The Council of Five–Hundred Concurs

The Council of Five–Hundred, the lower house of the legislature under the Directory’s constitution, put up only token resistance to the coup of 18 Brumaire [9 November 1799]. By the following day, this body—in principle, made up of the representatives of the French people and the central institution of republican government—had concurred completely in Bonaparte’s revision to the constitution and issued this proclamation, which described the coup to be a victory for "the Republic and liberty" against royalism. Yet again, a regime had come to power claiming to be initiating a "new era" for "the peoples of Europe."


10 November 1799

To the French People

Frenchmen!

Once more the Republic has just escaped the violence of rebels, and your faithful representatives have shattered the dagger in those parricidal hands; but, after having averted the attacks with which you were immediately threatened, they felt that such eternal agitations ought finally to be prevented forever; and, acting only on their duty and their courage, they dare to say that they have shown themselves worthy of you.

Frenchmen, your liberty, completely rent asunder and still bleeding from the attacks of the revolutionary government, has just sought refuge in the arms of a constitution which promises it at least some repose. The need of such repose was generally felt at the time: a profound terror of the crises which you barely escaped remained in every mind; your military glory could efface the most colossal memories of the past. With astonishment and admiration, the peoples of Europe trembled at your glory, and secretly blessed the aim of your exploits; finally, your enemies asked for peace; everything, in a word, seemed to unite to assure you finally of the peaceful enjoyment of liberty and happiness; happiness, and liberty which alone can guarantee it, seemed finally ready to reward so many generous efforts in a fitting manner.

But seditious men ceaselessly attacked with audacity the weak parts of your constitution; they skillfully seized upon those parts which might provoke new disorders; the constitutional regime was soon only a succession of revolutions in every sense, in which the different parties successively gained power; even those who most sincerely desired the maintenance of that constitution were forced to violate it constantly in order to preserve it. From such a state of instability in legislation; and the most sacred rights of social man have been exposed to all the caprices of factions and events.

It is time to put an end to these disorders; it is time to give substantial guarantees to the liberty of citizens to the sovereignty of the people, to the independence of the constitutional powers, and, finally, to the Republic, whose name has served only too often to sanction the violation of all principles. It is time that this great nation had a government worthy of it, a firm and wise government, which could give you a prompt and enduring peace, and enable you to enjoy real happiness.

Frenchmen, such are the views which have dictated the vigorous decisions of the Legislative Body.

In order to arrive more promptly at a definitive and complete reorganization of public institutions, a provisional government has been established. It is invested with power sufficient to have the laws respected, to protect peaceful citizens, and to suppress all conspirators and malevolent persons.

Royalism shall not raise its head again; the hideous traces of the revolutionary government are erased; the Republic and liberty will cease to be vain names; a new era is about to begin.

Frenchmen, rally round your magistrates; the zeal of those who have dared conceive such fine and lofty hopes for you will never slacken; all success now depends upon your confidence, your unity, your wisdom.

Soldiers of liberty, you will close your ears to every perfidious insinuation; you will pursue the course of your victories; you will achieve the conquest of peace in order soon to return to the midst of your brothers to enjoy all the benefits which you have assured them, and to receive from public recognition the honors and rewards which have been reserved for your glorious work.

Long live the Republic!

Source: John Hall Stewart, A Documentary Survey of the French Revolution (New York: Macmillan, 1951), 765–67.