CHAPTER XIX. THREE FRENCH PRESIDENT'S.
Marshal MacMahon, the Duke of Magenta, was of Irish descent, his ancestors having followed James II. into exile, and distinguished themselves at the Battle of the Boyne. Their descendant, Patrice (or Patrick), the subject of this sketch, was the sixteenth of seventeen children.
He was born when French glory was at its height, under the First Empire, in the summer of 1806. When he was seventeen he was sent to the military school at Saint-Cyr. There his Irish dash and talent soon won him renown. In Algeria he acquired fame and fortune and the Cross of the Legion of Honor. In 1830 he went to the siege of Antwerp, at the time when the French insisted on promoting a revolution in Belgium, and the moment that enterprise was over, he retired to Algeria. At twenty-five he was a captain and had distinguished himself at the siege of Constantine, fighting side by side with the Duc de Nemours and that other French officer of Irish descent, Marshal Niel. At forty-four he was a general of division, and had seen twenty-seven years of service. The Arabs called him the Invulnerable.
He went to the Crimean War, and there led the attack on the Malakoff, holding his post until the place was won. Devoted to his profession, he was diffident in society. He was named a senator by Napoleon III. after his return from the Crimea, but declined to take his seat, refusing at the same time some other proffered honors. He was sent back to Algeria at his own request, and stayed there, fighting the Arabs, for five years. Then, returning to Paris, he took his seat in the Senate, where he opposed some of the arbitrary decrees of the emperor.
[Footnote 1: Temple Bar, "Courts of the three Presidents, Thiers, MacMahon, and Grevy," 1884.]
In the Italian War in 1859 he fought with distinguished bravery, and on the battlefield of Magenta was made a Marshal of France and Duke of Magenta. After being ambassador at Berlin he was sent to bear the emperor's congratulations to King William on his accession, and to attend his coronation. He was again sent to Algeria as its governor-general. He had already married Marie, daughter of the Duc de Castries. She was very rich, and connected with some of the most opulent bankers in Vienna.
Marshal MacMahon came back to France at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, and was given the command of the First Army Corps; but the emperor insisted on commanding his own armies as general-in-chief. The day before the surrender at Sedan, Marshal MacMahon had been badly wounded, and had to resign his command to General Ducrot. Ducrot being also wounded, it became the sad duty of General Wimpffen to sign the capitulation. Marshal MacMahon was taken as a prisoner to Wiesbaden, where he remained till the close of the war. He got back to Paris forty-eight hours before the outbreak of the Commune. A commander was needed for the forces of France. M. Thiers chose Marshal MacMahon, who with tears in his eyes thanked him for the opportunity of retrieving his lost reputation and doing service for France. After he had collected his army, which it took some weeks to bring back from Germany, to equip, and to reorganize, his men fought desperately for seven days, pushing their way step by step into the heart of the capital, till on May 28, 1871, the marshal addressed a proclamation to France, informing Frenchmen that the Commune was at an end. He then passed out of public sight, eclipsed by the superior radiance of Thiers and Gambetta. But as time went on, and it was determined by the Monarchists to coalesce with the extreme Radicals and get rid of M. Thiers, who was laboring to establish a law and order Republic, the newspapers of both the Conservative and Radical parties began to exalt the marshal's merits at the expense of "that sinister old man," M. Thiers. After six months of this trumpet-blowing by the opposition Press, the idea was planted in the minds of Frenchmen that Marshal MacMahon was the statesman who might bring France out of all her difficulties.
It was ascertained by the Monarchists that Marshal MacMahon would accept the presidency if it were offered him, and would consider himself a stop-gap until such time as France should make up her mind whether the Comte de Chambord or some one else should be her king.
The attack on M. Thiers was then organized. M. Thiers was defeated. He sent in his resignation, and it was accepted by a small majority in the Chamber. A moment after, Marshal MacMahon was proposed as his successor, and immediately elected (May 24, 1873).
At this time the parties in the French Chamber were seven, and their policy was for two or more of them to combine for any temporary object. Legitimists, Orleanists, and Bonapartists formed the Right; Anarchists, Red Republicans, and decided Republicans formed the Left; while the Centre was made up of men of moderate opinions of all parties who were willing to accept an orderly and stable government of any kind. This party may be said to represent to the present hour the prevailing state of public feeling in France.
The three parties on the Left quarrelled fiercely among themselves; the three parties on the Right did the same. Both Left and Right, however, were eager to rally the Centre to their side. The coalitions, hatreds, and misunderstandings of these seven parties constitute for eighteen years almost the entire history of the Third Republic.
In 1873 the Monarchists, - that is, the three parties on the Right - were stronger than the combined parties on the Left, but not so strong if the Moderates of the Centre voted with the Left Republicans. Again, if the Legitimists, Orleanists, and the Centre should unite, and the Bonapartists should go over to the Left, the Left would be the stronger.