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The Life of Napoleon I (Volume 1 of 2) by Rose

Declaimed against the Jacobins


The

French constitution was now to be reconstructed by a self-appointed commission which sat with closed doors. This strange ending to all the constitution-building of a decade was due to the adroitness of Lucien Bonaparte. At the close of that eventful day, the 19th of Brumaire, he gathered about him in the deserted hall at St. Cloud some score or so of the dispersed deputies known to be favourable to his brother, declaimed against the Jacobins, whose spectral plot had proved so useful to the real plotters, and proposed to this "Rump" of the Council the formation of a commission who should report on measures that were deemed necessary for the public safety. The measures were found to be the deposition of the Directory, the expulsion of sixty-one members from the Councils, the nomination of Sieyes, Roger Ducos, and Bonaparte as provisional Consuls and the adjournment of the Councils for four months. The Consuls accordingly took up their residence in the Luxemburg Palace, just vacated by the Directors, and the drafting of a constitution was confided to them and to an _interim_ commission of fifty members chosen equally from the two Councils.

The illegality of these devices was hidden beneath a cloak of politic clemency. To this commission the Consuls, or rather Bonaparte--for his will soon dominated that of Sieyes--proposed two most salutary changes. He desired to put an end to the seizure of hostages from villages suspected of royalism; and also

to the exaction of taxes levied on a progressive scale, which harassed the wealthy without proportionately benefiting the exchequer. These two expedients, adopted by the Directory in the summer of 1799, were temporary measures adopted to stem the tide of invasion and to crush revolts; but they were regarded as signs of a permanently terrorist policy, and their removal greatly strengthened the new consular rule. The blunder of nearly all the revolutionary governments had been in continuing severe laws after the need for them had ceased to be pressing. Bonaparte, with infinite tact, discerned this truth, and, as will shortly appear, set himself to found his government on the support of that vast neutral mass which was neither royalist nor Jacobin, which hated the severities of the reds no less than the abuses of the _ancien regime_.

While Bonaparte was conciliating the many, Sieyes was striving to body forth the constitution which for many years had been nebulously floating in his brain. The function of the Socratic [Greek: maieutaes] was discharged by Boulay de la Meurthe, who with difficulty reduced those ideas to definite shape. The new constitution was based on the principle: "Confidence comes from below, power from above." This meant that the people, that is, all adult males, were admitted only to the preliminary stages of election of deputies, while the final act of selection was to be made by higher grades or powers. The "confidence" required of the people was to be shown not only towards their nominees, but towards those who were charged with the final and most important act of selection. The winnowing processes in the election of representatives were to be carried out on a decimal system. The adult voters meeting in their several districts were to choose one-tenth of their number, this tenth being named the Notabilities of the Commune. These, some five or six hundred thousand in number, meeting in their several Departments, were thereupon to choose one-tenth of their number; and the resulting fifty or sixty thousand men, termed Notabilities of the Departments, were again to name one-tenth of their number, who were styled Notabilities of the Nation. But the most important act of selection was still to come--from above. From this last-named list the governing powers were to select the members of the legislative bodies and the chief officials and servants of the Government.


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