Louis Philippe : The Citizen King – Beacon Lights of History, Volume IX : European Statesmen

Beacon Lights of History, Volume IX : European Statesmen by John Lord

Beacon Lights of History, Volume IX : European Statesmen

Mirabeau : The French Revolution
Edmund Burke : Political Morality
Napoleon Bonaparte : The French Empire
Prince Metternich : Conservatism
Chateaubriand : The Restoration and Fall of the Bourbons
George IV : Toryism
The Greek Revolution
Louis Philippe : The Citizen King

Beacon Lights of History, Volume IX : European Statesmen
John Lord

Topics Covered
Elevation of Louis Philippe
His character
Casimir Périer
Disordered state of France
Suppression of disorders
Consolidation of royal power
Marshal Soult
Fortification of Paris
Siege of Antwerp
Public improvements
First ministry of Thiers
First ministry of Count Molé
Storming of Constantine
Railway mania
Death of Talleyrand
Russian and Turkish wars
Treaty of Unkiar-Skelessi
Second administration of Thiers
Removal of Napoleon’s remains
Guizot, Prime Minister
Guizot as historian
Conquest of Algeria
Death of the Due d’Orléans
The Spanish marriages
Progress of corruption
General discontents
Dethronement of Louis Philippe
His inglorious flight

Louis Philippe : The Citizen King


A new phase in the development of French revolutionary history took place on the accession of Louis Philippe to the throne. He became King of the French instead of King of France.

Louis XVIII., upon his coming to the throne at Napoleon’s downfall, would not consent to reign except by divine right, on principles of legitimacy, as the brother of Louis XVI. He felt that the throne was his by all the laws of succession. He would not, therefore, accept it as the gift of the French nation, or of foreign Powers. He consented to be fettered by a Constitution, as his brother had done; but that any power could legally give to him what he deemed was already his own, was in his eyes an absurdity.

This was not the case with Louis Philippe, for he was not the legitimate heir. He belonged to a younger branch of the Bourbons, and could not be the legitimate king until all the male heirs of the elder branch were extinct; and yet both branches of the royal family were the lineal descendants of Henry IV. This circumstance pointed him out as the proper person to ascend the throne on the expulsion of the elder branch; but he was virtually an elective sovereign, chosen by the will of the nation. So he became king, not “by divine right,” but by receiving the throne as the gift of the people.

There were other reasons why Louis Philippe was raised to the throne. He was Duke of Orléans,–the richest man in France, son of that Égalité who took part in the revolution, avowing all its principles; therefore he was supposed to be liberal in his sentiments. The popular leaders who expelled Charles X., among the rest Lafayette,–that idol of the United States, that “Grandison Cromwell,” as Carlyle called him,–viewed the Duke of Orléans as the most available person to preserve order and law, to gain the confidence of the country, and to preserve the Constitution,–which guaranteed personal liberty, the freedom of the Press, the inviolability of the judiciary, and the rights of electors to the Chamber of Deputies, in which was vested the power of granting supplies to the executive government. Times were not ripe for a republic, and only a few radicals wanted it. The nation desired a settled government, yet one ruling by the laws which the nation had decreed through its representatives. Louis Philippe swore to everything that was demanded of him, and was in all respects a constitutional monarch, under whom the French expected all the rights and liberties that England enjoyed. All this was a step in advance of the monarchy of Louis XVIII. Louis Philippe was rightly named “the citizen king.”

This monarch was also a wise, popular, and talented man. He had passed through great vicissitudes of fortune. At one time he taught a school in Switzerland. He was an exile and a wanderer from country to country. He had learned much from his misfortunes; he had had great experiences, and was well read in the history of thrones and empires. He was affable in his manners, and interesting in conversation; a polished gentleman, with considerable native ability,–the intellectual equal of the statesmen who surrounded him. His morals were unstained, and his tastes were domestic. His happiest hours were spent in the bosom of his family; and his family was harmonious and respectable. He was the idol of the middle class; bankers, merchants, lawyers, and wealthy shopkeepers were his strongest supporters. All classes acquiesced in the rule of a worthy man, as he seemed to all,–moderate, peace-loving, benignant, good-natured. They did not see that he was selfish, crafty, money-loving, bound up in family interests. This plain-looking, respectable, middle-aged man, as he walked under the colonnade of the Rue de Rivoli, with an umbrella under his arm, looked more like a plain citizen than a king. The leading journals were all won over to his side. The Chamber of Deputies by a large majority voted for him, and the eighty-three Departments, representing thirty-five millions of people, by a still larger majority elected him king. The two Chambers prepared a Constitution, which he unhesitatingly accepted and swore to maintain. He was not chosen by universal suffrage, but by one hundred and fifty thousand voters. The Republicans were not satisfied, but submitted; so also did the ultra-Royalists. It was at first feared that the allied Powers, under the influence of Metternich, would be unfriendly; yet one after another recognized the new government, feeling that it was the best, under the circumstances, that could be established.

The man who had the most to do with the elevation of Louis Philippe was the Marquis de Lafayette, who as far back as the first revolution was the commander of the National Guards; and they, as the representatives of the middle classes, sustained the throne during this reign. Lafayette had won a great reputation for his magnanimous and chivalrous assistance to the United States, when, at twenty years of age, he escaped from official hindrances at home and tendered his unpaid voluntary services to Washington. This was in the darkest period of the American Revolution, when Washington had a pitifully small army, and when the American treasury was empty. Lafayette was the friend and admirer of Washington, whose whole confidence he possessed; and he not only performed distinguished military duty, but within a year returned to France and secured a French fleet, land forces, clothing and ammunition for the struggling patriots, as the result of French recognition of American independence, and of a treaty of alliance with the new American nation,–both largely due to his efforts and influence.

When Lafayette departed, on his return to France, he was laden with honors and with the lasting gratitude of the American people. He returned burning with enthusiasm for liberty, and for American institutions; and this passion for liberty was never quenched, under whatever form of government existed in France. He was from first to last the consistent friend of struggling patriots,–sincere, honest, incorruptible, with horror of revolutionary excesses, as sentimental as Lamartine, yet as firm as Carnot.

Lafayette took an active part in the popular movements in 1787, and in 1789 formed the National Guard and gave it the tricolor badge. But he was too consistent and steady-minded for the times. He was not liked by extreme Royalists or by extreme Republicans. He was denounced by both parties, and had to flee the country to save his life. Driven from Paris by the excesses of the Reign of Terror, which he abhorred, he fell into the hands of the Prussians, who delivered him to the Austrians, and by them he was immured in a dungeon at Olmutz for three and a half years, being finally released only by the influence of Napoleon. So rigorous was his captivity that none of his family or friends knew for two years where he was confined. On his return from Austria, he lived in comparative retirement at La Grange, his country-seat, and took no part in the government of Napoleon, whom he regarded as a traitor to the cause of liberty. Nor did he enter the service of the Bourbons, knowing their settled hostility to free institutions. History says but little about him during this time, except that from 1818 to 1824 he was a member of the Chamber of Deputies, and in 1825 to 1830 was again prominent in the legislative opposition to the royal government. In 1830 again, as an old man, he reappeared as commander-in-chief of the National Guards, when Charles X. was forced to abdicate. Lafayette now became the most popular man in France, and from him largely emanated the influences which replaced Charles X. with Louis Philippe. He was not a man of great abilities, but was generally respected as an honest man. He was most marked for practical sagacity and love of constitutional liberty. The phrase, “a monarchical government surrounded with republican institutions,” is ascribed to him,–an illogical expression, which called out the sneers of Carlyle, whose sympathies were with strong governments and with the men who can rule, and who therefore, as he thought, ought to rule.

Lafayette was doubtless played with and used by Louis Philippe, the most astute and crafty of monarchs. Professing the greatest love and esteem for the general who had elevated him, the king was glad to get rid of him; so, too, were the Chambers,–the former from jealousy of his popularity, and the latter from dislike of his independence and integrity. Under Louis Philippe he held no higher position than as a member of the Chamber of Deputies. As deputy he had always been and continued to be fearless, patriotic, and sometimes eloquent. His speeches were clear, unimpassioned, sensible, and he was always listened to with respect. He took great interest in the wrongs of all oppressed people; and exiles from Poland, from Spain, and from Italy found in him a generous protector. His house was famous for its unpretending hospitalities, especially to American travellers. He lived long enough to see the complete triumph of American institutions. In 1824, upon a formal invitation by Congress, he revisited the United States as the guest of the nation, and received unprecedented ovations wherever he went,–a tribute of the heart, such as only great benefactors enjoy, when envy gives place to gratitude and admiration. A great man he was not, in the ordinary sense of greatness; yet few men will live as long as he in the national hearts of two nations, for character if not for genius, for services if not for brilliant achievements.

The first business of the new monarch in 1830 was to choose his ministers, and he selected as premier Lafitte the banker, a prominent member of the Chamber of Deputies, who had had great influence in calling him to the throne. Lafitte belonged to the liberal party, and was next to Lafayette the most popular man in France, but superior to that statesman in intellect and executive ability. He lived in grand style, and his palace, with its courts and gardens, was the resort of the most distinguished men in France,–the Duke of Choiseul, Dupin, Béranger, Casimir Périer, Montalivet, the two Aragos, Guizot, Odillon Barrot, Villemain,–politicians, artists, and men of letters. His ministry, however, lasted less than a year. The vast increase in the public expenditure aroused a storm of popular indignation. The increase of taxation is always resented by the middle classes, and by this measure Lafitte lost his popularity. Moreover, the public disorders lessened the authority of the government. In March, 1831, the king found it expedient to dismiss Lafitte, and to appoint Casimir Périer, an abler man, to succeed him. Lafitte was not great enough for the exigencies of the times. His business was to make money, and it was his pleasure to spend it; but he was unable to repress the discontents of Paris, or to control the French revolutionary ideas, which were spreading over the whole Continent, especially in Belgium, in which a revolution took place, accompanied by a separation from Holland. Belgium was erected into an independent kingdom, under a constitutional government. Prince Leopold, of Saxe Coburg, having refused the crown of Greece, was elected king, and shortly after married a daughter of Louis Philippe; which marriage, of course, led to a close union between France and Belgium. In this marriage the dynastic ambition of Louis Philippe, which was one of the main causes of his subsequent downfall in 1848, became obvious. But he had craft enough to hide his ambition under the guise of zeal for constitutional liberty.

Casimir Périer was a man of great energy, and liberal in his political antecedents, a banker of immense wealth and great force of character, reproachless in his integrity. He had scarcely assumed office when he was called upon to enforce a very rigorous policy. France was in a distracted state, not so much from political agitation as from the discontent engendered by poverty, and by the difficulty of finding work for operatives,–a state not unlike that of England before the passage of the Reform Bill. According to Louis Blanc the public distress was appalling, united with disgusting immorality among the laboring classes in country districts and in great manufacturing centres. In consequence there were alarming riots at Lyons and other cities. The people were literally starving, and it required great resolution and firmness on the part of government to quiet the disorders. Lyons was in the hands of a mob, and Marshal Soult was promptly sent with forty thousand regular troops to restore order. And this public distress,–when laborers earned less than a shilling a day, and when the unemployed exceeded in number those who found work on a wretched pittance,–was at its height when the Chamber of Deputies decreed a civil list for the king to the amount of nearly nineteen millions of francs, thirty-seven times greater than that given to Napoleon as First Consul; and this, too, when the king’s private income was six millions of francs a year.

Such was the disordered state of the country that the prime minister, whose general policy was that of peace, sent a military expedition to Ancona, in the Papal territories, merely to divert the public mind from the disorders which reigned throughout the land. Indeed, the earlier years of the reign of Louis Philippe were so beset with difficulties that it required extraordinary tact, prudence, and energy to govern at all. But the king was equal to the emergency. He showed courage and good sense, and preserved his throne. At the same time, while he suppressed disorders by vigorous measures, he took care to strengthen his power. He was in harmony with the Chamber of Deputies, composed almost entirely of rich men. The liberal party demanded an extension of the suffrage, to which he gracefully yielded; and the number of electors was raised to one hundred and eighty thousand, but extended only to those who paid a direct tax of two hundred francs. A bill was also passed in the Chamber of Deputies abolishing hereditary peerage, though opposed by Guizot, Thiers, and Berryer. Of course the opposition in the upper house was great, and thirty-six new peers were created to carry the measure.

The year 1832 was marked by the ravages of the cholera, which swept away twenty thousand people in Paris alone, and among them Casimir Périer, and Cuvier the pride of the scientific world.

But Louis Philippe was not yet firmly established on his throne. His ministers had suppressed disorders, seized two hundred journals, abolished hereditary peerage, extended the electoral suffrage, while he had married his daughter to the King of Belgium. He now began to consolidate his power by increasing the army, seeking alliances with the different powers of Europe, bribing the Press, and enriching his subordinates. Taxation was necessarily increased; yet renewed prosperity from the increase of industries removed discontents, which arise not from the excess of burdens, but from a sense of injustice. Now began the millennium of shopkeepers and bankers, all of whom supported the throne. The Chamber of Deputies granted the government all the money it wanted, which was lavishly spent in every form of corruption, and luxury again set in. Never were the shops more brilliant, or equipages more gorgeous. The king on his accession had removed from the palace which Cardinal Mazarin had bequeathed to Louis XIV., and took up his residence at the Tuileries; and though his own manners were plain, he surrounded himself with all the pomp of royalty, but not with the old courtiers of Charles X. Marshal Soult greatly distinguished himself in suppressing disorders, especially a second riot in Lyons. To add to the public disorders, the Duchess of Berri made a hostile descent on France with the vain hope of restoring the elder branch of the Bourbons. This unsuccessful movement was easily put down, and the discredited princess was arrested and imprisoned. Meanwhile the popular discontents continued, and a fresh insurrection broke out in Paris, headed by Republican chieftains. The Republicans were disappointed, and disliked the vigor of the government, which gave indications of a sterner rule than that of Charles X. Moreover, the laboring classes found themselves unemployed. The government of Louis Philippe was not for them, but for the bourgeois party, shop-keepers, bankers, and merchants. The funeral of General Lamarque, a popular favorite, was made the occasion of fresh disturbances, which at one time were quite serious. The old cry of Vive la Republique began to be heard from thousands of voices in the scenes of former insurrections. Revolt assumed form. A mysterious meeting was held at Lafitte’s, when the dethronement of the king was discussed. The mob was already in possession of one of the principal quarters of the city. The authorities were greatly alarmed, but they had taken vigorous measures. There were eighteen thousand regular troops under arms with eighty pieces of cannon, and thirty thousand more in the environs, besides the National Guards. What could the students of the Polytechnic School and an undisciplined mob do against these armed troops? In vain their cries of Vive la Liberté; à bas Louis Philippe! The military school was closed, and the leading journals of the Republican party were seized. Marshal Soult found himself on the 7th of June, 1832, at the head of sixty thousand regular troops and twenty thousand National Guards. The insurgents, who had erected barricades, were driven back after a fierce fight at the Cloister of St. Méri. This bloody triumph closed the insurrection. The throne of the citizen king was saved by the courage and discipline of the regular troops under a consummate general. The throne of Charles X. could not have stood a day in face of such an insurrection.

The next day after the defeat of the insurgents Paris was proclaimed in a state of siege, in spite of the remonstrances of all parties against it as an unnecessary act; but the king was firm and indignant, and ordered the arrest of both Democrats and Legitimists, including Garnier-Pagès and Chateaubriand himself. He made war on the Press. During his reign of two years two hundred and eighty-one journals were seized, and fines imposed to nearly the amount of four hundred thousand francs.

The suppression of revolts in both Paris and Lyons did much to strengthen the government, and the result was an increase of public prosperity. Capital reappeared from its hiding-places, and industry renewed its labors. The public funds rose six per cent. The first dawn of the welfare of the laboring classes rose on their defeat.

For his great services in establishing a firm government Marshal Soult was made prime minister, with De Broglie, Guizot, and Thiers among his associates. The chief event which marked his administration was a war with Holland, followed by the celebrated siege of Antwerp, which the Hollanders occupied with a large body of troops. England joined with France in this contest, which threatened to bring on a general European war; but the successful capture of the citadel of Antwerp, after a gallant defence, prevented that catastrophe. This successful siege vastly increased the military prestige of France, and brought Belgium completely under French influence.

The remaining events which marked the ministry of Marshal Soult were the project of fortifying Paris by a series of detached forts of great strength, entirely surrounding the city, the liberal expenditure of money for public improvements, and the maintenance of the colony of Algeria. The first measure was postponed on account of the violent opposition of the Republicans, and the second was carried out with popular favor through the influence of Thiers. The Arc de l’Étoile was finished at an expense of two million francs; the Church of the Madeleine, at a cost of nearly three millions; the Panthéon, of 1,400,000; the Museum of Natural History, for which 2,400,000 francs were appropriated; the Church of St. Denis, 1,350,000; the École des Beaux Arts, 1,900,000; the Hotel du Quay d’Orsay, 3,450,000; besides other improvements, the chief of which was in canals, for which forty-four millions of francs were appropriated,–altogether nearly one hundred millions of francs, which of course furnished employment for discontented laborers. The retention of the Colony of Algeria resulted in improving the military strength of France, especially by the institution of the corps of Zouaves, which afterward furnished effective soldiers. It was in Africa that the ablest generals of Louis Napoleon were trained for the Crimean War.

In 1834 Marshal Soult retired from the ministry, and a series of prime ministers rapidly succeeded one another, some of whom were able and of high character, but no one of whom made any great historical mark, until Thiers took the helm of government in 1836,–not like a modern English prime minister, who is supreme so long as he is supported by Parliament, but rather as the servant of the king, like the ministers of George III.

Thiers was forty years of age when he became prime minister, although for years he had been a conspicuous and influential member of the Chamber of Deputies. Like Guizot he sprang from the people, his father being an obscure locksmith in Marseilles. Like Guizot, he first became distinguished as a writer for the “Constitutional,” and afterward as its editor. He was a brilliant and fluent speaker, at home on all questions of the day, always equal to the occasion, yet without striking originality or profundity of views. Like most men who have been the architects of their own fortunes, he was vain and consequential. He was liberal in his views, a friend of order and law, with aristocratic tendencies. He was more warlike in his policy than suited either the king or his rival Guizot, who had entered the cabinet with him on the death of Casimir Périer. Nor was he a favorite with Louis Philippe, who was always afraid that he would embroil the kingdom in war. Thiers’ political opinions were very much like those of Canning in later days. His genius was versatile,–he wrote history in the midst of his oratorical triumphs. His History of the French Revolution was by far the ablest and most trustworthy that had yet appeared. The same may be said of his History of the Consulate and of the Empire. He was a great admirer of Napoleon, and did more than any other to perpetuate the Emperor’s fame. His labors were prodigious; he rose at four in the morning, and wrote thirty or forty letters before breakfast. He was equally remarkable as an administrator and as a statesman, examining all the details of government, and leaving nothing to chance. No man in France knew the condition of the country so well as Thiers, from both a civil and a military point of view. He was overbearing in the Chamber of Deputies, and hence was not popular with the members. He was prime minister several times, but rarely for more than a few months at a time. The king always got rid of him as soon as he could, and much preferred Guizot, the high-priest of the Doctrinaires, whose policy was like that of Lord Aberdeen in England,–peace at any price.

Nothing memorable happened during this short administration of Thiers except the agitation produced by secret societies in Switzerland, composed of refugees from all nations, who kept Europe in constant alarm. There were the “Young Italy” Society, and the societies of “Young Poland,” “Young Germany,” “Young France,” and “Young Switzerland.” The cabinets of Europe took alarm, and Thiers brought matters to a crisis by causing the French minister at Berne to intimate to the Swiss government that unless these societies were suppressed all diplomatic intercourse would cease between France and Switzerland,–which meant an armed intervention. This question of the expulsion of political refugees drew Metternich and Thiers into close connection. But a still more important question, as to intervention in Spanish matters, brought about a difference between the king and his minister, in consequence of which the latter resigned.

Count Molé now took the premiership, retaining it for two years. He was a grave, laborious, and thoughtful man, but without the genius, eloquence, and versatility of Thiers. Molé belonged to an ancient and noble family, and his splendid chateau was filled with historical monuments. He had all the affability of manners which marked the man of high birth, without their frivolity. One of the first acts of his administration was the liberation of political prisoners, among whom was the famous Prince Polignac, the prime minister of Charles X. The old king himself died, about the same time, an exile in a foreign land. The year 1836 was also signalized by the foolish and unsuccessful attempt of Louis Napoleon, at Strasburg, to overthrow the government; but he was humanely and leniently dealt with, suffering no greater punishment than banishment to the United States for ten years. In the following year occurred the marriage of the Duke of Orléans, heir to the throne, with a German princess of the Lutheran faith, followed by magnificent festivities. Soon after took place the inauguration of the palace of Versailles as a museum of fine arts, which, as such, has remained to this day; nor did Louis Napoleon in the height of his power venture to use this ancient and magnificent residence of the kings of France for any other purpose.

But the most important event in the administration of Count Molé was the extension of the Algerian colony to the limits of the ancient Libya,–so long the granary of imperial Rome, and which once could boast of twenty millions of people. This occupation of African territory led to the war in which the celebrated Arab chieftain, Abd-el-Kader, was the hero. He was both priest and warrior, enjoying the unlimited confidence of his countrymen; and by his cunning and knowledge of the country he succeeded in maintaining himself for several years against the French generals. His stronghold was Constantine, which was taken by storm in October, 1837, by General Vallée. Still, the Arab chieftain found means to defy his enemies; and it was not till 1841 that he was forced to flee and seek protection from the Emperor of Morocco. The storming of Constantine was a notable military exploit, and gave great prestige to the government.

Louis Philippe was now firmly established on his throne, yet he had narrowly escaped assassination four or five times. This taught him to be cautious, and to realize the fact that no monarch can be safe amid the plots of fanatics. He no longer walked the streets of Paris with an umbrella under his arm, but enshrouded himself in the Tuileries with the usual guards of Continental kings. His favorite residence was at St. Cloud, at that time one of the most beautiful of the royal palaces of Europe.

At this time the railway mania raged in France, as it did in England. Foremost among those who undertook to manage the great corporations which had established district railways, was Arago the astronomer, who, although a zealous Republican, was ever listened to with respect in the Chamber of Deputies. These railways indicated great material prosperity in the nation at large, and the golden age of speculators and capitalists set in,–all averse to war, all worshippers of money, all for peace at any price. Morning, noon, and night the offices of bankers and stock-jobbers were besieged by files of carriages and clamorous crowds, even by ladies of rank, to purchase shares in companies which were to make everybody’s fortune, and which at one time had risen fifteen hundred per cent, giving opportunities for boundless frauds. Military glory for a time ceased to be a passion among the most excitable and warlike people of Europe, and gave way to the more absorbing passion for gain, and for the pleasures which money purchases. Nor was it difficult, in this universal pursuit of sudden wealth, to govern a nation whose rulers had the appointment of one hundred and forty thousand civil officers and an army of four hundred thousand men. Bribery and corruption kept pace with material prosperity. Never before had officials been so generally and easily bribed. Indeed, the government was built up on this miserable foundation. With bribery, corruption, and sudden wealth, the most shameful immorality existed everywhere. Out of every one thousand births, one third were illegitimate. The theatres were disgraced by the most indecent plays. Money and pleasure had become the gods of France, and Paris more than ever before was the centre of luxury and social vice.

It was at this period of peace and tranquillity that Talleyrand died, on the 17th of May, 1838, at eighty-two, after serving in his advanced age Louis Philippe as ambassador at London. The Abbé Dupanloup, afterward bishop of Orléans, administered the last services of his church to the dying statesman. Talleyrand had, however, outlived his reputation, which was at its height when he went to the Congress of Vienna in 1814. Though he rendered great services to the different sovereigns whom he served, he was too selfish and immoral to obtain a place in the hearts of the nation. A man who had sworn fidelity to thirteen constitutions and betrayed them all, could not be much mourned or regretted at his death. His fame was built on witty sayings, elegant manners, and adroit adaptation to changing circumstances, rather than on those solid merits winch alone extort the respect of posterity.

The ministry of Count Molé was not eventful. It was marked chiefly for the dissensions of political parties, troubles in Belgium, and threatened insurrections, which alarmed the bourgeoisie. The king, feeling the necessity for a still stronger government, recalled old Marshal Soult to the head of affairs. Neither Thiers nor Guizot formed part of Soult’s cabinet, on account of their mutual jealousies and undisguised ambition,–both aspiring to lead, and unwilling to accept any office short of the premiership.

Another great man now came into public notice. This was Villemain, who was made Minister of Public Instruction, a post which Guizot had previously filled. Villemain was a peer of France, an aristocrat from his connections with high society, but a liberal from his love of popularity. He was one of the greatest writers of this period, both in history and philosophy, and an advocate of Polish independence. Thiers at this time was the recognized leader of the Left and Left Centre in the Deputies, while his rival, Guizot, was the leader of the Conservatives. Eastern affairs now assumed great prominence in the Chamber of Deputies. Turkey was reduced to the last straits in consequence of the victories of Ibrahim Pasha in Asia Minor; France and England adhered to the policy of non-intervention, and the Sultan in his despair was obliged to invoke the aid of his most dangerous ally, Russia, who extorted as the price of his assistance the famous treaty of Unkiar-Skelessi, which excluded all ships-of-war, except those of Russia and Turkey, from the Black Sea, the effect of which was to make it a Muscovite lake. England and France did not fully perceive their mistake in thus throwing Turkey into the arms of Russia, by their eagerness to maintain the status quo,–the policy of Austria. There were, however, a few statesmen in the French Chamber of Deputies who deplored the inaction of government. Among these was Lamartine, who made a brilliant and powerful speech against an inglorious peace. This orator was now in the height of his fame, and but for his excessive vanity and sentimentalism might have reached the foremost rank in the national councils. He was distinguished not only for eloquence, but for his historical compositions, which are brilliant and suggestive, but rather prolix and discursive.

Sir Archibald Alison seems to think that Lamartine cannot be numbered among the great historians, since, like the classic historians of Greece and Rome, he has not given authorities for his statements, and, unlike German writers, disdains foot-notes as pedantic. But I observe that in his “History of Europe” Alison quotes Lamartine oftener than any other French writer, and evidently admires his genius, and throws no doubt on the general fidelity of his works. A partisan historian full of prejudices, like Macaulay, with all his prodigality of references, is apt to be in reality more untruthful than a dispassionate writer without any show of learning at all. The learning of an advocate may hide and obscure truth as well as illustrate it. It is doubtless the custom of historical writers generally to enrich, or burden, their works with all the references they can find, to the delight of critics who glory in dulness; but this, after all, may be a mere scholastic fashion. Lamartine probably preferred to embody his learning in the text than display it in foot-notes. Moreover, he did not write for critics, but for the people; not for the few, but for the many. As a popular writer his histories, like those of Voltaire, had an enormous sale. If he were less rhetorical and discursive, his books, perhaps, would have more merit. He fatigues by the redundancy of his richness and the length of his sentences; and yet he is as candid and judicial as Hallam, and would have had the credit of being so, had he only taken more pains to prove his points by stating his Authorities.

Next to the insolvable difficulties which attended the discussion of the Eastern question,–whether Turkey should be suffered to crumble away without the assistance of the Western Powers; whether Russia should be driven back from the Black Sea or not,–the affairs of Africa excited great interest in the Chambers. Algiers had been taken by French armies under the Bourbons, and a colony had been founded in countries of great natural fertility. It was now a question how far the French armies should pursue their conquests in Africa, involving an immense expenditure of men and money, in order to found a great colonial empire, and gain military éclat, so necessary in France to give strength to any government. But a new insurrection and confederation of the defeated Arab tribes, marked by all the fanaticism of Moslem warriors, made it necessary for the French to follow up their successes with all the vigor possible. In consequence, an army of forty thousand infantry and twelve thousand cavalry and artillery drove the Arabs, in 1840, to their remotest fastnesses. The ablest advocate for war measures was Thiers; and so formidable were his eloquence and influence in the Chambers, that he was again called to the head of affairs, and his second administration took place.

The rivalry and jealousy between this great statesman and Guizot would not permit the latter to take a subordinate position, but he was mollified by the appointment of ambassador to London. The prime minister had a great majority to back him, and such was his ascendency that he had all things his own way for a time, in spite of the king, whose position was wittily set forth in a famous expression of Thiers, Le Roi règne, et ne gouverne pas. Still, in spite of the liberal and progressive views of Thiers, very little was done toward the amelioration of the sufferings of the people, for whom, personally, he cared but little. True, a bill was introduced into the Chambers which reduced the hours of labor in the manufactories from twelve to eight hours, and from sixteen hours to twelve, while it forbade the employment of children under eight years of age in the mills; but this beneficent measure, though carried in the Chamber of Peers, was defeated in the lower house, made up of capitalists and parsimonious money-worshippers.

What excited the most interest in the short administration of Thiers, was the removal of the bones of Napoleon from St. Helena to the banks of the Seine, which he loved so well, and their deposition under the dome of the Invalides,–the proudest monument of Louis Quatorze. Louis Philippe sent his son the Prince de Joinville to superintend this removal,–an act of magnanimity hard to be reconciled with his usual astuteness and selfishness. He probably thought that his throne was so firmly established that he could afford to please the enemies of his house, and perhaps would gain popularity. But such a measure doubtless kept alive the memory of the deeds of the great conqueror, and renewed sentiments in the nation which in less than ten years afterward facilitated the usurpation of his nephew. In fact, the bones of Napoleon were scarcely removed to their present resting-place before Louis Napoleon embarked upon his rash expedition at Boulogne, was taken prisoner, and immured in the fortress of Ham, where he spent six years in strict seclusion, conversing only with books, until he contrived to escape to England.

The Eastern question again, under Thiers’ administration, became the great topic of conversation and public interest, and his military policy came near embroiling France in war. So great was the public alarm that the army was raised to four hundred thousand men, and measures were taken to adopt a great system of fortifications around Paris. It was far, however, from the wishes and policy of the king to be dragged into war by an ambitious and restless minister. He accordingly summoned Guizot from London to meet him privately at the Château d’Eu, in Normandy, where the statesman fully expounded his conservative and pacific policy. The result of this interview was the withdrawal of the French forces in the Levant and the dismissal of Thiers, who had brought the nation to the edge of war. His place was taken by Guizot, who henceforth, with brief intervals, was the ruling spirit in the councils of the king.

King Louis Philippe I of France, Painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter

King Louis Philippe I of France, Painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter

Guizot, on the whole, was the greatest name connected with the reign of Louis Philippe, although his elevation to the premiership was long delayed. In solid learning, political ability, and parliamentary eloquence he had no equal, unless it were Thiers. He was a native of Switzerland, and a Protestant; but all his tendencies were conservative. He was cold and austere in manners and character. He had acquired distinction in the two preceding reigns, both as a political writer for the journals and as a historian. The extreme Left and the extreme Right called him a “Doctrinaire,” and he was never popular with either of these parties. He greatly admired the English constitution and attempted to steer a middle course, being the advocate of constitutional monarchy surrounded with liberal institutions. Amid the fierce conflict of parties which marked the reign of Louis Philippe, Guizot gradually became more and more conservative, verging on absolutism. Hence he broke with Lafayette, who was always ready to upset the throne when it encroached on the liberties of the people. His policy was pacific, while Thiers was always involving the nation in military schemes. In the latter part of the reign of Louis Philippe, Guizot’s views were not dissimilar to those of the English Tories. His studies led him to detest war as much as did Lord Aberdeen, and he was the invariable advocate of peace. He was, like Thiers, an aristocrat at heart, although sprung from the middle classes. He was simple in his habits and style of life, and was greater as a philosopher than as a practical statesman amid popular discontents.

Guizot was the father of what is called philosophical history, and all his historical writings show great research, accuracy, and breadth of views. His temperament made him calm and unimpassioned, and his knowledge made him profound. He was a great historical authority, like Ranke, but was more admired fifty years ago than he is at the present day, when dramatic writings like those of Motley and Froude have spoiled ordinary readers for profundity allied with dulness. He resembles Hallam more than Macaulay. But it is life rather than learning which gives immortality to historians. It is the life and the individuality of Gibbon which preserve his fame and popularity rather than his marvellous learning. Voltaire lives for his style alone, the greatest of modern historical artists. Better it is for the fame of a writer to have a thousand faults with the single excellence of living power, than to have no faults and no remarkable excellences. Guizot is deficient in life, but is wonderful for research and philosophical deductions, and hence is to be read by students rather than by the people. As a popular historian he is inferior to Thiers, but superior to him in general learning.

Guizot became the favorite minister of Louis Philippe for his conservative policy and his love of peace rather than for his personal attractions. He was less independent than Thiers, and equally ambitious of ruling, and was also more subservient to the king, supporting him in measures which finally undermined his throne; but the purity of Guizot’s private life, in an age of corruption, secured for him more respect than popularity, Mr. Fyffe in his late scholarly history sneers at him as a sanctimonious old Puritan,–almost a hypocrite.

Guizot died before Thiers had won his greatest fame as the restorer of law and order after the communistic riots which followed the siege of Paris in 1871, when, as President of the Republic, he rendered inestimable services to France. The great personal defect of Thiers was vanity; that of Guizot was austerity: but both were men of transcendent ability and unimpeached patriotism. With these two men began the mighty power of the French Press in the formation of public opinion. With them the reign of Louis Philippe was identified as much as that of Queen Victoria for twenty years has been with Gladstone and Disraeli. Between them the king “reigned” rather than “governed.” This was the period when statesmen began to monopolize the power of kings in Prussia and Austria as well as in France and England. Russia alone of the great Powers was ruled by the will of a royal autocrat. In constitutional monarchies ministers enjoy the powers which were once given to the favorites of royalty; they rise and fall with majorities in legislative assemblies. In such a country as America the President is king, but only for a limited period. He descends from a position of transcendent dignity to the obscurity of private life. His ministers are his secretaries, without influence, comparatively, in the halls of Congress,–neither made nor unmade by the legislature, although dependent on the Senate for confirmation, but once appointed, independent of both houses, and responsible only to the irremovable Executive, who can defy even public opinion, unless he aims at re-election, a unique government in the political history of the world.

The year 1841 opened auspiciously for Louis Philippe. He was at the summit of his power, and his throne seemed to be solidly cemented. All the insurrections which had given him so much trouble were suppressed, and the country was unusually prosperous. The enormous sum of £85,000,000 had been expended in six years on railways, one quarter more than England had spent. Population had increased over a million in ten years, and the exports were £7,000,000 more than they were in 1830. Paris was a city of shops and attractive boulevards.

The fortification of the capital continued to be an engrossing matter with the ministry and legislature, and it was a question whether there should be built a wall around the city, or a series of strong detached forts. The latter found the most favor with military men, but the Press denounced it as nothing less than a series of Bastiles to overawe the city. The result was the adoption of both systems,–detached forts, each capable of sustaining a siege and preventing an enemy from effectually bombarding the city; and the enceinte continuée, which proved an expensive muraille d’octroi. Had it not been for the detached forts, with their two thousand pieces of cannon, Paris would have been unable to sustain a siege in the Franco-Prussian war. The city must have surrendered immediately when once invested, or have been destroyed; but the distant forts prevented the Prussians from advancing near enough to bombard the centre of the city.

The war in Algeria was also continued with great vigor by the government of Guizot. It required sixty thousand troops to carry on the war, bring the Arabs to terms, and capture their cunning and heroic chieftain Abd-el-Kader, which was done at last, after a vast expenditure of money and men. Among the commanders who conducted this African war were Marshals Valée, Changarnier, Cavaignac, Canrobert, Bugeaud, St. Arnaud, and Generals Lamoricière, Bosquet, Pelissier. Of these Changarnier was the most distinguished, although, from political reasons, he took no part in the Crimean War. The result of the long contest, in which were developed the talents of the generals who afterward gained under Napoleon III. so much distinction, was the possession of a country twelve hundred miles in length and three hundred in breadth, many parts of which are exceedingly fertile, and capable of sustaining a large population. As a colony, however, Algeria has not been a profitable investment. It took eighteen years to subdue it, at a cost of one billion francs, and the annual expense of maintaining it exceeds one hundred million francs. The condition of colonists there has generally been miserable; and while the imports in 1845 were one hundred million francs, the exports were only about ten millions. The great importance of the colony is as a school for war; it has no great material or political value. The English never had over fifty thousand European troops, aside from the native auxiliary army, to hold India in subjection, with a population of nearly three hundred millions, whereas it takes nearly one hundred thousand men to hold possession of a country of less than two million natives. This fact, however, suggests the immeasurable superiority of the Arabs over the inhabitants of India from a military point of view.

The accidental death, in 1842, of the Due d’Orléans, heir to the throne, was attended with important political consequences. He was a favorite of the nation, and was both gifted and virtuous. His death left a frail infant, the Comte de Paris, as heir to the throne, and led to great disputes in the Chambers as to whom the regency should be intrusted in case of the death of the king. Indeed, this sad calamity, as it was felt by the nation, did much to shake the throne of Louis Philippe.

The most important event during the ministry of Guizot, in view of its consequences on the fortunes of Louis Philippe, was the Spanish marriages. The Salic law prohibited the succession of females to the throne of France, but the old laws of Spain permitted females as well as males to reign. In consequence, it was always a matter of dynastic ambition for the monarchs of Europe to marry their sons to those Spanish princesses who possibly might become sovereign of Spain. But as such marriages might result in the consolidation of powerful States, and thus disturb the balance of power, they were generally opposed by other countries, especially England. Indeed, the long and bloody war called the War of Spanish Succession, in which Marlborough and Eugene were the heroes, was waged with Louis XIV. to prevent the union of France and Spain, as seemed probable when the bequest of the Spanish throne was made to the Duc d’Anjou, grandson of Louis XIV., who had married a Spanish princess. The victories of Marlborough and Eugene prevented this union of the two most powerful monarchies of Europe at that time, and the treaty of Utrecht permanently guarded against it. The title of the Duc d’Anjou to the Spanish throne was recognized, but only on the condition that he renounced for himself and his descendants all claim to the French crown,–while the French monarch renounced on his part for his descendants all claim to the Spanish throne, which was to descend, against ancient usages, to the male heirs alone. The Spanish Cortes and the Parliament of Paris ratified this treaty, and it became incorporated with the public law of Europe.

Up to this time the relations between England and France had been most friendly. Louis Philippe had visited Queen Victoria at Windsor, and the Queen of England had returned the visit to the French king with great pomp at his chateau d’Eu, in Normandy, where magnificent fêtes followed. Guizot and Lord Aberdeen, the English foreign minister, were also in accord, both statesmen adopting a peace policy. This entente cordiale between England and France had greatly strengthened the throne of Louis Philippe, who thus had the moral support of England.

But this moral support was withdrawn when the king, in 1846, yielding to ambition and dynastic interests, violated in substance the treaty of Utrecht by marrying his son, the Duc de Montpensier, to the Infanta, daughter of Christina the Queen of Spain, and second wife of Ferdinand VII., the last of the Bourbon kings of Spain. Ferdinand left two daughters by Queen Christina, but no son. By the Salic law his younger brother Don Carlos was the legitimate heir to the throne; but his ambitious wife, who controlled him, influenced him to alter the law of succession, by which his eldest daughter became the heir. This bred a civil war; but as Don Carlos was a bigot and tyrant, like all his family, the liberal party in France and England brought all their influence to secure the acknowledgment of the claims of Isabella, now queen, under the regency of her mother Christina. But her younger sister, the Infanta, was also a great matrimonial prize, since on the failure of issue in case the young queen married, the Infanta would be the heir to the crown. By the intrigues of Louis Philippe, aided by his astute, able, but subservient minister Guizot, it was contrived to marry the young queen to the Duke of Cadiz, one of the degenerate descendants of Philip V., since no issue from the marriage was expected, in which case the heir of the Infanta Donna Fernanda, married to the Duc de Montpensier, would some day ascend the throne of Spain. The English government, especially Lord Palmerston, who had succeeded Lord Aberdeen as foreign secretary, was exceedingly indignant at this royal trick; for Louis Philippe had distinctly promised Queen Victoria, when he entertained her at his royal chateau in Normandy, that this marriage of the Duc de Montpensier should not take place until Queen Isabella was married and had children. Guizot also came in for a share of the obloquy, and made a miserable defence. The result of the whole matter was that the entente cordiale between the governments of France and England was broken,–a great misfortune to Louis Philippe; and the English government was not only indignant in view of this insincerity, treachery, and ambition on the part of the French king, but was disappointed in not securing the hand of Queen Isabella for Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg.

Meanwhile corruption became year by year more disgracefully flagrant. It entered into every department of the government, and only by evident corruption did the king retain his power. The eyes of the whole nation were opened to his selfishness and grasping ambition to increase the power and wealth of his family. In seven years a thousand million francs had been added to the national debt. The government works being completed, there was great distress among the laboring classes, and government made no effort to relieve it. Consequently, there was an increasing disaffection among the people, restrained from open violence by a government becoming every day more despotic. Even the army was alienated, having reaped nothing but barren laurels in Algeria. Socialistic theories were openly discussed, and so able an historian as Louis Blanc fanned the discontent. The Press grew more and more hostile, seeing that the nation had been duped and mocked. But the most marked feature of the times was excessive venality. “Talents, energy, and eloquence,” says Louis Blanc, “were alike devoted to making money. Even literature and science were venal. All elevated sentiments were forgotten in the brutal materialism which followed the thirst for gold.” The foundations of society were rapidly being undermined by dangerous theories, and by general selfishness and luxury among the middle classes. No reforms of importance took place. Even Guizot was as much opposed to electoral extension as the Duke of Wellington. The king in his old age became obstinate and callous, and would not listen to advisers. The Prince de Joinville himself complained to his brother of the inflexibility of his father. “His own will,” said he, “must prevail over everything. There are no longer any ministers. Everything rests with the king.”

Added to these evils, there was a failure of the potato crop and a monetary crisis. The annual deficit was alarming. Loans were raised with difficulty. No one came to the support of a throne which was felt to be tottering. The liberal Press made the most of the difficulties to fan the general discontent. It saw no remedy for increasing evils but in parliamentary reform, and this, of course, was opposed by government. The Chamber of Deputies, composed of rich men, had lost the confidence of the nation. The clergy were irrevocably hostile to the government. “Yes,” said Lamartine, “a revolution is approaching; and it is a revolution of contempt.” The most alarming evil was the financial state of the country. The expenses for the year 1847 were over fourteen hundred millions, nearly four hundred millions above the receipts. Such a state of things made loans necessary, which impaired the national credit.

The universal discontent sought a vent in reform banquets, where inflammatory speeches were made and reported. These banquets extended over France, attended by a coalition of hostile parties, the chiefs of which were Thiers, Odillon Barrot, De Tocqueville, Garnier-Pagès, Lamartine, and Ledru-Rollin, who pointed out the evils of the times. At last, in 1848, the opposition resolved on a great banquet in Paris, to defy the government. The radicals sounded the alarm in the newspapers. Terror seized all classes, and public business was suspended, for revolution was in the air Men said to one another, “They will be fighting in the streets soon.”

The place selected for the banquet was in one of the retired streets leading out of the Champs Elysées,–a large open space enclosed by walls capable of seating six thousand people at table. The proposed banquet, however, was changed to a procession, extending from the Place of the Bastille to the Madeleine. The National Guard were invited to attend without their arms, but in uniform. The government was justly alarmed, for no one could tell what would come of it, although the liberal chiefs declared that nothing hostile was meant. Louis Blanc, however,–socialist, historian, journalist, agitator, leader among the working classes,–meant blood. The more moderate now began to fear that a collision would take place between the people and the military, and that they would all be put down or massacred. They were not prepared for an issue which would be the logical effect of the procession, and at the eleventh hour concluded to abandon it. The government, thinking that the crisis was passed, settled into an unaccountable repose. There were only twenty thousand regular troops in the city. There ought to have been eighty thousand; but Guizot was not the man for the occasion.

Meanwhile the National Guard began to fraternize with the people. The popular agitation increased every hour. Soon matters again became serious. Barricades were erected. There was consternation at the Tuileries. A cabinet council was hastily called, with the view of a change of ministers, and Guizot retired from the helm. The crowd thickened in the streets, with hostile intent, and an accidental shot precipitated the battle between the military and the mob. Thiers was hastily sent for at the palace, and arrived at midnight. He refused office unless joined by the man the king most detested, Odillon Barrot. Loath was Louis Philippe to accept this great opposition chief as minister of the interior, but there was no alternative between him and war. The command of the army was taken from Generals Sébastiani and Jacqueminot, and given to Marshal Bugeaud, while General Lamoricière took the command of the National Guard.

The insurgents were not intimidated. They seized the churches, rang the bells, sacked the gunsmith shops, and erected barricades. The old marshal was now hampered by the Executive. He should have been made dictator; but subordinate to the civil power, which was timid and vacillating, he could not act with proper energy. Indeed, he had orders not to fire, and his troops were too few and scattered to oppose the surging mass. The Palais Royal was the first important place to be abandoned, and its pictures and statues were scattered by the triumphant mob. Then followed the attack on the Louvre and the Tuileries; then the abdication of the king; and then his inglorious flight. The monarchy had fallen.

Had Louis Philippe shown the courage and decision of his earlier years, he might have preserved his throne. But he was now a timid old man, and perhaps did not care to prolong his reign by massacre of his people. He preferred dethronement and exile rather than see his capital deluged in blood. Nor did he know whom to trust. Treachery and treason finished what selfishness and hypocrisy had begun. Still, it is wonderful that he preserved his power for eighteen years. He must have had great tact and ability to have reigned so long amid the factions which divided France, and which made a throne surrounded with republican institutions at that time absurd and impossible.


Louis Blanc’s Six Ans de Louis Philippe; Lamartine; Capefigue’s L’Histoire de Louis Philippe; Lives of Thiers and Guizot; Fyffe’s Modern Europe; Life of Lafayette; Annual Register; Mackenzie’s Nineteenth Century; Conversations with Thiers and Guizot.

Beacon Lights of History, Volume IX : European Statesmen