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

Previously enjoyed by the Corps Legislatif


was empowered to make constitutions

for the French colonies, or to suspend trial by jury for five years in any Department, or even to declare it outside the limits of the constitution. It now gained the right of being consulted in regard to the ratification of treaties, previously enjoyed by the _Corps Legislatif._ Finally, it could dissolve the _Corps Legislatif_ and the Tribunate. But this formidable machinery was kept under the strict control of the chief engineer: all these powers were set in motion on the initiative of the Government; and the proposals for its laws, or _senatus consulta,_ were discussed in the Cabal of the Council of State named by the First Consul. This precaution might have been deemed superfluous by a ruler less careful about details than Napoleon; the composition of the Senate was such as to assure its pliability; for though it continued to renew its ranks by co-optation, yet that privilege was restricted in the following way: from the lists of candidates for the Senate sent up by the electoral colleges of the Departments, Napoleon selected three for each seat vacant; one of those three must be chosen by the Senate. Moreover, the First Consul was to be allowed directly to nominate forty members in addition to the eighty prescribed by the constitution of 1799. Thus, by direct or indirect means, the Senate soon became a strict Napoleonic preserve, to which only the most devoted adherents could aspire. And yet, such is the vanity of human efforts, it was this very body which twelve years later
was to vote his deposition.[178]

The victory of action over talk, of the executive over the legislature, of the one supremely able man over the discordant and helpless many, was now complete. The process was startlingly swift; yet its chief stages are not difficult to trace. The orators of the first two National Assemblies of France, after wrecking the old royal authority, were constrained by the pressure of events to intrust the supervision of the executive powers to important committees, whose functions grew with the intensity of the national danger. Amidst the agonies of 1793, when France was menaced by the First Coalition, the Committee of Public Safety leaped forth as the ensanguined champion of democracy; and, as the crisis, developed in intensity, this terrible body and the Committee of General Security virtually governed France.

After the repulse of the invaders and the fall of Robespierre, the return to ordinary methods was marked by the institution of the Directory, when five men, chosen by the legislature, controlled the executive powers and the general policy of the Republic: that compromise was forcibly ended by the stroke of Brumaire. Three Consuls then seized the reins, and two years later a single charioteer gripped the destinies of France. His powers were, in fact, ultimately derived from those of the secret committees of the terrorists. But, unlike the supremacy of Robespierre, that of Napoleon could not be disputed; for the general, while guarding all the material boons which the Revolution had conferred, conciliated the interests and classes whereon the civilian had so brutally trampled. The new autocracy therefore possessed a solid strength which that of the terrorists could never possess. Indeed, it was more absolute than the dictatorial power that Rousseau had outlined. The philosopher had asserted that, while silencing the legislative power, the dictator really made it vocal, and that he could do everything but make laws. But Napoleon, after 1802, did far more: he suppressed debates and yet drew laws from his subservient legislature. Whether, then, we regard its practical importance for France and Europe, or limit our view to the mental sagacity and indomitable will-power required for its accomplishment, the triumph of Napoleon in the three years subsequent to his return from Egypt is the most stupendous recorded in the history of civilized peoples.


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