CHAPTER XIV. FROM THE 18TH BRUMAIRE (9TH OF NOVEMBER, 1799) TO THE 2ND OF DECEMBER, 1804

The 18th Brumaire had immense popularity. People did not perceive in this event the elevation of a single man above the councils of the nation; they did not see in it the end of the great movement of the 14th of July, which had commenced the national existence.

The 18th Brumaire assumed an aspect of hope and restoration. Although the nation was much exhausted, and little capable of supporting a sovereignty oppressive to it, and which had even become the object of its ridicule, since the lower class had exercised it, yet it considered despotism so improbable, that no one seemed to it to be in a condition to reduce it to a state of subjection. All felt the need of being restored by a skilful hand, and Bonaparte, as a great man and a victorious general, seemed suited for the task.

On this account almost every one, except the directorial republicans, declared in favour of the events of that day. Violation of the laws and coups-d'etat had occurred so frequently during the revolution, that people had become accustomed no longer to judge them by their legality, but by their consequences. From the party of Sieyes down to the royalists of 1788, every one congratulated himself on the 18th Brumaire, and attributed to himself the future political advantages of this change. The moderate constitutionalists believed that definitive liberty would be established; the royalists fed themselves with hope by inappropriately comparing this epoch of our revolution with the epoch of 1660 in the English revolution, with the hope that Bonaparte was assuming the part of Monk, and that he would soon restore the monarchy of the Bourbons; the mass, possessing little intelligence, and desirous of repose, relied on the return of order under a powerful protector; the proscribed classes and ambitious men expected from him their amnesty or elevation. During the three months which followed the 18th Brumaire, approbation and expectation were general. A provisional government had been appointed, composed of three consuls, Bonaparte, Sieyes, and Roger Ducos, with two legislative commissioners, entrusted to prepare the constitution and a definitive order of things.

The consuls and the two commissioners were installed on the 21st Brumaire. This provisional government abolished the law respecting hostages and compulsory loans; it permitted the return of the priests proscribed since the 18th Fructidor; it released from prison and sent out of the republic the emigrants who had been shipwrecked on the coast of Calais, and who for four years were captives in France, and were exposed to the heavy punishment of the emigrant army. All these measures were very favourably received. But public opinion revolted at a proscription put in force against the extreme republicans. Thirty-six of them were sentenced to transportation to Guiana, and twenty-one were put under surveillance in the department of Charante-Inferieure, merely by a decree of the consuls on the report of Fouche, minister of police. The public viewed unfavourably all who attacked the government; but at the same time it exclaimed against an act so arbitrary and unjust. The consuls, accordingly, recoiled before their own act; they first commuted transportation into surveillance, and soon withdrew surveillance itself.

It was not long before a rupture broke out between the authors of the 18th Brumaire. During their provisional authority, it did not create much noise, because it took place in the legislative commissions. The new constitution was the cause of it. Sieyes and Bonaparte could not agree on this subject: the former wished to institute France, the latter to govern it as a master.

The constitution of Sieyes, which was distorted in the consular constitution of the year VIII., deserves to be known, were it only in the light of a legislative curiosity. Sieyes distributed France into three political divisions; the commune, the province or department, and the State. Each had its own powers of administration and judicature, arranged in hierarchical order: the first, the municipalities and tribunaux de paixand de premiere instance; the second, the popular prefectures and courts of appeal; the third, the central government and the court of cassation. To fill the functions of the commune, the department, and the State, there were three budgets of notability, the members of which were only candidates nominated by the people.

The executive power was vested in the proclamateur-electeur, a superior functionary, perpetual, without responsibility, deputed to represent the nation without, and to form the government in a deliberating state-council and a responsible ministry. The proclamateur-electeur selected from the lists of candidates, judges, from the tribunals of peace to the court of cassation; administrators, from the mayors to the ministers. But he was incapable of governing himself; power was directed by the state council, exercised by the ministry.