How significant was the weakness of the Directory in Napoleon’s success in the Coup de Brumaire 1799?

6 June 2016

In 1799 Napoleon, Ducos and Sieyes arranged to gain power over France. Initially it was meant to be a legitimate takeover where to council of Ancients would vote them into power, however this did not go according to plan.

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The Ancients rejected them saying Napoleon was trying to use military force to overthrow them. In the end Lucien (Napoleons brother) calls upon the army against the Council. In the end they agree to abolish the Directory and a 3 man executive was created (Napoleon, Sieyes and Ducos) with two legislative councils: the Senate and the Tribunate. What were the reasons behind this Coup that would make it successful?

Was it the weakness of the Directory? Or Napoleons ambition? Or perhaps it was the roles of others such as Sieyes who played a vital role in securing the success of the Coup. Or was it Napoleons successes overseas which gave him the power to attempt it? His uses of historical events? Or did it simply come down to Napoleons skill? The weakness of the Directory is certainly a key issue which lead to a successful coup.

The Directory which consisted of Gohier, Barras, Sieyes, Ducos and Moulin, had no say in legislation. During the reign of the Directory there was a lot of public unrest. This was due to a poor economy. There was high inflation and a lot of debt. Discounted peasants and Proletariat meant that another popular uprising was in the air. There was also unrest in the army. They were under fed and under paid and after many military disaster they were feeling disillusioned with the new government. Austria had retaken land in Italy, Napoleons disaster in Egypt, and Britain and Russia have moved into Holland. All of these small discontents added up to a general feeling of reproach towards the Directory.

This enabled Napoleon and his other conspiratress to contemplate a successful takeover which would be widely supported by the public. Overall the weakness of the Directory gave Napoleon the opportunity to succeed in his Coup. Napoleons ambition and character also plays a key role in the success of the Coup. Without his character and his strive for supremacy he could have failed in the coup. It was his ambition that meant Sieyes chose him to help him beat the Council.

Napoleons character also meant that he could use the army for his succession. His charisma and his personality meant that the solders trusted him and believed he was doing this for the good of France not for his own gain. However it is not the most important factor in the Coup de Brumaire mainly because Napoleon did not stand out as a successful leader. He relied on his brother to help him succeed. Therefore even though it was his ambition that made him favourable to Sieyes it did not play a big role in the Coup itself. During the coup others played a vital role.

Napoleons brother Lucien called the army against the council of 500 saving the situation. He also tried to calm down the council after Napoleon entered with armed soldiers. Sieyes, who planned the coup, is also vital to the success of it. Without these men it would have been impossible for Napoleon to grab power from the French government. Sieyes, being one of the Directory, was in high position to be able to get the support of others such as Ducos. Lucien who was in the council of 500 because of Napoleons military success was able to talk to the council and keep them calm enough so Napoleon could succeed. These people play one of the most important roles in the coup. Without them it would have failed making it possibly the most important factor of them all.

Another reason was Napoleons military successes. These overseas successes brought him to the attention of Sieyes and gained him the support of his army. This gave him a lot of power and influence. His campaign in Italy and Egypt made him a popular figure in the public eye and meant that he would be a popular leader. His crushing of Royalists at Vendemiaire showed him to be an enemy of the Royalists and this endeared him to the French people. Also his tactics at Toulon showed him to be quick thinking and a brilliant general who could adapt to the situation.

The treaty of Campo Formio indicated that he was not just a military man but a Politian. He managed a peace treaty that would benefit France. His military successes made him a prominent figure in France. He was liked by the people for his military successes which is why when he did gain power he was welcomed and did not face total opposition from the population. Napoleons talents are not very prominently shown if you look at Napoleon during the coup.

He fails to rouse any of the council members to vote him into power, he leaves the hall while being attacked by them and it is his brother which orders the army against the council not him. We do not see the Napoleon that we know about here. His poor speech which was an attempt to convince the Council that he was the right choice for leader almost destroyed the coup. Where is the great speaker?

Where is the tactician and the politician that we know Napoleon is? His talents are not shown here therefore they are not of great importance in his success. The last point is Napoleons use of historical events. Despite his military failure in Egypt he was still welcomed back as a hero due to his great use of propaganda. He may have lost the war but he talked about the battles which he won such as Alexandria. This made him very favourable to the French and to Sieyes. Also his use of public opinion towards the Directory. He and Sieyes judged the mood of the people and sensed that they wanted change from the failings of the new government.

There was a strong Royalist and Jakabin opposition which allowed room for Napoleon to achieve his aims. Overall without the strategic use of key events Napoleon would have been seen as a much lesser man than he was. In conclusion, when you take in all the facts about the Coup and all the factors surrounding it, it is clear that the role of Lucien and Sieyes is the most important factor for the success of the Coup. However without the weakness of the Directory they would not have had public support to do this.

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