Napoleon had established internal order, and conditions that promised an economic resurgence; but it still remained that France was surrounded by enemies in a war that France had begun on April 20, 1792. The French people longed for peace, but refused to abandon the territories that had been annexed during the Revolution: Avignon, Belgium, the left bank of the Rhine, Basel, Geneva, Savoy, and Nice. Nearly all of these were comprised in what the French called the “natural boundaries” of their country; and Napoleon, in the oath that he had taken on coming to power, had pledged himself to protect these borders—the Rhine, the Alps, the Pyrenees, and the seas—as essentially a return to the boundaries of ancient Gaul. Moreover, France had taken Holland, Italy, Malta, and Egypt; was she willing to give up these conquests as the price of peace, or would she soon reject any leader who negotiated the surrender of these profitable gains? The character of the French united with the character of Napoleon in a policy proud with nationalism and pregnant with war.
An escape from this destiny was suggested to Napoleon in a letter of February 20, 1800, from the man whom nearly all émigrés and royalists recognized as the legitimate ruler of France—Louis XVIII:
Whatever may be their apparent conduct, men like you never inspire alarm. You have accepted an eminent station, and I thank you for having done so. You know better than anyone how much strength and power are requisite to secure the happiness of a great nation. Save France from her violence, and you will fulfill the first wish of my heart. Restore her King to her, and future generations will bless your memory. You will always be too necessary to the state for me ever to be able to discharge, by important appointments, the debt of my family and myself.
Napoleon let this appeal remain unanswered. How could he return the throne to a man who had promised his faithful followers to follow his own restoration with that of the status quo ante the Revolution? What would happen to the enfranchised peasants, or to the buyers of church property? What would happen to Napoleon? Already the royalists, who were daily plotting to remove him, were announcing what they would do to this upstart who dared to play king without ointment or pedigree.34
On Christmas Day, 1799, the day after the plebiscite had sanctioned his rule, Napoleon wrote to King George III of England:
Called by the will of the French people to hold the highest office in the Republic, I think it proper, on assuming my functions, to inform Your Majesty of the fact by my own hand.
Is there to be no end to the war which, for the past eight years, has dislocated every quarter of the globe? Is there no means by which we can come to an understanding? How is it that the two most enlightened nations in Europe, both stronger and more powerful than their safety and independence require, consent to sacrifice their commercial success, their internal prosperity, and the happiness of their homes, to dreams of imaginary greatness? How is it that they do not envisage peace as their greatest glory as well as their greatest need?
Such sentiments cannot be strange to Your Majesty’s heart, for you rule a free nation for the sole end of making it happy.
I beg Your Majesty to believe that in broaching this subject, it is my sincere desire to make a practical contribution … toward a generous peace…. The fate of every civilized nation depends upon the ending of a war which is embroiling the whole world.35
George III did not think it fitting that a king should answer a commoner; he delegated the task to Lord Grenville, who sent to Talleyrand (January 3, 1800) a sharp note denouncing the aggressions of France and declaring that England could not enter into negotiations except through the Bourbons, who must be restored as a precondition to any peace. A letter of Napoleon to Emperor Francis II received a similar reply from the Austrian Chancellor, Baron Franz von Thugut. Probably these literary reverses had been discounted; Napoleon did not have to be told that statesmen weigh words by counting guns. The reality remained that an Austrian army had recaptured north Italy and reached Nice, and that a French army, imprisoned in Egypt by the British and Turks, was nearing surrender or destruction.
Kléber, brave and brilliant general, unsuccessful diplomat, expected no relief, and openly shared in the despondency of his men. By his orders General Desaix signed at El ‘Arish (January 24, 1800), with the Turks and the local English commander, a convention for the safe and orderly departure of the French, with their arms and baggage and the “honors of war,” on ships to be supplied by the Turks to convey them to France; meanwhile the French were to deliver to the Turks the forts that had protected the Europeans from Egyptian revolts. These forts had been surrendered when word came from the British government refusing to accept the terms of evacuation, and insisting that the French lay down their arms and yield themselves up as prisoners of war. Kléber refused to do this, and demanded the return of the forts; the Turks would not agree to this, and advanced upon Cairo. Kléber led his ten thousand men to meet the Turks, twenty thousand strong, on the plains of Heliopolis. He revived the ardor of his troops with a simple message: “You possess in Egypt no more than the ground under your feet. If you recoil but one step you are undone.”36 After two days (March 20–21, 1800) of battle the wild courage of the Turks yielded to the disciplined tactics of the French, and the surviving victors returned to Cairo to wait again for help from France.
Napoleon could send them no rescue while Britain ruled the Mediterranean. But he had to do something about the fact that the seventy-one-year-old General Baron von Melas had led 100,000 of Austria’s best soldiers in a victorious advance through north Italy to Milan. Napoleon sent Masséna to stop him; Masséna was defeated, and found refuge for his troops in the citadel of Genoa. Melas left a force to besiege him there, assigned additional detachments to guard the Alpine passes against attacks from France, and proceeded along the Italian Riviera until his vanguard reached Nice (April, 1800). The tables had been turned upon Napoleon: the city from which he had begun his conquest of Lombardy in 1796 was now in the hands of the nation he had defeated—while the better part of his famous Army of Italy, too sanguinely divided, was wasting away, helpless and desperate, in Egypt. It was the most direct challenge that Napoleon had yet received.
He put administration aside, and became again the commander in chief, raising money, troops, matériel, and morale, organizing supplies, studying maps, dispatching directives to his generals. To Moreau—the most outspoken of his martial foes—he entrusted the Army of the Rhine, with merciless instructions: cross the Rhine, cut your way through the Austrian divisions under Marshal Krug; then send 25,000 of your men over the St. Gotthard Pass into Italy to reinforce the Army of Reserve that Napoleon promised to have waiting for them near Milan. Moreau did most of this heroically, but felt, perhaps justly, that in his hazardous position he could spare to his chief only fifteen thousand men.
Of all the campaigns of history’s greatest general, this of 1800 was the most subtly planned, and the most poorly executed. Under his direct command he had only forty thousand men, mostly conscripts unhardened to war. Stationed near Dijon, they might have moved south over the Maritime Alps to Nice for a frontal attack upon Melas; but they were too few and raw; and even if Melas were defeated in such an engagement he would have a protected line of retreat through north Italy to well-fortified Mantua. Instead, Napoleon proposed to lead his troops and their equipment over the St. Bernard Pass into Lombardy, unite with the men expected from Moreau, cut Melas’ lines of communication, overcome the Austrian detachments guarding that line, and catch the old hero’s army in disarray as it hurried back from the Riviera and Genoa toward Milan. Then he would destroy it or be destroyed; best of all, he would surround it, prevent its retreat, and compel its general—all courtesies observed—to surrender all north Italy. The Cisalpine Republic, pride of Napoleon’s first campaigns, would be restored to its French allegiance.
One day (March 17, 1800), Napoleon bade Bourrienne unfold upon the floor a large map of Italy. “He lay down upon it, and desired me to do likewise.” Upon certain points he inserted pins with red heads, upon other points pins tinged black. After moving the pins around into various combinations, he asked his secretary, “Where do you think I shall beat Melas? … Here in the plains of the [River] Scrivia,” and he pointed to San Giuliano.37 He knew that he was staking everything—all his victories military and political—upon one battle; but his pride sustained him. “Four years ago,” he reminded Bourrienne, “did I not with a feeble army drive before me hordes of Sardinians and Austrians and scour the face of Italy? We shall do so again. The sun which now shines upon us is the same that shone at Arcole and Lodi. I rely on Masséna. I hope he will hold out in Genoa. But should famine compel him to surrender, I will retake Genoa and the plains of the Scrivia. With what pleasure shall I then return to my dear France, ma belle France!”38
He added preparation to foresight, and did not disdain attention to trivial details. He planned the route and the conveyances: Dijon to Geneva; by boat over the lake to Villeneuve; by horse, mule, carriage, charabanc, or on foot to Martigny; thence to St.-Pierre at the base of the pass; then over the mountain on thirty miles of road sometimes only three feet wide, often along precipices usually covered with snow, and subject at any moment to avalanches of snow, earth, or rock; then into the Valle d’Aosta. At every stage of this route Napoleon arranged to have food, clothing, and transport waiting for the men; at several points carpenters, saddlers, and other workmen were to be made available for repair work; and twice en route every soldier was examined to see if he was properly equipped. To the monks who lived in the hospice at the summit he sent money for bread, cheese, and wine with which to revive the soldiers. Despite all these preparations many shortages turned up; but those young conscripts seem to have borne them with a patience inspired by the silent courage of the veterans.
Napoleon left Paris on May 6, 1800. He had hardly disappeared when royalists, Jacobins, and Bonapartes began to replace him in case he should not return triumphant. Sieyès and others discussed the qualifications of Carnot, Lafayette, and Moreau as a new First Consul; and Napoleon’s brothers Joseph and Lucien offered themselves as heirs apparent to the throne. Georges Cadoudal returned from England (June 3) to stir revolt among the Chouans.
The actual encounter with the St. Bernard Pass began on May 14. “We all proceeded along the goat paths, man and horse one by one,” Bourrienne recalled. “The artillery was dismounted, and the guns, put into excavated tree trunks, were drawn by ropes…. When we reached the summit … we seated ourselves on the snow and slid down.”39 Cavalrymen dismounted, for a slip of their inexperienced horses might have carried man and beast to death. On each day another division completed the passage; by May 20 the transit was accomplished, and the Army of the Reserve was safe in Italy.
Napoleon remained at Martigny—a pleasant halfway station between Lake Geneva and the pass—till he saw the last parcel of supplies dispatched. Then he rode to the base and the top; there he stopped to thank the monks for refreshing his troops; then he slid down the slope on his greatcoat, and joined his army at Aosta on May 21. Lannes had already overcome the Austrian detachments met on the road. On June 2 Napoleon entered Milan a second time as victor over its Austrian garrison; the Italian population welcomed him as before; the Cisalpine Republic was joyously restored. Having been converted from the Mohammedan religion, the conqueror called a convocation of the Milanese hierarchy, assured them of his fidelity to the Church, and told them that on his return to Paris he would make peace between France and the Church. Having so protected his rear, he was free to form in detail the strategy of his campaign.
Both commanders violated a prime principle of strategy—not to divide their available forces beyond possibility of quick reunion. Baron von Melas, stationed with his main army at Alessandria (between Milan and Genoa), left garrisons at Genoa, Savona, Gavi, Acqui, Turin, Tortona, and other points of possible French attack. His rear guard, moving back from Nice to join him, was harassed by 20,000 Frenchmen under Suchet and Masséna—who had escaped from Genoa. Of the 70,000 Austrians who had crossed the Apennines from Lombardy into Liguria, only 40,000 were now available to Melas for meeting Napoleon. Part of these he sent to recapture Piacenza as an indispensable avenue of escape to Mantua if his main army should be defeated. Napoleon also divided his forces perilously: 32,000 he left at Stradella to guard Piacenza; 9,000 at Tessino, 3,000 at Milan, 10,000 along the course of the Po and the Adda. He sacrificed the union of his army to the desire to close all roads of escape for Melas’ men.
His generals cooperated in saving this policy of impasse from leaving Napoleon unprepared for the main battle. On June 9 Lannes led 8,000 men out from Stradella, and encountered 18,000 Austrians making for Piacenza. In a costly engagement at Casteggio the French were beaten back, though Lannes, covered with blood, still fought in the van; but a fresh force of 6,000 French arrived in time to turn the defeat into a victory near Montebello. Two days later Napoleon was gladdened by the arrival, from Egypt, of one of his most beloved generals, Louis Desaix, “who perhaps equaled Moreau, Masséna, Kléber, and Lannes in military talents, but surpassed them all in the rare perfection of his character.”40 On June 13 Napoleon sent him south to Novi with 5,000 men, to check on a rumor that Melas and his men were escaping to Genoa, where a British fleet could have given them escape, or reinforcement with food and matériel. So Napoleon’s main army was still further diminished when, on June 14, the crucial battle came.
It was Melas who chose the spot. Near Marengo, a village on the Alessandria-Piacenza road, he observed an immense plain on which he could bring into united action the 35,000 men still available to him, and their two hundred pieces of artillery. However, when Napoleon reached this plain (June 13), he found no evidence that Melas was planning to venture out of Alessandria. He left at Marengo two divisions under General Victor, and one under Lannes, with Murat’s cavalry and only twenty-four cannon. He himself turned with his Consular Guard toward Voghera, where he had arranged to meet his staff officers from his scattered armies. When he came to the Scrivia he found it so swollen by spring floods that he postponed his passage, and slept at Torre di Garofolo. It was a lucky delay; if he had gone on to Voghera he might never have reached Marengo in time to give the order that saved the day.
Early on June 14 Melas ordered his army to advance upon Marengo plain, and to fight its way through to Piacenza. Thirty thousand men surprised the 20,000 of Victor, Lannes, and Moreau; the French, despite their usual heroism, fell back before a decimating artillery barrage. Napoleon, awakened at Garofolo by the sound of distant cannon, sent a courier to call Desaix back from Novi; he himself rushed to Marengo. There the 800 grenadiers of his Guard plunged into the battle, but could not stop the Austrians; the French continued their retreat to San Giuliano. Melas, anxious to reassure the Emperor, sent a message to Vienna announcing victory. The same report was spread about Paris, to the consternation of the populace and the joy of the royalists.
They reckoned without Desaix. He too, on the road to Novi, heard the rumble of cannon. He turned back his 5,000 men at once, followed the sound, marched rapidly, reached San Giuliano by 3 P.M., and found his brother generals advising Napoleon to further retreat. Desaix protested; they told him, “The battle is lost”; he replied: “Yes, the battle is lost, but it is only three o’clock; there is time to win another.”41 They yielded; Napoleon organized a new line of attack, and rode among the troops to restore their spirit. Desaix led the action, exposed himself, was shot and fell from his horse; dying, he bade his next in command, “Conceal my death; it might dishearten the troops”;42 on the contrary, having learned of it, they rushed ahead, shouting that they would avenge their leader. Even so, they encountered almost immovable resistance. Seeing this, Napoleon sent word to Kellermann to go to the rescue with the full force of his cavalry. Kellermann and his men fell upon the flank of the Austrians with a wild fury that cut it in two; 2,000 of them surrendered; General von Zach, commanding in place of the absent Melas, was taken prisoner, and delivered his sword to Napoleon. Melas, summoned from Alessandria, came too late to affect the result; he returned to his headquarters brokenhearted.
Napoleon could not quite rejoice. He bore as a deep personal loss the death of the devoted Desaix; and many other officers were among the 6,000 Frenchmen who lay dead on Marengo plain. It was no comfort that 8,000 Austrians had died there on that day; these were a smaller percentage of the Austrians engaged than were the dead among the French.*
On June 15 Baron von Melas, seeing that the remnants of his armies were in no condition to renew the battle, asked Napoleon for truce terms. These were severe: the Austrians were to evacuate all Liguria and Piedmont, and all Lombardy west of the Mincio and Mantua; they were to turn over to the French all the fortresses in the surrendered regions; the Austrian troops were to be allowed to leave with all the honors of war, but only in proportion as the fortresses were placed in French hands. Melas bowed to these conditions, which saw all his joyous conquests annulled in one day, and sent to the Austrian Emperor a petition to confirm the agreement. On June 16 Napoleon sent his own message to Francis II, asking for a peace on all fronts. Some paragraphs of that letter could have come from a pacifist:
There has been war between us. Thousands of Austrians and Frenchmen are no more…. Thousands of bereaved families are praying that fathers, husbands, and sons may return! … The evil is irremediable; may it at least teach us to avoid anything that might prolong hostilities! The prospect so affects my heart that I refuse to accept the failures of my previous advances, and take it upon myself to write again to Your Majesy, to entreat you to put an end to the misfortunes of Europe.
On the battlefield of Marengo, surrounded by sufferers, and in the midst of 15,000 dead bodies, I implore Your Majesty to hear the cry of humanity, and not to allow the offspring of two brave and powerful nations to slaughter one another for the sake of interests of which they know nothing….
The recent campaign is sufficient proof that it is not France which threatens the balance of power. Every day shows that it is England—England, who has so monopolized world commerce and the empire of the seas that she can withstand singlehanded the united fleets of Russia, Sweden, Denmark, France, Spain, and Holland….
The proposals that I think it right to make to Your Majesty are these:
(1) That the armistice be extended to all armies.
(2) That negotiators be sent by both sides, either secretly or publicly, as Your Majesty prefers, to some place between the Mincio and the Chiese, to agree upon means of guaranteeing the lesser powers, and to elucidate those articles of the Treaty of Campoformio which experience has shown to be ambiguous….43
The Emperor was not visibly impressed. Obviously the young conqueror wished to consolidate his gains, but there was no indication that respect for human life had ever interfered with his campaigns. Probably neither the Consul nor the Emperor stopped to ask what either the French or the Austrians were doing in Italy. Baron von Thugut settled the matter by signing (June 20, 1800) a treaty by which England granted Austria a new subsidy on her pledge to sign no separate peace.44
Meanwhile Napoleon, playing all his cards, attended (July 18) a solemn Te Deum Mass at which the Milanese hierarchy expressed thanks to God for the expulsion of the Austrians. The laity celebrated the victory with parades in honor of the victor. “Bourrienne,” he asked his secretary, “do you hear the acclamations still resounding? That noise is as sweet to me as the sound of Josephine’s voice. How happy and proud I am to be loved by such a people!”45 He was still an Italian, loving the language, the passion and beauty, the garlanded orchards, the indulgent religion, the melodious ritual and transcendent arias. But he was moved, too, by the plaudits of the crowds that gathered before the Tuileries on July 3, the morning after his nocturnal return to Paris. The people of France began to think of him as God’s favorite; they drank eagerly from their cup of glory.
And Louis XVIII, heir to centuries of strife between Bourbon France and Hapsburg Austria, could hardly be indifferent to this new victory over old foes. Perhaps the young conqueror could still be persuaded to be a kingmaker, not a king. So, at an unknown date in the summer of 1800, he addressed Napoleon again:
You must have long since been convinced, General, that you possess my esteem. If you doubt my gratitude, fix your reward, and mark out the fortune of your friends. As to my principles, I am a Frenchman, merciful by character, and also by the dictates of reason.
No, the victor of Lodi, Castiglione, and Arcole, the conqueror of Italy and Egypt, cannot prefer vain celebrity to real glory. But you are losing precious time. We may ensure the glory of France. I say we, because I require the aid of Bonaparte, and he can do nothing without me.
General, Europe observes you. Glory awaits you, and I am impatient to restore peace to my people.
To this, after much delay, Napoleon replied, on September 7:
I have received your letter. I thank you for your kind remarks about myself. You must give up any hope of returning to France; you would have to return over a hundred thousand dead bodies. Sacrifice your private interests to the peace and happiness of France…. History will not forget. I am not untouched by the misfortunes of your family…. I will gladly do what I can to render your retirement pleasant and undisturbed.47
Louis’ letter had come from his temporary refuge in Russia; perhaps he was there when Czar Paul I, in July, 1800, received from Napoleon a present that almost turned the course of history. During the war of 1799 some six thousand Russians had been captured by the French. Napoleon offered them to England and Austria (who had been Russia’s ally) in exchange for French prisoners; the offer was refused.48 Since France could make no legitimate use of these men, and found it expensive to maintain them, Napoleon ordered them all to be armed, clothed in new uniforms, and sent to the Czar without asking anything in return.49 Paul responded with professions of friendship with France, and by forming (December 18, 1800) the Second League of Armed Neutrality against England. On March 23, 1801, Paul was assassinated, and the Powers returned to the status quo ante donum.
Meanwhile the Austrian Emperor rejected the Alessandria armistice, and sent 80,000 men under General von Bellegarde to hold the line along the Mincio. The French replied by driving the Austrians from Tuscany, and by attacking the Austrians in Bavaria. On December 3, 1800, Moreau’s 60,000 men fought 65,000 Austrians at Hohenlinden (near Munich), and defeated them so decisively—taking 25,000 prisoners—that the Austrian government, seeing Vienna at Moreau’s mercy, signed a general armistice (December 25, 1800), and agreed to negotiate with the French government a separate peace. On his return to Paris Moreau received an acclaim that may have stirred some conflicting emotions in Napoleon, for Moreau was the favorite candidate of both the royalists and the Jacobins to replace Napoleon as head of the state.
Plots against Bonaparte’s life continued undiscourageably. Early in 1800 a snuffbox, closely resembling the one that the First Consul habitually used, was found on his desk at Malmaison; it contained poison amid the snuff.50 On September 14 and October 10 several Jacobins were arrested, charged with conspiring to kill Napoleon. On December 24 three Chouans, sent from Brittany by Georges Cadoudal, directed an “infernal machine,” loaded with explosives, against a group carrying the Consul and his family to the opera. Twenty-two persons were killed, fifty-six were wounded—none of Napoleon’s entourage. He went on to the opera with apparent calm; but on returning to the Tuileries he ordered a thorough investigation, the execution of the imprisoned Jacobins, and the internment or deportation of 130 more who were arrested on suspicion. Fouché, who believed that royalists, not Jacobins, were the criminals, apprehended a hundred of them, and had two of these guillotined (April 1, 1801). Napoleon had overreacted and had overridden the law, but he felt that he was fighting a war, and that he had to put some terror into the hearts of men who themselves scorned law. He was increasingly hostile to the Jacobins and lenient with royalists.
On October 20, 1800, he proposed to his aides to erase from the list of émigrés the names of those who would be allowed to return to France, and would receive such of their confiscated goods as had not been sold by the state or appropriated for governmental use. There were now approximately 100,000 emigrés, and many of them had asked for permission to come back. Over the protests of worried purchasers of confiscated property, Napoleon had 49,000 names “erased”; i.e., 49,000 of the émigrés were permitted to return. Further “erasures” were to be made from time to time, in the hope that this would reduce external hostility to France, and promote the general pacification of Europe. The royalists cheered; the Jacobins mourned.
The principal step in this program of peace was the meeting of the French and Austrian negotiators at Lunéville (near Nancy). Napoleon sent not Talleyrand but his own brother Joseph to argue the French case there; and Joseph accomplished his mission well. He was supported at each step by the inexorable Consul, who expanded his demands with every Austrian delay. Finally, seeing that the armies of France were absorbing nearly all Italy, and were knocking at the gates of Vienna, the Austrians yielded, and signed what they understandably called the “terrible” Peace of Lunéville (February 9, 1801). Austria recognized as French territory Belgium, Luxembourg, and the terrain along the left bank of the Rhine from the North Sea to Basel; she confirmed the Treaty of Campoformio; she accepted the suzerainty of France over Italy between the Alps and Naples and between the Adige and Nice, and the protectorate of France over the Batavian Republic (Holland) and the Helvetic Republic (Switzerland). “Austria is done for,” wrote the Prussian minister Haugwitz; “it now rests with France alone to establish peace in Europe.”51 The Paris Bourse rose twenty points in a day, and Paris workers, preferring victories to votes, celebrated with cries of “Vive Bonaparte!” the achievements of Napoleon in diplomacy as well as war. Perhaps, however, Lunéville was war rather than diplomacy; it was the triumph of pride over prudence, for in it lay the seeds of many wars, ending in Waterloo.
Other negotiations brought more power. A pact with Spain (October 1,1800) brought Louisiana to France. The Treaty of Florence (March 18,1801) with the King of Naples gave France the isle of Elba and the possessions of Naples in central Italy, and closed Neapolitan ports to British and Turkish trade. The old French claim to St.-Domingue—the western section of Hispaniola—brought Napoleon into conflict with a man who almost rivaled him in force of character. François-Dominique Toussaint—self-named L’Ouverture—had been born a Negro slave in 1743. At the supposedly cautious age of forty-eight he led the slaves of St.-Domingue in a successful revolt, and took control first of the French, then of the Spanish, section of the island. He governed ably, but found it difficult to restore productive order among the liberated Negroes, who preferred the leisurely ways that seemed dictated by the heat. Toussaint allowed many former owners to return to their plantations and establish a work discipline verging on slavery. In theory he acknowledged French sovereignty over St.-Domingue; actually, however, he assumed the title of governor general for life, with the right to name his successor—very much as Napoleon was soon to do in France. In 1801 the First Consul sent twenty thousand troops under General Charles Leclerc to reclaim French authority in St.-Domingue. Toussaint fought valiantly, was overcome, and died in jail in France (1803). In 1803 the entire island fell to the British.
The British fleet, supported by the staying power of British commerce, industry, and character, remained, through all but two years of Napoleon’s rule, the prime obstacle to his success. Protected by the Channel from the direct ravages of war, enriched by her unrivaled maritime trade, her colonial acquisitions and revenues, and her priority in the Industrial Revolution, England could afford to finance the armies of her Continental allies in repeated attempts to overthrow Napoleon. The merchants and manufacturers agreed with George III, the Tories, the émigrés, and Edmund Burke that the restoration of the Bourbons to the throne of France was the best means of recapturing the comfortable stability of the Old Regime. Nevertheless a strong minority in England, led by Charles James Fox, liberal Whigs, radical workingmen, and eloquent men of letters, objected that continued war would spread poverty and incite revolution, that Napoleon was now a fait accompli, and that the time had come for finding a modus vivendi with that invinciblecondottiere.
Moreover, they argued, Britain’s behavior as mistress of the seas was making enemies for her and friends for France. British admirals claimed that their blockade of France required that British crews should have the right to board and search neutral vessels and confiscate goods bound for France. Resenting this practice as an infringement of their sovereignty, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, and Prussia formed (December, 1800) the Second League of Armed Neutrality, and proposed to resist any further British intrusion upon their ships. As the warmth of friction rose, the Danes seized Hamburg (which had become Britain’s chief door to the markets of Central Europe), and the Prussians took George Ill’s Hanover. Half the Continent, lately united against France, was now hostile to England. As France already controlled the mouths and left bank of the Rhine, English goods were largely kept from the markets of France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Denmark, the Baltic States, and Russia. Italy was closing its ports to British trade; Spain was clamoring for Gibraltar, Napoleon was building an army and fleet for the invasion of England.
England fought back, and profited from some turns of fortune’s wheel. A British fleet destroyed a Danish fleet in the harbor of Copenhagen (April 2, 1801). Czar Paul I was succeeded, and his French policy revoked, by Alexander I, who denounced Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, recognized the British capture of Malta from France, and signed a treaty with England (June 17, 1801); the Second League of Armed Neutrality faded away. Nevertheless economic setbacks in Britain, the swelling French army at Boulogne, and the collapse of Austria despite costly subsidies, inclined England to thoughts of peace. On October 1, 1801, her negotiators signed a preliminary agreement which pledged France to yield Egypt to Turkey, and Britain to turn over Malta, within three months, to the Knights of St. John; France, Holland, and Spain were to recover most of the colonies that had been taken from them; France would remove all her troops from central and southern Italy. After seven weeks of further debate Great Britain and France signed the long-awaited Peace of Amiens (March 27, 1802). When Napoleon’s representative reached London with the ratified documents, a happy crowd harnessed his horses and drew the carriage to the Foreign Office amid shouts of “Vive la République française! Vive Napoléon!”52
The French people were stirred with gratitude to the young man—still only thirty-two—who had so brilliantly brought ten years of war to an end. All Europe had acknowledged his ability as a general; now it saw that same clear mind and steady will shine in diplomacy too. And Amiens was but a beginning; on May 23, 1802, he signed a treaty with Prussia; on the next day, with Bavaria; on October 9, with Turkey; on October 11, with Russia. When November 9 approached—anniversary of the 18th Brumaire—he arranged that it should be celebrated as a Festival of Peace. On that day he proclaimed happily the goal of his labors: “Faithful to its aspirations and its promise, the government has not yielded to lust for hazardous and extraordinary enterprises. Its duty was to restore tranquillity to humanity, and, by means of strong and lasting ties, to draw together that great European family whose mission it is to mold the destinies of the world.”53 Perhaps this was the finest moment in his history.