Volume II - Chapter 5
LONG LIVE THE EMPEROR!
I created the Empire to safeguard the Revolution
and on behalf of the French nation…
had to give
all the conditions needed for unity and stability.
(Napoleon to Montholon, Saint Helena)
Bonaparte First Consul, with consuls Cambacérès and Lebrun,
receiving the presidents' oaths
Louis-Charles-Auguste Couder (1789-1873)
understood his position perfectly well: he could fall to the blows of royalist
assassins in the pay of the English, and the country, still inadequately
restructured owing to lack of time, would pass into the hands of the various
rival factions – Royalists, Jacobins – whose self-destructiveness would drag
The assassination attempts that the First Consul had been subjected to (he had been appointed “Consul for Life” by the Constitution of year X) had led him to realize that it was vital to plan measures to safeguard his work of national peace and reconciliation.
And what a triumph he achieved!
peace, including the recall of exiles of all stripes and the suspension of the
list of émigrés; religious peace under the Concordat, hailed with a Te Deum sung in Notre-Dame on Easter
Sunday 1802 (in this regard, we may recall that the Concordat recognized the
Roman Catholic religion not as the state religion – as the Vatican so earnestly
desired – but as “the religion of the majority of French people.” This
qualification gave the Catholic religion equal legal status with other
religions. To be precise, the First Consul had introduced religious tolerance
among the social institutions of the nation; financial and judicial
reconstruction; external peace brought about by brilliant victories over the
European monarchies, who, with English financing, had not ceased to make war on
Russian ambassador to
“Its method [referring to the London Cabinet] will ever be to obliterate its only rival, France, and then to rule despotically over the whole universe.”
man such as Bonaparte could therefore only be a thorn in
London Cabinet was forced, however, to realize that, far from weakening and
is no surprise, therefore, as indeed would be the case the today, that when the
question of Napoleon’s appointment as “Consul for Life” was put to the people
A More “Presentable”
Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (1754-1838)
by Simon (1770-1837) (RR)
Bishop of Autun before the Revolution, he was Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1795-1804. He played a decisive role in the advent of the French Empire, and it was he who skilfully negotiated with the Vatican so that the Pope, Pie VII, should come to Paris in order to crown Napoleon Emperor at Notre-Dame. A talented diplomat, Talleyrand was above all an opportunist and although Napoleon appointed him Grand Chamberlain of the empire in 1804 and later granted him the title of Prince of Benevente, he later betrayed the Emperor and went on to serve under different regimes, always in high office.
as dissimilar as Talleyrand and Fouché supported the scheme. The general idea
was that by founding a fourth dynasty,
It would likely have been the activists in the Revolution who were most involved in this progress to the throne by the First Consul, and especially those who had voted for the death of Louis XVI, because founding a new dynasty would be the surest way to prevent the return of the Bourbons.
The conspiracy by Cadoulal, which provoked justifiable outrage in the country (the Senate was shown coins found on the three English agents, Drake, Taylor and Smith, thereby substantiating the active participation of their country in the plot), had prepared public opinion for a change that seemed more and more essential for the survival of the state.
In the month of April 1804, during the investigation for the trial of Cadoulal and his accomplices, among them General Pichegru (who committed suicide in the Temple prison), and Moreau (whose sentence was commuted to banishment)… a member of the Tribunate placed a motion before the Assembly to invest Napoleon Bonaparte with imperial honours and to declare the French Empire hereditary upon his heirs.
A commission responsible for investigating the motion tabled its report some days later and concluded in favour of adoption.
A single dissenting voice arose in the midst of this unanimity, that of the mathematician and former member of the Directorate, Carnot, an unshakeable republican, who had already openly declared himself by his refusal to vote for the Consul for Life. But, unlike the others, Carnot endangered neither the Emperor nor France, and in the dark days of 1814-1815, this dissenter placed himself – spontaneously – at Napoleon’s service.
The Emperor, respecting the man, never bore a grudge against ex-Director Carnot.
Involuntary and Unexpected Support
voice arose on June 6 in
Le comte de Provence by Adélaïde (1749-1803) (RR)
Instead of attempting ot conceal the reaction of the exiled Bourbon - then comte de Provence and future Louis XVIII - Napoleon, very intelligently, decided to publish his protestations in "Le Moniteur". Shocked, the French discovered that "the man who wanted to be king" refused to acknowledge the changes and social benefits they had acquired with the French Revolution.
When he was apprised of Bonaparte’s accession to the throne, he protested in the following terms:
taking the title of Emperor, and in wanting to make it hereditary upon his
heirs, Bonaparte puts a seal upon his usurpation. This fresh act of a
revolution in which all things from the start were worthless will assuredly not
diminish my rights; but, accountable for my conduct before all sovereigns,
whose rights have been no less dishonoured than my own and whose thrones have
all been disturbed by the dangerous principles that the Senate in Paris has
dared to advance; accountable to France, to my family, and to my own honour, I
believe that my silence on this occasion would betray the common cause. I
therefore declare, before all sovereigns, that, far from recognizing the
imperial title that Bonaparte has just had bestowed upon himself by a body that
does not even enjoy legitimate existence in
This protest became an immeasurable assistance to the new regime, however little intended: the remarks of the Comte de Provence, which were nothing less than a negation of and challenge to the gains of the Revolution, rallied all those who with dogged republican fervour were reluctant to assent.
Napoleon, however, made no mistake and had the Pretender’s protest compulsorily and extensively reprinted in the Moniteur of July 1.
The protest itself produced no outcome because, as one memoir writer records, “the conspiracy of Georges [Cadoulal] had perhaps dampened the already-enfeebled support that barely lingered on for the old regime. [This plot] was, in effect, so badly hatched and appeared to be based on such ignorance of the inner convictions of France and the sentiments that she embraced, the names and characters of the conspirators inspiring so little confidence, and, especially, there being such widespread fear of fresh troubles that great changes would generate, that, except for a small number of the gentry devoted to restoring things to an order already destroyed, there were absolutely no regrets in France regarding an outcome that reinforced the system that had just been set up.”
the Monarchies of
the most influential European monarchies were attended to: those of
The King of Prussia, Friedrich-Wilhelm, clearly unenthusiastic about any such recognition, but, at the same time, obsessed by the notion that he would be awarded the fine lands of Hanover, declared himself “ready to recognize, as soon as it occurred, the restoration in France of a monarchical government to the advantage of a man who had deserved it by his wisdom and great deeds.”
As for the House of Habsburg, threatened by the aftermath of the “Recez of Ratisbonne” (the law that had dismembered the Holy Roman Empire in March 1803) with the loss of the German Elector’s crown and the imperial title, it sought to create another title – that of “Hereditary Emperor of Austria”
the plan needed to be accepted by the European powers, and therefore very much
There would henceforth be an exchange of friendly services.
had concluded that, logically, if
A Title with Military Significance
In the advance toward a yet-undefined throne, a question of vital importance arose – what title would the new sovereign assume?
title of king was out of the question, for the people of
Bonaparte obviously was clearly opposed in equal measure.
It is worth recalling an interesting anecdote told by Madame de Rémusat, one of the ladies at the court of the Empress Josephine: Talleyrand, Minister for External Affairs, remarked one day to Berthier, who was shortly to be promoted to Marshal but at the time was Minister of War:
“You know what great scheme is in the air. Go and persuade the First Consul to take the title of king.”
Then, Talleyrand, who had no affection for Berthier, withdrew to observe the scene.
The inevitable happened. At the mention of the word “king,” Bonaparte’s eyes flashed with anger:
“Who told you to come and get my blood boiling? Next time, don’t accept such errands!”
What, then, for a title?
The only one that suited was that of emperor. It was (relatively) new and thoroughly ancient at the same time and, especially because of its military associations, perfectly suited the distinguished soldier become leader of the nation of which he was to say in 1809:
day I spend away from
Moreover, in the eyes of the public, the title of emperor did not have the tainted associations that attached to that of king – a title that reminded the French of a regime they had abolished in 1789.
Talleyrand, who was little more than a venal pocket-liner before becoming a traitor to Napoleon, and therefore to his country, summed up the scene perfectly with one of those spiteful remarks that the future Prince of Bénévent could not resist:
title of emperor offered a combination of the
Tribunate and Senate Unanimous
“The Tribunate, exercising the right conferred upon it by Article 29 of the Constitution, expresses its will:
that Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul, be proclaimed Emperor of
“Secondly, that the title of Emperor and all imperial powers devolve upon his heirs, passing from male to male in order of primogeniture;
“Thirdly, that in enacting amendments to the structure of duly constituted authorities such as would require that hereditary powers be instituted, equality, liberty and the rights of the people shall be respected in their entirety.
“This present expression of our will shall be presented to the Senate by six speakers who will explain the will of the Tribunate.”
By proclaiming Roman Catholic Religion the religion of the "majority of French people" rather than the "Religion of the French State", Napoleon establisehd religious freedom in France.
On May 4, by unanimous vote, the Senate approved a new address in which it affirmed that the wellbeing of France, and the need to bring stability to the institutions that it owed to the Revolution, required the investment of hereditary imperial dignity upon the person of Bonaparte and his heirs and that it was the duty of the same to accept “a title that, while it adds not at all to his glory, at least gives him the means to render himself the more useful in the service of his country.”
May 5, the Senate delivered an address to Bonaparte to ask him, without being
more explicit, to perform one further act to ensure peace for
invite you to make your wishes known to me in full. I desire that we say to the
On May 18, the senators met to listen to the former president, the naturalist Lacepède, who was also Grand Chancellor of the Legion of Honour, read a text from the senatus consulte that gave official, legal form to these new, utterly monarchical institutions.
Then, they travelled to the Chateau of Saint Cloud where a vast throng had assembled for the great event.
According to witnesses, he who was still “only” First Consul Bonaparte awaited the senators, Josephine by his side. These witnesses described the Consul as “calm, dignified but not haughty, although his youthful face [he was only 35] revealed a joy that, truth to tell, he could not conceal.”
As for Josephine, she appeared “distraught.”
And this man, who until then was never addressed except as “Citizen General” or “Citizen First Consul,” heard Cambacérès, his colleague (but not for much longer), say to him as he approached: “Sire… ”
That one word sealed a man’s destiny, and with him, that of his entire nation.
the cannons in
The Château de Saint-Cloud
It was at the Château de Saint-Cloud (which no longer ixists today) situated approximately four kilometres west of Paris, that he First Consul Bonaparte learned that he was to become Emperor of the French.
It was no longer First Consul Bonaparte, but Napoleon I who answered the speech of Cambacérès in a few short sentences, after which a shout, the first of so many, resounded and echoed:
LONG LIVE THE EMPEROR!