France History: the Napoleon Age


The period of the regency (1715-23), marked by an enormous financial scandal (the bankruptcy of J. Law, 1720), was also the one in which, among the nobility, the taste for luxury and the love of pleasure reached the apogee. At the same time a new class was emerging, the bourgeoisie of businessmen and robes, whose children and grandchildren would prepare the revolution. In 1723, on the death of the Duke of Orleans, Louis XV personally took over the reins of the government. Cardinal Fleury, former tutor of the king, became his prime minister at the age of 73, managing to readjust the state budget and avoid new clashes with Great Britain. Stanislao Leszczyński, father-in-law of Louis XV (1733-35). Two long wars followed one another: that of the Austrian Succession (1740-48) and that of the Seven Years (1756-63), which almost continuously engaged France. The first, in which Austria and Prussia obtained substantial advantages, had no consequences for France, limiting itself to the Peace of Aachen to confirm the previous European and colonial situation. In this regard, this reflection was attributed to Louis XV: “We do not wage war as merchants, but as kings”. The second, faced by France alongside Austria and therefore with a radical overthrow of the alliances, led France to conclude the Peace of Paris, in which he renounced a large part of the colonial possessions by ceding Canada, several of the Antilles islands, Senegal and almost all of his possessions in India to Great Britain. Louisiana was abandoned to the Spaniards. It fell to Louis XVI, the young successor of Louis XV, to atone for all the mistakes of his predecessor. The economic crisis from which the country was suffering was the main stimulus of the discontent that would have given birth to the French Revolution. In the rural world the symptoms appeared as early as 1780. The Franco-English trade treaty of 1786 damaged the industry, damaged by competition. The fiscal malaise, as old as the monarchy, always lived by expedients, could not fail to provoke, in the end, a regime crisis. Two ministers, Calonne and Loménie de Brienne, saw their reform projects fail before the opposition of the Assembly of Notables and then of the coalition of parliaments. This “aristocratic pre-revolution” unleashed a movement that had to go far beyond it. The country demanded that the States General be summoned, which, meeting on May 5, 1789, became the constituent national assembly. The king, ill advised by his circle, attempted a military coup, Bastille and forced him to move from Versailles to Paris. After this humiliation, Louis XVI suffered much worse, until his death on the gallows (January 21, 1793). The monarchy was abolished by the Convention (21 September 1792), clashes ensued between the Girondins and the Montagnards, while after the death sentence of the king the Convention had to face the coalition organized against the Republic by Great Britain, the royalist insurrection in the Vendée and later the federalist insurrection provoked by the Girondins, proscribed on June 2, 1793. A revolutionary government was established, the Committee of Public Health, the main organ of the government, was founded, through which Robespierre he revealed himself, until 9 Thermidor 1794, the supreme leader of the Revolution.


When Robespierre fell, the Convention put an end to the revolutionary government and a few months later it was dissolved to give way to the Directory (October 27, 1795). Four years later, with the coup d’etat of 18 Brumaire, year VIII, the young general Napoleon Bonaparte, whose military exploits had determined the success of the directorial period, assumed the office of consul of the Republic, on 2 August 1802 he was appointed consul for life and on May 18, 1804, emperor. The successes of the first period had led the country to achieve peace while preserving the conquests (in Italy and Belgium) of the revolutionary period. The rupture (May 17, 1803) of the Peace of Amiens it marked the beginning of a new period of war, which was to last ten years, until the invasion of the country and the abdication of Napoleon (April 6, 1814). With the treaty of May 30, 1814, the borders of France returned to being those of January 1792. After the parenthesis of the Napoleonic Hundred Days, the second Restoration, personified by Louis XVIII, was initially oriented (apart from the episodes of white terror) towards moderate conservatism. Louis XVIII granted a constitutional charter (albeit presented as a sovereign concession) and retained part of the conquests of the revolutionary and Napoleonic period. The reaction movement was accentuated when Charles X ascended the throne (1824), who had previously shown his perfect agreement with the ultras). The so-called billion law, which awarded emigrants compensation for assets confiscated by the Revolution, the favors granted to the Jesuits, the attempt to suppress the freedom of the press, the ordinances of 25 July 1830, issued following the re-election of 221 opponents to the Chamber of deputies, ended up exasperating public opinion and Charles was overthrown. A vague hope of seeing the republican regime reborn immediately vanished. The throne passed to Louis Philippe, son of the Duke of Orleans, who ascended the throne with the title of “king of the French” and swore a much more liberal Constitution than the Bourbon charter. A period of settlement followed for the country characterized in foreign policy by the agreement and collaboration with Great Britain as well as by the principle of non-intervention which, broadly interpreted, had given so many useless hopes to European liberals (an exception was the case of Belgium, established in 1830 as an independent state). The development of the country itself, favored by the policy of peace and by the favor accorded to the bourgeoisie, however, posed new problems: the increase in industries had created a workers’ proletariat, which with a large part of the bourgeoisie was excluded from the possibility of actively participating in political life. (the suffrage was granted only to the wealthiest). The king, Thiers and in agreement with Minister Guizot, rejected any reform (in particular the expansion of the electoral base) trying to create a diversion with the colonial expansion policy (conquest of Algeria). The “banquet campaign” organized by the representatives of various strata of the liberal bourgeoisie, to which the newly entered democratic elements joined, hastened the epilogue.

France History - the Napoleon Age