Modern history


The Directory 1795–1799

THE problem facing the Convention in the summer of 1795 was now very clear. Having routed the forces of both terrorism and royalism, it had to devise a constitution for the country which would prevent the recovery of either. All the deputies agreed that what France needed most was stability. But they also believed that stability could and should be achieved without sacrificing the principles of 1789, the ideals which their countrymen had endured so many years of torment and turmoil to establish and preserve. The principles of 1789 were not to be confused with those of 1793. The constitution of that year, declared Boissy d’Anglas, introducing the report of the drafting committee on 23 June,1 had been ‘Drafted by schemers, dictated by tyranny, and accepted through terror … nothing other than the organization of anarchy’. It had no redeeming features.

Civil equality, in fact [he went on], is all that a reasonable man can claim. Absolute equality is a chimera; for it to exist, there would have to be absolute equality in intelligence, virtue, physical strength, education and fortune for all men … We must be governed by the best; the best are those who are best educated and most interested in the maintenance of the laws: yet, with very few exceptions, you find such men only among those who, owning a piece of property, are devoted to the country that contains it, to the laws that protect it, to the tranquillity that maintains it, and who owe to this property and to the economic security it provides the education that has made them capable of discussing with wisdom and exactitude the advantages and inconveniences of the laws that determine the fate of their native land. The man without property, on the other hand, requires a constant exercise of virtue to interest himself in a social order that preserves nothing for him, and to resist actions and movements that hold out hope to him … A country governed by non-proprietors is in a state of nature.

These principles underlay the new constitution finally approved by the Convention on 22 August. It was headed by a declaration of rights, like its predecessors; but there was no mention of equality of birth or entitlement to social services, and the 22 rights enunciated were balanced by 9 specific duties. All male taxpayers over 21 were declared citizens, with voting rights. But deputies would be chosen by electoral assemblies to which only citizens owning or renting (according to constituency size) property worth between 100 and 200 days’ labour were eligible. This produced a notional pool of almost a million (a third of that of 1789) from which to choose about 30,000 electoral college members. Elections would be annual, renewing a third of the deputies each time; but the legislature, for the first time, would be bicameral. Experience since 1789 had borne out all the warnings of the monarchiens, so heedlessly brushed aside then, about the dangers of a single chamber. A constitution of elaborate checks and balances was now the aim. Thus there would be two ‘Councils’, The lower, or Council of Five Hundred, would initiate all legislation. The upper, the Council of Elders (Anciens), with 250 members, married or widowed, over 40, could merely pass or reject legislation coming from the Five Hundred. Executive power, now that the restoration of a king was out of the question, would be vested in five Directors chosen by the Elders from a list presented by the Five Hundred. One of them would retire each year, by lot. Neither they nor the ministers they appointed could sit in the legislature: here was a principle of 1789 that the experience of the Year II seemed to underline the wisdom of. Finally, the constitution of the Year III was deliberately made very difficult to change. The procedures envisaged could not take less than nine years. The aim, again, was to maximize the stability of the new regime, and make any changes in the direction of either extreme ipso facto illegal. But even this was not enough entirely to reassure the members of the Convention that their intentions would be observed. The transition to the new order needed some continuity. They looked back on the self-denying ordinance of 1791 (moved, of course, by Robespierre) as one of the Constituent Assembly’s crowning mistakes. They therefore accompanied the Constitution with decrees stipulating that two-thirds of the members of the first Councils to be elected under it should be drawn from their own ranks.

The Two Thirds Law came as a shock to public opinion. By now there was a general weariness with the Convention and its posturings. Shortages of basic commodities and inflation of the assignats continued throughout the summer, and the deputies were (not entirely unreasonably) blamed. When on 10 August a festival was held to commemorate the third anniversary of the overthrow of the monarchy, it was coldly received. ‘Market women’, noted a police spy,2 ‘said it would have been better to do something about bringing down the price of things instead of holding useless and expensive festivals.’ But at least the drafting of a constitution meant that the country would soon be rid of the Convention. The Two Thirds Law blighted these hopes. It also deprived monarchists, who hoped to show their strength in the elections, of the prospect of an early victory. The extent of the disappointment was shown when, early in September, the constitution and the Two Thirds Law were submitted for ratification to the primary electoral assemblies. The constitution was accepted by an official 1,057,000 votes to 49,000, although perhaps 200,000 more actually voted. The turnout was lower than in 1793, but still respectable enough. There was enormous confusion about the Two Thirds Law, however. It was widely unpopular, when it was considered at all by the electoral assemblies, and even the almost meaningless official result could not conjure up much more than 200,000 votes in favour out of a mere 314,000 recorded as cast. Almost a quarter of departments opposed it, and in Paris all but one of the 48 sections were against. Metropolitan hostility reflected the thorough purging of the sections that had gone on since Prairial, in which all suspected ‘terrorists’ had been arrested, leaving conservatives in uncontested control. The vote against the law followed a noisy campaign by right-wing newspapers which alerted the Convention to the danger: and early in September it began to take countervailing action by releasing Jacobin suspects and summoning troops to Paris. These moves were taken as evidence that the constitution was to be imposed by force, and possibly with terrorist support. The hostile clamour only increased. When the results of the votes were announced on 23 September (1 Vendémiaire) a number of unanimous Parisian returns were discounted on the grounds that precise figures had not been stated. After that several of the city’s western sections began to organize for an insurrection, their primary assemblies refusing the Convention’s instructions to disband, and concerting defiant denunciations of its ballot-rigging.

On 3 October a royalist riot at Dreux, 40 miles to the west, was dispersed with violence. When news of the incident reached the capital the next day, a call was issued for representatives of all the sections to meet to plan joint action. Only fifteen appeared, an ominously tepid turnout, and even then no action was agreed. The Convention hurriedly outlawed such meetings and stationed troops with cannon at strong points throughout the city. Even so, on the morning of 4 October (12 Vendémiaire) seven sections declared themselves to be in insurrection and mobilized their National Guard units. Regular soldiers sent that evening against section Le Peletier, the centre of resistance, accepted promises of disarmament and withdrew. The promises were not kept. The next morning, therefore, 25,000 insurgents converged on the Convention, mostly from south of the river. They were stopped by troops who had invested the main bridges on the orders of the deputy Barras—advised in turn by the 26-year-old artillery general Bonaparte. All afternoon the two sides faced each other, but at 4.30 the Convention’s cannon opened fire. The insurgents had no cannon; indeed, so effectively had Paris been disarmed after Prairial that even those who had rifles were short of powder and shot. Nevertheless, the Convention had only 6,000 troops, and once the fighting had begun, rebel sections north of the river threw their forces into the balance, and the battle lasted 6½ hours. Isolated skirmishes continued until the morning of the sixth. It took more than the ‘few shells’ vaunted by Bonaparte to win the day for the Convention, and when it was over hundreds lay dead.

It was the last time Paris attempted to impose its will on the national representatives. And although troops had been prominent in mopping up after Prairial, it was the first time the army had been unleashed against unrest in the capital since the Reveillon riots of April 1789. The Vendémiaire uprising was therefore much more of a turning-point than the end of the Convention and inauguration of the constitution of the Year III, which took place three weeks later, on 27 October. The one clear aim of the rebels had been to prevent the operation of the Two Thirds Law in the elections scheduled for the second week in October. Their failure meant that 500 members of the Convention duly took their seats (although only 394 by election) in the new Councils, from where they could prolong the spirit and policies of the Thermidorian Convention until reduced to a minority in the spring elections of 1797. The first Directors chosen were not surprisingly from their ranks, too. Barras, a slippery ex-noble, was a natural choice after his role in Vendémiaire. Sieyès now resurfaced after years of prudent silence, but refused to preside over a system not of his own devising. His place was taken by Carnot, whose prestige as a military organizer outweighed his terroristic record. La Revellière-Lépeaux, Reubell, and Letourneur were as yet unknown quantities, chosen for their republicanism—thus far more proven than their abilities. The policy they would pursue remained that which had emerged over the summer of 1795. When Jacobinism threatened, clubs would be closed and suspected terrorists rounded up, as after Prairial. When royalism seemed the danger, curbs would be imposed on the well-funded right-wing press, while Jacobin papers would receive subsidies. Sansculottes in detention would be released and encouraged to open clubs. Clemency to the recently execrated terrorists marked the Convention’s response to the Vendémiaire crisis, both in the build-up to the insurrection and in its aftermath. Indeed, rumours of the renewed favour enjoyed by Jacobins did much to help precipitate the rising, and some newly released veterans of Prairial served as volunteers alongside Barras’s soldiers. Yet the repression after Vendémiaire did not match that after Prairial. No efforts were made to prevent known ringleaders fleeing the city, and only two of those arrested were executed. For, despite the Convention’s propaganda, it was far from certain that most of those involved were royalists. Much clearer was that they included many people of property and substance, who might be wooed from their leanings towards monarchy if the new constitution could provide the security they craved. The most resolute steps taken after Vendémiaire, therefore, struck not at those involved but at the apparatus which both they and their sansculotte predecessors had used to mount insurrections ever since 1792. Thus on 10 October sectional assemblies were abolished, along with the National Guard organization which they had controlled. A new, centrally controlled Parisian Guard took its place, designed to be an instrument of the government rather than the governed. It was now clear above all, however, that the supreme instrument of government, at home as well as abroad, was the army. True, the constitution excluded all regular troops from a radius of 60 kilometres round the capital. But the Directory could not have begun as its architects intended without military help, and it was soon to recognize that it needed that help to survive, too.

The most pressing problems facing the Directors as they installed themselves in the chilly, dilapidated, and unfurnished Luxembourg palace on 1 November were economic. The harvest of 1795 brought little relief to the famine conditions of the spring. The savage winter had meant grain was sown late, and it failed to swell during the unusually dry summer. While the British blockade disrupted imports from overseas, the best of domestic produce continued to be requisitioned for the armies. All basic foodstuffs, candles, and firewood were strictly rationed (although the black market flourished) and the first frosts of what was to be another exceptionally cold winter arrived early, at the beginning of November. On top of all this came the final, catastrophic collapse of the assignats. They had reached 1 per cent of their face value by the time the Directory began. A month later in Paris bread was costing 50 livres a pound, butter 100, coffee 250, soap 170. ‘The price of everything is excessive’, noted a Parisian diarist.3 ‘No more order, no more supervision, everybody free to sell what he has for whatever he wants … It really seems as if the time has come at last to die of hunger and cold, lacking everything. Great God, what a Republic! And the worst of it is, one can’t tell when or how it will end. Everybody is dying of hunger.’

On 19 October the floor of the printing house where assignats were produced collapsed with the activity of the presses, which were turning out 2,000 millions worth of paper money per month. Specie had completely disappeared. On arriving in Normandy in February 1796 the Irish revolutionary Wolfe Tone noticed that coinage was actually refused on the presumption that it could not be genuine. Landlords had in any case been authorized to take half their rents in kind since the summer, and the salaries of the Directors themselves and other public officials were expressed in the constitution in measures of grain rather than money. Debtors did well in these circumstances, paying off their creditors in currency worth quite literally less than the paper it was printed on. The greatest debtor of all was the government itself, simply meeting its commitments by printing what was required. But the government was also a creditor, receiving only its own worthless paper back in taxes, despite attempts to make taxpayers account for half in cash or kind. Even a ‘war rate’ (25 October) designed simply to mop up surplus assignats by demanding a paper contribution twenty times the value of assessed taxes made no impact on the problem, while a forced loan in specie decreed six weeks later (6 December), in order to draw hoarded coinage back into circulation to the tune of 600 millions, had only yielded 116 millions four months later. Much of that had come in in the end in the form of discounted assignats which were at once reissued. There were over 34,000,000,000livres worth still in circulation when, in February 1796, it was finally decided to print no more. On the nineteenth, a solemn public bonfire of the broken plates used to produce them was lit in the place Vendôme.

Yet even supposing this gesture succeeded, returning to specie would take time. To bridge the gap, it was at first proposed to establish a land bank issuing notes on the credit of still unsold national lands. Ramel, the newly appointed finance minister, had been well connected in banking circles since before 1789, and now tried to put together a consortium of financiers to launch the new institution. But the suspicion of banks which had kept France without one since the great crash of 1720 was still virulent, especially in Jacobin circles eternally hostile to speculators. A furious journalistic campaign led by Lindet, who had managed the controlled economy of the Year II and now ran a newspaper, L’Ami des lois, led to the scheme’s rejection by the Councils. Instead they adopted what were in effect the assignats by another name, the ‘territorial mandates’ redeemable in national lands or in assignats still in circulation, at the rate of 30:1. But their value in relation to land was fixed at the levels of 1790, long undermined by the unprecedented amount of property thrown on to the market during the intervening years. Moreover, three times as many were issued as the entire face value of the assignats still in circulation. The result was that even on their first day of issue they were being discounted at 18 per cent of their face value, and by midsummer they were as worthless as the assignats. Ceasing to be legal tender on 17 July, in four months they had run the course which took the assignats five years. But those months proved a remarkable opportunity for speculators in national property, who bought in worthless paper and resold or leased for cash: far more of a profiteers’ paradise than the bank which deputies as yet refused to countenance. Enormous profits were also made by the private company which contracted to withdraw the remaining paper from circulation over the winter of 1796–7. But by 4 February 1797, when the mandates were officially demonetized, the revolutionary experiment with paper money was at an end.

The speculative fortunes being made in these chaotic conditions could only reinforce resentment at the privations ordinary people were forced to endure for a second exceptionally lean year. Such popular discontents in turn were fertile soil for the Jacobins, whose fortunes continued to revive rapidly in the aftermath of Vendémiaire, Although 68 ‘terrorist’ deputies suspected of being too left-wing had on 22 August been declared ineligible for the directorial Councils, they were not excluded from other political activity. Others joined them when an amnesty proclaimed to mark the start of the Directory brought the release from prison of the remainder of those arrested after Prairial. They were soon meeting regularly, and Jacobin journalists like Lindet, or Duval, publisher of theJournal des hommes libres, found that discreet governmental subsidies were available They were even allowed to establish a club: the Pantheon Club was founded on 16 November, and was soon able to boast over a thousand members.

The next day the most eloquent journalistic agitator of the previous year, Babeuf, began once more to produce his Tribun du peuple. But whereas many Jacobins were prepared to accept favours from a government that seemed at least firmly republican, Babeuf was intransigent from the very moment of his release under the amnesty. ‘What’, he asked,4 ‘is the French Revolution? An open war between patricians and plebeians, between rich and poor.’ Until the fall of Robespierre the poor had made considerable progress in this struggle. Since then it had been one long retreat. But now Babeuf went even further. During his months in prison he had come to the conclusion that there would be no true equality among men until property itself was abolished. Common ownership and equal distribution of goods should be the proper aim of the State, which it should pursue if necessary by terroristic methods far more fierce than any seen in France so far. Meanwhile the first step would be to implement the constitution of 1793. And it was this now classic demand, rather than the full-blooded communism of which he was the first active exponent in modern times, that struck the most immediate chords with Babeuf’s contemporaries. Within weeks the Tribun du peuple was selling 2,000 copies, and was being read not only in Paris clubs and cafés, but in circles composed of former terrorists in provincial towns all over northern France, and some much further afield. After only two issues the government tried to arrest the author, but sansculotte sympathizers spirited him into hiding, from where he continued to produce the journal. As much of his fury was directed against the fickleness of his fellow Jacobins as against the Directory, and for a time that cut him off from the Pantheon Club and other groups prepared to rub along with the new regime. But when his wife was arrested for distributing the paper, Jacobin opinion in general swung his way, and her release after three weeks failed to reopen the division. By the middle of February 1796 the Pantheon Club was giving thunderous applause to readings of Babeuf’s journal which denounced the Directors as tyrants. At the theatres, fierce patriotic pieces sustained these sentiments. ‘I never knew what enthusiasm was before’,5 noted the newly arrived Wolfe Tone, moved to tears. Understanding no French, he little knew that the ballets he was attending were a form of Jacobin rally. Lindet’s campaign against the proposed bank, along with vocal popular resentment against steadily diminishing bread and meat rations, began to look like a co-ordinated challenge to government. ‘It’s a fine bugger of a republic for robbers,’ shouted women queueing outside a wine shop on 10 February,6 ‘first they guillotine us, now they make us die of hunger. What’s more, Robespierre didn’t let us waste away, he only brought death to the rich; this lot are letting people die every day!’

In fact the policy of conciliating the Jacobins to keep the monarchists at bay seemed to be getting beyond control; and on 27 February it was brusquely reversed. Five clubs and a theatre were closed, including the Pantheon, cleared by soldiers under the command of Bonaparte. A few days later a purge began to clear Jacobin suspects from posts of authority. On 16 April, advocacy of the constitution of 1793 was made a capital crime. Faced with renewed persecution from a regime some had hoped they could live with, the Jacobins now turned instinctively to insurrection. But a classic sansculotte journée was out of the question. The machinery through which such mass demonstrations had been put together no longer existed. Even the 48 sections had now been replaced by twelve more amorphous arrondissements. During his months in prison, however, Babeuf had become increasingly attracted by the idea of seizing power by a coup d’état rather than mass confrontation. In the course of March and April he and a group of victims of the Year II (including Buonarroti, once a middle-ranking official of the Terror, later to achieve fame as the chronicler of this conspiracy) established an insurrectional committee. Its aim was to coordinate the energies of ‘democrats’ throughout the capital, and secretly to subvert the Police Legion, which had now replaced the National Guard as the main force of law and order in the city. Approaches were also planned to military units. The idea was that when the signal was given for a rising, there could be no resistance, since the forces of order would join it. An ‘Insurrectionary Act’ was prepared, and even printed. It proclaimed, in the name of Equality, Liberty, and the Common Happiness, that sovereignty had been usurped by a faction of conspirators (the members of the Convention who still dominated the Councils) whom French democrats now intended to overthrow and ‘judge’. Once in power, the ‘Equals’ would bring into effect the constitution of 1793, organize free distributions of bread, and implement the Laws of Ventôse Year II to distribute national lands to needy patriots. There would be no mercy to the usurpers. Heads, gloated one veteran of the Terror, would ‘fall like hail [with] tripes and bowels scattered about the pavement’.7 But before these vengeful fantasies could be fulfilled, the conspiracy was betrayed by one of its own members, along with the hiding place of Babeuf and other leading Equals. They had already lost perhaps their best opportunity to strike. When on 28 April certain units of the Police Legion mutinied, they insisted that their ‘Day of the People’ must remain 19 May. So the mutiny was put down (eventually with 17 executions), and on 10 May Babeuf and Buonarroti were arrested. Other Equals were brought in on subsequent days. Altogether there were 128 arrests, 48 of them in the provinces. The ringleaders were imprisoned, like the ‘tyrant’ whose memory they so much execrated, in the Temple.

It was the spring of 1797 before they were brought to trial. Carnot, the Director responsible for smashing the conspiracy, was determined to secure convictions at all costs, and the excuse that one of the conspirators was a deputy (Drouet, the man who had identified Louis XVI at Varennes) was used to send all of them before a specially constituted high court. Drouet escaped in August, but arrangements went ahead for the court to sit at Vendôme, far from the Paris populace the plotters had hoped to propel into action. In the meantime the exposure of the conspiracy brought further anti-Jacobin repression. The subscription-list of the Tribun du peuple found among Babeuf’s papers provided an obvious roll-call of suspects, who were duly harassed and removed from any positions of influence they might hold. The suspect Police Legion was dissolved—another step towards making the government completely dependent on the army. But was the army reliable? Babeuf and his fellow conspirators had always believed the troops could be subverted, and that belief continued in Jacobin circles even after the conspiracy’s collapse. Ten thousand bored and underpaid troops were encamped at Grenelle, near the Champ de Mars, dreaming enviously of comrades now winning spectacular and glorious victories in Italy, and being paid by their general in plundered coin. Rumours of mutiny among them circulated throughout the summer; and dubious elements were periodically discharged. But when on 9 September several hundred Jacobins marched to Grenelle expecting a dragoon regiment to defect to them, informers in their ranks had alerted the authorities, and the soldiers charged the marchers with drawn swords. Twenty were cut to pieces, and another thirty of those arrested then or subsequently were shot after military trials. By then Babeuf and his co-conspirators, secure in iron cages on wheels, had been transported to Vendôme to face less summary but—the Directors hoped—just as inevitable justice.

The rout of the Jacobins could not fail to encourage monarchists of every stripe. They certainly had little enough to cheer them on other fronts. Their foreign friends were either deserting them—like the British, who were putting out peace feelers—or being defeated in the field, like the Austrians in Italy. The royalist rebellions in the Vendée and Brittany were now in the final stages of being stifled by Hoche. It was true that White Terror continued to make life unsafe for those with Jacobin pasts throughout the south-east, and that the British spymaster Wickham in Switzerland, and d’Antraigues in Italy, entertained high hopes that some movement might come together out of the random vengeance killings that went on all the time in a region where vendetta had long been a way of life. Mallet du Pan, characteristically, saw more clearly. ‘The south’, he wrote,8 ‘is in ferment, but its agitation is vague, without ends or means.’ The people of Arles, noted a local observer in January 1796, ‘taken up entirely with themselves and little indeed with the public interest have contracted the habit of concentrating great national concerns in their personal passions and feelings. For them, revolutionary crises have not been this or that event favourable or disastrous to liberty, but ways of letting one party prevail over another.’9

In such circumstances, monarchists hoping to recapture the State increasingly pinned their hopes on winning elections. The next ones were scheduled for the spring of 1797, and already a number of deputies who were not ex-members of the Convention were discussing how the reduction of the latter to a minority could be turned to monarchist advantage. They met regularly in the prosperous suburb of Clichy. First emerging in Thermidorian times, this ‘Clichy Club’ was understandably quiescent in the aftermath of Vendémiaire, but now it took on new life. A well-funded and outspoken right-wing press, several of whose editors were regular attenders at Clichy, used renewed government complaisance to emphasize the coming opportunity. It was true that there was no real unity on the right, or even within the Clichy Club. Absolute monarchists hated constitutionalists, and only co-operated with them in order to use them. Constitutionalists in turn could be subdivided into those hoping for concessions from Louis XVIII, and Orleanists, who placed more hope in the junior branch of the royal house represented by Louis-Philippe, the émigré son of Philippe-Égalité. A king who was himself the son of a regicide might, legitimists feared, be an attractive prospect to the regicides who still dominated politics, if their republic should fail. Even so, all royalists believed by the autumn of 1796 that events were moving their way, and most were content to co-operate in winning the elections, leaving decisions about subsequent policy until later. While newspapers and pamphleteers hammered home the inadequacies of the Republic—its contempt for the law and above all its economic and financial incompetence—something like a party organization grew up with the establishment of semi-secret royalist clubs calling themselves the ‘Philanthropic Institute’. Beginning in Bordeaux, they soon spread throughout the south, and at their height were active in perhaps 70 departments, some of them receiving secret British funds. The self-styled ‘friends of order’ who made up their membership played assiduously upon the fears of the men of substance who would be casting their votes in April 1797; but their efforts were undermined by the activities of an inner circle of ‘legitimate sons’ who still toyed with more violent means. The futility of that was, however, demonstrated as the year began when a royalist version of the Grenelle plot to subvert troops stationed near Paris was revealed by informers. Brottier, the chief agent of d’Antraigues’s network in the capital, was arrested, along with several key members of his organization, at the end of January. They were at once subjected to a show trial, running concurrently with that of Babeuf which finally began in Vendôme on 20 February.

The twin dangers facing the Republic were thus graphically displayed side by side; and in addition for the first time during the revolution the government resorted to systematic electioneering on its own behalf. Under the constitution, each department was administered by a five-man elected administration, subject in turn to the surveillance of a centrally appointed ‘directorial commissioner’ modelled on the national agent employed under the Revolutionary Government of the Year II. In disturbed departments of the west, or along the Rhône valley, departmental administrations had never been elected from the start, and were regularly remodelled according to each swing of the pendulum in Paris. In the first three months of 1796 eleven departments had their personnel totally or partially renewed to remove Jacobinical influences. During the spring of the subsequent year this network of officials was directed to use all its influence to see that the electoral assemblies returned solid, middle-of-the-road republicans. On 25 February it was decreed that only émigrés whose names had been removed from the official list might vote, scotching plans for a mass return to participate in the elections: while in March an oath to defend the constitution against both monarchists and anarchists was imposed on all members of electoral assemblies. The right was alarmed at these confident directorial ploys. As well as denouncing them furiously in the press, its leaders begged Louis XVIII to make some gesture to reassure propertied waverers before the assemblies met. Eventually, on 10 March, he issued a grudging declaration from Blankenburg, full of ambiguity, urging Frenchmen to vote decisively against Jacobinism, and holding out the vaguest hope that the Declaration of Verona had not after all been his last word.

Despite all these unprecedented manoeuvres, the elections of the Year V, between 21 March and 9 April, took place amid the same public indifference that had characterized every election since 1791. Most of those qualified to vote in replacing the 234 or so former members of the Convention now to retire by lot did not bother to do so. But the verdict of the electoral assemblies was nevertheless clear. They voted heavily against the Convention and its legacy: only 11 of the retiring deputies were re-elected. They voted, too, against Jacobinism. No clearly identifiable left-wing candidates were returned. Above all they voted against the Directory. Of those elected, 228 were without any previous political experience, but were still preferred to the trusted hacks the authorities had tried to favour. And 182 of them were royalists. That did not mean that they constituted a united party. They ranged from the most gradualist believers in a constitutional restoration, to General Pichegru, who had been in sporadic contact with Louis XVIII’s agents for almost two years over the prospects of a restoration by military coup. But their arrival destroyed the more-or-less stable majority on which the Directors had been able to rely since the inauguration of the constitution. For this reason alone Reubell at once proposed the annulment of the elections. His colleagues felt, however, that the complexion of the new majority was by no means clear; and the first test of opinion confirmed the uncertainty. When it fell to Letourneur’s lot to retire, the new Councils elected Barthélemy, a career diplomat best known for negotiating the Peace of Basle in 1795. His constitutional convictions were unclear. He seems to have been chosen on the presumption that he would help to bring an end to the war.

All these domestic convolutions took place, of course, against the background of Bonaparte’s victories in Italy and even (at last) progress on the German front. The preliminaries of Leoben were signed on 18 April. The new Councils convened on 20 May under their shadow, and the nature of the peace they were to produce became at once one of the central issues in politics. The desire for peace was general after five years of battling against the whole of Europe. When in July the British offered to negotiate, the prospects for a general settlement seemed bright. Royalists believed that it would smooth the way towards a restoration, and to hasten the moment, they favoured a conciliatory approach to both Austria and Great Britain. Pragmatists like Carnot and Barthélemy also realized that a peace without significant concessions was bound to be unstable. In any case they believed that a working relationship must be developed with the new majority. But the other three Directors, after characteristic initial wavering by Barras, feared that co-operation could only lead to a monarchist triumph. Pichegru had been elected president of the Five Hundred, and by this time the Directors, though not the deputies, had received damning evidence from Bonaparte of his treasons. Nor did the Republic’s more successful generals wish to see their conquests bartered away to bring in a king. That meant not only Bonaparte, but Hoche, who as commander in the Netherlands hoped to restore a prestige dented by the Irish débâcle of the previous winter. Encouraged by Barras, Hoche moved troops within the constitutional belt around the capital in July, and under their eye on the fourteenth the Directory, outvoting Carnot and Barthélemy, carried out a ministerial reshuffle which deliberately challenged the Councils by removing the most prominent right-wingers. The ‘triumvirs’, as the right-wing press now dubbed Barras, Reubell, and La Revellière, also began to make gestures towards Jacobinism. Babeuf had been finally convicted at Vendôme, and he and one other conspirator had gone to the guillotine on 27 May. They would be remembered as Jacobin martyrs (having, like those of Prairial, tried to kill themselves as soon as the verdict was pronounced), but most of the other accused had been acquitted, so it was possible now to close the episode and quietly rehabilitate less extreme forms of Jacobinism. But any such gestures naturally alarmed the Councils, who were busy discussing ways to circumscribe the Directory’s financial powers, and measures favourable to nonjuror priests. Thus tension between executive and legislature mounted over the summer, while the majority of a clearly divided Directory steadily drafted more and more troops into the Paris region. Late July, in fact, was marked by a surge of patriotic addresses from the armies professing loyalty to the Republic, and neither the Directory nor the generals did anything to discourage such overt partisanship. Bonaparte even told his men they would cross the Alps ‘with an eagle’s swiftness’ if the Republic should be threatened. Meanwhile he dispatched one of his deputies, Augereau, to command the forces being assembled by the triumvirs. Desperately, royalist leaders spent August trying to put together a counter-force. While the Councils debated measures to revitalize the National Guard, irregular bands of street fighters were recruited, and there were clashes with Augereau’s troops. But in the face of so much accumulating force, the Councils could do little but bluster. Thus, at the end of August, they finally approved the abrogation of all laws against refractory priests.

The triumvirs took up the challenge. On the night of 3–4 September (17–18 Fructidor, Year V) they ordered the troops they had assembled to seize all strong points in Paris and surround the legislative chambers. They then issued orders for the arrest of Carnot, Barthélemy, 53 deputies (including Pichegru), and several other prominent members of the right. They also closed down some 30 newspapers. These measures were confirmed by a handpicked quorum of deputies from both Councils meeting under military surveillance. Meanwhile the city was plastered with a proclamation denouncing royalist machinations and publicizing for the first time the treason of Pichegru. There was no resistance. The coup was practically bloodless. As soon as it was over the purged Councils annulled the results of the spring elections in 49 departments, leaving 177 vacant seats. The vacant posts on the Directory were filled by François de Neufchâteau, a noted anti-clerical, and Merlin de Douai, one of the chief architects of the constitution which the coup of Fructidor had in effect destroyed.

Whether it saved France from a restoration seems improbable. Although it undoubtedly thwarted the ‘grand design’ of certain British-backed royalist agents like the ex-magistrate and deputy d’André, who hoped to achieve a peaceful recall of the pretender by a legislative majority built up over several elections and tireless cultivation of moderate opinion, the very number of its victims shows that no sort of royalist majority yet existed. It is quite likely, as Carnot had hoped, that a working relationship could have been established between the Directory and a moderate, republican majority. But the triumvirs dreaded a conspiracy, and the generals feared and despised all moderates. They combined, therefore, to destroy the constitution before it had weathered its first real test. From now on, although legal forms would continue to be observed, the ‘Second Directory’ would not hesitate to rig or set aside any results that proved inconvenient. They thereby proclaimed that they had no confidence in the system by which they ruled. They could scarcely, then, expect their fellow citizens to trust it either, or to come to its defence when it was under threat from forces outside the Directory two years later.

Meanwhile, however, Fructidor ushered in a period of decisive government. The whole of the Year V (October 1796–September 1797) had been a time of paralysis and suspended action. During its first half the coming election had dominated all preoccupations; its second was stalemated by the results. But now, with a united Directory and a subservient legislature, the government could turn to the problems shelved over the previous twelve months.

First the international situation was clarified. Both the Austrians and the British had been happy to spin out peace negotiations in the hope of wringing concessions from a divided France. They now saw no further prospect of that. Within six weeks the Austrians had signed the peace of Campo Formio, accepting conditions much like those agreed at Leoben the previous spring. The British, meanwhile, were offered terms amounting to little more than complete surrender, and broke off their negotiations within a week of the Fructidor coup. The whole French war effort was now to be marshalled against the island state, and Bonaparte was summoned back from Italy to command an army of invasion being encamped along the Channel coasts. Hoche, who had always regarded the British Isles as his destined prey, died suddenly late in September, removing the Corsican’s last credible rival. Yet failure on the northern seas had almost destroyed Hoche in 1796, and the victor of Italy did not want to risk his own reputation. The Dutch fleet, an indispensable auxiliary, had been destroyed at Camperdown in October; and inspection of the northern ports quickly convinced him that no adequate expedition could be launched against England before the end of 1798. But did Great Britain need to be attacked frontally? As early as the summer of 1797, when he was still in Italy, Bonaparte had begun to dream of striking at a major source of British wealth, India, through Egypt. In September, while still in Italy, he had formally suggested the idea, and it appealed to Talleyrand, who, after a period of emigration, had re-emerged in July to become foreign minister. It appealed to the Directors, too, when the general and the minister formally proposed the idea of an Egyptian expedition on 5 March 1798. Bonaparte had behaved modestly since his return and refused to put on military airs except when inspecting the troops in Normandy; but the presence at home of so successful a general, who had more than once forced the pace of the Republic’s policies against the instructions of its Directors, unnerved them. They would feel happier with him far away in Egypt, and the expedition he proposed was smaller and less expensive than a full-scale descent on England would have been. If he succeeded, the British would surely be knocked out of the war: they seemed too dependent on the wealth of India, and French control of the Suez isthmus would turn their control of the route round the Cape from an asset into a burden. If he failed, they would be rid of him. Accordingly, the Directory welcomed the Egyptian project warmly. A fleet was equipped at Toulon over the spring of 1798, and on 19 May it sailed, carrying an army of 35,000 men.

Fructidor also cleared the way for resolving the Republic’s financial difficulties. Ramel, the finance minister, had survived in office throughout all the Year V’s political upheavals, but the collapse of paper money confronted him with problems scarcely less difficult that those it had caused. The disappearance of inflated paper provoked a massive deflation as still scarce coinage became once more the only legal tender. Debtors who had not already cleared their obligations in paper now found themselves overwhelmed as prices plummeted and interest rates soared. In many districts a natural economy of barter proved the only viable means of exchange. Taxes, now payable in cash, practically dried up for a time, just at the moment when the government was brought face to face with the true scale of the debt it had run up to finance the war. The early months of 1797 witnessed desperate attempts to raise coinage from any source. Future revenues were mortgaged against advances at usurious rates, and the State’s assets were recklessly sold off, from former church lands in now annexed Belgium, right down to the crown jewels of the former kings. The main source of funds proved to be windfall income from the war-indemnity payments from the Batavian Republic, or plunder from other conquered territories. Germany yielded 16 millions, Italy (all told) perhaps 200 millions. It all re-emphasized how dependent the Republic had now become on its generals. Yet it was still not enough, and in the build-up to the Fructidor coup Ramel’s administration and the speculators on whom he relied to put together some of his more bizarre financial expedients were ferociously denounced in the Councils. The main critics were among those purged. Within a week of their elimination Ramel had radical and decisive remedies to propose, and the Directory adopted them. On 30 September two-thirds of the State’s debts were renounced by a one-off payment in paper valid for the purchase in national lands. The other third was ‘consolidated’. Not since 1770 (except momentarily in August 1788) had the French government declared bankruptcy; and throughout the Revolution a rare consensus had survived that the national debt should be sacrosanct. Without it, the Revolution itself might not have come about, and it was a symbol of confidence in the new order. In Fructidor, the abandonment of the Revolution’s longest-held principle looked like one more admission of failure. Bitter debt-holders found in subsequent months that the bonds in which they had been paid off lost 60 per cent of their face value within a year, and soon afterwards a decision no longer to accept them in payment for national lands completely destroyed them. But the ‘Two Thirds Bankruptcy’ relieved the State of debts which cost it 160 millions a year, and paved the way for durable financial reconstruction. The process began only a few weeks later (12 November) with the establishment of an ‘Agency for Direct Contributions’, to orchestrate the recovery of direct taxes at local level via the directorial commissioners—the first centralized fiscal apparatus since the old regime, largely staffed too with officials who had learned their trade then. And their methods: taxpayers in arrears would find troops billeted on them. In 1798 another principle of the Revolution was abandoned with the reintroduction of the indirect taxes so universally execrated in the cahiers. It had been their very effectiveness that had made them unpopular, and which now constituted their appeal. They were now imposed on tobacco, on road traffic, on legal documents, and on doors and windows—although the Councils balked at a proposal to tax salt, with its echoes of the most hated of all the pre-revolutionary levies, the gabelle. None of these measures gave spectacularly rapid results. It took years to draw as much coinage back into circulation as had been available in 1789, and although the last years of the century were marked by good harvests, business confidence was slow to revive. The most immediate effect of the bankruptcy and the State’s reviving capacity for taxing its citizens was to increase its unpopularity among the very propertied groups on which it claimed to base its support.

Nor were the latter reassured by the politics of the Directors after Fructidor. The purge of the Councils and annulment of the elections proved only the beginning of a ‘Directorial Terror’ (as some called it) lasting many months. Laws against émigrés were reactivated, and those who had returned with the revived royalist hopes of the spring were given two weeks to leave the country, on pain of death. Over the next few months 160 were put to death under this, or older, unrepealed laws. Now for the first time in the whole Revolution nobles as a category were condemned by a law which deprived them of French citizenship merely for being noble. Little was done to implement this draconian measure, which would have made Barras and Bonaparte, to mention no others, legally into foreigners. But laws against refractory priests, on the verge of abrogation before the coup, were now reactivated; and any cleric who refused to swear a new oath of hatred for royalty, passed the day after the coup, made himself liable to summary deportation to Guiana. The revival of organized religion had made steady progress since the breakthrough of the spring of 1795, and even during leftward swings such as that after Vendémiaire the central government had not enough authority in the localities to arrest the recovery. With the royalist surge of the Year V many priests who had emigrated returned, and there were plenty of congregations ready to welcome them and provide them with a living. Fructidor proved a rude blow to them. Many who did not leave the country once more were rounded up, and of these only a small number took the oath of hatred. Ten thousand refused it, thus making themselves liable to deportation—although four-fifths of these were in Belgian departments. In these newly annexed territories, it was seen as too dangerous to provoke a sullen population with mass deportations; nevertheless 1,400 nonjurors in all were sent to the western islands of Ré and Oléron prior to embarkation for Guiana. British ships rescued some of those sent on to the penal colony, so that eventually only 230 arrived there. But those interned included many who had been too old or ill to evade arrest, and they died on Ré or Oléron. Meanwhile the Directors sought to encourage less subversive cults. While the relics of the ill-starred constitutional Church were left to wither away (which, however, they refused to do, largely thanks to the organizing energy of Grégoire), the anti-clerical La Revellière gave his support to Theophilanthropy. Originating late in 1796, this movement of intellectual, republican deism prospered in towns where dechristianization had been popular. After Fructidor it was allocated former churches for its services, and La Revellière saw to it that the best and most prominent ones in Paris (including for a time Notre-Dame) came its way. But it never commanded much popular support, any more than it proved possible to stamp out the observation of Sundays in favour of the décadis of the republican calendar.

The renewed official anti-Catholicism, however, was warmly welcomed by Jacobins who, after eighteen months in the wilderness, suddenly found themselves once more in modest favour. Although a small band of self-styled sansculottes from eastern Paris presenting themselves for service on 18 Fructidor had been sternly told to disperse, with royalism perceived as the main danger it was inevitable that the triumvirate should now look again leftwards for support. New elections were after all due in April 1798, when the last of the Convention’s ‘Perpetuals’ would retire. If another royalist triumph was to be avoided proven anti-royalists would have to be mobilized. So, immediately after the coup, clubs were once more allowed to meet, and within weeks ‘constitutional circles’ were being formed in most of the departments. Not all by any means could be described as Jacobin: the Directors saw them as rallying-points for all sound republican opinion. But inevitably, with suspicion of royalism so prevalent, most of those prepared to take a public stand had pasts tainted with terrorism, dechristianization, or democracy. Inevitably, too, with their ranks decimated by repeated persecution since 1794, they sought to win new converts among working men. Thus, for example, although the circle set up at Evreux in February 1798 committed itself only ‘to demonstrate the advantages of a free and popular government … to develop the wise and immutable principles of the Constitution [and] to confer public office only on upright, virtuous, modest, patriotic and enlightened men’,10 a local official reported of it to the minister of the interior: ‘I recognize among them good republicans, but also persons whom I have heard declare in front of over a hundred people that Babeuf was murdered at Vendôme.’ The language of social resentment so instinctively used by the democratic press, which revived in the new atmosphere, was also closely watched. As the elections approached, the more outspoken constitutional circles and neo-Jacobin journals began to be closed down. In Paris that included the left-bank Rue du Bac Club, which was calling for electoral reform which would radically widen the franchise established in 1795.

For the Second Directory had no interest in enlarging the electorate. It still sought to base itself on ‘decent folk’ (honnêtes gens) and substantial men of property. The problem was that too many of such people remained attracted by royalism. Yet no less than 437 seats (including those left vacant after Fructidor) had now to be filled, so if anything even more was at stake than in 1797. Blatant steps were therefore taken to rig the outcome at every stage. While lists of official candidates were established, the outgoing Councils declared their intention to ‘verify’ the results. Careful steps were taken to monitor the political complexion of every department, and government supporters and local officials were encouraged to foment splits in electoral assemblies whose inclinations looked dubious, so as to allow the Councils to decide on the legitimacy of the rival factions and their candidates. Such splits had taken place in every election since 1789 somewhere or other, but in 1798 they occurred in over a quarter of the departmental electoral assemblies, 27 in all, and in even more of the primary ones. The results showed that attempts to damp down the Jacobin revival had come too late. In many districts the constitutional circles packed the primary assemblies and secured the defeat of directorial candidates, notably in Paris and a number of major cities. Not surprisingly, then, former members of the Convention did much better than in the previous year: 162 were elected, 71 of them regicides. Electors were not deterred by directorial talk of an unholy pact between the two political extremes—‘royalism in a red cap’. Royalism made no significant showing. Government supporters carried 43 departments, but it was not considered enough. As soon as all the results were in, accordingly, the process of checking began, and deciding on split returns. But there were so many difficult cases that the elaborate process of scrutiny promised to last beyond the meeting date of the new legislature, set for 20 May (1 Prairial, Year VI). The Law of 22 Floréal (11 May) therefore imposed a cut-off: 127 deputies were purged from the legislature before even taking their seats. The results from 8 departments were completely quashed, and only those in 47 (out of 96) were allowed to stand untouched. Nineteen secessionist minorities had their candidates accepted, and runners-up were declared elected in other instances. Eighty-six identifiable Jacobin winners were ‘Floréalized’, along with a number of newly chosen local officials. The effect was to maintain firm directorial control on the Councils, and chance helped sustain their authority too: François de Neufchâteau, the least forceful of the Directors, drew the lot to retire. He was replaced by Treilhard, a noted anti-clerical who reinforced the solidarity of the other four.

The coup of Floréal was less spectacular than that of Fructidor, and less decisive too—within a year significant numbers of those admitted as reliable had turned against the Directors. But for the moment it perpetuated the executive’s control of the legislature asserted in Fructidor—if only by denying, for the second time in a year, the electorate’s right to choose its own representatives. Some historians think that a viable parliamentary opposition might have developed in an unpurged legislature in 1798–9, seeing little evidence that the Jacobins still aimed (in contrast to the royalists the year before) at the overthrow of the constitution itself, But they were men with a bloody record, which inspired no trust in those they now denounced as oligarchs. To allow them a central power base seemed to imperil the republican middle way which the Directors saw as their overriding duty to uphold.

Nor, as two unresisted coups had now shown, did they have much difficulty in doing so. An electorate largely disinclined to vote in the first place raised little protest when the results of votes were overridden. The relaxation of the central grip on the localities between 1794 and 1798 had restored some of the local autonomy whose loss had caused such resentment in the Year II, and peace with victory met a deep-felt aspiration. In the aftermath of Floréal, therefore, a triumphant Directory faced the future with some confidence. Too much confidence in fact: within twelve months, sated with success, it would deliberately throw away most of these advantages.

The most fateful mistakes occurred in foreign affairs. Nowhere was the arrogance of the Directory more flagrantly displayed. Having routed all continental enemies, the French now increasingly spoke of themselves as the ‘Great Nation’, superior in kind to all the others, and entitled for that reason to behave according to their own rules. Bonaparte, in announcing the terms of Campo Formio to the Directory, was preaching to the convinced when he condemned the Italians as ‘unworthy peoples who have little love for liberty and whose tradition, character and religion cause them to hate us profoundly’.11 ‘You have succeeded’, he later declared to the Directors, ‘in organising the great nation whose vast territory is circumscribed only because nature herself has imposed limits to it.’ They believed it; and the way in which others rushed to do their will after the fighting was over only confirmed their arrogance. At the Congress of Rastadt, convened to settle peace terms between France and the Holy Roman Empire, matters moved slowly because of the sheer complexity of the Empire, but by April 1798 the Germans had been browbeaten into agreeing to allow the left bank of the Rhine to be incorporated within France’s self-proclaimed ‘natural’ frontiers, and condoning the secularization of ecclesiastical states to provide compensation for those who lost by that process. In January 1798, meanwhile, a French-backed coup had overthrown the age-old government of the Swiss Confederation, substituting yet another ‘sister republic’, the Helvetic. In August a treaty of alliance gave France perpetual free access to the Alpine passes. In Italy, too, there were French advances. Bonaparte had shown that reputations could be made there, and lesser generals left behind were keen to emulate him. They were encouraged by the renewed anti-clericalism of the Directory after Fructidor to bully the Pope and infiltrate Italian Jacobins from the north into his territories. A riot in Rome on 28 December 1797 accidentally led to the death of a French general. It was used as a pretext for invading the Papal States, and on 15 February, in a Holy City occupied by French troops, a group of Jacobins proclaimed the Roman Republic and were at once recognized. The Pope was taken prisoner, that same Pius VI whose condemnation of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy had precipitated France’s religious troubles. In increasingly delicate health, he spent the next eighteen months being bundled from one place of captivity to another, before dying on French soil at Valence in August 1799.

Such displays of power could only alarm the rest of Europe—especially Austria, whose Italian gains at Campo Formio seemed already threatened by continued French expansion in the peninsula. But nothing did more to turn alarm into resistance than the Egyptian expedition. Conceived as a project without cost, its initial military record was indeed impressive. Sailing on 17 May, on 12 June Bonaparte took Malta, dissolved the order of the Knights of St John, and garrisoned it with French troops. On 2 July he arrived in Egypt and took Alexandria by storm. On the twenty-first he defeated the Mameluke army at the battle of the Pyramids, and a few days later was in Cairo, the master of Egypt. Another campaign of lightning brilliance; but it was reduced to nothing on 1 August when the fleet which had conveyed the expedition was smashed to pieces by Nelson in what the British remember as the battle of the Nile. The British had withdrawn from the Mediterranean in 1797. To send a fleet back there was a gamble, and it took Nelson weeks to find the French. But when he did, he showed that not even their greatest commander was invulnerable. He cut off thousands of their best troops in the east, and provided the vital impulse for the formation of a new European coalition against France.

Outraged by the unprovoked invasion of what was, however nominally, Ottoman territory, the Turks declared war on France as soon as they heard about Nelson’s victory. Militarily this meant little, but so great was the fury in Constantinople that the hitherto unthinkable was allowed. A Russian fleet passed through the Bosporus, sailing to attack Corfu, a French possession since Campo Formio. For all Catherine II’s posturings, Russia had never yet taken the field against revolutionary France. But after she died in 1796, her unstable son Paul I looked for opportunities to make his counter-revolutionary mark. Already incensed by being ignored at the Congress of Rastadt, which was redrawing the map of Germany without consulting him, in violation of rights recognized since 1779, he boiled over with fury at the seizure of Malta, of which he had declared himself the protector in 1797. He was also concerned at reports that the French were making trouble in Poland. So he, too, rushed to declare his hand when news broke of Nelson’s victory. So did the Neapolitans. Deeply shocked by the French takeover of the Papal States, and a series of threats which followed it, the Bourbon government in Naples was elated by the arrival of the victorious Nelson in September. He urged them to join the rapidly coalescing new alliance. Noting the weakness of the French garrison in Rome, they were anxious to strike before reinforcements arrived, and in November their troops marched north against the new sister republic. They reached Rome and occupied it, led by an Austrian general. They signed an offensive alliance with the Russians. But at the first clash with French troops they turned and fled. Championnet, the French commander, saw Bonaparte-like opportunities opening up, and pursued them back to Naples, which the royal family abandoned on 23 December, sailing off to Sicily with Nelson. On 26 January 1799, Championnet proclaimed the Parthenopean Republic. He proved to be no Bonaparte, and he was not dealing with the divided Directory of 1796. They had not wanted to take on yet another unstable and rootless puppet state. He was relieved of his command. But the damage was done. By this time Russia had sought, and received, permission for her troops to cross Austrian territory going to the aid of their southern ally. By the end of the year an army of 11,000 Russians was on Austrian soil. Not unnaturally, the French regarded their presence as a hostile sign, and on 2 January 1799 they issued an ultimatum for their removal. The Austrians did not respond, and in March war was formally declared. The emperor joined the network of treaties which over the preceding months had pulled most of the still independent powers of Europe together into a second anti-French coalition. At Rastadt, where negotiations to settle the last details of the peace of Campo Formio still meandered on, two French delegates were hacked to death by Austrian soldiers on 22 April. A new war to destroy the French Revolution had clearly begun.

The renewal of continental warfare after barely a year’s respite received no welcome in France. The shattering naval defeat which announced the general resumption of the struggle signalled that the time of apparently effortless victory was over. The scale of the renewed effort likely to be required was spelled out with the passage on 5 September 1798, as the international horizon darkened, of the Jourdan Law on conscription—a new word with a long future. The numbers in the armies had fallen steadily since the Year II. By 1798 there were only 270,000 Frenchmen under arms. It had taken well over a million to fend off the previous coalition. The new law, devised by the victor of Wattignies and Fleurus, reiterated the principle of the levée en masse that all citizens were at the Republic’s disposition in times of emergency. Army numbers were to be made up by volunteers in the first instance, but if they proved insufficient, young men between 20 and 25 were to be drafted to make up the numbers. From registers drawn up by local authorities, an annual ‘class’ would be called to arms.

The last time military service had been imposed, it had triggered off the uprising in the Vendée and civil war. Then as now, the government imposing it had been violently anti-clerical, scorning popular religious feelings. And its response to defiance and defeat had been one of terror. The Directory seemed to be bringing the Revolution full circle; with no prospect of a stable and durable settlement of the problems which for the best part of a decade had torn France, and much of Europe too, apart. In the course of the ensuing year even the army, which had hitherto sustained and defended the Directory, would come to this dispiriting conclusion. Then the end of the Revolution would at last be in sight.

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