Rise of the Right Leading to the Coup of 18 Fructidor: Proclamation of 9 September 1797

The Directorial legislatures were formed in 1795 primarily of holdovers from the Convention, so the elections in the fall of 1797 were the first open legislative elections since 1792. The result, to the consternation of the executive council of the Directory, which had hoped to consolidate the gains of the Revolution, was a majority of right–wing and even openly royalist deputies. Rather than seat this new legislature and risk a right–wing coup, the Directory decided to annul the election results. To justify its action, the government issued the following proclamation announcing that it had uncovered a right–wing plot against the Republic and promised to uphold what it called "republican institutions."


Proclamation of the Directory to the French People

9 September 1797 (23 Fructidor Year V)

The French people have entrusted the custody of their Constitution primarily to the fidelity of the Legislative Body and the executive power.

A royalist plot, whose organization has been long in the making and which has been skillfully woven and patiently sustained, has threatened the integrity of this trust. The Executive Directory discovered the plan and arrested the guilty parties, while the Legislative Body immediately took the necessary measures.

Blood has not been shed. Common sense prevailed over force; valor and discipline restricted its use. National justice has been sanctioned by the composure of the People. It was obvious to everyone that there was no desire for change, but rather that everything return to its place.

The Legislative Body and the Executive Directory have performed their duty.

But the French people have also re-entrusted their basic charter to the loyalty of the administrators and judges, to the enlightened vigilance of the fathers of families, to wives and mothers, to the virtuous love of young citizens, and lastly, to the courage characteristic of all Frenchmen.

Administrators, judges, fathers, wives, mothers, young citizens, Frenchmen of every age and calling, have you fulfilled your oaths? Have you kept that which was entrusted to you?

Open your eyes Frenchmen, for it is high time you noticed the trap into which the King's friends and France's enemies wished to lure you.

In order to put you back under the yoke which you have broken and so that you would think that you were returning there of your own volition, they placed corrupt men in all public offices; men who are as skillful as they are perverse. Men capable of turning the power that they had been given to defend and strengthen the People's liberty, against that very liberty.

In your courts, they had judges who lie, who abused the independence that the Constitution had given them, and used their power only to absolve or protect the enemies of the fatherland.

Above all, they had left nothing undone that would help return France to its monarchical system or that would subject institutions, festivals, manners, and customs to despotism. They were well aware that man is a creature of habit, and that by changing man's habits, man himself is changed.

Without a doubt, monarchical systems admirably suited the conspirators' aims. It was important for them to reshape the mass of the nation in the royal mold. But an indignant nation spurns them. The Republic has triumphed, and republican systems shall prove and consolidate their triumph. This shall be the sign and the fruit of victory.

The republican spirit, republican ethic, and republican institutions and customs must prevail today. To embrace them however, we must first better understand them, and this starts by defining them more precisely.

The republican spirit . . . is composed of all that is just, equitable, good, and kind in men.

Source: John Hall Stewart, A Documentary Survey of the French Revolution (New York: Macmillan, 1951), 695–96. (Slightly retranslated)