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National Assembly Election for Paris—President and Cabinet-Budget Debate
Raw Material Speech of M. Thiers-Debate of January 19th, and Resignation Crisis—Navigation Act-Anglo-French Commercial Treaty debated and denounced-Motion for Return of Assembly to Paris negatived—Resignation of M. Casimir Perier-Comte de Chambord-Party Programmes–M. RouherSuppression of Imperial Journals-Law of Public Safety-Letter of M. de St. Hilaire-Law of Reserve Chamber-Case of M. Janvier de la Motte-Retirement of M. Ponyer-Quertier-Law against International Society-Easter Recess-Bills for, Army Re-organization and Council of State-Duc d'Audiffret-Pasquier and M. Rouher-Debate on Army Bill— Visit of the “Right” to M. Thiers-Budget Debate—“Incidents " in the Chamber- New Convention with Germany-Great Loan—"Right” and “Left”—Prorogation of Assembly-Death of the Duc de Guise.
AFTER a short Christmas recess the French National Assembly met at Versailles on the 3rd of January. The election of a new member for Paris was still outstanding, the candidates being the well-known poet and novelist M. Victor Hugo, who represented the opinions of the extreme “ Left," and attracted to himself the good wishes of the Red Republicans, Communists, and friends of revolution in general; and M. Vautrain, who though of liberal antecedents, Mayor under the Government of National Defence, and now President of the Municipal Council of Paris, was yet accepted by Royalists and Moderate Republicans alike as representing the Conservative element in the politics of the moment. The voting took place on the 7th of January and resulted in an unexpected victory for M. Vautrain, the numbers polled being 121,000 against 93,000. As in all Parisian elections at this period, the proportion of electors who abstained from voting at all was very considerable. There was no excitement or disturbance of the public peace, and the only drawback to the satisfaction of the Conservative party was the anticipation that this peaceful victory might remove the only valid objection to the instalment of the Assembly in the capital itself, the natural centre of Government. To this measure it was supposed the chief of the State himself was favourable, but to the majority in the Assembly it was eminently distasteful. Legitimists, Orleanists, Imperialists, and moderate Republicans had alike the greatest repugnance to the prospect of carrying on their deliberations within the precincts where the firebrands of the Commune had so lately ruled the hour.
The veteran chief himself had now for eleven months managed to keep his place at the head of affairs amidst difficulties, which, to one of less pertinacity and less prestige, might well have proved overwhelming. In fact, it was on the multiplicity of parties and the impracticability of their leaders for plans of concerted action that the basis of his power rested. M. Thiers knew this; and he knew that to threaten his withdrawal from the functions of Government in case of persistent opposition to his measures, was the most efficacious threat he could hold out to keep Right and Left, Centres and Extremes, in mutual balance. Within his Cabinet the distracted state of public opinion had ample representation. In commercial matters the President himself was an avowed Protectionist. His Budget was founded on the Protectionist principle, and in the general maintenance of this principle he was upheld by his Finance Minister, M. Pouyer-Quertier; while M. Lefranc, Minister of Commerce, was supposed to share their sentiments. But then M. Thiers desired an augmentation of the Budget in order to provide for an increase of the army; the maintenance of the military strength of France being, in his opinion, of the very first necessity. M. Pouyer-Quertier on the other hand wished to reduce the military expenditure, and to develope the agricultural and manufacturing resources of the country, which must needs be seriously impeded by heavy taxation. M. Casimir Perier, Minister of the Interior, was an eminent apostle of Free Trade; so was M. Jules Simon, the Minister of Public Instruction. Again, Perier was known to entertain Orleanist proclivities. Simon, Dufaure, and other members of the Administration were pronounced Republicans. Even Legitimist sympathies were represented within the Cabinet by M. de Larcy, Minister of Public Works. The President was opposed to secular education. M. Jules Simon was in favour of it. Thiers objected to universal compulsory service in the army and advocated conscription. His Minister of War, General de Cissey, advocated general compulsion, and objected to conscription. There were other questions besides on which the President was known to be of a different opinion from his departmental subordinates, but as to which his strength lay in the fact that those subordinates differed also from each other. It might be said that his was a system of Government by equilibrium; and not the least remarkable circumstance about it was that the master himself, who had to keep the springs in balance, was no Cavour or Bismarck in the prime of life and vigour, but an old man near his eightieth year, whose political leadership had been of a time long past, and whose habits and repute had been literary even more than political. For the historian of the Consulate and the Empire it seemed little likely when the war with Germany began that any new title to fame was in store.
When the Assembly recommenced its sittings, two pressing questions were immediately before it: the abrogation of the Cor
mercial Treaty with England, and the Budget. M. Johnston, Deputy for Bordeaux, an Englishman by birth, an Imperialist, and a Free-trader, attempted to force on the consideration of the Treaty first, but his motion was set aside, and precedence was given to the Budget. The debate on this subject was resumed on the 8th of January, the problem laid before the Chamber being in what manner to raise the ten millions sterling (250,000,000 francs) still required for the purposes of revenue during the current year, over and above the fifteen millions which the taxes voted in August were supposed to cover, so as to make up the excess of the twenty-five millions at which the expenditure since the war was estimated. The proposal of an income-tax, made by the Committee of the Budget in December, had, as we have seen, being vigorously opposed by M. Thiers and had been defeated. M. Pouyer-Quertier now suggested on the part of Government that one million out of the required ten should be raised by a simple augmentation of some charges already voted; another million by a tax on transferable securities (valeurs mobilières); four millions by a tax on raw materials; two millions by a tax on textile fabrics. This would leave two millions still to be provided for. „The debate began with the proposed tax on transferable securities; and it was no small surprise to the Government supporters when, on an attack being made upon it by the advocates of the income tax, M. Thiers, instead of standing to its defence, abandoned it at once, confessed it would damage the French market, and fell back, but in a doubtful tone, on the other suggestions of his Budget. A week of very curious Parliamentary tactics ensued. The President of the Republic invited the Chamber to a discussion of principles rather than to a debate on any definite motion. He himself interfered in the discussion as much and as often as if no proposition Vitet had ever claimed to limit his privilege of speech. On the 9th M. Raudot advanced to defend the scheme which the head of the Government himself had so readily thrown over. He urged the mischievous effect it would have upon the country to see the Government thus abandon its own financial scheme on the ground that it was unsound in principle, and regretted not merely the abandonment of this tax on transferable securities, but still more the notion that the House was to discuss indefinitely the merits of all alternative schemes for raising a revenue. M. Buffet, who had been Minister of Finance under the Empire, maintained, in reply to M. Raudot, that a tax laid upon obligations was a fatal impost, and would drive away foreign capital from the country. M. Ponyer-Quertier defended his own project. He remarked, however, that it mattered not to him how many sources of revenue were abandoned provided that those who threw them over would take the responsibility of finding others equally good. It was then agreed, on a motion of M. Thiers, to leave the matter open till all the other proposed taxes had been discussed.
The preliminary, or general, debate on the Tax on Raw Materials brought up M. Tolain, member for Paris and an adherent of the International Association. One of the great objections, he said, raised to the income-tax and a tax on certain items of revenue was that either impost would be arbitrary. But the tax upon raw material with a drawback was equally arbitrary. A twenty per cent. duty would also give rise to frauds. He praised the innate love of work exhibited by the English labouring classes, and lamented its absence among the French. Work, said M. Tolain, should be regarded as the law of humanity-as the irremissible duty imposed upon man. M. Tirard, another Radical member for Paris, condemned the twenty per cent. duty, which he characterized as the most fatal of all taxes; fatal because it was indeterminate, fatal because it would necessitate dangerous negotiations with foreign countries, fatal because it would kill foreign commerce. “Ah, gentlemen," he afterwards said, “military chauvinism has cost us dear enough to warn us against industrial chauvinism. I do not dispute the superiority of French produce, but we must not forget that we have neighbours who are superior to us in trafficking. Our cause of inferiority cannot disappear at once; but it will disappear when Frenchmen learn to speak foreign languages, and when fathers make their sons something else than lawyers, doctors, or officials.” M. Deseilligny, in an eloquent speech, attacked the plan both of the Government and the Committee. He argued that France must look to manufactures for money to pay her war indemnity, and that if manufacturers were interfered with, the Treasury by levying indirect, would lose direct taxes. He made the Minister of Finance wince when he laid before the Assembly the expressed opinions of the various Chambers of Commerce, no fewer than fifty-five in number, on the Government twenty per cent. duty with drawback, or three per cent. without drawback. In conclusion, he proposed a tax of one franc per thousand on all business transactions, calculating that in this way the Government could raise 100,000,000 fr., which, with other taxes and due economy, would enable it to meet the engagements of the country.
The preliminary discussion over, M. Pouyer-Quertier on the 12th brought in the Bill containing the propositions for the new tariff on raw material, the principal items of which were an impost of sixteen per cent. on raw wool and cotton, four per cent. on dry cocoons, ten per cent. on raw silk, and fifteen per
cent. on thrown silk; the duties to be repaid on the article being re-exported in a manufactured state, on the basis of a “ drawback," or by the application of the system of temporary admission. To this proposed scheme, M. de Lasteyrie, a member of the Right, declared his objections. “I am a Liberal,” he said," and I cannot accept the twenty per cent. duty. You have before you four systems: the tax on items of income, which is just; the décime on existing taxes, which is the most unjust of all; the duty on salt, which is the most unpopular; and the duty on raw material, which is the most damaging. Take your choice.”
On the following day, Saturday, the 13th, M. Thiers made a speech three hours long in defence of the Ministerial scheme. He appealed to his hearers even more on political than on economical grounds. Ten millions sterling had to be provided by new taxes. The continuance of the so-called Truce of Bordeaux depended on the confidence reposed in himself, and in the means he thought best for the emergency.
He barred all discussion as to the question whether the sum mentioned was really needed. True he had raised the estimated expenses of the army by three millions; but he defied any one to prove that the heightened estimate was not needful for the safety and honour of France. “For the last thirty years," he said, “we have been living under delusions which I often endeavoured to dissipate. I have never ceased saying to friend and foe,
One day you will cruelly regret the way in which the interests of the army are neglected. One day we shall have a terrible surprise.' It is some consolation to think that we are about to shake off these illusions, which allowed us to sleep on the brink of an abyss, and to believe we were strong when we were in reality weak.” He demanded eight millions sterling for paying off in portion the late advances made by the Bank of France, thereby empowering it to reduce its paper circulation. As to the means for raising the money wanted, he declared the only sufficient resource to be a tax on raw material. The project of augmenting proportionately the existing taxes was hopeless : land could bear no more taxation than it did already. From an augmentation of the sugar duties, indeed, he was willing to derive some of the required money; but this could not furnish more than a quarter of the sum required. He then proceeded to justify the proposed tariff, directing his remarks, however, specially to the imposts on cotton, wool, and silk. With regard to the first article, he stated that 100,000,000 kilogrammes of cotton were annually imported into France, each kilogramme being worth 2 fr. A tax of twenty per cent., or 40 centimes per kilogramme, would yield 40,000,000 fr., from which could be deducted a “ drawback” of 4,000,000 fr. on the proportion of manufactured cotton goods, leaving the revenue to be benefited to the extent of 36,000,000 fr., or nearly a million and a half sterling. As to wools, he insisted on the absolute necessity of having a duty levied on the foreign article, in order to protect the French grower. He stated that half the quantity of wool employed in French manufactures, or 100,000,000 kilogrammes, came from abroad. This, after the cleansing process, was reducible to 45,000,000 kilogrammes, at 5 fr. per kilogramme. A duty of 38 centimes per kilogramme on this quantity would produce 36,000,000 fr., or, after deducting the drawback on manufactured goods, 26,000,000 fr., while the French wool-grower would be protected by a duty of eighteen per cent. against his foreign competitor. As to silk, that was an article that stood on its own peculiar footing. A drawback equal to the duty was to be granted; and, as statistical accounts laid down that the quantity of silk exported and imported was just the same, no advantage to the revenue would at first sight appear. But