William O'Connor Morris.

The French revolution and first empire : an historical sketch online

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long assailed by the Turkish hordes sent by '^^ ^^' ^''^^'
the Porte to assure his overthrow ; but he defeated them
with terrific carnage ; and having reached the seaboard,
not far from the spot where he had disembarked more
than twelve months before, he received intelligence for
the first time of the great reverses of 1799. His reso-
lution was taken at once ; and if ambition was his ru-
ling motive, it is puerile to charge him with fear and per-

of the Commons in France, which became famous, was returned
to the States-General in 1789. His courage, however, was not
equal to his intellect, and he sank into nothingness during the most
stormy times of the Revolution. Having joined the party which
overthrew Robespierre, he afterwards became one of the Directory,
and promoted the Revolution of the i8th Brumaire. He sank into
inglorious wealth and repose during the Empire, and lived to see
Louis XVni. restored to the throne.

1 68 Egypt and the i8th Brit maire. lh. ix.

Onhearingthe ^^^ ' Hegavehis commaiid to Kleber,
news of the his well-tried lieutenant, his army beinsr at

St2.t6 of - *' o

France, he the moment safe, and even without an ene-

leares Egypt. ^^ ^^ ^^^^ . ^^^ ^^ ^^^ ^^ without delay

for France, where, he rightly conjectured, his presence

was sought, and where, too, such a man was wanting.

He landed in October, 1799, on the shores of Provence,

having fortunately slipped through the English fleets ;

and his landing, when known, became the signal for a

burst of national and heartfelt welcome which revealed

^ , . the instincts of the great mass of French-

Enthusiasm °

with which he men. At every stage on his way to Paris he
his way to was greeted by enthusiastic crowds, as the
and in Pans. -^^^^ hope of France in her hour of misfor-
tune ; and the feelings of the soldiery rose to the height
of fanaticism at the sight of their well-known leader. In
the capital the excitement was intense ; the popu-
lace and the garrison openly hailed the conqueror of
Italy as the Chief of the State ; and even the Councils
and the Directory, swept along by the vehement tide of
opinion, felt or feigned reverence and exultation.

In this state of affairs the existing govern-

He at once . ° °

becomes the ment could not Continue for any length of
power. ^ time. Within a few days Bonaparte had

become the real centre of political power ;
all parties, except the extreme Republicans, who in-
stinctively felt he was a deadly enemy, and especially
the new aristocracy of riches, gathered around him
with anxiety and hope ; and the chiefs of the Army
readily concurred, although divided by mutual jealous-
ies. Two of the Directors, Sieyes being one, belong-
ing to the enlightened Moderates, assented to the Revo-
lution visibly impending ; and a majority of the An-
cients agreed to second another coi/p diktat in the in-

1799- Egypt and the \^th Brumaire. 169

terest of Bonaparte. That leader, who with He prepares a

^ coup a ttdt

his wonted insight had seemed to keep to change the
aloof, and had bided his time, now made sovemm
his preparations for the crisis at hand ; and if his acts
were marked by stratagem and guile, they were not
stained by the cruelty and blood which had hitherto
been the disgrace of similar changes. On the allegation
of a Jacobin plot in Paris, the Ancients ^, „ , _

J r T_hQ. i8th Bru-

voted, on the i8th Brumaire (November 9, maire.Nov.g,
1799), that both the Councils should repair ^
to St. Cloud, the object being to deprive the Legislature
of the means of resistance, and to dissolve it quietly.
Meanwhile, the garrison of the capital had been gained;
watches had been placed on the National Guards, and
the Heads of the long powerless Commune, in order to
prevent a further outbreak ; the habitation of Barras,
Gohier, and Moulins, the three Directors, not in the se-
cret, was surrounded by troops ; and Sieyes and his col-
league Ducos broke up the government by a formal re-
signation of the offices they held. Bonaparte was thus
made suddenly master of Paris, with the soldiery and
its leaders devoted to him ; and as all that he had done
was welcomed by the immense majority of the citizens,
his easy triumph appeared assured. Of all Powers,
however, a popular assembly most keenly resents an
act of indignity ; and the Council of Five Hundred,
when it found itself deceived and decoyed away on a
mere pretext, broke out in fierce and threatening com-
plaints, though largely composed of the very party
which secretly desired a change in the State. On the
following day, Bonaparte appeared at St. Cloud, " to ex-
plain," as he said, " his conduct ;" but he was met with
exclamations of hatred and terror ; and for Scenes in

' Assembly at

a moment his position was critical, for the St. Cloud.

170 Egypt and the \Zth Br umaire. ch. ix.

guard around the Assembly wavered. The die, how-
ever, had been cast ; the president of the Five Hun-
dred, Lucien, a brother of Bonaparte, declared the
Council lawfully dissolved ; the hall was cleared by
armed men of hostile deputies, and a sufficient number
^ . , remained to sanction the already accom-

Formation of a • • 1

a provisional plished transfer of power. A provisional
Bonap^tr*^" government was next appointed ; but though
First Consul. j^^ ^^^^ composed of three consuls, two being
Siey^s and his facile colleague, Bonaparte, as First Con-
sul, was really supreme.

Such was the coui) d'etat of the i8th Bru-

Character -^

of the Re- maire, one of the principal events in the

the i8th French Revolution, and, indeed, in the an-

Brumaire ^^^ ^^ modern Europe. The Republic was

to exist for a time in name, as the Roman Senate sur-
vived Pharsalia ; but though the truth was veiled under
decent forms, the new Caesar was everything from
the first ; and history before long was to repeat itself,
and to see the rise of a Caesarian empire. In over-
throwing the existing government of France, Bonaparte,
doubtless, acted without scruple, and was not superior to
ambitious selfishness ; and in the snare he laid for the
Five Hundred — an unwise deception, which
J^*^fh?Jon- provoked to anger an assembly really not
duct of hostile — we see that contempt of popular

Bonaparte . ^ • j • 1

and on the sentiment, and of everything associated with
events. popular forces, which was a distinctive mark

of his character, and one of the most stri-
king defects in it. But the Catos who denounce Brumaire
as a crime and an "assassination of French liberty"
simply misunderstand or distort facts ; and views such
as these entirely miss the true nature of the French
Revolution. Bonaparte had really France on his side

1799- ^iypi ^^^ ^^^^ 1 8/A Brumaire. 171

in thrusting the Directors from their seats, and merely
accelerated the course of events which had long pointed
to military rule ; and History can fairly say for him that
the Dictatorship he seized was perhaps needed, was cer-
tainly the choice of the French People, and, as he truly
boasted, "cost not a drop of blood." As

The cowp

for the " liberty " which he has been charged d'etat was

•-i- J i. • -i. c L. not a crime.

With destroymg, it was a mere figment
without real existence; and he could not have struck
the Republic down had it had a root in the national
heart. In fact, the Revolution, in its whole course, had
been unfavorable to the growth of true popular rights
and of republican institutions in any real sense ; and
the nature of events and the disposition of Frenchmen
had concurred to produce that despotism of the sword
of which Bonaparte v/as only the most splendid image.
It would have been a task of extraordinary difficulty to
have founded anything like freedom upon the corruption
of the old Monarchy ; and the Legislation of the Na-
tional Assembly, and the passions generated in the war
that followed, only led to anarchy and tyranny com-
bined. As for the Republic, it was the mere offspring
of passion ; and, after the experience of the Reign of
Terror, a reaction against it quickly set in, which, not-
withstanding all the Directory could have done, would
have proved irresistible in the course of time. Besides,
in the acti^al state of France and Europe, a Republic
which required the nurture of peace could hardly have
acquired in any case stability ; the short-lived Republic
which was set up soon yielded to the influence of the
sword ; and, tried among a people ill suited to it by
temperament and historical tradition, it could, perhaps,
only end in failure. The proneness of Frenchmen to
bow to power and to admire military grandeur and sue-

1/2 ATarengo. Luneville. Amiens. ch. x.

cess hastened the Revolution already at hand, when a
crisis of national danger appeared ; and the Hour, when
it came, found a Man who satisfied the wants, the hopes,
and the fancy of the Nation. In these circumstances
the 1 8th Brumaire can be hardly matter of surprise or
censure, though in the suddenness of the Revolution
itself we see another proof of the passionate mobility and
changeableness of the French character.



Wise and heal- The first care of the new ruler of France —
the First Con- ^^ ascendency of Bonaparte was at once
^"'- complete — was in some measure to restore

the finances, the condition of which had become deplo-
rable. The First Consul had brought to this task a reso-
lute will, a commanding intellect, and a faculty of
organization perhaps never surpassed ; and enjoyed
advantages, to carry out his object, beyond the reach of
the fallen government. The moneyed classes, who had
given him support in the Revolution which had placed
him in power, advanced readily considerable funds to
supply the needs of the exhausted treasury ; and, as the
resources of France were really immense, trade revived
and the revenue increased at the first sign of order and
Financial Confidence. The government, however, had

reforms. rccoursc to Other means to place the finances

fSoo. Marengo. Luneville. Amiens. 173

on a better footing, and to some extent to improve public
credit. Bonaparte obtained the services of a very able
man, who had refused to hold office from the Directory ;
and under the skilful care of Gaudin — a minister of rf^al
capacity and worth — a series of admirable reforms were
begun in the whole financial system of the State. The
iniquitous forced tax on the rich was abolished ; and
while the direct taxes which since 1789 had formed the
only ordinary sources of supply were distributed and
raised with a regard to justice, an attempt — feeble in-
deed, and tentative at first, but ultimately leading to
marked results — v/as made to return to some of the indi-
rect taxes, which had been recklessly and unfairly re-
moved in the transports of revolutionary passion. At
the same time a thorough change was made in the mode
of collecting the public imposts, which had been waste-
ful and offensive alike ; and, by arrangements in some
degree borrowed from the practice of the old Monarchy,
but modified and improved by modern experience, re-
ceipts were rendered more quick and certain, while con-
siderable sums were immediately obtained from the new
officials who had become collectors. Provision was also
made for the payment of the debt, or rather what re-
mained of it, which had been unpaid for a considerable
time, and before long national insolvency had ceased.
The surviving Jacobins and extreme Republicans com-
plained truly that more than one of these measures had
*oo much in common with the old order of things ; but
with the First Consul this was an idle objection, and
these reforms were alike judicious and able. Sufficient
means were in this way obtained to satisfy the most
pressing wants of the State, and especially to relieve the
armies, the distress of which had become lamentable,
and the foundations were laid of financial order. The

174 Marengo. Luneznlle. Amiens. ch. x.

First Consul, however, went much further ; and, as soon
as he had secured power, he endeavored to bind up the
wounds of the Nation, and to mitigate the animosities
Fortunate posi- which distracted France. His position and
tionofBona- ^j-^g accidcnts of his hfe contributed largely

parte as a me- ° •'

diator between to servc his purpose ; for, as authority really
centered in his hands, and he had taken no
part in the Revolution, it had become possible, espe-
cially in the comparative quiescence of the passions of the
past, to carry out a policy at once more equable, more
firm, and of a more conciliatory nature than the Direc-
tory or Convention could have attempted. The benefits
he conferred in this respect on France from the first
Laws against moment do not admit of question. His
grls^epeaied^" attention was directed to the clergy first,
or mitigated, who, as we have seen, had been an object
of jealousy and proscription for many years, and had
been persecuted with fresh rigor after a brief instant of
illusory clemency. The First Consul, until the time
should arrive for a permanent settlement of ecclesiastical
affairs, procured the repeal of the most severe laws of
the Revolution against the Catholic priesthood ; and he
weakened a source of sacerdotal hate by substituting for
the irritating test imposed by the National Assembly a
simple oath of allegiance to the State, to be taken by
clergymen of all descriptions. This wise policy made
good subjects of thousands of men who had hitherto
used their influence against the whole course of the
Revolution since 1789 ; and as ministers of religion of
all kinds were not only tolerated but even encouraged,
while perfect freedom of conscience remained, the fierce
dissensions lessened to some extent which had been so
grievous in this particular. The next soothing measure
of the First Consul was to abolish many of the sangui-

i8oo. Marengo. Luneviile. Amiens. 175

nary decrees indiscriminately passed against the emigres

in a mass, and to extend an amnesty to certain classes

of them ; and in this manner a number of exiles who

hitherto had fought in the ranks of her foes began to

return to France, to support the new government, and

to detach themselves from the Bourbon cause. Finally,

the troubles which had arisen in La Vendee Pacification of

were appeased, to a considerable extent, by ^^ Vendee.

recurring to the judicious policy of Hoche, carried out

with a firm^ yet clement hand ; and though one or two

severe examples were made, the system of moderation

was the general rule.

By these prudent and just measures the
^ , . , , . , - IT Rapid re-

state, which seemed m hopeless declme, covery of

regained speedily new life and vigor ; and

France was restored in a few months to an extent which

might have been thought impossible. Meanwhile the

task of framing a new constitution for the still nominal

Republic had been given to Sieyes, the ablest of the

makers of systems who had been so numerous in the

Revolution. It would be hardly necessary to notice the

results of this work, which left the greatest changes of

1789, now beyond recall, entirely intact, and merely

substituted a new State machinery for that which had

been swept away, if it were not that the " Constitution

of the year VIII," — this was the name of the new

political growth — illustrated curiously the cast of thought

now prevalent among men of experience in France, and

supplied some of the illusary forms which concealed the

power of the new Chief of the State.

The real objects of Sieyes were to main- „ . .

. Constitution

tarn popular rule m appearance, and yet to of the year


curb the excesses of popular license, and at

once to create a strong government, and to guard against

176 Marengo. LuueiuIIe. Amiens. CH., X-

the irregular tyranny of which he had seen such fright-
ful examples. For this purpose, in strange

Tho insti- -11 -1 r

tiuions contrast with the ideas 01 not many yeais

bv'k."^ before, his scheme preserved an image of

popular rights, and declared that Sove-
reignty belonged to the people ; but it confined the whole
administration of the State, even in its lowest depart-
ments, to certain lists of citizens, and it distributed the
Leo"islative and Executive powers between a council of
State and a Tribunate, charged respectively to propose
and discuss all measures, a Legislative Assembly the duty
of which was to enact laws without the agitation of de-
bates, a Senate to nominate to all great offices, and a
Grand Elector and two Consuls to govern under all kinds

of restrictions. By these means the inge-
Objects of nious desifi^ncr imacrined that he would re-

bieyes. ° ^

concile democracy with stability, order, and
political freedom ; but it is unnecessary to say that his
pretty system found little favor in the sight of the ruler
of France. Bonaparte allowed the limitations on popu-
lar rig-hts in the choice of functionaries to continue for a
time ; and he approved of the silent Legislature and the
divided duties of the Tribunate and the Council of State ;
for such an arrangement, he clearly saw, weakened any
influence these bodies could possess. But he insisted
on curtaihng the privileges of the Senate, and in remov-
ing checks on the Executive power ; and he placed
himself, with the title of First Consul, and with absolute
control over the whole scheme of government, in the

stead of the Grand Elector and his two

Bonaparte , . ^ , t - ^

First Consul dependents. The dictatorship of the Pirst
y°eVt5° Consul was to last for ten years, and a

second and third consul, mere shadowy
names, were to veil the reality of a single ruler.

/8oo. Marengo. Lutieville. Amiens. 177

In this way the despotism of one man, surrounded by
merely nominal restraints, became definitely „. ,

•; . •' His des-

established in France, and the supremacy potism is

r n ^ ^ J 1 1 -T-i established,

01 Bonaparte was consecrated by law, 1 he surrounded
Constitution received the sanction of an en- ^^ mereiy


thusiastic popular vote, significant of the restraints,
national instincts and character ; and before long Sieyes
and his late brother Director gave way to two new con-
suls, who, though able men, were merely the willing
agents of power. The government of France, however,
at this juncture was only a small part of the First Con-
sul's task ; he had, if possible, to repair the disa,sters of
war, and to roll back the Coalition from the frontiers.
These cares had, of course, engaged his thoughts as
soon as the reins of power had come into his hands ;
and, supported by a strong national sentiment, and by
able and skilful lieutenants, and employing the growing
resources of the State with absolute authority and con-
summate art, he soon reorganized the shattered armies
and revived the military strength of France.
One circumstance was of happy omen to zation'Jf^"''
him, for the Czar, after the defeat at Zu- ^rmS^"*"^
rich, had ordered Suwarrow to return home ;
and thus the forces of the Allies were reduced by a large
contingent of hardy warriors. The German Empire and
England, however, remained in the field ; and while
an army of considerable but inferior strength threatened
Alsace from Western Bavaria, Austria had assembled a
very powerful force to secure the conquests she had
made in Italy, and having reduced the Italian fortresses
still garrisoned by weak French detachments, to invade
the borders of Dauphiny and Provence. In „, .

' ^ Plans of

this state of affairs the First Consul formed the First
a plan of operations which has been always

lyS Marengo. Lunevicle. Amiens. CH. x.

thought one of the most dazzling of his mihtary concep-
tions. The force of the enemy in Bavaria was not so
great as it ought to have been, regard being had to the
whole theatre of war ; and the great Austrian host on
the western verge of Italy was dangerously exposed on
this secondary frontier, to an attack from Switzerland,
which projected, like a huge natural bastion, along its
flanks and rear. Bonaparte, accordingly, arrayed a
force superior to that in its front in Bavaria, which was
to descend rapidly from the heads of the Rhine, and,
under Moreau, to take the foe in reverse ; while he pre-
pared secretly a second army, with which, concealing his
design to the last moment, he resolved to cross the great
Swiss Alps, and to fall on the Austrians and cut off
their retreat.
^, Operations began on both sides in the

The cam- ^ °

paign of spring of 1800 on the theatre of war. Leav-

ing Ott to undertake the siege of Genoa, and
covering his line of retreat with a large scattered force,
Melas, the Austrian commander-in-chief in Italy, ad-
vanced to the Var and had soon taken
of Melas in Nice. Meanwhile, Moreau had set his
^' army in motion ; and though too timid to

carry out the project of striking his enemy in the rear
by crossing the Rhine at its heads at Schaffhausen, he
had nevertheless invaded Bavaria, forced

and of , , , . , . _^ J

Moreau in back his weaker antagonist Kray, and, as
avaria. j^^^ been agreed on, was able to send a

considerable detachment across the St. Gothard, to co-
operate with the First Consul. That great commander
had in the interval drawn together gradually from all
parts of France the troops intended for the decisive
stroke ; and he screened the movement with such skill
that the Austrians believed it was nothing more than

i8oo. Marengo. Luneville. Amiens. 179

the preparation of a levy of conscripts. By the middle
ot May 50,000 men, ready for the field, were on the
Svviss frontier, and everything had been arranged with
clear forethought for overcoming the great
barrier before them. Sending a column by Consul
the ordinary pass by Mont Cenis to deceive Al^s^May^
the enemy as long as possible, the First 16—19,
Consul directed the mass of his army over
the Great St. Bernard ; and from May 16 to May 19, the
solitudes of the vast mountain tract echoed to the din
and tumult of war as the French soldiery swept over its
heights to reach the valley of the Po and the plains of
Lombardy. A hill fort, for a time, stopped the daring
invaders, but the obstacle was passed by an ingenious
stratagem ; and before long Bonaparte, exulting in hope,
was marching from the verge of Piedmont on Milan,
having made a demonstration against Turin, in order to
hide his real purpose. By June 2 the whole French
army, joined by the reinforcement sent by ^, ^

■^ . . Ine French

Moreau, was in possession of the Lombard army
capital, and threatened the line of its MUan,
enemy's retreat, having successfully ac- J^^^^.
complished the first part of the brilliant design of its
great leader.

While Bonaparte was thus descending from the Alps,
the Austrian commander had been pressing forward the
siege of Genoa and his operations on the Var. Massena,
however, stubbornly held out in Genoa ; and Suchet had
defended the defiles of Provence with a weak force with
such marked skill that his adversary had made little
progress. When first informed of the terrible apparition
of a hostile army gathering upon his rear, Melas dis-
believed what he thought impossible ; and when he
could no longer discredit what he heard, the movements

i8o Afiireri^tK Lunez>ille. Amiens. CH. x.

by Mont Cenis and against Turin, intended to perplex
him, had made him hesitate. As soon, however, as the
real design of the First Consul was fully revealed, the
brave Austrian chief resolved to force his way to the
Adige at any cost ; and, directing Ott to
back^^'^'* raise the siege of Genoa, and leaving a sub-
ordinate to hold Suchet in check, he began
to draw his divided army together, in order to make a
desperate attack on the audacious foe upon his line of
retreat. Ott. however, delayed some days to receive the
keys of Genoa, which fell v\fter a defence memorable
in the annals of war; and, as the Austrian forces had
been widely scattered, it was June 12 before fifty thou-
sand men were assembled for an oftensive movement
round the well-known fortresses of Alessandria. Mean-
while, the First Consul had broken up from Milan; and
whether ill-informed of his enemy's operations, or ap-
prehensive that, after the fall of Genoa, Melas would
escape by a march southwards, he had advanced from
a strong position he had taken between the Ticino, the
Adda, and the Po, and had crossed the Scrivia into the
plains of Marengo, with forces disseminated far too
widelv. Melas boldlv seized the opportunity

Battle of ' ,- 1 ' 1 1 1 r xi

Marengo, to cscapc irom thc weakened meshes ot ttie

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Online LibraryWilliam O'Connor MorrisThe French revolution and first empire : an historical sketch → online text (page 15 of 26)