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legal polity; he wielded immense authority, as the words “M. Thiers wants it so" spoken at Bordeaux, or later at Versailles, were sufficient to bring into line all the opponents of any measure he desired to have put on the statute books.
Just how Thiers stood on the matter of the ultimate form of the French Government caused all parties considerable perplexity. The Republicans were confident that he was their leader, and were strengthened in this belief by his assertion, on ascending the presidential chair, that he would make a "loyal experiment in republican government.” The Monarchists, on the other hand, were equally confident that as soon as he had extricated the country from the entanglements ensuing from the still unterminated war, Thiers would step aside, and allow the rightful heir to ascend the throne. The president was too sagacious to make these Royalists his enemies, so that for a time, he was compelled to maintain a rather ambiguous attitude.
Approximately three months after his election, Thiers was forced, by the ceaseless heckling of the three monarchical parties, to explain his position. He did this in a vigorous speech, delivered before the Assembly on February 19, 1871; he drew a vivid picture of the country's pitiful condition, and urged all, Royalists and Republicans alike, to combine in carrying through his programme of “pacifying, reorganizing, restoring credit, and reviving work, so as to place the nation on a sound financial basis.” And then he came out with his celebrated dictum, now termed the “Bordeaux compact: “After credit has been restored and prosperity reëstablished, then and then only, will it be time to think of the form of government to be imposed upon the nation. All parties must drop their differences and consolidate upon the arduous task of procuring happiness and general welfare."
As he himself indicated, Thiers' task, upon entering office, was three-fold: he had, first of all, to conclude a satisfactory peace with Prussia; he had to repair the country's financial state; and he had to give his people a permanent and durable form of government. He was pledged to the peace party, and, as "first citizen of the land,” he was given power to treat for terms with
the greatest diplomat of the age, Prince von Bismarck. The struggle was heart-rending. The two intermediaries met in Paris, and peace negotiations were opened at once. The terms,
, as presented by Prussia, included the following items: The surrender of the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine and the city of Metz, and the payment of the immense indemnity of six milliards of francs. Thiers was indignant at the enormity of these considerations, and pleaded, almost tearfully, with the German Emperor and his Chancellor, to diminish the ransom and to allow France to retain Metz and Belfort. His fervent appeal was effective: the indemnity was reduced to five milliards and Belfort remained French territory. The preliminary peace was signed by Thiers and Favre for France and by Bismarck for Prussia. The Chief Executive then repaired to Bordeaux where, after a spirited struggle, he obtained the ratification of the treaty by a vote of 546 to 107.
The second of Thiers' great tasks was the restoration of prosperity. This was made especially difficult by the fact that the huge indemnity had to be collected, in large part, from direct taxes upon the already fearfully impoverished people. But the nation responded nobly and willingly. During Thiers' administration, France enjoyed an era of unexampled happiness and prosperity. The harvests were rich, commerce flourished, and the nation, rising phoenix-like from the ashes of a calamitous war, soon recovered its former rank among the world powers. The installments of the indemnity were paid off in an incredibly short time, so that on March 18, 1873, only a little more than a year after the signing of the preliminary peace, Thiers could announce in the Assembly that the final convention had been drawn up in Berlin, that all German troops had evacuated the country, and that France's liberation from alien intrusion was now a fait accompli. In recognition of his loyal services, the Assembly had, towards the end of the year 1872, conferred upon him the title of "President of the French Republic," for a term of seven years, thus putting an end to the provisional circumstances under which he had hitherto held his office.
This honor, however, soon produced in the ranks of the
Monarchists the feeling that Thiers was determined to make a republic of France. During the process of national reconstruction, they gave the president his way in whatever he wanted. But after the peace treaty had been successfully negotiated and the country was on the road to prosperity once more, they began a steady attack upon the Chief Magistrate and his most intimate ministers. The time for hedging was soon at an end. The Assembly and the people were desirous of establishing a permanent form of government by drawing up a constitution. Although the Monarchists possessed a large majority in the Assembly, Thiers felt that the electorate would support him to a man. As a consequence, he threw off his mask, and came out unreservedly, in a presidential message of November, 1872, for the continuance of the “Conservative Republic.” The message aroused wild tumult in the Chamber. The anti-Republican deputies turned against the president, and it was only by means of his ever-ready tool, the threat to resign, that he carried the day. For four months the debate waxed hotter and hotter, until it became evident to all that Thiers was steadily losing ground. The Monarchists, forgetting the benefits the country had gleaned during Thiers' wise guidance, and without a definite candidate in view for the throne of the Bonapartes, determined that the President must go. “Thiers' services, the superhuman tasks he had just accomplished-all this was at once admitted and omitted." The immense power that he had been wielding was the cause of his downfall, as the Royalists had decided that the country had had enough of his tyranny. On a decisive motion, placed before the Assembly on May 24, 1873, Thiers was overwhelmingly outvoted; the Cabinet surrendered its portfolios, the President tendered his resignation and those of his ministers, and the man who had occupied the public eye for fifty years was definitively and irreparably defeated. He had, however, attained his most ardent wish; in the absence of a suitable successor to the throne, Monarchists and Republicans united in electing Marshall MacMahon, one of the central figures of the Franco-Prussian war, president of the French Republic. Though Thiers had to retire from active service, he had the satisfaction of knowing
that his country had remained, and probably would remain throughout future generations, a conservative democracy.
After a short Continental tour, during the course of which he was everywhere greeted with a reception almost regal in its lavishness, Thiers retired into privacy. The last four years of his life were spent in recovering his valuable collections, large parts of which had been lost during the turbulent days of the Paris Commune, in 1870, and in diligent reading. He retained his faculties to the last; nor did he ever lose much of that keen vigor which marked his most active days. His last literary work was a brochure in defence of the republican form of government. On September 3, 1877, while surrounded by the tender care of his wife and his sister-in-law, Mlle. Félicie Dosne, who later compiled and published Thiers' Notes et Souvenirs, he was suddenly stricken with apoplexy, and passed away peacefully. Although his wife refused the Assembly's offer of a public funeral, the last rites over his body were properly impressive, and almost all Paris followed the cortège to the cemetery. Thus departed the most famous of nineteenth-century literary statesmen, one of the most Gallic of Frenchmen-a man who should be classed in a category with such leading spirits as Henri Quatre, Rabelais, Molière, Voltaire, and Napoleon.
AARON SCHAFFER. Johns Hopkins University.
SOME THOUGHTS ON DEMOCRACY
I have sought without much success for a satisfying definition of Democracy. It was with pleasure, then, that I read and appropriated the one given in the Atlantic Monthly for August, 1915 (State Against Commonwealth, p. 281): "Democracy, like Christianity, stands or falls by a faith in the actual imperfections and the infinite worth of individual men." To this I would add - and an abiding sense of individual responsibility.
This comes from a sympathetic and understanding heart and is no mere dealing with words. Therefore it fills the need I have felt and I can gather my thoughts around it. Definitions are usually held to be very prosaic and tiresome and are justly so considered where they consist of verbiage alone and are not felt. There is no progress in science or human knowledge of any kind, however, without satisfactory definitions. The idea sought to be conveyed and clung to is vague and misty. Mistakes creep in and true knowledge suffers.
Democracy and Christianity are, at the time of this world upheaval, the subjects of much criticism and of some despair on the part of their supporters, and this is chiefly for lack of deeply felt definition and understanding. The same is often true of science. A few years ago a number of chemists seemed ready to give up the foundation-stone of their building because of the marvelous discoveries of radio-activity. This came from a lack of clear understanding of the definition of a theory in general and the atomic theory in particular.
There have been many definitions of Democracy and conceptions as to its essential elements, and men have struggled over them, committing crimes and working injustice in its name. This has also been the history of Christianity. If men had always held to the belief in the infinite worth of the individual and because of that belief had shown a tolerance and forgiveness for the imperfections, how differently history would read and how much less of “man's inhumanity to man" should we have to mourn! And yet no doctrines are more insisted upon by the Master. Until these lessons are learned there is scant trust to