No. 212.
Mr. Noyes to Mr. Evarts.

No. 406.]

Sir: The Parliament met in extra session on Tuesday the 9th. The new ministry appeared with a declaration which the prime minister, Mr. Jules Ferry, read, in the Chamber, and Mr. Barthélemy St. Hilaire, the minister of foreign affairs, in the Senate. In this document, which was looked for with eager expectation and of which I inclose a copy and translation, the ministry point out with much stress the fact that their action in vigorously enforcing the decrees of the 29th May, expelling the unauthorized congregations, was but obeying the majority of the Chamber, and appeal to that majority for a frank expression of confidence or the reverse. The delivery was interrupted a great deal in both Chambers, but, on the whole, was received favorably by the republican majority; yet, instantly afterward, the ministry were defeated upon the first motion, a mere question of the order of business, and immediately resigned.

Here was a curious embarrassment. The ministry were republican and had zealously endeavored to carry out the wishes of the majority, yet were outvoted at the first step. Who would be willing to take their places and face the changing moods of the Chamber if Mr. Gambetta refused to take power, and everybody knew that he would? The President declined to accept their resignations, and several conferences were held with the leaders of the republican groups, when it appeared that the vote was rather the result of a misunderstanding than a real difference, [Page 391]and it was agreed that the Chamber should give them a vote of confidence and they should continue the administration. This was done yesterday and the Jules Ferry ministry goes on.

This singular misunderstanding arose in this way: A bill is pending to change the tenure of office of the judges who, by the present law, are immovable and who are generally not in sympathy with the government and are unwilling to carry out its measures. Another bill of great importance providing a system of primary education, as well as bills ameliorating the law of the press and of public meetings, are also awaiting action. Mr. Ferry asked to have the education bill put at the head of the list and proceeded with first. Many members of decided republicanism, while not opposing the education bill, were eager to get at the magistracy bill at once in order to reach the insubordinate judges immediately. Others of the advanced left were glad of any chance to give a blow to the ministry. The whole of the right of all shades is always ready to vote against the government. When Mr. Ferry therefore made this mere motion on the order of business, a ministerial measure, and insisted upon it, the extreme left and the right for once voted together, defeating him by 200 against 166, and placing the magistracy bill first. These 200 votes were made up of 33 of the extreme left, 5 pure left, who think the ministry go too slow, 4 of the left center, who think they go too fast, and 43 Bonapartists and 38 royalists, who oppose the government on everything, These last 81 reactionaries decided the vote, which was not the real expression of the republican majority; many abstained from voting.

By the new arrangement, giving the ministry a vote of confidence and continuing them in office, there is apparent harmony, but the want of cohesion in the majority which has just expressed confidence in the government is evident, and the confidence is not wholly without reserve. They still did not let Mr. Ferry put the educational bill first, but kept the magistracy bill in its place, and will proceed first to discuss and dispose of it. Meantime the present ministry will be the apparent governing power in France, though the influence and will of Mr. Gambetta really control political movements. He will not take possession nominally, and so long as the real and the ostensible power are wielded by different hands, it is hardly to be expected that there will be a vigorous and stable ministry. On the other hand, it is reassuring to know that the changes that have recently taken place and those that may occur are not radical changes of principle or policy, but differences in degree of opinion among sincere republicans, and that the republic continues, steadily gaining in strength with time, and the people of France, contented with their political institutions and busily engaged in their affairs, are prosperous, peaceful, and happy.

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure in No. 406.]

Ministerial declaration.

The change of ministry effected during your recess is not one of those modifying the general direction of public affairs. The policy we submit to you is not new to you. You yourselves inspired it. We have remained faithful to the line of conduct clearly issuing from the debates of last session in both chambers. We have not deemed it possible to suspend the exercise of the laws on account of the difficulties and resistance excited by their application, nor held it necessary to ask of Parliament a change in legislation.

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The laws regulating in France the condition of religious communities are not laws of haphazard or violence. They are laws of wisdom, necessity, and tradition. They form part of that collection of guarantees established by the foresight of our forerunners for the defense of civil society, and of the rights of the state—guarantees which the republican government cannot any more than any other dispense with, and which it would be supremely imprudent to disdain or weaken. These laws are fundamental ones. They are found in all times and countries. They infringe neither dogma nor conscience. To deny them is to deny the state. Yet such is the spectacle we are witnessing. Impelled by passions more political than religious, and with the significant co-operation of parties whom the country has rejected, a certain number of irregularly established communities have ostentatiously organized rebellion against the laws.

It behooved us to put an end by general measures to a situation injurious to the public peace. Two hundred and sixty-one unrecognized establishments have been dispersed. The dissolution has extended to all the male communities devoid of legal status. It has been effected by administrative methods, as is the acknowledged right of the government whenever the modes of execution are effective or practicable. We have no intention of applying them to the female communities. Their position will be settled by another procedure. You may leave the charge of that to the government, which will have received your confidence, and you will calmly enter on your parliamentary work.

We are now at a decisive moment. The legislature, elected on the 14th of October, 1877, has just entered on its last year of existence. It must be anxious to go to the country, not with labors sketched out, the variety and abundance of which testify only our good will, but with legislative works completed, and, even though small in number, with solutions arrived at.

In the first rank of bills which may and should before all others receive the sanction of the two chambers, you will certainly place those respecting education. This is the direction in which the present legislature has most strongly marked its resolutions and tendencies. You have not only with incomparable generosity endowed public education of all grades, but you have also—and this will be one of your claims before history—resolutely undertaken to restore to the republican state its essential rights and responsibilities as regards education. Thanks to you, we are reascending the incline so imprudently descended for thirty years. The law on the conferring of degrees and the law on supreme educational councils, already passed by both chambers; the bills on letters of obedience and on girls’ secondary education, which will soon obtain the adhesion of the Senate; bills which will insure the religious neutrality of the elementary public schools, as also compulsion and gratuitousness; lastly, a bill which we have prepared and which may be speedily passed for requiring from non-state establishments of secondary education substantial guarantees of the fitness of their degrees and for strengthening therein the supervision of the state—all these measures are bound up together; they are looked for by public Opinion, so anxious among us for everything affecting the enlightenment of men’s minds and the moral unity of the fatherland.

Besides education bills, last session bequeathed us a bill respecting the magistracy. An agreement was effected on the chief points between the cabinet we have succeeded and the committee to whom the subject was referred. Our intention is to abide by that agreement. The composition of the judicial staff is a vital question for every government which is being founded. Directly or indirectly all new powers for a century past have taken guarantees in this respect. The republic cannot escape the common rule. It is unavoidable that measures of this kind should affect things to be supremely respected; but when those measures are temporary, moderate, and equitable, when they may put an end to a troublous situation, good neither for justice nor for the executive, it is a work of wisdom to accept them.

There are other bills that are urgent. Two fundamental measures are pending before the chambers—the public meetings bill and the new press laws. You will deem it a matter of honor to bring them to a fitting consummation. You owe it to liberty; we ask for it in the name of government. We enforce the laws in the broadest spirit, but we shall never agree under the republic to a legal interregnum. So long as the system of preliminary authorization subsists the government will have responsibilities from which we shall not shrink. Nor do we think that Parliament is more ready than we are to put up with a system which would leave the government disarmed or indifferent in regard to provocations to crime or civil war. This paradoxical impunity is revolting to our public manners, and public opinion is apt to desert governments that do not defend themselves. Must we insert in the programme of the year now commencing a general bill on public meetings? We think that neither the time remaining to us nor the state of people’s minds affords hope of seeking in the two chambers with any success the solution of a problem so difficult and so complex. We have only taken one chapter from it, on which agreement seems easy. A bill on professional associations and syndicates will simply legalize an already old state of things, and put into the hands of the industrious democracy an instrument of free initiative and of social progress of considerable importance.

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We need not remind you that the general customs tariff hill has now only to he examined and voted by the senate, and that it is in the highest degree important to the public prosperity that the economic situation of France in regard to her neighbors should be settled by well-considered treaties before the conclusion of the present legislature.

As to public works, all the main laws are passed, and the grand plans of M. de Freycinet are being resolutely carried into execution. We shall complete them by important measures relating to the improvement of national roads, to agricultural improvements, and more especially to that which will hasten the construction of the canal derived from the waters of the Rhone, so much desired by the south of France, so necessary to the most sorely tried regions of our country.

Lastly, our military organization requires to be completed by a bill concerning the administration, so long under consideration in Parliament, and by a bill on the promotion of army and navy officers, which is impatiently awaited by the army and navy. The ministers of war and marine will add new clauses to it relating to the re-engagement of non-commissioned officers. These dispositions respond to imperative wants, and are, like the promotion bill, highly urgent. Lastly, the unification of the tariffs of pay has been studied so as to introduce substantial improvements in the situation of the privates and the non-commissioned officers.

The government will communicate to Parliament the diplomatic documents relative to the negotiations which have followed the signature of the treaty of Berlin, and especially those referring to the most recent incidents in Oriental affairs. You will therein find evidence of our good relations with all the powers, of the peaceful spirit animating them all, and of the constant efforts of the European, concert to prevent new collisions. As to the Montenegrin question, notwithstanding delays and hesitations, we are persuaded that the will of the great powers will in the end prevail. The maintenance of common deliberations is the surest guarantee of the tranquillity of Europe. The government of the republic has never ceased to act in a spirit of disinterestedness and peace, which nobody abroad doubts, and which has won for republican France the esteem and confidence of the world.

We have told you how we look upon the task of our last year. That programme does not resemble certainly those ambitious and high-sounding manifestoes which touch everything without solving anything, and in which the detractors of the present majority are glad to cloak their powerlessness. But we have as our judge a serious and prudent nation, which for ten years has seen the policy of realities at work, and is not ready to desert it. To carry out so many useful objects two things are necessary—method and the spirit of continuity; method to defend the general order of our work from the multiplicity of individual propositions and the invasion of sterile debates; the spirit of continuity to give to the parliamentary situation that stability without which there can be neither enduring work nor a fruitful session. The ministry which you accept must enjoy your entire confidence. The understanding between the majority and the cabinet which is about to preside over its labors must be complete. As to ourselves we cannot be content with an apparent confidence and uncertain approbation. You know who we are and whither we shall go. We do not wish the majority to tolerate us. We ask it to give us, or resolutely to refuse us, its cooperation.