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

As the opportunist Jacobins argued


style="text-align: justify;"> CHAPTER XX

THE DAWN OF THE EMPIRE

For some time the question of a Napoleonic dynasty had been freely discussed; and the First Consul himself had latterly confessed his intentions to Joseph in words that reveal his super-human confidence and his caution: "I always intended to end the Revolution by the establishment of heredity: but I thought that such a step could not be taken before the lapse of five or six years." Events, however, bore him along on a favouring tide. Hatred of England, fear of Jacobin excesses, indignation at the royalist schemes against his life, and finally even the execution of Enghien, helped on the establishment of the Empire. Though moderate men of all parties condemned the murder, the remnants of the Jacobin party hailed it with joy. Up to this time they had a lingering fear that the First Consul was about to play the part of Monk. The pomp of the Tuileries and the hated Concordat seemed to their crooked minds but the prelude to a recall of the Bourbons, whereupon priestcraft, tithes, and feudalism would be the order of the day. Now at last the tragedy of Vincennes threw a lurid light into the recesses of Napoleon's ambition; and they exclaimed, "He is one of us." It must thenceforth be war to the knife between the Bourbons and Bonaparte; and his rule would therefore be the best guarantee for the perpetual ownership of the lands confiscated during the Revolution.[305]

style="text-align: justify;">To a materialized society that great event had come to be little more than a big land investment syndicate, of which Bonaparte was now to be the sole and perpetual director. This is the inner meaning of the references to the Social Contract which figure so oddly among the petitions for hereditary rule. The Jacobins, except a few conscientious stalwarts, were especially alert in the feat of making extremes meet. Fouche, who now wriggled back into favour and office, appealed to the Senate, only seven days after the execution, to establish hereditary power as the only means of ending the plots against Napoleon's life; for, as the opportunist Jacobins argued, if the hereditary system were adopted, conspiracies to murder would be meaningless, when, even if they struck down one man, they must fail to shatter the system that guaranteed the Revolution.

The cue having been thus dextrously given, appeals and petitions for hereditary rule began to pour in from all parts of France. The grand work of the reorganization of France certainly furnished a solid claim on the nation's gratitude. The recent promulgation of the Civil Code and the revival of material prosperity redounded to Napoleon's glory; and with equal truth and wit he could claim the diadem as a fit reward _for having revived many interests while none had been displaced._ Such a remark and such an exploit proclaim the born ruler of men. But the Senate overstepped all bounds of decency when it thus addressed him: "You are founding a new era: but you ought to make it last for ever: splendour is nothing without duration." The Greeks who fawned on Persian satraps did not more unman themselves than these pensioned sycophants, who had lived through the days of 1789 but knew them not. This fulsome adulation would be unworthy of notice did it not convey the most signal proof of the danger which republics incur when men lose sight of the higher aims of life and wallow among its sordid interests.[306]


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