Address of the Corps-Legislatif to Napoleon.
December 28, 1813.
Buchez and Roux, Histoire Parlementaire, XXXIX, 456-458.
This address was drawn up after Napoleon had submitted to the Corps-Legislatif a portion of his correspondence with the Allies. Napoleon forbade its publication and as a sign of his displeasure dissolved the chamber. The document throws some light upon the state of France, its attitude towards Napoleon and the war.
We have examined with a scrupulous attention the official documents which the Emperor has deigned to place before our eyes. We consider ourselves then as the representatives of the nation itself, speaking with open hearts to a father who hears us with benevolence. Filled with that sentiment so adapted to the elevation of our souls and to disengaging us from every personal consideration, we have dared to bring the truth to the foot of the throne; our august sovereign could not suffer any other language.
. . . . . . . .
[The omitted passage reviews the course of events from the outbreak of the war with Russia to the end of the campaign of 1813.]
Here, gentlemen, we must avow it, the enemy carried along by victory to the banks of the Rhine has offered to our august monarch a peace which a hero accustomed to so much success must have found strange indeed. But if a manly and heroic sentiment dictated to him a refusal before the deplorable state of France had been ascertained, that refusal cannot be reiterated without imprudence when the enemy is already breaking the frontiers of our territory. If the matter here in question had been the discussion of disgraceful conditions, His Majesty would have deigned to reply only by making known to his people the projects of the foreigners; there is no wish, however, to humiliate us, but to confine us within our limits and to repress the soaring of an ambitious activity so fatal for twenty years past to all the peoples of Europe.
Such proposals seem to us honorable for the nation, since they prove that the foreigner fears and respects us. It is not he who sets limits to our power, it is the terrified world which invokes the common right of nations. The Pyrenees, the Alps and the Rhine enclose a vast territory of which several provinces were not held by the Empire of the Lilies, and yet the royal crown of France was radiant with glory and majesty among all the diadems.
Furthermore, the Protectorate of the Rhine ceases to be a title of honor for a crown, from the moment when the peoples of that confederation disdain that protection.
It is obvious that here there is no question of a right of conquest, but of a title of alliance useful only to the Germans. A powerful hand was assuring them of its assistance; they wish to slip away from that benefaction as from an insupportable burden; it is consistent with the dignity of His Majesty to abandon to themselves those peoples who are hastening to range themselves under the yoke of Austria. As for Brabant, since the allies propose to adhere to the bases of the treaty of Lunéville, it seems to us that France could sacrifice without loss provinces difficult to retain, in which the English spirit dominates almost exclusively, and for which. finally, commerce with England is a necessity so indispensable that these districts have been languishing and impoverished as long as our domination has lasted. Have we not seen patrician families exiling themselves from Dutch soil, as if devastating scourges had pursued them, and taking to the enemy the wealth and industry of their fatherland? Doubtless it does not take courage to make the heart of our sovereign hear the truth; but we should he bound to expose ourselves to all perils, we should prefer to incur disgrace from him rather than to betray his confidence, and to expose our lives rather than the safety of the nation which we represent.
Let us not dissemble: our ills are at their height; the fatherland is threatened at all points upon its frontiers; commerce is annihilated, agriculture languishes, industry is expiring; and there is not a Frenchman who has not in his family or his fortune a cruel wound to heal. Let us not be weighed down by these facts; the agriculturalist has not prospered for five years past; he barely lives, and the fruits of his labors serve to augment the treasure which is annually exhausted in the supplies which the constantly ruined and famished armies demand. The conscription has become for all France an odious scourge, because that measure has always been overdone in execution. For the past two years the gathering in has occurred three times per year; a barbarous and aimless war has swallowed up youths torn away from education, agriculture, commerce and the arts. Are the tears of mothers and the pains of the people then the patrimony of kings? It is time that the nations should be in repose; it is time that the Powers should cease clashing and tearing each others' entrails; it is time that the thrones should be strengthened and that France should cease to be reproached with wishing to carry into all the world revolutionary torches. Our august monarch, who shares the zeal that animates us and who is burning to consolidate the welfare of his peoples, is the only one capable of performing that great work. Love of military honor and of conquests can seduce a magnanimous heart; but the genius of a true hero, who spurns a glory achieved at the expense of the blood and repose of the people, finds his true grandeur in the public felicity which is his work. French monarchs have always gloried in holding their crown from God, the people and their sword, because peace, morality and power are, with liberty, the firmest support of empires.
Fournier, Napoleon, 650-852; Sloane, Napoleon, IV, 85-86; Rose, Napoleon, II, 347-348; Lavisse and Rambaud, Histoire Generale, IX, 849-853.
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