Napoleon Bonaparte and France Post-Revolutionary Politics

In this article, we will look into detail about Napoleon Bonaparte and France Post-Revolutionary Politics. France and Nationalist Revolutionary politics were placed centrally after the removal of the Ancien Regime. The Consulate of France became the ruling political structure at the end of the French Revolution. The vestiges of revolution were not forgotten, it would be dangerous to try and ignore the will of the people. The monarchy was not abolished because the people of the revolution had wanted it, the crown would still have a place in the national life, just much differently in the new constitution.


Napoleon Bonaparte and France Post-Revolutionary Politics

Napoleon Bonaparte and France Post-Revolutionary Politics

Also Read: Revolutionary Politics and Governance during French Revolution

Politics in the Consulate would remain set to the ideals of the Revolution, Equality and liberation of the citizen, a new republic based on the Enlightenment and a strong sense of patriotism. Napoleon Bonaparte’s effect on the new republic in the Consulate and his rise to power in politics during the first years of the 19th century and the road to Emperor and aggressive war.

Greater Europe particularly states within the Holy Roman Empire would instigate wars as would France, restore the Ancien Regime’s in their own countries. Napoleon, the Revolution and aggressive warfare during the period of the Wars of Coalition would end the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 and reduce France’s domination in Europe.


The People and the Enlightenment

The Age of Enlightenment is advocated by many academics as having  an atypically strong reference to France during the Revolution. More comprehensively the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the French Revolution in 1789. The Enlightenment was an intellectual and philosophical movement predominant in the 18 – 19th centuries. Individual pursuits of happiness and the development of the senses, through reasoning and the sciences. The practice became known globally. Separation of the Church and State was a matter of National practice, but not a promotion of religion at a conscious level.

The Revolutionaries in France had stated that the Church and religion was too encroaching on the national life, controlling of the classes and demanding of commoner’s allegiance.  It would be labelled a ‘superstition’ in some circles and marginalized to some extent, but the Churches remained in the communities as did religious persecution amongst  the Catholic and the Protestant church, mostly for the domination of the former. The Huguenots migrated to many parts of the free world motivated by religious persecution.


The Council of 500

The Council of 500, or just the five hundred, was a lower house of the legislature of France. It was within the Constitution of Year III of the Revolutionary calendar. It existed as part of the ruling Directory in late October 1795 to early November 1799, being part of the aftermath of the end of the French Revolution.

The 500 were elected by a referendum on 24th September 1795. It functioned as a legislative body, and was constituted after the first elections of 1795, held on 12-21 October. Voting rights were restricted to those who owned land and had received a remuneration of 150 days’ work collectively, be of no less than 30 years of age, and meet the required residency requirements.

The Elections of 1797 had a very low voter turnout than the first vote of 1795 due to voting irregularities, showing a strong showing of Royalist tendencies. The Club de Clichy was formed from several of the newly elected deputies in the council.

Jean-Charles Pichgru was a French general who had commanded troops and been active during the revolutionary wars. Was promoted as head of the Council of 500. His military capabilities had impressed many as he had used a French army to attack and annex Belgium and Holland. He was considered a Royalist, but in due course he would have papers served to the council against him by Napoleon Bonaparte, outlining Pichgru’s treasonous acts.

The Directors based on Napoleons report, accused the entire council of treason, and had all the Royalists arrested for activity against the Revolution in the Coup of 18 Fructidor. A state of martial law was declared in Paris on 4th September 1797, a decree as issued stated that any citizens promoting or supporting royalism based on the Constitution of 1793, were to be arrested and shot immediately without trial.

Napoleon used his influence and immediate connections to send General Pierre Augereau with an army from Italy to the capital to control all accesses, whilst General Lazare Hoche at the time commander of the Army of Sambre-et-Meuse, approached the city with his forces with the same supporting instructions. Pichegru and several other notables, Ramel-Nogaret, Amedee-Willot, and Barthelemy were arrested whilst Carnot made his escape.  

Over 214 deputies were arrested, of which 65 were sent to the French penal colony at Cayenne, Guiana on the South American cost not far from Brazil. The election results in 49 departments were annulled, and to make matters worse The Revolutions own terrorism sentenced 160 returning Emigres to death, 1320 priests were arrested on ‘conspiracy against the state’, and deported.

Two newly vacated positions were filled by de Douai and Neufchateau. General chaos ensued in Paris at the consulate as the rule of law had collapsed, with matters of urgency in state being relegated to political witch hunts and executions without proper juris prudence.

France had also fared very badly during the Austrian wars of 1798 - 99, which shook the Directory, which brought it tumbling down in November 1799. The anti-Jacobin members and Director, such as Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyes and Paul Barras, had decided to rid themselves of Jacobin influence permanently and did so by vetoing the remaining three sitting Jacobin members.   

Before this was to occur, elections earlier that year March - April had produced a so-called Neo-Jacobin in the two bodies of the Directory. Being unhappy with these conditions under the current five-man Directory, found an irregularity in the director Jean Baptiste Treilhard, who decided to retire and was replaced by Louis Jerome Gohier, a Jacobin who was more in tune with the ‘feeling’ in the two councils.

More military disasters followed, as did the Royalist uprisings in the South, the Chouan sectors to drum up support in the West of France, in Brittany, Maine and Normandy.

Napoleon Bonaparte became known to the Revolution which he championed, most markedly, by his success in the wars in Italy which bolstered French Nationalism, and for once gave the French people a source of pride. The positions in post-Revolutionary politics would live or die on a tight rope.

Napoleon Bonaparte was born on the Island of Corsica in 1769 into a lower nobility family of Italian extraction. In 1768 the year before his birth France had purchased the Island from the state of Genoa, which ruled it indirectly for centuries. Unlike the French the Genoese were not direct rulers, so the inhabitants of Corsica were left to their own rule. It seems from this association that some Italian Nationals did emigrate to the Island and helped  form its infrastructure, governance, and economic existence.

Corsica claimed its independence in 1755, but aspirations of self-rule were taken away by the French who invaded and colonised the island. Napoleon would say of the changes, ‘as the Fatherland is dying, thirty thousand Frenchmen vomited on our shores, drowning our Liberty in torrents of blood!

Napoleons father Carlo Buonaparte had initially resisted the eventually overwhelming French military campaign on Corsica, but rather than feel to Britain as a friend and guerrilla fighter Pasquale Paoli had, he thought it better to consolidate within the new regime change, to convert to the French system to save his family.

He was quiet as a youngster who preferred his own company reading much in poetry and world history and became a Corsican nationalist in his later years. His introduction to the French military at the academy at the age of ten, helped him excel at mathematics and learned French. Pasquale Paoli would not forgive or somehow forget Carlo’s considered betrayal.

Napoleon though would remain a staunch Corsican nationalist. He idolized Paoli as a freedom fighter and still dreamed of Corsican independence. He also followed the works of the Enlightenment and particularly Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s work, more than likely because of Rousseau’s own support of Corsica’s plight. He used some of Rousseau’s ideas to formulate his views and ideas that would be used during the Revolution.

In 1785, Napoleon Bonaparte graduated from the prestigious Ecole Military Academy at the age of 16 as a young artillery Lieutenant . He became preoccupied for a period of 10 years with literature, as no military options came his way.

Napoleon at this time at the age of 20, became somewhat wayward as his military career seemed mired in a lack of progression, he used his free time in writing excessive essays and novellas mostly about the situation in Corsica and French control of Corsican life. His teenage angst became apparent in his support of the islands population on the Island to resist the French occupation. He was driven by an ambitious mentality none the less. Napoleon’s opportunities and fortunes would change drastically in 1789 at the start of the French Revolution.


Political Journey of Napoleon Bonaparte 

Napoleons political career was equally divisive. His brother Louis paved the way for Napoleons rise to the leadership of the Consulate which would be assured with the support of the people, his personal military capabilities were already well known in France, which formulated his respect amongst the people, and his ability to convince the Consulate that he clearly had extraordinary capabilities.

Napoleon was not prevalent in military terms alone, and had adapted politically, but importantly his sound use of good socio-economic ideas and the plans that he would use to implement them, to put France’s social and economic woes on a better platform, plans that would get the nation out of the perpetual state of recession permanently, a condition that the Revolution itself at core was not rectifying.

At first Sieyes initially fared better than Napoleon, in the coup de’ tat of the 18th Brumaire, he would propose a new type of government for the republic, but could not consolidate as effectively the authority, military victories and political presence that Napoleon Bonaparte had to become Emperor. The success of a single head of state, all contrary to the ideals of the Revolution, but very successful in making tangible changes in France, would be the platform of his ambitions and capability.

Napoleons guile ensured that over the next two days, from 18 June 1799, the anti-Jacobins Phillipe Antoine Merlin and Louis-Marie de la Reveille were moved to resign. Baron Jean-Francois Auguste a shrewd Jacobin managed to avoid the purge of the coup, they were replaced by the Jacobin Jean-Francois-Auguste-Moulin and the non-Jacobin or ‘weaker’ Jacobin, Roger Ducos. This was confirmed by the time of the 19th Brumaire.

Napoleon had to rid himself of Sieyes, and those Republicans opposed to handing the Republic to one man, particularly his military rivals, Moreau, and Massena. Moreau would be banished to the United State, having previously led French forces to victories in Europe, such was the fickle state of French political association. Napoleon would bring personal one-man rule to French politics, in a dictatorship, to meet his aspirations and to effectively end political indecisiveness.

Napoleon Bonaparte became the first part of the three Consuls of the Consulate - Jean Jacques Regis, de Cambeceres, Napoleon Bonaparte and Charles Francois Lebrun. Napoleon would discard by shrewd diplomacy, those who he saw as contrary to his own secret political plans, his coronation as Emperor on Sunday December 7th, 1804 in the Notre Dame cathedral, crowned Emperor Napoleon I.

The Revolutions ideas and political practice would be continued under Napoleon, who would bring prosperity to France. Napoleon ordered new roads and bridges built, upgrading of the basic and tertiary education structures amongst other reforms.  He declared all the people equal by law, he removed any special privileges of the church clergy, nobility, and the wealthy. The feudal system was ended, trial by jury and religious freedom was guaranteed in terms of impartiality.


Wars of the Second Coalition

Austria declared war on France, forming a coalition with Bavaria in April 1792.  The battles did not go well for the French forces and several defeats meant that the Austro-Bavarian Alliance was effectively on the march to Paris. This was desperately turned around by the French army. This condition exacerbated the political and social strife that was indicative of the Revolution as drastic changes were occurring at the time for France, its government, and people.

The decisive Battle of Marengo eight years later in 1800, was a victory for Napoleon’s leadership against the Austrians as First Consul. His forces turned back a surprise Austrian assault near Piedmont Italy, close to the town of Alessandria.

The Austrian, Bavarian forces under General Michael Melas, having lost the strategically important battle, were driven from Italy. Most of Italy would come under French rule. The success of the Italy campaign solidified Napoleons political position as First Consul in Paris, alongside his coup of the previous November.

The Battle at Hohenlinden occurred on 3rd December 1800 between the French General Jean Marie Moreau’s forces and the Coalition of Austria and Bavaria. The French position very cleverly used deception to draw the Austrian coalition into ambush. The brilliant French tactical victory that ended the Second War of the Coalition and the signing of the Treaty of Luneval.

The Treaty of Amiens was subsequently signed between Britain and France which ended hostilities for a while in the Napoleonic period. French territory reached up to the Rhine and included the puppet states in Holland (renamed the Batavian Republic) and Italy.



Napoleon Bonaparte as Emperor Napoleon I, leader of France, had a positive effect on the morass that France had become before and during the Revolution. Napoleon Bonaparte did not always adhere to the Revolutions ideals, abusing his state of monarchy for personal gain. He was however effective in his reforms, creating a revived economy and an effective military and command structure.

The wars of the 7 coalitions would spell the end to his political career 25 years later. He went too far, used excessive force and autocratic control in Spain and Portugal during the ill-advised Peninsula Wars of the Iberian Peninsula, which would ensure the first French Empire would collapse as many nations, in central Europe turned against Napoleon and France.

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