Reviews: Books of General Interest


Napoleon and His Collaborators: The Making of a Dictatorship

Woloch, Isser. Napoleon and His Collaborators: The Making of a Dictatorship, N.Y., Norton, 2002. 281 p. ISBN-13# 9780393323412. Softcover (Hardcover also available). $15.95.

Secret Service: British Agents in France cover

Lucien Bonaparte, president of the Council of 500, walked into the courtyard of the Château de Saint-Cloud, the clamour of the Council's deputies ringing in his ears. He strode up to the side of his shaken older brother, who had just be forced to leave the chamber without getting in so much as one word, and addressed the assembled troops. He claimed that a faction of neo-Jacobins held the Council hostage, and appealed to the soldiers to clear them from the hall and rescue the republic. His brother-in-law General Leclerc seized the moment and led the grenadiers in, scattering the shocked deputies. Those who remained or could be found were shortly brought back together again along with members from the Council of Elders. The Directory and councils were dissolved and a provisional consulate inaugurated.

Lucien could breathe a sigh of relief – the Brumaire coup had succeeded, and his brother Napoleon was first consul of the Republic of France. Professor Isser Woloch's book Napoleon and his Collaborators: the makings of a dictatorship is a study of the government formed that day – one that has been written on extensively in the last two centuries but concerning which there is still much to explore. Woloch dives head-first into this world and presents us with an informative, convincing and highly readable analysis of its people, structure and operations.     

Napoleon and His Collaborators is not a complete study of all the areas and events of Napoleon's government, nor is it intended to be. Those who are further interested in the broader context of the French government and administration during and after the Revolution should consult Woloch's earlier work The New Regime: transformations of the French civic order 1789-1820s. In this particular book he has chosen his subject matter carefully based upon the principle aim of his work – "a study the rise of Napoleon and a searching exploration of the dilemmas of collaboration with dictatorial power." (Back cover, this and subsequent page references pertain to the 2002 Norton paperback edition) In particular Woloch focuses on the relationship between and enterprises of the civilian men of the French Revolution and Napoleon as they embarked on the coup of Brumaire and the subsequent years of government. The author claims that herein lies an "essential element of Napoleon's success: the precocious solidity and efficacy of the regime." (p. xii) He is primarily concerned with the activities of these servitors, and therefore with few exceptions does not go into detail about the government's policies and laws, or the activity of the administration in the provinces.

Woloch's writing exhibits a light but steady touch upon its material. The book is detailed, informative and well-paced, and the arguments and conclusions that he makes are for the most part gentle yet convincing. Throughout the book Woloch makes good use of examples to illustrate or reinforce his arguments and descriptions, ranging from the stories of well-known figures like General Dupont and Malet to lesser know politicians such as the former Jacobins François Lamarque and Roux-Fazillac. It would have been useful if Woloch had included a small section of images of some of the key figures in the book, but a number of such images can be found on the internet if one wishes to search for them. The result is a work that is in some ways a little haphazard in its order and subject-matter but which nonetheless is highly informative and analytical on the subjects it does cover, and which coherently and masterfully achieves its aim and supports its central arguments. As Woloch points out, this is not a book for beginners in the Napoleonic era. Woloch states that it would be preferable if the reader had first delved into a biography of Napoleon, and in addition I would add it would also be most helpful if they have read a general history of the era. 

Personally I found that Woloch's study is remarkably fair and balanced, a task that has often proved difficult to achieve when dealing with this sort of subject matter. He makes the occasional one-line 'off the cuff' judgment on some people that I find unreasonable and unnecessary, but these do not detract from the overall balance and quality of the work. I feel that Woloch provides great insight into how Napoleon's government was formed, especially on how he was able to draw a variety of skilled and differing men to his side and forge a central one-party government. The reader will come away with an appreciation for how Nap's government was organised and how it operated. Above all Woloch succeeds in highlighting the working relationships, dynamics and tensions that existed between Nap and his foremost associates. Key figures such as Cambacérès, Boulay, Berlier and Thibaudeau were men of intelligence, experience, decency, honesty and principle, who had supported the fundamental elements of the Revolution, including liberty. They served Nap loyally, yet at times were also not afraid to challenge his more harsh proposals that threatened liberty, though they were sometimes overly meek in voicing their views. They were an important (but not always successful) moderating influence upon Nap, who at times struggled to reconcile their liberal values with the sometimes more security and centralist-minded views of their master.

The professor's decision to proceed in a roughly chronological fashion from 1799-1804 and then to treat the remaining years until 1813 as part of his evaluation of a number of different aspects of the Napoleonic government is a sound one and is consistent with the changing nature of the administration and of Napoleon himself. Many of the most significant projects, debates and decisions took place or were inaugurated during the Consulate, and on the whole all the government bodies were much more active than in later years. The years following the transition to the Empire were more concerned with consolidation, fine-tuning, review and the day-to-day running of government. Woloch writes that "Napoleon's immersion in the business of civil government gradually changed character after the transition to Empire" and "after the early spate of foundational legislation…the legislature had little to do" although "the emperor's interest in the machinery of government…never flagged." (pp. 175-76)

Some major works and innovations, such as the Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure and the establishment of the nobility and corps of auditeurs, did occur during the Empire, but the environment had changed. In addition we see how the Senate and other bodies in a number of aspects shifted away from their earlier activism and inquiry to become more of a mere rubber stamp for the Emperor's proposals. Therefore I feel that the structure of Woloch's work is appropriate, coherent and effective, though I am willing to concede that a more straightforward chronological or entirely topic-based format may have been more consistent and pleasing for some readers.  

Woloch paints a picture of a government that gradually shifts from its liberal, representative and revolutionary foundations towards dictatorship and a more authoritarian, imperialist approach. He stresses that this transition was a gradual one, in terms of Napoleon's own status and powers, the structure of the government and the nature of its policies and laws. Napoleon is firmly identified as the instigator of the moves towards dictatorship, and in principle this is true. Woloch writes that

(t)o the extent that certain "gains of the Revolution" not only motivated the Brumaire coup…but remained a component of the Napoleon dictatorship even after the first consul became an emperor, it was the ex-revolutionary collaborators who should receive whatever credit is due. (p. 243) 

However I feel that Woloch sometimes fails to identify and fully acknowledge the other conservative, authoritarian forces that were also at work in the government and which played a hand in some the moves away from liberty and towards a centralisation of power. His analysis of the relationship between Napoleon and his revolutionary servitors therefore sometimes invokes a sort of 'us and them' mentality between the hard-line emperor and the liberal ministers. While this is at times accurate, I feel that on occasion it may miss the wider range of beliefs, interests and subtleties that were in play. Napoleon was not always the one firmly on the side of dictatorship and state intervention, and the responses of the revolutionaries to different matters varied, as Woloch's own material shows. Alongside his precocious activity and advancement of policies and ideas Napoleon could also play the role of listener and decision-maker. Contrary to Woloch I feel that he was never wholly divorced from the legacies of the Revolution and that if he was responsible for turning away from a number of its principles and benefits then he can also take at least some credit for maintaining and strengthening some of its gains. Without the efforts of Napoleon and his collaborators many of the benefits conferred on France and to a lesser extent central and western Europe by the Revolution and by the Napoleonic government itself may well have been lost.   

All that aside Woloch does an admirable job in grasping the essence of the Brumaire coup and the aims of its participants and those who afterwards joined the new regime. Woloch argues that the former men of the Revolution were Napoleon's strongest and most necessary allies, a fact that Napoleon himself began to lose sight of with the coming of the Empire. In this he is correct – Napoleon's new nobility did exhibit some gratitude to him, but it also in many cases grew fond and protective of the titles and riches that he bestowed, at the expense of their devotion to his cause when it took a turn for the worst. His cultivation of 'new' men and of ancien régime aristocrats also had little success, while the corps of auditeurs did not exist long enough to bear fruit.

Woloch demonstrates how by shifting away from his revolutionary base, supporters and principles, he alienated some of the people who had originally shared common interests and may have proved most valuable to him. However the men who remained – and a number of talented ones did so – were able to be active participants in the government at all levels. While there was no doubt that Napoleon was firmly in charge and had the final say, they undertook much good work and were able to discuss and instigate a number of new projects, policies, laws and reforms. The 'inner sanctum', being mostly those on the Council of State, were able to express themselves on a range of matters, provided that they did so with discretion and tact, and most of the core servitors retained the belief throughout their tenure, despite some misgivings, that they were acting in an environment where they could serve and improve France and form a strong government. Nonetheless Woloch argues that it was the increasing marginalisation of these revolutionaries and their principles and Napoleon's increasing reliance on his own council, sycophancy and military force that exposed the fundamental weakness of his position and led to a point where his closest collaborators could not save him or the government from the collapse in 1814. It is a point well made, and one well worth heeding in modern politics today.

Napoleon and His Collaborators benefits greatly from Woloch's extensive research. Throughout the book he makes excellent use of memoirs, letters and other documents from the time, including extensive material from the Archives Nationales; the memoirs of Thibaudeau, Berlier, Boulay de la Meurthe and Fain among others; and Cambacérès letters to Napoleon. He is also well read in relevant secondary works. Some of these sources are listed in a note at the end of the book, the others may be found in the extensive and for the most part useful notes on each chapter. However Woloch does not always provide direct page references for his quotes, which can be frustrating if one wishes to follow up the original passage cited.

Napoleon and His Collaborators opens with a brief preface which outlines the areas which the work will explore and introduces some of the themes and elements that will be discussed. The book is divided into eight chapters. The first four are roughly chronological, and deal with Napoleon's rise to power, the organization of the government of the Consulate and the issues it faced, and the transition to the Empire. The next three chapters address a variety of aspects of Napoleon's government, including the people who served on it; the actions and initiatives they took part in; the rise of the Napoleonic nobility and auditeurs; and the methods by which Napoleon's ministers and advisors discussed, fulfilled and sought to check his restrictions on liberty, such as censorship and preventive detention. The final chapter concludes the story of the Emperor's government by addressing the significant challenges it faced in 1813-14 and briefly discussing Napoleon's fall from power in April 1814, the restoration of the Bourbons and the Hundred Days.

The opening chapter explores how Nap came to power via the somewhat clumsy coup of Brumaire and explains how he formed a government of moderates and either purged, isolated or won over to his cause extremists of both the left and right. His narrative of these events is concise and well-written. Woloch's study of the various bodies of government - the Tribunate, Senate, Corps Législatif and Council of State – as well as the passing of a new constitution, is first-rate. He examines the reasons for their creation and their functions, and identifies some of the personalities who served on them and explains how they were appointed. The prefectorial corps – the most important administrative figures outside of the capital - receives a brief overview.

Woloch demonstrates how the earlier conflicts of the Revolution, particularly the Fructidor coup of 1797, shaped the new government of the Consulate. Men from a range of backgrounds and with a range of different beliefs and ideals were encouraged to join the new administration. However extremists of the both the far-left and right were excluded. The damaging schism of Fructidor was to a great degree healed. As Woloch notes, "(w)hen the Council of State convened a year into the Consulate, it would look as if Fructidor had never happened." (p. 42) Targets of the coup such as Portalis and Roederer sat alongside its supporters, including Berlier and Réal. The author makes a very astute observation when he writes that

the Brumaire regime reversed the revolutionary practice of "unity by partition." Alongside a group of relatively non-political or technocrat types, the Consulate conducted activists on both sides of the Fructidor divide into an obligatory reconciliation. (p. 42)    

Woloch discusses Napoleon's eradication of parties and the uniting of as many men as he could under his banner. Émigrés were invited to return to France and many did so. The occasional dispute arose, but in the long run this policy was successful. The First Consul brought stability, energy and hope to the new regime, and was quick to set about the daunting task of extending this new unity and depoliticisation to the provinces. Woloch explains how this was achieved with a significant degree of success in many departments by a mixture of strong, centralised leadership, education, propaganda and police surveillance.

Woloch's evaluation of the various government bodies begins with an overview of their creation and initial members before shifting to their subsequent history under the Consulate. Woloch accurately identifies the Council of State as the most important body. It was here that all of Napoleon's policies, desires and decisions were first discussed, and all of the laws, proposals and decrees were first drafted. Woloch gives the reader a sense of the extraordinary amount of work that was handled by this relatively small body of members and their associates. Collectively it boasted a remarkably high degree of experience, knowledge and energy and it managed some impressive achievements, especially in the earlier years. Of these the five great legal codes are the most known, especially the enduring Code Civil. Woloch also addresses the other bodies – the Senate, Tribunate and Corps Législatif – and demonstrates how they were gradually tamed and subverted to Napoleon's will.

Chapter III examines how Bonaparte was able to strengthen his position through his reaction to events such as the 3 Nivôse assassination attempt in 1800 and other plots. After the event he used public opinion and outrage to justify his deporting of 150-200 neo-Jacobins, a faction he feared and did not trust. Once it was proven that the royalists were in fact responsible for the blast and evidence of further plots was uncovered, he struck at the extreme right as well, with led to the arrests of Generals Pichegru and Moreau and the executions of the chouan leader Georges Cadoudal and the duc d'Enghien. These events demonstrated the First Consul's willingness to used heavy handed means of questionable legality to secure his wishes, overriding or ignoring any dissent. They also paved the way - along with his popularity, ability to create stability and his numerous improvements and innovations - for the consolidation of his power, the curtailing of any open dissent, and the placating of the parliaments.

The transition from the Consulate to the Empire is the focus of Chapter IV. Bonaparte's popularity arguably reached its highest point after the signing of the Concordat with the Catholic Church and of a peace treaty with Great Britain. In 1802 the Senate proposed a 10 year extension of Napoleon's term as Consul, the Council of State went one better by drafting a proposal from a plebiscite asking "Shall Napoleon Bonaparte be named first consul for life?" (p. 93) The First Consul recognised that an affirmative national plebiscite would add great prestige and legitimacy to his new status and he would use the same tactic upon his rise to the position of Emperor. Bonaparte commented to Thibaudeau that "the plebiscite has the advantage of legalizing my extension of office and placing it on the highest possible basis." (p. 94) The nation answered the question with an overwhelming 'yes' – the most sincere, legitimate and widespread quantitative popular support that Napoleon ever received. Napoleon also discerned the impact his increasing power would have on the republicans and liberal revolutionaries among his servitors, and those who feared the chaos that might ensue should something happen to him, of which the assassination attempt of 3 Nivôse and the events of Marengo were vivid reminders. He won over most of the former by his successes, the gradual nature of his increase in power, and the overwhelming popular support revealed by the plebiscite. He reassured both groups by his refusal to seek the authority to name a successor, and thereby reinforced the strength and necessity of his position (which he emphasised could be adequately filled by him alone) in the face of those who fretted over his demise. However such concerns refused to go away entirely.

The final step to the position of Emperor occurred in 1804. Woloch provides an excellent account of the ideology, opinions, reactions and events that led to and shaped this momentous decision. Support for an empire came from monarchists, moderates, the army and devotees to Bonaparte personally. They were joined by some of those who cherished the benefits he had brought to France and who feared for his life and desired the stability that dynastic rule could supposedly bring to the country. Opposition came from republicans, some revolutionaries who clung to its fundamental principles and gains, and those who disliked the First Consul personally or who sensed and were concerned about his authoritarian leanings and ever-growing power. However spoken resistance to the transition was rare.

In the Tribunate Carnot alone spoke eloquently against it, while in the Senate Grégoire was the sole active dissenter. Behind the closed doors of the Council of State the debate was more active, with Berlier leading those against Bonaparte's elevation to Emperor. The majority of disagreement was passive, such as that of Cambacérès, who politely declined to be involved in the Council's deliberations on the matter. The author explores the arguments and reasoning used to support and justify the creation of the Empire and the safeguards sought by the Senate and other servitors to curb Napoleon's power and protect fundamental principles and liberties. The veteran revolutionary François de Neufchâteau, future president of the Senate, succinctly summed up the expected nature of the coming empire: the new imperial family was a creature wholly of the Revolution which would protect its principles of liberty and equality, would guarantee the new order and division of property, would unite and defend all good Frenchmen under its banner, and would obey the sovereign will of the people and bring glory to France. (p. 117) Woloch makes a sound evaluation of these and other arguments, identifying some that had merit and others which in his opinion twisted the history and ideals of the Revolution or falsified reality.       

To his credit Napoleon took no offense at those who didn't support his elevation and the likes of Cambacérès, Berlier and Boulay continued their distinguished careers in his government. Despite their misgivings, they continued to serve with skill and energy. They were again somewhat reassured by the results of the plebiscite and felt that Napoleon still observed and upheld the key principles and benefits of the Revolution. Furthermore they believed that they could still serve France honestly and usefully by remaining in government. On a more personal level to varying degrees they desired and enjoyed the rewards and privileges that were obtained through-out their service. The avid republican Berlier's later defence of his decision to remain in the government is particularly revealing and parts of it may be found on pages 103-104. Of the main dissenters Carnot alone retired by his own choice from public life soon after, but in 1814 when the Empire was on its knees he rallied to its cause.

In my opinion the most fascinating sections of the book are those devoted to an examination of some of the key figures in Nap's government, most of whom have received little study in the English-speaking world. Woloch brings these figures to life and allows us to get to know their personalities, ideals and goals. These include Boulay de la Meurthe – first president of the legislative section of the Council of State and head of the Contentieux des Domains; Lacuée – head of the military section of the Council, director general of conscription and minister of war administration; Berlier – a senior member of the Council throughout its life; Defermon – head of the financial section of the Council; Molé – Napoleon's aristocratic 'golden boy' who served as a prefect and Counselor of State among other roles; Mollien – Minister of the Treasury; Regnaud –head of the interior section of the Council; Réal, Regnier, Treilhard and Thibaudeau. More familiar figures such as Carnot, Sieyès, Fouché, Talleyrand and Lucien Bonaparte also appear. Each of these had important roles and had interesting and often quite distinct backgrounds, and Woloch's study of them gives us great insight into the type of people who served under Napoleon and examines both how and why they did so. Woloch emphasises Napoleon's desire and ability to attract, retain and use men of intelligence and experience in a range of areas. He writes that

the first consul recruited men with varying pasts but with experience and expertise in judicial, legislative, financial, or administrative matters. Molé aptly described some of these appointees as "living dictionaries" for their ability to provide historical perspective on issues under discussion. (pp. 176-77)

Woloch gives us a sense of what it was like to work within Napoleon's government and with the man himself. Napoleon emerges as a hard but for the most part fair taskmaster, critical and argumentative but generally quick to forgive and lavish with praise and rewards for those who served him well. His own capacity for work was extraordinary and his involvement in and scrutiny of all areas of government was deep and unflagging. Woloch highlights how Napoleon was able to solicit the services and talents of a variety of men by depoliticising his government and focusing their energies on his policies and wishes. Napoleon alone was the initiator of all major policies. Yet the Emperor's use of his servitors was not entirely a one-way street. They were able to discuss issues, decisions, laws and policies, advocate particular ideals and points of view, undertake much useful administrative work and use their expertise and experience to persuade Napoleon towards a particular point of view. This was particularly true of the senior ministers and the privileged members of the Council of State and the conseils privé – the bodies created to draft and debate most of the proposals Napoleon intended to bring before the Senate. Successful administrators were able to obtain additional responsibilities and the rewards, titles and riches that came with them. However as Woloch points out the scope for debate and the giving of advice declined during the Empire as Napoleon became more confident in his own knowledge, abilities and power and a touch of hubris set in.  

The author also explores two important innovations that occurred under the Empire – the establishment of the Napoleonic nobility and the corps of auditeurs. Both were aimed at fostering a devotion to Napoleon personally and his dynasty. The former also served as an indication on the one hand of Napoleon's gradual shift away from the men and principles of the Revolution towards 'new' men brought up and indoctrinated with his ideals, and on the other his cultivation, to some extent, of the old aristocracy.            

Arch-Chancellor Jean-Jacques-Régis Cambacérès receives his own chapter. Woloch dubs him the 'second most important man in Napoleonic France' and there can be little doubt that this was true. Woloch notes that despite Napoleon's firm grip on power, the "regime still bore the marks of Cambacérès's continuous presence". (p. 123) The author charts Cambacérès's progress through the Revolution before his rise to the position of Second Consul in 1800. He was typical of the kind of men Bonaparte sought for his government – moderate, talented, hard-working and willing to follow the First Consul's lead. By the rise of the Empire he had proven himself to be indispensible to the new emperor and was made an arch-chancellor and a duke. Despite the title change his place as Napoleon's foremost minister remained intact until 1814. Throughout that time he held various positions and filled a range of roles. Cambacérès's legal experience and excellent knowledge of the law enabled him to play a key role in the formation of the five legal codes created during Napoleon's rule, including the famous Code Civil, and also made him an important advisor to Napoleon on numerous legal matters. The Archduke played a fundamental role in the Council of State, chairing the meetings when Napoleon was absent and acting as Napoleon's chief liaison with his Parisian administration while he was on campaign. In addition he dealt with and was involved in a host of other matters during his time in government. Cambacérès's private life and personality is also touched upon, including his vanity, love of food and entertainment, his increasing riches and his bachelorhood and alleged homosexuality. The chapter is accompanied by some French royalist cartoons from 1814-15. They depict the Archduke as one of his closest accomplices, complicit in his crimes and flawed in character. Reference is made to his supposed gluttony and homosexuality. On the whole Woloch views Cambacérès favourably – a fine administrator and lawmaker and a tactful minister – and displays him as a fine example of the Emperor's ability to find "capable civilian subordinates and within limits (encourage) them to use their talents productively." (p. 155)   

A chapter is devoted to an analysis of a few of Napoleon's initiatives that the author has labeled 'erosions on liberty', such as preventive detention, prisoners of state, censorship and police activities. He explores how the Emperor approached these matters, how other government figures viewed them, and examines the checks that were put in place - such as the annual review of all prisoners of state. Napoleon was prima facie in favour of individual liberty – one of the great principles of the Revolution, yet he had few qualms about imposing upon it if he felt it to be in the best interests of the country, government or his own person. The author succinctly explains two prime examples - Napoleon's policies of preventive detention and censorship.

On the other hand a number of Napoleon's closest allies and numerous senators and members of the Tribunate were still eager to protect and stand up for liberty. Sieyès stated that "the final cause of the entire social world must be individual liberty" (p. 192) and had long pushed for a 'third force' to stand between the legislature and the executive as a protector of civil liberties. To some degree he received his wish with the inauguration of the Senatorial Commission on Individual Liberty in 1804. The Commission was authorised to receive, consider and act upon petitions from arrested citizens who had not been brought to trial within 10 days – in effect it sought to enforce the legal principle of habeas corpus. If the members thought the claim had merit they could seek further information from the ministry of police or justice and could push for action to be taken in the matter. However the ministers retained the final say in the matter, although defeated petitioners could reapply at any stage. In addition, in 1809 Napoleon convened the aforementioned first annual review of prisoners of state. This also served as a check and periodic enquiry into the condition of incarcerated persons and the legitimacy of their being held extra-judicially.

In the opinion of Woloch these bodies had some impact and success – while they were indeed not all powerful, persuasive and independent, they were certainly more than hollow gestures to liberty. The Emperor himself was keen to ensure that their work was executed properly and expressed his wish that a detailed report should be compiled on every prisoner of state, in order that the conseil privé might have the best possible information available to it in its review and deliberations. In addition to these formal bodies the Emperor was for the most part not unwilling to hear advice or arguments against such oppressive measures provided that it was presented in a tactful and respectful manner. The more liberal-minded of the ministers and government members made good use of these review bodies. While they disliked Napoleon's authoritarian actions, they were in some measure comforted by the existence of checks upon that power and as regards preventive detention they were able to make some positive use of those avenues.

The liberal servitors had much less success in combating Napoleon's ruthless censorship of the press and other written material. Freedom of the press had experienced a rocky road through-out the Revolution, and in Napoleon's government there were a number of views of the matter, ranging from those who backed the freedom as an important right, such as Berlier, Defermon and Regnaud, those who took the middle ground, including Cambacérès and Regnier, and those who were very much in favour of censorship, like Molé and Ségur. Those in charge of the censorship of books eventually went beyond even the hard-line stance of their master, Woloch noting that even Jomini, whose work Napoleon valued highly, fell afoul of the censors for "putting the republic in too favorable a light." (p. 213) On the whole, despite some minor victories for the libertarians, censorship grew ever tighter and more invasive as the years went by. Voluntary book censorship preserved at least some semblance of liberty, though the rigour with which the censors undertook their task made it rather hollow, but Napoleon had no time at all for any freedom of the press. He regarded it as a devise and dangerous liberty that could sow public discord and rumours and damage the government. Woloch states that "by 1811, only four daily newspapers were appearing in Paris, all virtual instruments of the government". (p. 207)

Woloch places the reader right at the heart of the debates and reasoning that shaped the course of the government's treatment of individual liberties. It is readily made apparent that there was open discussion and varying points of view. While Napoleon retained the final say and his views carried significant weight, the opinions of others were allowed and to some extent encouraged, in both the Council of State and the Senate, particularly in the former, and the more liberal-minded members were at times able to blunt the authoritarian desires and policies and rash decisions of Napoleon and other members of the government and administration. Arbitrariness in particular was targeted and attempts were made on both sides to minimalise it. Woloch notes that the story of the Napoleonic government is one of an ever increasing erosion of liberty, but he leaves open the question of to what degree and extent this infringement took place, insofar as such things may be measured. It is also a story of continual discussion, standardisation and review. Liberty remained a live issue, to the credit of those who stood up in its defence.     

The book closes with a brief examination of Napoleon's fall, the restoration of the Bourbons and the hundred days, exploring how his main allies reacted in these turbulent times. Prior to 1814 there had been no significant public exits from Napoleon's government. While Carnot, Roederer, Talleyrand and Fouché among others had all been removed from their respective positions, either by mutual agreement or by Napoleon's firm decision, no one had publically challenged Napoleon himself or resigned in protest over a major decision. Woloch indicates that this was in part due to a desire in many of the servitors to serve France first and foremost, which in their eyes meant avoiding damage to the reputation and stability of the state, and in part due to a belief that it was better to stay involved in the government and attempt to advocate and defend their ideals rather than protest from the outside. No doubt the fear of ridicule, marginalisation and even exile persuaded some to remain silent and serve loyally, though as Woloch points out Napoleon's dictatorship must be contrasted with those of later times where dissent or an attempted exit could well result in death.

The majority of the servitors remained willing to support Napoleon his campaigns after the Russian disaster, but Leipzig significantly weakened this support. The Corps Législatif publically criticised his actions in a report and in response the Emperor prorogued the Corps and took matters into his own hands. Most ministers were reduced to the position of hapless bystanders as the Allied invasion rolled on, but it was the previously-sycophantic Senate that struck a major blow against Napoleon when they passed a resolution on 2 April 1814 to dethrone him. Talleyrand cleverly advocated the return of the Bourbons and was able to convince the Senate that it was in France's best interests to remove Napoleon from the throne and ignore any claims that his siblings, wife or son may have to the position. During these hectic days some close associates of the Emperor such as Boulay, Maret, Defermon, Regnaud and Cambacérès remained loyal if rather ineffectual, but many of those who had been involved in Napoleon's government since the first days, including Sieyès, Ducos and Fontanes, openly turned their backs on him. Others such as Molé stayed low, only to re-emerge shortly after in the new Bourbon government.

Woloch's analysis of these events is sound and insightful. He makes it apparent that Napoleon's exceptional power, his reliance on a military solution and frequent absences from the capital made it difficult for those servitors who did actively support him to play an effective part in preserving his rule. He writes that "(t)he fall of the Empire did not pose a crisis of conscience for Napoleon's civilian servitors. The fate of their regime was largely out of their hands". (pp. 218-19) Napoleon for the most part failed, despite considerable efforts, to solicit devotion to his own person. Therefore many servitors would not stand up for him when it became apparent that either their own interests or those of France (or both) were no longer best served by him. The list of those who actively turned against the Emperor is perhaps smaller than the pervious category, yet as noted above it contained some important names. Napoleon's increasingly despotism, blindness to reality and failure to seek peace and reasonable terms with sufficient vigour, especially post-1812, alienated an interesting mix of people. As Woloch makes clear, liberals, revolutionaries, republicans and those in favour of more authoritarian government power may be found on both sides, depending on where their interests and particular beliefs lay.

The author goes on to explain how the Bourbons proceeded to disappoint, anger and alienate many of Napoleon's former servitors, paving the way for the return of the Emperor and the famous 'Hundred Days'. Woloch deftly explains how while some long-time collaborators remained cautious and somewhat ambivalent, such as Cambacérès and Mole, others who were disillusioned by the Bourbons and had experienced run-ins and differences with Napoleon in the past, nonetheless rallied to his side in the hope that a much more liberal government might be formed. These included staunch republicans like Carnot and Benjamin Constant, who disliked the Emperor's authoritarian tendencies but felt that he offered them the best hope of a fair, representative government and could be persuaded or coerced to follow liberal principles. The new government was based on extremely shaky foundations and uncertainty and distrust were widespread, and the collapse after Waterloo doomed the liberal cause as the royalists reasserted themselves. For many of Napoleon's closest collaborators, it marked the end of their involvement in the French government. Boulay, Berlier, Cambacérès, Regnaud, Defermon, Maret, Thibaudeau and Réal were exiled, a fate they shared with others who had rallied during the hundred days, including Carnot and Sieyès.  

A minor quibble - there is a small aside in the last chapter of the book concerning US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara which seeks to raise considerations and parallels between his experience during the Vietnam War and that of Nap's key ministers and advisors. Perhaps it is more useful to those who lived through or are knowledgeable about that time, but I found it to be an unnecessary passage that added little to the work.     

The threads that Woloch winds through-out his work tell a fascinating tale of the consolidation of power, depoliticisation, reform, innovation and above all of collaboration and the inner workings of government. Hopefully it will inspire others to further study of these areas. Overall I highly recommend this work to anyone interested in the formation and workings of Napoleon's government, of the main men who took part in it, and of the study, implementation of and conflicts between a variety of important values and needs in early 19th Century France.

 

Reviewed by Christopher Gibbs.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2009

 

 

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