Napoleon Series Archive 2015

Napoleon's Government

It is quite apparent that you ‘operate’ from the premise that Napoleon was corrupt. You’re not alone in this erroneous assumption, but that is the premise from which it appears you begin your ideas and from that premise you conduct whatever research on the subject that you may or may not engage in.

As you inaccurately have stated, ‘On 10 November 1799, General Napoleon Bonaparte carried out his coup d’etat in Paris, essentially becoming the military dictator of France’ which has been correctly disproven by Thierry Lentz, in an eloquent and accurate article. Unfortunately, that inaccurate statement typifies anything that you may say about Napoleon and his government. It is a poor place to begin.

If Napoleon insisted on honesty in his officials, and he did, then it would not be logical that he would personally be corrupt. Fain makes a point of how meticulous he was in his dealings with government and personal funds, and they were not one in the same. If he was personally corrupt he would not have established two organizations within the government to find and investigate corruption both inside the army and inside the government. ‘No one should sanction his own expenditure or allot money to himself.’

The first organization was the Inspecteurs aux Revues who inspected regimental administration, pay, and property accounts, amongst other administrative paperwork and functions. Their reputation as a group was excellent and in the first year of their existence they found and reported nearly 50,000 false returns which ruined a number of promising careers. Others of the organization operated out of the War Ministry and would show up unannounced for their inspections of different units and uncovered such crimes as senior officers dabbling in the units’ pay chests or selling regimental material for their own benefit and profit.

The second organization was the Auditors of the Council of State who were hand-picked by Napoleon to investigate high-level frauds and were carefully trained to be high-level civil servants. They were assigned special missions, became prefects and would sometimes be chosen to administer occupied territories. Their main mission and reason for being was to investigate high-level frauds and other felonies.

I would suggest that you might find contrary information in The Napoleonic Revolution by Robert Holtman, France Under Napoleon by Louis Bergeron, and the Historical Dictionary of Napoleonic France 1799-1815, edited by Owen Connelly.

From Holtman:

'[Napoleon's] government's fiscal policy was, on the whole, one of the triumphs of Napoleon's career, and an achievement that has had a lasting impact.'-99
'[Napoleon's] later budgets were rarely balanced, but the consolidated debt of France remained relatively small, particularly in comparison with that of England, and amounted to only 60 million francs in 1814.'-100

'Napoleon did not rely on tribute, but levied numerous new taxes-which led to one of his outstanding fiscal achievements, the creation of a solid financial administration.'-100
'For the first time France had a clearly defined currency whose real and face values coincided. Creation of a sound currency made possible the completion of the next basic project of Napoleon's financial policy, the establishment of the state's credit on a sound basis.'-103

From Bergeron:

'The financial achievement of the Napoleonic years is summarized in the creation of a good administrative instrument, which had been lacking in the old monarchy.'-38
'Hence was built up a fiscal system whose principles were hardly different from those of the Old Regime, and which was to last until the First World War and the adoption of the income tax.'-39
'The same rigor was brought into the parallel and distinct network of expenditure. While the revenue side of the budget was in the hands of the Minister of Finance, the control of expenditures was assigned to the paymasters in the Treasury, who made payments only on sight of orders delivered by the various administrations, and after verifying them for conformity to budgetary limits and anticipations.'-50

This last was also a check on graft and embezzlement.

From Connelly:

'To balance the budget the government levied a variety of indirect taxes…which could be raised or lowered according to the need. Expenses were rigorously monitored. A hierarchy of paymasters in the Ministry of the Treasury paid only those bills authorized by a law, a decree, or the warrant of a minister. An audit commission…reviewed the bookkeeping accounts of collectors and paymasters.'-180

'The fiscal result of these measures was a vigorous, durable fiscal administration. The French people were habituated to punctual discharge of their tax obligations. Even during the turbuleny, disastrous years of 1814-1815, they paid regularly, to the amazement of the prefects. The government debt had been kept moderate and could be assumed without great distress by the Restoration monarchy. The new franc de Germinal was stable and in 1811 commanded a better exchange rate than the pound sterling.'-180

It has also been pointed out to you that smuggling was also used for espionage and counter-espionage around the large ports, such as Hamburg, and the douaniers and gendarmerie were involved in the operation and observation of those types of missions.

The Gendarmerie had been carefully rebuilt and retrained when Napoleon became First Consul. Those who were unqualified or corrupt were discharged and replaced with veteran soldiers at least twenty-five years old, had made four campaigns and who could read and write. When the Dromedary Regiment returned from Egypt it was mostly put into the Gendarmerie. Moncey was made Premier Inspecteur General de la Gendarmerie in 1801 and was assisted by six inspector generals and a staff. They were France’s, and the Empire’s, national constabulary and were both respected and feared. The pick of the Gendarmerie would be put into the Imperial Guard as the Gendarmerie d’Elite and wore a visored bearskin instead of the chapeau. They were carefully trained in their duties and were expected to handle all the routine and emergency situations that arose in their assigned districts. They would also serve when the situation arose as military police with the field armies. While they were technically under the Ministry of the Interior, they usually operated under the Minister of War. One of their senior officers, General Etienne Radet, was described as being competent, honest, loyal, blunt, straightforward, and as having a conscience. He improved morale in the gendarmerie, and got rid of the worst officers and men and made the gendarmerie into ‘a force to be reckoned with. A good reference to begin with is Gendarmes and the State in Nineteenth Century Europe by Clive Emsley.
The Corps de Douanes were the armed force of the Finance Ministry. They were responsible to control smuggling and to enforce customs regulations. Its efficiency had deteriorated under the different revolutionary governments and Napoleon completely revamped, retrained, and reorganized them upon becoming First Consul, similar to what he did with the Gendarmerie. They were organized similarly to the Gendarmerie and there was great temptation in their line of work, but their overall reputation for honesty was quite high. They were usually under the surveillance of Napoleon’s ‘high’ police, which encouraged virtue. The duties of the Douaniers included patrolling coastal areas, defending against British landing parties, and the interception of spies along the coasts and frontiers and to support the Gendarmerie when necessary.

Were all of the gendarmes and douaniers honest and upright? No more than any other police organization then or now, but they were thoroughly trained and the gendarmes had high standards for selection and the overall reputation of both organizations was high. And many served with the field armies, especially after 1812, and they performed excellently. When Davout was assigned to Hamburg in 1813 and through the siege, his personal guard was made up of Douaniers.

As to corruption in government officials, listing generals from the army among government officials is incorrect. Napoleon ruled as a civilian head of state and was a constitutional monarch. The army did not rule in France and Napoleon, as Thierry Lentz has eloquently shown, was not a military dictator. Savary as Minister of Police was an exception to that rule, as was Berthier as Minister of War from 1800-1807. Prince Eugene served as Viceroy in Italy. All three of these men were honorable and honest. ‘A general has no civil function unless specially invested with one ad hoc. When he has no mission, he cannot exercise any influence on the courts, on the municipality, or on the police.’

Such generals as Davout, Berthier, Bessieres, Eble, Serurier, Gourgaud, Rapp, Savary, Mouton, Moncey, Narbonne were honest and honorable men. Massena, Soult, Augereau, and others might loot, but that cannot be said for the whole of the French general officers.

The high officials of the French government, such as Lavalette, Daru, Carnot, Maret, Roederer, Cambaceres, Tronchet, Portalis and many others were good and honest public servants and served honestly and well. Talleyrand was a traitor and was, according to Rapp, sacked for rapacity. The idea that he ‘resigned’ is no doubt an idea put forth by Talleyrand himself to ingratiate himself with the Bourbons in 1814. Fouche was another scoundrel and was sacked in 1810. Bourrienne was sacked in 1810 and ordered to pay back half of the two million francs that he embezzled. When the Bourbons returned he asked Talleyrand to get the order cancelled, which he did. Interestingly, sending Bourrienne to Hamburg was seen as a punishment for his previous embezzlement. See Napoleonn’s Diplomatic Service by Edward Whitcombe. Interestingly, Brune had been in command in northern Germany and was relieved and recalled for financial ‘irregularities.’

Davout later commanded in central Europe and he was incorruptible.

Josephine was not part of the government even though she was Empress.

It seems to me that you have only looked at half of the situation that you describe. What material have you looked at from senior officials in Hamburg? What about looking into the Gendarmerie and the Douaniers? Where is the material from others in Hamburg? You’re long on accusation and short on proof as far as I’m concerned and it seems to me that you made up your mind what your conclusion was before you began any research and then found material to support your ideas and failed to look at anything else. If that is the case, then your methodology is not logical and it certainly isn’t historical inquiry.

You have not demonstrated that you understand the French administration in Hamburg, or Napoleon and his governemtn as a whole, and are ready to condemn it as ‘corrupt’ using sweeping statements instead of careful research. Overriding everything you do in this period is your stated belief that Napoleon was corrupt, and that just wasn’t the case.

Lastly, there is certainly no understanding of the Grande Armee displayed, nor of its commanders, lower ranking officers, and the troops they led. And by not knowing or understanding it, and then commenting on those who led it into the fire for over twenty years, incorrect information is being presented.

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Napoleon's Government
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Good Posting As Usual.
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The Military and Diplomatic Career of Jacques Etie
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Vice is nice
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Bourrienne Didn't Write Them...
Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne.
Louis-Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne (1769-1834).
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