1902 Encyclopedia > Napoleon I > The Consulate

The Consulate

Upon this perplexing gloom the reapperance of Bonaparte came like a tropical sunrise, too dazzling for Sieyes himself, who wanted a general, but a general he could control. On October 16 he arrived at his old parisianhouse in the Rue de la Victoire, and on the 9th and 10th of November (brumaire 18,19) therevolution took place. Bonaparte had some difficulty at first in understanding the position. He found a Jacobin party clamouring for strong measures and for a vigorous prosecution of the war; at the head of this party he saw military men, particularly Jourdan and Bernadotee. As an old Roberspierrist, a Fructidrian, and a soldier, he was at first attracted to this faction. Sieyes, the object of their most bitter attacks, he was at first disposed to regard as his principal enemy. Gradually he came to perceive that this time he was to rise not as a Jocobin but as the solider of anti-Jacobinism, and that he must place his sword at the service of Seieyes. For his part Sieyes could not but perceive that Bonaparte was not precisely the war minister he sought. But by the efforts of Lucien and Joseph Bonaparte, of Roederer, and Talleyrand a coalition was at last effected between them, though Sieyes continued to predict that after the success Bonaparte would throw him off. The movement which now took place was the most respectable, the most hopeful, as for a time it seemed the most successful, effort that had been made since 1792 to lift France out of the slough. Instead of reviving Jacobinism it was resolved to organize a strong and skilled Government. A grand party of respectability rallied round Sieyes to put down Jacobinism. Ducos among the Directors (he had been converted), the majority of the Council of Ancients, Moreau and Macdonald, the generals of purest reputation, Bonaparte and the generals personally attached to him, composed this party. On the other side the Jacobinical party consisted of the Directors Gohier and Moulin, the majority of the Council of Five Hundred, Generals Jourdan and Bernadotte. Which party would be followed by the rank and file of the army was an anxious question.

It was determined to take advantage of a provision of the constitution which had been originally inserted by the Girondists as a safeguard against aggressions from the municipality of Paris, and to cause the council of Ancients to decree a meeting of the Councils outside Paris at the palace of St Cloud. At this meeting it was intended to propose a reform of the constitution. The proposal would be supported by a majority in the Council of Ancients, and by many, but probably not a majority, in the Council of five Hundred. It was foreseen that the Jacobins might give trouble, and might need to be eliminated, as they had themselves eliminated the Girondins. With a view to this, when the decree was passed on November 9th, General Bonaparte, made commander of all he troops in Paris, was entrusted with the execution of it. It is carefully to be observed that he does not, like Cromwell, act of his own free will against the assembly, but is appointed by the assembly to act in its name. No one thought of destroying the republic; the question was of introducing the famous perfect constitution of Sieyes. Bonaparte appeared, surrounded by the generals of his party, in the Council of Ancients, where he skillfully evaded taking the oath to the constitution. He then reviewed the troops, and it became apparent that he could count on them. from this moment Brumaire may be said to have been decided. The next step was that Sieyes and Ducos resigned their places on the Directory; barras was induced to follow their example; but Gohier and Moulin were firm. Gohier was placed under ward of Moreau at the Luxembourg, while Moulin made his escape. It now only remained to deal with the Council of Five Hundred, the stronghold of Jacobinism.

The revolution was consummated on the next day at St Cloud. Bonaparte and Sieyes sat in a private room while the Councils began their deliberations; but, being informed that it was proposed to renew the oath to the existing constitution, Bonaparte determined to interfere. There seems to have been mismanagement here. Sieyes, not Bonaparte, should have interfered, but probably he was rendered helpless, as often happened to him, by timidity. Bonaparte then entered the Council of Ancients, where he delivered a confused harangue which did him little good, though the assembly was well-disposed to him. His position was a false one, though he urged very justly that the existing constitution had been practically destroyed by the illegalities of Fructidor, Floreal, and Prairial. He then passed to the hostile Council of Five Hundred, where he was received with cries of Hors la loi! A bas le dictateur! He was seized by the collar and attempts were made to push him out of the hall.

He was now almost in despair, and no wonder! By the backwardness of Sieyes he had been pushed into the part of Cromwell. But Cromwell had soldiers devoted to him, and of theocratic rather than republican ideas;; the soldiers of Bonaparte had only just been put under his command, and they were fanatical republicans. The false step must be retrived. The soliders must be persuaded that Bonaparte was no Cromwell, but a staunch republican, and that they were not called upon to act against an assembly, but only against a traitorous minority, as at fructidor. Lucien Bonaparte, who was president of the Five Hundred, performed this miracle. Bonaparte had sent grenadiers to rescue him. Lucien was at the tribune, where he was defending his brother amidst noisy interruption. At the appearance of the grenadiers he threw off his official dress and retired under their escort. In the hall he mounted on horseback and addressed the troops who were employed to guard the legislature, declaring that the council was oppressed by assassins, brigands paid by England; he charged the soldiers to deliver the majority from this oppression by clearing the hall. He brandished a sword and sore to stab his brother if ever he attached the liberties of Frenchmen. On the clear understanding that no violence against the assembly was intended, and with the express sanction of its president, the soldiers then cleared the hall. In the evening at 9 o’clock Lucien reassembled a certain number of the members and proposed to them to nominate a committee which should report on the state of affairs. This committee was at once named, and speedily presented a report to the effect that Sieyes, Roger-Ducos, and Bonaparte should compose a provisional executive under the title of consuls, that the legislature should adjourn till February 20 (1 Ventose), a committee of twenty-five members from each Council being left to deliberate along with the consuls upon the changes to be made in the constitution; at the same time, as in Fructidor, a certain number of members (fifty-five) were to be expelled from the Councils.

Thus the original plan was on the whole carried into effect. But it had been sadly marred by the unseemly appearance of Bonaparte and by his gasconades, in which he bade the Council remember that he "marched under the escort of the god of fortune and the god of war." An attempt was made to conceal these mistakes by publishing in the Moniteur a garbled report of his speech.

Brumaire taken by itself is the victory of Sieyes rather than of Bonaparte. It raised Sieyes to the position he had so long coveted of legislator for France. The constitution now introduced was really in great part his work, but his work so signally altered in one point that it resulted in the absolute supremacy of Bonaparte. We should especially notice that it is Sieyes, not Bonaparte, who practically suppresses representative institutions. The long-expected scheme of Sieyes was at last promulgated, and we see with astonishment that the man of 1789, the author of Qu’est ce que le Tiers Etat? Himself condemns political liberty. In this scheme the assemblies, of which there tree, the Senate, the Tribunate, and the Corps Legislatif, are not chosen by popular election at all. the two letter are nominated by the Senate, and the Senate is chosen at the outset in part by the provisional consuls and in part co-optation. The Tribunate alone had the right of public debate, which was separated from the right of voting. This latter was assigned to the Corps Legilatif. These arrangements, which caused the nullity of parliamentary institutions in the Napoleonic period, were devised not by Bonaparte but Sieyes, who confined popular election to certain lists of notability out of which the assemblies were required to be chosen. By this scheme Sieyes, who retained all his hatred for the old regime and the old noblesse, passed sentence upon the whole constructive work of the Revolution; this sentence was only ratified by Bonaparte.

But, while he absolutely condemned democracy, Sieyes did not want to set up despotism. The senate was to be supreme; it was to be a kind of hereditary aristocracy, the depositary of the tradition of the Revolution; above it, the capable of being deposed by it, was to be a doge called Grand Elector, whose main function consisted in choosing two consuls, of whom one was to take the home and the other the foreign department. here again Bonaparte acquiesced as far as he could. He adopted the consuls and the triple executive, even lowering apparently the grand electro of Sieyes by giving him the more republican title of First consul. But he displayed signally and for the first time the adroitness, rapid and audacious, which was to be the characteristic of his diplomacy. He declaimed violently against the feebleness of the grand elector and the consuls in this scheme, feigning to overlook that it concentrated power intentionally in the Senate; then instead of sending back the scheme for revision he simply strengthened immensely the attributions of the first consul, leaving the other consuls and the assemblies as weak as before. by this stroke a strong aristocracy was turned into a strong despotism, and at the same time advantage was taken of the very peculiar character of Sieyes, who always when he met with opposition sank into an impenetrable silence. Bonparte boasted afterwards that he had sealed his victory over Sieyes by a handsome bribe at the expense of the public.

The provisional consulate of Sieyes, Ducos, and Bonaparte lasted only from November 10th to December 13th. Then through the promulgation of the new constitution it made way for the definitive consulate of Bonaparte, Cambaceres, and Lebrun, which lasted four years. By the constitution of 22 Frimaire, year VIII. (which was never debated in any assembly, but, after being devised by the two legislative committee meeting at the Luxemborug under the presidency of Bonaparte, and in the presence of the other consuls, and after being redacted by Daunou, was introduced by a popular vote), Bonaparte became First Consul for ten years with a salary of half a million francs, with a sole power of nominating the council of state, the ministers, ambassadors, officers of army and fleet, and most of the judges and local officials, and with a power in nominal conjunction with the other consuls of initiating all legislation and deciding war and peace. Sieyes and Ducos retired, and under the new constitution the second and third consuls were Cambaceres, an eminent legist, and Lebrum, an old official of Louis XV.’s time. The party of Brumaire had intended to set up a republic, but this constitution created a strong monarchy under the thinnest disguise.

For the moment it was much that France renounced Jacobinism and ceased to tear herself to pieces. The civil war of the west and the foreign war were alike energetically taken in hand. A proclamation to the inhabitants of the west (December 28th) breathed for the first time the spirit of tolerance, of respect for religion, and consideration for the clergy. It was a precursor of the Concordat, and attacked the civil war at its root. It was accompanied by the most imperious threats against the refractory, who are to be treated "like the Arabs of the desert," who are warned that they have to do with a man "accustomed to rigorous and energetic measures," – an allusion apparently to the massacres of Jaffa and Cairo. This policy, accompanied by decisive military action, was speedily successful. By the end of February all was quiet in the west; Frotte, the most active leader in Normandy, had surrendered at discretion, and had been shot, though Bonaparte had expressly announced that if he surrendered he might count on the generosity of the Government. In preaching a religious peace at home Bonaparte was sincere; he was less so in announcing a policy of peace in Europe, for he well knew that he needed a victory to cover his apostasy from republicanism. Nevertheless the announcement was necessary as part of the national renunciation of Jacobinism; and it was harmless, for the Coalition was scarcely likely to accept peace when they had the military advantage. Indeed they could not consistently do so, since they had gone to war on the ground that peace with the Directory had appeared in 1798 to be less endurable than war, and the accession of Bonaparte could not but seem to them likely to make matters worse. In thinking thus they were substantially right, as the sequel proved, but they did not sufficienty understand that Bonaparte was not now the "champion of Jacobinism," as Pitt called him, but had become its enemy and destroyers. When England and Austria refused his overtures Bonaparte had the good fortune of getting precisely what he wanted, viz., war, in precisely the way he wished, that is, as apparently forced upon him. This war is peculiar in the circumstance that throughout its course Bonaparte has a military rival with whom he is afraid to break, and who keeps pace with him in achievements-Moreau. To Moreau the success of Brumaire had been mainly due, and he had perhaps thought that the constitution, as it did not seem to contemplate the First Consul commanding an army, had removed Bonaparte from the path of his ambition. He now held the command of the principal army, that of the Rhine, in which post Bonaparte could not venture to supersede him. The problem for Bonaparte throughout the war was to prevent Moreau, and in a less degree Massena, who was now in command of the army of Italy, from eclipsing his own military reputation. Russia had now retired from the Coalition, so that, as in 1796, Austria and England were the only belligerents. Italy had been almost entirely lost, and Massena, at the head of the army of Italy, opposed to General Melas, was almost where Bonaparte had been before his Italian campaign began. But France had retained the control of Switzerland, and Moreau with more than 100,000 men arranged along the Rhine from the Lake of Constance to Alsace stood opposed to Kray, whose headquarters were at Donaueschingen. It seemed that the campaign would be conducted by Moreau and Massena receiving instructions from Bonaparte at Paris. That the decisive campaign would have been in Bavaria seems so evident that the military writer Bulow conjectures that the French were afraid of alarming Europe by a too decisive victory, which would have brought them at once to the walls of Vienna, and that they therefore transferred the campaign to Italy. But where would Bonaparte have been had Moreau won Hohnlinden in the spring of 1800 while he remained ingloriously at Paris? While therefore in writing to Moreau he carefully adopts the language of one who, much to his own regret, has become a mere civilian, he plans the campaign so that both Moreau and Massena are confined to the task of holding the enemy in play while an army or reserve descends from one of the Alpine passes into Italy. This army of reserve, which was so carefully concealed that few people believed in its existence, is to be commanded, he writes, by some general "to be named by the consuls"; a little later Berthier is nominated. As late as the end of March he told Miot that he did not mean to leave Paris. Moreau is also to detach 25,000 men under Lecourbe, who are to join Bertheir in Italy; in this way security was taken that Moreau should not be too successful. On April 24 the campaign in Germany began by the passage of the Rhine at a number of points at once. Up to May 10 Moreau is the hero of the war. He is victorious at Enge, at Mosskirchen, and forces Kray to retire to Ulm. But on May 9 Bonaparte is at Geneva, and it appears at once that he is commander, and Bertheir only his chief of the staff. At the same time carnot in person is sent with unusual formality to demand from Moreau the detachment of troops.

The campaign of Marengo was astonishingly short. On May 11 Bonaparte left Geneva, and he is in Paris again before the end of June. Since the beginning of April Massena had been struggling vainly against the superior forces of Melas; since the 21st he had been shut up in Genoa, where Austria and England could co-operate in the siege. In Italy the affairs of France looked darker than ever, when Bonaparte threw himself on the rear of Melas by passing the Great St Bernard between May 15 and 20. Other divisions passed the Little St. Bernard and the Mont Cenis, while the detachment from Moreau’s army (under moncey, not Lecourbe) descended the St Gotthard. It seems that the Austrians had absolutely refused to believe, what nevertheless was openly discussed in the Paris journals, that Bonaparte intended to cross the Alps. Bonaparte had another surprise in store for them. though Genoa was now suffering all the horrors of famine, he made not attempt to relieve it, but turned to the left, entered, Milan, and took possession of the whole line of the Ticino and the Po. Meanwhile Genoa capitulated to General Ott. Melas was now at Alessandria, where Bonaparte sought him on the 13th. On the 14th Melas marched out, crossed the Bormida, and arrived at Marengo. The victory here won by Bonaparte, though in its consequences more decisive than any other, and marking in a certain sense the culmination of his career, yet was due almost entirely to accident. A sudden charge of cavalry by Kellermann changed a great Asutrian victory into a decisive Austrian defeat. On the next day Melas (having, as it seems, quite lost his head) signed a convention by which Austria sacrificed almost all North Italy, restoring something like the position of Campo Formio. "had he fought another battle," says Marmont, "he would certainly have beaten us." Bonaparte returns to Paris, victorious at once over Austria and over Moreau and Massena. He did not, however, succeed in tearing from Moreau the honor of concluding the war. Marengo did not lead to peace; this was won, where naturally it could only be won, in Bavaria by Moreau’s victory of Hohenlinden (December 3d), a victory perhaps greater than any of which at that time Bonaparte could boast.

Never was Bonaparte more recklessly audacious, never was he more completely and undeservedly successful, than in this campaign. Brumaire had given him a very uncertain position. Sieyes and the republicans were on the watch for him on the one side; Moreau seemed on the point of eclipsing him on the other. His family felt their critical position: "had he fallen at Marengo," writes Lucien, "we should have been all proscribed." Perhaps nothing but a stroke so rapid and startling as that of Marengo could have saved him from these difficulties. But this did more, and developed the empire out of the consulate.

His appeal for peace after Brumaire had not been purely insincere, though he wanted victory before peace. He proposes to Rouget de l"Isle to write "a battle hymn which shall express the idea that with great nations peace comes after victory." After Marengo he devotes himself to giving peace to the world; he did this by three great acts, so that in 1802 for the first time for ten years under the new Augustus "no war or battle sound was heard the word around." These three acts are the treaty of Luneville, February 1801, the concordat, July 1801, the treaty of Amiens, march 1802. it is worth noticing that the negotiator of all of them is his brother Joseph, as if he especially desired to connect his family name with the pacification of the world.

1. The treaty of Luneville gave peace to the continent. It is to be observed that here Bonaparte shows himself at least less rapacious than the Directory. He surrenders most of the usurpations of 1798, the Roman and Parthenopean Republics, and returns in the main to the arrangements of Campo Formio,- a proof of moderation which must have led the cabinets to consider whether after all it might not be possible to find a modus vivendi with the Government of Brumaire.

2. By the Concordat he professed to close the religious war. In reality he crushed the national Gallican Church, which had been created by the constitution Civile, and which had perhaps begun to take root, and resorted the Papal Church, shorn of its endowments and dependent, so long as he lived, on the state. As part of the great pacification, the Concordat was perhaps mainly a stroke of stage-effect, thought its influence upon the later history of France has been great. For Bonaparte himself it was important as severing the clerical party from the Bourbons and attaching it to himself, as giving him through the clergy an influence over the peasantry, upon whom he depended for his armies, also as in some degree welding together through the ubiquitous influence of the clergy the different states which were already subject to his government. In negotiating it with cardinal Consalvi, Bonaparte had recourse more than once to the vulgar fraud and knavery which earned for him the title of Jupiter-Scapin.

3. After the treaty of Luneville, as after that of Campo Formio, England was left to fight France alone; but Bonaparte had now a higher estimate than in 1798 of England’s naval power. He was able, however, in 1801 to attack her in another way. By her conduct at Malta she had given offence to the czar Paul, and taking advantage of this Bonaparte was able to revive against her the armed neutrality of 1780. Not only Russia but Prussia was thus brought for the first time, along with Sweden and Denmark, into the French alliance, and the system of Tilsit was for the first time sketched out. But it lasted only for a moment. At the beginning of April the announcement of the murder of Paul and the bombardment of Copenhagen by Nelson dissolved it. England and France were now alike disposed for peace, the former because she had lost the support of a European Coalition, the latter because she had lost all means of attack, and also because of Bonaparte’s grand plan of pacification. In the summer Bonaparte’s endeavors are confined to saving the French colony in Egypt from the English, and to snatching a little territory from England’s ally Portugal by means of Spain. But Cairo capitulated to the English in June, in which month also Spain made peace with Portugal. Accordingly in October the preliminaries of London were signed, and the treaty of Amiens followed in March. The allies of France paid for her naval defeats, Spain losing Trinidad and Holland Ceylon; but France, though she lost nothing, acquiesced by this treaty in the total failure of all her designs upon the East.

The globe was now at peace and thanked Bonaparte for it. The equilibrium which had been destroyed by the Revolution seemed at length to be restored. Meanwhile the legislative reconstruction of France proceeded rapidly. This is the glorious period of Bonaparte’s life, not, as has often been alleged, because he was as yet uncorrupted by power, but simply because a strong intelligent Government was the great need of France and repose the great need of Europe, and Bonaparte at this time satisfied both needs. The work of reconstruction which distinguishes the consulate, though it was continued under the empire, is the most enduring of all the achievements of Napoleon. The institutions of modern France date, not, as is often said, from the Revolution, but from the consulate. Not that Napoleon personally was endowed with a supreme legislative genius; his principal merit was to have given to France the first secure Government, the first Government capable of effective legislation, that she had had since the destruction of her ancient institutions. The task of reconstruction fell to him of necessity; his personal interference was in many respects, as we shall see, mischievous rather than beneficial; it is, however, also true that the appreciated the greatness of the work, urged it on with vigor, entered into it, impressed it with the stamp of his own personality, and left upon it the traces of his keen sagacity.

The institutions now created, and which form the organization of modern France, are – (1) the restored Church, resting on the Concordat; (2) the University, resting on the law of 11 Floreal, An X. (May 1, 1892); (3) the judicial system, commenced by the law of 27 ventose, An VIII.. (March 18, 1800), and completed by other laws in 1810; (4) the Codes: - (a) Code Civil (commission nominated 24 Thermidor, An VIII., August 12, 1800; it received the name Code Napoleon on September 3, 1807), (b) Code de Commerce, promulgated on September 10, 1807, (c) Code penal, (d) Code d’Instruction Criminelle (came into force January 1, 1811); (5) the system of local government, resting on the law of 18 Pluviose, An VIII. (February 7, 1800); (6) the Bank of France, established 238 Nivose, An VIII. (January 18, 1800); (7) the Legion of Honor, established 29 Floreal, An X. (May 19, 1802). These institutions, along with the military system, have in the main continued to the present day after the downfall of all the Napoleonic institutions which were purely political. It is rather the fortune than the merit of Napoleon that no similar mass of legislation can be ascribed to any other sovereign, since no other sovereign has ruled securely over an ancient and civilized country which has been suddenly deprived of all its institutions. It is also a matter of course that much of this legislation has been beneficial, since a tabula rasa relieves the legislator of many hindrances. In several points, on the other hand, we can see that France was sacrificed to Napoleon’s personal interest. Thus the Concordat restored the ancient Papal Church, shorn of its wealth, and receiving from the state a subsidy of about £2,000.00. it was right to restore religion, and the Constitution Civile, which was cancelled by the Concordat, had been an insane act, the principal cause of the miseries of France for ten years. Nevertheless a great opportunity was lost of trying some new experiment, which might have led to a genuine revival of religion; but for this Napoleon cared nothing so long as he could pose as a new Constantine, detach the church from the cause of the Bourbons, and have the pope at his beck. In like manner the freedom of local government was sacrificed to the exigencies of his despotism. Among the most remarkable of his institutions was the University. The twenty-one universities of old France, including the great mother university of Paris, had fallen victims in 1792 to the insanity of the Legislative Assembly; nothing of the least efficiency had been established in their place, so that in March 1800 Lucien Bonaparte could write, "since the suppression of the teaching corporations instruction has almost ceased to exist in France." By laws of May 1806 and March 1808 was founded the modern University, that is, the whole teaching profession formed into a corporation and endowed by the state, a kind of church of education. This remarkable institution still exists. It has far too much centralization, and is in no way equal to the old system when that is intelligently worked, as in Germany; many learned men have severely condemned it; still it was a great constructive effort, and gave Napoleon the occasion for some striking and original remarks.

From the time of the battle of Marengo the system of Brumaire began to take a development which perhaps had not been clearly foreseen. Sieyes wished to confine Bonaparte to the war department, Moreau perhaps had wished to keep him at Paris; in either case it had not been intended to create an august monarchy. But the fabulous success of Marengo, joined to the proofs Bonaparte gave of a really superior intelligence and commanding character, turned the French mind back into that monarchical groove in which it had so long run before the revolution. Popular liberty had been already renounced by Sieyes, and the disastrous failure of republican institutions, which in four years, from 1795 to 1799, had brought the country to bankruptcy, civil war, and almost barbarism, inclined all public men to agree with him. The choice thencould only lie between some form of aristocracy and the revival of monarchy either in the Bourbon family or in another. Napoleon’s personal character decided this question. By the concordat he wrested from the Bourbons the support of the church; by his military glory he seduced the noblesse, as is seen in the case of Segur; by the pacification of the world he half reconciled to himself the foreign cabinets. But no sooner did this new form of monarchy begin to appear than Bonaparte began to find himself surrounded by new dangers. He was exposed to the hatred of the republicans, who had hitherto been appeased by the title of consul, and were now thrown into coalition with the defeated Jacobins, and also to the despair of the royalists, who saw themselves disappointed of restoration at the moment of the failure of republicanism. Nearer his person at the same time court-parties began to spring up. His brothers and sisters with Corsican shamelessness began to claim their share in the spoils. While he doubted what form his monarchy should take, and whether some character greater and more unique than that of a hereditary king could not be invented, they urged the claims of the family. Thus arose a standing feud between the Bonapartes and the Beauharnais, who in the interest of Josephine, already dreading divorce for her childlessness, opposed the principle of heredity.

In grappling with the defeated parties Bonaparte found a great advantage in his position. The constitution of Brumaire itself gave him great powers; popular institutions had been destroyed, not by him, but by the nation itself, which was weary of them; under the Directory the public had grown accustomed to the suppression of journals and to periodic coups d’etat of the most savage violence. Bonaparte therefore could establish a rigorous despotism under the forms of a consular republic, mutilate the assemblies, and silence public opinion; he could venture occasionally upon acts of the most sweeping tyranny without shocking a people which had so lately seen Fructidor, not to say the reign of Terror, and had been accustomed to call them liberty. The conspiracies began immediately after the return from Marengo, when the Corsicans Arena and Ceracchi, guilty apparently of little more than wild talk, were arrested in October 1800 at the Theatre Francais. But on December 24th of the same year, as he drove with Josephine to the opera, a sudden explosion took place in the Rue Saint-Nicaise, which killed and wounded several people and damaged about fifty houses; the carriage of Bonaparte escaped. He was still in the first fervor of his conversion from Jacobinism, and had not yet become alive to the danger to which he was exposed from royalism. He could therefore see nothing but Jacobinism in this plot, and proposed to meet the danger by some general measure calculated to eradicate what remained of the Jacobin party. But before this measure could be taken Fouche convinced him that he had been in error, and that he was in the presence of a new enemy, royalism roused into new vigor by the recent change in public opinion. Upon this Bonap[arte acted most characteristically. By a singular stretch of Machiavelism he made use of the mistake into which he had himself led the public to crush the enemy which for the moment he feared most. He arrested and transported one hundred and thirty persons, whom he knew to be innocent of the plot, on the general ground of Jacobinism, substituting for all legal trial a resolution passed by the servile senate to the effect that "the measure was conservative of the constitution." This is Nivose, an act as enormous as Fructidor, and with a perfidy of its own.

Making use of victory was almost more Bonaparte’s talent that winning it. These plots, so far from impeding his ascent to monarchy, were converted by him into steps upon which he mounted. They were so many arguments for heredity, which, in case Bonaprte should fall a prey to them, would furnish a successor. It had already been argued in the Parallele entre Cesar, Cromwell, et Bonarpte (October 1800) that heredity only could prevent the nation from falling again under the domination of the assemblies, under the yoke of the S (not Sieyes surely but Soldats) or under that of the Bourbons. He also made the plot of Nivose the occasion of a constitutional innovation. The assemblies devised by Sieyes had hitherto been simply useless, so much idle machinery. But in Nivose the precedent was set of giving the Senate a constituent power. To guard the constitution was its nominal function; this was now converted into a function of sanctioning alterations in the constitution, since every innovation became legal when the Senate declared it to be conservation of the constitution. In the hands of Bonaparte such a principle soon became fruitful enough.

The first open step towards monarchy was made at the conclusion of the treaty of Amiens. As pacificator of the globe, it was declared in the tribunate that Bonaparte deserved some mark of public gratitude. Upon this the Senate proposed to re-elect him First Consul for a further term of ten years. Bonaparte, disappointed, declared that he could only owe a prorogation of his magistracy to the people; to them therefore the question was referred, but in the form, ShallNapoleon Bonaparte be elected consul for life? And in this form it was adopted. Before the final step was taken an the First Consul transformed himself into the Emperor Napoleon, a great and portentous change had taken place in the spirit of his government. Before the year 1803 there was no fair reason to conclude that Bonaparte was too fond of war. For the two wars of the Revolution he had not been responsible: the first broke out when he was in Corsica, the second when he was in Egypt. But both wars had been brought to an end by him; he had closed the temple of Janus, he was the great pacificator. In constructive legislation he had shown such zeal that it was easy to imagine him, though a great commander, as one who was capable of feeling the blessedness of the peacemaker. These illusions began to vanish in 1803 at the rupture of the peace of Amiens. This year 1803 is the turning-point in his life, and a great turning-point in French history. It may be considered the first year of modern France. The revolution is at last over; the new organization begins to work regularly. The old noblesse is gone, and in place of the old Church there is the humbled church of the Concordat. France is covered with an army of functionaries, servilely dependent on the Government; a strange silence has settled in the country which under the old regime had been noisy with the debate-if for the most part fruitless debate- of parliaments and estates. The Government is tenfold more imperious than it had been before 1789. And now it appears that Bonaparte had desired only the glory of having made peace, not peace itself, just as earlier, after making the peace of Campo Formio, he had taken measures by the Egyptian expedition to embroil Europe again. What he wants is to complete his military success by humbling England. He had failed in 1798, when he had controlled but a small part of the power of France, a single army shut up in Egypt, when the French Government had been feeble and unintelligent, when England had been able to rally a European Coalition to her side. But surely he would succeed now, when the whole power of France, drawing after it Spain, Holland, Seitzerland, and North Italy, was in his single hand, and when he could add the fleets of the other maritime powers to that of France; especially as coalitions against France seemed out of date, since Russia and Prussia had been united against England in 1801, and Germany was now suffering internal transformation under the united influence of France and Russia. But after so many years of war could he call on France for another effort? In the first place all the new institutions of France, having grown up in war, were adapted for war rather than for anything else; in the second place he hoped to spare the French all war-taxation by making the expense fall upon the allies.

From this memorable rupture flowed all the terrible events of the Napoleonic age. It is in one respect difficult to understand, because in the eleven years of the war with England Bonaparte was never able to strike a single blow at his enemy, while that enemy destroyed his fleets, conquered his colonies, and by arming all Europe against him at length brought down his power. Why did Bonaparte engage in a war in which he was condemned to be so purely passive? It seems that, as in 1798, he totally miscalculated the English maritime power, and that in 1803, though to Lord Whitworth he spoke of the invasion of England as almost impossible, yet in reality he expected to achieve that impossibility, as he had achieved so many others. Thus the angry negotiation with Lord whitworth, the stormy scene at the Tuileries, the violent detention of the English residents in France at the moment of the rupture, are to be regarded as studied contrivances by which he concealed the wantonness of his breach of the European peace and tried to throw the blame of it upon the English. That he was really bent upon forcing a war appears from his allowing Sebastiani’s report of his mission in the East, full of hints of the intention of France to re-occupy Egypt at the first opportunity, to appear in the Moniteur. This report, besides offending England, caused her to keep resolute possession of Malta, and, when Bonaparte appealed to the treaty of Amiens, England replied by pointing to the new annexations of France, which had just divided Piedmont into departments. "Ce sont des bagatelles," Lord whitworth reports Bonaparte to have answered, but he adds in a parenthesis which has never been printed, "The expression he made use of was too trivial and vulgar to find a place in a dispatch or anywhere but in the mouth of a hackney coachman!"

By this rupture Europe relapsed into the fearful disorder from which Brumaire seemed to have rescued it; only in place of revolutionary fanaticism the disturbing cause was now the deliberate calculating ambition of a great general and crafty politician, who already commanded the resources of a large part of Europe. This same year 1803 saw the first steps taken towards the subjugation of Germany. The annexation to France of the left bank of the Rhine led to a revolution in the Germanic system and to a complete transformation of the Diet, by which Austria lost the greater part of her influence over the minor German states; this influence passed to France. As soon as the rupture with England took place Bonaparte took up a position in the heart of Germany by seizing Hanover.

Read the rest of this article:
Napoleon I - Table of Contents

Share this page:

Search the Encyclopedia:

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-17 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries