CHAPTER XIX. THREE FRENCH PRESIDENT'S.
When the trial of M. Wilson and the prefect came on, they were acquitted, not by a verdict of Not Guilty, but because the French Code contained no clause that constituted it an offence for a man to obtain possession of his own letters. The judge, when he acquitted the accused, stated that there was no doubt whatever of the substitution. Then from all sides information began to pour in from people who had paid money to M. Wilson to procure them ministerial or presidential favors, and such disclosures could not but reflect on M. Grevy. Instantly his enemies seized their opportunity. For once, Monarchists and Anarchists united and endeavored to force the president to resign; but the old man stood by his son-in-law in his hour of adversity, and would not go.
Then the coalition changed its base, and attacked M. Rouvier, the prime minister. He was outvoted in the Chamber on some insignificant question; and having no parliamentary majority, he was forced to resign. By no efforts could M. Grevy get anyone to take his place. Once he thought he had persuaded M. Clemenceau, a Radical leader, to form a ministry; but his party gave him to understand that they would not support him.
The president, then seventy-five years of age, was in a position in which anyone but a partisan political opponent must have been moved to pity him. He had been so long and so loudly extolled for his extreme respectability and his austere virtues that he had never dreamed that public opinion on such a point as this could turn against him. He could not endure the idea of being dismissed with contempt less than two years after his re-election to the presidency by the unanimous vote of all Republicans. He was willing to go, but he did not choose to be forced to go by the brutal summons of an infuriated public. Yet France, pending his decision, was without a government. Something had to be done. He employed every device to gain time. He had interviews with men of various parties. He grew more and more care-worn and aged. His troubles showed themselves in his carriage and his face. "By turns he was insinuating, eloquent, lively, pathetic. He showed a suppleness and a tenacity of purpose that amazed those brought into contact with him. If he could but gain time, he hoped that the Republicans would disagree about his successor, and decide to rally round him; but at last he was forced to send in his resignation. He did so Dec. 1, 1887, in a message which, by the confusion of its language, betrayed the anguish of his mind." A few days after giving up his quarters at the Elysee as president of the Republic, he was stricken down by paralysis.
When the resignation of M. Grevy had been accepted, came the question, Who should succeed him? If the Republican party split and failed to choose a president, the Monarchists might seize their opportunity. The candidate most acceptable to the Moderate Republicans was M. Jules Ferry, but he was unpopular with the Radicals. He had belonged to the Committee of Defence and the Government of Versailles which had put down the Commune. His colonial policy had not been a success, and he was known to have no toleration for the Reds. Mobs collected in the streets shouting "A bas Ferry!" He was accused of being the candidate of the Comte de Paris, of the pope, of Bismarck. He was "Ferry the traitor! Ferry the Prussian! Ferry the clerical! Ferry the Orleanist!" The Radicals, with the ex-Communist, General Eudes, at their head, swore to take up arms if Ferry were elected by the Chambers. The Moderate Republicans were not strong enough, without help, to carry his election. It was a case when a "dark horse" was wanted, an obscure man, against whom nothing was known.
The Radicals proposed two candidates, - M. De Freycinet, who, though not a Radical, was thought weak enough to be ruled by them, and M. Floquet. But the Moderates would not lend their aid to elect either of these men. At last both parties united on M. Sadi-Carnot.
There were two reasons for his election: the first lay in his name; he was the grandson of Lazare Carnot, elected deputy in 1792 to the National Convention from Arras, at the same time as his friend Robespierre. This man and Robespierre had belonged to the same Literary Society in Arras, - a club into which no one could be admitted without writing a love-song. Lazare Carnot was the good man of the Revolution. Not a stain rests upon his character. He organized the glorious armies of the Republic, and was afterwards one of the members of the Directory. His son, Hippolyte Camot, as the oldest member in the Senate in 1887, had the duty of announcing to his own son, Sadi-Carnot, his election to the highest office in the gift of his countrymen. M. Hippolyte Carnot was a man of high character, who during a long life had filled many public offices. He was also a man of letters, and wrote a Life of Barere, - a book that will be best remembered by having come under the lash of Macaulay. Every cut inflicted upon Barere tells, and we delight in its severity.
The second reason for Sadi-Carnot's election was the popularity he acquired from its being supposed that when he was at the head of the Committee of Finance he had resisted some illegal demands made on the Treasury by M. Wilson. The demands were resisted, it is true, but not more by M. Carnot than by his colleagues. "He was made president of the French Republic," some one said, "for an act of integrity he had never committed, and for giving himself the trouble to be born, like any heir of royalty."