Bonaparte’s Proclamation to the French people on 19 Brumaire

Author(s) : BONAPARTE général
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On 19 Brumaire An VIII (10th November 1799), Bonaparte made a proclamation to the French people. This translation of his speech featured in the Annual Register for the year 1799, published in London in 1801.

Bonaparte’s Proclamation to the French people on 19 Brumaire
Proclamation de Bonaparte, 19 brumaire An VIII © Centre historique des Archives nationales - Atelier de photographie

Proclamation of General Buonaparte.

Nov. 10, eleven oclock at night.

On my return to Paris, I found a division reigning amongst all the constituted authorities. There was no agreement but on this single point — that the constitution was half destroyed, and could by no means effect the salvation of our liberties. All the parties came to me, confided to me their designs, unveiled their secrets, and demanded my support. I refused to be a man of any party. The council of elders invited me, and I answered to their call. A plan of general restoration had been concerted by men, in whom the nation is accustomed to see the defender of its freedom and equality, and of property. This plan demanded a calm and liberal examination, free from every influence and every fear. The council of elders resolved, in consequence, that the sittings of the legislative body should be removed to St. Cloud, and charged me with the disposition of the force necessary to secure its independence. I owed it, my fellow-citizens, to the soldiers who are perishing in our armies, and to the national glory, acquired at the price of their blood, to accept of this command.

The councils being assembled at St. Cloud, the republican troops guaranteed their safety from without; but within, assassins had established the reign of terror. Several members of the council of five hundred, armed with poniards and fire-arms, circulated around them nothing but menaces of death. The plans which were about to be develloped [sic] were laid aside, the majority was disorganized, the most intrepid orators were disconcerted, and the inutility of every wise proposition was made evident. I bore my indignation and my grief to the council of elders, I demanded of them to ensure the execution of their generous designs. I represented to them the maladies of their country, from which those designs originated. They joined themselves with me, by giving new testimonies of their uniform wishes. I then repaired to the council of five hundred without arms, and my head uncovered, such as I had been received and applauded by the elders. I wished to recall to the majority their wishes, and to assure them of their power.

The poniards, which threatened the deputies, were instantly raised against their deliverer. Twenty assassins threw themselves upon me, and sought my breast. The grenadiers of the legislative body, whom I had left at the door of the hall, came up and placed themselves between me and my assassins. One of these brave grenadiers, named Thome, had his clothes struck through with a dagger. They succeeded in bearing me away. At this time the cry of “Outlaw!” was raised against the defender of the law. It was the ferocious cry of assassins against the force which was destined to restrain them. They pressed around the president, threatened him to his face, and, with arms in their hands, ordered him to decree me out of the protection of the law. Being informed of this circumstance, I gave orders to rescue him from their power, and six grenadiers of the legislative body brought him out of the hall. Immediately after the grenadiers of the legislative body entered at the pas de charge into the hall, and caused it to be evacuated. The factious were intimidated, and dispersed themselves.

The majority, released from their blows, entered freely and peaceably into the hall of sitting, heard the propositions which were made to them for the public safety deliberated, and prepared the salutary resolution which is to become the new and provisional law of the republic.

Frenchmen! you will recognize, without doubt, in this conduct, the zeal of a soldier of liberty, and of a citizen devoted to the republic. The ideas of preservation, protection, and freedom, immediately resumed their places on the dispersion of the faction who wished to oppress the councils, and who, in making themselves the most odious of men, never cease to be the most contemptible.

(Countersigned) BERTHIER.


Description and analysis of the proclamation:

Bonaparte produced his proclamation on the evening of 19 Brumaire An VIII (10 November 1799), and it marked a major first in political communication. The inclusion of the precise time and date on the document demonstrate the urgency felt at the time of its drafting as well as the sense of the historical significance of the events that had unfolded that day. Furthermore, that Bonaparte’s name features boldly in the letter head shows a return to a sort of official personalisation that had not been seen since the fall of the monarchy.
While Bonaparte had not been Sieyès’s first choice of general to provide military support to his coup (Sieyès would have preferred Barthélémy Joubert, who had been killed at Novi on 15 August 1799), General Bonaparte now confirmed himself as a vital figure to the new regime. He took a revisionist approach when writing his proclamation and altered the truth in order to present himself as the saviour of the Republic. According to his version of events, it was he who saved his brother Lucien (the president of the assembly), when in fact he had almost caused the coup to fail by losing his temper in front of the outraged deputies.
The proclamation also indicated the principles the Consulate intended to adhere to. Emphasis of the values of liberty and equality, and on respect for the Republic, suggested direct continuity from the Revolution. However, the allusion to ‘preservation, protection, and freedom,’ was a subtle way of announcing the type of personal power that he now expected to wield. These elements of the proclamation would be consecrated by the Constitution of 22 Frimaire An VIII barely a month later.



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