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The Coup d'Etat of 1851

December 2, 1851

The coup d'état by Louis Napoléon Bonaparte erupted on the morning of December 2, 1851. The walls of Paris were plastered with notices announcing the dissolution of the National Assembly, and the most hostile deputies and generals were arrested at dawn. Among them were Cavaignac, "who had saved Paris and France in the days of June", Lamoricière, and Bedeau and Changarnier, the heroes of Africa", all of whom were locked up like common criminals, as Tocqueville wrote. Early that morning, Tocqueville was alerted to the seriousness of the situation by Gustave de Beaumont, who told him of the disturbing developments for the Republic, and who invited Alexis to go with him to the Assembly. The two friends found the doors locked and guarded by regiment of chasseurs from Vincennes, who forcefully repelled those who attempted to enter. The deputies then gathered at the city hall of the Paris's 10th arrondissement. There, nearly three hundred people's representatives from across the political spectrum, Tocqueville among them, formed a sort of "Last Chance Assembly" and held a final parliamentary session to defend the principle of national representation.

« I am merely recounting as a witness what I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears. »
(Letter to Mrs. Grote, December 8, 1851)

These protesting deputies included Eugène Sue, Casimir Périer, Berryer, Sainte-Beuve, Falloux and General Oudinot, as well as the majority of Tocqueville's friends, such as Beaumont, Corcelle, Dufaure and Lanjuinais. They barely had time to declare that the dissolution of the National Assembly was a crime of high treason, that "Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was stripped of his functions as President of the Republic", that "citizens are ordered to refuse to obey him", and that "by right, executive power is passed to the National Assembly", when soldiers made an initial attempt to arrest them. They gave up in the face of the iron determination of the people's representatives and the courage of their president, Benoist d'Azy, who ordered them to withdraw after having read them the decrees that had just been adopted. The deputies took advantage of this respite to throw open the windows of the hall and read these same decrees to the crowds and troops who had gathered in front of the building, "in particular, the decree that, by virtue of Article 68 of the Constitution, pronounced the removal and indictment of Louis-Napoléon". But this attempt to divert the sentiments of the people and to enjoin them to resist the coup d'état was in vain. It did not prevent the return of the forces of order, who were determined this time to break up the assembly of deputies who appeared to be too isolated to save the Republic.

See
Political Figures

Dissolution of the National Assembly by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte

Dissolution of the National Assembly by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte
© PMVP / Briant

Morning of December 2, 1851, the representatives in front of the Legislative Assembly

Morning of December 2, 1851, the representatives in front of the Legislative Assembly, Ch. Lahure
© AD Alpes de Haute-Provence

Berryer at the window of the city hall of the 10th arrondissement, December 2, 1851

Berryer at the window of the city hall of the 10th arrondissement, December 2, 1851, Ch. Lahure
© AD Alpes de Haute-Provence

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