William O'Connor Morris.

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128 Thermidor. French Conquests. CH. vii.

bin disorder and cruelty was, to a considerable extent,
destroyed. The reaction, however, in the ruling powers
,,. , , of France, and the enactments sanctioned

Violence of

the Reaction, by the Convention, expressed but feebly
the intense hostility which broke out generally against
the whole scheme of Terror. Jacobin functionaries
were expelled from their places everywhere ; the Na-
tional Guards of Paris, filled with the bourgeoisie,
showed no mercy to the " tools of Robespierre ;" and the
young men of the Middle classes formed companies to
keep down the mob, and hunted out, as if they had
been unsexed, the female furies of the galleries and the
guillotine. The example of the capital was followed
elsewhere, especially in the large trading cities, which
had been treated with such ruthless barbarism ; and the
recoil of opinion was so quick and violent that the
royalists, who, a few months before, lived in daily dread
of a summons to the scaffold, showed themselves, and
sometimes oppressed their oppressors. The " Com-
mittee of Mercy " into which, it was said, " France had
suddenly resolved herself," was, in a word, not merciful
to the late dominant party ; and, in the rapid oscillation
of the public sentiment, not only was clemency lavishly
displayed, but the tyrants of the other day received their
own measure, and were widely subjected to no little
tyranny. At the same time, in Paris and elsewhere, a
„ , . . singular revolution in manners took place.

Revolution in . ^

manners. not unknown m Other national crises, but

strangely rapid and very characteristic. , In the extra-
ordinary confusion of the last two or three years pro-
perty had changed hands to an immense extent ; and a
new and large moneyed class had sprung up, formed by
the sale of the lands of hnigr'es, by army and other gov-
ernment contracts, and, above all, by jobbing in

1794- Thennidor. French Conquests. 129

assignats, and speculating in their continual fall, which
no policy of terror could long prevent. This class, per-
secuted by the Jacobin leaders, now emerged brilliantly
to the surface ; and the Court and the Nobles hav-
ing disappeared, it formed the high social life of the
capital, and stamped its character on the fashion of the
hour. The uncouth savagery which had been supreme
was replaced by a costly display of wealth ; and the
ruling orders banished the memory of the past in a
giddy round of excitement and pleasure. The mansions
of the Soubises and the Noailles were crowded with a
new kind of noblesse, and echoed to the sound of bals
k la victhne, confined to the relations of recent sufferers.
What was significantly called the jeunesse The jeunesse
doree of the changed era appeared in the Doree.
salons of the Voltaires, the Condorcets, the Du Deffands ;
and the wives and daughters of the men of the time, in
Ionic garb, and with snooded tresses, aped the graces,
the luxuries, and the dissoluteness of Versailles. The
raggedness and austerity of 1793 was, in short, cried
down ; and French nature, volatile and gay, indemni-
fied itself for what it had endured by rushing wildly into
joyous amusement. The change was not surprising,
though it leaves behind a painful impression of national
levity ; yet we shall hardly compare it, as it has been
compared, to the reawakening of nature in spring, to
the letting loose of the ice-bound waters.

It was impossible but that this vehement
reaction should lead before long to renewed troubS.
troubles. The party of Terror, lately all powerful, had
still a considerable hold on the masses, though its chief
strength had departed from it ; and the harshness with
which it was everywhere coerced, and the triumph of
the Moderates, now again in the ascendant, filled it with

130 Thermidor. French Conquests. ch. vii.

resentment and indignation. Had France, " patriot "
orators exclaimed, shaken off an arrogant though ab-
horred despotism to fall into the hands of money-
changers and scribes ? Had Europe been driven from
her frontiers, and thousands of her bravest children
perished, to substitute for an aristocracy of birth and
titles a new aristocracy of the bank and the counter ?
Was the end of the Revolution to be the complete de-
struction of its most trusty instruments ? Were the
measures by which it had saved the Nation, checked
dangerous factions, and maintained the poor, to be
flouted in the interest of the selfish and rich ? Was a
dictatorship, stern, perhaps, but glorious, to be converted
into a mode of government in which a class maltreated
and scorned the people ? The extraordinary condition
of France gave plausibility and force to these arguments,
and supplied discontent with its keenest stimulants. The
requisitions and spoliations of the Reign of Terror had
inevitably lessened and checked production ; and the
abolition of the maximum and of the ferocious laws
which forced up the value of assignats had concurred
to raise the price of commodities, though these expe-
dients had, of course, been less efficacious than their
authors supposed. The result was that great scarcity
prevailed, and that a sudden and extreme

Scarcity and _

distress. increase in the cost of the necessaries of

life took place ; and the pressure in Paris became so
alarming that the government was obliged to put the
poor on rations, and to have recourse to all kinds of ex-
pedients to secure for them a scanty subsistence. This
distress, general and widespreading, caused a demand
for the Jacobin measures to revive ; and it is probable,
indeed, that the financial system of the Terrorists, ex-
ecrable as it was, was abrogated with incautious celerity.

1795- 7hermidor. F'rench Conquests. 131

However this may have been, the lower

. -Ill r '^^^ Jacobin

classes m the capital and other parts of party tries to
France lent themselves before long to the ^^ ^'
appeals of agitators to rise and regain their lost power ;
and the irritation they felt was, no doubt, exasperated by
the selfish luxury of the new-made rich, by revolutionary
hopes not yet extinguished, by ignorance, jealousy, and
blind passion.

Such, briefly, was the internal state of France within
a few months after the Revolution of Thermidor. The
forces of anarchy before long broke out in the chief
centre of their power, though they made themselves felt
in other places, especially where they had
been most repressed. On April i, 1795, of i2"th ^^^
1 2th Germinal by the new style, the mob 2%n^i^^
of Paris burst into the hall of the Conven-
tion, shouting for "Bread and the Constitution of 1793,"
which had become the rallying cry of the " patriots ; "
but it was driven out without much difficulty ; and the
dispersion of it was chiefly remarkable in that Pichegru,
then for the moment on the spot, was called in to put
down the rioters — an ominous but significant symptom.
Some weeks afterwards, on May 20, or ist Prairial, a
more determined, and better organized , ^

° and of ist

demonstration took place ; the populace, Prairial,
aided by one or two of the sections, invaded ^^' ^^^ '
the seat of the Legislature again, and savagely massa
cred one of the deputies, amidst a scene worthy of the
worst days of 1793 ; and a few Mountain deputies, who,
it is supposed, were privy to the rising to some extent,
went through the form of voting decrees which conceded
all the anarchists' demands. This outbreak, however,
threatening as it became, was no longer sustained by
the potent means ready in the hands of a Danton or a

132 7hermidor. JFrench Conquests. ch. vii.

Robespierre, and was suppressed in a short time ; and
the National Guards and anti-Jacobin sections were
again aided by a force of soldiery, now on the side of
authority and the State, not as had been witnessed a
few years before. The extinction of this insurrectionary
eifort enabled the leaders of the Convention to strike
down the remaining Jacobin chiefs, and to take severe
measures against future disorders. The deputies of the
Mountain who had voted for the decrees were executed,
or put an end to themselves ; and the

put down . ^

and sup- relics of the Terrorists were proscribed and

banished. At the same time the rebellious
sections were disarmed ; the National Guard was carefully
thinned of men suspected of the Jacobin taint, and, for
the first time, was, to some extent, placed under regular
military control ; and provision was made for the imme-
diate removal of the Convention to Ch§.lons in the event
of danger, and for summoning to its aid the nearest
army. Meanwhile, stern and sanguinary laws were
oassed against popular and anarchic meetings ; the
"patriots" complained that they suffered more than
they had ever inflicted in the Reign of Terror ; and, in
the words of a sober historian, " the party of humanity
and moderation did not itself abstain from the profuse
shedding of blood."
^, . , By these means the once terrible powei

1 he power of "^

Jacobinism fi- of Jacobinism was altogether broken, though
na y ro en. .^^ elements retained indestructible life. The
government, however, had no sooner put down one party
than it found it necessary to restrain another, for the re-
action of Thermidor was becoming dangerous; and
though the Moderates in the Convention prevailed, they
had no sympathy with the avowed royalists, or even with
the reformers of 1789, foremost in the fierce anti-Jacobin

1795- Thermidor. French Conquests. 133

crusade. Coercive measures were also em-
Measures 01

ployed against these enemies of the Repub- the Govern-

,. 1 ,1 ,1 T ment against

lie ; and thus the ruhng powers were on the Royalists.
either side beset by exasperated and reckless
factions, and with difficulty kept a middle course between
them. The erovernment accordingly became _ ,

°. . . Weakness ot

weakened ; its authority, diffused and no the State,
longer concentrated, through the change the ruie^of^the
made in the Supreme Committee, grew va- ^^°^'^-
cillating, and, in a great degree, uncertain ; and as it
rejected the expedients of the Reign of Terror, it was
gradually more and more compelled to look to military
force for support — the end to which things were beginning
to tend. Meanwhile, on all points in the theatre of war,
the success of the French arms had multi-
plied, and the hosts of the Republic were cesser^of The
borne forwards on a rapid and overwhelm- French against
ing tide of victory. The fortresses captured
in 1793 were quickly evacuated by the Allies; and, afte*
the occupation of Brussels, the conquerors spread over
Belgium in triumph, and annexed its fertile provinces to
France. Before long Pichegru advanced northwards,
while Jourdan turned towards the Lower Rhine ; and
though this dislocation of the French armies — a charac-
teristic error of Carnot's strategy, which consisted in am-
bitious movements on the wings of the adversary with a
too feeble centre, and was only better than the impotent
system of a general advance on an immense divided
front — gave the Allied commanders a great opportunity,
they separated from each other in eccentric retreat, full
of mutual discontent and suspicion. By the close of 1794
Pichegru had overrun a large part of Holland, while
Jourdan had gained two important victories on the prin-
cipal affluents of the Lower Meuse ; and within a few


134 TJiermidor. French Conquests. CH. vii.

^ months the United Provinces had been

Conquest of

Belgium and transformed mto the Batavian Repubhc, the
tember, 1794^ House of Orange had been deposed, and
januaiV, i795. the whole Low Countries, from the Scheldt
to the Ems, had become merely a French dependency.
The war, too, had been carried far into Spain ; and events,
which for a time had worn a menacing aspect in La
Vendee, turned in favor of the Republic once ^m ore. In
this unhappy region the atrocious cruelties of the Terror-
ists had caused the insurrection to revive, and to extend
over a large part of Brittany ; and the prospects of the
rising appeared so bright that an English expedition was
despatched, with a band of Emigres, to aid the royalists.
A descent, however, attempted from Quiberon Bay,
^ ., ,^ proved a miserable and inglorious failure;

Failure of Eng- ^ °

lish descent and Hoche, who, like all real Generals, had
Bay , July 1^5^-20, Hiany of the highest gifts of a statesman,
^795- reduced the whole West before long to sub-

mission by a policy of conciliation and sagacious firm-
ness, winning the purest fame of the military chiefs of
the time.

These extraordinary successes of the French dissolved
_, _ , the already yielding Coalition. Prussia, the

The Coalition ^ • , , , T • n ,11

dissolved. Power which had chiefly provoked the con-

Spafn make tcst, was the first to abandon the allied cause,
?une%^^"^' ^^^ made peace in the spring of 1795.
Spain followed her example within a few
months ; and England, Austria, and Piedmont, with
some States of the German Empire, already wearied of
a calamitous and unprofitable struggle, alone remained
to continue the war. The Repubhc had thus in two
campaigns broken up an alliance which seemed more
powerful than that which had humbled Louis XIV. ; and
it had extended its conquests beyond the limits of the

1795- Thermidor. French Conquests. 135

most ambitious hopes of the Bourbon Monarchy. The
result was in the highest degree brilliant ; _

® . ' Causes of this

yet its real causes may be easily noted. Be- astonishing
fore the Campaign of 1794 had closed, the Republic.
French armies, already immensely superior
in numbers to their antagonists, had become gradually
inured to war, and the young levies, after enormous loss-
es, had hardened into truly formidable soldiers. The
enterprise of the Republican troops, stirred by the im-
pulse which first gave them strength, by the national
passion for military glory, and by reiterated and splen-
did success, became astonishingly great and daring, and
they ultimately gained that moral ascendency over theii
ill-led and beaten opponents which is one of the chief
conditions of success. The conduct, too, of the Allied
Commanders was even more pitiable than before ; and
indignation was justly felt in England against the in-
competent Duke of York, and in Austria against the
dull Prince of Cobourg, who had contrived in two years
to fail in everything. The circumstance, however, has
yet to be mentioned which so quickly enlarged the con-
quests of France, and we shall see it again in operation.
The Republican soldiers were not, indeed, always kind-
ly masters in the Low Countries or elsewhere ; they were
obliged to live on the tracts they occupied, being almost
destitute of supplies from home; and their rapid advance
was usually marked by excesses of license and by or-
ganized plunder. But in these, and in other parts of
the Continent, the abuses of Feudalism and of the eigh-
teenth century had undermined the whole frame of so-
ciety ; and the old order of things collapsed when it
came in contact with revolutionary passions. Wherever
the arms of France made their way, the privileges of
the Church and the Nobles disappeared ; the Reign of

f36 Thermidor. French Conquests. CH. vii.

Liberty and Equality was proclaimed, and much that
was unjust was swept away ; and the result was that the
people welcomed the foreign invader in many places,
though their liberation cost a heavy price, and that the
moral influence of the new French ideas was even more
decisive than what were called the fourteen armies of
the French Republic,

While France, however, was triumphant
weaknesTof abroad, her government* at home remained
the Republic feeble, and her social condition was in many

at home.

respects lamentable. Her armies, indeed,
with the exception of that which held the mountainous
hne of the Alps from Dauphiny and Provence to the
Genoese seaboard, were, on the whole, in a prosperous
state, especially in the rich Low Countries ; and the at-
traction to them became so great that towards the close
of 1795 she had probably four hundred thousand men in
the field. The peasantry, too, were for the most part
thriving, notwithstanding the late maximum and requi-
sitions, for the emancipation of the soil in 1789 had con-
tinued to make agriculture improve, and rents and taxes
had sunk to almost nothing, under a currency ever
diminishing in value. Trade, too, had revived to some
extent, the Reign of Terror having ceased to destroy it ;

* M. Thiers' Histoire de la Revolution Francaise seems to me,
on the whole, the best guide for the period between the Revolution
of Thermidor and the i8th Brumaire. His account of the internal
and financial state of France during these years of disenchantment
and exhaustion is lucid and able. The papers by Napoleon, in
his Commentaries, on Vendemiaire and La Politique du Direc-
toire, should also be read, but they are not just to the Government.
The correspondence of the late Mr. Wickham throws much light
on the relations between Foreign Powers and the discontented fac-
tions in France.

^^795- Tliermidor. French Conquests. 137

and the assignats, from their enormous fall, becoming
almost useless as instruments of exchange, a return to a
natural system had begun, and the precious metals
slowly reappeared. But, as if to show the irony of fate-^
/ the populace of the great cities, which had figured so
largely in the Revolution, remained gene-
rally in extreme want ; and though, as we distress^of
have seen, a moneyed class had sprung up, the great
this had been at the cost of other classes ;
and the government, which still went on receiving the
imposts of the state in worthless paper, was on the verge
of financial ruin. Harassed, too, as it was by contend-
ing parties, and itself a mere revolutionary growth, its
weakness could only rapidly increase ; and, with the
Convention, it was completely eclipsed by the splendor
of the military power, which had begun to fascinate the
masses. A strong Republican spirit, indeed, was still
prevalent in the legislature ; but though freedom and
the Rights of Man were potent spells of victory abroad,
they were gradually losing their magic in France. The
period of exhaustion and of disenchantment

r • T. r 11 1 ■• . Exhaustion

which follows revolutions was soon to open, oftherevo-
and the political aspirations of many turned lutionary
chiefly to repose and a strong government.
What that government would probably be in the col-
lapse of settled authority and rule, Burke in England
had already distinctly foreseen.

As the summer of ivqi; progressed, the re- ^ . ,

'yj^^ ' Desire for

actionary parties increased in Strength. The repose and a
Republic, though victorious abroad, became menf. Reac-
associated in the minds of thousands with Moiia'Jrhy'^^
Jacobinism and the horrors of the past; and
a sentiment began to be widely diffused in favor oi
Monarchy and of the system which had perished only

t;^8 Thermidor. French Conquests. ch. vii.

in a moment of passion. This feeling allied itself with
the desire for quiet which largely prevailed ; and though
the 6mtgr^s were generally hated, and the exiled Bour-
bons had not many supporters, royalist agents made
their presence felt, and the air grew thick with rumors
of royalist plots. The government and the Convention,
too, became more than ever disliked ; they were ac-
cused of prolonging a usurped power; and as they
had lost their hold on the Jacobin "patriots," they were
decried in the centres of public opinion, though still up-
held by the great mass of the Nation. In this state of
things the ruling powers resolved not unwisely to appeal
to the people ; and the appeal was prefaced by a Con-
stitution which expressed the latest effort of their legis-
lative wisdom. This scheme, called the Constitution
of the year III. — ^the Hegira of "liberty " ran from 1792 —

plainly showed what were the ideas domi-
Se"^ear^ni nant among the chief French politicians of

the hour and in the majority of the Con-
vention. The organic changes of 1789 were ratified by
a solemn oath; the Jacobin Constitution of 1793 was
pronounced impossible and thrust aside ; and the govern-
ment was declared a Republic, though not without one
or two protests. It was sought, however, to provide
against the troubles and disasters of the past by a
variety of ingenious expedients", and the proposed form
of government was, in many respects, decidedly hostile
to democratic influences. The Legislature, composed
of seven hundred and fifty deputies, was to be elected
by a not popular vote, although the election was to
be annual ; and it was divided into two distinct parts,
a Council of Ancients, and one of Five-Hundred, ex-
perience having already taught the lesson of the perils
?Lttending a single Chaniber, An Executive was formed

^795* Thermidor. French Conquests. 139

of Five Directors chosen by the Councils, and with
dependent ministers ; and precautions were taken
against a recurrence of the tyranny of 1793 by a provi-
sion that one Director should retire each year. At the
same time, the extravagant local powers which had been
created in 1789, and had been so terribly abused, were
still further limited ; and recent enactments against mob
violence were declared essential to the security of the
State. In addition, and most important of all, two-
thirds of the existing Convention was to be re-elected,
and a third part only of the succeeding assemblies was
to be at present formed of new members, the mischief
of the self-denying ordinance of 1791 being fully under-
stood, and great apprehension being felt of the royalist
and anti-republican parties.

This Constitution, which, in the abstract, ^, ^

. The Const! tu-

was not Without considerable merit, and tion generally
might have struck root in different times, ^
was generally well received in France, though it was
observed that assent was for the most part passive, and
the enthusiasm of past years had died away. The con-
ditions, however, which maintained the ex- ^

. . Opposition to

istmg Legislature m the main unchanged, the re-election

• 1.11 J • 11 of two-thirds

were violently denounced m several places ; of the Conven-
and this was eagerly seized as a grievance ^'°"'
by the adversaries of the existing order of things. The
leaders of the reactionary parties declaimed again the
tyrannous Convention ; and they were supported by an
undefined following of those whom vanity, ambition,
and want, led to hope for advantage in new disorders.
These sentiments were especially strong in Paris, ever
agitated and eager for change ; and a formidable oppo-
sition to the Constitution, supported largely by the
middle classes, gathered in the fickle and excitable capi-

140 TJiermidor. French Conquests. ch. vit,

tal. An insurrection was planned in the sections in
which the malcontents were most powerful ; and on
October 4 the National Guards of one of the principal
sections rose, the expedients of anarchy being thus em-
ployed in the turbulence of revolutionary time, by the
class which had lately most suffered from them. The in-
capacity of the military commandant in Paris led quickly
to a more general rising ; and on the morning of the
4th dense columns rolled through streets and squares
towards the Tuileries palace, vociferating against " Con-
^ , ventional traitors." The insurrection ap-

Rising of the ^ r k i

reactionary peared as terrible as that 01 August 10 ; but
Paris, 13th a man of action was on the spot to quell it,

Vendemiaire, ^^^ ^^^ conditions of the Struggle were

Oct. 4, 1795, »»

put down by wholly different. The frightened Conven-

Bonaparte. • , i , • i • -n

tion had some hours previously given Bona-
parte the command of all the troops in the city ; and
that officer awaited the attack with composure, though
he had only then a few thousand men. The tumultuary
assailants were cut down by voUies of grape shot as
they appeared ; their masses, after a few discharges,
broke, and in a very short time hardly a trace remained
of what had seemed a most alarming outbreak. The
result was, perhaps, in some degree due to the energy,
and skill of Bonaparte ; but probably the greater part
of the force of the sections had no real heart in the
cause ; and as revolutionary passions were dying out,
and regular soldiers were now on the scene, the revolt
was put down with comparative ease.

The quick suppression of this outbreak.

The authority , ^ , ^^. , , tt j - • •

uftheConven- known as that of the 13th Vendemiaire,

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Online LibraryWilliam O'Connor MorrisThe French revolution and first empire : an historical sketch → online text (page 12 of 26)