V. REBUILDING

The task of restoring a government, an army, and a national will was made trebly difficult by the illegality of his position, the unity of his foreign enemies, and the disunion of his people.

He had again, as in 1799, seized by force—or the threat of force—a legally established government. True enough, he was taking back by force an authority which had been taken from him by force of arms; but he had formally surrendered his power by his abdication, and the Senate had offered the throne to Louis XVIII, who had accepted it as his legal right, and had not now relinquished it. In the eyes of the Allies—and of a considerable portion of the French people—he was a usurper.

His foreign enemies were now more firmly united against him than in their massive campaigns of 1813–14. The many nations represented at the Congress of Vienna had been unanimous in branding him an outlaw. Not only had Russia, Prussia, Austria, and England pledged, each of them, 150,000 troops to the new campaign to remove him from the scene; Sweden, the new German Confederation, and even little Switzerland had promised to contribute to the wall of flesh and money that was rising to move upon him.

He sent them humble offers to negotiate a bloodless settlement; they made no answer. He appealed to his father-in-law, Emperor Francis II of Austria, to intercede for him with the other Allies—no answer came. He wrote to his wife to solicit her aid in softening her father; apparently the message never reached her. On March 25 the united Allies proclaimed that they were not making war against France, but would never make peace with Napoleon Bonaparte, lest he should again lead France—willing or not—into another war disturbing the foundations of European order.

France was by no means united against the united Allies. Thousands of royalists remained there to plead the case, and organize the defense, of the absent King. On March 22 hundreds of them welcomed him into Lille on his flight from Paris, and they grieved when he moved on to Ghent, where he would again be protected by British power. In the south of France the royalists were strong enough to keep control of Bordeaux and Marseilles. In the west the deeply Catholic Vendée had again risen in arms against Napoleon, whom they considered an atheistic persecutor of their Pope, a crypto-Jacobin ally of regicides,24 and an obstinate protector of property stolen from the Church. In May, 1815, he sent twenty thousand troops to quell this passionate insurrection. Often, later, he mourned that these added troops might have won Waterloo.25

Against his internal foes he could range some elements of public support not all agreeable to his views and character. Most agreeable was the Army, which (except in Bordeaux and the Vendée) was devoted to him as the organizer and rewarder of victory. The lower ranks of the nation—peasants, proletaires, and city populace—were ready to follow his lead, but they hoped he could avoid war, and they no longer gave him the worship that had made him reckless and proud. There were still many Jacobins in the cities, willing to forget his hostility to them if he would declare himself loyal to the Revolution. He accepted their support, but would not pledge himself to their war against merchants and priests.

He admired the middle class as the foundation of that social-moral order which, since the September Massacres, had become the center of his political philosophy; but it did not offer him its support or its sons. It valued freedom of enterprise and trade and the press, but not of the ballot or of public speech; it feared the radicals, and wished to limit the franchise to property owners. It had elected the Chamber of Deputies, and was resolved to protect the rights of that body to check the power and policies of the king or emperor. And that rising section of the bourgeoisie—the intelligentsia of journalists, authors, scientists, philosophers—was making it quite clear that it would fight with all its weapons against any attempt of Napoleon to reestablish imperial power.

The challenged hero was himself divided, in purpose and will. He still worked hard, noting everything, giving orders, sometimes dictating 150 letters in a day.26 But his very alertness weakened him, for it told him how little he could rely upon his new generals, or the chambers, or the nation, or even upon himself. The diseases that six years later would kill him were already weakening him; hemorrhoids irritated and humiliated him. He could not work as long as in the halcyon days of Marengo and Austerlitz. He had lost something of his old clearness of mind and steadiness of purpose, his old buoyant confidence in victory. He had begun to doubt his “star.”27

On the very evening of his reaching Paris he chose a new ministry, for he needed its aid at once. He rejoiced to learn that Lazare Carnot (the “organizer of victory” during the Revolution) was ready to serve him against his enemies; he found him—aged sixty-two—too old for battle, but made him minister of the interior, as one whom all could trust. Hardly for such a reason he chose, as minister of police, Joseph Fouché, now fifty-six, suspected and feared by all, managing a private network of spies, and maintaining secret relations with almost every faction; probably the hurried ruler gave him his old office to keep him under scrutiny; and no one questioned Fouché’s ability. In most of the complications that followed he kept the clearest vision and the most flexible morality. “The Emperor in my eyes,” he was to write in his Memoirs, “was nothing but a worn-out actor, whose performance could not be reenacted.”28 Even while serving Napoleon he predicted, toward the end of March, “He can’t last longer than three months.”29

The next step was to organize an army. Louis XVIII had felt no need for any except for internal order; consequently he had ended conscription, and had reduced his military to 160,000 men. Napoleon restored conscription in June, but these lucky youths were not yet mobilized when Waterloo ended the war. He called upon the National Guard to prepare itself for full—including foreign—service; many refused; 150,000 obeyed. Adding these and some volunteers to the existing Army, he could muster, in June, 300,000 men. He stationed most of them in the northern departments, and bade them await further orders. Meanwhile he repeated his exploits of 1813 and 1814 in raising and allocating provisions and matériel for the new Army. Secretly he imported guns from his favorite enemy, England.30 He could not use all his former marshals, for some had committed themselves to Louis XVIII; but he still had Ney, Davout, Soult, Grouchy, Vandamme. He studied maps of roads and terrain, and reports of enemy movements, and planned every major aspect of the coming campaign. In such planning he was at his best and happiest.

He was least comfortable in his third task—to win public support despite his seizure of the government. Nearly all elements except the royalists demanded his commitment to a constitution that would protect freedom of speech and press, and make him responsible to an elected parliament. This went sorely against his grain, for he had long been accustomed to absolute rule, and felt that an able and well-intentioned dictator like himself was better for a country than a parlement of palaver and a count of noses whether of voters or of deputies. Nevertheless, in a gesture of conciliation, he sent for Benjamin Constant (April 6) to draw up a constitution that would appease the liberals without manacling the monarchy. He knew that Constant had written violently against him, but he recognized in him a finished stylist and a flexible mind. Constant came, uncertain of his fate, and was relieved to find that all that the Emperor asked of him was to extemporize a constitution that would satisfy both Napoleon and Mme. de Staël. He labored for a week, daily exposing his product to his employer. On April 14 he presented the result to the Council of State.

It proposed a constitutional monarchy in which the hereditary head of the state would have ample executive powers, but would be responsible to a Chamber of Peers nominated by the ruler, and a legislative Chamber of (six hundred) Representatives elected by the people through intermediate assemblies. Specific clauses abolished state censorship and guaranteed freedom of worship and the press. In this quite traditional way the Emperor and his scribe felt that they had united the charms of democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy.

After all this had been accepted by Napoleon, he insisted that the new constitution be presented to the people not as a repudiation of his past rule but as an “Acte Additionnel” certifying liberties that (Napoleon argued) had already existed under the Empire. Constant and his liberal advisers protested and yielded. On April 23 the Acte Additionnel was submitted to a plebiscite of all registered voters. The royalists refused to vote; many others abstained. The vote was 1,552,450 for, 4,800 against. Napoleon ordered that on May 26 the people should assemble on the Champ-de-Mars, in a massive and formal ceremony called the Champ de Mai, to celebrate the adoption of the constitution, the beginning of a new era, and the blessing and departure of the troops. The assembly, postponed to June 1, showed Napoleon in a royal mood: he came dressed in his robes as emperor, in his coronation coach drawn by four horses, and preceded by his brothers as princes of the Empire. The assemblage was not pleased by this aroma of a dead past. What had happened to the new constitution?

The nation received it with some skepticism and much indifference; apparently many doubted its sincerity or permanence. Napoleon himself gave contradictory testimony on this point. According to Las Cases, the Emperor felt that doubt of his sincerity was unjustified:

I returned from Elba a new man. They could not believe it; they could not imagine that a man might have sufficient strength of mind to alter his character, or to bend to the power of circumstances. I had, however, given proofs of this, and some pledge to the same effect. Who is ignorant that I am not a man for half measures? I should have been as sincerely the monarch of the constitution of peace as I had been of absolute sway and great enterprises.31

But the usually trustworthy Gourgaud, devoted to Napoleon, quoted him as saying, “I was wrong in losing precious time about a constitution, all the more since it was my intention to send them [the deputies] packing as soon as I had been victorious.”32

He had planned to convoke the chambers only after the campaign, when he might come to them with a persuasive victory. But Lafayette, who had emerged from his rural seclusion, aged fifty-eight, to play a part in the drama, insisted on having the Chamber of Representatives convene before Napoleon’s departure to join his troops. Napoleon yielded, and the Chamber met on June 3. At once it gave some indication of its mood by electing as its president Comte Jean-Denis Lanjuinais, a fervent enemy of the Emperor. On June 7 Napoleon, in simple costume, went to the Palais-Bourbon and addressed the combined chambers in so modest a manner that all the delegates took an oath to the new constitution, and of fidelity to the Emperor.33

On June 12, about three o’clock in the morning, while Paris slept, Napoleon left for the front.

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