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

And were termed arrondissements


The

first question of political reconstruction which urgently claimed attention was that of local government. On the very day when it was certain that the nation had accepted the new constitution, the First Consul presented to the Legislature a draft of a law for regulating the affairs of the Departments. It must be admitted that local self-government, as instituted by the men of 1789 in their Departmental System, had proved a failure. In that time of buoyant hope, when every difficulty and abuse seemed about to be charmed away by the magic of universal suffrage, local self-government of a most advanced type had been intrusted to an inexperienced populace. There were elections for the commune or parish, elections for the canton, elections for the district, elections for the Department, and elections for the National Assembly, until the rustic brain, after reeling with excitement, speedily fell back into muddled apathy and left affairs generally to the wire-pullers of the nearest Jacobin club. A time of great confusion ensued. Law went according to local opinion, and the national taxes were often left unpaid. In the Reign of Terror this lax system was replaced by the despotism of the secret committees, and the way was thus paved for a return to organized central control, such as was exercised by the Directory.

The First Consul, as successor to the Directory, therefore found matters ready to his hand for a drastic measure of centralization, and it

is curious to notice that the men of 1789 had unwittingly cleared the ground for him. To make way for the "supremacy of the general will," they abolished the _Parlements_, which had maintained the old laws, customs, and privileges of their several provinces, and had frequently interfered in purely political matters. The abolition of these and other privileged corporations in 1789 unified France and left not a single barrier to withstand either the flood of democracy or the backwash of reaction. Everything therefore favoured the action of the First Consul in drawing all local powers under his own control. France was for the moment weary of elective bodies, that did little except waste the nation's taxes; and though there was some opposition to the new proposal, it passed on February 16th, 1800 (28 Pluviose, an, viii).

It substituted local government by the central power for local self-government. The local divisions remained the same, except that the "districts," abolished by the Convention, were now reconstituted on a somewhat larger scale, and were termed _arrondissements_, while the smaller communes, which had been merged in the cantons since 1795, were also revived. It is noteworthy that, of all the areas mapped out by the Constituent Assembly in 1789-90, only the Department and canton have had a continuous existence--a fact which seems to show the peril of tampering with well-established boundaries, and of carving out a large number of artificial districts, which speedily become the _corpus vile_ of other experimenters. Indeed, so little was there of effective self-government that France seems to have sighed with relief when order was imposed by Bonaparte in the person of a Prefect. This important official, a miniature First Consul, was to administer the affairs of the Department, while sub-prefects were similarly placed over the new _arrondissements_, and mayors over the communes. The mayors were appointed by the First Consul in communes of more than 5,000 souls: by the prefects in the smaller communes: all were alike responsible to the central power.

The rebound from the former electoral system, which placed all local authority ultimately in the hands of the voters, was emphasized


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