Napoleon’s Own Account of His Coup d’Etat (10 November 1799)
Napoleon glosses over the conspiracy to overthrow the Constitution of 1795 and the duly elected legislature. This conspiracy was organized in part by his younger brother Lucien. He does, however, admit that some of the deputies opposed his endeavor and tried to arrest him. At this moment, Napoleon portrays himself as a simple “soldier of liberty, a citizen devoted to the Republic.”
This source is a part of the The Napoleonic Experience teaching module.
On my return to Paris [from Egypt] I found division among all authorities, and agreement upon only one point, namely, that the Constitution was half destroyed and was unable to save liberty.
All parties came to me, confided to me their designs, disclosed their secrets, and requested my support; I refused to be the man of a party.
The Council of Elders summoned me; I answered its appeal. A plan of general restoration had been devised by men whom the nation has been accustomed to regard as the defenders of liberty, equality, and property; this plan required an examination, calm, free, exempt from all influence and all fear. Accordingly, the Council of Elders resolved upon the removal of the legislative Body to Saint-Cloud; it gave me the responsibility of disposing the force necessary for its independence. I believe it my duty to my fellow citizens, to the soldiers perishing in our armies, to the national glory acquired at the cost of their blood, to accept the command.
The Councils assembled at Saint-Cloud; republican troops guaranteed their security from without, but assassins created terror within. Several deputies of the Council of Five Hundred, armed with stilettos and firearms, circulated threats of death around them.
The plans which ought to have been developed were withheld, the majority disorganized, the boldest orators disconcerted, and the futility of every wise proposition was evident.
I took my indignation and grief to the Council of Elders. I besought it to assure the execution of its generous designs; I directed its attention to the evils of the Patrie [Fatherland] . . . ; it concurred with me by new evidence of its steadfast will.
I presented myself at the Council of Five Hundred, alone, unarmed, my head uncovered, just as the Elders had received and applauded me; I came to remind the majority of its wishes, and to assure it of its power.
The stilettos which menaced the deputies were instantly raised against their liberator; twenty assassins threw themselves upon me and aimed at my breast. The grenadiers of the Legislative Body whom I had left at the door of the hall ran forward, placed themselves between the assassins and myself. One of these brave grenadiers had his clothes pierced by a stiletto. They bore me out.
At the same moment cries of “Outlaw” were raised against the defender of the law. It was the fierce cry of assassins against the power destined to repress them.
They crowded around the president, uttering threats, arms in their hands they commanded him to outlaw me; I was informed of this: I ordered him to be rescued from their fury, and six grenadiers of the Legislative Body secured him. Immediately afterwards some grenadiers of the legislative body charged into the hall and cleared it.
The factions, intimidated, dispersed and fled. The majority, freed from their attacks, returned freely and peaceably into the meeting hall, listened to the proposals on behalf of public safety, deliberated, and prepared the salutary resolution which is to become the new and provisional law of the Republic.
Frenchmen, you will doubtless recognize in this conduct the zeal of a soldier of liberty, a citizen devoted to the Republic. Conservative, tutelary, and liberal ideas have been restored to their rights through the dispersal of the rebels who oppressed the Councils.
John Hall Stewart, ed., A Documentary Survey of the French Revolution (New York: Macmillan, 1951), pp. 763-765.