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

Which might send up a malcontent or royalist majority


the real crux of constitution builders had hitherto been in the relations of the Legislature to the Executive. How should the brain of the body politic, that is, the Legislature, be connected with the hand, that is, the Executive? Obviously, so argued all French political thinkers, the two functions were distinct and must be kept separate. The results of this theory of the separation of powers were clearly traceable in the course of the Revolution. When the hand had been left almost powerless, as in 1791-2, owing to democratic jealousy of the royal Ministry, the result had been anarchy. The supreme needs of the State in the agonies of 1793 had rendered the hand omnipotent: the Convention, that is, the brain, was for some time powerless before its own instrument, the two secret committees. Experience now showed that the brain must exercise a general control over the hand, without unduly hampering its actions. Evidently, then, the deputies of France must intrust the details of administration to responsible Ministers, though some directing agency seemed needed as a spur to energy and a check against royalist plots. In brief, the Committee of Public Safety, purged of its more dangerous powers, was to furnish the model for a new body of five members, termed the Directory. This organism, which was to give its name to the whole period 1795-1799, was not the Ministry. There was no Ministry as we now use the term. There were Ministers who were responsible individually for their departments
of State: but they never met for deliberation, or communicated with the Legislature; they were only heads of departments, who were responsible individually to the Directors. These five men formed a powerful committee, deliberating in private on the whole policy of the State and on all the work of the Ministers. The Directory had not, it is true, the right of initiating laws and of arbitrary arrest which the two committees had freely exercised during the Terror. Its dependence on the Legislature seemed also to be guaranteed by the Directors being appointed by the two legislative Councils; while one of the five was to vacate his office for re-election every year. But in other respects the directorial powers were almost as extensive as those wielded by the two secret committees, or as those which Bonaparte was to inherit from the Directory in 1799. They comprised the general control of policy in peace and war, the right to negotiate treaties (subject to ratification by the legislative councils), to promulgate laws voted by the Councils and watch over their execution, and to appoint or dismiss the Ministers of State.

Such was the constitution which was proclaimed on September 22nd, 1795, or 1st Vendemiaire, Year IV., of the revolutionary calendar. An important postscript to the original constitution now excited fierce commotions which enabled the young officer to repair his own shattered fortunes. The Convention, terrified at the thought of a general election, which might send up a malcontent or royalist majority, decided to impose itself on France for at least two years longer. With an effrontery unparalleled in parliamentary annals, it decreed that the law of the new constitution, requiring the re-election of one-third of the deputies every year, should now be applied to itself; and that the rest of its members should sit in the forthcoming Councils. At once a cry of disgust and rage arose from all who were weary of the Convention and all its works. "Down with the two-thirds!" was the cry that resounded through the streets of Paris. The movement was not so much definitely royalist as vaguely malcontent. The many were enraged by the existing dearth and by the failure of the Revolution to secure even cheap bread. Doubtless the royalists strove to drive on the discontent to the desired goal, and in many parts they tinged the movement with an unmistakably Bourbon tint. But it is fairly certain that in Paris they could not alone have fomented a discontent so general as that of Vendemiaire. That they would have profited by the defeat of the Convention is, however, equally certain. The history of the Revolution proves that those who at first merely opposed the excesses of the Jacobins gradually drifted over to the royalists. The Convention now found itself attacked in the very city which had been the chosen abode of Liberty and Equality. Some thirty thousand of the Parisian National Guards were determined to give short shrift to this Assembly that clung so indecently to life; and as the armies were far away, the Parisian malcontents seemed masters of the situation. Without doubt they would have been but for their own precipitation and the energy of Buonaparte.

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