Henri Clarke, the Ministry of War, and the Evolution of Military Administration
during the French First Empire
Dague, Everett. Henri Clarke, the Ministry of War, and the Evolution
of Military Administration during the French First Empire, 1800-1814.
Unpublished Dissertation. Florida State Univ., 2000. 247 p.
Napoleonic scholar Harold Parker has pointed out that, except for the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, none of the Napoleonic ministries have
been studied in depth. Historians have tended to focus on the overwhelming
figure of Napoleon. Isser Woloch's book, Napoleon and His Collaborators,
was a refreshing look at those around Napoleon, emphasizing how the
"precocious solidity and efficacy of the regime…depended on the
commitment and skills of his leading supporters." Samuel F Scott
in his article on military administration in the Historical Dictionary
of Napoleonic France states that "Napoleon was his own war
minister." Henri Clarke, Napoleon's war minister, rates half the
space in Tulard's Dictionnaire devoted to Désirée Clary. Is
it any wonder then that enthusiasts of the era have largely ignored
the administrative work performed by Napoleon's war ministry?
The study of administrative science, bureaucratic history and sociometrics
is of relatively recent origin. Historians have tended to look at the
results of administrative decisions, rather than the process by which
that decision has been carried out. Everett Dague doctoral thesis attempts
to look at the administrative evolution of the Ministry of War during
the Napoleonic regime.
The idea that Napoleon issued an order and that that order suddenly
became a reality is a commonplace in Napoleonic histories. The idea
of "war feeding war" becomes a kind of historical shorthand.
But between the issuing of the order and its execution existed an efficient
bureaucratic organization to bring those orders to fruition. When Napoleon
ordered a regiment to move, the ministry of war had to see to it that
there was shelter, food, fodder, medical care, veterinary services,
firewood, and a "myriad [of] other details that determined how
far and how fast such an order could be carried out, or even whether
it could be carried out at all." Napoleon inherited a robust system
that had evolved under "extreme political and wartime conditions."
When it worked, "and for the most part Napoleonic military administration
worked very effectively," the system is largely invisible to us
today. Only when the system broke down, as it did during the Russian
campaign, does it become visible in its failure.
Dague begins his study with a quick survey of management theory as
it applies to bureaucratic history. He then turns to an overview of
previous histories of Napoleon's administration. The earliest writers
on Napoleon's administration were officers who had served in the system
and produced technical treatises for use by later regimes. These works
included studies such as that by Lieutenant-Général Claude-Antoine-Hippolyte
Preval's Observations sur l'Administration des Corps,
which became the basis for the new Royal army.
The technical writers were followed by a new school of authors who
saw the successes and failures of Napoleon's system simply in terms
of the Emperor himself. Following Clausewitz, Jomini and Yorck von
Wartenburg, these authors tended to focus on strategy and tactics rather
than administration. Napoleon, the "Great Captain," was at
the center of these works and his administration was seldom, if ever,
mentioned. Col. Jean-Baptiste Vachée's Napoleon at Work describes Napoleon's
staff work in the Jena-Aüerstadt campaign, yet the work of Jean-François
Dejean, the Minister of War Administration, is mentioned only in passing.
Historians have continued to ignore the behind-the-scenes administrative
work, often confusing elements of command with elements of management.
Napoleon is presented as "using almost pre-made armies with little
attention paid to the massive problem of how one creates or maintains
such a military establishment, its social costs, or the special problems
of administering a state for the purposes of war." For a discipline
dominated by military historians it has been enough to "know that
Napoleon could muster 620,000 troops in 1812 without having to go into
the myriad complexities of how they were raised, quartered and made
loyal to the Emperor." Even non-military historians have largely
ignored the functions of the ministerial bureaucracies of Napoleonic
France. Harold Parker's studies on the Bureau of Commerce stand out
as in-depth looks at the inner workings of an administrative agency
during the period. Howard Brown's War, Revolution and the Bureaucratic
State describes the growth and change in the War Ministry without
address the precise functioning of the administration.
Henri-Jacques-Guillaume Clarke has been portrayed as "a weak and
fearful man" by Elting and as "efficient to the point of being
bloodthirsty" by Jean Savant. Dague leans towards Savant's view,
seeing Clarke as an "aggressive, capable officer," under whom
the War Ministry "exploded, assuming functions and responsibilities
from every other ministry." The War Ministry had undergone numerous
transformations before Clarke took it over. From having its functions
usurped by Carnot's Bureau topographique and finally being eliminated
altogether by the Thermidorians, the Ministry was put back on shaky
feet by the time of Brumaire. Napoleon named Alexandre Berthier its
first Minister during the Consulate.
Berthier reorganized the ministry and placed professional, capable
and loyal administrators as heads of its various bureaus. With Berthier
and Napoleon in the field, Carnot was brought in to run the Ministry.
Carnot dismantled all the work Berthier had done, decentralizing it
into 26 competing bureaus. Back from the war Berthier undid all of Carnot's
work and largely reconstituted the ministry's former structure. The
Ministry of War Administration was created as was the Conseil d'administration
de le guerre. The campaign of 1805 showed that the reformed system
worked, in spite of some problems. The over-centralization created problems
when Napoleon and his Chief of Staff were in the field together. Too
much of the work of the War Ministry fell into the lap of Jean-François-Aimé
Dejean, the head of the Ministry of War Administration, who remained
in Paris. When peace came it was obvious that Berthier could not remain
both War Minister and Chief of Staff. A strong presence was needed
at the ministry in Paris.
Clarke was named Minister of War on 9 Aug. 1807. Clarke, in good Napoleonic
fashion, began at once to expand the functions of his ministry. Clarke
was an effective bureaucratic warrior. One of his talents was for producing
reports and memos to Napoleon that could be answered with a terse "approved,"
"disapproved," or other response. "Napoleon allowed
Clarke great latitude in operations, but that trust was justified by
Clarke's successful fulfillment of Napoleon's orders in both spirit
and letter. Clarke forcefully but diplomatically used the authority
Napoleon gave him to handle the operation in a way that supported Napoleon's
plans…The Ministry of War…had become Napoleon's efficient proxy by 1809…"
Under Clarke the Grande Armée became "one of the first armies to
be administered through a modern bureaucratic structure capable of uniting
various diverse social, economic and political elements, for a sustained
period of time, over a vast geographic area, for the single purpose
In an interesting section Dague presents a case study of the inner
workings of the War Ministry during the operations of the Walcheren
Island colonne mobile. The colonne mobile was a special
military unit tasked with rounding up deserters and draft-dodgers (or
arresting the parents and relatives of these deserters) in several departments.
Since the colonnes operated across department lines, military-civilian
relations were of great importance.
In the wake of the Malet conspiracy and the disastrous Russian campaign
Clarke's star was falling. In April 1813 Napoleon shifted the functions
of the Ministry of War Administration to Daru (as well as control of
the army treasury in June). The creation of the commissaires extraordinaires
undercut the authority of not only Clarke, but also Daru, the prefects
and subprefects. In the exigencies of the final years of the Empire
Napoleon destroyed the centralization which had brought him so much
success. By the time the Allies invaded France the chaos in the administration
of the French war effort was apparent.
In 1814 Napoleon gave Clarke responsibility for defending Paris but
at the same time set up a defense council that undercut Clarke's authority.
Dague gives an example of the confusion created by the overlapping authorities.
Napoleon ordered Clarke on 31 Jan. 1814 to recruit additional troops
for the Young Guard in Paris for his army, while on the day promising
Joseph Bonaparte, head of the defense council, four thousand Young Guard
troops for the defense of the capital.
After Napoleon's abdication Clarke rallied to the restored King, following
him to Ghent after Napoleon's return from Elba. Clarke was again named
Minister of War by Louis XVIII on 12 March 1815. Clarke was named a
Marshal in July 1816 and retired in 1817. In the final analysis, in
Dague's view, Clarke was an effective, if ambitious, administrator,
who understood how to curry favor with his sovereign in order to retain
and enhance his own bureaucratic power.
I would have wished for greater depth in delineating the inner workings
of the Ministry of War and a more sophisticated treatment of the subject,
but Dague admits to the problem of a lack of secondary works dealing
with the subject. I would have wished for more on Clarke's relations
with other Ministers (other than his chief bureaucratic enemy, Savary).
The chapter on the Malet affaire, while interesting, is peripheral
to an administrative history the War Ministry except as both the high
point of Clarke's power and the ultimate source of Clarke's falling
out with Napoleon. On the whole the study is interesting, but it raises
more questions than it answers. Hopefully historians will be moved
to do more research in these areas. Some errors, whether in editing
or understanding, have crept into the work. For example, Dague substitutes
"Marat" for Hughes Maret, "Laucée" for Lacuée and
"Alexandre DuPons" for Pierre Dupont de l'Etang.
Appendices outline the changes in the structure and organization of
the War Ministry, the Ministry of War Administration and related offices
from 1799 to 1815. Dague has made extensive use of archival materials
from SHAT, the Archives Nationale and the Archive de Paris. Like all
dissertations, this work is not indexed.
Everett Dague is an assistant professor of History at Benedictine College
in Atchison, Kansas, where he teaches a course on Napoleon and the French
Reviewed by Tom Holmberg
Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2002
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