The Resistible Rise Of Napoleon Bonaparte

Topics: French Consulate, French Revolution, French Directory Pages: 10 (3832 words) Published: May 1, 2015
The resistible rise of Napoleon Bonaparte
Open:block:jnlArticle Open:block:scholUnivAuthors Crook, Malcolm. Close:block:scholUnivAuthors Open:block:publicationBlock Historian Close:block:publicationBlock  60 (Winter 1998): 10. Close:block:jnlArticle

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Malcolm Crook examines the remarkable ascent to power of Napoleon at the turn of the nineteenth century The great Bicentenary of the French Revolution of 1789 may be drawing to a close, but that of Napoleon is about to commence. So now is an opportune moment to present a critical overview of his advent to power at the turn of the nineteenth century, before the commemorative bandwagon really starts to roll and we are treated to endless repetitions of the Napoleonic myth. Bonaparte (or Buonaparte, to employ the original formulation of the Corsican soldier's family name, which he altered in 1796) is often presented as the saviour of a France that had become trapped in a revolutionary cul de sac, from which there was no escape. Here is a typical example: What flourished in France when Bonaparte took control with the coup d'etat of Brumaire (November 1799)? Almost nothing. For ten years, factional strife and foreign and civil war had forced a dreary succession of governments to live hand to mouth... the country was divided and devastated, only a fresh, strong man could put France back on its feet.1 Such hyperbole might be expected in popular accounts of Napoleon's rise to fame in late revolutionary France. Yet the legend of his political ascent is frequently echoed in studies which assume a more objective or critical stance. Three main strands of the myth will be subjected to critical scrutiny here. First, the blackening of the republican system overthrown by Bonaparte's coup, the regime of the Directory. Second, the assumption that France was awaiting a hero and received Napoleon with open arms. Third, the notion that the saviour quickly resolved the problems facing the country and equally rapidly consolidated his power. All three aspects of the legend must be seriously questioned, if not entirely overturned, though much work remains to be done on the relatively neglected topic of Napoleonic France. We must hope that the Bicentenary of Bonaparte will stimulate some historical reflection as well as the inevitable adulatory commemoration. A Much-Maligned Directory

Sandwiched between the reign of Terror and the dictatorship of Napoleon, the regime of the five-man Directory which ruled France from 1795 to 1799 has frequently been dismissed as a colourless episode separating two heroic epochs.2 Many histories of the Revolution end with the fall of Robespierre in 1794, when the pygmies allegedly took over from the titans to embark on a lacklustre interlude aptly incarnated in the unprincipled person of Paul Barras. This longest-serving member of the executive Directory was paid off by the conspirators who overthrew the liberal Republic in 1799 and promptly retired to the country to enjoy his ill-gotten gains. Meanwhile, the veteran politicians who occupied the twochamber legislature, the so-called 'perpetuals', seemed to be more concerned with protecting their own interests than restoring those of the people. In fact, the Directory was full of achievements, both beyond the frontiers and within France itself, and of late these have been receiving some of the recognition they deserve.3 The territory of the First Republic was significantly expanded by the addition of annexed departments along the eastern frontiers of France and the creation of a series of 'sister' republics in Holland, Switzerland and Italy. The original eighty-three departments had now grown to almost 100 (see map). At home the administration was strengthened by the attachment of central agents, called...
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