CHAPTER VIII. THE COUP D'ETAT.
"In voting for Louis Napoleon," says Alison, "the French rural population understood that it was voting for an emperor and for the repression of the clubs in Paris. It seemed to Frenchmen in the country that they had only a choice between Jacobin rule by the clubs, or Napoleonic rule by an emperor." So, though Louis Napoleon, when he presented himself as a presidential candidate, assured the electors, "I am not so ambitious as to dream of empire, of war, nor of subversive theories; educated in free countries and in the school of misfortune, I shall always remain faithful to the duties that your suffrages impose on me," public sentiment abroad and at home, whether hostile or favorable, expected that he would before long make himself virtually, if not in name, the Emperor Napoleon. Indeed, the army was encouraged by its officers to shout, "Vive l'empereur!" and "Vive Napoleon!" And General Changarnier, for disapproving of these demonstrations, had been dismissed from his post as military commander at the capital. He was forthwith, as we have seen, appointed to a military command in the confidence of the Assembly.
By the autumn of 1851 Louis Napoleon had fully made up his mind as to his coup d'etat, and had arranged all its details. He had five intimates, who were his counsellors, - De Morny, De Maupas, De Persigny, Fleury, and General Saint-Arnaud.
De Morny has always been reputed to have been the half-brother of Louis Napoleon. In 1847 he lived luxuriously in a small hotel in the Champs Elysees, surrounded by rare and costly works of art. He had then never been considered anything but a man of fashion; but he proved well fitted to keep secrets, to conduct plots, and to do the cruellest things in a jocund, off-hand way.
Saint-Arnaud's name had been originally Jacques Le Roy. At one time, under the name of Florival, he had been an actor in Paris at one of the suburban theatres. He had served three times in the French army, and been twice dismissed for conduct unbecoming an officer. His third term of service for his country was in a foreign legion, composed of dare-devils of all nations, who enrolled themselves in the army of Algeria. There his brilliant bravery had a large share in securing the capture of Constantine. He rose rapidly to be a general, was an excellent administrator, a cultivated and agreeable companion, perfectly unscrupulous, and ready to assist in any scheme of what he considered necessary cruelty. Fleury, who had been sent to Africa to select a military chief fitted to carry out the coup d'etat, found Saint-Arnaud the very man to suit the purpose of his master. Saint-Arnaud was tall, thin, and bony, with close-cropped hair. De Morny used to laugh behind his back at the way he said le peuple souverain, and said he knew as little about the sovereign people as about the pronunciation. He spoke English well, for he had lived for some years an exile in Leicester Square, - the disreputable French quarter of London; this accomplishment was of great service to him during the Crimean War.
De Maupas had been a country prefect, and was eager for promotion. Louis Napoleon converted him into his Minister of Police.
Fleury was the simple-hearted and attached friend of his master.
De Persigny, like Saint-Arnaud, had changed his name, having begun life as Fialin.
These five plotted the coup d'etat; arranged all its details, and kept their own counsel.
[Footnote 1: De Maupas, Le Coup d'Etat.]
The generals and colonels in garrison in Paris had been sounded, as we have seen, in reference to their allegiance to the Great Emperor's nephew, and by the close of 1851 all things had been made ready for the proposed coup d'etat.
A coup d'etat is much the same thing as a coup de main, - with this difference, that in the political coup de main it is the mob that takes the initiative, in the coup d'etat the Government; and the Government generally has the army on its side.
Louis Napoleon and his five associates were about to do the most audacious thing in modern history; but no man can deny them the praise awarded to the unjust steward. If the thing was to be done, or, in the language of Victor Hugo, if the crime was to be committed, it could not have been more admirably planned or more skilfully executed.