Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
Display paragraphs in this book containing:
First Pub. Date
New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
Pub. Date
Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
325 of 1105



COUPS D'ÉTAT. Coups d'état are always a violation of established law: they are therefore execrated by those who suffer from them, and extolled by those who profit by them. Posterity itself does not always agree in its judgment concerning the majority of coups d'état. Some estimate the facts according to the motives which prompted them, and say, the end justifies the means; others look at the effects, and excuse everything by the result—salus reipublicæ suprema lex; still others put principles higher than all material advantages, and do not admit in any case that right or justice should be violated.


—We here, on this delicate question, give the opinion of those publicists who have touched upon it in their writings.


—Montesquieu says (Esprit des lois, book xix., chap. xix.), in treating of coups d'état in republics, "There are, in states which value liberty most, laws which violate it in the case of one man in order to preserve it for all. Such are the bills of attainder in England. They are related to those laws of Athens which decreed ostracism against a single man, provided 6,000 citizens voted for it. Such, too, were the laws made at Rome against private citizens, and which were called privileges (de privatis hominibus latœ.)"*68


—"I confess," adds Montesquieu, "that the practice of the freest people that have ever been on earth (the Greeks and Romans) makes me believe that there are cases in which it is necessary to draw a veil over liberty for a moment, as the statues of the gods were hidden." Montesquieu's opinion, thus formulated, was meant only for republican governments; in which ambition frequently causes embarrassing situations, hindering the action of power; and if power there really rests on the consent of all, the ambition of a few should not deprive the citizens of a security which they need to act like a free people. It is in such cases that Montesquieu approves the suspension of the habeas corpus of the English. He concedes, too, that measures whose justification is their necessity should be resorted to even in violation of law, provided they are adopted to save the imperiled liberties of a people. But, in the case of monarchical governments, the illustrious author does not sanction coups d'état, commissions extraordinary, ostracism or anything which changes the legal order of things.—"A prince," he says, "should act candidly with his subjects, honestly, with confidence; the man who is so often disturbed with suspicious and fears is an actor troubled in playing his part. * * Royal authority is a great spring which should move easily and without noise. There are cases in which power should act to its full extent; there are others in which it acts within limits. The sublime in the administration of government is to know well what power, great or small, should be employed under different circumstances." (Ibid., chaps. xxiii. and xxv.)


—With such principles applied in the government of men, states would have no crises to fear but such as might be brought about by competitors of the prince, a man always surrounded by flatterers, who deceive him, and who are interested in nourishing vain hopes in the minds of their master; but these crises would soon abate under the influence of constant prosperity assured to a grateful people who would not be tempted to try the chances of adventure from which they could gain nothing but infinite annoyance. But Montesquieu foresees the case in which, by some circumstance, the political law [fundamental law or constitution—ED.] destroys the state.—"When the political [fundamental] law," he says, "which has established a certain order of succession in the state, becomes destructive to the political body for which it was made, it can not be doubted that another political [fundamental] law is competent to change this order; and this law, far from being opposed to the first, is, in its essence, entirely conformable to it, since they both depend upon this principle: The safety of the people is the supreme law."


—The consequence of what precedes, and which we take from book xxxvi., chap. xxiii., of the "Spirit of Laws," is that, if an energetic man or a number of resolute citizens should lend themselves to acts from which the good of the nation would result, either through a coup d'état or persuasion, this man and these citizens would have deserved well of the country.


—But we know that coups d'état have not always given the results expected from them; and in the revolutionary phase through which the French passed from 1790 to 1800, coups d'état succeeded each other with such rapidity that in the morning no one knew whether the law of the day before was still in force. Factions which came into power through a coup d'état were overthrown by a coup d'état, and all the pretended principles of one day were set aside by the principles of the next.


—Macchiavelli would have called this formidable disorder a conspiracy. He has written many pages on conspiracies, so often baffled by coups d'état. He reviews the coups d'état of ancient Rome, and those of the Florentine republic, whose history he wrote. He recalls, also, those of Greece, and gives, as is his wont, a theory of conspiracies. He lays it down as a principle, that a prince is never safe upon his throne so long as those who have been dispossessed of it are still living. (Non vive sicuro un principe in uno principato, mentre vivono coloro che ne sono stati spogliati.) "Let every potentate," he adds, "remember well that old resentments are never blotted out by favors, which are the more useless in proportion as the evil suffered is greater than the benefits received." But he does not advise coups d'état, as we shall see. "Let princes," he says, "once for all put it clearly into their minds that they run great risk of losing their crown the moment that they violate the laws and customs under which the people have long lived. But when these unhappy princes have lost their kingdoms, if they become wise enough to see how easily moderate and prudent princes maintain themselves upon the throne, they will suffer still greater vexation from their losses, and will believe themselves worthy of still greater penalties than those inflicted on them; for it is much easier to gain the love of honest people than of scoundrels, and to submit to laws than to violate them. Thus, a prince who would reign as an honorable man, has only to take as a model the life of one of those illustrious by their goodness, such as Timoleon of Corinth, Aratus of Sicyon, and so many others whose reigns were so full of satisfaction as well to the sovereign as to his subjects. This alone should rouse in a prince the desire of following such shining examples, since there is nothing so easy; for when people are well governed, they ask for no other liberty; as is seen by the example of the two persons whom we have just mentioned, who were forced to reign all their days, although their inclinations invited them to live privately and in retirement."


—We have thought it interesting to quote Macchiavelli here, which to more than one person will doubtless appear strange, in view of the opinion held of this writer. In this matter, however, he is not satisfied with his own opinion; he strengthens it by that of Tacitus, from whom he borrows this maxim: "Men should venerate past ages, and accommodate themselves to the present time. They should desire good princes and endure the others. For it is certain that all those who act otherwise bring total ruin on themselves, and on their country."


—It would be to mistake Macchiavelli to suppose that he teaches only the doctrine of ruling by craft, violence and force, since he affirms, in many passages of his book, the "Prince," that it is better to govern by virtue than by villainy, and that power acquired by legal means has less chance than any other of being overturned by a bold stroke.


—About the same period there was a whole school in France, at the head of which stood G. Naudé, who considered princes justified in putting themselves above the law at certain times and crushing out resistance by means of coups d'état. Charron, in his treatise on "Prudence," shares this opinion, and expresses himself as follows: "We must know that the justice, virtue and probity of a sovereign proceed somewhat differently from those of private men; they have a wider and freer path, on account of the great, pressing and dangerous burden which they bear; this is why they may move in a way which may seem to others erratic and irregular." But, adds G. Naudé in quoting this passage of Charron, this may be necessary, honest and legitimate. Sovereigns are not so strictly bound by the laws as private persons, if the step which seems unlawful in them is necessary; as when they wish to prevent others from deceiving them, and anticipate those who wish to surprise them! Thus, John II., king of Portugal, aware of the designs which Ferdinand, his cousin, and the duke of Braganza, his brother-in-law, had formed against him, anticipated them. He killed one with his own hands, and turned the other over to the executioner. Louis XIII., seeing that the Spaniards were sowing discord among the French, and aiding the rebels with their counsels and money, paid them back in the same coin; he supplied the Catalans and the Portuguese with the means of defending themselves against their masters.


—To justify coups d'état, the authors of the school above mentioned treat of the state reason which leads to them, and the means which princes should employ to be always ready to act in the spirit of the power which they hold in their hands. They send agents, nuncios, ambassadors, legates, to spy out the actions of foreign princes, and to dissimulate, cover up and disguise those of their masters, The man who does not know how to dissimulate, said Tiberius and Louis XI., will never know how to reign.


—It is equally necessary, says Naudé, to make secret arrangements, gain information, and manage to attract with subtlety the hearts and affections of officers, servants and confidants, of other foreign princes and lords, or one's own subjects—what Cicero calls, in the first book De Officiis: Conciliare sibi animos hominum et ad usus suos adjungere (to gain the hearts of men and employ them for one's own purposes.) This is ordinary prudence, and can not be called state secrets, coups d'état or arcana imperiorum.


—These terms must be reserved for great ruses, which are sometimes a part of extraordinary prudence, the motive power in matters of difficulty, which are not unfrequently very annoying and of a nature to be classed among the arcana imperiorum.


—Clapmarius says that state secrets are nothing but the various means, reasons and counsels which princes make use of to preserve their authority and the statu quo of the public, without, however, transgressing the ordinary law, or arousing any suspicion of fraud or injustice. He divides them into secrets of empire, which he subdivides into six classes, and into secrets of rule, which those who command should keep in order to maintain themselves in authority.


—Naudé thus sums up his views: "The chief power of a prince is in the love and union of his subjects," but he adds, "The second is the reason of state, excessum juris communis propter bonum commune." Here the reason of state opens a very wide door to arbitrary power. It is necessary to define what the reason of state is, and whether a prince may not understand it according to his wishes, and even according to his caprice. To abandon the interest of a people, completely, to the will of princes guided only by reasons of state, is evidently to compromise it; for princes, through a tendency inherent in human nature, may find a reason of state where there is nothing but their own fancy and the satisfaction of personal ambition. Powerful nations which seize the possessions of weaker ones do so for reasons of state. Reasons of state are the mantle with which they cover their injustice. It was for reasons of state that the Spaniards barbarously exterminated the Indians who defended their country; it was again for reasons of state that the same Spaniards seized Navaire, and much territory which they now possess; it was for reasons of state that Charles VIII. seized Anne of Brittany, who had married by proxy Maximilian I., king of the Romans.


—When the English sent two or three fleets to La Rochelle, in the time of Richelieu, it was more for reasons of state than from religious zeal, since they went to aid the Catholic Belgians against Spain: it was again for reasons of state that the Danes took up arms to prevent the Swedes from conquering Poland. It was for reasons of state that so many influential persons have fallen under the axe of the executioner: it is reasons of state that must justify many an act which humanity and justice condemn.


—It is as a consequence of reasons of state that princes or depositaries of power think of coups d'état; and if it were clearly shown by absolute logic that reasons of state ordained the transgression of the law in a given case the resulting coup d'état would have to be forgiven in the eyes of history and sound philosophy. But who shall say that this sanction is given by absolute reason? This sanction is wanting, unfortunately, in the case of numberless political acts called coups d'état. Let us now unfold the theory of coups d'état, according to Naudé and Charron. It seems superfluous to tell the reader that we are here simply an historian.—"The first rule in coups d'état," says Charron, "is to employ them justly, honorably and usefully, in defense, and not in offense; for self-preservation, and not for aggrandizement; to guard one's self against deceit, wickedness and harmful undertakings and surprises, and not to commit acts of deceit or wickedness: Communis utililas derelictio contra naturam est, says Cicero."l Naudé, following Charron, adds: "The occasions which necessitate coups d'état are, first, when on the occasion of the establishment of monarchies, empires and principalities, recourse is had to the intervention of religion or deceit."


—The second rule is, that there should be an evident necessity for the coup d'état, an important public advantage to the state or the prince, to justify it—an unavoidable duty; for the repositaries of power are bound to labor for the good of all. Semper officio fungitur, Cicero again says, utilitali hominum consulens et societati.


—Charron's third rule is never to decide until after careful examination, without ever losing sight of the precept of Claudian: Nulla unquam de morte hominis cunctatio longa est. Naudé was of opinion that coups d'état should be considered legitimate when there is question of doing away with the privileges of a class in the nation, which that class enjoys to the prejudice of all, and which diminishes the authority of the prince.


—In laying down the fourth rule, Charron recommends the choice of the mildest measures; for, says he, too great severity is a lamentable thing. Naudé is also in favor of coups d'état when it is desired to destroy power too formidable in the state, and which can not be done away with by ordinary means.


—Charron's fifth and last rule requires that princes should not resort to coups d'état unless compelled thereto by necessity, and only with regret. Naudé, in his fifth rule, adds that the depositary of power should take advantage of a proper occasion to limit or destroy the excessive power of a man who wishes to abuse it to the detriment of the state, or who, by the great number of his partisans and the intrigues of his coconspirators, has become formidable to the sovereign. Naudé closes with these words: "to have him dispatched secretly if necessary, provided he be guilty."


—This is what previous centuries have handed down to us on coups d'état. We shall not offend the reader by refuting the preceding doctrine. Moreover, do we not live in an atmosphere altogether different from that of our grandfathers? Did the dogma of national sovereignty count its adherents by millions when the most highly esteemed of men, the élite of their time, did not recoil before measures which inspire us to-day with horror?


—Let us now listen to a modern author, Benjamin Constant, who, in a chapter entitled De l' Effet des mesures illégales et despatiques, dans les gouvernements réguliers euxmémes, (Cours de politique constitutionnelle, edited by M. E. Laboulaye, Paris, Guillaumin, t. ii., p 246 ff.), says, among other things, "When a regular government permits itself to employ arbitrary measures, it sacrifices the object of its existence to the measures which it takes to preserve that existence. Why do we wish that authority should repress those who might attack our property, our liberty, or our lives? In order that the enjoyment of these may be assured us. But if our fortunes may be destroyed, our liberty menaced, our lives troubled by arbitrary power, what good shall we get from the protection of authority? Why do we wish that those who conspire against the constitution of the state should be punished? Because we fear that the conspirators would substitute an oppressive power for legal and moderate organized power. But if authority itself exercises this oppressive power, what advantage is there in it?" And further on "Doubtless there are, for political communities, moments of danger which the greatest human prudence can scarcely conjure away. But it is not by violence or by the suppression of justice that this danger is avoided: on the contrary, it is by adhering more carefully than ever to established laws, to protective forms, to preservative guarantees. All moderate governments, all governments resting on law and justice, are ruined by the interruption of justice, by deviating from the path of the law. And as it is in their nature sooner or later to abandon the use of unjust or illegal means, their enemies await that moment to turn to account the memory of the wrongs such governments have done. Violence seems to save them for a moment, but it renders their fall more inevitable; for in delivering them from a few enemies, it makes more general the hatred which its enemies bear them."


—Previously the same author had said (vol. ii., p. 244): "Everything confirms this maxim of Montesquieu, that, in proportion as his power assumes immense proportions, the safety of the monarch decreases. Not so, say the adherents of despotism; when governments fall, it is due to their weakness Let them watch, let them be severe, let them imprison, let them strike without being hindered by empty forms. In support of this doctrine, two or three examples are cited of violent and illegal measures which seem to have saved the governments which employed them. But to give force to these examples, the vision is restricted to a few years of their operation. If we look farther, it will be seen that the governments in question, far from being strengthened by these measures were ruined by them."


—M. de Lamartine thus expresses himself: "* * This was necessary in order to explain to M. Thiers, that, if Napoleon, whom he absolved of ambition on the 18th Brumaire, was doomed to be ruined, and ruin France later, it was not through lack of genius but through lack of right. Right is inviolable; but right is a limitation. It limits fortune, but it also limits folly. It is, therefore, a great moral and political reproach to M. Thiers, that, in the beginning of his history, he throws a veil of amnesty and a shower of laurels on the 18th Brumaire. This historical sin will follow him everywhere in the course of his narrative. It is useless to try to bury conscience under a flag of victory: it is not killed, and rises up in all the crises of existence of the soldier who strikes it with his sword." (De Lamartine, Cours familier de littérature, vol. viii., p. 117.)


—We shall now cite some of the most striking coups d'état in history. It was by a coup d'état that Servius Tullius succeeded his father-in-law, Tarquin the Elder. Tarquin's wife concealed his death several days, during which Servius proscribed the sons of Ancus, who had caused Tarquin to be assassinated, confiscated their property and blasted their memory. The senate resisted, but Servius Tullius took no heed of its murmurs, secured the consent of the plebeians, and had himself made king in the assembly of the curiæ.


—The assassination of the Gracchi also was a coup d'état.


—The death of Cæsar was a coup d'état, which did not long delay the downfall of the republic and the establishment of the monarchy. Cæsar aspired to royalty; he wished to attain supreme power; he intended to make great internal improvements; but he did not consider that these benefits would lose their value in the eyes of the Romans if they were granted by a despot.


—Secrecy is the condition of success in coups d'état: ante ferit quam flamma micet. The plot of St. Bartholomew was communicated by Catherine de Medicis only to her son, Charles IX., to Henry, duke of Anjou, his brother, and the duke of Guise, her favorite. The plan to kill Charles, king of Naples, who had been elected king of Hungary by the magnates of the country, was made known only to. Blaise Forbach, who dealt the blow, and to queen Elizabeth and queen Mary, who were to profit by it. Jane of Naples, wishing to strangle Andrew of Hungary, her husband, mentioned her design only to Philip, to her Catanian nurse, and to Louis, prince of Tarante, her lover.


—There is a coup d'état, however, which was noised about, known in advance, and which nevertheless succeeded, that by which Henry III. got rid of the duke of Guise, who had boldly defied him. The Parisians loved Henri de Guise better than they had ever loved a prince; and, as Henry III. had no posterity nor hope of any, the duke was naturally thought of as his successor. The duke had acquired the reputation of a zealous Catholic, of a great warrior, of a real friend of the people, whose every inclination he flattered; he turned public contempt on the king by all possible means; and the Parisians enthusiastically applauded every attempt of the duke, who being in Paris when the king threatened to punish the Parisians, the latter resisted the king and raised barricades even at the gates of the Louvre, from which they had driven him. Henry III. retired to Chartres, where the duke went to see him; and the king, who, according to the opinion of pope Sixtus V., ought to have had him assassinated, let him go safely away. A little later the duke asked that the meeting of the estates of the kingdom should be held at Blois, where, trusting in the promise given by the king not to harm him, but much more to the consideration shown him by the deputies, he redoubled his insolence, and spoke of having the king, his master, shut up in a monastery. The king was ignorant of none of these insolent acts of the duke, nor of his bold plans. He resolved to get rid of him, and caused him to be assassinated in his study Dec. 23, 1588. The king wished to confide the execution of his orders to Crillon. Crillon answered that he was too much of a man of honor to kill the duke like a traitor; but that, if it pleased his majesty so to order, he would engage in single combat with him, and would either die in the struggle or kill him This way seemed too long and too uncertain to the king. He therefore ordered some of his guards to strike the duke as he was entering his study. In vain was Henry of Guise informed by a note placed in his napkin; in vain was he informed by his friends of the plans of the king against his person: he took no account of these warnings and braved death.


—The victims of the St. Bartholomew massacre were not without warning, although the queen had taken but three persons into her confidence. There was something in the air which foreboded trouble.


—In the revolution of 1789 we find a series of coups d'état. They were resorted to by every party in power against the party to which the future, for a few days at least, seemed to belong. The Mountain destroyed the Girondins; the Thermidoriens, in turn, proscribed the Mountain: Robespierre, after sacrificing Hebert and Danton, after science, talent, reputation and virtue had become for him causes of proscription, fell himself under the coup d'état of the 9th Thermidor. France breathed freely again, and the remnants of the Mountain were dispersed on the 13th Vendémiaire, year III. But the directory was not strong enough, nor had it moral sense sufficient to restore calm to a nation wearied by deep civil dissension and the most horrible excess.


—The directory, feeling that the council of the five hundred was going to rule and absorb it, decided on the coup d'état of the 18th Fructidor, in which it proscribed two of its own members and 53 members of the two councils. For this purpose, it brought troops to Paris under the command of Augereau: he surrounded the assembly building during the night. Those deputies accused of conspiracy were arrested; the loyal members met in another place, formed a council, and approved the measures taken by the directory. A list of proscribed persons was drawn up; the journalists, deputies and heads of the Clichien party were transported. The revolution, or rather the directory, was thus saved—we know for how long—for parties submit only to a power which knows how to make itself feared, and the directory had neither the authority, the prestige nor the power indispensable in such a situation.


—The coup d'état of the 18th Fructidor did not prevent parties from conspiring, nor the directory from being despised by all. Then three directors out of five came to an understanding with general Bonaparte. They felt their power menaced, and they invoked the aid of the young conqueror. They knew that the executive power was slipping from their hands; they wished to assure it to themselves by change. Sieyés desired also to try his famous pyramidal constitution with his great elector; and young general Bonaparte, who had unexpectedly arrived from Egypt shortly before, was the arm on which they depended to bring about another 18th Fructidor. But this limited role did not suit the young hero. He had an arm, but he had a head too. The directors had not thought of this. They therefore came to an understanding with Bonaparte. Strong by reason of the permanent conspiracies of the royalists and Jacobins and the continual encroachment of the councils, they agreed to convoke the councils at St. Cloud, in order to draw them away from the movement and the direct support of the people of the suburbs.


—Of the five directors, Gohier and Moulin, of the democratic party, favored it and held aloof; Barras desired that something should be done; Sieyés and Roger-Ducos declaimed against the Jacobins, and asked for a new constitution; the five hundred, dreading foreign intervention, were anxious that the energy of patriotism should not be lost or wasted. In this irrepressible conflict, one of the two powers had to succumb.


—This removal of the councils to St. Cloud was not altogether contrary to the constitution. The necessity of this measure, in certain contingencies, had been recognized in the text of the constitution of the year III.; but it had to be voted for by the five hundred. The members favorable to the measure were called together, and the measure itself was carried. Talleyrand, Fouché, minister of police, the president, and many members of the conseil desanciens, entered into the conspiracy. Sieyés was the soul of the moment. It was a question with him of establishing a strong and stable government to succeed the weak directory. Barras and Roger-Ducos made no opposition. Lucian Bonaparte, who presided over the five hundred, supported his brother in this body, in which the full vigor of the old assemblies seemed still to live. The way having been prepared, and generals Augereau, Gardanne, Murat and Leclerc informed of the movement on foot, the two recalcitrant directors having been placed under close surveillance at the Luxembourg, Bonaparte appeared before the conseil des anciens just when some members who had been absent the day before were asking an explanation of the removal, and giving expression to their surprise at the unusual commotion apparent. Suddenly the news of the resignation of Sieyés, Barras, and Roger-Ducos, was bruited through the hall. At this moment the general, with his staff, appeared on the threshold of the chamber. He began to speak, and said: "Representatives, you are not surrounded by ordinary circumstances. You are standing on a volcano. Allow me to speak to you with the frankness of a soldier, with the frankness of a citizen anxious for the good of his country, and suspend your judgment, I pray. until you have heard me to the end. I was living quietly in Paris when I received the decree of the conseil des anciens, which informed me of its danger and of that of the republic. I immediately summoned my brothers in arms; and we came to lend you our support. We came to offer you the aid of the nation, because you were its head. Our intentions were pure and disinterested; and as a reward for the devotion which we showed yesterday, we are overwhelmed with calumny to-day! They talk of another Cæsar or Cromwell. It is bruited about that I wish to establish a military government. * * I solemnly aver, representatives of the people, that the country has not a more zealous defender than myself. I devote myself to the execution of your orders. But it is upon you alone that the safety of the country depends: There is a directory no longer. Four of the five members composing it have resigned, the fifth has been placed under surveillance. Representatives of the people take counsel with wisdom and the imminence of danger; guard against disorder; avoid losing the two things for which we have made so many sacrifices, liberty and equality."


—A member interrupted general Bonaparte, and cried out "And the constitution?" "The constitution!" answered the general; "does it become you to appeal to the constitution? You violated it the 18th Fructidor; you violated it the 22nd Florial; you violated it the 30th Prairial. The constitution is appealed to by every faction in turn, and then despised by it. It can no longer be to us a means of safety. It has no longer the respect of any man, * * and even to-day conspiracies are hatched in the name of the constitution. I know all the dangers that threaten you. Representatives of the people, do not look upon me as a miserable intriguer who covers himself with a mask of hypocrisy; I have given proof of my devotion to the republic. I promise you, that, as soon as the danger which has put extraordinary power into my hands shall have passed away, I will lay down that power. I do not wish to be anything but an arm to uphold the government you shall establish, and to enforce its decrees. I repeat it again, let no one suppose that I speak thus to seize upon power. Power has been offered me since I returned to Paris.*69Different factions have knocked at my door. I have not listened to them. I belong to no faction; I belong to no party, except the great party of the French people. I do not hide from you, representatives of the people, that in taking this command, I have counted only on the conseil des anciens. I have not counted on the council of the five hundred, in which are men who wish to restore the convention, the revolutionary committees and the scaffold; on the council of the five hundred, where the chiefs of that party have just been sitting in council; on the council of the five hundred, from which emissaries have just been sent to organize a movement in Paris.


—Let not these criminal plots frighten you, representatives of the people. Surrounded by my brothers in arms, I shall know how to protect you from them. Your courage, my comrades, will bear me witness; you, in whose eyes they wish to paint me as an enemy of liberty you grenadiers, you brave soldiers, whose bayonets I see before me, bayonets which I have employed so often to the shame of the enemy, in the humiliation of kings, and which I have used to dig the foundations of republics. And if any orator, paid with foreign gold, speaks of outlawing me, let him beware lest this sentence be turned against himself. If he talks of outlawing me, I shall appeal to you, brave soldiers, whom I have led to victory so many times! to you, brave defenders of the republic, with whom I have shared so many perils, for the establishment of liberty and equality. Brave friends, I shall trust to the courage of you all and to my own fortune."


—The general felt that his great difficulty would be to encounter the council of the five hundred, where the leaders of the democratic party were assembled. Therefore, it was not without emotion, that, after leaving the conseil des anciens (council of the ancients), he appeared before the council of the five hundred. The assembly was aware of the danger which it ran, and, with a sort of frenzy, it had just sworn anew to support the constitution. It saw at the threshold of the chamber the pale figure of general Bonaparte suddenly appear, and behind the general and his staff, glittering bayonets. Deputy Bigonnnet rushed up to the general and said, "What are you doing, rash man? You violate the sanctuary of the law: Begone!" Many others cried out: "Down with the dictator; outlaw him; let us die at our posts; long live the republic!" The general grew pale, and his staff drew him outside the chamber. The outlawry of the rash intruder was demanded. The tumult was at its height. Lucian Bonaparte, the president, refused to put the motion to vote, and said he resigned; he left the chair; he spoke to the soldiers surrounding Bonaparte, and told them that the majority of the five hundred were under the pressure of a handful of factions, men who proposed odious measures, and that the representatives who should rally round him would be the only real legislators in France, and that the others would be dispersed by force.


—Leclerc, brother-in-law of the general, appeared in the chamber of the five hundred, with his grenadiers. "Citizen representatives," said he, "we can no longer answer for the safety of the council. I invite you to retire." The assembly remained immovable. Then an officer gave the command: "Grenadiers, forward!" The deputies dispersed in the courts and gardens; a large number retired to Paris; those who remained organized under the presidency of Lucian Bonaparte, and still presented the semblance of an assembly. Many speeches were made, and two resolutions were voted: the first changed the form of government, and put in place of the directory a provisional council, composed of three members, Bonaparte, Roger-Ducos and Sieyés; the second proscribed 61 deputies, and adjourned the legislative body for three months. The conseil des anciens immediately ratified these acts of the five hundred, and the coup d'état was accomplished.


—In 1830 there was another coup d'état in France, but it did not succeed. On the 25th of July, 1830, orders were issued which dissolved the chambers, convoked the electoral colleges, while changing the mode of election, and suspended the liberty of the press. These unconstitutional decrees excited surprise at first, then anger; and barricades were raised during the night. The result was the revolution which drove Charles X. into exile.


—The coup d'état of the 2nd of December, is too recent to be spoken of with entire freedom from prejudice. We shall confine ourselves to a relation of the facts.


—The French republic had been a surprise; the socialists appeared menacing; the people had accepted this régime in default of a better; and they looked on the restoration of the monarchy as a means of salvation. But there were many monarchical houses from which to make a choice. The partisans of the republic, although in a minority, could not be altogether despised; they had on their side the government, and consequently the law. The parties stood face to face in the assembly; everybody knew that the republic could not last, because it had no foundation in the national feeling; and it was asked for whose profit and how it should come to an end. Would it be by a catastrophe or not? It was under these circumstances that the coup d'état of December, 1851, took place.


—On Monday, Dec. 1, the president of the republic held his usual reception. The crowd thronged the halls of the presidential mansion. At half-past 12 in the night, the halls and parlors being deserted, the chief of police, the minister of war, general Magnan and M. de Persigny stood around the prince to receive his final orders. M. de Morny returned from the theatre, where he had gone to divert all suspicion. Then Louis Napoleon opened a drawer with a key which hung from his watch chain, and took out of it a sealed package intended for each. They shook hands, and Louis Napoleon said: "Gentlemen, let us take a little rest, and may God save France."


—Early on the morning of the 2nd of December, the Parisians saw posted over the city, and read with an eagerness easily understood, the following proclamation: "The president of the republic decrees, in the name of the French people, the following: Art. 1. The national assembly is dissolved. Art. 2. Universal suffrage is restored; the law of May 31 is abrogated. Art. 3. The French people are called to meet at their usual voting places from the 14th to the 21st of December. Art. 4. A state of siege is proclaimed throughout the extent of the first military division. Art. 5. The council of state is dissolved. Art. 6. The ministry of the interior is charged with the execution of the present decree. Issued at the palace of the Elysée, Dec. 2. 1851. Signed, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte. Countersigned, minister of the interior De Morny." A proclamation to the French people, and another to the army supplemented this document; and the coup d'état was consummated. Insurrections in Paris and in the south of France broke out up to Dec. 10. By degrees quiet was restored, and France accepted the new régime. The new constitution was proclaimed.


—The following are, in chronological order, the most striking coups d'état of modern history, in other European countries. These acts were innumerable in the middle ages. Let us begin with the coup d'état of Richard III., who, being still duke of Gloucester and regent of the realm, had Edward V., his nephew, and the young prince, his brother, both sons of Edward IV., assassinated in the tower of London.


—Richard III. was not satisfied with compassing the death of his nephews; he wished to make them appear illegitimate. He spread the report, to the shame of his mother, who was still living, that the late king and the duke of Clarence, his brother, were the fruits of the amours of that princess, and that, as he was the only legitimate son of the duke of York, he should succeed him. Richard had a powerful party, at the head of which was Buckingham, and the people proclaimed him king in 1483. We shall not touch upon the history of the war of the Roses.


—Gustavus I., of the house of Vasa, king of Sweden, in 1523, wishing to take from the bishops all the fortresses dependent on their bishopries, and desiring, moreover, to make an investigation of the property which the clergy and religious orders had acquired or usurped since the prohibition of king Canutson, convoked the states general of Sweden at Westerâs, whither he repaired with a great display of military force. From the very beginning he showed his intention to lower the pride of the too powerful clergy. He had the order of priority at his table changed, and placed senators and simple gentlemen above the bishops. The latter, astonished and alarmed at this offensive change, retired after dinner, and shut themselves up in the church of St. Egidius. There they decided to resist the claims of the king.


—Next day, the estates being assembled and the king being present, despite the chancellor's speech, which had described Denmark's attitude toward Sweden as one of menace and one which called for great sacrifices on the part of Sweden, several of the bishops gave utterance to bitter complaints. But they were forced to yield to the celebrated declaration of the estates of Sweden, which divested them of their authority; still, this did not prevent their maintaining great influence over the population.


—After 18 years of union with Catherine d'Aragon, Henry VIII., of England, who had by her three children, desired a divorce that he might marry Anne Boleyn, whom he had created marchioness of Pembroke. The pope was opposed to the dissolution of the marriage of Henry VIII. and Catharine of Aragon, and threatened the king with excommunication. Fear for a moment possessed the king, and he seemed willing to submit to the authority of the pope. But he changed his mind, and in 1535 the excommunication of Henry VIII was pronounced by pope Clement VII.


—Cranmer, whom Henry VIII. had made, by virtue of his private authority, archbishop of Canterbury, annulled his marriage by a decree of May 23, 1533. The king ordained that no one should in future have recourse to the court of Rome in any matter whatever; that every cause should be judged by the prelates of the realm; and that neither first fruits nor annates nor Peter's pence should be paid to Rome; that neither palliums, nor bulls creating bishops, nor dispensations of any kind whatever, should be received from Rome; and that whoever violated these commands should be punished according to the laws of provision and prœmunire.


—It was thus that the monarch separated himself from Rome and founded the Anglican church. Parliament declared Henry VIII. supreme head of the church of England, gave him the first fruits, the tithes, the revenues of all the benefices, and the power of nominating bishops.


—After a series of illegal and despotic acts, the account of which should be read in the admirable works of Macaulay, Charles I., king of England, found himself confronted with a parliament determined to restore the liberties and national franchises destroyed by Henry VIII. and Elizabeth, as well as of Scotland, whose discontent he had increased. War broke out, and was at first maintained, but without success, by the Scotch alone. England, represented by the long parliament, took part in it only in 1642. Defeated in several battles, the king took refuge in the Scotch army, which received him with great marks of respect, but delivered him up. in 1646, to the commissioners of parliament. Parliament kept him in prison a long time; but he managed to escape, and took refuge in the Isle of Wight, where he was arrested by Cromwell's soldiers, and taken to the palace of St. James, from which he was led to the scaffold Feb. 9, 1649.


—If Monk was able to restore the Stuarts to the throne of England, it was due to the incapacity of Richard Cromwell, Oliver's son, who was unable to bear the burden of government, and to a natural reaction.


—Monk had faithfully served the protector, who had invested him with high military functions; and when Charles II, the pretender, wrote to him, the first time, he hastened to communicate the contents of the letter to Cromwell himself. Cromwell, notwithstanding, was full of suspicion. Nevertheless, at the death of the protector, Monk declared in favor of his son Richard; but when he was sure of Scotland, and had worked upon England sufficiently, he felt that he was master of the situation. Charles II. made him magnificent promises which he kept; and, Oct. 18, 1659, Monk arrested all the officers whose disaffection he suspected. He crossed the boundary of England Jan. 1, 1660, at the head of 6,000 men; joined Fairfax, who had raised a corps for Charles II.; and on the 3rd of February following he entered London. He remained inactive until Feb 21, when he restored to their seats in parliament the Presbyterian members who had been excluded in 1648. The majority was then favorable to the re-establishment of royalty; and on May 8, 1660, Charles II. was proclaimed king of England.


—Let us now turn to Russia. The strelitz (in Russian, strjelzi means musketeer) were a military body created by the Tsar Ivan Vassilievitch the Terrible, toward the end of the sixteenth century; and they grew to be 50,000 strong. They were formidable for more reasons than one, and Peter the Great himself had to suffer from their too frequent revolts. The strelitz often served the policy of the princes near the throne, who were always in opposition to it. They went completely astray when the false Demetrius appeared. They understood, only too late, the master whom they had dared to attack, Peter the Great. Peter I. found the manœuvres of the grand duchess Sophia to be a permanent political intrigue. This princess, aided by several lords of the empire ho-tile to reform, succeeded in gaining over the strelitz; and it is impossible to know what would have happened if Peter the Great had not destroyed this formidable military body.


—His coup d'état was open and above board, and did not bear the traits of such deep cunning as that of Mehemet Ali, of whom we shall speak further on. Peter the Great simply issued a ukase disbanding the seditious militia. This was in 1698 Afterward he had them decimated on the Red square at Moscow: and those who escaped were banished, and sent to Astrachan. In 1705 the remnants of this military body were completely exterminated.


—Peter III., Feodorovitch, called to the empire in 1762, was the grandson of Peter I. He was animated by the best intentions, but was lacking in energy of character. Devoted to reform he wished to bestow on his subjects all possible prosperity. Unfortunately, his weakness in view of the hindrances he met in realizing his praise-worthy designs, was an insurmountable obstacle to his projected reforms. One of them, and it was the most delicate, since it affected the religion of the people, was the reform of the orthodox church. He failed completely in this design. All the nobles, who had observed his innovations with impatience, excited the entire people against the prince; and the forfeiture of the power of Peter III. was decreed July 6, 1762. The empress Catherine, his wife, was recognized as sovereign, she was called Catherine II.; and Peter III. died in prison.


—Gustavus III., king of Sweden, was confronted with the senate and the nobility, who, after the death of Charles XII., had deprived the crown of legislative and even of executive power. The situation was difficult: the capitulation which Gustavus was compelled to sign when he came from France as prince royal, at the death of his father, was still harsher than that which had been forced upon his predecessor. Gustavus III. resolved to extricate himself from a position which seemed unendurable; for the senate determined even the quantity of wine he might use at his table. The French ambassador, de Vergenne, agreed with the king, who wished to make a coup d'état by promulgating a new constitution. Sure of his troops, and surrounded by a few faithful nobles, he realized his project of freeing the crown of Sweden, to which he restored its ancient authority. The diet accepted at first, in 1778, all the propositions of the king; but it resisted later. Gustavus III. did not yield; and he forced the diet to accept the act of union and safety, which invested the king with the right of declaring peace or war. Gustavus was inflexible toward the nobility who resisted him, and reduced them, apparently, by imprisonment and execution; but a conspiracy was organized against him. Ankarstroem, on the night of Aug. 15, 1792, killed him with a pistol shot, at a court masquerade ball.


—The military corporation of the mamelukes, grown so powerful that it deposed the sultans of Egypt, owed its origin to the great wars of Gengis Khan. The Tartars, tired of slaughter, saved their slaves; and in 1230 one of the Saharist sultans in Egypt bought upward of 12,000 Circassians, Mingrelians and Abasians from their owners, and formed of them one of the finest bodies of troops ever seen in the east. Such was the origin of the mamelukes. This body soon grew into a formidable caste, from which the sultan was obliged to choose the beys. They had immense power, which was forced to yield, however, to the arms of France. Bonaparte defeated them at Ramangeh. He crushed them out after the battle of the pyramids, in which they left 3,000 dead on the battle field. Bonaparte, by a proclamation dictated under the walls of Alexandria, gave notice of their extermination and of the restoration of Arab autonomy. But this formidable body was not so badly crushed as the great captain believed. When the French army left Egypt, the mamelukes still maintained themselves as a political body. They organized anew; and, always turbulent and seditious, they were often hostile to the pashas sent by the Porte to govern Egypt. But they forgot that they were dealing with an energetic and able master, who, tired of their many revolts and want of discipline, resolved on a coup d'état which was to rid him of them. On the occasion of the investiture of the pelïsse, which was to be conferred on his son, Mchemet Ali convoked the beys of the mamelukes, May 1, 1811, in the citadel, where he received them all in the great hall with demonstrations of the warmest friendship, and offered them coffee. But when the cortege, followed by the mamelukes, set out to attend the investiture, they found themselves confined in a narrow and difficult pass which led to the palace El Ajab. Suddenly a body of Albanians covered the height above the defile, the exit from which was closed, and opened fire on the mamelukes, who were thus massacred.


—Chronological order brings us to Brazil. A powerful Brazilian party desired to sever the country from Portugal. As Lisbon did not wish to abandon so rich a colony, a war between the two countries was the result. Brazil, agitated by various parties, had nevertheless a general tendency toward separation and seconded the efforts of Dom Pedro I., who was about to give it a constitution. After the proclamation of independence, the emperor convoked a constituent assembly at Rio Janeiro. This assembly did not understand its mission, and had recourse to agitation and demagogism. Wanting in men acquainted with the duties of deliberative assemblies, it brought trouble on the country, which would certainly have been ruined, if the hand which had opened the door to innovation had not as resolutely closed it. Dom Pedro I., after having exhausted all means of conciliation, decided on a coup d'état. He did not send an armed force into the sanctuary of the law; but he blockaded the constituent assembly, which was in session. He had the gates guarded, and a proclamation issued to the Brazilian people, announcing that the assembly was dissolved, and that another chamber would deliberate on a constitution which should guarantee the liberties of the nation. Such was Dom Pedro's coup d'état. Thus was a simple dissolution of the chamber transformed by circumstances into an illegal act.


—A coup d'état which made a great noise in the east, and even in Europe, was that which destroyed the formidable body of janissaries at Constantinople. It was a repetition of the destruction of the strelitz by Peter I at Moscow. This body dates back to the year 1334. It had been established by the sultan Orkhan; and its importance had become such that, when the sultan Mahmud wished, in 1826, to re-organize the Ottoman army and instruct it in European tactics, he met a formidable resistance from the janissaries.


—There were 25,000 or 30,000 regular janissaries; and the irregular janissaries, called jamacks, were scattered all over the empire, to the number of 300,000 or 400,000. It was an imposing force. Mahmud foresaw their resistance to the new organization. He had long before won the good will of the most influential officers, and was seconded by his counsel, who understood the full meaning of the coup d'état which the sultan contemplated. The sultan announced that he would hold a great review on the square of the Atmeïdan, June 14, 1826. The first military manœuvres were conducted in the European style. The janissaries insolently complained of the new exercises; and the populace sustained them, and accompanied them through the streets of Constantinople. Disturbances took place during the night, and next day, the 15th, the tumult was at its height. More than 20,000 men in revolt had already assembled on the square, calling for the heads of the principal functionaries of the porte. The sultan unfurled the banner of the prophet, at sight of which the masses rallied around the successor of Mohammed. Surrounded on the square of Atmeïdan, which they had made their rallying point, the janissaries were cut down mercilessly with grape shot; and the barracks, into which those who escaped from the massacres had retired, was set fire to. More than 8,000 perished in the flames. The rest were cut down in the streets of the capital. The decree of June 17, 1826, declared the body of janissaries forever dissolved, and their name was anathematized by the mufti. In the provinces of the empire, the dissolution of the janissaries produced similar massacres.


—We pass over in silence the Spanish coup d'état, and only make mention of the series of coups d'état by which Austria, Prussia and several other German states rid themselves of the constitution which had been imposed on them in 1848.


—In the preceding we have abstained from passing judgment on the facts related. Sometimes it was unnecessary to pass such judgment, and we have allowed events to speak for themselves.


Notes for this chapter

These bills have been suppressed since the time when Montesquieu wrote.
The general a return to Paris had been celebrated with enthusiasm from Frejus to the capital.

Footnotes for CUSTOMS DUTIES

End of Notes

325 of 1105

Return to top