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The Directory (in French Directoire) held executive power in France from October 1795 until November 1799 - from the end of the Convention to the beginning of the Consulate. Five Directors shared power. In the history of France, this period constitutes the last stage of the French Revolution and precedes the coming of the Consulate, then the First Empire.
Constitution of Year III
In its final shape, the constitution of the Directory period centred on a parliamentary system of two houses: a Council of Five Hundred and a Council of Ancients, 250 in number. Members of the Five Hundred needed to have reached at least thirty years of age, members of the Ancients at least forty. The system of indirect election of the Convention period continued, but the constitution abandoned universal suffrage. Electors needed a moderate qualification in the first degree, a higher one in the second degree.
After the election of 750 persons, they had the duty of choosing the Ancients from their own number. A legislature had a period of three years, with one-third of the members renewed every year. The Ancients held a suspensory veto, but no initiative in legislation.
The constitution specified the executive as consisting of five directors, chosen by the Ancients out of a list elected by the Five Hundred. One director faced retirement each year. Ministers for the various departments of State aided the directors. These ministers did not form a council and had no general powers of government.
The system made provision for the stringent control of all local authorities by the central government. Since the separation of powers still appeared axiomatic, the directors had no voice in legislation or taxation, nor could directors or ministers sit in either house. The law guaranteed freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom of labour, but forbade armed assemblies and even public meetings of political societies. Only individuals or public authorities could tender petitions.
From the beginning, however, circumstances restricted the free play of the constitution. The Convention had acquired so much unpopularity that, if its members had retired into private life, they would have courted danger and risked the undoing of their work. Therefore a decree required that two-thirds of the first legislature must come from among the members of the Convention.
When the constitution went before the primary assemblies, most electors held aloof, 1,050,000 voting for and only 5,000 voting against it. On 23 September it officially became law. Then all the parties which resented the limit upon freedom of election combined to rise in Paris. The government entrusted its defense to Barras; but its true man of action was the young General Napoleon Bonaparte, who could dispose of a few thousand regular troops and of a powerful artillery. On 13 Vendémiaire (5 October 1795) the ill-equipped and ill-led Parisians saw their insurrection quelled almost without loss to the victors. Further resistance seemed impossible. The Convention dissolved itself on 26 October 1795.
The feeling of the nation showed clearly in the elections. Among those who had sat in the Convention the anti-Jacobins generally prevailed. Leaders of the old Right sometimes won the mandate of many départements at once. Owing to this circumstance, 104 places reserved to the new members of the Convention remained unfilled. When the persons elected met, they had no choice but to co-opt the 104 from the Left of the Convention. The new one-third appeared, as a rule, as enemies of the Jacobins, but not of the Revolution. Many had served as members of the Constituent or of the Legislative Assembly. When the new legislature was complete, the Jacobins had a majority, although a weak one.
After the selection of the Council of the Ancients by lot, it remained to name the directors. For its own security the Left resolved that all five must be old members of the Convention and regicides. The Ancients chose Rewbell, Barras, La Révellière Lépeaux, Carnot and Letourneur .
Rewbell was an able, although unscrupulous, man of action; Barras a dissolute and shameless adventurer; La Révellière Lépeaux the chief of a new sect, the Theophilanthropists , and therefore a bitter foe to other religions, especially the Catholic. Severe integrity and memorable public services raised Carnot far above his colleagues, but he was not a statesman and was hampered by his past. Letourneur, a harmless insignificant person, admired and followed Carnot.
The division in the legislature was reproduced in the Directory. Rewbell, Barras and La Révellière Lépeaux had a full measure of the Jacobin spirit; Carnot and Letourneur favoured a more temperate policy.
Character of the Directory Period
With the establishment of the Directory, the Revolution might seem closed. The nation only desired rest and the healing of its many wounds. Those who wished to restore Louis XVIII of France and the ancien régime and those who would have renewed the Reign of Terror were insignificant in number. The possibility of foreign interference had vanished with the failure of the First Coalition. Nevertheless, the four years of the Directory were a time of arbitrary government and chronic disquiet. The late atrocities had made confidence or goodwill between parties impossible. The same instinct of self-preservation which had led the members of the Convention to claim so large a part in the new legislature and the whole of the Directory impelled them to keep their predominance.
As the majority of Frenchmen wanted to be rid of them, they could achieve their purpose only by extraordinary means. They habitually disregarded the terms of the constitution, and, when the elections went against them, appealed to the sword. They resolved to prolong the war as the best expedient for prolonging their power. They were thus driven to rely upon the armies, which also desired war and were becoming less and less civic in temper.
Other reasons influenced them in this direction. The finances had been so thoroughly ruined that the government could not have met its expenses without the plunder and the tribute of foreign countries. If peace were made, the armies would return home and the directors would have to face the exasperation of the rank-and-file who had lost their livelihood, as well as the ambition of generals who could, in a moment, brush them aside. Barras and Rewbell were notoriously corrupt themselves and screened corruption in others. The patronage of the directors was ill-bestowed, and the general maladministration heightened their unpopularity.
The constitutional party in the legislature desired a toleration of the nonjuring clergy , the repeal of the laws against the relatives of the émigrés , and some merciful discrimination toward the émigrés themselves. The directors baffled all such endeavours. On the other hand, the socialist conspiracy of Babeuf was easily quelled. Little was done to improve the finances, and the assignats continued to fall in value.
But the Directory was sustained by the military successes of the year 1796. Hoche again pacified La Vendée (See Revolt in the Vendée). Bonaparte's victories in Italy more than compensated for the reverses of Jourdan and Moreau in Germany. The king of Sardinia made peace in May 1796, ceding Nice and Savoy to the French Republic and consenting to receive French garrisons in his Piedmontese fortresses. By the treaty of San Ildefonso, concluded in August, Spain became the ally of France. In October 1796 Naples made peace.
In 1797 Bonaparte finished the conquest of northern Italy and forced Austria to make the treaty of Campo Formio (October), whereby the emperor ceded Lombardy and the Austrian Netherlands to the French Republic in exchange for Venice and undertook to urge upon the Diet the surrender of the lands beyond the Rhine. Notwithstanding the victory of Cape St Vincent, the United Kingdom was brought into such extreme peril by the mutinies in the fleet that she offered to acknowledge the French conquest of the Netherlands and to restore the French colonies.
The selfishness of the three directors threw away this golden opportunity. In March and April, the election of a new third of the Councils had been held. It gave a majority to the constitutional party. Among the directors, the lot fell on Letourneur to retire, and he was succeeded by Barthélemy , an eminent diplomatist, who allied himself with Carnot. The political disabilities imposed upon the relatives of émigrés were repealed. Priests who would declare their submission to the Republic were restored to their rights as citizens. It seemed likely that peace would be made and that moderate men would gain power.
Barras, Rewbell, and La Révellière-Lépeaux then sought help from the armies. Although Royalists formed but a petty fraction of the majority, they accused that fraction of seeking to restore monarchy and to undo the work of the Revolution. Hoche, then in command of the army of the Sambre and Meuse, visited Paris and sent troops. Bonaparte sent General Augereau, who executed the coup d'état of 18 Fructidor (4 September 1797).
The councils were purged, the elections in forty-nine departments were cancelled, and many deputies and other men of note were arrested. Some of them, including Barthélemy, were deported to Cayenne. Carnot made good his escape. The two vacant places in the Directory were filled by Merlin of Douai and François of Neufchateau . Then the government frankly returned to Jacobin methods. The law against the relatives of émigrés was reenacted, and military tribunals were established to condemn émigrés who should return to France.
The nonjuring priests were again persecuted. Many hundreds were either sent to Cayenne or imprisoned in the hulks of Re and Oleron. La Révelliére Lépeaux seized the opportunity to propagate his religion. Many churches were turned into Theophilanthropic temples. The government strained its power to secure the recognition of the décadi as the day of public worship and the non-observance of Sunday. Liberty of the press ceased. Newspapers were confiscated and journalists were deported wholesale. It was proposed to banish from France all members of the old noblesse. Although the proposal was dropped, they were all declared to be foreigners and were forced to obtain naturalisation if they would enjoy the rights of other citizens. A formal bankruptcy of the state, the cancelling of two-thirds of the interest on the public debt, crowned the misgovernment of this disastrous time.
In the spring of 1798, not only a new third of the legislature had to be chosen, but the places of the members expelled by the revolution of Fructidor had to be filled. The constitutional party had been rendered helpless, and the mass of the electors were indifferent. But among the Jacobins themselves, there had arisen an extreme party hostile to the directors. With the support of many who were not Jacobins but detested the government, it bade fair to gain a majority. Before the new deputies could take their seats, the directors forced through the councils the law of the 22nd Floréal, annulling or perverting the elections in thirty departments and excluding forty-eight deputies by name. Even this coup d'état did not secure harmony between the executive and the legislature. In the councils, the directors were loudly charged with corruption and misgovernment. The retirement of Francois of Neufchâteau and the choice of Treilhard as his successor (15 May 1798) made no difference in the position of the Directory.
While France was thus inwardly convulsed, its rulers were doubly bound to husband the national strength and practise moderation towards other states. Since December 1797, a congress had been sitting at Rastatt to regulate the future of Germany. That it should be brought to a successful conclusion was of the utmost import for France. But the directors were driven by self-interest to new adventures abroad. Bonaparte was resolved not to sink into obscurity, and the directors were anxious to keep him as far as possible from Paris; they therefore sanctioned the expedition to Egypt which deprived the Republic of its best army and most renowned captain. Coveting the treasures of Bern, the Directors sent Brune to invade Switzerland and remodel its constitution. In revenge for the murder of General Duphot (28 December 1797), they sent Berthier to invade the Papal States and erect the Roman Republic. They also occupied and virtually annexed Piedmont. In all these countries, they organised such an effective pillage that the French became universally hated.
As the armies were far below the strength required by the policy of unbounded conquest and rapine, the first permanent law of conscription was passed in the summer of 1798. The attempt to enforce it caused a revolt of the peasants in the Belgian departments. The priests were held responsible and some eight thousand were condemned to deportation en masse, although much the greater part escaped by the goodwill of the people. Few soldiers were obtained by the conscription, for the government was as weak as it was tyrannical.
Under these circumstances, Horatio Nelson's victory of Aboukir (1 August 1798), which gave the British full command of the Mediterranean and isolated Bonaparte in Egypt, was the signal for a second coalition. Naples, Austria, Russia and Turkey joined Great Britain against France. Ferdinand IV of Naples, rashly taking the offensive before his allies were ready, was defeated and forced to seek a refuge in Sicily.
In January 1799, the French occupied Naples and set up the Parthenopaean Republic. But the consequent dispersion of their weak forces only exposed them to greater peril. At home, the Directory was in a most critical position. In the elections of April 1799, a large number of Jacobins gained seats. A little later Rewbell retired. It was imperative to fill his place with a man of ability and influence. The choice fell upon Sieyès, who had kept aloof from office and retained not only his immeasurable self-conceit but the respect of the public.
Sieyès felt that the Directory had bankrupted its own reputation, and he intended to do far more than merely serve as a member of a board. He hoped to concentrate power in his own hands, to bridle the Jacobins, and to remodel the constitution. With the help of Barras, he proceeded to rid himself of the other directors. An irregularity having emerged in Treilhard's election, he retired, and Gohier took his place (30 Prairial, 18 June 1799). Merlin of Douai and La Révellière Lépeaux were driven to resign in June 1799; Moulin and Ducos replaced them. The three new directors so lacked significance that they could give no trouble, but for the same reason they could give little service.
Such a government proved ill-fitted to cope with the dangers then gathering round France. The directors having resolved on a French offensive in Germany, the French crossed the Rhine early in March, but the Archduke Charles of Austria defeated them at Stockach on 25 March 1799. The congress at Rastatt, which had sat for fifteen months without doing anything, broke up in April, and Austrian hussars murdered the French envoys. In Italy, the allies took the offensive with an army partly Austrian, partly Russian, under the command of the Russian field marshal (future generalissimo) Suvorov. After defeating Moreau at Cassano d'Adda on 27 April 1799, he occupied Milan and Turin. The puppet republics established by the French in Italy collapsed, and Suvorov defeated the French army on the Trebbia as it retreated from Naples.
Thus threatened with invasion on her German and Italian frontiers, France seemed disabled by anarchy within. The finances stood in the last distress; the anti-religious policy of the government kept many départements on the verge of revolt; and commerce almost ground to a halt due to the decay of roads and the increase of bandits. The French lacked any real political freedom, yet also lacked the ease or security which enlightened despotism can bestow. The Terrorists lifted their heads in the Council of Five Hundred. A Law of Hostages , which was really a new Law of Suspects, and a progressive income tax showed the temper of the majority. The Jacobin Club re-opened and became once more the focus of disorder. The Jacobin press renewed the licence of Hébert and Marat. Never since the outbreak of the Revolution had the public temper seemed so gloomy and desponding.
In this extremity, Sieyès chose as minister of police the old Terrorist Joseph Fouché, who best understood how to deal with his brethren. Fouché closed the Jacobin Club and deported a number of journalists. But, like his predecessors, Sieyès felt that for the revolution which he meditated he must have the help of a soldier. As his man of action, he chose General Joubert, one of the most distinguished among French officers. The Directory sent Joubert to restore the fortunes of the war in Italy. At Novi, on 15 August 1799, he encountered Suvorov. He was killed at the outset of the battle and his men suffered defeat.
After this disaster, the French held scarcely any territory south of the Alps save Genoa. The Russian and Austrian governments then agreed to drive the enemy out of Switzerland and to invade France from the east. At the same time, the joint forces of Great Britain and Russia assailed the Netherlands. But the narrow views and conflicting interests of the members of the second coalition doomed it to failure like the first. Lack of co-ordination between Austrians and Russians, and André Masséna's victory at Zürich (25 - 26 September 1799) stalled the invasion of Switzerland. In October the British and the Russians had to evacuate Holland. All immediate danger to France ended, but the issue of the war remained in suspense. The Directors had felt forced to recall Bonaparte from Egypt. He anticipated their order and on 9 October 1799 landed at Fréjus.
See main article 18 Brumaire.
The Directory, and, in most scholars' view, the French Revolution itself, came to an end with the coup d'état of 18 Brumaire, by which General Napoleon Bonaparte overthrew the Directory and replaced it with the Consulate. This occurred on November 9, 1799, which was 18 Brumaire in the year VIII under the French Revolutionary Calendar.
In November 1799, France was suffering the effects of military reverses brought on by Bonaparte's adventurism in the Middle East. The looming threat of opportunistic invasion by the Second Coalition had provoked internal unrest, with Bonaparte stuck in Egypt. A return to Jacobinism seemed possible
The coup was first prepared by the Abbé Sieyès, then one of the five Directors. Bonaparte returned from Egypt a hero to the public despite his reverses. Sieyès believed he had found the general indispensable to his coup. However, Bonaparte promptly began a coup within the coup. Ultimately, the coup brought Bonaparte to power, not Sieyès.
The plan was, through the use of troops conveniently arrayed around Paris, first to persuade the Directors to resign, then to persuade the two Councils to appoint a pliant commission to draw up a new constitution.
On the morning of 18 Brumaire, members of the Council of Ancients sympathetic to the coup warned their colleagues of a Jacobin conspiracy and persuaded them to remove to Saint-Cloud, west of Paris. Bonaparte was charged with the safety of the two Councils. Three directors, including Sieyès himself resigned, destroying quorum. However, the two Jacobin Directors, Gohier and Moulin , refused to resign. Moulin escaped, Gohier was taken prisoner, and the two Councils were not immediately intimidated and continued to meet.
By the following day, the deputies had worked out that they were facing an attempted coup rather than being protected from a Jacobin rebellion. Faced with their recalcitrance, Bonaparte stormed into the chambers accompanied by a small escort of grenadiers. He met with heckling in both houses; in the he was first jostled, then outright assaulted. His brother Lucien, President of the Council, called upon the grenadiers to defend their leader. Napoleon escaped, but only through the use of military force. Ultimately, military force also dispersed the legislature.
The Consulate was declared, with Bonaparte, Sieyès, and Roger Ducos as consuls.
The lack of reaction from the streets proved that the revolution was, indeed, over. In the words of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, "A shabby compound of brute force and imposture, the 18th Brumaire was nevertheless condoned, nay applauded, by the French nation. Weary of revolution, men sought no more than to be wisely and firmly governed." Resistance by Jacobin officeholders in the provinces was quickly crushed, twenty Jacobin legislators were exiled, and others were arrested.
Bonaparte completed his coup within a coup by the adoption of a constitution under which the First Consul, a position he was sure to hold, had greater power than the other two.
1. Directors, inaugurated 9. Brumaire IV
2. Directors, inaugurated 1. Prairial V
- La Revelliere
3. Directors, inaugurated 18. Fructidor V
- La Revelliere
4. Directors, inaugurated 29. Prarial VI
- La Revelliere
5. Directors, inaugurated 27. Floreal VII
- La Revelliere
6. Directors, inaugurated 29. Prairial VII
- La Revelliere
7. Directors, inaugurated 2. Messidor VII
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