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FrRevol_451-500.indd 33 3/16/12 1:12 PM CHAPTER XI Bonaparte Emperor. The Counter-revolution Effected by him. When Bonaparte, at the close of the last century, put himself at the head of the French people, the whole nation desired a free and constitutional government. The nobles, long exiled from France, aspired only to return in peace to their homes; the Catholic clergy invoked toleration; as the republican warriors had effaced by their exploits the splendor of the distinctions of nobility, the feudal race of ancient conquerors respected the new victors, and a revolution had taken place in the public mind. Europe was willing to resign to France the barrier of the Rhine and the Alps; and the only thing that remained was to secure these advantages by repairing the evils which the acquisition of them had brought along with it. But Bonaparte conceived the idea ofeffecting a counter-revolution to his own advantage by retaining in the state nothing new except himself. He reestablished the throne, the clergy, and the nobility; a monarchy, as Mr. Pitt said, without legitimacy and without imitation; a clergy who were only the preachers ofdespotism; a nobility composed ofold and new families who exercised no magistracy in the state and served only as a gaudy decoration of arbitrary power.1 1. On this issue, see Furet, Revolutionary France, 219-25, 248- 5r; and Bergeron, France Under Napolion, 3- 22. Madame de Stael's words must be taken with a grain of salt and might be more appropriate to a later phase of Napoleon's rule (after 18o8). As many historians have pointed out, the great conquests of 1789 did not disappear in 1804, when Napoleon became emperor. Moreover, the new privileges sanctioned by Napoleon were not hereditary; on the contrary, as Furet argued, "the dialectic of equality and status wove Napoleonic society together more closely than ever" (250). Yet, it is revealing that toward the end of his reign, in I8IJ, Napoleon predicted: "After me, the Revolution-or, rather, FrRevol_451-500.indd 34 3/16/12 1:12 PM PART IV Bonaparte opened the door to ancient prejudices, flattering himselfthat he could arrest them precisely at the point which suited his omnipotence. It has been often said that he would have kept his place if he had been moderate. But what is meant by moderate? If he had established with sincerity and dignity the English constitution in France, he would doubtless still have been emperor. His victories made him a prince; it was his love of etiquette, his thirst for flattery, titles, decorations, chamberlains, that made re-appear in him the character of an upstart. But however rash his system of conquest might be, from the moment that his soul became so miserable as to see no grandeur except in despotism, it was perhaps impossible for him to do without continual wars; for what would a despot be without military glory in a country like France? Could the nation be oppressed in the interior without giving it the fatal compensation ofruling elsewhere in its turn? Absolute power is the scourge ofthe human race; and all the French governments which have succeeded the Constituent Assembly have perished by yielding to this seduction under some pretext or other. At the moment when Bonaparte wished to be named emperor, he believed it was necessary to give new confidence, on the one hand, to the revolutionaries with respect to the possibility of the return of the Bourbons , and on the other, to prove to the royalists that in attaching themselves to him, they separated themselves irremediably from the cause of the ancient dynasty. It was to accomplish this double end that he perpetrated the murder ofa prince ofthe blood, the Duke d'Enghien.2 He passed the Rubicon of crime, and from that day his downfall was written in the book of destiny. One of the Machiavellian politicians of the court ofBonaparte said on this occasion that the assassination ofD'Enghien was much worse than a crime, for it was a fault. I have, I acknowledge, a profound contempt for the ideas which formed it-will resume their course. It will be like a book from which the marker is removed, and one starts to read again at the page where one left off'' (Furet, Revolutionary France, 265-66). His words vindicated to some extent Madame de Stael's opinion. 2. The Duke d'Enghien, the son of the last Conde, lived in the town of...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781614878636
Related ISBN
9780865977327
MARC Record
OCLC
836874520
Pages
834
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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