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- History of Modern Europe 1792-1878 - 20/202 -


But worse was yet to come. While Bonaparte was in conference at Leoben, an outbreak took place at Verona, and three hundred French soldiers, including the sick in the hospital, perished by popular violence. The Venetian Senate despatched envoys to Bonaparte to express their grief and to offer satisfaction; in the midst of the negotiations intelligence arrived that the commander of a Venetian fort had fired upon a French vessel and killed some of the crew. Bonaparte drove the envoys from his presence, declaring that he could not treat with men whose hands were dripping with French blood. A declaration of war was published, charging the Senate with the design of repeating the Sicilian Vespers, and the panic which it was Bonaparte's object to inspire instantly followed. The Government threw themselves upon his mercy. Bonaparte pretended that he desired no more than to establish a popular government in Venice in the place of the oligarchy. His terms were accepted. The Senate consented to abrogate the ancient Constitution of the Republic, and to introduce a French garrison into Venice. On the 12th of May the Grand Council voted its own dissolution. Peace was concluded. The public articles of the treaty declared that there should be friendship between the French and the Venetian Republics; that the sovereignty of Venice should reside in the body of the citizens; and that the French garrison should retire so soon as the new Government announced that it had no further need of its support. Secret articles stipulated for a money payment, and for the usual surrender of works of art; an indefinite expression relating to an exchange of territory was intended to cover the surrender of the Venetian mainland, and the union of Bologna and Ferrara with what remained of Venice. The friendship and alliance of France, which Bonaparte had been so anxious to bestow on Venice, were now to bear their fruit. "I shall do everything in my power," he wrote to the new Government of Venice, "to give you proof of the great desire I have to see your liberty take root, and to see this unhappy Italy, freed from the rule of the stranger, at length take its place with glory on the scene of the world, and resume, among the great nations, the rank to which nature, destiny, and its own position call it." This was for Venice; for the French Directory Bonaparte had a very different tale. "I had several motives," he wrote (May 19), "in concluding the treaty:--to enter the city without difficulty; to have the arsenal and all else in our possession, in order to take from it whatever we needed, under pretext of the secret articles; ... to evade the odium attaching to the Preliminaries of Leoben; to furnish pretexts for them, and to facilitate their execution."

[French seize Ionian islands.]

[Venice to be given to Austria.]

As the first fruits of the Venetian alliance, Bonaparte seized upon Corfu and the other Ionian Islands. "You will start," he wrote to General Gentili, "as quickly and as secretly as possible, and take possession of all the Venetian establishments in the Levant.... If the inhabitants should be inclined for independence, you should flatter their tastes, and in all your proclamations you should not fail to allude to Greece, Athens, and Sparta." This was to be the French share in the spoil. Yet even now, though stripped of its islands, its coasts, and its ancient Italian territory, Venice might still have remained a prominent city in Italy. It was sacrificed in order to gain the Rhenish Provinces for France. Bonaparte had returned to the neighbourhood of Milan, and received the Austrian envoy, De Gallo, at the villa of Montebello. Wresting a forced meaning from the Preliminaries of Leoben, Bonaparte claimed the frontier of the Rhine, offering to Austria not only the territory of Venice upon the mainland, but the city of Venice itself. De Gallo yielded. Whatever causes subsequently prolonged the negotiation, no trace of honour or pity in Bonaparte led him even to feign a reluctance to betray Venice. "We have to-day had our first conference on the definitive treaty," he wrote to the Directory, on the night of the 26th of May, "and have agreed to present the following propositions: the line of the Rhine for France; Salzburg, Passau for the Emperor; ... the maintenance of the Germanic Body; ... Venice for the Emperor. Venice," he continued, "which has been in decadence since the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope and the rise of Trieste and Ancona, can scarcely survive the blows we have just struck. With a cowardly and helpless population in no way fit for liberty, without territory and without rivers, it is but natural that she should go to those to whom we give the mainland." Thus was Italy to be freed from foreign intervention; and thus was Venice to be regenerated by the friendship of France!

[Genoa.]

In comparison with the fate preparing for Venice, the sister-republic of Genoa met with generous treatment. A revolutionary movement, long prepared by the French envoy, overthrew the ancient oligarchical Government; but democratic opinion and French sympathies did not extend below the middle classes of the population; and, after the Government had abandoned its own cause, the charcoal-burners and dock-labourers rose in its defence, and attacked the French party with the cry of "Viva Maria," and with figures of the Virgin fastened to their hats, in the place where their opponents wore the French tricolour. Religious fanaticism won the day; the old Government was restored, and a number of Frenchmen who had taken part in the conflict were thrown into prison. The imprisonment of the Frenchmen gave Bonaparte a pretext for intervention. He disclaimed all desire to alter the Government, and demanded only the liberation of his countrymen and the arrest of the enemies of France. But the overthrow of the oligarchy had been long arranged with Faypoult, the French envoy; and Genoa received a democratic constitution which place the friends of France in power (June 5).

[France in 1797.]

While Bonaparte, holding Court in the Villa of Montebello, continued to negotiate with Austria upon the basis of the Preliminaries of Leoben, events took place in France which offered him an opportunity of interfering directly in the government of the Republic. The elections which were to replace one-third of the members of the Legislature took place in the spring of 1797. The feeling of the country was now much the same as it had been in 1795, when a large Royalist element was returned for those seats in the Councils which the Convention had not reserved for its own members. France desired a more equitable and a more tolerant rule. The Directory had indeed allowed the sanguinary laws against non-juring priests and returning emigrants to remain unenforced; but the spirit and traditions of official Jacobinism were still active in the Government. The Directors themselves were all regicides; the execution of the King was still celebrated by a national _fête_; offices, great and small, were held by men who had risen in the Revolution; the whole of the old gentry of France was excluded from participation in public life. It was against this revolutionary class-rule, against a system which placed the country as much at the mercy of a few directors and generals as it had been at the mercy of the Conventional Committee, that the elections of 1797 were a protest. Along with certain Bourbonist conspirators, a large majority of men were returned who, though described as Royalists, were in fact moderate Constitutionalists, and desired only to undo that part of the Revolution which excluded whole classes of the nation from public life. [60]

[Opposition to the Directory.]

Such a party in the legislative body naturally took the character of an Opposition to the more violent section of the Directory. The Director retiring in 1797 was replaced by the Constitutionalist Barthélemy, negotiator of the treaty of Basle; Carnot, who continued in office, took part with the Opposition, justly fearing that the rule of the Directory would soon amount to nothing more than the rule of Bonaparte himself. The first debates in the new Chamber arose upon the laws relating to emigrants; the next, upon Bonaparte's usurpation of sovereign power in Italy. On the 23rd of June a motion for information on the affairs of Venice and Genoa was brought forward in the Council of Five Hundred. Dumolard, the mover, complained of the secrecy of Bonaparte's action, of the contempt shown by him to the Assembly, of his tyrannical and un-republican interference with the institutions of friendly States. No resolution was adopted by the Assembly; but the mere fact that the Assembly had listened to a hostile criticism of his own actions was sufficient ground in Bonaparte's eyes to charge it with Royalism and with treason. Three of the Directors, Barras, Rewbell, and Laréveillère, had already formed the project of overpowering the Assembly by force. Bonaparte's own interests led him to offer them his support. If the Constitutional party gained power, there was an end to his own unshackled rule in Italy; if the Bourbonists succeeded, a different class of men would hold all the honours of the State. However feeble the Government of the Directory, its continuance secured his own present ascendency, and left him the hope of gaining supreme power when the public could tolerate the Directory no longer.

[Coup d'état, 17 Fructidor (Sept. 3).]

The fate of the Assembly was sealed. On the anniversary of the capture of the Bastille, Bonaparte issued a proclamation to his army declaring the Republic to be threatened by Royalist intrigues. A banquet was held, and the officers and soldiers of every division signed addresses to the Directory full of threats and fury against conspiring aristocrats. "Indignation is at its height in the army," wrote Bonaparte to the Government; "the soldiers are asking with loud cries whether they are to be rewarded by assassination on their return home, as it appears all patriots are to be so dealt with. The peril is increasing every day, and I think, citizen Directors, you must decide to act one way or other." The Directors had no difficulty in deciding after such an exhortation as this; but, as soon as Bonaparte had worked up their courage, he withdrew into the background, and sent General Augereau, a blustering Jacobin, to Paris, to risk the failure or bear the odium of the crime. Augereau received the military command of the capital; the air was filled with rumours of an impending blow; but neither the majority in the Councils nor the two threatened Directors, Carnot and Barthélemy, knew how to take measures of defence. On the night of the 3rd September (17 Fructidor) the troops of Augereau surrounded the Tuileries. Barthélemy was seized at the Luxembourg; Carnot fled for his life; the members of the Councils, marching in procession to the Tuileries early the next morning, were arrested or dispersed by the soldiers. Later in the day a minority of the Councils was assembled to ratify the measures determined upon by Augereau and the three Directors. Fifty members of the Legislature, and the writers, proprietors, and editors of forty-two journals, were sentenced to exile; the elections of forty-eight departments were annulled; the laws against priests and emigrants were renewed; and the Directory was empowered to suppress all journals at its pleasure. This coup d'état was described as the suppression of a Royalist conspiracy. It was this, but it was something more. It was the suppression of all Constitutional government, and all but the last step to the despotism of the chief of the army.

[Peace signed with Austria, Oct. 17.]

The effect of the movement was instantly felt in the negotiations with Austria and with England. Lord Malmesbury was now again in France, treating for peace with fair hopes of success, since the Preliminaries of Leoben had removed England's opposition to the cession of the Netherlands, the discomfiture of the moderate party in the Councils brought his mission to an abrupt end. Austria, on the other hand, had prolonged its negotiations because Bonaparte claimed Mantua and the Rhenish Provinces in addition to the cessions agreed upon at Leoben. Count Ludwig Cobenzl, Austrian ambassador at St. Petersburg, who had protected his master's interests only too well in the last partition of Poland, was now at the head of the plenipotentiaries in Italy, endeavouring to bring Bonaparte back to the terms fixed in the Preliminaries, or to gain additional territory for Austria in Italy. The Jacobin victory at Paris depressed the Austrians as much as it elated the French leader. Bonaparte was resolved on concluding a peace that should be all his own, and this was only possible by anticipating an invasion of Germany, about to be undertaken by Augereau at the head of the Army of the Rhine. It was to this personal ambition of Bonaparte that Venice was sacrificed. The Directors were willing that


History of Modern Europe 1792-1878 - 20/202

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