Joseph Bonaparte - John S. C. Abbott

Joseph the Peace-Maker

Joseph, after a short tarry at Florence, returned to Paris, where he again met his brother. Napoleon was much disappointed with the result of the embassy to Rome, for he had ardently hoped to cultivate the most friendly relations with that power. Joseph was favored with a long interview with the Directory, by whom he was received with great cordiality. In testimony of their satisfaction, they offered him the embassy to Berlin. He, however, declined the appointment, as he preferred to enter the Council of Five Hundred, to which office he had been nominated by the Electoral College of one of the departments. The Government of France then consisted of an Executive of five Directors, a Senate, called the Council of Ancients, and a House of Representatives, called the Council of Five Hundred.

Preparations were now making for the expedition to Egypt. The command was offered to Napoleon. For some time he hesitated be. fore accepting it. One day he said to his brother Joseph,

"The Directory see me here with uneasiness, notwithstanding all my efforts to throw myself into the shade. Neither the Directory nor I can do any thing to oppose that tendency to a more centralized government, which is so manifestly inevitable. Our dreams of a republic were the illusions of youth. Since the ninth Thermidor, [28th of July, 1794:. This was the date of the overthrow of Robespierre, and of the termination of the Reign of Terror. The enormous atrocities perpetrated under the name of the Republic had excited general distrust of republican institutions] the Republican instinct has grown weaker every day. The efforts of the Bourbons, of foreigners, sustained by the remembrance of the year 1793, had reunited against the Republican system an imposing majority. But for the thirteenth Vendemiaire [5th of October, 1795, when Napoleon quelled the insurgent sections] and the eighteenth Fructidor, [4th of September, 1797. On this day the majority of the French Directory overthrew the minority, who were in favor of monarchical institutions. Sixty-three Deputies were banished for conspiring to introduce monarchy. Both councils renewed their oath of hatred against royalty] this majority would have triumphed a long time ago. The feebleness, the dissensions of the Directory, have done the rest. It is upon me that all eyes are fixed to-day. To-morrow they will be fixed upon some one else. While waiting for that other one to appear, if he is to appear, my interest tells me that no violence should be done to fortune. We must leave to fortune an open field.

"Many persons hope still in the Republic. Perhaps they have reason. I leave for the East, with all means for success. If my country has need of me—if the number of those who think with Talleyrand, Sidyes, and Roederer should increase, should war be resumed, and prove unfriendly to the arms of France, I shall return more sure of the opinion of the nation. If, on the contrary, the war should be favorable to the Republic, if a military statesman like myself should rise and gather around him the wishes of the people, very well, I shall render, perhaps, still greater services to the world in the East than he can do. I shall probably overthrow English domination, and shall arrive more surely at a maritime peace, than by the demonstrations which the Directory makes upon the shores of the Channel.

"The system of France must become that of Europe in order to be durable. We see thus very evidently what is required. I wish what the nation wishes. Truly I do not know what it wishes to-day, but we shall know better hereafter. Till then let us study its wishes and its necessities. I do not wish to usurp any thing. I shall, at all events, find renown in the East; and if that renown can be made serviceable to my country, I will return with it. I will then endeavor to secure the stability of the happiness of France in securing, if it is possible, the prosperity of Europe, and extending our free principles into neighboring states, who may be made friends if they can profit from our misfortunes."

"Such," says Joseph, "were the habitual thoughts of General Bonaparte. His happiness was not to depend merely upon the possession of power. He wished to merit the gratitude of his country and of posterity by his deeds, and to conform his life to duty, sure that it was by such renown alone that his name could pass down to future ages."

Joseph was now a member of the Council of Five Hundred. His brother Lucien, though he was still very young, had also been elected a member of the same body. The brilliant achievements of the young conqueror in the East roused the enthusiasm of France. The conquest of Malta, the landing at Alexandria, the battle of the Pyramids, and the entrance into Cairo, had been reported through France, rousing in every hill and valley shouts of exultation. Napoleon was rapidly gaining that renown which would enable him to control and to guide his countrymen.

The Directory still nominally governed France, though the affairs of the nation, under their inefficiency and misrule, were passing rapidly to ruin. The Directors contemplated with alarm the rising celebrity which Napoleon was acquiring in the East. They made a formidable attack upon him, through a committee, in the Council of Five Hundred. Joseph defended his absent brother with so much eloquence and power, as to confound his accusers, and he obtained a unanimous verdict in his favor.

The state of things in France was now very deplorable. The Allies with vigor had renewed the war. The Austrian armies had again overrun Italy, and were threatening to scale the Alps, and to rush down upon the plains of France. The British fleet, the most powerful military arm the world has ever known, had swept the commerce of France from all seas, had captured many of her colonies, and was bombarding, with shot and shell, every city of the Republic within reach of its broadsides. The five Directors were quarrelling among themselves, some favoring monarchy, others republicanism. The two councils, that of the Ancients and that of the Five Hundred, were at antagonism. Many formidable conspiracies were formed, some for the support of the Allies and the restoration of the Bourbons, others for the reintroduction of the Jacobinical Reign of Terror.

France was in a state of general anarchy. There was no man of sufficient celebrity to gain the confidence of the people, so that he could assume the office of leader, and bring order out of chaos. The once mighty monarchy of France was in the condition of a mob, without a head, careering this way and that way, in tumultuous and inextricable confusion. Joseph sent a special messenger, a Greek by the name of Bourbaki, to Jean d'Acre, to communicate to Napoleon the state of affairs.

Informed of these facts, at this momentous crisis Napoleon, having attained renown which caused every eye in France to be fixed upon him, landed at Frejus, and was borne along, with the acclamations of the multitude, to Paris. Immediately upon the young general's arrival, General Moreau hastened to his humble residence in the Rue de la Victoire, and earnestly said to him,

"Disgusted with the government of the lawyers, who have ruined the Republic, I come to offer you my aid to save the country."

A number of the most distinguished men of France crowded the small parlors of General Bonaparte. As he was speaking, with that genius which ever commanded attention and assent, of the political condition and wants of France, Moreau interrupted him, saying,

"I only desire to unite my efforts with yours to save France. I am convinced that you only have the power. The generals and the officers who have served under me are now in Paris, and are ready to co-operate with you." The little saloon was crowded. General Macdonald was present. Generals Jourdan and Augereau had conversed with Salcetti, and reported that Bernadotte and a majority of the Council of Five Hundred were in favor of the movement.

Joseph co-operated diligently with Napoleon in the measures now set on foot to rescue France from destruction. Joseph dined with Sidyes. At the table Sidyes said to his guests,

"I wish to unite with General Bonaparte, for of all the military men he is the most of a statesman."

On the 18th Brumaire [Nov 9th, 1799] the Directory was overthrown, and, without one drop of blood being shed, a new government was organized, and Napoleon was made consul. The world is divided, and perhaps may forever remain di.vided, in its judgment of this event. Some call Napoleon a usurper. France then called him, and still calls him, the saviour of his country.

In the midst of these tumultuary scenes, when it was uncertain whether Napoleon would gain his ends or fall upon the scaffold, General Augereau came, in great alarm, to St. Cloud, and informed Napoleon that his enemies in the two councils were proposing to vote him an outlaw.

"Very well," said Napoleon calmly, "you and I, General Augereau, have long been acquainted with each other. Say to your friends the cork is drawn, we must now drink the wine."

Joseph Bonaparte, who a little before these events had withdrawn from the Council of Five Hundred, was with his brother constantly through these momentous scenes. Immediately after the establishment of the new government he was appointed a member of the legislative body, and soon after of the Council of State. Joseph had become a very wealthy man, having acquired a large fortune by his marriage. He owned a very beautiful estate at Mortfontaine, but a few leagues from Paris. Both Joseph and his wife were extremely fond of the quiet, domestic pleasures of rural life. Neither of them had any taste for the excitement and the splendors of state. But France, in her condition of peril, assailed by the allied despotism of Europe without, and agitated by conspiracies within, demanded the energies of every patriotic arm. Joseph was thus constrained to sacrifice his inclinations to his sense of duty. He rendered his brother invaluable assistance by the energy and the conciliatory manners with which he endeavored to carry out the plans of the First Consul. Lucien Bonaparte, eight years younger than Joseph, accepted the post of Minister of the Interior.

Before the overthrow of the Directory mob law had reigned triumphant in Paris. Napoleon, as first consul, immediately took up his residence in the palace of the Tuileries. It was proposed to him that he should close the gates of the garden of the Tuileries, that it might no longer be a place of public resort. Joseph strenuously opposed the measure, and it was renounced. The great object Napoleon aimed at was to ascertain the wishes of the people, that he might be the executor of their will. His only power consisted in having cordially with him the masses of the population. He was untiring in his endeavors to ascertain public sentiment, and endeavored to adopt those measures which should, from their manifest wisdom and justice, secure public approbation. In this service Joseph was invaluable to his brother. He gave brilliant entertainments at his chateau at Mortfontaine; and being a man of remarkably amiable spirit and polished manners, he secured the confidence of all parties, and exerted a very powerful influence in healing the wounds of past strife. At these entertainments Joseph made it his constant object to study the wishes and the opinions of the different classes of society.

The Directory had involved the public in serious difficulties with the United States. Napoleon immediately appointed Joseph, with two Associates, to adjust all the differences between the two countries. As both parties were disposed to friendly relations, all difficulties were speedily terminated, and a treaty was signed on the 30th of September, 1800, at Joseph's mansion at Mortfontaine.

England and Austria, with great vigor, still pressed the war upon France, notwithstanding the earnest appeals of Napoleon to the King of England and the Emperor of Austria in behalf of peace. This refusal to sheathe the sword rendered the campaign of Marengo a necessity. Napoleon crossed the Alps, and upon the plains of Marengo almost demolished the armies of Austria. The haughty Emperor was compelled to sue for that peace which he had so scornfully rejected. The commissioners of the two powers met at Luneville. Napoleon, highly gratified at the skill which Joseph had displayed in adjusting the difficulties in the United States, appointed him as the ambassador from France to secure a treaty with Austria. The two brothers were in daily, and sometimes in hourly conference in reference to the questions of vast national importance which this treaty involved. But Joseph was again entirely successful. On the 9th of February, 1801, the peace of Luneville was concluded, to the great satisfaction of the Emperor, and to the great gratification of France. Napoleon says, in the conclusion of a letter which he wrote to Joseph upon this subject, "The nation is satisfied with the treaty, and I am exceedingly pleased with it."

France was now at peace with all the Continent. England alone implacably continued the war. But England was inaccessible to any blows which France could strike without making efforts more gigantic than nation ever attempted before. Napoleon resolved to make these efforts to attain peace. He prepared almost to bridge the Channel with his fleet and gun-boats, that he might pour an army of invasion upon the shores of the belligerent isle, and thus compel the British to sheathe the sword. While these immense preparations were going on, the First Consul devoted his energies to the reconstruction of society in France.

Revolutionary fury had swept all the institutions of the past into chaotic ruin. The good and the bad had been alike demolished. Christianity had been entirely overthrown, her churches destroyed, and her priesthood either slaughtered upon the guillotine, or driven from the realm. France presented the revolting aspect of a mighty nation without morality, without religion, and without a God. The masses of the people, particularly in the rural districts of France, had become disgusted with the reign of vice and misery. They longed to enjoy again the quietude of the Sabbath morning, the tones of the Sabbath bell, the gathering of the, congregations in the churches, and all those ministrations of religion which cheer the joyous hours of the bridal, and which convey solace to the chamber of death. The over-whelming majority of the people of France were Roman Catholics. Among the millions who peopled the extensive realm there were but a few thousands who were Protestants. Napoleon had not the power, even had he wished it, of establishing Protestantism as the national religion.

He therefore, in accordance with his policy of adopting those measures which were in accordance with the wishes of the people, resolved to recognize the Catholic religion as the religion of France, while at the same time he enforced, perfect liberty of conscience for all other religious sects. He also determined that all the high dignitaries of the Church should be appointed by the French Government, and not by the Pope. He deemed it not befitting the dignity of France, or in accordance with her interests, that a foreign potentate, by having the appointment of all the places of ecclesiastical power, should wield so immense an influence over the French people.

But to re-establish the Catholic religion, and to invest it with the supremacy which it had gained over the imaginations of men, it was necessary to bring the system under the paternal jurisdiction of the Pope, who throughout all Europe was the recognized father and head of the Church.

But the Pope was jealous of his power. He would be slow to consent that any officers of the Church should be appointed by any voice which did not emanate from the Vatican. It was also an established decree of the Church that heresy was a crime, meriting the severest punishment, both civil and ecclesiastical. The Pope, therefore, could not consent that anywhere within his spiritual domain freedom of conscience should be tolerated. Under these circumstances, nothing could be more difficult than the accomplishment of the plan which Napoleon had proposed for the promotion of the peace and prosperity of France.

The eyes of the First Consul were immediately turned to his brother Joseph, as the most fitting man in France to conduct negotiations of so much delicacy and importance. He consequently was appointed, in conjunction with M. Cretet, Minister of the Interior, and the abbé Bernier, subsequently Bishop of Orleans as commissioner on the part of France to a conference with the Holy See. The Pope sent as his representatives, the cardinals Consalvi and Spina, and the father Caselli. Here again Joseph was entirely successful, and accomplished his mission by securing all those results which the First Consul so earnestly had desired.

The celebrated Concordat was signed July 15th, 1801, at the residence of Joseph in Paris, in the Rue Faubourg St. Honor. It was two o'clock in the morning when the signatures of the several commissioners were affixed to this important document.

"At the same hour," writes Joseph, "I became the father of a third infant, whose birth was saluted by the congratulations of the plenipotentiaries of the two great powers, and whose prosperity was augured by the envoys of the vicar of Christ. Their prayers have not been granted. A widow at thirty years of age, separated from her father, proscribed, as has been all the rest of her family, there only remains to her the consolation of reflecting that she has not merited her misfortunes."'

Thus did Napoleon re-establish the Christian religion throughout the whole territory of France. In this measure he was strenuously opposed by many of his leading officers, and by the corrupt revolutionary circles of France, yet throughout all the rural districts the restoration of religion was received with boundless enthusiasm.

"The sound of the village bells," writes Alison, "again calling the faithful to the house of God, was hailed by millions as the dove with the olive-branch, which first pronounced peace to the green, undeluged earth. The thoughtful and religious everywhere justly considered the voluntary return of a great nation to the creed of its fathers, from the experienced impossibility of living without its precepts, as the most signal triumph which has occurred since it ascended the imperial throne under the banners of Constantine."

Nearly all the powers upon the Continent of Europe were now at peace with France. England alone still refused to sheathe the sword. But the people  of England began to remonstrate so determinedly against this endless war, which was openly waged to force upon France a detested dynasty, that the English Government was compelled, though with much reluctance, to listen to proposals for peace.

The latter part of the year 1801, the plenipotentiaries of France and England met at Amiens, an intermediate point between London and Paris. England appointed, as her ambassador, Lord Cornwallis, a nobleman of exalted character, and whose lofty spirit of honor was superior to every temptation. "The First Consul," writes Thiers, "on this occasion made choice of his brother Joseph, for whom he had a very particular affection, and who, by the amenity of his manners, and mildness of his character, was singularly well adapted for peace-maker, an office which had been constantly reserved for him."

Napoleon, who had nothing to gain by war, was exceedingly anxious for peace with all the world, that he might reconstruct French society from the chaos into which revolutionary anarchy had plunged it, and that he might develop the boundless resources of France, Lord Cornwallis was received in Paris, with the utmost cordiality by Napoleon. Joseph Bonaparte gave, in his honor, a magnificent entertainment, to which all the distinguished Englishmen in France were invited, and also such Frenchmen of note as he supposed Lord Cornwallis would be glad to meet.

La Fayette was not invited. Cornwallis had commanded an army in America, where he had met La Fayette on fields of blood, and where he subsequently, with his whole army, had been taken prisoner. Joseph thought that painful associations might be excited in the bosom of his English guest by meeting his successful antagonist. He therefore, from a sense of delicacy, avoided bringing them together. But Cornwallis was a man of generous nature. As he looked around upon the numerous guests assembled at the table, he said to Joseph,

"I know that the Marquis de la Fayette is one of your friends. It would have given me much pleasure to have met him here. I do not, however, complain of your diplomatic caution. I suppose that you did not wish to introduce to me at your table the general of Georgetown. I thank you for your kind intention, which I fully appreciate. But I hope that when we know each other better, we shall banish all reserve, and not act as diplomatists, but as men who sincerely desire to fulfill the wishes of their governments, and to arrive promptly at a solid peace. Moreover, the Marquis de la Fayette is one of those men whom we can not help loving. During his captivity I presented myself before the Emperor (of Germany) to implore his liberation, which I did not have the happiness of obtaining."

Cornwallis left Paris for Amiens. Joseph immediately after proceeded to the same place. As he alighted from his carriage in the court-yard of the hotel which had been prepared for him, one of the first persons whom he met was Lord Cornwallis. The English lord, disregarding the formalities of etiquette, advanced, and presenting his hand to Joseph, said,

"I hope that it is thus that you will deal with me, and that all our etiquette will not retard for a single hour the conclusion of peace. Such forms are not necessary where frankness and honest intentions rule. My Government would not have chosen me as an ambassador, if it had not been intended to restore peace to the world. The First Consul, in choosing his brother, has also proved his good intentions, The rest remains for us."

Cornwallis and Joseph Bonaparte


Louis Napoleon gives the following rather amusing account of this incident. "When Joseph, plenipotentiary of the French Republic, journeyed with his colleagues toward Amiens, to conclude peace with England, in 1802, they were much occupied, he said, during the route, as to the ceremonial which should be observed with the English diplomatists. In the interests of their mission they desired not to fail in any proprieties. Still, being representatives of a republican state, they did not wish to show too much attention, provenance, to the grand English lords with whom they were to treat.

"The French ambassadors were therefore much embarrassed in deciding to whom it belonged to make the first visit. Quite inexperienced, they were not aware that foreign diplomatists always conceal the inflexibility of their policy under the suppleness of forms. Thus they were promptly extricated from their embarrassment; for, to their great astonishment, they found, upon their arrival at Amiens, Lord Cornwallis waiting for them at the door of his hotel, and who, without any ceremony, himself opened for them the door of their carriage, giving them a cordial grasp of the hand.

Lord Cornwallis, however, found himself incessantly embarrassed by instructions he was receiving from the ministry at London. They were very reluctantly consenting to peace, being forced to it by the pressure of public opinion. They were, therefore, hoping that obstacles would arise which would enable them, with some plausibility, to renew the war. Napoleon continually wrote to his brother urging him to do every thing in his power to secure the signing of the treaty. In a letter on the 10th of March, he writes,

"The differences at Amiens are not worth making such a noise about. A letter from Amiens caused the alarm in London by asserting that I did not wish for peace. Under these circumstances delay will do real mischief, and may be of great consequence to our squadrons and our expeditions. Have the kindness, therefore, to send special couriers to inform me of what you are doing, and of what you hear; for it is clear to me that, if the terms of peace are not already signed, there is a change of plans in London."

The treaty was signed on the 25th of March, 1802. Joseph immediately prepared to return to Paris. Lord Cornwallis, in taking leave of Joseph, said,

"I must go as soon as possible to London, in order to allay the storm which will there be gathering against me."

"When I arrived in Paris," writes Joseph, "the First Consul was at the opera; he caused me to enter into his box, and presented me to the public in announcing the conclusion of the peace. One can easily imagine the emotions which agitated me, and also him, for he was as tender a friend, and as kind a brother, as he was prodigious as a man and great as a sovereign."

Bernardin de St. Pierre, in his preface to "Paul and Virginia," renders the following homage to the character of Joseph at this time:

"About a year and a half ago I was invited by one of the subscribers to the fine edition of Paul and Virginia to come and see him at his country-house. He was a young father of a family, whose physiognomy announced the qualities of his mind. He united in himself every thing which distinguishes as a son, a brother, a husband, a father, and a friend to humanity. He took me in private, and said, 'My fortune, which I owe to the nation, affords me the means of being useful. Add to my happiness by giving me an opportunity of contributing to your own.' This philosopher, so worthy of a throne, if any throne were worthy of him, was Prince Joseph Napoleon Bonaparte."

While the treaty of Amiens was under discussion, Talleyrand wrote to Joseph: "Your lot will indeed be a happy one if you are able to secure for your brother that peace which alone his enemies fear. I embrace you, and I love you. I think that this affair will kill me unless it is closed as we desire."

At the conclusion of the treaty, Talleyrand again wrote: "MY DEAR JOSEPH,—Citizen Dupuis has just arrived. He has been received by the First Consul as the bearer of such good, grand, glorious news as you have just sent by him should be received. Your brother is perfectly satisfied (parfaitement content").

Madame de Stahl wrote to Joseph: "Peace with England is the joy of the world. It adds to my joy that it is you who have promoted it. and that every year you have some new occasion to make the whole nation love and applaud you. You have terminated the most important negotiation in the history of France. That glory will be without any alloy."