Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXIV: Of the Introduction of Military Government into France by the Occurrences of the 18th of Fructidor. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER XXIV: Of the Introduction of Military Government into France by the Occurrences of the 18th of Fructidor. - 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 Introduction of Military Government into France by the Occurrences of the 18th of Fructidor.
No epoch of the Revolution was more disastrous than that which substituted military rule for the well-founded hope of a representative government. I am, however, anticipating events; for the sway of a military chief was not as yet proclaimed when the Directory sent grenadiers to the two Chambers: but this tyrannical proceeding, of which the soldiers were the instruments, prepared the way for the revolution that was effected two years afterward by Bonaparte himself, when it appeared not at all strange that a military chief should have recourse to a measure in which magistrates had indulged themselves.
The Directors, however, entertained no apprehensions of the inevitable consequences of the resolution which they adopted. Their situation was dangerous; they had, as I have endeavored to show, too much arbitrary power and too little legal power. They had been invested with all the means of persecution which excite hatred, but with none of the constitutional rights which would have enabled them to defend themselves. At the moment when the second third of the Chambers was renewed by the election of 1797, the public mind became a second time impatient to remove the members of the Conventions1 from the administration; but a second time also, instead of waiting a year, during which the majority of the Directory would have been changed and the last third of the Chambers renewed, the French vivacity urged the enemies of the government to endeavor to overturn it without delay. The opposition to the Directory was not at first formed by pure royalists; but they gradually mingled themselves with it. Besides, in civil discord, men always end by adopting the opinions of which they are accused; and the party which attacked the Directory was thus powerfully impelled to a counter-revolution.
In every quarter a spirit of intolerable reaction appeared: at Lyons, at Marseilles, assassinations took place: the victims, it is true, were men covered with guilt; still it was assassination. The journals, in their daily proclamations of vengeance, armed themselves with calumny and announced openly a counter-revolution. In the interior, as abroad, there were two projects; one party was resolved to bring back the old regime, and General Pichegru2 was one of their principal instruments.
The Directory, as preserver of its own political existence, had strong reasons for putting itself in a state of defense; but how could it? The defects in the constitution which M. Necker had so well pointed out rendered it very difficult for the government to make a legal resistance to the attacks of the councils. The Council of Ancients was inclined to defend the Directors, only because it occupied, though very imperfectly, the place of a chamber of peers; but as the deputies of this council were not named for life, they were afraid of rendering themselves unpopular by supporting magistrates whom the public opinion rejected. If the government had possessed the right of dissolving the Five Hundred, the mere threat of exerting this prerogative would have restrained them within bounds. In short, if the executive power had been able to oppose even a suspending veto to the decrees of the councils, it would have been satisfied with the means with which the law had armed it for its protection. But these very magistrates, whose authority was so limited, had great power as a revolutionary faction; and they were not scrupulous enough to confine themselves to the rules of constitutional warfare when, to get rid of their opponents, they needed only to have recourse to force. The personal interest of some individuals was seen on this occasion, as it always will be, to overturn the barriers of the law, if these barriers are not constructed in such a way as to maintain themselves.3
Two directors, Barthélemy and Carnot, were on the side of the representative councils. Carnot certainly was not suspected of desiring the restoration of the old regime, but he was unwilling (and the reluctance does him honor) to adopt illegal means in order to repel the attack of the legislative power. The majority of the Directory, Reubell, Barras, and La Réveillère, hesitated some time between two auxiliaries who were equally at their disposal—the Jacobins and the army. They justly feared the former; the terrorists were still a dangerous weapon, which might overthrow him who should venture to make use of it. The Directors believed, therefore, that it was better to obtain addresses from the armies, and to request General Bonaparte, who of all the commanders in chief declared himself then most strongly against the councils, to send one of his generals of brigade to Paris to await the orders of the Directory. Bonaparte chose General Augereau, a man very decided in action and not very capable of reasoning—two qualities which rendered him an excellent instrument of despotism, provided this despotism assumed the name of revolution.
By a singular contrast, the royalists in the two councils appealed to republican principles, to the liberty of the press, to the liberty of suffrages, to every liberty, in short, and particularly to the liberty of subverting the Directory. The popular party, on the contrary, grounded itself always on circumstances and defended the revolutionary measures which served as a momentary security to the government. The republicans found themselves constrained to disavow their own principles because they were turned against themselves; and the royalists borrowed the weapons of the republicans to attack the republic. This strange combination of arms exchanged in the combat has been exhibited in other circumstances. Every minority invokes justice, and justice is liberty. A party can be judged of only by the doctrine which it professes when it is the strongest.
Nevertheless, when the Directory took the fatal resolution of sending the grenadiers to seize the legislators in their seats, it had no longer need of the mischief which it resolved to do. The change of ministry, and the addresses of the armies, were sufficient to restrain the royalists; and the Directory ruined itself by pushing its triumph too far. For it was so contrary to the spirit of a republic to employ the soldiery against the representatives of the people that the state could not fail to be destroyed in the very attempt to save it by such means. On the evening of the fatal day everyone knew that a great blow was on the point of being struck; for in France men conspire in the public streets, or rather they do not conspire, but excite one another, so that he who can listen to what is said will know beforehand what is about to be done.
On the night before the entrance of General Augereau into the councils, the alarm was such that the greater number of persons of note left their houses from the fear of being arrested in them. One of my friends found an asylum for me in a small chamber which looked upon the bridge of Louis XVI. I there spent the night in beholding the preparations for the awful scene which was to take place in a few hours; none but soldiers appeared in the streets; all the citizens remained in their homes. The cannons, which were brought to surround the palace where the legislative body assembled, were rolling along the pavements; but, except their noise, all was silence. No hostile assemblage was seen anywhere, nor was it known against whom all this apparatus was directed. Liberty was the only power vanquished in that fatal struggle; it might have been said that she was seen to fly, like a wandering spirit, at the approach of the day which was to shine upon her destruction.
In the morning it was known that General Augereau had conducted his battalions into the Council of the Five Hundred, that he had arrested several of the deputies who were found there assembled in a committee, and that General Pichegru was president at the time. Astonishment was excited by the little respect which the soldiers showed for a general who had so often led them to victory; but he had been successfully characterized as a counterrevolutionary, a name which, when the public opinion is free, exercises in France a kind of magical power. Besides, Pichegru had no means of producing an effect on the imagination; he was a man of good manners, but without striking expression either in his features or in his words; the recollection of his victories did not hover around him, for there was nothing in his appearance that announced them. It has often been said that he was guided in war by the counsels of another: I know not what truth there may have been in this, but it is at least credible; for his look and conversation were so dull that they suggested no idea of his being fit for becoming the leader of any enterprise. Nevertheless, his courage and political perseverance, as well as his misfortunes, have since awakened a deserved interest in his fate.
Some members of the Council of the Ancients, with the intrepid and generous old man Dupont de Nemours and the respectable Barbé-Marbois4 at their head, went on foot to the meeting hall and, after having ascertained that the door was shut, they returned in the same way, passing between aligned soldiers; while the people, who were looking on, seemed scarcely to be aware that it was the cause of their representatives, oppressed by an armed force, which was at stake. The fear of a counter-revolution had unfortunately disorganized the public mind: no one knew where to find the cause of liberty between those who disgraced her and those who were accused of hating her. The most honorable men, Barbé-Marbois, Tronçon-Ducoudray,5 Camille Jordan,6 etc., were condemned to deportation beyond the sea.7 Atrocious measures followed this first violation of all justice. The public debt was diminished by two-thirds,8 and this operation was distinguished by the phrase la mobiliser, so dexterous are the French at inventing terms with a gentle sound for the harshest proceedings. The priests and the nobles were again proscribed with unrelenting barbarity. The liberty of the press was abolished as irreconcilable with the exercise of arbitrary power.9 The invasion of Switzerland,10 the mad project of a descent upon England, removed every hope of peace with Europe. The revolutionary spirit was conjured up, but it reappeared without the enthusiasm which once animated it; and, as the civil authority did not rest upon justice, upon magnanimity, in short, upon any of the great qualities which ought to characterize it, the ardor of patriotism turned itself toward military glory, which then at least satisfied the imagination.
[1. ] Former members of the Convention.
[2. ] General Pichegru (1761–1804) commanded the army of Rhin-et-Moselle in 1795–96 and was later elected to the Council of Five Hundred. He was arrested because of his collaboration with the royalist émigrés and the Austrians but managed to escape to London. In 1804 he returned to France and was involved in a coup against Napoléon. He was arrested and later died in prison.
[3. ] The complex political situation in 1796–97 stimulated political reflection in France. Benjamin Constant published De la force du gouvernement actuel et de la necessité de s’y rallier (1797), in which he called on the government’s supporters to rally around the republic in order to defend it. At the same time, Madame de Staël began writing Des Circonstances actuelles qui peuvent terminer la Révolution et des principes qui doivent fonder la république en France.
[4. ] François Barbé-Marbois (1745–1837), former intendant of Guadeloupe and Martinique, was elected to the Council of the Ancients, where he opposed the exclusion of nobles and the relatives of émigrés from public life. He was deported after 18 Fructidor, returned to France three years later, and became a senator in 1802. In 1803 he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase treaty by which Louisiana was sold to the United States. He also served as the president of the treasury until 1806. In 1814 Louis XVIII made Barbé-Marbois a peer of France.
[5. ] Tronson Du Coudray (1750–98), a lawyer, was elected to the Council of Five Hundred and was deported to Guyana, where he died shortly thereafter.
[6. ] Camille Jordan (1771–1821), a member of the Council of Five Hundred, was deported after 18 Fructidor and returned to France three years later. During the Bourbon Restoration, he allied himself with the French Doctrinaires and gained recognition as a gifted orator. Jordan’s parliamentary discourses are difficult to find today. A collection of his speeches was published after his death, accompanied by a eulogy by Ballanche and a letter by Baron de Gérando. Jordan’s analysis of the parliamentary session of 1817, “La Session de 1817, aux habitans de l’Ain et du Rhône,” triggered a long response from Bonald, who criticized Jordan’s assessment in a long article published in Le Conservateur.
[7. ] Forty-five people were deported overseas.
[8. ] Decree of September 10, 1797 (24 Fructidor).
[9. ] Application of Articles 353 and 355 of the Constitution of Year III (1795), which provided for a one-year suspension of freedom of the press.
[10. ] Beginning with January 26, 1798.