Why Did the French Revolution End in 1799?

In the last decade before the French Revolution came to an end France was constantly changing its policies, constitutions and leaders. The country was in an utter state of disorder after The Terror and was craving control and consistency within its government. In 1795 another constitution was written, making it the third since 1789. This constitution was founded by the Directory, a new government that was created to replace the outgoing convention after the period of Thermidor.

Although the Directory government attempted to obtain order, it was very unsuccessful and did not satisfy the needs of the people of France. Its inefficiency and conservative nature made it weak and bound for failure from the beginning. It was a rising star named Napoleon Bonaparte that saved the Directory from its right and left wing attackers. Ironically it would later be this same man to dissolve and overthrow the Directory government to create his own empire of military dictatorship. When Napoleon created his consulate he said that “[he had] no desire to continue the see-saw politics that became the norm under the last regime”

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Due to the weakness of France and its government when Napoleon came from Egypt to Paris, he had little difficulty in taking power and came to the scene in France as a saviour to the nation. When Napoleon seized power in 1799 and became the First Consul there was a reactionary change back to the way things had been before the Revolution had started in 1789. With Napoleon overthrowing the Directory, the French Revolution came to an end.

The Napoleonic era was not so reactionary as to be like the absolute tyrannical reign of Louis XVI but was neither like the radical rule of Robespierre and the Jacobins. Napoleon incorporated some of the Revolutionary ideas and reforms into his empire to give the Consulate an illusion of democracy. Although the Coup de Brumaire was the immediate reason for the end of the French Revolution in 1799 there were many other factors such as the poor state of France as a country politically, economically and socially, the incompetence of the Directory and the success of Napoleon on the Battle field as well as in Paris.

By 1799 the people of France had had enough of the Revolution and saw that it was an endless circle of elaborate constitutions and unkept promises. The recent terror had left the French citizens of all classes in a state of fear and pain, searching for peace and a long awaited freedom. The Bourgeois class was running the country and controlling the Revolution whether they were Jacobins or Royalists, leaving the other classes without a say in the governing of the country or achieving their desires and needs.

The urban workers and the sans-culottes had had some success and brief moments of power but in whole they had had no political say and had not achieved their objectives of freedom and prosperity during the Revolution. At the slightest increase in the cost of living the urban worker and sans-culottes would rise up in arm to protect their rights, challenging the government.

The peasantry had suffered the most pain and turmoil of all the classes. They lived in poverty and although some of them had been able to purchase land with the new policies of the government, for the most part they to had not achieved any victories during the Revolution. Most of them had suffered badly from the agricultural crisis and were unsettled by the new landowners. The Directory had lasted so long due to the fact that the French people had given up on their country and any hopes of success they had at the start of the Revolution. The reign of terror imbued Frenchmen with such mutual hatred as only despotism could control

After Thermidor, the corruption and instability of civilian authority led France to give their primary allegiance to Napoleon. He was viewed as a new hope for France and a saviour to all classes. He could give the people a long awaited leadership and help restore order in their lives.

The Directory was a corrupt, self-serving government. For its entire reign it was moribund and bound for failure. When the government began in 1795 it was weak, with dangerous enemies from the left and right wing groups. This new constitution created by the Directory was very similar to the one created in 1791 with the exceptions that it stated that there was to be no monarch and that all adults that were able to read and write the French language were eligible to vote.

By 1799 both of these key elements would be abolished. The Directory was based on universal male suffrage and had a very democratic appearance to it, but as time went on it was not strong enough to deal with Frances problems of war and the runaway inflation. In reality the Directory was an inefficient dictatorship lacking in political integrity.

In 1795 the Directory was already facing attacks from the right. The royalists were not satisfied with the intentions and leadership of the new government. They led a counterrevolutionary threat of force in Paris sending the Directory into a state of panic and fear. In desperate need of aid the government called upon a strong figure, Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon used a grapeshot canon to destroy the Royalists, wanting a constitutional monarch, in what he called the “whiff of grapeshot”. At that point it was Napoleon was had saved the Directory government and had given it four more years of power full of corruption and bankruptcy.

For his accomplishments with the “whiff of grapeshot”, Napoleon received, as gratitude, a promotion to commander of the Army of Interior. Upon seeing this as a threat to their power, the Directory changed the promotion to the French army of Italy were he would fight against Austria. The decisions made by the Directory did not however provide them with protection against Napoleon’s powers. They were increasingly dependants upon Napoleon and the army to give them security and protection against the right and left wing uprisings.

The Directory was also dependant upon Napoleon to provide the French economy with desperately needed support. Throughout the Revolution, until Napoleon started his reign, the state of France could not depend upon regular income tax to help the economy. This was due to the inefficient taxation and the absence of the government to provide assistance to the people of France, or cope with the massive inflation.

The Directory, in its attempt to gain authority of the state in conditions of bankruptcy and continual war, had to resort to getting a loan from individuals, making it dependant upon the contributions imposed on the allied countries. Napoleon assisted the Directory by fuelling the French economy. In his battles and achievements in Italy and other foreign countries he obtained vast amounts of riches, which he sent back to Paris. Napoleon was so successful that the trains returning to France were twice as long as the supply train heading towards the French army. The Directory unable to win over the population with domestic measures, relied more on the success of its foreign policies created by Napoleon.

In April of 1797 the Directory had planned the first free election in France. The Royalists had made very active preparations for their campaign to ensure their control of both chambers. The Directory multiplied its initiatives to organise a counteroffensive, but the elections were a success for the royalists all the same, people voted for a limited monarch. The regicides very alarmed lead to the Coup de Fructidor. They saved their skins by annulling the April election and preventing any royalists from gaining power. The Directory achieved this with assistance from the army and began to govern dictatorially.

With the Directory in constant opposition by the left and right wing groups as well as the sans-culottes, and with the uprising in the Vendee, the Directory was at a loss and did not know what actions to take. They felt that they were becoming dangerously dependant upon the army and Napoleon and would be risking their safety to call upon him again.

The Directory, to avoid being overthrown by Napoleon, placed him in command of the French army during the battles in Egypt. This led to the formation of the Second Coalition against France. In the spring of 1799 when the Austrians won victories in Bavaria and Lombardy, and Russia occupied all of northern Italy, the defeats accelerated the break-up of the Directory. In 1799 the Directory was very unpopular and a number of political leaders in Paris planned to overthrow the Directory government. Among these men were Talleryrand, Fouche and Sieyes. Sieyes, a leader of the Directory, invited Napoleon to be the leader of the new government and set up a system based on “confidence from below, power from above.”

They wanted a strong military figure like Napoleon who could restore the confidence of the people of France into the government. It was the Directory’s failure to get to grips with the Revolution and with the various difficulties that ensued that gave rise to the consulate.

When Napoleon came to Paris from Egypt in 1799 to overthrow the Directory he was already viewed as a hero of France. From the Lodi victory Napoleon was untouchable. Through the Italian Campaign and Battle of the Pyramids he had had immense military glory and crushing defeat of land powers. He was a European General known throughout Europe for his great achievements. Napoleon’s exploits in that first campaign of his career were formidable and rocketed him to fame.

As stated previously Napoleon had control over the Directory. He provided them with security and protection of potential threats. The people of France recognized this and Napoleon gained the reputation for republicanism and his victories brought him favour in the eyes of the people, who viewed him as “the sword [France] needed to struggle against both counter-revolutionary Europe and Jacobinism”

Because of Napoleons popularity, authority and power in France he had few difficulties when overthrowing the Directory. From the start of Napoleon’s political career it was apparent that he had the goal of making himself ruler of France. When fighting in foreign countries Napoleon created his own policies and paid no attention to the laws created by the Directory. An example of this Campo Formio, a foreign policy Napoleon established between France and Italy without the Directory’s consent. He would move into foreign cities or villages demanding tribute and large sums of money as well as creating his own states and expanding France’s boarders with his victories. When Napoleon took over the demoralized army he used the riches he gained to enable him to pay the soldiers and earn their respect, as well as support the French economy.

In 1797 when Napoleon returned to France from Italy he was given the command of the army for the invasion of Britain. Napoleon said that this invasion would be premature and that France would have greater success if it attacked Britain through its interests in the middle east. Although the Egyptian Campaign was a failure for Napoleon it did not affect his authority. When Sieyes and Napoleon’s brother Lucien told him of the weakness of the decaying Directory he abandoned his army and returned to Paris. Napoleon’s first attempt to overthrow the Directory was not as efficient as he had hoped. He was mocked, ridiculed and forced to leave the chamber.

But by convincing the soldiers (hired by the Directory to serve as protection) that the Directory should be abolished and promising them national security, he was able to enter into the chamber again with military force and easily dissolve the Directory. The Directory was overthrown in favour of Napoleon’s consulate, a predictable coup d’etat. This coup d’etat is known as the Coup de Brumaire of 1799 and is where the Revolution came to an end and sixteen years of military dictatorship began, with Napoleon as ruler. On December 15, 1799 Napoleon addressed the people of Paris by saying, “Citizens, the Revolution is fixed in the principles that had started it. It is over.”

A new era with a reactionary change was getting underway after a stormy decade of Revolution. France was to recover the stability and the security that it wanted. With the creation of the Consulate a strong military dictatorship was put in place of the weak dictatorship of the Directory. Many people not realizing the power and dedication of Napoleon, said that the overthrow of the Directory was but another day in the life of the French Revolution.

The Consulate with Napoleon as first consul was an illusion of democracy, conveying the message of liberty, fraternity and equality, but never putting it into action. The truth was that absolute power lay in Napoleon’s lap and he knew that if he satisfied the peoples’ needs they would allow him more power. This was very true and Napoleon said , “What is the point of elections if the people have elected [me] consulate for life?”.

A constitution was again created, but this time it was used only to convey the image of democracy. It contained no declaration of rights, no guarantees, and was clearly distinguished from the previous ones by its omissions. The Consulate government did not require a constitution. Napoleon, as first consul, had initiative with respect to laws, the budget, executive power, command of the military and any other matters concerning France.

The Consulate although a military dictatorship, did achieve some reforms. Napoleon reformed the country’s finances, taxation system and legal structure as well as arranging a successful if temporary peace with the church and restoring universal male suffrage. Napoleon did not question the achievements of the previous regimes where centralization administration was concerned, so long as they conformed with his own desires. A main concern of Napoleon’s was territorial expansionism.

He extended French influence to cover nearly the entire Italian peninsula, the Rhine land, Holland and Switzerland by using the strength of the untouchable French army. Although France had once again taken on a despot, Napoleon was an enlightened one. The people did not fear that his dictatorship would represent a danger to their personal rights and freedom nor did they feel threatened by his absolute power over them. Napoleon was a power hungry despot that worked hard to heal the wounds of a decade of revolution and succeeded where the revolutionary governments had failed. He paved the way for a flourishing economy and solved the economic crisis as well as the currency crisis. Under Napoleon’s reign all classes benefited in some way and the seeds of social change spread throughout Europe.

Society in France in 1799, when the revolution came to an end, had thoroughly changed since the rule of Louis XVI, prior to 1789. The orders had disappeared, and the separations that had been established among citizens had been abolished, although money became a new dividing restriction among the classes.

When Napoleon seized power he found France in chaos. The Directory had been very unsuccessful in providing France with an adequate form of government and leadership. Under the constitution of 1795, the Directory tried to hold the Republic on a middle ground between equalitarian revolution and aristocratic-clerical-royalist reaction.

With the constant attacks from the left and right wing groups the Directory was dependant upon Napoleon and the army putting itself in a vulnerable position to be overthrown. The Coup de Brumaire was achieved by Napoleon with ease and was a symbol of the Directory’s failure to get to grips with the Revolution and that the French Revolution had come to an end. Napoleon, not wanting to be bogged down with democratic values, in which he would risk ending up like his predecessors, began his reign of an efficient military dictatorship. The Consulate, with Napoleon as first consul, was a reactionary change that gave an appearance of democracy.

It preserved the main goals of the Constituent Assembly of 1789-1791 and was based on the power of the army. The principal reason that the French Revolution came to an end in 1799 was because of the rise of Napoleon. He was able overthrow the government and abolish the Revolution since France was paralysed by the Directory government and preceding governments, with their inability to provide France with a adequate leadership and support. Napoleon was the answer to France’s the cry of help. He stabilized the country and enforced order France had long been without.

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Why Did the French Revolution End in 1799?. (2017, Jul 22). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/french-revolution-end-1799-248/