Napoleon: Consulate and Empire / Chapter 8


1. The Napoleonic System in France

  • The Constitution of 1799. Napoleon seized the power and did not Sieyes to have an equal right to vote. The new constitution provided for universal suffrage. There were no elections, only presentations of candidates suitable for appointment as deputies and the choice of candidates was restricted to notables.
  • The distribution of power during the Consulate. Power was firmly in the hands of Napoleon. The new constitution was submitted for approval in a plebiscite held on February 1800. In a number of ways, the constitution established a framework for consolidating the main social changes made by the Revolution. Power in a new regime was far more centralised than it was during the Directory.
  • From Consul to Emperor. A group tried to assassinate Napoleon, Napoleon was unhurt and this awared the fragile nature of a regime dependent on a one-man. It was decided to offer Napoleon the consulship for life, with the right to nominate his successor. Napoleon accepted and the decision was approved by plebiscite.
  • Consolidating power. In 1804 a series of disasters, royalist plots and counter-plots culminated in the affair of the Duc d'Enghien. Duc was later kidnapped and found guilty of conspiracy, later executed. After this, Napoleon began to prepare people for his next step. In May 1804 Napoleon was approved to be declared Emperor of the French.  A third plebiscite held in November 1804 approved the change. The Tribunate was abolished in 1808 and the Legislature survived but was weak. In 1810, Church agreed Napoleon to remarry, he married the niece of Marie Antoinette and he had a successor Napoleon, King of Rome. 
  • Maintaining power. Patronage (gifts to certain people to build connections) was distributed, bribes were offered and supporters were appointed to government positions to bind them to the regime.
  • Establishing financial stability. He appointed Gaudin who was very able and skilled in 1799 and Barbe-Marbois at the treasury in 1801. They introduced: A) a much clearer division of roles between the ministry of finances and treasury b) reorganisation of both direct and indirect tax collection c) the first steps in establishing public banking systems. One of Gaudin's reforms was to remove the assessment and collection of direct taxation form the control of local authorities. A more dramatic increase in revenue came from indirect taxes. Tobacco, alcohol was taxed, playing cards and public transport also. Revenue from indirect taxes increased by over 400 per cent between 1806 and 1812 and was considered a much easier way of making up any shortfalls in government revenue from direct taxation. One of the most important reforms was the creation of the Bank of France in 1800. On 28 March 1803 napoleon introduced the franc de germinal which became the basis of Napoleon's monetary system: A) the new gold and silver coins established a ratio of gold to silver at 1:15.5 2) each one-franc coin would weigh five grams of silver. This reform gave France the soundest currency in Europe for the next 120 years…


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