Story of Modern France - Helene Guerber

Murder of the Duke of Enghien

In the year 1802 Bonaparte who had first been elected consul for ten years had himself made consul for life, with the privilege of choosing his own successor. You must not imagine, however, that every one was perfectly satisfied to see Bonaparte at the head of affairs in France. There were—as there always are,—discontented people, who fancied they  ought to occupy his place. Besides, the Royalists, who had hoped that as soon as order was restored, Louis XVIII. might be recalled to France (as Charles II. had been to England), were sorely disenchanted.

As their remonstrances had no effect, sundry conspiracies were formed during the Consulate to remove Bonaparte—the chief obstacle—out of their way. Once (in 1800) an infernal machine was set off in a narrow street, through which the consul was to pass on his way to the opera; but it went off just too late to injure him, although the explosion killed a large number of people. Three years later, a Vendee Royalist named Cadoudal headed a conspiracy, in which one of Napoleon's former friends, General Moreau, was slightly implicated. This general was exiled to America in punishment, while the leader and many others were beheaded.

Even before the treaty of Amiens, Bonaparte had established a camp at Boulogne as preparation for the old plan of invading England, which was then generally termed "perfidious Albion." Because the English did not give up Malta as they had promised, and because Bonaparte firmly demanded that they do so, it seemed as if these preparations might soon be useful.

Before one can make war successfully, however, money is a great consideration, and it was because he needed all the funds he could obtain to make war upon England, that the First Consul sold Louisiana to the United States government, for $15,000,000. Louisiana had belonged first to France, then to Spain, and had only recently been given back to her old allegiance; but Bonaparte feared that England might seize this colony, and, besides, as he stated when making the sale: "It is for the interest of France that America should be great and strong. I read farther ahead in the future than you do. I am preparing avengers of my wrongs."

Meantime, war had been going on in Haiti, which Toussaint L'Ouverture, "the Bonaparte of the Blacks," as he proudly styled himself, had proclaimed an independent republic. To recover possession of this rich colony, Bonaparte sent his brother-in-law thither with a strong army; but after various ups and downs the French were defeated, and the negroes made good their independence. Toussaint L'Ouverture, however, was made prisoner and conveyed to a dungeon in France, where—accustomed to a tropical climate—he died of cold and dampness after being imprisoned only a few months.

It was in 1803 that war with England began again. In answer to Bonaparte's demands that Malta be surrendered, the English seized 1200 French and Batavian ships. Bonaparte immediately retaliated by seizing as prisoners of war some 10,000 peaceful English subjects who were then sojourning in France.

In the following year, wishing "to strike terror in the hearts of the Bourbons even in London," and to put an end to the frequent conspiracies to restore them to the throne, Bonaparte ordered the arrest of the Duke of Enghien, the last of a younger branch of the Bourbon family (the Condés). This young prince was then in Germany, ten miles from the French frontier. Under the false pretext that he was involved in Cadoudal's conspiracy, Bonaparte ordered troops to cross the frontier, enter a neutral country, snatch the prince out of his bed, and bring him straight to a fortress near Paris. All was done exactly as the consul had ordered; then, on the very night of his arrival, the duke was summoned before a court-martial, tried without being given time to produce witnesses, and condemned to be shot like a spy, before daylight, in the castle moat!

Such a cruel deed of retaliation, which robbed a noble family of its last scion, and laid an indelible stain on Bonaparte's fame, was condemned by every one. Talleyrand remarked in his cynical way, "It is worse than a crime; it is a blunder!" Pitt, the great English statesman, said, "Bonaparte has now done himself more mischief than we have done him since the last declaration of war."

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


Still, crime as it was, the French in general did not resent it so deeply as other nations expected. On the contrary, and as if better to show their admiration for their hero and savior from anarchy, three days later they again offered Bonaparte the crown which he had already once, at least, refused. It was in May, at St. Cloud,—where the First Consul was wont to spend his summers,—that a deputation appeared, saying, "Citizen First Consul, you are founding a new era, but you must make it lasting; brilliancy is nothing without duration! When, in reply, Bonaparte invited them to make their whole thought known, the deputation replied, "The Senate thinks it is of the utmost interest to the French people to intrust the government of the Republic to Napoleon Bonaparte, Hereditary Emperor."

Although this invitation corresponded exactly with his secret wishes, Bonaparte made believe to hesitate, and it was only after the Senate's wish had been seconded by a majority of three million votes in its favor, that Bonaparte really became "Napoleon I., Emperor of the French." This title was suggested, both because the word "king" was still distasteful to Revolutionists, and also because "emperor," like "consul," was a reminder of glorious old Roman times.