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  • Coup of 18–19 Brumaire, November 9-10 1799

    Beatriz Camino

    Coup of 18–19 Brumaire, November 9-10 1799

    The Coup d’état of 18-19 Brumaire, led by Napoleon Bonaparte, overthrew the Directory in France and replaced it with the French Consulate. It took place on 9-10 November 1799, which was 18-19 Brumaire Year VIII under the French Republican calendar system. Many historians consider this event to have put to an end the French Revolution and led to Napoleon's coronation as Emperor.


    After the fall of Robespierre and his Reign of Terror in 1795, a new regime, the Directory was set up. This system had a five-member governing committee: Paul Barras, the main executive leader; political theorist Abbé Sieyès; general Moulin; Roger Ducos, a protégé of Barras; and lawyer Gohier. The Directory also had two houses of legislature, the Council of Ancients (upper house) and the Council of Five Hundred (lower one).

    However, the new government faced a lot of difficulties. France’s economic situation was negatively affected by inflation, taxation and unemployment. The regime lost control in much of the country and there were fears of a Jacobin resurgence and a royalist restoration. These problems pushed Napoleon to the fore, who succeeded in gaining Barras’ confidence by suppressing the royalist insurrection of 5 October 1795. As a result, he was appointed commander of the Army of Italy in March 1796.

    That same year, Napoleon began a military campaign against Austria and its Italian allies, achieving several victories. After successfully negotiating the Treaty of Campo Formio with the Austrians in October 1797, he returned to Paris and the Directory decided to put him in charge of a secretive expedition to Egypt. There, the French suffered several defeats by the British troops and they were forced to retreat. This situation made Napoleon realize how bad the political and military conditions were and he decided to return to Europe. However, back in France, the political situation had changed considerably: the Directory was believed to be on its last legs, the war had broken out and France had to deal with the Second Coalition.

    In the meanwhile, Napoleon’s elder brother, Lucien Bonaparte, was appointed president of the Council of Five Hundred. Inside the Directory, Sieyès, who had become the leader of a revisionist political faction, was elected as director on May 1799 and started to think about a coup d’État to create a stronger government. Even though he distrusted Napoleon, Sieyès thought that he would be a good military leader to be put in charge of the cup and asked him for his support. However, Napoleon’s objective was to gain power for himself rather than for Sieyès and plotted within the plot.

    The Coup d'État

    The plan was to persuade the Directors to resign and then force the Council of Ancients and the Council of Five Hundred to appoint a commission that would create a new constitution.

    The coup began on the morning of 18 Brumaire or 9 November of 1799, when Lucien Bonaparte falsely convinced the Councils that the Jacobins were planning a coup. Then, he persuaded them to seek refuge in the Chateau de Saint-Cloud. Napoleon was put in charge of their safety and the command of all local troops. Soon afterwards, Sieyès and Ducos resigned as Directors, while Barras was pressured to do the same. The two remaining directors, Jacobins Gohier and Moulin were arrested and forced to give up their resistance.

    By the following day, the Councils had already realized that they were facing a coup rather than being protected from a rebellion and refused to submit. Napoleon then stormed into the chambers of the palace, escorted by soldiers. This action proved that he had organized a coup within the coup since the situation had now become a military affair. Despite his military strength, the Council of Five Hundred showed resistance against Napoleon and he was forced to escape. Soon afterwards, the Council declared Napoleon an outlaw.

    At this moment, Lucien Bonaparte told the soldiers in charge of guarding the Councils that there were a group of violent deputies threatening the Five Hundred and ordered them to expel them. In that way, the council was dispersed. The Ancients then appointed Napoleon, Sieyès and Ducos provisional consuls and named the Corps législatif, thus putting to an end the Directory and the Councils.


    As there was no reaction from the streets the revolution was considered to be over soon afterwards. Those Jacobins who put up some resistance were exiled and arrested. Then, the commissions created the Constitution of the Year VIII, the first one since the Revolution without a Declaration of Rights. This document established a First Consul, a position held by Napoleon, which had more power than the other two. Taking advantage of his power, Napoleon appointed the Senate, which allowed him to rule by decree.

    All in all, the Coup of 18-19 Brumarie meant the overthrow of the Directory and its replacement with a new system, the French Consulate. According to historians, the event marked the end of the French Revolution and paved the way for Napoleon’s coronation as Emperor of the First French Empire.


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