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By Jananan SandajeshanPublished about a year ago 15 min read

"The History of a Crime" is a memoir written by the French author Victor Hugo, first published in 1877. The book tells the story of the downfall of Napoleon III's Second Empire, from its peak in the early 1860s to its collapse following France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.


"VIOLATION OF THE CHAMBER" At seven o'clock in the morning the Pont de la Concorde was still free. The large grated gate of the Palace of the Assembly was closed; through the bars might be seen the flight of steps, that flight of steps whence the Republic had been proclaimed on the 4th May, 1848, covered with soldiers; and their piled arms might be distinguished upon the platform behind those high columns, which, during the time of the Constituent Assembly, after the 15th of May and the 23d June, masked small mountain mortars, loaded and pointed. A porter with a red collar, wearing the livery of the Assembly, stood by the little door of the grated gate. From time to time Representatives arrived.

The porter said, "Gentlemen, are you Representatives?" and opened the door. Sometimes he asked their names. M. Dupin's quarters could be entered without hindrance. In the great gallery, in the dining-room, in the salon d'honneur of the Presidency, liveried attendants silently opened the doors as usual. Before daylight, immediately after the arrest of the Questors MM. Baze and Leflô, M. de Panat, the only Questor who remained free, having been spared or disdained as a Legitimist, awoke M. Dupin and begged him to summon immediately the Representatives from their own homes. M. Dupin returned this unprecedented answer, "I do not see any urgency." Almost at the same time as M. Panat, the Representative Jerôme Bonaparte had hastened thither. He had summoned M. Dupin to place himself at the head of the Assembly. M. Dupin had answered, "I cannot, I am guarded." Jerôme Bonaparte burst out laughing. In fact, no one had deigned to place a sentinel at M. Dupin's door; they knew that it was guarded by his meanness.

It was only later on, towards noon, that they took pity on him. They felt that the contempt was too great, and allotted him two sentinels. At halfpast seven, fifteen or twenty Representatives, among whom were MM. Eugène Sue, Joret, de Rességuier, and de Talhouet, met together in M. Dupin's room. They also had vainly argued with M. Dupin. In the recess of a window a clever member of the Majority, M. Desmousseaux de Givré, who was a little deaf and exceedingly exasperated, almost quarrelled with a Representative of the Right like himself whom he wrongly supposed to be favorable to the coup d'état. M. Dupin, apart from the group of Representatives, alone dressed in black, his hands behind his back, his head sunk on his breast, walked up and down before the fire place, where a large fire was burning.

In his own room, and in his very presence, they were talking loudly about himself, yet he seemed not to hear. Two members of the Left came in, Benoît (du Rhône), and Crestin. Crestin entered the room, went straight up to M. Dupin, and said to him, "President, you know what is going on? How is it that the Assembly has not yet been convened?" M. Dupin halted, and answered, with a shrug which was habitual with him,— "There is nothing to be done." And he resumed his walk. "It is enough," said M. de Rességuier. "It is too much," said Eugène Sue. All the Representatives left the room. In the meantime the Pont de la Concorde became covered with troops. Among them General Vast-Vimeux, lean, old, and little; his lank white hair plastered over his temples, in full uniform, with his laced hat on his head. He was laden with two huge epaulets, and displayed his scarf, not that of a Representative, but of a general, which scarf, being too long, trailed on the ground. He crossed the bridge on foot, shouting to the soldiers inarticulate cries of enthusiasm for the Empire and the coup d'état. Such figures as these were seen in 1814. Only instead of wearing a large tri-colored, cockade, they wore a large white cockade.

In the main the same phenomenon; old men crying, "Long live the Past!" Almost at the same moment M. de Larochejaquelein crossed the Place de la Concorde, surrounded by a hundred men in blouses, who followed him in silence, and with an air of curiosity. Numerous regiments of cavalry were drawn up in the grand avenue of the Champs Elysées. At eight o'clock a formidable force invested the Legislative Palace. All the approaches were guarded, all the doors were shut. Some Representatives nevertheless succeeded in penetrating into the interior of the Palace, not, as has been wrongly stated, by the passage of the President's house on the side of the Esplanade of the Invalides, but by the little door of the Rue de Bourgogne, called the Black Door. This door, by what omission or what connivance I do not know, remained open till noon on the 2d December. The Rue de Bourgogne was nevertheless full of troops.

Squads of soldiers scattered here and there in the Rue de l'Université allowed passers-by, who were few and far between, to use it as a thoroughfare. The Representatives who entered by the door in Rue de Bourgogne, penetrated as far as the Salle des Conférences, where they met their colleagues coming out from M. Dupin. A numerous group of men, representing every shade of opinion in the Assembly, was speedily assembled in this hall, amongst whom were MM. Eugène Sue, Richardet, Fayolle, Joret, Marc Dufraisse, Benoît (du Rhône), Canet, Gambon, d'Adelsward, Créqu, Répellin, Teillard-Latérisse, Rantion, General Leydet, Paulin Durrieu, Chanay, Brilliez, Collas (de la Gironde), Monet, Gaston, Favreau, and Albert de Rességuier. Each new-comer accosted M. de Panat. "Where are the vice-Presidents?" "In prison." "And the two other Questors?" "Also in prison. And I beg you to believe, gentlemen," added M. de Panat, "that I have had nothing to do with the insult which has been offered me, in not arresting me." Indignation was at its height; every political shade was blended in the same sentiment of contempt and anger, and M. de Rességuier was no less energetic than Eugène Sue. For the first time the Assembly seemed only to have one heart and one voice. Each at length said what he thought of the man of the Elysée, and it was then seen that for a long time past Louis Bonaparte had imperceptibly created a profound unanimity in the Assembly—the unanimity of contempt. M. Collas (of the Gironde) gesticulated and told his story. He came from the Ministry of the Interior.

He had seen M. de Morny, he had spoken to him; and he, M. Collas, was incensed beyond measure at M. Bonaparte's crime. Since then, that Crime has made him Councillor of State. M. de Panat went hither and thither among the groups, announcing to the Representatives that he had convened the Assembly for one o'clock. But it was impossible to wait until that hour. Time pressed. At the Palais Bourbon, as in the Rue Blanche, it was the universal feeling that each hour which passed by helped to accomplish the coup d'état.

Every one felt as a reproach the weight of his silence or of his inaction; the circle of iron was closing in, the tide of soldiers rose unceasingly, and silently invaded the Palace; at each instant a sentinel the more was found at a door, which a moment before had been free. Still, the group of Representatives assembled together in the Salle des Conférences was as yet respected. It was necessary to act, to speak, to deliberate, to struggle, and not to lose a minute. Gambon said, "Let us try Dupin once more; he is our official man, we have need of him." They went to look for him. They could not find him. He was no longer there, he had disappeared, he was away, hidden, crouching, cowering, concealed, he had vanished, he was buried. Where? No one knew. Cowardice has unknown holes. Suddenly a man entered the hall.

A man who was a stranger to the Assembly, in uniform, wearing the epaulet of a superior officer and a sword by his side. He was a major of the 42d, who came to summon the Representatives to quit their own House. All, Royalists and Republicans alike, rushed upon him. Such was the expression of an indignant eye-witness. General Leydet addressed him in language such as leaves an impression on the cheek rather than on the ear. "I do my duty, I fulfil my instructions," stammered the officer. "You are an idiot, if you think you are doing your duty," cried Leydet to him, "and you are a scoundrel if you know that you are committing a crime. Your name? What do you call yourself? Give me your name." The officer refused to give his name, and replied, "So, gentlemen, you will not withdraw?" "No." "I shall go and obtain force." "Do so." He left the room, and in actual fact went to obtain orders from the Ministry of the Interior. The Representatives waited in that kind of indescribable agitation which might be called the Strangling of Right by Violence.

In a short time one of them who had gone out came back hastily, and warned them that two companies of the Gendarmerie Mobile were coming with their guns in their hands. Marc Dufraisse cried out, "Let the outrage be thorough. Let the coup d'état find us on our seats. Let us go to the Salle des Séances," he added. "Since things have come to such a pass, let us afford the genuine and living spectacle of an 18th Brumaire." They all repaired to the Hall of Assembly. The passage was free. The Salle Casimir-Périer was not yet occupied by the soldiers. They numbered about sixty. Several were girded with their scarves of office. They entered the Hall meditatively. There, M. de Rességuier, undoubtedly with a good purpose, and in order to form a more compact group, urged that they should all install themselves on the Right side. "No," said Marc Dufraisse, "every one to his bench." They scattered themselves about the Hall, each in his usual place. M. Monet, who sat on one of the lower benches of the Left Centre, held in his hand a copy of the Constitution. Several minutes elapsed. No one spoke. It was the silence of expectation which precedes decisive deeds and final crises, and during which every one seems respectfully to listen to the last instructions of his conscience.

Suddenly the soldiers of the Gendarmerie Mobile, headed by a captain with his sword drawn, appeared on the threshold. The Hall of Assembly was violated. The Representatives rose from their seats simultaneously, shouting "Vive la République!" The Representative Monet alone remained standing, and in a loud and indignant voice, which resounded through the empty hall like a trumpet, ordered the soldiers to halt. The soldiers halted, looking at the Representatives with a bewildered air. The soldiers as yet only blocked up the lobby of the Left, and had not passed beyond the Tribune. Then the Representative Monet read the Articles 36, 37, and 68 of the Constitution. Articles 36 and 37 established the inviolability of the Representatives. Article 68 deposed the President in the event of treason. That moment was a solemn one.

The soldiers listened in silence. The Articles having been read, Representative d'Adelsward, who sat on the first lower bench of the Left, and who was nearest to the soldiers, turned towards them and said,— "Soldiers, you see that the President of the Republic is a traitor, and would make traitors of you. You violate the sacred precinct of rational Representation. In the name of the Constitution, in the name of the Law, we order you to withdraw." While Adelsward was speaking, the major commanding the Gendarmerie Mobile had entered. "Gentlemen," said he, "I have orders to request you to retire, and, if you do not withdraw of your own accord, to expel you." "Orders to expel us!" exclaimed Adelsward; and all the Representatives added, "Whose orders; Let us see the orders. Who signed the orders?" The major drew forth a paper and unfolded it. Scarcely had he unfolded it than he attempted to replace it in his pocket, but General Leydet threw himself upon him and seized his arm.

Several Representatives leant forward, and read the order for the expulsion of the Assembly, signed "Fortoul, Minister of the Marine." Marc Dufraisse turned towards the Gendarmes Mobiles, and cried out to them,— "Soldiers, your very presence here is an act of treason. Leave the Hall!" The soldiers seemed undecided. Suddenly a second column emerged from the door on the right, and at a signal from the commander, the captain shouted,— "Forward! Turn them all out!" Then began an indescribable hand-to-hand fight between the gendarmes and the legislators. The soldiers, with their guns in their hands, invaded the benches of the Senate. Repellin, Chanay, Rantion, were forcibly torn from their seats. Two gendarmes rushed upon Marc Dufraisse, two upon Gambon. A long struggle took place on the first bench of the Right, the same place where MM. Odilon Barrot and Abbatucci were in the habit of sitting. Paulin Durrieu resisted violence by force, it needed three men to drag him from his bench. Monet was thrown down upon the benches of the Commissaries. They seized Adelsward by the throat, and thrust him outside the Hall. Richardet, a feeble man, was thrown down and brutally treated. Some were pricked with the points of the bayonets; nearly all had their clothes torn. The commander shouted to the soldiers, "Rake them out." It was thus that sixty Representatives of the People were taken by the collar by the coup d'état, and driven from their seats. The manner in which the deed was executed completed the treason.

The physical performance was worthy of the moral performance. The three last to come out were Fayolle, Teillard-Latérisse, and Paulin Durrieu. They were allowed to pass by the great door of the Palace, and they found themselves in the Place Bourgogne. The Place Bourgogne was occupied by the 42d Regiment of the Line, under the orders of Colonel Garderens. Between the Palace and the statue of the Republic, which occupied the centre of the square, a piece of artillery was pointed at the Assembly opposite the great door. By the side of the cannon some Chasseurs de Vincennes were loading their guns and biting their cartridges. Colonel Garderens was on horseback near a group of soldiers, which attracted the attention of the Representatives Teillard-Latérisse, Fayolle, and Paulin Durrieu. In the middle of this group three men, who had been arrested, were struggling crying, "Long live the Constitution! Vive la République!" Fayolle, Paulin Durrieu, and Teillard-Latérisse approached, and recognized in the three prisoners three members of the majority, Representatives Toupet-des-Vignes Radoubt, Lafosse, and Arbey. Representative Arbey was warmly protesting.

As he raised his voice, Colonel Garderens cut him short with these words, which are worthy of preservation,— "Hold your tongue! One word more, and I will have you thrashed with the butt-end of a musket." The three Representatives of the Left indignantly called on the Colonel to release their colleagues. "Colonel," said Fayolle, "You break the law threefold." "I will break it sixfold," answered the Colonel, and he arrested Fayolle, Durrieu, and Teillard-Latérisse. The soldiery were ordered to conduct them to the guard house of the Palace then being built for the Minister of Foreign Affairs. On the way the six prisoners, marching between a double file of bayonets, met three of their colleagues Representatives Eugène Sue, Chanay, and Benoist (du Rhône). Eugène Sue placed himself before the officer who commanded the detachment, and said to him,— "We summon you to set our colleagues at liberty." "I cannot do so," answered the officer. "In that case complete your crimes," said Eugène Sue, "We summon you to arrest us also." The officer arrested them.

They were taken to the guard-house of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and, later on, to the barracks of the Quai d'Orsay. It was not till night that two companies of the line came to transfer them to this ultimate resting-place. While placing them between his soldiers the commanding officer bowed down to the ground, politely remarking, "Gentlemen, my men's guns are loaded." The clearance of the hall was carried out, as we have said, in a disorderly fashion, the soldiers pushing the Representatives before them through all the outlets. Some, and amongst the number those of whom we have just spoken, wens out by the Rue de Bourgogne, others were dragged through the Salle des Pas Perdus towards the grated door opposite the Pont de la Concorde. The Salle des Pas Perdus has an ante-chamber, a sort of crossway room, upon which opened the staircase of the High Tribune, and several doors, amongst others the great glass door of the gallery which leads to the apartments of the President of the Assembly. As soon as they had reached this crossway room which adjoins the little rotunda, where the side door of exit to the Palace is situated, the soldiers set the Representatives free.

There, in a few moments, a group was formed, in which the Representatives Canet and Favreau began to speak. One universal cry was raised, "Let us search for Dupin, let us drag him here if it is necessary." They opened the glass door and rushed into the gallery. This time M. Dupin was at home. M. Dupin, having learnt that the gendarmes had cleared out the Hall, had come out of his hiding-place. The Assembly being thrown prostrate, Dupin stood erect. The law being made prisoner, this man felt himself set free. The group of Representatives, led by MM. Canet and Favreau, found him in his study. There a dialogue ensued. The Representatives summoned the President to put himself at their head, and to re-enter the Hall, he, the man of the Assembly, with them, the men of the Nation. M. Dupin refused point-blank, maintained his ground, was very firm, and clung bravely to his nonentity.

"What do you want me to do?" said he, mingling with his alarmed protests many law maxims and Latin quotations, an instinct of chattering jays, who pour forth all their vocabulary when they are frightened. "What do you want me to do? Who am I? What can I do? I am nothing. No one is any longer anything. Ubi nihil, nihil. Might is there. Where there is Might the people lose their Rights. Novus nascitur ordo. Shape your course accordingly. I am obliged to submit. Dura lex, sed lex. A law of necessity we admit, but not a law of right. But what is to be done? I ask to be let alone. I can do nothing. I do what I can. I am not wanting in good will. If I had a corporal and four men, I would have them killed." "This man only recognizes force," said the Representatives. "Very well, let us employ force." They used violence towards him, they girded him with a scarf like a cord round his neck, and, as they had said, they dragged him towards the Hall, begging for his "liberty," moaning, kicking—I would say wrestling, if the word were not too exalted.

Some minutes after the clearance, this Salle des Pas Perdus, which had just witnessed Representatives pass by in the clutch of gendarmes, saw M. Dupin in the clutch of the Representatives. They did not get far. Soldiers barred the great green foldingdoors. Colonel Espinasse hurried thither, the commander of the gendarmerie came up. The butt-ends of a pair of pistols were seen peeping out of the commander's pocket. The colonel was pale, the commander was pale, M. Dupin was livid. Both sides were afraid. M. Dupin was afraid of the colonel; the colonel assuredly was not afraid of M. Dupin, but behind this laughable and miserable figure he saw a terrible phantom rise up—his crime, and he trembled. In Homer there is a scene where Nemesis appears behind Thersites. M. Dupin remained for some moments stupefied, bewildered and speechless. The Representative Gambon exclaimed to him,— "Now then, speak, M. Dupin, the Left does not interrupt you." Then, with the words of the Representatives at his back, and the bayonets of the soldiers at his breast, the unhappy man spoke. What his mouth uttered at this moment, what the President of the Sovereign Assembly of France stammered to the gendarmes at this intensely critical moment, no one could gather. Those who heard the last gasps of this moribund cowardice, hastened to purify their ears. It appears, however, that he stuttered forth something like this:— "You are Might, you have bayonets; I invoke Right and I leave you. I have the honor to wish you good day." He went away. They let him go. At the moment of leaving he turned round and let fall a few more words. We will not gather them up. History has no rag-picker's basket

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Jananan Sandajeshan

As a book reviewer and writer, I am dedicated to sharing my love of literature with others. I believe that books have the power to educate, inspire, and transform us, and I'm committed to helping readers find the stories that resonate most.

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    Jananan SandajeshanWritten by Jananan Sandajeshan

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