CHAPTER XII. FROM THE INSTALLATION OF THE DIRECTORY, ON THE 27TH OCTOBER, 1795, TO THE COUP-D'ETAT OF THE 18TH FRUCTIDOR, YEAR V. (3RD AUGUST, 1797)
The French revolution, which had destroyed the old government, and thoroughly overturned the old society, had two wholly distinct objects; that of a free constitution, and that of a more perfect state of civilization. The six years we have just gone over were the search for government by each of the classes which composed the French nation. The privileged classes wished to establish their regime against the court and the bourgeoisie, by preserving the social orders and the states-general; the bourgeoisie sought to establish its regime against the privileged classes and the multitude, by the constitution of 1791; and the multitude wished to establish its regime against all the others, by the constitution of 1793. Not one of these governments could become consolidated, because they were all exclusive. But during their attempts, each class, in power for a time, destroyed of the higher classes all that was intolerant or calculated to oppose the progress of the new civilization.
When the directory succeeded the convention, the struggle between the classes was greatly weakened. The higher ranks of each formed a party which still contended for the possession and for the form of government; but the mass of the nation which had been so profoundly agitated from 1789 to 1795, longed to become settled again, and to arrange itself according to the new order of things. This period witnessed the end of the movement for liberty, and the beginning of the movement towards civilization. The revolution now took its second character, its character of order, foundation, repose, after the agitation, the immense toil, and system of complete demolition of its early years.
This second period was remarkable, inasmuch as it seemed a kind of abandonment of liberty. The different parties being no longer able to possess it in an exclusive and durable manner, became discouraged, and fell back from public into private life. This second period divided itself into two epochs: it was liberal under the directory and at the commencement of the Consulate, and military at the close of the Consulate and under the empire. The revolution daily grew more materialized; after having made a nation of sectaries, it made a nation of working men, and then it made a nation of soldiers.
Many illusions were already destroyed; men had passed through so many different states, had lived so much in so few years, that all ideas were confounded and all creeds shaken. The reign of the middle class and that of the multitude had passed away like a rapid phantasmagoria. They were far from that France of the 14th of July, with its deep conviction, its high morality, its assembly exercising the all-powerful sway of liberty and of reason, its popular magistracies, its citizen-guard, its brilliant, peaceable, and animated exterior, wearing the impress of order and independence. They were far from the more sombre and more tempestuous France of the 10th of August, when a single class held the government and society, and had introduced therein its language, manners, and costume, the agitation of its fears, the fanaticism of its ideas, the distrust of its position. Then private life entirely gave place to public life; the republic presented, in turn, the aspect of an assembly and of a camp; the rich were subject to the poor; the creed of democracy combined with the gloomy and ragged administration of the people. At each of these periods men had been strongly attached to some idea: first, to liberty and constitutional monarchy; afterwards, to equality, fraternity, and the republic. But at the beginning of the directory, there was belief in nothing; in the great shipwreck of parties, all had been lost, both the virtue of the bourgeoisie and the virtue of the people.
Men arose from this furious turmoil weakened and wounded, and each, remembering his political existence with terror, plunged wildly into the pleasures and relations of private life which had so long been suspended. Balls, banquets, debauchery, splendid carriages, became more fashionable than ever; this was the reaction of the ancient regime. The reign of the sans-culottes brought back the dominion of the rich; the clubs, the return of the salons. For the rest, it was scarcely possible but that the first symptom of the resumption of modern civilization should be thus irregular. The directorial manners were the product of another society, which had to appear again before the new state of society could regulate its relations, and constitute its own manners. In this transition, luxury would give rise to labour, stock-jobbing to commerce; salons bring parties together who could not approximate except in private life; in a word, civilization would again usher in liberty.
The situation of the republic was discouraging at the installation of the directory. There existed no element of order or administration. There was no money in the public treasury; couriers were often delayed for want of the small sum necessary to enable them to set out. In the interior, anarchy and uneasiness were general; paper currency, in the last stage of discredit, destroyed confidence and commerce; the dearth became protracted, every one refusing to part with his commodities, for it amounted to giving them away; the arsenals were exhausted or almost empty. Without, the armies were destitute of baggage-wagons, horses, and supplies; the soldiers were in want of clothes, and the generals were often unable to liquidate their pay of eight francs a month in specie, an indispensable supplement, small as it was, to their pay in assignats; and lastly, the troops, discontented and undisciplined, on account of their necessities, were again beaten, and on the defensive.