Coup of 18 Brumaire

Nation: France


Date: November 9, 1799
France Coup of 18 Brumaire Coup Cover
I. Terror Crumbles
II. Napoleon Returns to France
III. Forced Council Departures and Director Resignations
IV. Napoleon Ends the Revolution
I. Terror Crumbles
Since the 22d Floreal the Directory had encountered on all sides only hatred or contempt. For the disorders in administration and in finances inherited from its predecessors, public opinion made it responsible, as well as for the shamefully sudden breaking up of the daughter republics. The supplementary elections in May 1799 were a unanimous sentence of condemnation of the government; the opposition in the legislative body had a majority by union of Jacobins and Constitutionalists, and the time had arrived for avenging itself on the government by which it had been twice forcibly repressed.

The first breach in the government was effected by choosing in place of Rewbell, who retired, Sieves, who had just returned from Berlin, and was a known opponent of the constitution of the year III. (1795). Then in concert with him, and by the special aid of Lucien Bonaparte, one of the leaders of the constitutional opposition, the three directors Treilhard, Merlin, and Larevelliere-Lepeaux, Avere on the 30th Prairial (June 18) compelled to retire. It was the counterstroke to the 18th Fructidor, the coup d'etat of the legislative body against the Directory. Sieyes perceived true safety to consist in the discovery of the right form of constitution, and in order to achieve this had desired Talleyrand for a colleague. However, the council's distrust gave him as associates three inconsiderable men, Gohier, Moulins, and Roger-Ducos. Little as Sieyes and his friends wished to break with their associates of the 30th Prairial, they could not venture to tolerate the relapse attempted by the Jacobins to the old disorders of the Reign of Terror. By the help of Fouche, appointed minister of police, the press organs of the Jacobins were put down and their club closed.

Flathe, T. (1905). The Directory: From the Campo-Formio to the 18th Brumaire. In The French revolution and the rise of Napoleon (J. H. Wright, Trans.) (pp. 250-251). Philadelphia, New York: Lea Bros. & Co.
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II. Napoleon Returns to France
Sieyes needed a man of action. Finding Bernadotte inaccessible, he cast his eyes upon Joubert; but Joubert fell at Novi; Moreau, whom he now approached, was too timid. Then Talleyrand presented the name of his friend Bonaparte. The recalling of the Egyptian army and its general was determined upon. Admiral Brueix, who was lying before Savona, was directed to unite the Spanish fleet with his own, defeat the English, and then bring home the army that had been severed from France. But the dispatch which recalled Bonaparte found him already on French soil.

On the news of his arrival, a mountain, as it were, was lifted from all hearts; wherever he came he was feted as the expected deliverer. Scarcely had he arrived in Paris, when he was master of the situation. No one thought of calling him to account because he had abandoned his army. No one saw in his unsuccessful expedition anything except its daring character. To him who hitherto had not compromised himself by fellowship with any party whatever, flocked men of all parties, warriors, and politicians. The most important advantage for him was, however, that he found a conspiracy already prepared and long since organized, which still lacked only the man of action. Yet there were obstacles to be overcome. The Jacobins, whom he first approached, would hear nothing of a dictatorship, and Fouche's attempt to bring him into unison with his friend Barras failed. Now first Bonaparte turned to Sieyes. On October 30 the agreement between the two came to a conclusion. The chief thing was to make sure of the troops. It was not difficult for Bonaparte's companions in arms to work upon the soldiers, who cared nothing for the republic, but much for this favorite of the goddess of fortune. Bonaparte undertook personally, with the assistance of his wife, to lull to sleep the suspicions of the two directors Gohier and Moulins.

Flathe, T. (1905). The Directory: From the Campo-Formio to the 18th Brumaire. In The French revolution and the rise of Napoleon (J. H. Wright, Trans.) (p. 251). Philadelphia, New York: Lea Bros. & Co.
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III. Forced Council Departures and Director Resignations
On the morning of the 18th Brumaire (November 9, 1799), two of those privy to the plot opened the session of the Council of Ancients with a moving representation of the dangers that menaced the republic. As care had been taken not to invite those members from whom opposition was apprehended, three decrees, previously prepared by the conspirators, were adopted without delay. The first exercised the power by the constitution pertaining to the Council of Ancients, of removing (avowedly for protection against a Jacobin conspiracy) the legislative body to St.-Cloud; the second, to secure the execution of this decree, committed the supreme command of the entire military force to General Bonaparte; the third contained a summons to the population to maintain a peaceable attitude.

Meanwhile, under pretence of a review, Bonaparte had assembled a great number of superior and staff officers before his dwelling in the Rue de la Victoire. One of the generals who had little knowledge of the movement, Lefebvre, the commandant of Paris, suffered himself to be easily won over. Bonaparte read the decree to those assembled, and to his question, "could he count upon them?, an enthusiastic assent replied. At the head of a splendid suite he repaired to the Council of Ancients, in order to take the required oath. It was immediately observed that he swore only to maintain true freedom and not to the constitution of the year III., yet the president cut off discussion. On the same pretence Lucien Bonaparte, as president of the Five Hundred, anticipated all questions. The troops drawn up for review received the general with enthusiasm. As soon as the success of the enterprise was decided, Fouche and Augereau hastened to give their assent. Bernadotte, on the contrary, although the brother-in-law of Joseph Bonaparte, remained immovable.

Moreau was charged with the most disagreeable post. It devolved on him to keep watch at the Luxembourg over the directors, Gohier and Moulins, who refused to resign. From the timid Barras his resignation was wrested by Talleyrand without difficulty. Sieyes and Ducos had already resigned, according to previous agreement; thus there was no longer any government in existence, a puff of wind had carried it away. So sure did Bonaparte feel of the result that he rejected the suggestion made by Sieyes of arresting the most dangerous members of the two councils. Behind the despised constitution there stood neither a people capable of self-government, nor an harmonious and resolute party. But in earnest opposition to a political body, which was undergoing decomposition, there stood as the only organized power a proud army, through which was poured forth the entire national energy of France.

Flathe, T. (1905). The Directory: From the Campo-Formio to the 18th Brumaire. In The French revolution and the rise of Napoleon (J. H. Wright, Trans.) (pp. 251-252). Philadelphia, New York: Lea Bros. & Co.
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IV. Napoleon Ends the Revolution
On the following day (19th Brumaire) it was not until two o'clock that the sessions of the two councils could be opened at St. Cloud. The great majority of the Council of Five Hundred, who were sincerely republican in sentiment, adopted with enthusiasm a resolution to renew their oaths to support the constitution. The time-wasting ceremony in connection with the calling of the roll only gave the conspirators time for completing these preparations. When Napoleon Bonaparte at four o'clock appeared in the Council of Ancients, he was in great agitation. He saw that all would not pass off so smoothly as on the day preceding. Being required to disclose the plot by which, as pretended, the republic was menaced, he spoke confusedly and disconnectedly, and when one of the council demanded of him to swear to the constitution, Bonaparte overwhelmed him with cutting reproaches in regard to the numberless violations by which this constitution had been rent in pieces. In the Five Hundred, the sight of the grenadiers that accompanied him raised a storm of indignation. The most courageous rushed upon him, thrust him back, heaped invectives upon him, "Away! Outlaw the dictator!". He was seized by the throat and violently shaken. Pale, half-fainting, his grenadiers brought him out of the hall. In vain did Lucien seek to appease the storm. Lucien, who had caused his brother to be brought out by soldiers, harangued the grenadiers, who hesitated to lay hands on the representatives of the people. At a charging step, with beat of drum, Murat led them against the assembly; in a few moments the hall was cleared.

At a late hour in the evening some twenty of the Five Hundred came together under Lucien's presidency, and expressed to the commanding general and his officers the thanks of the country. Furthermore they decreed the erection of a provisional consulate, consisting of Bonaparte, Sieyes, and Roger-Ducos, the adjournment of the legislative body to the 1st Ventose (February 20), and the expulsion from it of fifty-seven members. A few days later, a decree of the consuls sentenced thirty-seven persons to be deported to Cayenne, and twenty-two, including Jourdan, to be banished to the island of Re. With regard to others, it was considered sufficient to place them under police supervision.

The first and most decided step toward the restoration of monarchical power was made. The rule of a petty minority, which for six years had held down the struggling people under a harsh and unworthy yoke, was at an end.

Flathe, T. (1905). The Directory: From the Campo-Formio to the 18th Brumaire. In The French revolution and the rise of Napoleon (J. H. Wright, Trans.) (pp. 252-253). Philadelphia, New York: Lea Bros. & Co.
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