Brumaire: Bonaparte’s Justification

Having seized power through the coup of 18 Brumaire [9 November 1799], Bonaparte—now First Consul—set out to win public support for yet another new government. His first public pronouncement was the proclamation reprinted below, in which he claims he had acted to defend liberty and the republic against internal enemies. The proclamation, accompanied by similar proclamations from all the new ministers of the government, elaborated Napoleon’s vaguer but more oft–cited statement to his fellow citizens that "reduced to the principles on which it had been started, the French Revolution is over!"


10 November, 1799 (19 Brumaire, Year VIII)

On my return to Paris, I found division among all the authorities, and agreement upon only one point: that the Constitution was half destroyed and could not save liberty.

All parties came to me, confided to me their plans, disclosed their secrets, and asked for my support. I refused to be one party's man.

The Council of Elders summoned me, and I went. An outline for general restoration had been planned by the men who the nation has become accustomed to regarding as the defenders of liberty, equality, and property. This plan needed to be looked at calmly, freely and away from any influences or fears. Consequently, the Council of Elders decided to transfer the Legislative Body to Saint-Cloud, and gave me control over the forces necessary to ensure its independence. I believed it my duty to accept the command, for my fellow citizens, for the soldiers being killed in our armies, and for the national glory acquired at the cost of their blood.

The Councils assembled at Saint-Cloud. Republican troops guaranteed their security from without, but assassins created terror from within. Several deputies of the Council of Five-Hundred, armed with stilettos and firearms, made death threats to those around them.

The plan which was to have been further developed, was put aside. The majority fell into disorganization, the boldest orators became disconcerted, and the futility of every wise proposition was obvious.

I took my pain and indignation to the Council of Elders. I asked them to ensure the execution of their generous outline. I showed them the ills of the homeland . . . they agreed with me and demonstrated anew their steadfast will.

I appeared before the Council of Five-Hundred just as I had before the Elders; alone, unarmed, my head uncovered, and was applauded. I had come to remind the majority of its will, and to assure them of their power.

The stilettos that had threatened the deputies were instantly raised against their liberator. Twenty assassins rushed at me, aiming at my breast. The guards of the Legislative Body whom I had left at the door of the hall ran forward and placed themselves between the assassins and me. One of these brave guards had his clothes pierced by a stiletto. They escorted me to safety.

At the same moment, cries of "outlaw" were raised against me, the defender of the law. It was the fierce cry of assassins against the power that was destined to suppress them.

They crowded around the president, uttering threats and bearing arms, and commanded him to outlaw me. I was informed of this and ordered him to be rescued from their fury. Six guards of the Legislative Body grabbed hold of him. Immediately afterwards, guards of the Legislative Body charged into the hall and cleared it.

The factions, intimidated, broke up and left. The majority, freed from their attacks, returned peaceably and upon their own will into the meeting hall, listened to the proposals on behalf of public safety, deliberated, and drafted the salutary resolution which is to become the new and provisional law of the Republic.

Frenchmen, you will no doubt recognize this behavior as that of a zealous soldier of Liberty, a citizen devoted to the Republic. The rights of conservative, tutelary, and liberal ideas have been restored through the dispersal of the dissidents who oppressed the Councils.

Source: John Hall Stewart, A Documentary Survey of the French Revolution (New York: Macmillan, 1951), 763–65. (Slightly retranslated)