HE reached Paris about 8 A.M. June 21. “I was thoroughly exhausted,” he later recalled. “For three days I had neither eaten nor slept.”1 He went to the Élysée Palace, pleading to Caulaincourt, “I need two hours of rest.”2 Meanwhile the Chamber of Representatives assembled, and sentiment there was strongly for his abdication. Informed of this, he proposed to his friends that the chaos of opinion in the country, and the need for united action to defend France and its capital against any attempt of the Allies to control the nation or its government, required a temporary dictatorship.
When the people of Paris learned of the military disaster many of them gathered before the Élysée, affirmed their continued faith in Napoleon with cries of “Vive l’Empereur!” and asked for arms that they might defend the city. Hearing them, Napoleon said to Benjamin Constant, “You see, it is not these people upon whom I heaped honors and money. What do they owe me? I found them poor, and I have left them poor…. If I willed it, in an hour the rebellious Chamber would cease to exist…. But the life of one man is not worth this price. I do not wish to be the King of Jacqueries. I did not come from Elba in order that Paris should be inundated with blood.”3
Even during his flight from Waterloo he had planned to raise another army, this time of 300,000 men.4 Between June 22 and June 24 the remains of his defeated army gathered and were reorganized at Laon, seventy-seven miles northeast of Paris; and there, on June 26, Grouchy, after a brilliant retreat, joined them with 30,000 men. Meanwhile, however, Blücher had assembled his victorious forces, and was leading them toward Paris, carefully bypassing Laon. Wellington, his army badly hurt, hesitated to join the impetuous Prussian, but soon he too was on the road, also avoiding Laon. At the same time, June 22–25, the armies of Austria, Bavaria, and Württemberg crossed the Rhine and headed for Paris. History repeated itself.
The Chamber of Representatives, after passionate debates, concluded that resistance to the Allies was impracticable, and that they would insist on Napoleon’s abdication. Fouché, still Napoleon’s minister of police, worked in his subtle ways to secure this abdication. He had predicted, before Waterloo, “The Emperor will win one or two battles; he will lose the third; at that point our role will begin.”5 But Fouché did not wait that long. Napoleon’s brother Lucien rushed to the Chamber to urge delay; Fouché worked against him, and Lafayette asked, Had not Napoleon consumed enough lives? Lucien, victor in 1799, admitted failure now. He advised Napoleon to forcibly overthrow the chambers; Napoleon refused. The exhaustion of battle and defeat had weakened his will, but had clarified his vision; and while the crowd outside the palace continued to shout “Vive l’Empereur!” he dictated to Lucien, June 22, 1815, his Second Abdication, addressed to the two chambers:
In beginning the war for national independence, I counted on the reunion of all efforts,… and on the agreement of all the nation’s governing bodies. Circumstances seem to me to have changed…. I offer myself as sacrifice to the hatred of the enemies of France. May they be sincere in their declarations, and in having really desired nothing more than my person. Unite, all of you, for the public safety, and for our remaining independent action…. I proclaim my son in the name of Napoleon II.6
All his ministers agreed to his abdication except Carnot, who wept. Fouché rejoiced.
The two chambers accepted the abdication, ignored its nomination of Napoleon’s four-year-old son (then in Vienna) as his successor, and chose five of its members—Fouché, Carnot, Caulaincourt, Grenier (an obscure general), and Ouinette (a member of the old revolutionary Convention) —to serve as a “Commission Exécutive” and a Provisional Government. Fouché was chosen president of the commission, and negotiated directly with the Allies and Napoleon. Fearing a popular uprising in favor of Napoleon, he persuaded Davout, military commander in the capital, to prevail upon Napoleon to leave Paris and retire to Malmaison. On June 25, accompanied by Bertrand, Gourgaud, Comte de Las Cases, and Comte de Montholon, Napoleon left for Malmaison, where Hortense welcomed him to her late mother’s home. Walking with Hortense in the garden, he spoke fondly of Josephine. “Truly,” he said, “she was more full of grace than any woman I have ever seen.”7
He thought now of seeking refuge and peace in America. He asked Bertrand to secure for him several books about the United States.8 He had read Alexander von Humboldt’s Voyages aux contrées équinoctiales du nouveau continent; he proposed to give the remainder of his life to science; now he would go to America and explore its soil, flora, and fauna from Canada to Cape Horn. On June 26 he sent to the Provisional Government a request for passage to Rochefort, with a view to sailing thence for America.9Fouché at once ordered the Minister of Marine to “prepare two frigates at Rochefort to carry Napoleon Bonaparte to the United States.”10 On that same day Napoleon was visited by his brothers Joseph, Lucien, and Jérôme, who had all decided to leave France—Joseph for America. Perhaps it was they who brought to him a message from their mother, offering him “all that she possessed.” He thanked her, but took no advantage of her offer. He still had a substantial fund with the banker Jacques Laffitte, who came in person to Malmaison to arrange Napoleon’s finances.
On June 28 an officer of the Garde Nationale came to warn him that the Prussians were near enough to Malmaison to send a detachment to capture him. Actually Blücher had ordered a flying column to get Napoleon alive or dead, and had expressed his intention to shoot him as an outlaw.11 Hearing of this intention, Gourgaud vowed, “If I see the Emperor fall into the hands of the Prussians I will shoot him.” Even so, Napoleon was loath to leave Malmaison, where every room and walk was rich with happy memories. On June 29 Fouché commissioned General Becker to go to Malmaison with a squad of troops to compel Napoleon to leave for Rochefort.
Napoleon agreed to go. Hortense prevailed upon him to accept her diamond necklace, concealed in a belt and worth 200,000 francs. He bade farewell to the few soldiers who had been protecting him. At 5 P.M., June 29, riding in a caleche drawn by four horses, and with a small military escort, he left Malmaison. A few hours later Blücher’s cavalry arrived.