CHAPTER XIX. THREE FRENCH PRESIDENT'S.
In 1873 the Shah of Persia came to Paris, and the marshal entertained him magnificently. He gave him a torch-light procession of soldiers, a gala performance at the Grand Opera, and a banquet in the Galerie des Glaces at Versailles. The Parisians regretted that the visit had not been made in M. Thiers' time, when society might have been amused by stories of how the omniscient little president had instructed the shah, through an interpreter, as to Persian history and the etymology of Oriental languages; but society had a good story connected with the visit, after all. During the state banquet at Versailles the shah turned to the Duchess of Magenta, and asked her, in a French sentence some one had taught him for the occasion, why her husband did not make himself emperor.
The marshal was content to hold his place as president, and the Duc de Broglie governed for him, except in anything relating to military affairs. On these the marshal always had his way.
The Duc de Broglie's government, which was all in the interest of the monarchical principle, became distrusted and unpopular. In one year twenty-one Republicans and six Bonapartists gained seats in the Assembly, while the Orleanist and Legitimist parties gained not one. By 1874 the cause of royalty in France was at a low ebb. In this year - a year after the downfall of M. Thiers - the Duc de Broglie was defeated in the Chamber on some measure of small importance; but his defeat turned him summarily out of office. The Left Centre - that is, the Republicans from conviction - was the strongest of the seven parties. The Republic seemed established on a basis of law and order.
According to the constitution, the president was chosen for seven years, with the chance of re-election; the Chamber of Deputies was elected for seven years by universal suffrage, but every year one third of its members had to retire into private life or stand for a new election. The Senate was chosen by a complicated arrangement, - partly by the Chamber, partly by a sort of electoral college, the members of which were drawn from the councils of departments, the arrondissements, and the municipalities of cities. As Gambetta said: "So chosen, it could not be a very democratic assemblage."
"Arrondissement," in the political language of our Southern States, would be translated electoral districts either in town or country. In the Northern States it would mean districts for the cities, townships in the country.
The Speaker, or President of the Chamber, at Tours, at Bordeaux, and at Versailles, until a month before the downfall of M. Thiers, had been the immaculately respectable M. Jules Grevy, who had entered public life in 1848. He had been deposed during the period when the Monarchists had strength and felt sure of the throne for Henri V., and he had been replaced by a M. Buffet. It was M. Buffet who became prime minister on the downfall of the Duc de Broglie. Marshal MacMahon by no means relished being governed by a cabinet composed of men of more advanced republican opinions than his own. But it is useless to go deeper into the parliamentary squabbles of this period.
Then began the quarrel of which we have read so often in Associated Press telegrams, - the dispute concerning the scrutin de liste and the scrutin d'arrondissement. "Scrutin" means ballot; "scrutin de liste" means that electors might choose any Frenchman as their candidate; "scrutin d'arrondissement," that they must confine their choice to some man living in the district for which he wished to stand. The Left disapproved the scrutin d'arrondissement, which gave too much scope, it said, for local interests to have weight over political issues. In our own country local interests are provided for by State legislatures, and in elections for Congress the scrutin d'arrondissement is adopted.
On the last day of December, 1875, the National Assembly was dissolved. Confused, uninteresting, factious as it had been on points of politics, it had at least taught Frenchmen something of parliamentary tactics and the practical system of compromise. The American government is said to be based on compromise. In France, "all or nothing" had been the cry of French parties from the beginning.
The leader of the Left was now Gambetta, who managed matters with discretion and in a spirit of compromise. From this policy his immediate followers have been called "opportunists," because they stood by, watching the course of events, ready to promote their own plans at every opportunity.
The new Assembly proved much too republican to please the marshal. In every way his situation perplexed and worried him. He was not a man of eminent ability, and had never been trained to politics. He had been used to govern as a soldier. His head may have been a little turned by the flatteries so freely showered on him before his election, and he had come to entertain a belief that he was indispensable to France. He saw himself the protector of order against revolutionary passions, and conceived himself to be adored as the sole hope of the people. "Believing this, he could hardly have been expected to conform to the simple formulas which govern the councils of constitutional kings." Moreover, behind the marshal was his friend the Duc de Broglie, "now counselling compromise and now resistance, but always meditating a sudden blow in favor of monarchy."