CHAPTER VI. THE DOWNFALL OF LOUIS PHILIPPE.
As I said in the last chapter, everything in the year 1847 and during the opening weeks of 1848 seemed unfavorable to Louis Philippe. Besides the causes of dissatisfaction I have mentioned, there was a scarcity of grain, there were drains on the finances, there was disaffection among the National Guard, and hostility among the peers to the measures of the Ministry. Then came the conviction of M. Teste, a member of the Cabinet, for misappropriating public funds. Even private affairs seemed turned against the royal family. Madame Lafarge murdered her husband, and it was said that the court had attempted to procure her acquittal because she was connected with the house of Orleans by a bar-sinister. A quarrel about an actress led to a duel. The man wounded was a journalist who was actively opposed to the king's Government. It was hinted that the duel was a device of the court to get him put out of the way. But the greatest of the king's misfortunes was the death of his admirable sister, Madame Adelaide, in January, 1848. She had been all his life his bosom friend and his chief counsellor. She died of a severe attack of influenza.
In a letter from the Prince de Joinville to the Duc de Nemours, found in the garden of the Tuileries in February, 1848, among many valuable documents that had been flung from the windows of the palace by the mob, the situation of things at the close of 1847 and the beginning of 1848 is thus summed up by one brother writing in confidence to another: -
"The king will listen to no advice. His own will must be paramount over everything. It seems to me impossible that in the Chamber of Deputies at the next session the anomalous state of the government should fail to attract attention. It has effaced all traces of constitutional government, and has put forward the king as the primary, and indeed sole, mover upon all occasions. There is no longer any respect for ministers; their responsibility is null, everything rests with the king. He has arrived at an age when he declines to listen to suggestions. He is accustomed to govern, and he loves to show that he does so. His immense experience, his courage, and his great qualities lead him to face danger; but it is not on that account the less real or imminent."
Then, after further summing up the state of France, - the finances embarrassed, the entente cordiale with England at an end, and the provinces in confusion, - the prince adds: "Those unhappy Spanish marriages! - we have not yet drained the cup of bitterness they have mixed for us to drink."
In this state of things the opposition party was divided into liberals who wished for reform, and liberals who aimed at revolution. For a while the two parties worked together, and their war-cry was Reform! There was little or no parliamentary opposition, for the Chamber of Peers and the Chamber of Deputies were alike virtually chosen by the Crown. The population of France in 1848 was thirty-five millions; but those entitled to vote were only two hundred and forty thousand, or one to every one hundred and forty-six of the population, and of these a large part were in Government employ. It was said that the number of places in the gift of the Ministry was sixty-three thousand, every place, from that of a guard upon a railroad to that of a judge upon the bench, being disposed of by ministerial favor.
The plan adopted to give expression to the public discontent was the inauguration of reform banquets. To these large crowds were attracted, both from political motives and from a desire in the rural districts to hear the great speakers, Lamartine and others, who had a national renown. Many of the speeches were inflammatory. The health of the king was never drunk on these occasions, but the "Marseillaise" was invariably played.
Seventy-four of these banquets had been given in the provinces, when it was decided to give one in Paris; and a large inclosed piece of ground on the Rue Chaillot, not far from the Arch of Triumph, was fixed upon for the purpose. This banquet was to take place on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 1848. Until Monday afternoon opinions seemed divided as to whether it would be suffered to go on. But meantime the city had been crammed with troops, and the sleep of its inhabitants had been broken night after night by the tramp of regiments and the rumble of artillery. Monday, February 21, was a beautiful day, the air was soft and genial, the streets and the Champs Elysees were very gay. Scarcely any one was aware at that time that it was the intention of the Government to forbid the banquet; but that night the preparations made for it were carted away by order of the liberal leaders, who had been warned of the decision of the authorities, while at the same time every loose paving-stone that might help to erect a barricade was, by orders from the police, removed out of the way.