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

A blow was struck at the Tribunate


Thus

ended the civil war which for nearly seven years had rent France in twain. Whatever may be said about the details of Bonaparte's action, few will deny its beneficent results on French life. Harsh and remorseless as Nature herself towards individuals, he certainly, at this part of his career, promoted the peace and prosperity of the masses. And what more can be said on behalf of a ruler at the end of a bloody revolution?

Meanwhile the First Consul had continued to develop Sieyes' constitution in the direction of autocracy. The Council of State, which was little more than an enlarged Ministry, had been charged with the vague and dangerous function of "developing the sense of laws" on the demand of the Consuls; and it was soon seen that this Council was merely a convenient screen to hide the operations of Bonaparte's will. On the other hand, a blow was struck at the Tribunate, the only public body which had the right of debate and criticism. It was now proposed (January, 1800) that the time allowed for debate should be strictly limited. This restriction to the right of free discussion met with little opposition. One of the most gifted of the new tribunes, Benjamin Constant, the friend of Madame de Stael, eloquently pleaded against this policy of distrust which would reduce the Tribunate to a silence that would be _heard by Europe_. It was in vain. The rabid rhetoric of the past had infected France with a foolish fear of all free debate. The Tribunate

signed its own death warrant; and the sole result of its feeble attempt at opposition was that Madame de Stael's _salon_ was forthwith deserted by the Liberals who had there found inspiration; while the gifted authoress herself was officially requested to retire into the country.

The next act of the central power struck at freedom of the press. As a few journals ventured on witticisms at the expense of the new Government, the Consuls ordered the suppression of all the political journals of Paris except thirteen; and three even of these favoured papers were suppressed on April 7th. The reason given for this despotic action was the need of guiding public opinion wisely during the war, and of preventing any articles "contrary to the respect due to the social compact, to the sovereignty of the people, and to the glory of the armies." By a finely ironical touch Rousseau's doctrine of the popular sovereignty was thus invoked to sanction its violation. The incident is characteristic of the whole tendency of events, which showed that the dawn of personal rule was at hand. In fact, Bonaparte had already taken the bold step of removing to the Tuileries, and that too, on the very day when he ordered public mourning for the death of Washington (February 7th). No one but the great Corsican would have dared to brave the comments which this coincidence provoked. But he was necessary to France, and all men knew it. At the first sitting of the provisional Consuls, Ducos had said to him: "It is useless to vote about the presidence; it belongs to you of right"; and, despite the wry face pulled by Sieyes, the general at once took the chair. Scarcely less remarkable than the lack of energy in statesmen was the confusion of thought in the populace. Mme. Reinhard tells us that after the _coup d'etat_ people _believed they had returned to the first days of liberty_. What wonder, then, that the one able and strong-willed man led the helpless many and re-moulded Sieyes' constitution in a fashion that was thus happily parodied:

"J'ai, pour les fous, d'un Tribunat Conserve la figure; Pour les sots je laisse un Senat, Mais ce n'est qu'en peinture; A ce stupide magistrat Ma volonte preside; Et tout le Conseil d'Etat Dans mon sabre reside."


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