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Napoleon Bonaparte - Bloodless Coup (Part 4)

He rose from the son of a minor Corsican noble, to an outsider in the cadre of French military officers, to leading the whole army. Napoleon's meteoric rise was built on the infirmity of the French Revolution.

At first, he paid little attention to the Revolution. He agreed with it in principle, but was too preoccupied with his Corsican Nationalism. The Bonaparte brothers tried taking the Revolution to Corsica, and failed.

He then tied his fate to the Jacobin Movement, a notoriously brutal regime. Their fall nearly brought the young Napoleon down with them. Luckily, the new rulers needed a little brutality to stay in power.

Napoleon Bonaparte ingratiated himself to the Thermidorian government with a whiff of grapeshot. His vicious takedown of the Royalist insurrection cemented his place at the top of France's army.

The New France

The Thermidorians did away with the National Assembly. It clearly failed, considering the chaos and bloodshed of the past half decade. They were determined not to follow the previous institution into the grave.

Napoleon was appointed as the Commander of the Interior, and given charge of the entire army of Italy. His actions on 13 Vendémiaire gained him fame, and the adoration of the Directory.

The National Assembly was scrapped in favor of a bicameral system. The Council of 500 was charged with creating laws, and the Council of Ancients assessed the proposed laws before they were implemented.

Both councils were subordinate to the Directory, a council of five elected by the Council of Elders. The Directory held executive power in France until 1799. Power that they only wielded because of the actions of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Everyone in Paris knew Napoleon, largely because he spent his time parading through the streets with his most loyal officers. He quickly elevated his greatest supporters, building the structure of his future power around him.

His brother, Lucien Bonaparte, was installed in the Council of 500. He would eventually become the last president of the Council.

Josephine & Napoleon

One of the first things he did, as Commander of the Interior, was to disarm the population of France. He pushed to outlaw owning private weaponry. There was no battle that Napoleon feared more than facing the mob.

According to the legend, a young boy came up to him during the disarming of Paris. He begged Napoleon to allow him to keep his father's sword. The man had been a general, and died by guillotine.

So impressed was Napoleon with the boy's bravery, that he not only allowed him to keep the sword, but endeavored to meet the boy's mother. Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie was the widow of General Alexandre François Marie, Viscount of Beauharnais.

Alexandre de Beauharnais was imprisoned and executed during the Reign of Terror. His wife, who at the time went by Rose, soon joined him in prison. Their relationship was marked by infidelity going both ways. Even prison couldn't keep them from finding alternative lovers.

Five days after her husband's execution, Rose was released. She had been slated for her turn at the guillotine, but the Jacobins fell just in time to spare her life. Luck saved her, but her guile helped her rise from disgraced widow to the top of the Parisian social scene.

Rose introduced herself as Josephine to Napoleon, who was instantly enamored. She had lost her teeth due to her addiction to sugar, but that didn't stop her from igniting Napoleon's passion.

The pair were soon married, and from the surviving love letters, Napoleon loved her with all his heart.

Napoleon in Italy

Napoleon at the Battle of Rivoli Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux - [1].
If you must die, do so stylishly

Napoleon was appointed to the head of the French Army of Italy. Two days after his wedding to Josephine, he left France to take on the kingdoms of Sardinia and Austria.

The Italian soldiers welcomed him as their savior. They were badly supplied, and suffered from weak leadership. All of which ended when Bonaparte arrived.

Two weeks into the North Italian campaign, his army had crushed the Kingdom of Sardinia. They swung North, to take on the Habsburgs of Austria. Napoleon's speed and fury shocked the Austrians into suing for peace.

At the same time, he sent a general back to France to purge the remaining Royalists. They were vocal about the threat Napoleon represented to the cause of French Liberty.

Thanks to this purge, the Directory was now firmly in power. The only problem was that their power was fully reliant on Napoleon Bonaparte. He could take it all away, and as we know, he would.

The Treaty of Campo Formio was signed, ceding Northern Italy to France, along with substantial parts of the Low Countries. He turned his sights on Venice, and swiftly ended a 1,100-year independence streak.

The style of warfare that Napoleon employed during this campaign became known as Napoleonic Warfare. He would employ the creative use of mobile artillery throughout his career as a conqueror, to great effect.

His first campaign was marked by rampant looting of priceless art, artifacts, gold, and jewels. The influx of wealth earned him greater popularity in France. He worked to build this reputation by founding a newspaper in France focused on promoting his persona.

He returned to France on 5 December 1797. Napoleon Bonaparte was more than a hero to the people of France, and soon, he would make that a fact. First, he would have to deal with the British, who weren't having any of this.

Power Lies to the East

Like his heroes, Julius Caesar, and Alexander the Great, Napoleon saw his future as a conqueror of the lands East of Europe. The continental powers of Europe proved themselves no match for his skill on the battlefield.

Only one Empire could stop France, Great Britain. The British weren't pleased with French Liberty, as it jeopardized their own monarchy. They also didn't appreciate that there was a new power on the block with expansionist ideas.

The Directory wanted Napoleon to invade Britain itself, but he was no fool. The Royal Navy was the most powerful naval force on Earth at the time. France's navy had no chance of defeating them in open conflict.

Bonaparte ante la Esfinge, por Jean-Léon Gérôme Jean-Léon Gérôme - Fuente
Say what you will, the man looks good on a horse

Instead, he turned his attention to Egypt. If he could cut off England's access to India, he could hamstring the Empire. This would open the avenue for the conquest of the Isles.

The invasion of Egypt landed in Alexandria in 1798. His forces were accompanied by a nearly equal amount of scientists and scholars. While in Egypt, they discovered the Rosetta Stone, which allowed for the translation of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics. Thus, Napoleon paved the way for the modern science of Egyptology.

They swiftly defeated the Egyptian Mamluk Army, and seemed set on a quick conquest. Unfortunately for the French, this was not to last. Admiral Horatio Nelson led a massive British Fleet in a hunt for the French ships.

On August 1, Nelson caught the French Fleet unawares in the Bay of Abukir. He managed to surround them, and for three days they tore the French ships apart. Only two ships managed to escape the slaughter. At the end, 5,000 French sailors had lost their lives.

Napoleon turned his attention to the Syrian city of Acre. He besieged the city for three months, before admitting defeat. The combined power of the British navy firing at them from sea, the Syrians' ingenious strategy of building backup defenses, and an outbreak of the Plague among the French soldiers, managed to defeat Napoleon's ambitions.

He returned to Cairo. While there, he fought and won the Battle of Abukir. Then he announced that he and a select group would take a voyage down the Nile. British Naval ships set off in pursuit, giving Napoleon the chance to escape Egypt.

Napoleon returned to France in August 1799. He arrived before the news of his failure, or of him abandoning his army. So, he marched in as a victorious conqueror, to the adoration of the public.

France is Mine - 18 Brumaire

Napoleon arrived in Paris in October 1799. He was met by a weak Directory, and his brother at the head of the Council of 500. Popular consensus was that the Directory was just as corrupt and weak as any of their predecessors. Life in France was harder than ever.

Paul Barras was a legendary fiend. He stood at the top of the Directory, from where he indulged in every excess imaginable. Lovers of every stripe made appearances in his chambers, and he even flaunted his promiscuity in public. This might have been forgiven, if he hadn't also bankrupted France.

The people were sick of the instability of the past decade. Napoleon knew just the guy to fix it. The only problem was that he needed to be the only one in charge. Something akin to an Emperor, but with a different name.

He couldn't do it alone, so he formed an alliance with his brother, Lucien, the Minister of Police, Joseph Fouché, and two members of the Directory. Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, and Roger Duclos, were sick of Paul Barras' corrupt leadership.

Their plan was to overthrow Barras' Directory with the backing of Napoleon's grenadiers. He would then institute a new system, where Napoleon, Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, and Roger Duclos would share power as co-Consuls.

Lucien concocted a lie that the Jacobins had returned, and were planning a coup. His agents spread fake pamphlets alleging this around Paris. The Council of Ancients had to flee to Saint-Cloud, and the Council of 500 went to the Palace Orangery for their safety on 9 November 1799 (18 Brumaire, French Revolutionary Calender).

Napoleon Bonaparte burst into the Council chamber at Saint-Cloud, and had his men surround the shocked politicians. He addressed the gathered Council of Ancients with a speech:

"You are on a volcano. The Republic no longer has a government; the Directory has been dissolved, the factions are agitating; the time to make a decision has arrived. You have summoned me and my comrades-in-arms to aid your wisdom, but time is precious…I only want the safety of the Republic." (Roberts, 220)

His men cheered, but the Ancients demanded that he swear an oath of allegiance to the Constitution of the Revolution. Napoleon scoffed at the idea. He argued that the Constitution had been transgressed so often as to be rendered worthless. France needed an entirely new system.

Lucien led the Council in a heated debate the next day, buying time for his brother to arrive. Napoleon and his men marched to Orangery after cowing the Council of Ancients.

The Council of 500 weren't having it, as soon as the soldiers entered, they knew something was up. While Napoleon made his way to the Rostrum, the councilors shouted, "Down with the tyrant! Down with the Dictator!"

Napoleon tried speaking to the Council:

"I want no more of this factionalism; this must finish"

Many of the Council Deputies surrounded him, and began pushing and slapping him. The grenadiers pushed them aside and extracted Napoleon from the council chambers.

The Council of 500 immediately proposed a vote to outlaw the young general. Lucien managed to escape the chambers, and urged the grenadiers to reenter. He claimed that some of the deputies were English agents who had brandished daggers and promised to murder Napoleon.

They hesitated, so Lucien pulled out his own dagger and held it to Napoleon's chest. He cried out:

"I swear that I will stab my own brother to the heart if he ever attempts anything against the liberty of Frenchmen" (Roberts, 224)

The grenadiers, inspired by Lucien's performance, charged into the council chamber and arrested as many deputies as they could. Some deputies leapt from windows to avoid capture.

Later that night, Lucien gathered what few deputies he could muster who were sympathetic to the Bonaparte cause. They voted to dissolve both the Council of 500, and the Council of the Ancients.

Despite Napoleon's failure in the second half of the coup, it was a success. The Directory was no more, the coup d'état was bloodless, and comprehensive. France changed hands for the last time during the Revolutionary period.

Napoleon wrote the new constitution to lend sole executive power to the First Consul, himself. The positions held by Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, and Roger Duclos were to be advisory in nature.

The Napoleonic Era was at hand, and Europe would soon fall to its knees before the young man from Corsica.



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