The Age of Napoleon I. From Robespierre to Bonaparte a. Relatively secure after the military victories of 1793-1794, the National Convention repudiated the Terror and struck at the leading terrorists in a turnabout known as the Thermidorian reaction. During the four unsteady years of the Directory regime, French armies helped bring revolution to other parts of Western Europe, only to provoke a second anti-French coalition.
The Thermidorian Reaction (1794-1795)
When the military victories over the coalition and the Vendee rebels in the year II eased the need for patriotic unity, long-standing clashes over personalities and politics exploded in the Convention. Robespierre’s enemies made a preemptive strike and denounced Robespierre to the Convention as a tyrant. The Convention no longer needed Robespierre’s uncompromising style of leadership. On July 27, 1794, the Convention declared Robespierre an outlaw and he was guillotined the following day, along with several loyal associates.
Anti-Jacobinism e. As the convention dismantled the apparatus of the Terror, suspects were released from jail, the revolutionary committees that had spearheaded the Terror were abolished, and some of their former members were arrested in turn. The anti-Jacobin thirst for retribution eventually produced a “white terror” against the Jacobins and the sans-culottes that resulted in arrests, assassinations, and, in the south of France, wholesale massacres. The Thermidorian reaction also released France from the social austerity of the year II.
The titles monsieur and madame reappeared, replacing the republican designation of citizen. In near-famine conditions, morality rates rose remarkably; police reports spoke of little but popular misery.
The Last Revolutionary Uprising
In the spring of 1795 sans-culottes began to demonstrate in Paris with the slogan “Bread and the Constitution of 1793”.
The Thermidorians viewed the Jacobin Constitution of 1793 as far too democratic and looked for an excuse to scrap it all together. Thirty-six san-culottes were executed, and twelve hundred more were imprisoned for their activism during the Terror.
This event proved to be the last mobilization of the Parisian revolutionary crowd and the final eclipse of the egalitarian movement.
The Directory (1795-1799)
- The Thermidorians drafter a new constitution – the constitution of the year III – proclaimed a general amnesty, and hoped to turn a new page.
- The revolutionary government, which had replaced the fallen constitutional monarchy in 1793, gave way to a constitutional republic, known as the Directory after its five-man executive.
- The Directory wished to command the center of the political spectrum, which one historian has aptly called “the mirage of the moderates.
- In general they refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of organized opposition of any kind. The Political Spectrum
- For all its repressive qualities, however, the Directory regime was democratic enough to allow most shades of the political spectrum some visibility.
- The most important legacy of all was the apathy born of exhaustion or cynicism.
- On the right of the spectrum, ultra royalists hoped to overthrow the republic all together.
- On the left of the spectrum stood the Neo-Jacobins – democrats in their own eyes, anarchists to their opponents.
- They promoted grassroots activism through local political clubs, petition drives, newspapers, and electoral campaigns to keep alive the egalitarian ideals of the year II, such as free public education and progressive taxation.
- At the far end of the spectrum stood a tiny group of radicals whose significance would loom larger in the next century than it did in 1796.
- Their leader was Francis-Noel Babeuf, who had changed his name to Gracchus Babeuf in 1793.
- The Babeuvists viewed the revolutionary government of the year II as a promising stage that had to be followed by a final revolution in the name of the masses.
- The Elusive Center m. After Babeuf’s plot was exposed the Directory joined forces with the right.
- But when the first regular elections in the year V produced a royalist victory, the Directory reversed field.
- Interestingly, at almost the same moment that France’s government was quashing it political rivals, leaders of the American republic were reluctantly coming to accept opposition parties as legitimate.
- In France, however, the Directory would not tolerate organized opposition, and that rigidly contributed to the Republic’s demise.
The Rise of Bonaparte
- Revolutionary change also spread through the entire Italian peninsula, as French commanders in the field began to make their own diplomacy.
- Among them was a young brigadier general, Napoleon Bonaparte.
- After 1789 the young officer returned to Corsica, but his ambitions ran up against more conservative forces on the island.
- He rose steadily and rapidly through the military ranks, based in part on the luck of opportunities but equally on his ability to act decisively.
- While on leave in Paris in 1795, Bonaparte was assigned to the planning bureau of the war ministry.
There he advocated a new strategy: opening a front in Italy to strike at Austrian forces and push into Germany from the South, while French armies on the Rhine pushed as usual from the west.
The Making of a Hero
The end result was a major victory that brought the French into the Habsburg domain of Lombardy and its capital, Milan. h. The general encouraged the Italians to organize their own revolutionary movement; the libertarian of northern Italy, he believed, would solidify support for his army and enhance his own reputation.
The Directory endorsed the Treaty of Campo Formio, in which Bonaparte personally negotiated a peace settlement with Austria in October 1797. In the spring of 1798 Bonaparte launched an expedition to Egypt intended to strike at Britain’s colonial interests, including the approaches to India. k. The British destroyed the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile, thereby marooning a French army in North Africa. l. Bonaparte extricated himself from this mess by slipping off through the British blockade, in effect abandoning his army as he returned to France.
The Brumaire Coup
In June 1799 ill-supplied French forces were driven out of most of Italy and Switzerland. b. Widespread discontent with the Directory led to the defeat of many government-sponsored candidates in the spring elections of 1799.
A General Comes to Power
Although no dire military threat remained to propel the country into the arms of a general, the revisionists wished to establish a more centralized, oligarchic republic, and they needed a general’s support. Once the coup began, he proved to be far more ambitious and energetic than the other conspirators and thrust himself into the most prominent position. Bonaparte addressed the legislature to denounce a mythical Jacobin plot and to demand emergency powers for a new provincial government. Along with two former directors, he was empowered to draft a new constitution; a cooperative rump of the legislature subsequently approved the new arrangements. Thus unfolded the coup of 18 Brumaire year VII. The Napoleonic regime promoted unbounded expansion and endless warfare.
The Napoleonic Settlement in France a. Most French people were so weary politically that they saw in Bonaparte what they wished to see.
As a brilliant propagandist for himself and a man of great personal appeal, he soothed a divided France.
The Napoleonic Style
Authority, not ideology, was his great concern, and he justified his actions by their results. b. Napoleon valued the Revolution’s commitment to equality of opportunity and continued to espouse that liberal premise. Other rights and liberties of 1789 he curtailed or disdained. Ten years of upheaval had produced a grim paradox: The French Revolution had proceeded in the name of liberty, yet successive forms of repression had been mounted to defend it. Tragically, Napoleon drifted away from his own rational ideals. Increasingly absorbed in his personal power, he began to force domestic and foreign policies on France that were geared to his imperial ambitions. Increasingly he concentrated his government on raising men and money for his armies and his back on revolutionary liberties.
Political and Religious Settlement
Bonaparte gave France a constitution, approved in a plebiscite, which placed almost unchecked authority in the hands of a First Consul (himself) for ten years.
Napoleon intended to reassert the authority of the state, the elites, and, in family life, the father. In the absence of electoral policies, Napoleon used the state’s appointive powers to confer status on prominent local individuals, or notables, thus associating them with his regime.
The Civil Code
Napoleon’s most important legacy was a civil code regulating social relations and property rights. e. The civil code swept away feudal property relations and gave legal sanction to modern contractual notions of property. Revolutionary legislation had emancipated women and children by establishing their civil rights. . Napoleon undid most of this by restoring the father’s absolute authority in the family. h. The prefectural system of local government, the Civil Code, the Concordat, the University, the Legion of Honor, and the local bodies of notables all proved to be durable institutions.Whatever their merits of defects, these institutions took root, unlike Napoleon’s attempt to dominate all of Europe.
Napoleonic Hegemony in Europe
After helping to give France a new government, Bonaparte turned to do battle against the second anti-French coalition in northern Italy.
Since Britain was invulnerable to invasion, Napoleon hoped to destroy its influence by means of economic warfare. b. Unable to blockade British ports directly, he could try to close off the continent: keep Britain away from its markets, stop its exports, and thus ruin its trade and credit.
The Continental System
Napoleon therefore launched his “Continental System” to prohibit British trade with all French allies. d. Britain responded in 1807 with the Orders in Council, which in effect reversed the blockade: It required all neutral ships to stop at British ports to procure trading licenses and pay tariffs. Thus, a total naval war between France and Britain enveloped all neutral nations. While the British captured only about forty French ships a year after 1807, they seized almost about three thousand neutral vessels a year, including many from the US. The Continental System did not hurt British trade, and it affected France, but the satellite states, as economic vessels of France, suffered the most. Smuggling was, in fact, the weak link in the system, for it created holes in Napoleon’s wall of economic sanctions that constantly needed plugging.
The Napoleonic Conscription Machine a. State penetration of the countryside under Napoleon achieved its most dramatic impact by creating a veritable conscription machine, which continuously replenished the ranks of the imperial army. The National Convention’s mass levy of August 1793 had drafted all able-bodied unmarried men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five. When the war resumed in 1798, the Directory passed a conscription law that made successive “classes” of young men subject to a military draft should the need arise. The Rules of the Game . In all, about a third of French youths legally avoided military service because they were physically unfit – too short, lame, or deformed or suffering from poor eyesight, chronic diseases, etc. In the draft lottery, youths picked numbers out of a box; marriage could no longer be used as an exception, for obvious reasons. Those with high numbers were spare, while those who drew low numbers filled the local induction quota. Two means of avoiding service remained: The wealthy could purchase a replacement, and the poor could flee. Draft Evasion
For Napoleon’s prefects, conscription levies were always the top priority among their duties, and draft evasion was the number one problem. By 1811 the regime had broken the habit of draft evasion, and conscription was generally becoming accepted as a disagreeable civic obligation, much like taxes. In January 1813, looking ahead, Napoleon replenished his armies by calling up the class of 1814 a year early and by making repeated supplementary calls on earlier classes.
Opposition to Napoleon
By 1808 with every major European power except Britain vanquished on the battlefield Napoleon felt that nothing stood in his way . More generally Napoleons intrusion into Italy Germany Spain and Russia set in motion various responses and movements of resistance. Finally all his opponents coalesced, defeated Napoleon on the battlefield, and drove him from his throne.
The “Spanish Ulcer”
Spain and France shared a common interest in weakening British power in Europe and in the colonial world. But the alliance they formed after making peace with each other in 1795 brought only troubles for Spain including the loss of its Louisiana territory in America and most of its naval fleet. Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy, once a lover of the queen, was a corrupt opportunist and extremely unpopular with the people. As a pretext for military intervention Napoleon set in motion a plan to invade Portugal supposedly to partition it with Spain. e. Napoleon brought the squabbling king and prince to France, where he threatened and bribed one and then the other into abdicating. f. With 100,000 French troops already positioned around Madrid Joseph prepared to assume his new throne, eager to rule under a liberal constitution. Popular Resistance
Faced with military occupation, the disappearance of their royal family, and the crowning of a Frenchman, the Spanish people rose in rebellion. The bloody incident known as the dos de mayo and captured in Goya’s famous paintings, has remained a source of Spanish national pride for it touched off a sustained uprising against the French. They did produce one early victory: a half starved French army was cut off and forced to surrender at Bailin in July 1808. Landing an army in Portugal, the British actually bore the brunt of anti-French military operations in Spain, in what they called the peninsular war.
About 30,000 Spanish guerilla fighters helped wear down the French and forced its occupiers to struggle for survival in hostile country. These pacification tactics only escalated the wars of brutality and further enraged the Spanish people. Together, the juntas, the Spanish regulars, the guerillas, and the British expeditionary force kept a massive French army of up to 300,000 men pinned down in Spain.
The Spanish Liberals
The war, however, proved a disaster for Spanish liberals. Torn between loyalty to Joseph, who would have liked to be a liberal ruler, and nationalist rebels, liberals face a difficult dilemma. The liberals who joined the rebellion organized a Provincial government by reviving the ancient Spanish parliament, or Cortes, in the southern town of Cadiz. The Cortes of Cadiz drafted a liberal constitution in 1812. p. When in 1814 Wellington finally drove the French out of Spain and former Crown Prince Ferdinand VII took the throne, the joy of the Cadiz Liberals quickly evaporated.
Independence in Spanish America
The Creoles, descendants of Spanish settlers who were born in the New World, also profited from an upheaval in Spain.
With Spain unable to defend them, the Creoles organized their own militia and drove off the invaders. s. Gaining confidence from this victory, they pushed aside the Spanish viceroy and his bureaucrats and took power into their on hands, though they still swore allegiance to the Spanish crown. Rebellion spread throughout Spanish America, led above all by Simon Bolivar, revered in the hemisphere as the Liberator. An arduous, protracted war with the Spanish garrisons followed, and by 1816 Spain had regained control of the region.
The Russian Debacle
Napoleon did not yet realize in 1811 that his entanglement in Spain would drain French military power and encourage resistance in at Central Europe. He mistakenly believed that the era of the balance of power among Europe’s states was over and that nationalist sentiments need not constrain his actions. Russia now loomed as the main obstacle to Napoleons imperial reorganization and domination of Europe. Napoleon prepared for his most momentous military campaign. His objective was to annihilate Russia’s army or, at the least, to conquer Moscow and chase the army to the point of the disarray. . At Borodino the Russians finally made a stand and sustained a frightful 45,000 casualties, but the remaining Russian troops managed to withdraw in order. For weeks Napoleon hesitated. Logistically it was imperative that the French begin to retreat immediately, but that would constitute a political defeat. Only on October 19 did Napoleon finally order a retreat, but the order came to too late. Napoleons poor planning, the harsh weather, and the operation of Russian guerilla bands made the long retreat a nightmare of suffering for the Grand Army.
Worse yet, the Prussian contingent took the occasion to desert Napoleon, opening the possibility of mass defections and the formation of a new anti-Napoleonic coalition.
Other European statesmen were ready to capitalize on Napoleon’s defeat in Russia and demolish his empire once and for all. Reform from Above in Prussia b. In Prussia after the defeat at 1806, the government had introduced reforms intended to improve the quality of the bureaucracy by offering non-Nobles more access to high positions and by reducing some of the nobility’s privileges.
These memoirs and recollections from exile formed the basis of the Napoleonic legend, as potent a force historically, perhaps, as the reality of the Napoleonic experience. The Napoleonic legend also evoked a sense of granduer and glory that moved ordinary people in years to come.Napoleon dynamism and energy became his ultimate inspirational legacy to succeeding generations. Napoleons retrospective justifications of his reign may not be convincing, but one can only marvel at the irrepressible audacity of the man.