to Mr. Evarts.
Paris, November 12, 1880. (Received December 6.)
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.,