“At Amiens,” said Napoleon at St. Helena, “I believed in all good faith that my own fate, and that of France, were settled. I was going to devote myself entirely to the administration of the country; and I believe that I should have done wonders.”54 This sounds like an attempt to remove the stains of a dozen campaigns; but the day after the Peace of Amiens was signed, Girolamo Lucchesini, Prussian ambassador at Paris, reported to his King that Napoleon was resolved “to turn to the benefit of agriculture, industry, commerce, and the arts all those pecuniary resources which war at once absorbs and besmirches.” Napoleon, Lucchesini continued, talked with ardor about “canals to be completed and opened, roads to be made or repaired, harbors to be dredged, towns to be embellished, places of worship and religious establishments to be endowed, public instruction … to be provided for.”55 Actually a great deal of progress was made along these lines before war again seized priority over construction (May 16, 1803). Taxes were reasonable, were collected with a minimum of chicanery and cruelty, and were poured out in government contracts that helped to keep industry flourishing and labor employed. Commerce expanded rapidly after England lifted the blockade. Religion rejoiced over Napoleon’s Concordat with the Papacy; the Institute began to establish a nationwide system of education; the law was codified and enforced; administration reached an excellence that verged on honesty.

Paris again, as under Louis XIV, became the tourist capital of Europe. Hundreds of Englishmen, forgetting the riotous cartoons that had lampooned Napoleon in the British press, braved rough roads and the rough Channel to get a glimpse of the miniature colossus who had defied and pacified the established Powers. Several members of Parliament were introduced to him; not least—in August, 1802—the past and future Prime Minister, Charles James Fox, who had long labored for peace between the English and the French. Foreigners were astonished at the prosperity that had come so quickly after Napoleon’s rise to rule. The Duc de Broglie described the years 1800–03 as “the best and noblest pages in the annals of France.”56

1. The Code Napoléon: 1801–04

“My real glory,” Napoleon reminisced, “is not the forty battles I won—for my defeat at Waterloo will destroy the memory of those victories … What nothing will destroy, what will live forever, is my Civil Code.”57 “Forever” is an unphilosophical word; but the Code was his greatest achievement.

The inexhaustible ingenuity of deviltry periodically compels a society to improve and reformulate its ways of protecting itself from violence, robbery, and deceit. Justinian had tried this in A.D. 528; but the Corpus Iuris Civilis drawn up by his jurists was a coordinated collection of existing laws rather than a new structure of law for a changing and uprooted society. The problem was multiplied for France by the legal individuality of its provinces, so that a law in one region could not be assumed to hold sway in the next. Merlin of Douai and Cambacérès had presented the outlines of a new and unified code to the Convention in 1795, but the Revolution had no time to do this work; faced with a bewildering chaos, it added to it with a thousand hasty decrees, which it left for some lucid interval to mold into consistency.

Napoleon’s peace settlements with Austria and Britain gave him this opportunity, however brief. On August 12, 1800, the three Consuls had commissioned François Tronchet, Jean Portalis, Félix Bigot de Préameneu and Jacques de Maleville to draw up a fresh plan for a concordant national code of civil law. The preliminary draft which they offered on January 1, 1801, was sent by Bonaparte to the leaders of the law courts for their criticisms and comments; these were submitted to Napoleon three months later, and were then reviewed by the legislative committee of the Council of State, led by Portalis and Antoine Thibaudeau. Having run all these gauntlets, the Code was taken up, title by title, by the whole Council through eighty-seven sittings.

Napoleon presided at thirty-five of these. He disclaimed any knowledge of law, but he profited from the acumen and legal learning of his fellow Consul Cambacérès. He joined in the discussions with a modesty that endeared him to the Council, and that would have surprised his later years. They were inspired by his ardor and determination, and readily accorded with his prolongation of their sessions from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. They were not enthusiastic when he convened them again in the evening. Once, at such a nocturnal meeting, some members drowsed with fatigue. Napoleon called them to consciousness with an amiable behest: “Come, gentlemen, we have not yet earned our stipends.”58 In the judgment of Vandal the Code could never have been completed had it not been for Napoleon’s persistent urging and friendly encouragement.59

The labors of the jurists and the Council were almost aborted when the Code was subjected to debate in the Tribunate. This assembly, still warm with the Revolution, condemned the Code as a betrayal of that explosionas a return to the tyrannical rule of the husband over his wife and of the father over his children, and as the enthronement of the bourgeoisie over the French economy. These charges were largely justified. The Code accepted and applied the basic principles of the Revolution: freedom of speech, worship, and enterprise, and equality of all before the law; the right of all to public trial by jury; the end of feudal dues and ecclesiastical tithes; and the validity of purchases made, from the state, of confiscated church or seignorial property. But—following Roman law—the Code accepted the family as the unit and bastion of moral discipline and social order, and gave it a basis in power by reviving the patria potestas of ancient regimes: the father was awarded full control over his wife’s property, and full authority over his children until they came of age; he could have them imprisoned on his word alone; he could prevent the marriage of a son under twenty-six or a daughter under twenty-one. The Code violated the principle of equality before the law by ruling that in disputes about wages the word of the employer, other things equal, should be taken as against that of the employee. The Revolution’s ban on workingmen’s associations (except for purely social purposes) was renewed on April 12, 1803; and after December 1 of that year every laborer was required to carry a workbook recording his past career. The Code—Napoleon agreeing—restored slavery in the French colonies.60

The Code represented the usual historical reaction from a permissive society toward tightened authority and control in the family and the state. The leading authors of the legislation were men of years, alarmed by the excesses of the Revolution—its reckless rejection of tradition, its easing of divorce, its loosening of family bonds, its allowance of moral laxity and political riot among women, its communal encouragement of proletarian dictatorships, its connivance at September Massacres and Tribunal terrors; they were resolved to halt what seemed to them the disruption of society and government; and in these matters Napoleon, anxious for a steady France under his hand, gave these feelings his resolute support. The Council of State agreed with him that there should be a limit and early cloture on public debate over the 2,281 articles of the Civil Code; the Tribunate and the Legislature fell in line; and on March 21, 1804, the Code—officially the Code Civil des Français, popularly the Code Napoléon—became the law of France.

2. The Concordat of 1801

Even so, the young Lycurgus was not satisfied. He knew from his own intense nature how little the soul of man is prone to law; he had seen in Italy and Egypt how close man remains, in his desires, to his animal and hunting past, violent and free; it was one of the marvels of history that these living explosives had been kept from shattering the social frame. Was it the policemen who had tamed them? It could not be, for policemen were few and far between, and a potential anarchist was hidden in every second citizen. What, then, had restrained them?

Napoleon, himself a skeptic, concluded that social order rested ultimately on the human animal’s natural and carefully cultivated fear of supernatural powers. He came to look upon the Catholic Church as the most effective instrument ever devised for the control of men and women, for their grumbling or silent habituation to economic, social, and sexual inequality, and for their public obedience to divine commandments uncongenial to human flesh. If there could not be a policeman at every corner, there could be gods, all the more awesome because unseen, and multipliable at will and need into mystic beings, hortatory or minatory, ranged through grades of divinity and power from the desert anchorite to the ultimate commander, preserver and destroyer of stars and men. What a sublime conception!—what an incomparable organization for its dissemination and operation!—what a priceless support for teachers, husbands, parents, hierarchs, and kings! Napoleon concluded that the chaos and violence of the Revolution had been due, above all, to its repudiation of the Church. He resolved to restore the association of Church and state as soon as he could take the fangs out of horrified Jacobins and mortified philosophers.

Religion in the France of 1800 was in a confused flux not unrelated to the moral chaos left by the Revolution. A large minority of the people in the provinces—probably a majority in Paris—had become indifferent to the appeals of priests.61 Thousands of Frenchmen, from peasants to millionaires, had bought from the state the property confiscated from the Church; these purchasers were excommunicated, and looked with no friendly eye upon those who denounced them as receivers of stolen goods. There were then eight thousand active priests in France; two thousand of these were constitutionels, who had sworn fealty to the confiscatory Constitution of 1791; the other six thousand were nonjurors who rejected the Revolution, and labored devoutly to annul it; and they were making progress. The nonemigrant nobles, and many of the bourgeoisie, were working to have religion restored as a bulwark to property and social order; many of these—some of them scions of the Revolution—were sending their children to schools managed ortaught by priests and nuns who (they believed) knew better than ungowned laic teachers how to make respectful sons and modest daughters.62 Religion was becoming fashionable in “society” and literature; soon (1802) Chateaubriand’s massive eulogy, Le Génie du christianisme, was to become the talk of the time.

Seeking every aid to his rootless rule, Napoleon decided to win the spiritual and structural support of the Catholic Church. Such a move would at last quiet the rebellious Vendée, please the provinces, add six thousand priests to his spiritual gendarmerie; it would enlist the moral and spiritual influence of the Pope; it would take from Louis XVIII a major argument for a Bourbon restoration; and it would reduce the hostility—to France and Napoleon —of Catholic Belgium, Bavaria, Austria, Italy, and Spain. “So, as soon as I had power, I … reestablished religion. I made it the groundwork and foundation upon which I built. I considered it as the support of sound principles and good morality.”63

This apertura a destra was resisted by the agnostics in Paris and the cardinals in Rome. Many ecclesiastics were reluctant to sanction any agreement that would tolerate divorce, or would abandon the claims of the French Church to its confiscated property. Many Jacobins protested that to recognize Catholicism as the national religion, protected and paid by the government, would be to surrender what they considered one of the major achievements of the late Revolution—the separation of state and Church. Napoleon frightened the cardinals by implying that if they rejected his proposals he might take a leaf from Henry VIII of England and completely divorce the French Church from Rome. He tried to quiet the skeptics by explaining that he would make the Church an instrument of the government in maintaining internal peace; but they feared that his proposal would become another step in the retreat from revolution to monarchy. He never forgave Lalande (the astronomer) “for having wished” (Bourrienne reports) “to include him in a dictionary of atheists precisely at the moment when he was opening negotiations with the court of Rome.”64

These began at Paris November 6, 1800, and continued through eight months of maneuvering. The cardinals were experienced diplomats, but Napoleon had learned of the Pope’s eagerness for an agreement, and held out for every condition favorable to his own power over the reconciled Church. Pius VII made one concession after another because the plan offered to end a decade of disaster for the Church in France; it would let him depose many bishops who had flouted the papal authority; it would enable him, with the help of French intervention, to get rid of the Neapolitan troops that had occupied his capital; and it would restore to the Papacy the “Legations” (Ferrara, Bologna, and Ravenna—usually ruled by papal legates) which had been ceded to France in 1797. —Finally, after a session that lasted till 2 A.M., the representatives of the Roman Church and the French state signed (July 16, 1801) the Concordat that was to govern their relations for a century. Napoleon ratified it in September, Pius VII in December. Napoleon, however, signed with the proviso that he might later make some “regulations providing against the more serious inconveniences that might arise from a literal execution of the Concordat.”65

The historic document pledged the French government to recognize—and finance—Catholicism as the religion of the Consuls and the majority of the French people, but it did not make Catholicism the state religion, and it affirmed full freedom of worship for all the French, including Protestants and Jews. The Church withdrew its claims to confiscated ecclesiastical property, but the state agreed in recompense to pay the bishops an annual salary of fifteen thousand francs, and to pay lesser stipends to parish priests. The bishops, as under Louis XIV, were to be nominated by the government, and they were to swear fealty to the state; but they were not to function until approved by the pope. All “constitutional” bishops were to resign their sees; all orthodox bishops were restored, and the churches were officially (as they had been in fact) opened to orthodox worship. After much debate Napoleon yielded a precious point to the Church—the right to accept bequests.

To appease the more amiable of his skeptical critics, Napoleon unilaterally added to the Concordat 121 “Articles Organiques,” to protect the preeminence of the state over the Church in France. No papal bull, brief, or legate, no decree of a general council or national synod, was to enter France without explicit permission from the government. Civil marriage was to be a legal prerequisite to a religious marriage. All students for the Catholic priesthood were to be taught Bossuet’s “Gallican Articles” of 1682, which affirmed the legal independence of the French Catholic Church from “ultramontane” (over-the-mountains) rule.

So modified, the Concordat was presented to the Council of State, the Tribunate, and the Legislature on April 8, 1802. Not yet in terror of Napoleon, they openly and vigorously opposed it as a betrayal of the Enlightenment and the Revolution (it was essentially consistent with the Constitution of 1791). In the Tribunate the philosophe Count Volney engaged in spirited debate with the First Consul on the Concordat; and the Legislature elected to its presidency Charles-François Dupuis, author of a strongly anticlerical treatise, L’Origine de tous les cultes (1794). Napoleon withdrew the Concordat from discussion by the assemblies, and bided his time.

At the next nomination of members to the Tribunate and the Legislature many of the critics failed of reappointment by the Senate. Meanwhile Napoleon spread among the public the story and contents of the Concordat; as he had expected, the people cried out for its ratification. On March 25, 1802, Napoleon rose to overwhelming popularity by signing peace with England. So fortified, he again submitted the Concordat to the assemblies. The Tribunate passed it with only seven dissentient votes; the Legislature voted 228 for it, 21 against. On April 18 it became law; and on Easter Sunday, in a solemn ceremony in Notre-Dame, both the Peace of Amiens and the Concordat were proclaimed amid the groans of the revolutionists, the laughter of the military, and the joy of the people. A caricature ran the rounds of the barracks showing Napoleon drowning in a font of holy water; and an epigram said: “To be King of Egypt he believes in the Koran; to be King of France he believes the Gospel.”

Napoleon consoled himself with the conviction that he had expressed the will of the great majority of Frenchmen, and that he had strengthened his power at the base, though he had weakened it at the top. He had restored the clergy, but since he appointed the bishops, and salaried them and some three thousand priests, he calculated that he could hold them with an economic leash; the Church, he thought, would be one of his instruments, singing his glory and supporting his policies. A little later he saw to it that a new catechism should teach French children that “to honor the Emperor is to honor God Himself,” and that “if they should fail in their duties to the Emperor … they would be resisting the order established by God, … and would make themselves deserving of eternal damnation.”66 He expressed his gratitude to the clergy by attending Mass dutifully, but as briefly as possible.

He had, in these victorious moments, the conviction that he had won the whole Catholic world to his side. Actually the French clergy, never forgetting the loss of their lands, and resenting their salaried bondage to the state, looked more and more to the Pope for support against the ruler whom they secretly considered to be an infidel. “Gallican” by law, they became ultramontane in feeling; when the Emperor dispossessed Pius VII of lands that the Papacy had held for a thousand years—still more when the Pope was evicted from Rome and imprisoned in Savona and Fontainebleau—the clergy and the populace of France rose in defense of their Pontiff and their creed; and Napoleon found, too late, that the power of the myth and the word was greater than the might of the law and the sword.

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