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- Worlds Best Histories - France Vol 7 - 1/83 -

[Illustration: JOSEPHINE]

World's Best Histories: FRANCE






CHAPTER VII. The Consulate (1799-1804)

CHAPTER VIII. Glory and Success (1804-1805)

CHAPTER IX. Glory and Conquest (1805-1808)

CHAPTER X. The Home Government (1804-1808)

CHAPTER XI. Glory and Illusions. Spain and Austria

CHAPTER XII. The Divorce (1809-1810)

CHAPTER XIII. Glory and Madness. The Russian Campaign (1811-1812)



THE CONSULATE (1799-1804).

For more than ten years, amid unheard of shocks and sufferings, France had been seeking for a free and regular government, that might assure to her the new rights which had only been gained through tribulation. She had overthrown the Monarchy and attempted a Republic; she had accepted and rejected three constitutions, all the while struggling single-handed with Europe, leagued against her. She had undergone the violence of the Reign of Terror, the contradictory passions of the Assemblies, and the incoherent feebleness of the Directory. For the first time since the death of King Louis XIV., her history finds once more a centre, and henceforth revolves round a single man. For fifteen years, victorious or vanquished, at the summit of glory, or in the depths of abasement, France and Europe, overmastered by an indomitable will and unbridled passion for power, were compelled to squander their blood and their treasure upon that page of universal history which General Bonaparte claims for his own, and which he has succeeded in covering with glory and crime.

On the day following the 18th Brumaire, in the uncertainty of parties, in face of a constitution audaciously violated, and a government mainly provisional, the nation was more excited than apprehensive or disquieted. It had caught a glimpse of that natural power and that free ascendancy of genius to which men willingly abandon themselves, with a confidence which the most bitter deceptions have never been able to extinguish. Ardent and sincere republicans, less and less numerous, felt themselves conquered beforehand, by a sure instinct that was not misled by the protest of their adversaries. They bent before a new power, to which their old hatreds did not attach, which they believed to be in some sort created by their own hands, and of which they had not yet measured the audacity. The mass of the population, the true France, hailed with joy the hope of order and of a regular and strong administration. They were not prejudiced in favor of the philosophic constitution so long propounded by Sieyès. In the eyes of the nation, the government was already concentrated in the hands of General Bonaparte; it was in him that all were trusting, for repose at home and glory and peace abroad.

In fact, he was governing already, disregarding the prolonged discussions of the two legislative commissions, and the profound developments of the projects of Sieyès, expounded by M. Boulay. Before the Constitution of the year VIII, received the sanction of his dominant will, he had repealed the Law of Hostages, recalled the proscribed priests from the Isle of Oléron, and from Sinnamari most of those transported on 18th Fructidor. He had reformed the ministry, and distributed according to his pleasure the chief commands in the army. As Moreau had been of service to Bonaparte in his _coup d'état_, he was placed at the head of the army of the Rhine joined to the army of Helvetia, taken from Massena on the morrow of his most brilliant victories. Distrust and ill-will struggled with his admiration of Bonaparte in the mind of the conqueror of Zurich; he was sent to the army of Italy, always devoted to Bonaparte. Berthier remained at Paris in the capacity of minister of war. Fouché was placed at the police, and Talleyrand undertook foreign affairs. By a bent of theoretical fancy, which was not borne out by experience in government, the illustrious mathematician Laplace was called to the ministry of the interior. Gaudin became minister of finances; he replaced immediately the forced loans with an increase of direct taxes, and introduced into the collection of the public revenues some important improvements, which paved the way for our great financial organization.

At the same time, without provocation and without necessity, as if simply in compliance with the mournful traditions of past violence, a list of proscriptions, published on the 23rd Brumaire, exiled to Guiana or the Île de Ré nine persons--a mixture of honest republicans opposed to the new state of things, and of wretches still charged with the crimes of the Reign of Terror. Only the name of General Jourdan excited universal reprobation, and it was immediately struck out. The measure itself was soon mitigated, and the decree was never executed.

Through the revolutionary storms and the murderous epochs which had successively seen all the great actors in the political struggles disappear from the scene, the Abbé Sieyès emerged as a veteran associated with the first free impulses of the nation. In 1789, his pamphlet, "What is the Third Estate?" had arrested the attention of all serious minds. He had several times, and in decisive circumstances, played an important part in the Constituent Assembly. Since his vote of the 20th January, and until the 9th Thermidor, he remained in voluntary obscurity; mingling since then in all great theoretical discussions, he had exercised a preponderating influence in recent events. From revolution to revolution, popular or military, he came out in the part of legislator, his spirit escaping from the influence of pure democracy. He had formerly proposed the banishment _en masse_ of all the nobility, and he still nursed in the depths of his soul a horror for all traditional superiority. He had said, "Whoever is not of my species is not my fellow-creature; the nobles are not of my species; they are wolves, and I fire upon them." He had, however, been brought, by his reflections and the course of events, to construct eccentric theories, of a factitious aristocracy, the wielders of power to the exclusion of the nation, recruited from a limited circle--a disfigured survival of the Italian republics of the middle ages, without the free and salutary action of representative government.

"Confidence ought to proceed from below, and power to act from above," declared the appointed legislator of the 18th Brumaire. He himself compared his political system to a pyramid, resting on the entire mass of the nation, terminating at the top in a single man, whom he called the Great Elector. He had not the courage to pronounce the word king.

Five millions of electors, constituted into primary assemblies, were to prepare a _municipal_ list of 500,000 elected who in their turn were entrusted with the formation of a _departmental_ list of 50,000 names. To these twice sifted delegates was confided the care of electing 5000 as a _national_ list, alone capable of becoming the agents of executive power in the whole of France. The municipal and departmental administrations were to be chosen by authority from their respective lists. The _Conservative Senate_, composed of eighty members, self-elective, had the right of appointing the members of the Corps Législatif, the Tribuneship, and the Court of Cassation. It was besides destined to the honor of choosing the Great Elector. The senators, richly endowed, might exercise no other function. The Corps Législatif was dumb, and limited to voting the laws prepared by the Council of State, and discussed by the Tribunate. The Great Elector, without actively interfering in the government, furnished with a civil list of six millions, and magnificently housed by the state, appointed the two councils of peace and war, upon whom depended the ministers and all the administrative _personnel_ of prefects and sub- prefects entrusted with the government of the departments. In case the magistrate, so highly placed in his sumptuous indolence, should seem to menace the safety of the State, the Senate was authorized to _absorb_ him by admitting him into its ranks. The same action might be exercised with respect to any of the civil or military functionaries.

So many complicated wheels calculated to hinder rather than to sustain each other, so much pomp in words and so little efficacy in action, could never suit the intentions or the character of General Bonaparte. He claimed at once the position of Great Elector, which Sieyès had perhaps secretly thought to reserve for himself.

"What!" said he, "would you want to make me a pig in a dunghill?" Then demolishing the edifice laboriously constructed by the legislator, "Your Great Elector is a slothful king," said he to Sieyès; "the time for that sort of thing is past. What! appoint people to act, and not act himself! It won't do. If I were this Great Elector I should certainly do everything which you would desire me not to do. I should say to the two consuls of peace and war: 'If you don't choose such and such a man, or take such and such a measure, I shall send you about your business.' And I would compel them to proceed according to my will. And these two consuls? How do you think they could agree? Unity of action is indispensable in government. Do you think that serious men would be able to lend themselves to such shams?"

Sieyès was not fond of discussion, for which indeed he was not suited; with the prudent sagacity which always characterized his conduct, he recognized the inferiority of his will and his influence in comparison with General Bonaparte. Three consuls were substituted for the Great Elector and his two chosen subordinates equal in appearance, but already classed according to the origin of their power. As first consul, Bonaparte was not to be subjected to any election; he held himself as appointed by the people. "What colleagues will they give me?" said he bluntly to Roederer and Talleyrand who served him constantly as his agents of communication. "Whom do you wish?" He named Cambacérès, then minister of justice, clever and clear-sighted, of an independent spirit joined to a docile character; and Lebrun, the former secretary of the Chancellor

Worlds Best Histories - France Vol 7 - 1/83

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