Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXII, 16

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXII, chapter16
The Senate issue the Decree of Deposition

On the 2nd of April, the Senators, to whom we owe only one article of the Charter of 1814, the unworthy article which guaranteed their pensions, decreed Bonaparte’s deposition. If the decree of liberation for France, an infamy on the part of those who issued it, was an affront to the human race, at the same time it taught posterity the cost of greatness and success, when they disdain to found themselves on morality, justice and liberty.

‘The Senate Conservateur decrees, given that in a constitutional monarchy the monarchy only exists in virtue of the constitution or the social covenant;
That Napoleon Bonaparte, firm and prudent in Government for many years, gave the nation reason to expect, in future, acts of wisdom and justice; but then tore up the covenant which united the French people, in particular by levying taxes, establishing those charges other than by virtue of the law, against the express tenor of the speech he gave on mounting the throne, in conformance with article 53 of the constitution of 28 Floréal, Year XII;
That he committed that assault on the rights of the people, at the very time when he chose to adjourn for no reason the Legislative Body, and suppress, as criminal, a report of that body, whose title and report to the national representatives he contested;
That he started a series of wars in violation of article 50 of the constitutional act of Year VIII, which stated that a declaration of war is to be proposed, discussed, decreed and promulgated, like the law;
That he has, unconstitutionally, issued several decrees carrying sentence of death, namely the two decrees of 5th March last, tending to imply that a war which took place only in the interests of his boundless ambition was to be treated as a national war;
That he has violated the laws of the constitution by his decrees regarding State prisons;
That he has done away with ministerial responsibility, confused all powers, and destroyed the independence of the judiciary;
Considering that the freedom of the press, established and consecrated as a national right, has been constantly subjected to arbitrary police censure, and that at the same time he has continually used the press to fill France and Europe with fabricated information, false maxims, doctrines favouring tyranny, and insults against foreign governments;
That the acts and reports, heard by the Senate, have been subject to alteration in the process of publication;
Considering that, instead of ruling solely with a view to the interests, well-being and glory of the French people, according to the terms of his speech, Napoleon has capped the country’s misfortunes by his refusal to negotiate conditions that the national interest obliged him to accept and which did not compromise the honour of France; by the way he has abused the resources of men and money entrusted to him; by abandoning the wounded without help, without medical supplies, without means of subsistence; by various measures whose results were the ruin of cities, the depopulation of countries, famine and contagious illness:
Considering that, for all these reasons, the Imperial Government established by the senatus-consulte of 28th Floréal, Year XII, or 18th of May 1804, has ceased to exist, and that the manifest wish of all French people calls for an order of things whose first result would be the re-establishment of universal peace, which would also be a period of solemn reconciliation between all the States of the great European family, the Senate declares and decrees as follows: that Napoleon be deposed from the throne; that hereditary rights be abolished in his family; and that the French people and the army be freed from their oath of fidelity towards him.

The Roman Senate was less harsh when it declared Nero a public enemy: history is merely a repetition of the same events applied to different men and varying times.

Can you imagine the Emperor reading the official document at Fontainebleau? What must he have thought of what had happened, and of the men he had summoned to complicity in his suppression of our freedoms? When I published my pamphlet De Bonaparte et des Bourbons, could I have anticipated that it would be amplified and converted into a decree of deposition by the Senate? What prevented the legislators, in the days of previous success, from discovering the ills for which they blamed Bonaparte as the author, from realising that the constitution had been violated? What sudden zeal for the freedom of the press seized these deaf mutes? How could those who had showered adulation on Napoleon in respect of each of his wars, now discover that he had undertaken them only in the interests of his boundless ambition? What suddenly moved those, who had thrown him so many conscripts to devour, to feel on behalf of the wounded soldiers, abandoned without help, without medical supplies, without means of subsistence? There are times when one ought only to dispense contempt economically, because of the great number who deserve it: I will handle them sparingly for the moment, since they will deserve it again during and after the Hundred Days.

When I ask what Napoleon at Fontainebleau thought of the actions of the Senate, the answer is extant: an order of the day of the 5th of April 1814, not officially published, but replicated in various newspapers outside the capital, thanks the army for its loyalty, adding:

‘The Senate has taken the liberty of disposing of the government of France; it has forgotten that it owes the power it has now abused to the Emperor; that it was he who saved half the members from the storm of the Revolution, dragged the rest from obscurity and protected them against the hatred of the nation. The Senate has referred to the articles of the Constitution in order to overthrow it; it has felt no shame in blaming the Emperor, without noting that, as the supreme state body, it has taken part in all these events. The Senate has felt no shame in speaking of public libels against foreign governments: it has forgotten that they were drawn up in its name. As long as fortune continued to shine on their sovereign, these men remained loyal and not a word was heard about abuse of power. If the Emperor has shown his scorn of men, as they have attributed blame to him, then the world will recognise today that he had his reasons which have motivated his scorn.’

It is a homage paid by Bonaparte himself to the freedom of the press: he must have considered there was some good in it, since it offered him a last shelter and a last recourse.

And I who struggle against the age, I who seek to make it account to itself for what it has seen, I who write this so long after those events, in the reign of Louis-Philippe, false heir to so great a heritage, what am I in the hands of Time, that mighty devourer of centuries that I believe to have been ordained, of Time that makes me pirouette with him through space?