to Mr. Evarts.
Paris, March 14, 1879. (Received March 28.)
Sir: Last evening the Chamber of Deputies, which is now the real seat of power in Prance, disposed finally of the question of the impeachment of the De Broglie and Rocheboüet ministries, after an animated debate of six hours, by rejecting the proposition of impeachment by 158 majority, and then passing a severe censure upon those ministries.
It is now fifteen months since the utter discomfiture and retirement of the two successive ministries which endeavored to carry out a reactionary movement in accordance with what is known as the policy of the 16th of May, and during all that time the question of their impeachment has been before the public. As the passions of the hour died out it diminished in interest, and few watched the proceedings of the committee charged with the question until a few days ago, when the committee was about to report in favor of the impeachment, it suddenly developed into a matter of cardinal importance by the declaration of Mr. Waddington, the prime minister, that the present ministry would oppose the impeachment as inopportune and unwise, and would resign if the proposition was not defeated, and defeated by a vote which should include a majority of the Republicans. There has been no doubt for some time that the impeachment would be defeated, for the whole of the members belonging to the Eight were sure to vote against the impeachment of their former chiefs; but whether the majority against it would [Page 337] be so great as to include also a majority of the whole of the groups of the Left, has been doubted. Hence the great anxiety with which this debate has been watched by business men and the general public, who care less for ordinary political struggles, but dread ministerial crises and changes.
By the French constitution the impeachment of a cabinet for political acts, whether it is proposed while it is in power or after it has retired, must be directed against the whole cabinet jointly. Individual members can only be impeached for individual acts. The impeachment resotion reported by Mr. Brisson from the committee, therefore, provided for the impeachment and trial before the senate of all the members of the De Broglie ministry, as well as their immediate successors, the Rocheboüet ministry, who for a short time continued the policy of the 16th of May.
The chamber met at 2.30 p.m. as usual, and nearly five hundred members were in their seats from the first moment. Every possible place in the galleries was occupied long before.
Mr. Gambetta, the president of the chamber, reminded the members at the opening of the debate that they were sitting as the national grand jury.
Two ineffectual attempts to divert or prevent the debate were made by members of the right—Mr. Lenglé, a Bonapartist, who tried to introduce an attack upon the minister of finances, Mr. Léon Say; and Mr. Baudry-d’Asson, who demanded the previous question, which was not supported.
Mr. Léon Renault then ascended the tribune. His clear and incisive eloquence and his personal character as a conservative republican who has rendered great services to the cause of free government insured him the attention of the house. It must not be understood, however, that by giving attention to a speaker a French assembly keeps silence. On the contrary, the interruptions of approval, the strong murmurs of dissent, the animated and loud responses to every utterance of the speaker are the disorderly and noisy marks of attention which sometimes extinguish for a moment the voice of the orator. He spoke against the impeachment of the De Broglie and Rocheboüet ministries as ill-timed and ill-advised, which he could do without suspicion of favoring their acts, as he had denounced them at the time, from that very tribune while those men were in power, with unsparing severity. He sustained the present ministry in the position it had taken so promptly and boldly; he cited the authority of the recent prime minister, Mr. Dufaure, in support of the same view, and he appealed to the chamber to govern and not agitate the country.
Mr. Brisson, the author of the committee’s report, and of the resolution of impeachment, followed in a forcible and ingenious speech of an hour, denouncing the iniquities of the De Broglie ministry, its conspiracy to overturn the republican government which it had been charged to administer, and protesting against the intervention of the Waddington cabinet as an attempt to change what was really a purely judicial question into a ministerial issue. He replied to Mr. Renault by citing his speeches declaring that the De Broglie ministry was amenable, and ought to be brought to justice. He created a sensation when he produced certain telegrams, found only the day before at the war department, which disclosed the imminence of a coup d’etat; one was an instruction from General Rocheboüet, minister of war and head of the cabinet, issued to the generals of the army when the country was in profound tranquillity, directing the immediate organization of light, vigorous, movable columns [Page 338] to be constantly ready, the putting aside of officers who were fatigued or “hesitating.” This was done, the instruction said, in view of “the circumstances through which we are passing, [December 8, 1877,] and the rapidity with which strikes and troubles spread, a few weeks ago, throughout the United States.” He read the manly response of a corps commander, General Aymard, to this remarkable instruction: “No officer will be ‘hesitating’ if the government remains within the law and the constitution.”
Mr. Waddington, the president of the council, then addressed the chamber in a brief speech, defining and justifying the position of the government. He recognized the fact that there was much which was criminal in the course of the ministries of the 16th of May; the manner in which they had tortured the words of the law to justify unlawful measures, the oppression of private citizens, of the functionaries of the government, of magistrates, of the press—all this was true, and the report of Mr. Brisson would remain a document for history. He pointed out for especial reprobation the perversion of the moral sense that was attempted, the false and unhappy position in which the humblest employé’s of the government were then placed, the trouble brought into families, the sinister influence upon society—offences that will long remain unforgotten and unpardoned by France. But while a prosecution may be in accord with abstract justice, it is not well now to revive the passions and hates that have slumbered for so many months, by a great trial, and excite an agitation which it may be difficult to check, and which is certain to last for a long time. It will hinder the chamber from applying itself to the great public works which just now demand attention, and the injury it will do to the general course of business in the country will certainly be charged by the people to the account of republican government. Happily, all the departments, executive and legislative, of the government are now cordially in harmony; the republic is quiet and strong; all its machinery is working peacefully and well. The country does not want new strife. It is tired of purely political struggles, and expects the government-—and this is the programme of the cabinet—to do all that can be done to relieve industry now suffering, to organize and perfect education so as to include all the people, to modify the tariff, to improve the condition and efficiency of the army, to watch over and foster the material interests of the people at home and the honor and interests of France among other nations. The Republican party should look forward and not backward, to reforms in the future and not to revenges in the past. And what in fact can be added by way of punishment or reprobation to the solemn verdict of universal suffrage condemning these men?
Mr. Floquet, of the extreme left, spoke earnestly for impeachment; Mr. Le Père, the minister of the interior, supported the views of Mr. Waddington; Mr. Madier de Montjan closed the debate by a violent appeal to the most radical views of the left, to which he belongs.
The right took no part in the debate.
The vote stood 159 in favor of impeachment and 317 against, majority, 158; of the republicans about 50 majority against impeachment.
Two other questions still remain, after this signal success, to trouble the ministry—one, regarding the removal of the capital from Versailles to Paris; the other, the proposed attachment of the police system, now under the control of the municipal authority, to the general government, which will be insisted on by the ministry.
I have &c.,