In the course of this life, Eugene de Mazenod lived under several political regimes, especially under two republics.
The First Republic was proclaimed on September 21, 1792 and lasted until May 28, 1804 when it was replaced by the Empire under Napoleon. Eugene rarely mentions them, but had to live with the effects of their reign. It was during this period that the French Revolution was violent. It began peaceful enough with the goal of shifting from a society based on privilege to a society where equality was the law for everyone. On August 4, 1789, feudal privileges were suppressed by the National Assembly. The Assembly proclaimed the Declaration of the Rights of Man on August 26. The parliament of Aix, just like parliaments in the other parts of the country, was suppressed by the decree of September 7, 1790; suppressed as well was the Court of Accounts on July 4, 1791.
A counter revolutionary movement began to form in Aix. In opposition to this, militant clubs were formed to defend the Revolution. In December 1790, unrest broke out, mobs wanted to seize a few aristocrats, a few of whom were hung on the boulevard which passes in front of the de Mazenod mansion. It was at that time, about December 13, 1790, that, disguised as a hunter, President de Mazenod fled to Nice where, in February 1791, he called for Eugene to join him.
It was on July 12, 1790 also that the decree of the civil constitution of the clergy, was issued. It was sanctioned by the king on August 24. By the decree of November 27, 1790, the new bishops appointed by an assembly of active citizens were obliged in the future to ask for canonical installation, no longer from the Pope, but from the archbishop. Moreover, the bishops, parish priests and public servants were obliged to swear that they accepted the Constitution. As a result, the clergy split into two camps: those who swore acceptance of the Constitution and those who did not swear to accept it; they were known as recusants. On March 10, 1791, Pope Pius VI condemned the civil constitution of the clergy. It was in the wake of these events that the recusants were persecuted and many of them left the country; churches were closed and a systematic dechristianisation was set in motion. Charles Auguste André de Mazenod, vicar general of Marseilles, and Fortuné, the vicar general of Aix, great uncle and uncle of Eugene, both of them recusants, left Provence in September of 1792 to join their family in Turin. During almost all of the reign of the First Republic, Eugene was in Italy. He says very little about it, but he often mentions Napoleon.
Often in his writings from 1848 to 1852, he had to deal with the issue of the Second Republic, which began on February 24, 1848 after the fall of Louis-Philippe. It began on December 2, 1848, when Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, Napoleon I’s, nephew, was proclaimed emperor.
Neither the constitutional monarchy from 1814 to 1830, nor the reign of Louis-Philippe were acceptable to the people who were excluded from power. They wanted to bring about electoral reform, something Louis-Philippe refused. Following some unrest, on February 24, 1848, Louis-Philippe withdrew to England and the Republic was declared.
A provisional government decided that the new assembly and the president of the Republic would be elected by universal suffrage. Prince Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was elected president on December 10, 1848. This shift in power frightened the bourgeoisie. Commerce dropped off and factories closed their doors. There were soon a lot of workers without work and a great poverty. In June, the workers revolted. General Cavaignac succeeded in overcoming the insurgents, but there were, especially in Paris and Marseilles, many who proved to be victims and many who were deported.
The Legislative Assembly was made up of a royalist majority. It could not come to an agreement with the president. Following the December 2, 1851 coup d’état, Louis-Napoleon pronounced the dissolution of the House. December 20 and 21, by means of a plebiscite, the country approved this act and once again elected the president for a ten year term. On January 14, 1852, a new constitution handed over to the President of the Republic almost absolute power. Less than a year after this, the Empire was re-established. In virtue of a new plebiscite, November 21 and 22, Louis-Napoleon was proclaimed Emperor and took the name Napoleon III (December 2, 1852).
In his diary, Bishop de Mazenod notes at the beginning of March 1848, the arrival at Marseilles of Émile Ollivier, provisional government commissioner, a good Christian, very favourable to the Church. Almost at once, the Bishop received him and visited him in return. Bishop de Mazenod reluctantly participated in the planting of a tree of freedom on April 9 and at a public open air dinner on April 16. On this occasion, he wrote: “It seems that we have told ourselves, in this revolution, to pay homage to religion and to its ministers. That is reason enough to bend oneself to certain demands which do have a good side to them, strange as they may seem when seen from the other side. In his diary, Bishop de Mazenod details for us the sequels of these events: the April 23 elections, the uprising of the workers on the 22 and 23 of June, Mass for the dead on July 1, departure of Émile Ollivier on July 18, proclamation of the republican constitution on November 20, election of the President of the Republic on December 10, 1848.
In his correspondence with Bishop Semeria and with the president of society of the Propagation of the Faith, Bishop de Mazenod made several allusions to the financial crisis of 1848, the reduction in revenues from the Propagation of the Faith and the impossibility of paying the travel costs of new missionaries for Ceylon. (Oblate Writings I, vol. 4, no. 4, p. 16; vol. 5, nos. 112-115, p. 219-224)
On February 24, 1849, at the request of the national assembly, there was held “a thanksgiving service in honour of the proclamation of the republic” the previous year. On the occasion of the elections of December 20 and 21 of 1851, he invited the clergy and the faithful not to hold back and to give their support “to the power whose responsibility is to defend us.” (Letter of December 20, 1851 to the Courrier de Marseille ) On December 29 of 1851, he assured the minister of Public Worship that “the government can count on the cooperation of the Church.” On January 1, 1852, he wrote to President Louis-Napoléon that, in response to his wishes, in a religious ceremony held in the cathedral, he invoked the blessing of Heaven upon France and on “your great mission.” In a pastoral letter dated January 6, 1852, he ordered the singing of the Te Deum in all the churches for the Sunday of January 11, “upon the occasion of the proclamation of the President of the Republic.”
On the occasion of his trip undertaken in the Midi in order to prepare for the establishment of the Empire, Louis-Napoleon was solemnly received in Marseilles at the end of September. At this time, he announced that he would avail himself of the opportunity of his visit to lay the cornerstone of the future cathedral and that a grant of 2,500,000 francs, issued at his order, would allow the work to begin immediately. This touched the very heart of Bishop de Mazenod, who already in 1837 had begun to talk about this project. He did not intervene, however, before the plebiscite of November 21 and 22, 1852 in favour of the restoration of the Empire. After the proclamation of the Empire, he wrote a pastoral letter in which he simply spoke of the happy outcome that he foresaw for the faith.
Under the Second Republic, the relations of Bishop de Mazenod with the political authorities of Paris were, therefore, trusting and cordial, as well as with Mr. de Chantérac, the mayor of Marseilles from 1849 to 1854, and with the Viscount de Suleau, the prefect for Bouches-du-Rhône from 1849 to 1853.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.
LEFLON, Jean, Eugene de Mazenod, vol. I, New York, 1961, trans. Francis D. Flanagan, p. 63-93; vol. III, 1968, p. 217-308.