No. 75.
Mr. Washhurne to Mr. Fish.

No. 1367.]

Sir: France being the most centralized country of Europe and the iron hand of the great convention of 1793, which by revolutionary process molded into one great nationality the provinces so utterly different in customs, habits, laws, and modes of thought of the old monarchy, the people soon acquired the habit of calling on the government for almost everything.

In the course of a conversation with the late Emperor Napoleon, while at Compiègne in the fall of 1869, he spoke of that disposition of the [Page 124] French people to look too much to the government and to rely too little upon themselves.

He illustrated the idea by relating an incident that once happened to him while at some great fête. An old woman, after a great ado, managed to get near his person, and when asked by him what object she had in view in coming to him, answered in all seriousness that she had lost her umbrella, and that she thought it the duty of the government to give another in its place.

It is generally supposed that there is here only one budget, which provides for the machinery of the whole system of government. It is not so, however; precisely as with us, the French have three budgets: one voted by Parliament for the general expenses, one voted by the “conseils généraux,” answering to our State legislatures, for the departmental expenses, and one voted by the communes, answering to our cities, counties, and towns. The custom here is to hold the meeting of the “conseils généraux” in the fall of the year for the purpose of voting their taxes and raising their revenues to meet them. This has just been done all over France, and the “conseils généraux” have everywhere displayed great wisdom, sagacity, and moderation. It is a French practice, still adhered to, to close those sessions by a banquet, which brings all the members together in a friendly intercourse and which does much to create and perpetuate a friendly feeling among them. The budget of the communes is voted at different times during the year, according to the demand and usage in each locality.

The general budget, a very heavy one, for it has reached now the enormous sum of 3,700,000,000 francs—$740,000,000—a sum that would stagger our economical Congress, is not yet voted. Grave apprehensions are entertained that when the extra session of Parliament will be called for that purpose, a serious conflict will take place between the senate and the house.

As a conflict of this nature has just occurred in our Congress and threatened to cripple the whole governmental machinery, it may not be uninteresting to show how this question of the relative rights of the senate and the house, in regard to appropriation bills, presents itself here under the new constitution.

The same as in all modern states governed by constitutional rule, the French fundamental law has lodged in the house the privilege of originating all appropriation bills. The Senate, as it is with us, has to vote the money bills as well as all others, but, while our Constitution provides in express terms that the Senate shall have the right to amend all such bills, the French constitution says nothing of the kind, and it is con tended that the omission distinctly implies the contrary. The clause which refers to the subject is the seventh of the organic law on the Senate. It reads as follows:

The Senate shall have conjointly with the Chamber of Deputies the right of initiating and framing laws. Nevertheless, financial laws must be first presented and voted by the House.

Now, it is contended that if all the financial measures must be not only presented, but voted by the house before they can be acted upon in the Senate, that body is precluded from introducing in such laws any new provision. This is, I think, a rather narrow view of the subject, for, if it were adopted, the Senate could only reject the budget, and it would have no other means of informing the country of its motives in so doing, or of the changes it would like to introduce in the law, except by discussion which should take place in the Senate. If the intention of those who framed that part of the French constitution [Page 125] was to so limit the action of the upper house, it is difficult to understand why they have allowed that body to interfere at all in the matter.

I see, however, that men of certain notoriety in the legal profession and republican papers of high standing are of opinion that the question cannot be solved in any way which would give jurisdiction to the Senate over appropriation bills. A few days ago one of those papers, in order to strengthen the position it had taken, made the following singular parallel between the point in question and one borrowed from our Constitution:

The American Constitution [it said] provides that the President shall have the right to nominate, and, with the consent of the Senate, to appoint, public officers; therefore the Senate can approve or reject any nomination presented by the President. But who ever heard of the American Senate substituting its own nominations to those made by the President? Well, the analogy here is perfect. Financial measures, whatever they may be, must come, in France, from the House, as all nominations must come in the United States from the President. They go before the Senate in the same manner, and as in both cases that body is not empowered with the right to amend, it cannot do so

This controversy which has arisen is likely to assume a practical and special importance, from the fact that one of the measures adopted by the house, which was the most bitterly opposed by all shades of what is called here the clerical party, was the suppression of the chaplains of the regiments, and of course of all the religious practices imposed upon the soldiers, and to which they had to submit publicly as a military organization. The Catholics were very much offended by that measure, and it is well known that all their influence will be brought to bear upon the Senate, in order to induce that body to replace in the budget the appropriations for chaplains.

Should they succeed, a dead-lock, far more troublesome to the government and to the country than that we have experienced, might ensue, for the French budget is not composed, like ours, of a series of appropriation bills. It is one single law, which provides for all the expenses of the government, and of which no particular clause is valid without the others. A conflict between the upper and lower house of such a nature as to prevent the adoption of the budget, would, therefore, stop the whole machinery of the government. In view of conflicts of that kind, the rules of the two houses provide, as with us, for committees of conference, but it is difficult to see how a case like this one can be compromised. However, the question of principle will remain unsettled, and at any other time it may arise again.

As I said before, I think the intention of the National Assembly was to give the right of amendment to the Senate, and very likely they thought they had expressed themselves in such a way as to leave no room for a doubt.

It has turned out differently, but it is not the first time that laws which had received the careful attention of well-trained minds are found to contain unexpected gaps when they are submitted to trial. How deep soever may be man’s thought, it can never foresee all the circumstances which spring out of experience.

I have, &c., &c.,