Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXI: Of the Twenty Months During Which the Republic Existed in France, from November 1795 to the 18th of Fructidor (4th of September) 1797. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
CHAPTER XXI: Of the Twenty Months During Which the Republic Existed in France, from November 1795 to the 18th of Fructidor (4th of September) 1797. - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Of the Twenty Months During Which the Republic Existed in France, from November 1795 to the 18th of Fructidor (4th of September) 1797.
We must do justice to the Directors, and still more to the power of free institutions, in whatever form they are introduced. The first twenty months which followed the establishment of the republic exhibit a period of administration uncommonly remarkable. Five men, Carnot,1 Reubell,2 Barras, La Réveillère,3 Letourneur,4 chosen in fury and not endowed for the most part with superior talents, arrived at power under the most unfavorable circumstances. They entered the palace of the Luxembourg, which was allotted them, without finding a table to write upon, and the state was not in better order than the palace. The paper money was reduced to almost the thousandth part of its nominal value; there were not in the public treasury a hundred thousand francs in specie; provisions were still so scarce that the dissatisfaction of the people on this point could with difficulty be restrained; the insurrection of La Vendée was still going on; the civil disturbances had given rise to bands of robbers, known by the name of chauffeurs, who committed horrible excesses throughout the country; and lastly, almost all the French armies were disorganized.
In six months the Directory raised France from this deplorable situation. Money replaced the paper currency without any shock; the old landholders lived peacefully by the side of those who had recently acquired national domains; the roads, and the country, were again rendered completely safe; the armies were but too victorious; the freedom of the press re-appeared; the elections followed their legal course, and France might have been said to be free, if the two classes of nobles and priests had enjoyed the same securities as the other citizens. But the sublime perfection of liberty consists in this—that she can do nothing by halves. If you wish to persecute a single man in the state, justice will never be established for all; still more must this be the case when a hundred thousand individuals are shut out from the protecting circle of the law. Revolutionary measures therefore spoiled the constitution from the first establishment of the Directory; the latter half of the existence of this government, which lasted four years in all, was in every respect so wretched that the mischief may easily be ascribed to the institutions themselves. Impartial history, however, will place on two lines widely different the Republic before the 18th of Fructidor and the Republic after that epoch—if indeed the name of Republic can be deserved by factious authorities who overturned one another without ceasing to oppress the mass upon which they were continually falling.
During the first period of the Directory, the two extreme parties, the Jacobins and the Royalists, attacked it in the journals, each in their own mode, without meeting with any opposition from the government, which was not at all shaken by their efforts. The society of Paris was so much the more free that the class of rulers made no part of it. This separation had, and doubtless could not fail to have, in the end, many inconveniences; but, for the very reason that the government was not in fashion, people’s minds were not agitated, as they have since been, by the unbridled desire of obtaining places; and there existed other objects of activity and interest. One circumstance particularly worthy of notice under the Directory is the relation between the civil authority and the army. It has often been said that freedom, as it exists in England, is not possible in a Continental state, on account of the regular troops which must always be dependent on the head of the state. I shall reply elsewhere to these fears with respect to the continuance of liberty, which are always expressed by its enemies, by the very men who are unwilling to permit a single sincere attempt to be made in its favor. But we cannot be too much surprised at the manner in which the armies were managed by the Directory, up to the moment when, from an apprehension of the restoration of the ancient throne, it unfortunately introduced them into the internal revolutions of the state.
The best generals in Europe obeyed five directors, three of whom were only lawyers. The love of their country and of freedom was still powerful enough with the soldiers to make them yield more respect to the law than to their general, if he wished to place himself above it. However, the indefinite prolongation of the war opposed a grand obstacle to the establishment of a free government in France; for on the one hand, the ambition of conquest was beginning to take possession of the army, and on the other, the decrees for recruiting5 which were obtained from the legislature, those decrees by means of which the Continent was afterward enslaved, were already giving fatal wounds to reverence for civil institutions. We cannot but regret that at this period the powers still at war with France, that is to say, Austria and England, did not accede to the peace. Prussia, Venice, Tuscany, Spain, and Sweden had already treated, in 1795, with a government much less regular than that of the Directory; and perhaps the spirit of invasion, which has done so much mischief to the people of the Continent, as well as to the French themselves, would not have been developed if the war had ceased before the conquests of General Bonaparte in Italy. It was still time to direct French activity to political and commercial interests. War had not till then been considered, except as a means of securing the national independence; the army thought itself destined only to maintain the Revolution; the military were not a separate order in the state; finally, there was still in France some disinterested enthusiasm, on which the public welfare might have been founded.
From 1793 to the beginning of 1795, England and her allies would have dishonored themselves in treating with France: what would have been said of the august ambassadors of a free nation, returning to London after having received the embrace of Marat or Robespierre? But when once the intention of establishing a regular government was manifested, no means should have been neglected to interrupt the warlike education of the French.
England, in 1797, eighteen months after the installation of the Directory, sent negotiators to Lille; but the successes of the army of Italy had inspired the chiefs of the Republic with arrogance: the Directors were already old in power, and thought themselves firmly seated in it. All governments at their commencement wish for peace: men should know how to profit by this circumstance with ability; in politics as in war, there are critical moments which we should hasten to seize. But opinion in England was heated by Burke, who, by foretelling too truly the miseries of the Revolution, had acquired a great ascendant over his countrymen. At the time of the negotiation of Lille, he wrote some letters on a regicide peace which revived the public indignation against France.6 Mr. Pitt, however, had himself bestowed some praises on the constitution of 1795; and besides, if the political system adopted by France, whatever it might be, no longer endangered the security of other countries, what more could be required?
The passions of the emigrants, to which the English ministers always lent themselves too much, often led them into mistakes in their judgments upon the affairs of France. They thought to effect a powerful diversion by transporting the royalists to Quiberon:7 they occasioned only a scene of blood, the horror of which could not be lessened by the most courageous efforts of the English squadron. The unfortunate French gentlemen, who had vainly flattered themselves with finding in Brittany a great party ready to take up arms in their cause, were abandoned in an instant. General Lemoine, the commander of the French army, has related to me with admiration the reiterated attempts of the English seamen to approach the shore and receive in their boats the emigrants enclosed on every side and endeavoring by swimming to regain the hospitable ships of England. But the English ministers, and Mr. Pitt at their head, in constantly endeavoring to promote the triumph of the pure royalists in France, paid no regard to the opinion of the country; and from this mistake arose the obstacles which they so long met with in their political combinations. The English administration, more than any other government in Europe, should have understood the history of the Revolution in France, so similar to that of England; but it would appear as if the very resemblance had been a reason for their wishing to show themselves so much the more hostile to it.
[1. ] Carnot (1753–1823) was elected a deputy to the Legislative Assembly and to the Convention. He was also a member of the Committee of Public Safety. After being appointed minister of war by Napoléon in 1800, Carnot voted against the nomination of Napoléon as consul for life.
[2. ] Reubell (1747–1807), a lawyer elected to the Estates General and deputy to the Convention, participated in the repression of the Vendean revolt and sided with the Montagnards. He was a member of the Directory from 1795 to 1799.
[3. ] La Réveillère-Lépeaux (1753–1824), lawyer, deputy to the Convention. A moderate, he left the Convention in June 1793 and fled the country to save his life. He was a member of the Directory from 1795 to 1799.
[4. ] Letourneur (1751–1817), deputy to the Legislative Assembly and the Convention. He was a member of the Directory from 1795 to 1797.
[5. ] The Law Jourdan-Delbrel (September 1798) provided for universal and mandatory conscription.
[6. ] See Burke, Select Works of Edmund Burke, vol. 3: Letters on a Regicide Peace. Lord Malmesbury opened negotiations with France in October 1796, but they failed because England, which had territorial claims overseas (the Cap and Ceylon), was prepared only to recognize the borders of France from 1792. A second unsuccessful attempt was made in July 1797.
[7. ] In June 1795.