Circular on Elections

A former playwright and old regime colonial official, Nicolas–Louis François de Neufchâteau, twice Minister of the Interior under the Directory, here outlines the importance of elections for the Directory. In this circular letter sent to the chief agent of the central government in each department, he highlights the threat that a negative outcome could have for the existence of the Republic and exhorts local officials to be more zealous. Despite such sentiments, the Directory overturned electoral results three years in a row, heightening disaffection and apathy.


Citizen commissioners, the approaching elections impose important tasks upon you, and I am going to speak to you about them.

The Republic majestically arose amid the rubble of the throne. All types of tyranny have been replaced by the Constitution of the Year III [1795], and the just empire of laws has replaced the unrest and upheaval of the Revolution. The European powers joined together in a futile effort to return us to slavery. Their combined efforts shattered against the bravery of our invincible armies. The deployment of all their means, of all their forces, only succeeded in underscoring the brilliance of our victories, which ensured our borders, demonstrated for our neighbors where the secret of their independence lies, and everywhere lighted the sacred flame of patriotism.

It is no longer by the force of arms that our enemies hope to defeat us. Their indecision has made this evident. Why do they hesitate before attacking us directly? Do not doubt it, they expect the crisis to come from the elections.

They have already followed the same plan for two years in a row. The royalist movement took the elections of the Year V in several departments, and anarchy took hold during the elections held last year. The Republic was saved from the horrible rifts that should have resulted from the choices made under such dire auspices as these, by the laws of 19 Fructidor of the Year V [5 September 1797], 12 Pluviôse and 22 Floréal of the Year VI [31 January and 11 May 1798], and the surveillance and activities of the government. But our enemies have not given up joining together and planning their Machiavellian strategies. They are busy on every front, taking on any shape in order to gain control of the elections of the Year VII, and once again are corrupting the source of public power. The maneuvers that they are resorting to are not limited to one department or another. Their movements are not isolated, partial, or interrupted. They have a central field of action that encompasses the entire Republic.

Will the mass of good citizens let itself be shackled by this demeaning chain of intrigue and plots? Will they applaud the voices of those who call again for a throne or the scaffolds? And the terrible lesson of past ills, will it not be sufficient to warn them to the two reefs between which we must sail in order to arrive at the port where peace and quiet and happiness await them?

It is up to you Citizens, you who are the guardians of the Government, to demonstrate the misfortunes to which they are exposing themselves should they allow themselves to be influenced by factions. Never stop telling them of the sacred clause in our basic laws, the clause that reminds them that it is the soundness of choice in the primary and electoral assemblies upon which the duration, preservation, and prosperity of the Republic primarily depends. . . .

After [the coup of] 18 Fructidor [4 September 1797], a large number of weak minds, ever quick to change direction, allowed themselves to be fooled by the hypocritical joy that some skillful anarchists feign when taking credit for the useful fruit of victory, without ever having taken part in the fighting. These weak minds believed that this memorable day foretold of the return, not of the rule of law, but of the reign of terror. Six months of experience would disillusion them. They should have been convinced that their fears and their childishness were baseless. But in spite of the notices, the proclamations, the hurried and repeated invitations of the Executive Directory, this mob, lacking foresight and inconsistent in their fears, did not come out in number during the last election. They did not appear in the primary assemblies due to their apprehension of meeting anarchists there and of seeing themselves being taken over by them. Consequently, still more insane than pusillanimous, they were afraid of the anarchists, and they did absolutely everything that they needed to in order to facilitate their success. Republicans! The time has come. Stop betraying yourselves and allowing your shameful and ridiculous fears to cede an easy victory to the villains. If from 18 Fructidor, every good person had appreciated what had been done for them, if they had closed ranks around the Directory, if they had sought out the civil service, if they had competed to assume those tasks, then no subversive anarchist would have obtained those positions and all of the inroads open to the plotters would have been closed.

Citizens, it is time to repair that weakness. . . .

No more anarchy in France! This cry must be so unanimous and so strong that it strikes fear in our enemies. It is their turn to have their blood run cold and to be forever frozen in fear. . . .

Citizens, what must be done to forever defeat this pair of thousand-headed hydras of odious royalism and vile terrorism? Here, in two words, is the answer: Every suggestion that is motivated by revenge, revolt, or blood must be met with the unanimous cry: "No more anarchy in France!" In this way, by the mere influence of law and the mere credibility of virtue, you will reduce this crime to impotence and silence. Oh Citizens! The Republic and your Government are based on that sacred charter [the Constitution of the Year III]. These are no doubt the only means of salvation for us all. Therefore embrace the Republic and uphold its constitutional laws. Therefore, finally, help your Government with all your willpower. Therefore, and you can be sure of this, the first of Prairial (for which your enemies were waiting for as a day of division, crisis and misery), the first of Prairial will come as a period of rest and peace, and this day will herald the affirmation of republican law.

Source: Nicolas-Louis François de Neufchâteau, "Circulaire du ministre de l'Intérieur aux Commissaires du Directoire exécutif près des Administrations centrales de Département," 14 Ventôse, Year VII [4 March 1799], Archives Nationales de la France F1A 58.