; they have an aristocracy and a privileged clergy to overthrow; there are certain progressive measures which they will be forced to carry, and which they are the fit and proper persons to carry. But the French middle classes are in a different position. There is no aristocracy of birth, nor a landed aristocracy, in that country. The revolution has swept it entirely away. Neither is there a privileged or Established Church; but on the contrary, both Catholic and Protestant clergy receive their salaries from the government, and are upon a footing of perfect equality. There is no important struggle possible in France between the fund-holders, bankers, shippers, and manufacturers, because, of all fractions of the middle classes the fund-holders and bankers (who, at the same time, are the principal shareholders in the railway, mining, and other companies) are decidedly the strongest fraction, and have, with a few interruptions only, ever since 1830, held the reins of government. The manufacturers, kept down by foreign competition in the foreign market, and threatened in their own, have no chance of growing to such a degree of power, that they successfully might struggle against the bankers and fund-holders. On the contrary, their chance decreases every year; their party in the Deputies, formerly one-half, is now not more than a third part of the Chamber. It results from all this that neither a single fraction, nor the whole of the ruling middle classes, are in a position to carry out anything like “progress”; that the government of the bourgeoisie is so fully established in France since the revolution of 1830, that the ruling class could do nothing but wear themselves out. This they have done. Instead of progressing, they were obliged to go backwards, to restrain the liberty of the press; to take away the right of free association and meeting; to make all sorts of exceptional laws in order to keep down the working people. And the scandalous affairs brought forward within the last few weeks are the evident proof that the ruling bourgeoisie of France are entirely worn out, totally “used up”.
Indeed, the high bourgeoisie are in an awkward position. They had found, at last, in Guizot and Duchâtel, the men to govern them. They kept them in office seven years, and sent them at every election larger and larger majorities. And now, when all opposing fractions had been reduced to the utmost impotency in the Chamber, — now when Guizot and Duchâtel’s days of glory seemed to have arrived, at that very moment a mass of scandal is discovered in the doings of the Ministry, that makes it impossible for them to remain in office, even if supported unanimously by the Chambers. There can be no doubt that Guizot and Duchâtel will, with their colleagues, resign very shortly; they may drag on their ministerial existence a few weeks longer, but their end is drawing nigh — very nigh. And who is to govern after them? God knows! They may say, as Louis XV, “after me the deluge, ruin, and confusion”. Thiers is unable to bring together a majority. Molé is an old, worn-out, and insignificant man, who will meet all sorts of difficulties, and who, in order to secure the support of the majority, must commit similar scandalous actions, and therefore, end in the same way as Guizot. This is the principal difficulty. The present electors will always elect a majority like that now sitting; the present majority will always require a ministry like that of Guizot and Duchâtel, committing all sorts of scandal; any ministry doing so will be overthrown by the mere weight of public opinion. This is the vicious circle in which the present system moves. But to go on as heretofore is impossible. What, then, is to be done? There is no other course but to leave this circle, to pass a measure of Electoral Reform; and Electoral Reform means admission of the smaller tradesmen to the Suffrage, and this means, in France, “the beginning of the end”. Rothschild and Louis Philippe know very well, both of them, that admission of the smaller “bourgeoisie” to the Suffrage means nothing but “LA RÉPUBLIQUE!”
Paris, June 26th, 1847