Page images





THE distinguishing feature of French politics during the year was the stability of the Ministry. For the first time since the year 1865 the composition of the Cabinet at the commencement and at the conclusion of the year was identical. The various ministers occupied the same places, and if their relative importance or their personal influence within the Cabinet underwent any modification, nothing was known officially. This fact, so uncommon in the recent history of France, indicated a thorough revolution, not only in its parliamentary habits, but also in the classification of parties, and in the nature of the political and social problems submitted for discussion. Moreover, if the surface of the political world appeared unruffled, momentous changes were going on amongst all classes of society, and measures were being taken of which the importance would appear hereafter.

The principal currents of opinion of which the existence. showed itself during the year 1891 may be briefly summarised. Of those in the domain of home politics the most important was the division of the Catholic party into two groups, one accepting the Republic, the other persisting in its attitude towards the Monarchy.

The extraordinary prominence given to social problems was attested by the events at Fourmies, the official intervention of the constituted authorities into the great strikes of Paris and the North, and, above all, in the creation of the Labour Bureau. The new direction given to fiscal policy had not at the close of the year produced any obvious results, but it was obvious that the consumers at home would before long become conscious of its effects, whilst abroad the ultra-Protectionist policy of the Chamber could not fail to seriously affect international relations. Yet by a strange contradiction it was in 1891 that the fêtes of Cronstadt and Portsmouth gave to the great majority of Frenchmen the belief that their country had at length emerged from the attitude imposed upon it by the disasters of the Empire.

The result of the Senatorial elections (Jan. 4), by which onethird of the Upper Chamber was renewed, was the first evidence of the increased strength of the Republican party. Although 82 seats in all had to be filled up, there was little anxiety as to the result; the work of eliminating the old opponents of the Republic was carried on systematically but quietly, and the Monarchists lost 10 votes in the Senate. The defeat in the department of the Seine Inférieure of M. Pouyer-Quertier, one of the chiefs of the Protectionist party, and the withdrawal of M. Paris, a former minister under Marshal MacMahon, were the most important losses to the reactionaries. On the other hand, the return of M. Jules Ferry, elected in the Vosges, was regarded as an act of justice, and, at the same time, bore witness to the increased strength of the Moderate Republicans. For this reason doubtless it was greeted alike by the Radicals and the Monarchists with violent recriminations.

Following closely in the Senatorial elections the success of the National Loan (Jan. 10) showed the financial strength of the country. The amount of 3 per cent. Rentes asked for by the Minister of Finance was 869 millions of francs at 92.55. On no occasion since the first Revolution had the Government asked for a loan on such conditions, nevertheless it was subscribed for in Paris and the Departments 16 times over, and the payments of the first instalment proved that the subscriptions were real and not speculative.

The assembling of the Chambers (Jan. 13) was marked by a desire on all sides to push forward the business of the session. M. Floquet was re-elected President without opposition, with MM. Casimir Périer, Peytral, de Mahy, and Spuller as VicePresidents; of these M. Peytral alone belonged to the old Radical group. The speech with which M. Floquet inaugurated his seventh presidency attracted considerable notice. He proclaimed as the basis of stable government the harmony between the two Chambers; he urged his colleagues to decide honestly between private interests which appealed for their votes, and public interests which had a right to their protection. The Chamber profited by the grave advice given by its President to sweep away as rapidly as possible a number of frivolous interpellations presented by irresponsible members. Amongst these one by M. Péchon, on the intrigues of Italy in Tripoli, attracted some notice. M. Ribot, the Foreign Minister, in reply, declared that the relations between France and Italy were happily not such to be in danger from the forged telegrams of newspaper agencies.

At this moment, moreover, more important cares than those of parliamentary life were pressing upon the inhabitants of the French capital. The long and intense frost had produced among the labouring classes more than the usual amount of misery. Exceptional measures were at once taken by the municipalities throughout the country to lessen the sufferings of the homeless.

Public subscriptions were organised by the Press of Paris and the Departments, the buildings of the Universal Exhibition, which still remained standing, were transformed into vast dormitories, and everything possible was done to relieve the sufferings of the poor. When, however, the thaw came it was discovered that in a great measure the autumn sowing had been destroyed, and thus a further burden had been thrown upon the country. The Protectionists took advantage of these disasters to urge the necessity of protecting the national agriculture and commerce. This action aroused counter demonstrations, and at Lyons, Marseilles, and Bordeaux, committees drew up protests against the new tariff policy, and even towns of the second order, such as Nîmes, Valence, Avignon, organised meetings at which the taxes on raw materials were strongly denounced. In a word, one half of France protested against the tariffs which the other half demanded.

Lastly, the incident of the drama of Thermidor seemed for a moment to threaten the Ministry; the dramatic author, M. Sardou, had in his piece represented Robespierre in an unflattering guise. The first representation had been an undoubted success for the author, but at the second, an uproar was made by indignant Republicans, who protested against the use of a State-aided theatre for such purposes. The Minister of the Interior thereupon forbade further performance of the play, a somewhat arbitrary proceeding, inasmuch as the piece had, before being placed upon the stage, been submitted for the approval of the State Censor. The public, moreover, not unreasonably asked what was the use of the dramatic censorship if the decisions of the Minister of Public Instruction could be arbitrarily overridden by the Minister of the Interior? The incident gave rise (Jan. 29) to a lively debate in the Chamber, in the course of which M. Clemenceau put forward the proposition that the Revolution and its leaders should be accepted en bloc by all Republicans.

A few days previously an important step had been taken by the Government, the Journal Officiel (Jan. 23) having published a decree constituting a Labour Bureau. The object of this body (Conseil Supérieur) was to collect and distribute rapidly trustworthy information on all labour questions. In order to give the necessary independence and strength, two-thirds of the Council were made up of employers and workmen in equal numbers, whilst the remaining third consisted of deputies and others. specially versed in economic questions, and certain public functionaries. This institution was subsequently completed by the creation of a public Department of Labour annexed to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. In order to guard against any complaints, the Government took care to choose as workmen members of the Council, the presidents or secretaries of the principal syndicates elected by the workmen themselves; but as

if to show how little the Socialist bodies understood political education, several of the members invited to join the Council were directed by their societies to decline the posts offered to them.

At the same time the Chamber, devoting itself to debates on social questions, discussed a law limiting the labour of women and children, voted a limitation of the day's work to ten hours, and prohibited night work. In this debate the Comte de Mun, one of the leaders of the Catholic party, and an ardent advocate of the alliance of the Church and the working classes, took a prominent part. His speech on this occasion was a great success, and by 415 to 72 votes his resolution was accepted.

The Minister of Finance, on bringing forward his Budget for the year 1892, was met by an amendment proposed by one of his predecessors, M. Léon Say, who moved that before choosing a committee of the Budget, the Chamber should commence by a general debate upon the financial proposals of the Government. This innovation, however, was defeated (Feb. 8) by 301 to 203 votes, but the result showed that a coalition between the Right and the Extreme Left was a danger which at any moment might threaten the Ministry.

The next subject which engaged the attention of Parliament. was of a very different character. For some years the betting agencies in Paris and the provinces had been increasing in numbers and activity. Offices were established throughout the country where the public were tempted to risk their money on the races held almost daily on suburban racecourses. In another form this revived the lottery system, of which the vices had been so clearly proved. Every day complaints were made to the police of thefts and embezzlements which could be traced to this increase of betting. At the same time the Assistance Publique, which drew a portion of its funds from a tax on public amusements, found itself deprived of a portion of its revenue in consequence of these offices not being under official control. Two interpellations were therefore addressed to the Ministry on the subject by M. Ernest Roche to M. Constans, the other by M. Paulmier to M. Develle, Minister of Agriculture, and in consequence of the discussion which followed, the Ministry brought forward and passed by 338 to 149 votes a Bill suppressing the private betting agencies, whilst allowing the continuance of the pari mutuel. The receipts, however, of the latter were taxed at the rate of 2 per cent. for the benefit of the Assistance Publique, and a further 1 per cent. payable to the State for the encouragement of horse breeding. This law, financially useful if not morally necessary, was passed with little opposition, but its application was attended with considerable difficulty.

As a rule, moreover, the debates in the Chamber at this time were dull and monotonous, when an incident, of which the consequences might have been the gravest, suddenly bore witness to the continued existence of those elements of disorder which

Boulangism had organised. The arrival in Paris of the Empress Frederick (Feb. 18) had in itself no political significance. Her love of art was well known throughout Europe, and it was therefore only natural that she should be desirous of seeing the collections of which Paris was the centre. But her stay at Paris coincided with or followed immediately upon an attempt made at Berlin to organise in that capital an international exhibition in which the contemporary French school of art was to be represented. The Emperor William II. was understood to be favourable to the proposal, and a long visit paid by him to Madame Herbette about this time had been the subject of considerable remark. For this reason it was assumed that the Emperor's mother was commissioned to negotiate with the principal French artists for their participation in the Berlin exhibition. Thereupon a lively discussion arose in the French press as to whether it was befitting to the dignity of France that the pictures of Détaille and Puvis de Chavannes should be sent on a journey to Berlin. Opinion on this point was divided when it became known that the Empress, after visiting the Palace of Versailles, had on her return stopped at the ruins of the château of St. Cloud. The Boulangist newspaper at once seized upon the incident, declaring that simple excursion to be an insult and an outrage to France. Manifestations were organised, and little by little was set up a sort of rivalry in patriotic susceptibility. A group of deputies proceeded to the École des Beaux-Arts to place a crown on the monument of Henri Regnault, killed at the battle of Buzenval, whilst the Patriotic League, always dispersed yet always active, fostered demonstrations in the streets. In view of the unforeseen agitation the Dowager-Empress was forced to shorten her stay, and promptly quitted Paris (Feb. 27) for England, and at the same time all idea of any participation by the French artists in the Berlin exhibition was abandoned. The Emperor did not fail to feel keenly this check to his hopes of reconciliation in the field of art, and a few days later rigorous measures on the Alsace-Lorraine frontier, which for a moment had been softened, were revived with greater severity.

The most important debate at this moment arose in the Senate on an interpellation by M. Dide on the state of French colonisation in Algeria. M. Dide pointed out the serious dangers in the future arising out of the small increase in the number of French colonists lost amongst 4 millions of natives, whilst M. Pauliat, who had drawn up the report on Algeria for the debate on the Budget, exposed the incredible abuses of the administration; he urged that M. Tirman, the Governor-General, was wanting in vigilance, that little or nothing was done for the education of the Arabs, of whose children scarcely 10,000 attended the schools provided for them. Moreover, not content with neglecting the Mussulmans, the French officials frequently oppressed them. "There is no longer any justice for the natives of Algeria," said

« PreviousContinue »