Louis Philippe In America


Havana proved to be no steppingstone to Spain. After long delay the government ordered the brothers back to New Orleans. They dodged the order, slipped away to the Bahamas, and thence made their way to Halifax, where they were warmly received by the Duke of Kent, the father of Queen Victoria. Failing to find a passage abroad, they returned to New York and at last sailed for England, arriving there in February, 1800. Unable to join their mother in Spain, in England they remained. Montpensier died in 1807 of tuberculosis. Beaujolais suffered from the same disease; Louis Philippe bore him off to sunny Malta in 1808, but the young man died on his arrival there. And Louis Philippe went on to his great destiny.

The Bourbon Charles X was driven from the French throne in the revolution of 1830. Louis Philippe modestly accepted the title of King of the French in a constitutional, bourgeois monarchy. He wrote to the historian François Guizot in 1839: “My three years’ residence in America have had a great influence on my political opinions and on my judgment of the course of human affairs.” Clearly his experience of democracy in action, his contacts with men of every sort, wise and simple, gentle and brutal, served him well. He gave France eighteen years of peace and prosperity, but in the end his people wearied of peace and prosperity. In 1848 the mob attacked the Tuileries; King and Queen simply hailed a cab and drove off to their final exile in England.

Historians of following regimes have treated him hardly, scorning his concern with money, his unconcern with glory, even the comical pear-shape he eventually assumed. Louis Philippe was unkingly in his subjects’ eyes, as he had seemed unprincely to Miss Lucy Breck in Philadelphia. But there have been many worse rulers of France, both before and after.

As for Miss Abby Willing, she married Richard Peters, a substantial Philadelphia burgher. Probably she was much happier in the environs of Rittenhouse Square than she would have been in the Tuileries.