Front Page Titles (by Subject) 143.: Bonaparte and the 18th Fructidor - Judgments on History and Historians
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
143.: Bonaparte and the 18th Fructidor - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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.
Bonaparte and the 18th Fructidor
There necessarily was a new Vendémiaire in the offing, if the Thermidorians, the regicides (and henchmen!) were not to face a harsh reckoning. They would have liked to avoid the coup d’état if they could have done so. Treilhard’s statement to Dumas, addressed to the Clichyites, moderates, and royalists, is characteristic for the situation: “Just declare that in January, 1793, you would have voted in favor of Louis’ death!” For them it really was not merely a matter of ruling, but of life itself.
Despite the greatest inner excitement, Napoleon had sufficient self- control to realize that this time the fruit was not yet ripe for plucking (this is what he said to Miot at Montebello). Perhaps, too, he had an immediate desire for a campaign in distant, exotic places. He was young and for the time being had to follow his specific talent as a general.
Although he deeply despised the Directory, for the moment he saw himself as its necessary ally. For what he loathed more than anything else was the royalist movement whose victory would have brought a lot of unpredictable people, circumstances, and privileges onto the scene. Waiting for the courts of Vienna and Turin was certainly also very repugnant to him.
The degree of his indignation may be gauged by the methods he employed in the Italian headquarters: the club system and his series of addresses to his soldiers. He would surely not have resorted to that except in an extreme situation. It certainly did not take the Portefeuille d’Entraigues to teach him how matters stood with royalism. Rather, he must have known at first hand from Paris, and perhaps he fabricated the Portefeuille in part.
If Hoche had saved the Directory, i.e., staged the coup d’état for it, Napoleon could probably have put up with it. In fact, he might have preferred this. Later, when the Directory was on the point of being overthrown on Brumaire, he could have said: “It was not I who saved you then.” But considering the dissension between Hoche and the Directory, he had to send his Augereau. Thus the 18th Brumaire or September 4th, 1797, took place.
Immediately afterwards, Napoleon, who had remained just far enough behind the scenes, evinced great independence of the Directors and obviously enjoyed the odium which the pursuit of their victory netted them. He himself later became the peacemaker of Campo Formio.
To him the Fructidor was highly valuable because it dealt a mortal blow to the Constitution of l’an III (the Year III) and the directorial government. He was now able to leave them to their further coups d’état and symptoms of mismanagement, and even to derive, for the time being, financial advantage from their further predatory wars (against Switzerland, Rome, and other states). Then, while he was in Egypt, the Second Coalition was formed.
To appear as a rescuer now was an undertaking which promised direct control.