The Head of State
Napoleon and Joséphine visit a factory
Now that we have witnessed Napoleon's military prowess at Toulon and during the Italian and Egyptian campaigns, and before we examine on his career as head of state, let us reflect on the following statements by three people who are highly qualified to pass judgment on him. They will afford a vital insight into the personality of the First Consul and Emperor.
The Constitution of Year VIII Ė The most urgent task was to set up a new government with a new constitution. Under the direction of Sieyès, a commission composed of ten members, five senators and five deputies was charged with preparing and writing the new texts. In the first draft, Sieyès envisioned a First Consul who would have the role of Grand Elector, grandly ensconced in the Palace of Versailles, and whose role would be limited to that of a national emblem and arbiter in the event of conflict between the other two consuls or between consuls and ministers. Bonaparte rejected this, saying that he did not wish to become "a fattened pig" and that he had accepted the role of First Consul with the intention of working every day, with all his energy, towards the restitution of France. This recalls the remark made by President de Gaulle when he said that he didn't want to be a President in charge of "inaugurating chrysanthemums" and that of Ronald Reagan during the Irangate trial, "Iím not a decorative vase over a fireplace."
On December 4, 1799 a meeting of the Consuls and the ten members of the commission took place in order to put the final touches to the Constitution. Each article was studied, and after debate, was adopted and formally recorded. The Constitution, dated December 13, was tabled on the 15th and came into force on December 25, Christmas Day. The constitutional law had eight principles enshrined within it: the sovereignty of the French people, the republic as a form of government, the representative system, the division of power, and the respect of liberty, equality, public safety and ownership.
This is a summary of the Constitution of Year VIII (1799):
The administration of Paris and the departments was also totally reformed, in a system that has remained practically unchanged until this day:
Consuls and Ministers are designated:
First Consul: Napoléon Bonaparte, Second Consul: Jean-Jacques Régis Cambacérès, Third Consul: Charles François Lebrun. In choosing the latter, Bonaparte, who did not know him, sought Roedererís advice. This was their conversation:
As Consul, Lebrun undertook the financial reorganization with great success. In 1822, he wrote: "I await historyís judgment on Napoleon: it will have much to say about the soldier, but far more about the statesman."
Without losing a moment, Bonaparte set to work. The very day that the government was formed, he addressed a letter to the King of England and to the Emperor of Austria, inviting them "not to deny themselves the happiness of bringing peace to the peoples of Europe"; England did not trouble to answer and the Austrian army stepped up its efforts in Italy to drive out the French and invade the Riviera. He also drafted a proclamation: "... Heinous and covetous factions divide the Republic. France is in a state of general disorder... men and women of France, the place of the Republic in Europe shall be strengthened and restored to the rank that it never should have lost, and soon we shall see all the hopes of its citizens fulfilled... ."
To get an idea of the pitiful state of France, let us quote André Castelot as he relates the first meeting between Napoleon and Gaudin, the new Minister of Finance. "Bonaparte received Gaudin in the most gracious manner.
Once the formality was completed, Bonaparte added:
In the coffers of the Treasury, Gaudin found the sum of one hundred and sixty seven thousand francs in cash, which came from an advance of three hundred thousand francs made the day before. However, there were nearly five hundred million francs in debts, not counting unpaid requisition slips and promissory notes for unpaid salaries. Bureaucratic mismanagement reigned everywhere.
Bonaparte exploded: "What people! What a government! What an administration!" When he wanted to send an aide-de-camp to carry a message, there was not a penny available for his travelling expenses. When the First Consul wanted to know the exact size of the army, nobody could tell him.
On December 26, 1799, the State Council was inaugurated, on the 27 the Senate, on January 1 (yes, on New Year's Day!) the Tribunate and the Legislature.
February 13, 1800 saw the creation of the Bank of France. After six years of various experiments, it received its final status, through the Law of April 22, 1806. France needed a paper currency that was acceptable to all. The State had to be able to rely on a powerful financial institution that could insure advances to the Treasury and perhaps even loans. On January 6, 1800, a group of bankers, including Lecoulteux and Perregaux, supported by State Councillor Cretet, presented to the First Consul a plan for a bank that, under the control of the government, would issue bank notes payable to the bearer on sight in exchange for discounted commercial bills. Bonaparte gave the project his full support. Already by August 1800, the bank was able to pay state wages and pensions in cash. By 1801, it was able to grant advances to the Treasury.
On February 17, 1800, the Prefects received their statuses. In the provinces, as in Paris, the administration was in a dreadful moral and material mess, sometimes under the control of illiterates, "Michu, a roadmender, in charge of bridges and highways, Barzic, a poacher, trial judge, etc..." Bonaparte was to rectify this situation in one stroke. He placed a prefect chosen for his competence at the head of each department. "I love honest, decent people of every type," he said. On March 11, 1800, he sent them a circular, not to promise them glittering material rewards or holidays, but to require them to devote all their energies to the restitution of France. "Your new role imposes extensive duties upon you, but offers you a great future reward; you are being called upon to assist the government in the noble project of restoring France to its ancient splendour, to revive within it everything it has produced that is great and generous, and finally to found this splendid edifice on the unshakeable foundations of freedom and equality."
From January to April 1800, Bonaparte launched a whole series of projects that we will see later at the time of their completion, such as the civil, commercial, criminal instruction, penal and civil procedure codes, the Napoleon University, freedom of worship for various religions, the Legion of Honour, the Stock Exchange, the Court of Auditors, major public works (roads, canals, ports), city planning, etc.
This activity was interrupted in May and June, when he had to go to Italy to overcome the Austrians who were about to invade France in order to restore to the throne the fat Louis XVIII, whom the Flemish called Louis die zweet (a pun on the French "dix-huit"), i.e. Louis the sweaty.