Chapter 11


(April 1797-April 1798)


From Leoben to the departure for Egypt


The French enter into Venice


April 18, 1797

Preliminaries of Leoben


At the head of the draft treaty that they presented to Napoleon, the Austrian plenipotentiaries had included a clause stating that the Emperor Franz recognized the French republic; something he had steadfastly refused to do until that point. For the Emperor, the kingdom of France still existed, and the republic was only a provisional, totally illegitimate intermediary. “Erase that!” Napoleon commanded, “The existence of the republic is as clear as day. A clause like that is fit only for the blind. We are masters in our own house and can choose whatever government we please, and no one else has a say in the matter.”


At Loeben, Napoleon installed himself in the bishop’s residence, and it was holy week. Religious ceremonies were being performed in the greatest solemnity in the midst of a French army that was perfectly respectful of the rituals and the processions. The citizens were overcome with amazement, emotion and gratitude; they had heard so often how the French massacred priests and burned churches.


In the preliminaries, Napoleon obtained the left bank of the Rhine for France. As for Italy, he had laid the foundations for the creation of a Cisalpine Republic uniting Lombardy, Modena, Bergamo, Cremona, Ferrara, Bologna, and the Romagna, which would be a friend and a shield in exchange for compensation given to Austria at the expense of the “Most Serene Republic.” But this was contained within a secret clause that would only be signed after agreements that were reached later among French, Austrian, and Venetian diplomats.


May 1797

The end of the dictatorship in Venice


Before committing himself to confront Archduke Karl in the Alps, Napoleon had attempted to obtain the support of the oligarchs of Venice. To Procurer Pezzaro, he proposed an alliance between France and Venice against Austria. Venice refused, as it believed that, inevitably, all-powerful Austria would put an end to the “little Corsican.” Not only did it not respect a degree of neutrality, but as soon as Napoleon was committed in the Tagliamento, it fomented revolt among the peasants, who massacred isolated French nationals. On the pretext of internal difficulties between its subjects on the mainland and those in the Laguna, Venice, ostensibly to re-establish order, dispatched regiments of Slovenians under the orders of general Fioraventi. These regiments supported the murderers and participated in the outrages. In Verona, for example, all French people found in the streets were massacred and the sick and wounded in the hospitals had their throats cut. In Venice itself, a French warship pursued by the Austrian fleet sought refuge in the port. The Venetian batteries opened fire, killing the captain and part of the crew. Survivors who managed to swim to shore were slaughtered with the utmost savagery.


Napoleon did not leave these crimes unpunished. Upon his return from Loeben, on April 30, he refused to receive the representatives of the oligarchs, who were soon to perceive that they had committed a grave error. He set off for Palmove, which he occupied on May 2. On May 7, he arrived in Mestre and demanded unconditional surrender. The Doge assembled the government, that is, the six counsellors, the three procurers, the six grand sages of terra firma, the five sages of the orders, the eleven sages of the council and the three advocadors. There was very agitated discussion. Should they attempt to corrupt Napoleon with a colossal fortune? It was a solution that had often worked over the centuries. But they also realized that Bonaparte was incorruptible and all that remained for them was to accept the inevitable: to surrender and to disappear. On May 12, the Grand Council surrendered its sovereignty by 512 votes to 17. On May 14, the French Army entered Venice and set up camp in St. Mark's square.


In Stendhal’s words: "Napoleon conducted himself with Venice as he had done with the Pope, with Naples, and with the King of Sardinia; that is to say, he did everything in his power to obtain peace. The aristocracy did everything possible to destroy itself, and it succeeded. The conduct of the French General was perfectly legitimate. He did everything humanly possible to save Venice but he had too many uncouth imbeciles to contend with.”


N.B. The very beautiful 2.5-meter marble statue of Napoleon, sculpted in 1811 by Dominico Banti, has been returned to Venice this year (2002). It is once more in Saint Mark’s Square from which it was taken in 1814, when the Austrians occupied the city. After passing from collector to collector, it has just been purchased for $300,000 U.S. by the Committee for the Preservation of Venice. Mayor Paolo Costa has declared that he is very happy with the purchase. "The statue of Napoleon represents an important chapter in the history of Venice," he says.


June to November, 1797

Napoleon rules all of Italy


Napoleon had set himself up in the castle of Mombello, a few kilometers from Milan. In this magnificent residence, where Josephine perfectly played the role of the distinguished, elegant hostess, he entertained a great number of guests. In fact, he ruled the whole of Italy. First of all through direct command, he organized the Cisalpine Republic that he had just created. He gave it a constitution and solid institutions were a foretaste of what he would accomplish in France when he became First Consul. He also imposed his law over Genoa, which we should remember, had dominated Corsica until 1768. He made recommendations that were heeded and obeyed by the Pope, the King of Naples, the King of Sardinia and Piedmont, and all the other states in the peninsula. He governed and he managed. Everything passed through him. "For the people to be happy, we need an Italy that is united in terms of military, diplomatic, and financial thinking." he wrote to the Directory. He gave parties; he was surrounded by foreign diplomats, and writers, intellectuals and poets from all over Italy sang the praises of this saviour, liberator, and man of the hour who would re-establish order, peace and prosperity.


Sept. 4, 1797

Attempted royalist coup in Paris (18 Fructidor)


The elections had brought a royalist majority to the Senate and to the Council of 500. In addition, two out of five Directors favoured the return of the king. In this first cohabitation, the survival of the Republic hung by just a thread, a thread that the ultra royalist “White Jacobins” hoped to cut. In order to do this, they obtained the agreement of General Pichegru, brought to Paris a large number of chouans, and armed their supporters. In order to save the Republic, the Directory had only Generals Hoche and Bonaparte to count on. Napoleon had found papers on the person of a royalist agent, Count Louis-Alexander d’Antraigues, proving that Monarchist deputies were about to put a plan into action, with the support of the Princes and English money. He sent General Augereau to Paris, where he assumed command of the Paris military division, and wrote to the Directory: "if you need forces, summon the Armies." Then Napoleon harangued his troops on the occasion of the July 14 celebrations. "Mountains separate us from the soil of our homeland. You will cross them as swiftly as eagles to preserve the Constitution, to defend liberty, and to protect the government and the Republicans." Since Hoche had already committed himself to defending the Republic, the Directory now felt brave enough to confront the threatened coup d’état. It was not a moment too soon; in fact, Vaublanc, one of the most influential royalist tribunes, had decided to accuse the three Republican Directors during the session of September 4. The latter decided to head him off. On the dawn of September 4, soldiers occupied the Council chambers in the Tuileries and the Bourbon Palace and arrested the principal counterrevolutionary leaders. Pichegru was deported to Guyana, from whence he escaped to join forces in London with Count Artois, who entrusted him with the mission of assassinating Napoleon. We shall have occasion to talk of this again. Without Napoleon, the Republic would most probably have collapsed on September 4, 1797. Let that fact never be forgotten.


October 17, 1797

Peace of Campo-Formio


This was the follow-up and conclusion of the preliminaries of Loeben. The treaty brought to an end the war that Austria had been waging against France since 1793 as part of the first coalition orchestrated and financed by England. Austria ceded both the left bank of the Rhine and Belgium to France. It gave up Milan and Lombardy. It approved the creation of the Cisalpine and Ligurian (Genoa) Republics and in compensation, received the larger part of Venice.


Dec. 5, 1797

Napoleon's return to Paris


Stendhal: "Napoleon arrived in Paris and was greeted by a delirious populace. The Directory, in greeting the young general on December 10 in the Luxembourg Palace, proclaimed him one of these prodigies that miserly nature bestows only very rarely upon the human race, the man of Providence etc. But Napoleon was not fooled. He knew that the Directors were jealous of him. A committee of the Council of Ancients passed an act granting Napoleon land in Chambord and a large mansion in the Capital. The Directory was opposed to it. Napoleon left without a sou, after raising in Italy over 100 million in extraordinary contributions. He had used 60 million to pay, feed, clothe, and reorganize the Army of Italy, in every department. The rest had been sent to France and had helped to provide for the needs of the interior and the services of the Army of the Rhine. What is more, with his little Army of Italy, he had saved France from an Austrian invasion. This is what Napoleon had done for France. The Council should have awarded him an income of two hundred thousand livres."


Dec. 25, 1797

Named to the Institute


Indifferent to material riches, Napoleon made no demands, and showed himself to be very happy to be elected a member of the Institut de France in the class of physical sciences and mathematics. After this time, he showed a marked preference for the company of his colleagues at the Institute, including Monge and Laplace, from whom he never attempted to steal the limelight. Although he did everything to pass unnoticed, he was often recognized, and wherever he went his presence immediately sparked great displays of enthusiasm. When he was with one or several Directors, they felt completely ignored; in other words, they were overshadowed. They knew that he had only to lift his little finger to seize power and soon came to have but one wish: to send him far from France. This was the reason behind the decision to put him in command of an expedition to Egypt.


Let us hear Napoleon once more: “I thought that this enterprise might be detrimental to the true interests of the country; I remarked to the Directory that Europe was far from calm. The Congress of Rastadt had not reached a conclusion, and they were obliged to keep troops in the interior, to monitor the elections and control the western departments. I proposed cancelling the expedition, awaiting more favourable circumstances."


Alarmed, and fearing that Napoleon planned to take power, this only made the Directory wish even more ardently that he would depart. Napoleon then proposed to leave Kléber or Desaix in France, as their superior talents could prove very useful. The Republic, the Directory replied, did not depend on just these two generals; it could find a host of such men to ensure that the country would triumph if ever it was in danger.


January 21, 1798

Ceremony on the anniversary of the death of Louis XVI

June 21, the date of the execution of Louis XVI, had become a national holiday in France. Napoleon did not agree, and made his opinions known: "This holiday is odious; it commemorates an event that is a catastrophe, a true national misfortune."


Slander against Napoleon -- In 2002, the history book most used in American high schools is The History of the United States, a 850-page work by Daniel J. Boorstin, Pulitzer Prizewinner in history. On page 217 it states, "In January 1798, the nation faced the danger of war with the French dictator Napoleon." We will not comment on this for the moment, but we will return to these scandalous ravings by Daniel J. Boorstin at the moment of the Louisiana Purchase.



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