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Politics & Views

The Coup d'Etat of 1851

Internal exile
« There, Sir, lies our fate. Force overturns law, tramples freedom of the press and of individuals, and mocks the will of the people in whose name the government claims to act; France wrenched from the family of free nations and subjected to the same yoke as the despotic monarchies of the continent:
that is the result of the coup d'état. »
(Letter to Mrs. Grote,
December 8, 1851)

After his release from his prison cell in Vincennes, Tocqueville's first concern was to inform France and the rest of the world of the reality of the events that had unfolded beneath his gaze. To do so, he decided to send - anonymously and with the assistance of his friend
Mrs GroteHarriet Grote (1792-1878)
Wife of George Grote. Close friend of the Senior family and through them of Tocqueville. It was to her that Tocqueville sent his detailed account of the "events of December 2, 1851" for publication in the Times.
a long account to The Times. The celebrated London paper, which had, like all of the London press, accepted the Bonapartist interpretation of the coup d'état - that it was justified by the need to protect the president against the National Assembly, and to avoid the danter of a Red Republic after the 1852 elections - ran Tocqueville's article in its edition of December 11, 1851. In response to the Bonapartist propaganda, the article was a veritable defense plea for the people's representatives who had resisted -Tocqueville provided the complete list - and a severe accusation of Louis Napoléon's use of force. For Tocqueville, this text was a undiluted denunciation of crimes committed against people, as well as those against the Republic and public freedom. He unceasingly repeated this condemnation to each of his correspondents who asked for his opinion on the recent events, attempted to inform his friends who remained in La Manche, and seriously quarreled with his brother Édouard, who was in favor of the new regime. The terms Tocqueville used criticize this shameful point of view were harsh. They bear witness to how forcefully he condemned a timid France, which hid beneath a despot's yoke in order to escape the specter of socialism, and how much he condemned the disdain with which Louis Napoléon treated representative institutions, human dignity, and freedom.   play sound extractlire l'extrait sonore  
One can easily understand how Tocqueville could never imagine playing a role in the political life of the Second Empire, and that the dark day of December 2, 1851 represented both the fall of the Second Republic and the end of his political career. His unwavering stance with respect to the new regime led him to successively resign from all of his elected posts, with the exception of the presidency of the La Manche Departmental Council, to which he was very attached; he had hoped to keep this post without compromising himself with the new regime. Perhaps he even thought that the departments and local political life could allow for the organization of a form of opposition to the central power. However, as soon as the new Prince-President required departmental councilors to swear loyalty oaths, Tocqueville refused to acquiesce; he bade a definitive farewell to political life during an extraordinary session of the La Manche Departmental Council in April 1852. He withdrew to the chateau de Tocqueville in a sort of internal exile, and decided to devote his life once again to study, and in particular to the new book that he had begun planning for several years, which would turn out to be The Old Regime and the Revolution.

Political Figures

The Montmartre cemetery on December 4, 1851

The Montmartre cemetery on December 4, 1851, anonymous
© PMVP / Trocaz


Cover of the minutes of the deliberations of the La Manche General Council

Cover of the minutes of the deliberations of the La Manche General Councile
© AD Manche / Poirier

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