TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE MACMAHON DICTATORSHIP.
THE final vote will be taken this morning, and yet near as the time is, and heavily as the apparent evidence goes against us, we are unable to believe that the French Assembly will yield a majority capable of voting the Dictatorship Marshal MacMahon has demanded. Whether his Message was written by himself, or whether it was composed by his Cabinet, it is a cynically clear demand for the Dictator- ship for ten years, during which time the Marshal is to have absolute power over Foreign Affairs, which he says cannot be conducted without guarantees for persistent policy ; over the Army ; over the Press ; and over all municipal institutions. The President declares that the present re'gime, already as repressive as that of the Second Empire, " has neither suffi- cient vitality nor authority," that the Government must be further armed with authority by the laws "to dis- courage the factions," and that the Assembly must "give to society a strong and durable Executive power." Considering that the laws in existence are those of the Second Empire, this is nothing less than a demand for Napoleon's Law of Public Safety, under which M. Thiers could be transported to Cayenne without a trial,—a request for a real autocracy, which the Marshal, we can scarcely doubt, will use for silently arming France, revindicating her provinces, and then handing her over, bound at once by her victory and her organisation, to the Comte de Chambord. This is scarcely doubtful, as well from the declarations of his friends as from his own asser- tion, made in the very teeth of his severe sentence on General Bellamarre for expressing dislike to the White Flag, that he had not intervened in the recent struggle. We may, however, let that point rest. What is certain is that the Right and Right Centre, failing to summon an unconditioned King who happened to be too honest to cheat France, have summoned an unconditioned Marshal, who is also too honest to cheat her, and declares point-blank that he will ride her down, and have succeeded in obtaining the temporary assent of the Assembly by 360 to 350, a majority less than the num- ber of vacant seats. The vote is fortunately not final, being in form only a vote rejecting the reference of the proposal to the Committee on Constitutional Laws ; but it is to be referred to a special Committee only for two days, and this morning the vote is to be taken once for all. It is believed in Paris in Conservative circles that the majority will be heavier than on Wednesday, that the Marshal will be appointed Dictator for ten years, that the Assembly will proclaim itself Sovereign for three years more, and that to make assurance doubly sure, the vacancies during that period are not to be filled up. France is not to be consulted ; the Constitu- tional laws are to be proposed only by a Conservative Government which cannot be overset — for Marshal MacMahon, he says, will never separate himself from that party—and means of repression, unknown even to the Empire, are to be put in force at once. This astounding pro- gramme, indefinitely worse than that of the Restoration, attracts, it is said, part of the Left Centre ; has been, in prac- tice, once voted by the Assembly ; is supported by malcontents of the Right, under orders from Frohsdorf, and has survived the strongest attacks from M. Dufaure, a man as Conservative as Lord Eldon ; and a declaration from N. Grevy, who in England would be called an Old Whig, that the prolongation of the Marshal's powers by the Assembly beyond their own term of sitting was "an illegal and revolutionary" vote.
And yet, in spite of all this, and of much more—of the con- fidence in Government circles, and of the apparent security of Marshal MacMahon—we cannot believe the project will secure a majority, cannot credit that powers not even demanded by the Comte de Chambord should be granted to the King's henchman, cannot even understand why the force which broke up the Monarchical conspiracy should not break up this audacious intrigue to make a defeated soldier, who does not even claim to be a politician, much less a statesman, the despotic master of France. The Right are sworn to their King, and are even now obeying him, yet they support a man who refuses to be called Lieutenant-General of the Kingdom. The Right Centre ask for free commerce, for order, and peace, and right to accumulate, and yet they elect a military despot certain, before a week is out, to be the mark for the whole Republican hatred of France. The Left Centre desires free- dom, modified by a strong Executive, yet part of it appears to have voted, not only for the temporary extinction of freedom,
but for the extinction of the taste for it, which can be main- tained only by the free right of criticism. All the really conspic- uous men left in France—AI. Thiers, M. Gambetta, M. Rouher, N. Grevy, M. Leon Say, M. Dufaure—are passionately opposed to the project, yet they are over-ridden as if they were so many children. France has not so much as heard a word of it. Even Paris scarcely knows of it, and yet the well understood hostility both of Paris and France—hostility which, but for a disarma- ment, would be evinced in arms—are treated as of no account. We cannot believe it, and interpret the vote of Wednesday as a surprise vote, obtained before the Left fractions could look in one another's faces and see how strong they were,— before the news could wake up Paris, before the Liberals of the House of all shades could be roused by the oratory of M. Thiers to the daring which in France is required to stimulate men to oppose a man who asks for despotic power, and nevertheless may get it. If they resist uselessly, they may all next week be with Henri Rochefort, so strangely and so rapidly revenged. But they have two days, they must pass those two days in Paris, and before Saturday they will have awoke to the enormity of the crime they are about to commit, in handing over their country against her will to a party she detests. In those two days there will be many meetings, many articles from journals threatened with suspension, and therefore at liberty to speak out ; many telegrams from the South, much searching of hearts in those who, like all members of the Right, must. know that their master is deceived, that a military dictatorship can but result either in Revolution or in Napoleon IV., either of which would be fatal to his cause. There must be difficulties with the Orleans Princes, whose voices still weigh, and who cannot have lost their aspirations so completely as to be content to be subjects of a soldier qualified for the post only by the selection of the Comte de Chambord. It is vain, of course, to trust in any pos- sible repentance in the Marshal ; but there must be qualms in the Members of his Government, who must know that they ars playing this game with their heads ; hesitations among those Conservatives who know that this coup d'etat of the ram- rod cannot permanently succeed, that it will be answered by risings in the provinces and disaffection even in the Army, where 50,000 men voted against the last plebiscite, and nearly as many must have followed the Generals of Gambetta. Counted and pledged as the members are, they have yet to hear M. Thiers telling them, in those words which bring conviction, what the effect of this vote will be upon the future of France. And we trust, too, there must be a few even among the Conservatives who are honest, who dislike seeing their country enslaved, and who will help to compel the Assembly to "wait for light from below" in a general appeal to the country, before its fetters are riveted by men not one of whom the electors woulcl return. We could understand the devotees of Divine Right- setting aside the will of France for some much higher law, we could understand even Orleanists being deceived by assurances which gave them some hope of their favourite form of government ; but the Divine Right of Mac- Mahon,—what is that ? or how much of constitutionalism will he even promise ? There will be an Assembly, but it is always to vote Tory. There will be a Press, but it must praise MacMahon. There will be a municipality, say in Paris or Lyons, but the people will have no share in it save the pay- ment of taxes. There will even be a France, but France with only one right, that of moving as the lancers prick her on. And all this is to be accomplished, not by a mighty concurrence of the popular voice, such as elected Napoleon to the Presi- dency, but by a fortuitous majority, so weak that it dare not even order fourteen vacant elections, and in favour not of a man with a magical name, and great, though dreamy powers, but of a mere soldier, who understands BO little of politics that he thinks obedience enforced by dragoons sufficient for the strength of a State with which he hopes to beat all Europe.