Bonaparte and the consulate
Napoleon Bonaparte as the supreme military genius of modern history is familiar to all of us. There are few who have not some definite idea of his great battles, of the Generals, second only to himself, who surrounded him; few who have not formed in their minds some conception of the fields of Marengo, of Austerlitz, of Wagram, or of Waterloo.
The undying interest in Napoleon's campaigns has of late years been well illustrated by the success of such Memoirs as those of Marbot and Thibault. Marbot, indeed, has become as delightful a friend as D'Artagnan or Rob Roy; while Thiébault, less attractive in himself, has taught us a hundred details of the military history of Europe during the great wars
But when we come to Bonaparte as a civilian, a statesman, a philosopher, I imagine that most of us would find our knowledge confined to a few facts, such as that he destroyed the parliamentary system, restored the Church in France, had some connection with the Code Napoleon, proclaimed himself emperor, subjected France and Europe to a stern, unbending tyranny, shot a bookseller, was overthrown by outraged Europe with England at its head; and finally, as we are told by Master George Osborne, ended his life miserably " on a desert island, that of St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean."
Everyone who has seriously studied the life of Napoleon Bonaparte will, I think, agree with me in dividing his career into three very distinct periods. Putting aside his boyhood and early youth, the first period would extend from the 13 Vendémiaire (October 1795) to July 1807; covering the Italian campaigns, the Consulate, the earlier days of the Empire, and closing with the victories of Austerlitz, Jena, Eylau.
Within this period Bonaparte's genius reached its culminating point, both military and civil; while France, reorganised and victorious under his guidance, rose to unquestioned supremacy over the Continent of Europe.
The second period, the period when Napoleon's mind and character were hardenings, becoming each year more arbitrary, more despotic, more driven by wild ambitions and desperate resolves, while France was failing in hope and energy, extends from the Peace of Tilsit, July 1807, to the final fall of the Empire in June 1815.
The third period, St. Helena, was the period of disease, hopelessness, and death. It would have been, I think, more just to the memory of Napoleon himself, and more in the interest of history had the Memorial of St. Helena and all the other contemporary records of the petty jealousies and sordid squabbles which took place there, been left unwritten or promptly burnt. For my own part, in editing these Memoirs of the Consulate, I have resolutely resisted every temptation to compare notes with Napoleon's words at St. Helena.
The contrast between the distorted memories of a prematurely dying man and the sound and virile utterances of the First Consul in the prime of all his powers is one which I cannot bring myself to draw. Perhaps 1 could not better introduce these Memoirs to the English reader than by recalling the saying of a friend: " If I were marooned on a desert island, and allowed only one class of books, I should choose a box of French Memoirs."
With this sentiment, I most cordially agree, with this proviso, that my box of Memoirs should relate to the Revolution, the Consulate, and the Empire. From this box, which would be a large one, there are few books that I should draw upon with more frequency than the Memoirs of Thibaudeau. For all that concerns the civil genius of Bonaparte in his best period, I know of no book so useful and so interesting.
It gives us the most exact and fullest reports extant of the words used by Bonaparte as First Consul, during the debates in the Council of State, and in familiar conversations. These reports form, of course, the main interest of the book, but in addition, it throws more light than is to be found elsewhere upon Bonaparte's methods in working out his vast schemes for the regeneration of France, and upon the relations which existed between him and the " Men of the Revolution " with whom he worked. To understand either the position of the First Consul or of his adherents, it is absolutely necessary to have in one's mind at least an outline of the period which preceded the Consulate, a period perhaps less studied and less understood than any other epoch in the history of the Revolution.
The Constitution of the year III. was drawn up by a Committee of Eleven Members of the Convention, of whom Thibaudeau was one, and was passed in August 1795. It was both an able and an honest attempt to satisfy the longing of the nation to close the Revolution by the establishment of the Constitutional Republic which should secure to it the benefits it had derived from the Revolution, above all the perpetual possession of the National Domains (the lands of the Crown, the Clergy, and the Emigres), and should, at the same time, put an end to the tyranny of revolutionary laws and tribunals, howling mobs, the guillotine, and the Representatives on Missions of cruelty and plunder.
Notwithstanding this vote, Thibaudeau showed his independence by absolutely refusing to join the Jacobin Club, on the ground that it was derogatory to the dignity of a legislator to account for his opinions or to receive his instructions from a society which, without any legal status in the country, had set itself up as a rival to the National Convention.
To this refusal, which set him apart from the other members of the left, he attributes the dangers which he incurred during the Terror when he was in daily peril and was compelled to remain silent while all the members of his family, his father, his father-in-law, his brothers, and most of his other relatives were imprisoned and in daily peril of their lives.
Not until after the Thermidor, did he venture to address the Convention, but he soon found himself becoming famous as a speaker, and by the end of the Convention was looked upon as one of the most important leaders of the Moderate Party, as opposed to the Thermidorians on the one side and the Jacobins on the other. After the insurrection of the 13 Vendémiaire, when the Thermidorians rejoined their former allies, he played a part of great importance in successfully opposing the scheme of Barras, Tallien, and the other Thermi- Dorians to postpone the dissolution of the Convention and to return to a state of things closely resembling a renewal of the Terror. Consequently, he was elected to the Corps Législatif by thirty-two Departments. Sitting in the Council of Five Hundred he found himself in a difficult position.
His sympathies and convictions lay entirely with the members of the Right, whose real aim was to abolish the whole system of the revolutionary government and to substitute for it the Constitutional Republic. But the fear of a possible restoration of the Bourbons exercised, as I have already said, so powerful an influence over the minds of the "Regicides" that Thibaudeau and many others found it impossible to act in common with leaders such as Lanjuinais, Boissy d'Anglas, and others who were violently (but, as it seems to me, quite untruly) accused of the crime of Royalism.
There can be no doubt that the position of Thibaudeau and his party had a paralysing effect upon the two Councils, and was one of the principal causes of their abject failure to defend themselves on the Fructidor (4th September 1797). Thibaudeau's name was included in the list of those condemned to transportation by the first draft of the " Law of the 19 Fructidor," but he was saved by the intervention of Boulay, who as spokesman of the Directory was at the moment all-powerful. After a futile attempt to return to his seat in the Council, Thibaudeau abandoned public life and was fast acquiring a Parisian reputation as an Avocat, when the 18 Brumaire again brought him to the front.
On the 27th of February 1800, he was appointed Prefect of the Gironde, but after remaining at Bordeaux for six months, he was recalled to Paris (22nd September 1800), to sit as a member of the Legislative Committee in the Council of State. He was responsible for at least one title of the Civil Code, that on the État civil
; and he enjoyed, at any rate during his earlier days as Councillor, the intimacy and esteem of the First Consul, although he voted in opposition to nearly all his schemes, — the Legion of Honour, the Concordat, the Consulate for life. " Get rid of your dreams, my friend," was the not unkindly advice of Bonaparte on one occasion.
After the promise of promotion to one of the high Departments of State (page 304), it was no sight shock to Thibaudeau to find himself, without warning, on the 30th May 1803 nominated to the Prefecture of the Bouches-du-Rhone. Marseilles was one of the most important cities of France, both on account of its commerce, its turbulent population, and its opposition to the Empire; but to fall from the Council of State to a provincial appointment could not have been agreeable or flattering to Thibaudeau's self-esteem.
However, he seems to have taken his disappointment in good part, and to have remained on terms of mutual esteem with the First Consul and Emperor. He has created a Commander of the Legion of Honour in 1804, and a Count in 1808. During the remaining years of the Empire, he may have found it necessary to use this title, but apparently, he abandoned it after 1815; certainly, he does not adorn the title page of any of his works by its use.
He remained at his post at Marseilles until the news reached him of Napoleon's abdication in April 18 14, when he at once placed his resignation in the hands of Admiral Gantheaume, Napoleon's Commissioner for the Mediterranean ports, and returned to Paris, where he remained in obscurity until the return of the Emperor from Elba when he was again appointed a member of the Council of State, and shortly afterwards raised to Napoleon's House of Peers. From the first, Thibaudeau took a gloomy view of the Emperor's prospects and strongly advised him to assume the position of a Military Dictator, leaving all questions of constitutional government to be decided after the campaign which was about to open.
On the 28th June, when the Government of the Hundred Days was preparing, with what face it could, to receive the King, Thibaudeau had the courage to say in the House of Peers: " We are the representatives of a Nation which has pronounced the expulsion of the Royal Government. For my own part, I shall respect my mandate. I will never consent to betray my duties and my conscience. By what authority arc are we here?
By that of the very Constitution which rejects the Bourbons. If it is the Bourbons whom you are about to impose upon the country, I swear that, for my part, I will never recognise them as the rulers of France." After so outspoken a declaration it is not surprising to find that Thibaudeau was included in the Royal Ordinance of the 24th July, drawn up by Fouchc, a fortnight after Louis XVIII.'s return, condemning thirty-eight persons to banishment from Paris, and ordering them to remain under police supervision until the Chambers should decide upon their lot. He was again condemned, by the Law of the 1 6th January 1816, to exclusion from the kingdom as one of those Regicides who accepted office under Napoleon during the Hundred Days.
Thibaudeau, however, awaited neither sentence. Armed with a passport from Fouche, he left Paris on the 7th July 181 5, the day before Louis made his entry into the city, and retired to Switzerland.
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