Courtesy Reuters

The New French Constitution

ALL the main parts of the new French constitutional machine have now been assembled, and the finished product has been approved by the French people. In the referendum of October 13, it received 9,126,370 "yeas," against 8,043,336 "nays," out of a total of 25,448,125 registered voters, male and female. Has the Fourth Republic a chance to survive under this Constitution? Or are we likely now to witness a rapid change of scene, a cascade of innovations like that which filled the decade from 1789 to 1799?

The French people lived under the Constitution of 1875 for 65 years -- that is, till July 11, 1940, the date of the first "Constitutional Act" promulgated by Pétain by virtue of the powers conferred on him the day before by the last Chamber of Deputies and last Senate of the Third Republic. To that Constitution the French people had been indebted for the first stable régime they had known since the Revolution. Coups d'état, brusque changes, sudden breaks of continuity, these for 65 years they had been spared. The longest period of stability before the adoption of the Constitution of 1875 had been 18 years, once during the July Monarchy and again during the Second Empire.

The fragmentary and incomplete laws of February and July 1875 laid out the framework of a constitutional monarchy à l'Anglaise, but with a president in the place of the monarch. It was a compromise; and Legitimists, Orléanists, Bonapartists and Republicans, mutually opposed in both feelings and doctrines, resigned themselves to it as a last resource. As a matter of fact, the discord among the organizers was responsible for the strength of their work. The articles they agreed on, disconnected as they were, proved in practice more stable than the ambitious systems which had been attempted in 1791, 1795, 1799, 1804, 1815, 1848 and 1852. That the little skiff put together out of odds and ends proved more seaworthy than the supposedly perfected hulls constructed by proud engineers is not so surprising as it might seem. In popular government, empiricism, patience, a modest adaptation to circumstances, are

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