Chapter 23

General Peace in Europe

 

Portrait of Bonaparte, first consul, by Antoine-Jean Gros (1771-1835)

 

Like every soldier who has participated in a murderous campaign, Napoleon did not like war. He was good-hearted and sentimental and loved his soldiers as if they were his own children. He never started a single war in his whole life; every war he was involved in was imposed on France by the crowned heads of Europe. These monarchs wanted to preserve their ancestral privileges and were afraid of the spread of republican ideas.

 

Listen to what W. Pitt had to say to the English Parliament on December 29, 1796: "England will never permit the union of Belgium and France. We will make war on France until it returns to its borders of 1789." Belgium had been French since August 1795, well before Napoleon became head of State. Furthermore, the annexation of Belgium was not the real cause of William Pitt’s warmongering. This alcoholic, debt-ridden minister was the leader of the racist British nobility, whose dream was to dominate not only the English people, but the entire world. "Freedom, equality, and fraternity" were the most despised words in his vocabulary.

 

Napoleon, on the other hand, was driven by a burning desire to secure peace and an agreement among nations that would allow them to work effectively toward improving the living conditions of their populations. On December 25, 1799, the very day that he assumed office as First consul, he wrote to the King of England and to the Emperor of Austria, inviting them to put an end to the attacks of the 2nd coalition (England, Austria, Russia, Kingdom of Naples) and “not to deny themselves the happiness of bringing peace to the world.” England did not reply, and in May, the Austrian army crossed France’s south-east border and invaded the Department of Var.

 

The road to peace

1800

 

January 2: The First consul wrote to the President of the United States to tell him that he wanted to put an end to the naval war between the two countries and that he would be happy to receive American plenipotentiaries with a view to achieving this end. President John Adams designated Oliver Ellsworth, William Davie and William Vans-Murray, who arrived in Paris on April 2, 1800.

 

June 14: Victory of Marengo. (cf chapter 17). Bonaparte beat the Austrians with a reserve army.

 

June 15: The Convention of Alexandria accorded France control of Italy as far as Mincio. The Republic was saved and Bonaparte was back in Paris on July 2.

 

September 30: Signing of the Convention of Mortefontaine, which was the true starting point of the two-hundred-year friendship between the United States and France (cf Chapter 18).

 

October 1: Treaty of San Idelfonso. Spain gives Louisiana to France in exchange for the Kingdom of Etruria in Italy (part of Tuscany and Parma).

 

December 3, 1800: Victory of Hohenlinden. The Austrians had not given up on invading France and were counting on their powerful Army of Germany to help it accomplish this. Moreau defeated this army in Hohenlinden and the remnants were destroyed by Decaen in Salzburg and Richepance in Herdorff and Lambach.

 

December 25: Armistice of Steyer with Austria. Russia withdrew from the coalition.

 

Upon hearing the news of the victories in Germany, the First Consul was overjoyed and addressed the Legislative Corps, declaring, "Legislators, the Republic has triumphed and its enemies are still beseeching its mercy. The victory of Hohenlinden has resounded throughout Europe; it will be remembered as one of the most glorious chapters in the annals of French valour." He also addressed a warm letter of congratulation to General Moreau: "I cannot tell you how interested I was in your beautiful, masterly manoeuvres; you surpassed yourself once more in that campaign."

 

1801

January 15: Armistice of Trevise reached with the Austrian army of Italy. In the South too, the French Generals were winning victory after victory. Dupont and Suchet in Pozolo, Brune in Mozembano, which opened to him the doors of Verona, which he entered on January 2. MacDonald took Trente on January 6. Meanwhile, in Tuscany, Miollis was continuing his rout of the Neapolitan forces.

 

January 20: Tsar Paul I proposed an alliance with Bonaparte.

 

January 26: In Lunéville, Joseph Bonaparte issued an ultimatum to Cobenzl, the Austrian plenipotentiary, who needed considerable urging to accept the conditions of a peace treaty "Either you sign, or we march on Vienna ."

 

February 6: Treaty of Foligno signed with the Kingdom of Naples

 

February 8: W. Pitt resigns along with his principal ministers, and is replaced as Prime Minister by one of his friends, Lord Addington. This enabled him to continue to direct the English government by proxy. Here is what Baron de Meneval, Bonaparte’s secretary had to say: "Mr. William Pitt, the man who had declared eternal war on France, could never have undertaken peace talks with that country. It would have been too great a blow to his self-esteem."

 

February 9: Peace treaty of Lunéville with Austria. France retained the left bank of the Rhine and control of Northern Italy.

 

February 13: Bonaparte addressed the Legislative Corps once more: "Peace on the continent was signed in Lunéville; that is what the French people wanted. Their first wish was the limit of the Rhine. . . after restoring the ancient borders of Gaul, it was their duty to restore freedom to the peoples with whom they shared a common origin. . . the freedom of the Cisalpine Republic and of Liguria is assured. Having fulfilled this duty, justice and generosity now impose another upon the French people. The king of Spain has been faithful to our cause and has suffered for it. . . He will be paid a just reward. . . Austria, separated henceforth from France by vast regions, will no longer continue the competition that for so many centuries has tormented Europe and visited calamity upon it. . . . "

 

When peace was declared, the people of France, from Paris to the provinces, erupted in joy. For a month there was nothing but festivals, balls, fireworks, speeches by prefects and mayors, accompanied everywhere by "Long live the First Consul, long live Bonaparte!" The Journal des débats declared enthusiastically: "What a splendid peace! What a start to the century! And what wisdom in the moderate use of power and force."

 

Beginning of March: Tsar Paul I had swung completely over to the French camp. Lord Whitworth, British Ambassador to St. Petersburg, accepted his government’s order to have him assassinated. He encouraged the plotters by providing them with considerable funds; so much, in fact, that the government got wind of it and had him expelled. But Whitworth had time to set the machine in motion that would lead to the assassination of the Tsar.

 

Rumours of the planned assassination came to the ears of Paul I himself. He at once summoned Count Pahlen, the Governor of St. Petersburg, to discuss how to deal with the plot, and made him promise to exact an exemplary punishment on those in charge, never suspecting that he was talking to one of them. Pahlen ran to warn his accomplices. These four men, Bennigsen, Orlov, Pahlen and Zoubov, went to Princes Alexander, who gave them the green light for the assassination of his father.

 

In the night of March 23 to 24, seven conspirators gained entry to the bed-chamber of Paul I, as Pahlen awaited them in an adjoining room. The Tsar refused to abdicate and tried to resist. He was strangled with a scarf. Pahlen decided to announce "to the people and to the imperial family" that the Tsar had succumbed to "an attack of apoplexy."

 

March 25: Treaty of Aranjuez with Spain. Spain committed itself to making war on Portugal, in league with England.

 

March 29: Peace treaty of Florence with the Kingdom of Naples, which agreed to close its ports to the English.

 

May 19: The Spanish army invaded Portugal. Godoy, prince of peace, cut an orange branch and sent it to the Queen, whose favourite he was. From then on, this war, which was to last only four days and spilled very little blood, was known by the name of "the War of Oranges."

 

June 6: Treaty of Badajoz between France, Spain and Portugal. Portugal ceded the town of Olivenza to Spain, part of Guyana to France, and committed itself closing its ports to English trade.

 

October 1: Signature of the preliminaries of the treaty of Amiens with England. The people of London gave a delirious reception to General Lauriston, Bonaparte’s aide-de-camp, who delivered the text of these preliminaries to London.  The crowd uncoupled his carriage and pulled it by hand to the Foreign Office "with the greatest show of delight." The streets were full of cries of "Long Live Bonaparte." There was even a bust of the First Consul displayed in windows with the legend "the saviour of the world."

 

October 8: Peace treaty with Russia.

 

1802

March 25: Peace treaty of Amiens with England. England agreed to restore to France and its allies, Spain and Holland, the colonies they had lost and to evacuate Malta and Elba. The King of England renounced the title of King of France, which the English monarchs had obstinately carried since the end of the Hundred Years’ War. In return, the French agreed to leave Naples and the Roman States.

 

Great acclamation resounded throughout France and Europe. It was among the young people and in the popular media that the most enthusiastic and joyful reactions were seen. Talleyrand was to write in his Memoirs: "It can be said without the least exaggeration that at the time of the peace of Amiens, France enjoyed, outside its borders, a power, glory, and influence greater than which not even the most ambitious spirit could wish for his fatherland. In less than two and a half years, France had risen from the dismal state into which the Directory had plunged it, to the first rank of European nations."

June 25: Peace Treaty of Paris with Turkey.

 

For the first time since April 20, 1792, France was no longer at war. This peace lent the Consulate an allure and a splendour that radiated across the century, making this a blessed time, a golden age, one of these privileged moments that are so rare in a nation’s history. 1801, 1802, 1803 and 1804 marked the high point of France’s fortunes, whereas only one year earlier, it had been at the bottom of the abyss. And France surrendered itself to the most dazzling dreams; it had reached port, and found peace.

 

Napoleon had delivered the goods on time. In applauding him, France was applauding itself for having chosen so well, calculated so accurately, for having entrusted itself to this man who so perfectly fulfilled its desires. Peace at home, peace abroad, greatness, prosperity, calm; it was the reward of long striving and the end of a nightmare. An almost inexpressible feeling of happiness invaded this people, whose lives, for the ten previous years, had been convulsed by civil and foreign wars.

 

Napoleon would have liked this peace to last forever; indeed, it was his most fervent desire. He had done his duty, now he would have liked a little rest, a little happiness—a little of the happiness for which he had worked so hard for others and for which he had never had time to stop for himself. He would have liked to be able to devote his genius and his formidable energy, in peace and quiet, to improving the living conditions of the people. And when one realises the impressive total of his accomplishments in this regard, and the short span of time in which he achieved them, all the while repulsing repeated attacks by foreign armies, interior treason and the near-permanent threat of assassins in the pay of England, one has the right to dream of all that he might have achieved.

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