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If he listened to the Prince he exposed himself to the tears of his wife and the reproaches of his supporters. If he attended to the Empress he was liable to be charged with abandoning the cause for which 30,000 French soldiers had laid down their lives in 1859.* A stronger man than the Emperor would have resolutely faced the difficulties of the situation, and have definitely decided on the policy to be pursued. Bat the Emperor, throughout his career, always shrank from arriving at a decision on the day which he could defer till the morrow. He could not bring himself either to abandon the Pope or to impose a distinct veto on the aggression of the Italians. His vacillating and uncertain policy secured the support of neither Turin nor Rome, and offended both. The Italians complained that the Emperor's attitude was preventing them from crowning the edifice of a United Italy by giving her Rome as her capital. The Papal Government complained that the presence of a French garrison had prevented it having recourse to other assistance, and had not preserved it from the loss of its territory.
The Emperor, moreover, was confronted with another difficulty, an indirect legacy of the Italian campaign. In Italy he was the champion of liberty ; in France he was the head of an autocratic government. He was practising one principle at home and advocating another abroad. The dilemma which he was thus preparing for himself was pointed out on the eve of the Italian war. "You are com
promising,' said M. Plichon in the French Chamber, 'the 'internal tranquillity of France. For you cannot be revo'lutionary in Italy, and remain conservative at home. If ' you are going to crush the despotic rule of Austria,' said M. Jules Favre on the same occasion, ‘my heart, my blood, 'my life are at your service. But when the victory has • been won, I shall claim from the conqueror that he will
concede to his own people the liberties which he will have restored to another nation.'
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* In a remarkable interview which he had with M. de Falloux in 1860, the Emperor explained his difficulties by saying, 'I have always been bound to the cause of Italy, and it is impossible for me to turn my guns upon her. (Memoirs of M. de Falloux, ii. 226.)
+ Cardinal Antonelli, on being congratulated on the dismissal of M. Thouvenel, who was in favour of the French troops evacuating Rome at a definite date, replied : Non; c'est alors que nous commençons à trembler. Ce sont nos amis qu'on chargera de nous exécuter. (Le Secret de l'Empereur, ii. 439, note.)
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Perhaps the Emperor was himself conscious of the inconsistency of giving liberal institutions to Italy while denying them to France. Perhaps, as M. Ollivier hints, he was a little weary of the burden of empire and anxious to shift some of the load on to other shoulders. Perhaps he was anxious to devote to the Life of Cæsar some of the hours which he had hitherto reserved for affairs. At any rate, he decided to give his legislature a little more power. Verily there seemed little risk in such a step. The election of 1857 had returned only five men (Les Cinq,' as they were called) who were avowedly in favour of a more liberal system of government. The two men, who rapidly became the chief exponents of the five, were M. Jules Favre, who was already known as a capable orator both in the legislature and at the Bar, and M. Emile Ollivier, the author of the volumes whose title we have placed at the head of this article. In the sessions of 1857, 1858, 1859, and 1860, the five under M. Ollivier's guidance had shown considerable skill in criticising the autocratic measures of the Emperor without transgressing the rules of debate. They had been encouraged in their difficult task by the sympathy of M. de Morny, the President of the Chamber, who was slowly arriving at the conclusion that the legislature might safely be entrusted with a larger measure of responsibility. M. de Morny's parentage- he was the half-brother of the Emperor
-gave him ready access to the Emperor's ear. He prevailed on the Emperor to accord to the legislature a little more liberty of discussion, and to formulate the decree of November 24, 1860, the foundation-stone of l'Empire Libéral. Perhaps there is no better proof of the restrictions under which the legislature had previously acted than is afforded by the concessions contained in this decree. It introduced three reforms:-1. It restored the Address to the throne at the opening of each session, and thus afforded the Opposition an opportunity of criticising every salient point in the policy of the Government. 2. It directed the publication in the 'Journal Officiel' of authorised official reports of the proceedings of the Senate and the Legislative Assembly, and thus brought the delegates into touch with the people. 3. It undertook that the Emperor should be represented, and that his measures should be defended, in the Chambers by ministers without portfolios. Perhaps, when we in this country are a little inclined to denounce the abuses which have crept into and are prolonging the debate on the Address, it may do us good to recollect that the restoration of the
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Address was the first stage which marked the passage from autocratic to liberal government in the Second Empire.
Il n'y a que le premier pas qui coûte.' Almost exactly a year after the publication of this decree, the Emperor took another and still more significant step. On November 15, 1861, he announced his intention to reorganise the financial arrangements of the Empire, and to surrender the right which he had hitherto exercised of opening supplementary credits when the legislature was not sitting. This concession was even more striking than that which preceded it. For the men who control the purse will, in the long run, govern the country. Napoleon, indeed, found it necessary to disregard his own promise almost as soon as he had given it. The necessities of the Mexican expedition induced or compelled him to raise a supplementary credit of 35,000,000 francs (1,400,0001.) without the authority of the legislature. But this illegal action, of course, strengthened the hands of the Opposition. It gave M. Ollivier himself the opportunity of declaring that the true method of preventing irregularity was to make the minister responsible to the legislature. It was a striking sign of the progress which had been made that constitutional government and a responsible ministry should have been openly demanded in the autocratic Chamber which had been elected in 1857.
At the time at which the demand was raised both parties were making elaborate efforts in preparation for a fresh election. The general election of 1863 was fought in very different circumstances from those which had existed during the general election of 1857. In 1857 there was a general disinclination among Liberals to engage in politics; in 1863 there was as general an interest in the progress of affairs. In 1857 the Liberals had experienced difficulty in finding candidates; in 1863 their chief difficulty consisted in deciding among many candidates who were the most competent to stand. In 1857 Paris had with some hesitation returned five Liberals. In 1863 the five and their allies swept every constituency in the French capital. In the provinces, indeed, the machinery at the disposal of the Government enabled it to prevail over the attacks of the Liberals and the discontent of the Church. But the whole aspect of the Chamber was altered by the elections of 1863. An obscure group of five members had developed into a party; and the opposition, which this party was preparing, was facilitated by the concessions which the Emperor had himself made : by the decree of November 1860, and the financial
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reforms of November 1861. The elections of 1863--80 wrote M. de Morny-had left the Emperor and the democracy face to face.
Conscious of the great change which had, almost silently, been effected in the principle on which his government was founded, the Emperor himself set bis mark upon it by changing his machinery. No man had served him more faithfully than M. de Persigny: no man had struggled harder to win victory in 1863. If he had failed to make any impression on Paris, no man had done more to ensure the victory of Imperialism in the provinces. In throwing himself into the struggle, M. de Persigny had adopted a policy in which he firmly believed. This policy was based on the principle that ministers should be responsible to the Emperor alone; and M. Ollivier was already demanding—and the electors were supporting the demand—that they should be responsible to Parliament. The Emperor marked his sense of the change by removing M. de Persigny from office. At the same time he replaced the ministers without portfolios who had been appointed under the decree of 1860—by a Minister of State, who was made the mouthpiece of the Government before the Chambers on all occasions. For the latter office he selected M. Billault, by far the most eminent of the ministers without portfolios, and a man whose tact, whose temper, whose debating skill, and whose liberal opinions qualified him to fill the first place in a responsible ministry. The dismissal of M. de Persigny, and the selection of M. Billault, were, in fact, accepted as much more important indications of the drift of the Emperor's policy than the decrees of 1860 and 1861. For he had deliberately parted from the faithful supporter whose policy was most distinctly opposed to M. Ollivier's demand, and he had as deliberately selected the Liberal statesman whose appointment was certain to be welcome to M. Ollivier and his friends. By a singular misfortune, M. Billault was struck down by sudden illness on the morrow of his appointment, and the Emperor replaced him—the saying at the time was that they had given M. Billault un remplaçant plutôt
qu'un successeur '— with M. Rouher. No one foresaw at the time the consequences of the appointment. No one foresaw that, in giving the Chamber a new mouthpiece for his Government, the Emperor presented not merely the Chamber but France itself with a master. It was on the * 18th of October, 1863, so writes M. de la Gorce, that ' the Emperor made M. Rouher Minister of State. That
date should be remembered by the historian. For on that day began the reign of M. Rouher.'
A little more than four years had passed since the Emperor at Villafranca, exercising an authority which none of his subjects dared question, had practically dictated the terms on which the peace of Europe should be assured. In the interval everything both in Italy and France had tended to discredit his policy and to shake belief in his destiny. For Italy, against the will of the Emperor, had become a powerful kingdom-a serious menace, as many Frenchmen thought, to France ; while the Pope, instead of being promoted to the chief place in a new Italian Federation, had, to the dismay of all pious Catholics, both in France and elsewhere, been stripped of his possessions. Catholic France was angry at the spoliation of the head of the Church; military France was annoyed at reflecting that the defeat of the Pope had been accompanied by the defeat of a French general; and that French ships and French troops had stood idly by, while the King, whom they had been sent to support, had been driven from his last stronghold, and the Pope, whom they had been directed to sustain, had been reduced to extremity. In the discredit of the Emperor's policy, and in the universal unpopularity of his measures, Liberal France had naturally seen fresh opportunities for critieising his system, and had claimed that the self-government which had been given to Italy should, at least, be extended to France. The exertions of the Liberals had led to concessions which, large in themselves, had become larger from the manner in which they were carried out. The elections of 1863 had constituted an Opposition formidable not merely from its numbers, but from the ability of its members, and from the success which they had already achieved ; and the Emperor, instead of being the autocratic head of a State whose legislature was a mere echo of his will, found himself the chief of a government confronted with a Parliament prepared to seize every opportunity of criticising, and even thwarting, his policy.
Had the Emperor, at this juncture, frankly accepted the full consequences of changes to which he had himself agreed, the history of the next few years might have taken another course. Even if the great disaster of 1870 had not been averted, the responsibility for it might have rested on the ministers and not on the sovereign. But, in truth, Napoleon's temperament was ill adapted to fit him to work with a constitutional ministry. Incapable of decision, he
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