A propos de la démission d'Alphonse Nothomb de la présidence de "l'Association Constitutionnelle et Conservatrice" de Bruxelles le 21 février 1892.

The Resignation Of Alphonse Nothomb As President Of The "Association Constitutionnelle Et Conservatrice", Brussels, February 21, 1892: The Belgian constitution of 1830 has been widely acclaimed as "the most liberal constitution of its time". This may be true in 1830, but one cannot go further and consider the Belgian political system as the most liberal of that century. Actually, when one considers the electoral practice, it appears that Belgium was trailing most occidental states in the second half of the century, and the conservatives were very effective in restricting the right to vote to a very limited number of citizens. Of course, the battle for a more generous way of looking at things political was joined very early, but without tangible results before 1890. In November 1890, the radical m.p. Paul Janson succeeded at last in bringing before Parliament a proposal aiming at change. Actually, most catholics (the catholic party held the majority in Parliament) felt by no means (inclined to follow the suggestion of Janson, but there existed a small fraction of democratic-minded catholics ready to go as far as universal suffrage. One of them, possibly the most influential, was the member for Turnhout, Alphonse Nothomb. However, he was in a very awkward position, since this very progressive thinking politician was at the same time chairman of the "conservative association" of Brussels, i.e. the organisation of the Brussels conservatives, firmly committed to the fight against any change in the ballot system. It was known, of course, that the chairman and the members of the conservative association did not see eye to eye in the matter of the electoral system, but no one expected what happened on February 21, 1892, when the meeting of the "conservative association" convened. As soon as the proceedings started, Nothomb resigned his chairmanship, claiming that he could not reconcile the views of the association on the matter of electoral organisation with what his conscience told him to fight for. A shell, exploding in the midst of the meeting, could not have done more harm. Catholics could not appreciate that an influential catholic leader had "deserted" his party on the eve of a decisive election. The big guns started barking at poor Nothomb : the leading catholic papers — Bien Public, Patriote, Courrier de Bruxelles inter alia — could not find epithets strong enough to stigmatize such treason. As for the opposition — the liberals — they gloated over the whole affair. There was now ample proof, they repeated, day after day, that the "great catholic party" was falling apart at the seams. As for Nothomb, he did not yield an inch, repeating time after time that he had been bowing to the dictates of his conscience and his political integrity. Such may after all be the case, but it is hard to believe that it is the whole case. But what about the whole case ? Did Nothomb act in conjunction with prime minister Beernaert, who may have hoped to weaken the arch- conservatives of his party, the followers of Woeste ? Has one the right to conjecture that no less a power than the king himself — Leopold II — was driving Nothomb toward a realignment of the political forces (bringing liberals and progressive catholics together) ? May Nothomb have had in mind to achieve on his own the coalition of progressive forces in Parliament at the price of breaking up the traditional party lines ? We do not know and, apparently, will never know. Nevertheless, Nothomb's political courage appears more than just a whim, and we feel justified in having stressed the importance of the event.