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S. P. Q. R. to Frederick Douglass, July 7, 1848


London, July 7th, 1848.

Dear Douglass,ーSince I last wrote to you, blood has been running like water in the kennels of Paris. A disturbed feeling had been known to pervade the city, and apprehensions were entertained that the outward semblance of tranquility then existing could not remain for long, when a tremendous storm arose, which, as regards extent and intensity, may be said to be utterly unforeseen. Paris was quiet on the night of Thursday, June 22. The promenades were as crowded, and the cafes as much frequented as at any time since the recent revolution. On Friday, a few men dressed en blouses, and armed with muskets, began to traverse the streets, vociferating for a "red republic." Their numbers rapidly increased; barricades began to rise on all sides; and before night, forty or fifty thousand insurgentsーsome, workmen out of employーothers, thievesーothers again, returned convictsーin short, the very scum and off-scouring of the city, were intrenched behind positions of enormous strength in one quarter, with the all but coward object of plundering the whole capital. The Executive Government stood confessed unequal to the crisis; at the desire of the National Assembly, they resigned. Gen. Cavaignac, late of the African army, was appointed to command in chief. He was requested to take measures for the restoration of the peace of the city. He refused to act, if full powers were not granted to himーif, in short, he was not made dictator. The Assembly at once accorded his wishes. The entire confidence reposed in him he fully justified. He disposed the forces at his immediate command with consummate ability; and with them vigorously attacked the insurgents. He concentrated with the utmost rapidity all the forces, consisting of national guards, troops of the line, gardes mobiles, upon the capital. The city was declared in a state siege; the well affected were requested to keep in-doors, and full scope was given to the desperate conflict which raged for some time with varying success. The citizens behaved most bravely; none fought better than the gardes mobiles. Boysーalmost children as some of them are, they assaulted and carried barricade after barricade, under a deadly fire, to sustain the effects of which would have done honor to the old guard. The insurgents fought with the awful courage of despair. A thousand troops fell before one barricade, the defenders of which lost but two killed and five wounded. The rebels will everlastingly be remembered as the perpetrators of savage cruelties which would have disgraced the Cherokee Indians. They mutilated, with every circumstance of revolting barbarity, such of their opponents as fell into their power. Women came and assuaged the thirst of the fevered troops with poisoned wine. There were even women who, when the rebellion had been crushed, boasted of the number of heads and hands they had cut off from living victims. And all this for what? That instead of a tri-colored flag, they might have a red one; that the dry, painstaking legislation, which has been attempted under unparalleled difficulties, might be replaced by the wild projects of excited visionaries, or the bloody decrees of devil-possessed madmen. For once, however, might was with the right. The National Guards of the provinces poured in, stern and determined, and the rebels at last saw all the fortifications captured. Many fled, others were taken prisoners; some fought with an inveteracy which I could not dignify as enthusiasm, but rather stigmatise as demoniac revenge. Order ultimately triumphed, but at an enormous sacrifice. Fifteen thousand men, at the very least, have perished; many good, brave, and great men among them. The archbishop of Paris was treacherously and cruelly shot, while parleying with a party of the rioters. As soon as the city had assumed the appearance of a paralyzed, rather than a healthy quiet, Cavaignac re-deposited in the hands of the Assembly the extraordinary powers with which, in their extreme peril, they had invested him. They proceeded at once to elect him President of the Council, in the place of the Executive Committee, with the power of nominating his own ministers. In his hands, as an agent, are placed the destinies of France. His conduct, as commander, seems to have been always moderate and judicious, and seems to have obtained for him the love of his soldiers, the respect of his officers, and the willing co-operation of his lieutenants; add to this, that he is in the prime of life,ーand I have given you some grounds for hoping that he may be equal to the task he has reluctantly accepted. The origin of the insurrection has excited great speculation. It is at present involved in profound mystery. All the rioters had moneyーsome of them large sums; the question is, Whence came it? Some say it was distributed by the Legitimist agents (the partizans of the so-called Henry V.) others, that the Orleans faction has been at work; others, that the plot has been concerted and assisted by the Buonapartists; while others again confidently assert that the Russian autocrat has been lavish of gold, to subvert that which he has often insultingly designated "the mud government of France." The examination of the prisoners, now being urged on with extreme rapidity, will perhaps elicit which, if any of these conjectures, is the truth. One thing I must subjoin. Nothing has yet been found to indicate the precise objects of the insurgentsーI mean, as regards the government they intended to constitute. One paper was discovered in which a vigorous and systematic use of the guillotine was asserted to be essentially necessary to the preservation of the republic. Another containing a programme for the exclusion from the rights of citizenship for ten years, of every one paying two hundred francs a-year and upwards in taxes. So much for "libertyーequalityーfraternity."

S. P. Q. R.



July 7, 1848


S. P. Q. R. to Frederick Douglass. PLIr: NS, 28 July 1848. Reviews European events.



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