|Executive Government of the First French Republic|
|In office |
2 November 1795 – 10 November 1799
|Preceded by||National Convention|
|Succeeded by||French Consulate |
with Napoleon Bonaparte as First Consul
The Directory (French: Directoire exécutif) was a body of five Directors that held executive power in France following the Convention and preceding the Consulate. The period of this regime (2 November 1795 until 10 November 1799), commonly known as the Directory (or Directoire) era, constitutes the second to last stage of the French Revolution.
The Directory era itself is further split into two eras, the First Directory and the Second Directory, divided by the Coup of 18 Fructidor.
Constitution of Year III
Under the French Constitution of 1795, qualified property holders elected 750 legislators, who divided themselves into the Council of Five Hundred and the Council of Ancients. This bicameral legislature had a term of three years, with one-third of the members renewed every year. The Ancients held a suspensory veto, but possessed no initiative in legislation.
The constitution specified the executive as consisting of five directors, chosen by the Ancients out of a list sent to them by the Five Hundred. One director faced retirement each year. Ministers for the various departments of State aided the directors. These ministers did not form a council or cabinet and had no general powers of government.
The system made provision for the stringent control of all local authorities by the central government. Since the new constitution sought to create a separation of powers, the directors had no voice in legislation or taxation, nor could directors or ministers sit in either house. The law guaranteed freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom of labour, but forbade armed assemblies and even public meetings of political societies. Only individuals or public authorities could tender petitions.
From the beginning, however, circumstances restricted the free play of the constitution. The Convention had acquired so much unpopularity that, if its members had retired into private life, they would have courted danger and risked the undoing of their work. Therefore a decree required that two-thirds of the first legislature must come from among the members of the Convention.
When the constitution went before the primary assemblies, most electors held aloof, 1,050,000 voting for and only 5,000 voting against it. On 23 September it officially became law. Then all the parties which resented the limit upon freedom of election combined in Paris to rise in revolt. The government entrusted its defense to Barras, but on 13 Vendémiaire (5 October 1795) the young General Napoléon Bonaparte quelled ill-equipped and ill-led Parisian insurgents with a few thousand regular troops and well-placed artillery. Further resistance seemed impossible. The Convention dissolved itself on 26 October 1795.
After the selection of the Council of the Ancients by lot, it remained to name the directors. For its own security the Left resolved that all five must be old members of the Convention and regicides. The Ancients chose
Unpopularity of the Directory
With the establishment of the Directory, the Revolution seemed on the verge of ending. The nation was tired of the violence of the Terror and needed time to recover. Those who wished to restore Louis XVIII of France and the Ancien Régime and those who would have renewed the Reign of Terror were insignificant in number. The possibility of foreign interference had vanished with the failure of the First Coalition. Nevertheless, the four years of the Directory were a time of chronic disquiet and the late atrocities had made goodwill between parties impossible. The same instinct of self-preservation which had led the members of the Convention to claim so large a part in the new legislature and the whole of the Directoire impelled them to keep their predominance.
As the majority of Frenchmen wanted to be rid of them, they could achieve their purpose only by extraordinary means. They disregarded the terms of the constitution, and, when the elections went against them, they prolonged the war to stay in power. They were thus driven to rely upon the armies, which also desired war and were becoming less and less civic in temper.
Other reasons influenced them in this direction. The finances had been so thoroughly ruined that the government could not have met its expenses without the plunder and the tribute of foreign countries. If peace were made, the armies would return home and the directors would have to face the exasperation of the rank-and-file who had lost their livelihood, as well as the ambition of generals who could, in a moment, brush them aside. Barras and Rewbell were notoriously corrupt themselves and screened corruption in others. The patronage of the directors was ill-bestowed, and the general maladministration heightened their unpopularity.
The constitutional party in the legislature desired a toleration of the nonjuring clergy, the repeal of the laws against the relatives of the émigrés, and some merciful discrimination toward the émigrés themselves. The directors baffled all such endeavours. On the other hand, the socialist conspiracy of Babeuf was easily quelled. Little was done to improve the finances, and the assignats continued.
However, the Directoire was sustained by the military successes of 1796. Hoche again suppressed the Revolt in the Vendée. Bonaparte's victories in Italy more than compensated for the reverses of Jourdan and Moreau in Germany. The king of Sardinia made peace in May 1796, ceding Nice and Savoy to the French Republic and consenting to receive French garrisons in his Piedmontese fortresses. By the Treaty of San Ildefonso, concluded in August, Spain became the ally of France. In October 1796, Naples made peace.
In 1797, Bonaparte finished the conquest of northern Italy and forced Austria to make the treaty of Campo Formio (October), whereby the emperor ceded Lombardy and the Austrian Netherlands to the French Republic in exchange for Venice and undertook to urge upon the Diet the surrender of the lands beyond the Rhine. Notwithstanding the victory of Cape St Vincent, the United Kingdom was brought into such extreme peril by the mutinies in its fleet that it offered to acknowledge the French conquest of the Netherlands and to restore the French colonies.
The selfishness of the three directors threw away this golden opportunity. In March and April, the election of a new third of the Councils had been held. It gave a majority to the constitutional party. Among the directors, the lot fell on Le Tourneur to retire, and he was succeeded by Barthélemy, an eminent diplomatist, who allied himself with Carnot. The political disabilities imposed upon the relatives of émigrés were repealed. Priests who would declare their submission to the Republic were restored to their rights as citizens. It seemed likely that peace would be made and that moderate men would gain power.
In the spring of 1798, not only a new third of the legislature had to be chosen, but the places of the members expelled by the revolution of Fructidor had to be filled. The constitutional party had been rendered helpless, and the mass of the electors were indifferent. However, among the Jacobins themselves, there had arisen an extreme party hostile to the directors. With the support of many who were not Jacobins but detested the government, it bade fair to gain a majority. Before the new deputies could take their seats, the directors forced through the councils the law of 22 Floréal, annulling or perverting the elections in thirty departments and excluding forty-eight deputies by name. Even this coup d'état did not secure harmony between the executive and the legislature. In the councils, the directors were loudly charged with corruption and misgovernment. The retirement of François de Neufchâteau and the choice of Treilhard as his successor (15 May 1798) made no difference in the position of the Directoire.
While France was thus inwardly convulsed, its rulers were doubly bound to husband the national strength and practise moderation towards other states. Since December 1797, a congress had been sitting at Rastatt to regulate the future of Germany. That it should be brought to a successful conclusion was of the utmost importance for France. However, the directors were driven by self-interest to new adventures abroad. Bonaparte was resolved not to sink into obscurity, and the directors were anxious to keep him as far as possible from Paris. They, therefore, sanctioned the expedition to Egypt which deprived the Republic of its best army and most renowned captain. Coveting the treasures of Bern, the Directors sent Brune to invade Switzerland and remodel its constitution. In revenge for the murder of General Duphot (28 December 1797), they sent Berthier to invade the Papal States and erect the Roman Republic. They also occupied and virtually annexed Piedmont. In all these countries, they organised such an effective pillage that the French became universally hated.
As the armies were far below the strength required by the policy of unbounded conquest and rapine, the first permanent law of conscription was passed in the summer of 1798. The attempt to enforce it caused a revolt of the peasants in the Belgian departments. The priests were held responsible and some eight thousand were condemned to deportation en masse, although the much greater part escaped by the goodwill of the people. Few soldiers were obtained by the conscription, for the government was as weak as it was tyrannical.
Under these circumstances, Horatio Nelson's victory of Aboukir (1 August 1798), which gave the British full command of the Mediterranean and isolated Bonaparte in Egypt, was the signal for a second coalition. Naples, Austria, Russia and Turkey joined Great Britain against France. Ferdinand IV of Naples, rashly taking the offensive before his allies were ready, was defeated and forced to seek a refuge in Sicily.
In January 1799, the French occupied Naples along with Togar and set up the Parthenopaean Republic. But the consequent dispersion of their weak forces only exposed them to greater peril. At home, the Directoire was in a most critical position. In the elections of April 1799, a large number of Jacobins gained seats. A little later Rewbell retired. It was imperative to fill his place with a man of ability and influence. The choice fell upon Sieyès, who had kept aloof from office and retained not only his immeasurable self-conceit but the respect of the public.
Sieyès felt that the Directoire had bankrupted its own reputation, and he intended to do far more than merely serve as a member of a board. He hoped to concentrate power in his own hands, to bridle the Jacobins, and to remodel the constitution. With the help of Barras, he proceeded to rid himself of the other directors. An irregularity having emerged in Treilhard's election, he retired, and Gohier took his place (30 Prairial, 18 June 1799). Merlin de Douai and La Révellière Lépeaux were driven to resign in June 1799; Moulin and Ducos replaced them. The three new directors so lacked significance that they could give no trouble, but for the same reason they could give little service.
Such a government proved ill-fitted to cope with the dangers then gathering round France. The directors resolved on a French offensive in Germany. The French crossed the Rhine early in March, but Archduke Charles of Austria defeated them, first at Ostrach on 23 March and then at Stockach on 25 March 1799. Jourdan's Army of the Danube withdrew to the Rhine under the command of Lecourbe, while Jourdan himself returned to Paris to plea for more and better soldiers. The congress at Rastatt, which had sat for fifteen months without actually accomplishing anything, broke in April, and Austrian hussars murdered the French envoys. In Italy, the allies took the offensive with an army partly Austrian, partly Russian, under the command of the Russian field marshal (future generalissimo) Suvorov. After defeating Moreau at Cassano d'Adda on 27 April 1799, he occupied Milan and Turin. The puppet republics established by the French in Italy collapsed, and Suvorov defeated the French army on the Trebbia as it retreated from Naples.
Thus threatened with invasion on her German and Italian frontiers, France seemed disabled by anarchy within. The finances stood in the last distress; the anti-religious policy of the government kept many départements on the verge of revolt; and commerce almost ground to a halt due to the decay of roads and the increase of bandits. The French lacked any real political freedom, yet also lacked the ease or security which enlightened despotism can bestow. The Terrorists lifted their heads in the Council of Five Hundred. A Law of Hostages, which was really a new Law of Suspects, and a progressive income tax showed the temper of the majority. The Jacobin Club re-opened and became once more the focus of disorder. The Jacobin press renewed the licence of Hébert and Marat. Never since the outbreak of the Revolution had the public temper seemed so gloomy.
In this extremity, Sieyès chose as minister of police the old Terrorist Joseph Fouché, who best understood how to deal with his brethren. Fouché closed the Jacobin Club and deported a number of journalists. However, like his predecessors, Sieyès felt that for the revolution which he meditated, he must have the help of a soldier. As his man of action, he chose General Joubert, one of the most distinguished among French officers. The Directoire sent Joubert to restore the fortunes of the war in Italy. At Novi, on 15 August 1799, he encountered Suvorov. He was killed at the outset of the battle and his men suffered defeat.
After this disaster, the French held scarcely any territory south of the Alps save Genoa. The Russian and Austrian governments then agreed to drive the enemy out of Switzerland and to invade France from the east. At the same time, the joint forces of Great Britain and Russia assailed the Netherlands. However, the narrow views and conflicting interests of the members of the second coalition doomed it to failure like the first. Lack of co-ordination between Austrians and Russians, and André Masséna's victory at Zürich (25–26 September 1799) stalled the invasion of Switzerland. In October, the British and the Russians had to evacuate the Netherlands. All immediate danger to France ended, but the issue of war remained in suspense. The Directors had felt forced to recall Bonaparte from Egypt. He anticipated their order and on 9 October 1799 landed at Fréjus.
End of the Directoire
List of Directeurs
- Members of the Executive Directory
- Presidents of the Executive Directory
- WorldStatesmen (here Italy linked)
- WorldStatesmen (here Italy linked)
- The coup d'état of 18 Fructidor 
Significant civil and political events by year
Other important figures and factions
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