Having defeated Austria and recognizing that an invasion of Great Britain was impossible, the leaders of the French government encouraged the very popular Bonaparte to look for other means of striking at England, in part, just to get him out of the way. When he suggested invading Egypt as a means of threatening the English position in India, Bonaparte was given permission to push ahead with the idea. In 1798, Napoleon led a sizable army and much of the French fleet across the Mediterranean. Although Egypt swiftly fell to French arms, Bonaparte's army was stranded there by Admiral Horatio Nelson's decisive naval victory at Aboukir Bay. Rather than remain sequestered in Egypt, Bonaparte abandoned his army to return to France, where his heroic reputation and military prowess was bolstered by slick propaganda and a considerable amount of war booty.

Bringing the Revolution to a Close?

After five years of upheaval, the Revolution had left France divided, angry, and distrusting but in need of central authority. In the fall of 1794, the Convention, no longer controlled by the Committee of Public Safety and with the surviving Girondin deputies restored to it, resumed its efforts to draft a constitution. The Convention recognized that the rule of law had to be restored if the authority of the government was to recover from the effects of the Terror. With the Girondin deputies reinstated, however, there was no question of implementing the "Montagnard" Constitution of 1793. Instead, a new constitution—that of the Year III (1795)—was written. This document clearly intended to preserve the political power of the socioeconomic elite, through the reimposition of property restrictions for officeholding and the suffrage. Social equality was notably absent because Jacobin ideas on democracy were tarnished with the reputation of being inherently dangerous to the rule of law and likely to result in Terror. The new government invested the lion's share of power in an executive body, the Directory, composed of a rotating committee of five "Directors," who would preside over a bicameral legislature, an upper chamber named the Anciens (Elders)—all of whose members had to be at least forty years old, to ensure their maturity of judgment—and a lower house known as "the Five Hundred."

The Convention's distrust of the polity was revealed most clearly in a decree requiring two-thirds of the deputies to the next legislature to be members of the Convention. Recognizing that this measure would leave radicals in charge of the government, some royalist-influenced sections revolted in Vendémiaire, Year IV (October 1795). The army put down the rising under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte. (This loyal action won him his command in Italy.) Thus the directorial regime came to power with military support and would remain dependent on that support to survive.

During its four years in power (November 1795 to December 1799), the Directory consistently faced challenges to its legitimacy, not only from the heirs of the Jacobins on the Left, but also from returning émigré nobles demanding restitution of their property; conservative street gangs known as the "gilded youth," who were anxious to harass former terrorists; and a revived armed mobilization in the west of Chouans acting in coordination with the English and with other émigré nobles led by the Count of Provence, who now claimed the throne as Louis XVIII.

Yet the most significant threat to the Directory's stability lay within the framework of the new constitution, as the elections of 1797—the first in which no former Convention deputies would be incumbent for reelection—returned a royalist majority divided between those who favored a constitutional monarchy and those who demanded a restoration of the old regime. The Directors attempted to steer a middle course, believing that their primary responsibility was to preserve a moderate republic, which meant keeping both royalists and Jacobins out of power. Preferring stability to democracy, the Directors annulled the electoral results from the Year V in a coup on 18 Fructidor (September 1797). This same strategy would be used in the Year VI (1798) against the Jacobin movement, which had been permitted to reform political clubs known as Constitutional Circles. A coup of Floréal Year VI (May 1798) showed that the pendulum of political opinion was behaving erratically and could readily shift from radical Left to Right, and vice versa.
























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