Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XX: Of the State of Minds at the Moment When the Directorial Republic Was Established in France. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER XX: Of the State of Minds at the Moment When the Directorial Republic Was Established in France. - Germaine de Staël, Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.) 
Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution, newly revised translation of the 1818 English edition, edited, with an introduction and notes by Aurelian Craiutu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
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Of the State of Minds at the Moment When the Directorial Republic Was Established in France.
The Reign of Terror ought to be ascribed exclusively to the principles of tyranny; one finds them there completely intact. The popular forms adopted by that government were only a sort of ceremonial, which suited these savage despots; but the members of the Committee of Public Safety professed at the tribune the code of Machiavellianism, that is to say, power founded upon the degradation of men; they only took care to translate the old maxims into new terms. The liberty of the press was much more odious to them than even to the ancient feudal or theocratic states; they allowed no security to the accused, either through the means of the laws or through the means of the judges.1 Arbitrary will, without limits, was their doctrine; it was enough for them to assign as a pretext for every violence the peculiar name of their government, The Public Safety: a fatal expression which implies the sacrifice of morality to what it has been agreed to call the interest of the state, that is, to the passions of those who govern.
From the fall of Robespierre to the establishment of the Republican Government under the form of a Directory, there was an interval of about fifteen months, which may be considered as the true epoch of anarchy in France.2 Nothing is less like the period of terror than this time, though many crimes were still committed. The disastrous inheritance of Robespierre’s laws had not been abandoned; but the liberty of the press began to revive, and truth along with it. The general wish was to establish wise and free institutions, and to get rid of the men who had governed during the reign of blood. Nothing, however, was so difficult as to satisfy this double desire; for the Convention still held the authority in its hands, and many of the friends of liberty feared that a counter-revolution might take place if those were deprived of power whose lives would be compromised by the re-establishment of the old regime. The crimes which have been committed in the name of liberty are, however, a poor security; the return of the men who had been made to suffer would, of course, be dreaded; but people are quite ready to sacrifice their principles to their security, should an opportunity present itself.
It was therefore a great misfortune for France that she was obliged to leave the republic in the hands of the members of the Convention. Some of the members were endowed with superior abilities; but those who had shared in the government of terror had necessarily contracted habits of servility and tyranny together. It was in this school that Bonaparte selected many of the men who afterward established his power; and, as they sought shelter above everything, they never felt fully assured but in despotism.
The majority of the Convention wished to punish some of the most atrocious deputies who had oppressed it; but it drew up the list of the guilty with a trembling hand, always apprehensive lest it should be itself accused of the laws which had served as a justification or pretext for every crime. The royalist party sent agents abroad, and found partisans in the interior, from the very irritation which was excited by the continuance of the Convention’s power.3 Nevertheless, the fear of losing all the advantages of the Revolution attached the people and the soldiers to the existing authority. The army always fought against foreigners with the same energy, and its exploits had already obtained an important peace for France, the treaty of Basel with Prussia.4 The people also, we should add, supported unheard of evils with astonishing perseverance; famine on the one hand, and the depreciation of the paper money on the other, were reducing the lowest class of society to a state of the utmost wretchedness. If the kings of France had made their subjects undergo half these sufferings, they would have revolted on all sides. But the nation believed that they were devoting themselves for their country, and nothing equals the courage inspired by such a conviction.
Sweden having acknowledged the French Republic, M. de Staël resided at Paris as minister. I passed some months there during the year 1795, when the society of Paris was truly a very curious spectacle. Each of us was soliciting the recall of some emigrants, our friends. I obtained at this time permission for several to return; in consequence of which the deputy Legendre, a man almost from the dregs of the people, denounced me at the tribune of the Convention. The influence of women, the ascendant of good company, gilded saloons, appeared very terrible to those who were not admitted themselves, while their colleagues were seduced from them by invitations. Every tenth day (for Sunday existed no more) all the elements of the old and the new regime were seen united in the evening, though not reconciled. The elegant manners of well-educated persons penetrated through the humble costume which they still retained as in the days of terror. The men who had been converted from the Jacobin party entered for the first time into the society of the great world, and their self-love was more apt to take offense upon things which related to the tone of fashion, which they wished to imitate, than upon any other subject. The women of the old regime surrounded them, in order to obtain the return of their brothers, their sons, their husbands; and the insinuating flattery, of which they knew how to avail themselves, struck these rude ears and disposed the most bitter of the factious to what we have since seen—that is to say, to re-create a court, to bring back all its abuses, only taking great care to appropriate them to themselves.
The apologies of those who had shared in the Reign of Terror formed truly the most inconceivable school of sophistry which it was possible to witness. Some said that they had been constrained to whatever they had done, though a thousand actions of spontaneous servility or cruelty might have been cited against them. Others pretended that they had sacrificed themselves to the public good, though it was known that they had thought only on self-preservation: all threw the evil upon some individuals; and, what was a singular circumstance in a country famed for military bravery, several of the political leaders gave fear, and nothing else, as a sufficient excuse for their conduct.
A well-known member of the Convention was telling me one day, among others, that at the moment when the revolutionary tribunal was decreed, he had foreseen all the calamities which resulted from it; “and yet,” added he, “the decree passed the Assembly unanimously.” Now, he himself was present at that meeting, voting for what he regarded as the establishment of judicial assassination: yet it did not once occur to his mind, as he related the fact to me, that resistance from him was a thing which might have been expected. Such complete and naive lack of moral principle leaves a man in doubt almost of the very possibility of virtue.
The Jacobins who had been personally concerned in the crimes of the days of terror, such as Lebon, Carrier,5 &c., were nearly all distinguished by the same kind of physiognomy. They might be seen in the tribune of the Convention reading their speeches, with a pale and nervous figure, going from side to side like a ferocious beast in its cage. When they were seated, they poised themselves, without rising or changing their place, in a sort of stationary agitation, which seemed to indicate merely the impossibility of repose.
In the midst of these depraved elements, there existed a party of republicans, the remnants of the Gironde, who had been persecuted with it, and were now coming forth from the prisons, or from the caverns which had served them as a refuge from death. This party was worthy of esteem in many respects; but it was not cured of its democratical systems, and besides, it had a suspicious spirit which made it see everywhere favorers of the old regime. Louvet,6 one of the Girondists who escaped the proscription, and author of a romance, Faublas, which foreigners often take for a picture of French manners, was a sincere republican. He trusted nobody; he brought into politics the species of faults which constituted the misery of Rousseau’s life;7 and many men of the same opinion resembled him in this respect. But the suspicions of the republicans and Jacobins in France proceeded at first from their being unable to obtain a favorable reception for their extravagant principles; and secondly, from a certain hatred against the nobles, in which some bad emotions were blended. They were right in wishing to have no nobility in France such as it had once existed; but aversion from men of noble birth is a mean sentiment which must be subdued before France can be organized in a stable manner.
In 1795, however, the plan of a republican constitution was proposed, much more reasonable and better combined than the monarchy decreed by the Constituent Assembly in 1791. Boissy d’Anglas,8 Daunou,9 and Lanjuinais,10 names which always meet us whenever a ray of freedom gleams over France, were members of the Committee of the Constitution. They ventured to propose two Chambers, under the names of the Council of Ancients and the Council of Five Hundred; qualifications of property in order to be eligible; two steps of election, which, though not a good institution in itself, was then rendered necessary by circumstances, with a view to raise the sphere of choice; finally, a Directory composed of five persons.11 This executive power had not yet the authority requisite for the maintenance of order; it was destitute of several indispensable prerogatives, the want of which, as we shall see later, brought on destructive convulsions.
The attempt at a republic was not without grandeur; however, that it might succeed, it would perhaps have been necessary to sacrifice Paris to France and to adopt federative forms, which, as we have stated, suit neither the character nor the habits of the nation. In a second point of view, the unity of the republican government appears impossible in a great country, and at variance with the nature of things.12 In other respects, the attempt failed chiefly by reason of the kind of men who exclusively filled all employments; the party to which they had belonged during the period of terror rendered them odious to the nation; thus, too many serpents were thrown into the cradle of Hercules.
The Convention, instructed by the example of the Constituent Assembly, whose work had been overturned because it had abandoned it too quickly to its successors, passed the decrees of the 5th and of the 13th of Fructidor, which kept two-thirds of the existing deputies in their places: it was, however, afterward agreed that one of these thirds should be removed within eighteen months, and the other a year later. This decree produced a terrible sensation in the public opinion, and completely broke the treaty which had been tacitly signed between the Convention and people of principle. Men were willing to pardon the Convention, on condition that it renounced power; but it was natural, on the other hand, that the Convention should wish to retain its authority, to serve at least as a safeguard. In these circumstances, the Parisians were somewhat too violent,13 and were perhaps exasperated by the eager desire of occupying every place, a passion which was then beginning to ferment in men’s minds. It was known, however, that persons of great acknowledged worth were marked out as the future directors; the members of the Convention wished to acquire honor by good selections; and perhaps it would have been wise to have waited for the appointed term, when the remainder of the deputies might have been legally and gradually removed. But some royalists were mingled with the party, who wished only to appropriate to themselves the places of the commonwealth; and, as has constantly happened for twenty-five years, at the moment when the cause of the Revolution seemed in the greatest danger, its defenders had on their side the people and the army, the suburbs and the soldiers. It was then that an alliance was established between the force of the people and the force of the military, which soon rendered the latter mistress of the former. The French warriors, so worthy of admiration for the resistance which they opposed to the coalesced powers, made themselves, so to say, the janissaries of freedom at home. Meddling in the internal affairs of France, they disposed of the civil authority and charged themselves with the task of effecting the different revolutions of which we have been witnesses.
The sections of Paris, on their side, were perhaps not exempt from the spirit of faction; for the cause of their tumult was of no urgent public interest, and they had only to wait eighteen months when no member of the Convention would remain in power. Impatience ruined them; they attacked the army of the Convention on the 13th of Vendemiaire, and the issue was not doubtful. The commander of this army was General Bonaparte: his name appeared for the first time in the annals of the world on the 13th of Vendemiaire (4th of October), 1795.14 He had already aided, but without being named, at the capture of Toulon in 1793, when that city revolted against the Convention. The party which overturned Robespierre had left him without employment after the 9th of Thermidor; and as he had then no resource of private fortune, he asked the committees of the government for leave to go to Constantinople to train the Turks to war. In the same manner Cromwell wished to set out for America at the beginning of the English Revolution. Barras, afterward director, took an interest in Bonaparte and selected him in the committees of the Convention to be its defender. It is pretended that General Bonaparte has said that he would have taken part with the sections, if they had offered him the command of their battalions. I have my doubts of the truth of this anecdote; not that General Bonaparte was, at any period of the Revolution, attached exclusively to any opinion whatsoever; but because he always felt too strongly the instinct of force, to choose to place himself on the side which was then necessarily the weakest.
In Paris, on the day following the 13th of Vendemiaire, people feared that the Reign of Terror might be re-established. In fact, those same members of the Convention who had sought to please when they believed themselves reconciled with people of principle, could rush into every excess when they saw that their endeavors to make their past conduct forgotten were unsuccessful. But the waves of the Revolution were beginning to retire, and the lasting return of Jacobinism was already become impossible. One result, however, of the conflict of the 13th of Vendemiaire was that the Convention made a point of naming five directors who had voted for the death of the King, and as the nation in no respect approved this aristocracy of regicidal crime, it did not identify itself with its magistrates. Another result, not less unfortunate, of the 13th of Vendemiaire was a decree of the 2d of Brumaire15 which excluded from every public employment the relatives of emigrants, and all those who in the sections had voted for liberticidal projects. Such was the expression of the day; for in France, at every revolution a new phrase is framed which serves all the world, that everyone may have sense or sentiment ready made to his hand, if perchance nature should have refused him the one or the other.
The decree of exclusion of the 2d of Brumaire formed a class of proscribed persons in the state, which certainly is not preferable to a privileged class, and is not less inconsistent with equality under the law. The Directory had the power to banish, to imprison, to transport at its pleasure, individuals who were denounced as attached to the Old Regime, nobles, and priests, to whom the benefit of the constitution was refused, and who were placed under the yoke of arbitrary will. An amnesty ordinarily accompanies the installation of every new government; but it was a sweeping proscription which distinguished that of the Directory. To what dangers was this government exposed as well by its want of constitutional prerogatives as by the revolutionary power with which it had been so prodigally invested!
[1. ] Freedom of the press disappeared after August 10, 1792. In the revolutionary tribunals, the defendants had no legal guarantees.
[2. ] The Directory followed the Convention and preceded the Consulate (from November 2, 1795, to November 10, 1799). Five directors shared the executive power at any time. For more information on this period, see Lefebre, The Thermidorians and the Directory, 239–458.
[3. ] In the French text, “pouvoir conventionnel.”
[4. ] The treaty was signed on April 6, 1795.
[5. ] Joseph Lebon (1765–95) was a former clergyman who became a member of the Committee of General Security. He was arrested after the fall of Robespierre and condemned to death for his participation in the Terror. Jean-Baptiste Carrier (1756–94) was a deputy to the Convention who played an important role in the suppression of the Vendean revolt and, a few months later, in the fall of Robespierre. He was arrested and executed in the fall of 1794.
[6. ] Jean-Baptiste Louvet de Couvray (1760–97), deputy to the Convention and later a member of the Council of Five Hundred.
[7. ] Reference to Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
[8. ] François Antoine de Boissy d’Anglas (1756–1828) was an eminent French lawyer and statesman who served as a deputy (from Ardèche) to the Estates General and the Convention. He distinguished himself during the Directory through his moderate constitutionalism in the debates on the drafting of the Constitution of Year III. For more information, see Gross, “La Constitution de l’an III.”
[9. ] Pierre Claude François Daunou (1761–1840) was a Girondist deputy (from Pas-de-Calais) to the Convention and the Council of Five Hundred. He also played a key role in the creation of the Institute of France; in 1819, he was given the chair of history and ethics at the Collège de France.
[10. ] Jean Denis, Count Lanjuinais (1753–1827), taught law at Rennes before 1789 and was elected to the Convention, where he became close to the Girondins after 1791. During the Directory, Lanjuinais was a member of the Council of Ancients, and during the Bourbon Restoration, he defended the principles of constitutional monarchy.
[11. ] For the text of the Constitution of Year III, see Les Constitutions et les principales lois politiques de la France depuis 1789, 73–109. An English translation can be found in A Documentary Survey of the French Revolution, 572–612. For an analysis of the Constitution of Year III, see Jainchill, “The Constitution of the Year III and the Persistence of Classical Republicanism,” 399–435. A detailed analysis of the influence of the U.S. Constitution on the Constitution of Year III can be found in Marc Lahmer’s La Constitution américaine dans le débat français: 1795–1848.
[12. ] On this issue, see Benjamin Constant’s posthumously published Fragments d’un ouvrage abandonné sur la possibilité d’une constitution republicaine dans un grand pays.
[13. ] Reference to the events of October 5, 1795, when royalists unsuccessfully tried to dissolve the Convention.
[14. ] In fact, October 5, 1795.
[15. ] October 24, 1795.