Napoleon: Director, Consul, and Emperor

Unfinished portrait by Jacques-Louis David

The Directory (1795 - 1799)

Ingres, Napoleon as Consul

The Constitution of the Year III (1795) established a Directory (le Directoire), or executive committee of five directors, who were to hold the chief executive office in turn. The government now consisted of a Parliament of two Houses, the Council of Five Hundred and the Council of Elders. A limited franchise was enacted. Under this system internal conflicts continued.

During this same period, however, a Second Coalition of European monarchies had formed to fight the fledgling Republic. It was Napoleon Bonaparte who engineered the victories in Europe, in Italian and Egyptian campaigns in a dazzling military career that still inspires awe and admiration. Upon a triumphant return to France in 1799, Napoleon engineered a coup d'etat, seizing control of the Directory, with himself and two others named temporary Consuls.

The Consulate (1800 - 1803)

Under the Consulate, Napoleon continued to lead armies against the enemies of France. After decisive French victories, the Peace of Amiens was concluded in 1802. Napoleon then occupied himself with government, retaining some of the achievements of the Revolution, such as the abolition of feudalism, slavery, and the re-settlement of property. Local government and educational systems were placed under central control. The country was governed by a unified set of laws known as the Code of Napoleon. A Concordat was signed with the Vatican and Christian cult and calendar returned. Napoleon's government established law, order and glory. But the government also demanded loyalty, and thus freedom of the press, and other personal liberties disappeared.

Ingres, Napoleon as Emperor

The French Empire (1804 - 1815)

Napleon's conslidation of power and territory culminated in his coronation as Emperor in 1804. In a famous gesture, he took the crown from the hands of Pope and put it on his own head. The Empire is remembered by some as the most glorious period of French history. Government, art and society are remade in the image of ancient Rome.

During this period, Napoleon continued to expand France, and a Third Coalition of European nations formed against him. Victories at Austerlitz, and Jena (remembered in Parisian Metro stops) were countered by defeats at the hands of Great Britain (Lord Nelson), Austria and Russia. On April 14th 1814 Napoleon abdicated and was banished to the Island of Elba. Ten months later he returned but was defeated by British Prussian forces on the 18th of June at Waterloo.

Websites of Interest

Code Napoleon
This page from the Napoleon Series outlines the Code, considered by some to be Napoleon's greatest and longest-lasting achievement.
Napoleon Bonaparte Internet Guide
Web Museum Revolution and restoration (1740-1860): France
David, Napoleon in His Study
A closer look at this portrait in the National Gallery of Art, in English, for kids.

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Last update: July 3, 2003
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