18 Brumaire

18 Brumaire
Coup d'état of 18 Brumaire

General Bonaparte during the coup d'état of 18 Brumaire in Saint-Cloud, painting by François Bouchot, 1840.
Participants Napoleon Bonaparte; The French Directory; The Council of Ancients; The Council of Five Hundred
Location France
Date 1799
Result The French Consulate; Adoption of a constitution under which the First Consul, a position Bonaparte was to hold, had the most power in the French government.

The coup of 18 Brumaire (often simply 18 Brumaire or Brumaire) was the coup d'état by which General Napoleon Bonaparte overthrew the French Directory, replacing it with the French Consulate. This occurred on 9 November 1799, which was 18 Brumaire, Year VIII under the French Republican Calendar.

The name, already well-established in common usage, was reinforced by the title of Karl Marx's The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (Der achtzehnte Brumaire des Louis Bonaparte, 1852), an account of the 2 December 1851 coup by Napoleon's nephew, which begins with the oft-quoted "Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."


Events of 18 Brumaire, Year VIII

On the morning of 18 Brumaire, members of the Council of Ancients sympathetic to the coup warned their colleagues of a Jacobin conspiracy and persuaded them to remove to the Château de Saint-Cloud, west of Paris. General Bonaparte was charged with the safety of the two Councils. Later that morning Sieyès and Roger Ducos resigned as Directors. Talleyrand persuaded Barras to do the same (the troops in the garden outside were persuasive).

The resignation of three of the five Directors prevented a quorum and thus practically abolished the Directory, but the two Jacobin Directors, Gohier and Moulin, continued to protest furiously. Both men were arrested by Napoleon's ally, General Moreau, and by the following day they were compelled to give up their resistance.[1]

In contrast to the Directory, the two Councils were not yet intimidated and continued meeting.

Events of 19 Brumaire

By the following day, the deputies had, for the most part, realized that they were facing an attempted coup rather than being protected from a Jacobin rebellion. Faced with their recalcitrance, Napoleon stormed into the chambers, escorted by a small force of grenadiers. While perhaps unplanned, this proved to be the coup within the coup: from this point, this was a military affair.

Napoleon met with heckling as he addressed the Ancients with such "home truths" as, "the Republic has no government" and, most likely, "the Revolution is over." One deputy called out, "And the Constitution?" Napoleon replied, referring to earlier parliamentary coups, "The Constitution! You yourselves have destroyed it. You violated it on 18 Fructidor; you violated it on 22 Floreal; you violated it on 30 Prairial. It no longer has the respect of anyone."

In Exit liberté à la François (1799), James Gillray caricatured Napoleon and his grenadiers driving the Council of Five Hundred from the Orangerie.

Napoleon withdrew to the chateau's Orangerie, where the Council of Five Hundred was meeting. His reception here was even more hostile. Napoleon and his grenadiers entered just as the legality of Barras' resignation was being challenged by the Jacobins in the chamber. Upon entering, Napoleon was first jostled, then outright assaulted. Depending on whose account is accepted, he may or may not have come close to fainting. It was not Napoleon himself, but his brother Lucien, President of the Council, who called upon the grenadiers to defend their leader. Napoleon escaped, but only through the use of military force.

A motion was raised in the Council of Five Hundred to declare Napoleon an outlaw. At this point, Lucien Bonaparte apparently slipped out of the chamber and told the soldiers guarding the Councils that the majority of the Five Hundred were being terrorized by a group of deputies brandishing daggers. Then, according to Michael Rapport, "He pointed to Napoleon's bloody, pallid face as proof. Then, in a theatrical gesture, he seized a sword and promised to plunge it through his own brother's heart if he were a traitor." Lucien ordered the troops to expel the violent deputies from the chamber. Grenadiers under the command of General Murat marched into the Orangerie and dispersed the Council. This was effectively the end of the Directory.

The Ancients passed a decree which adjourned the Councils for three months, appointed Napoleon, Sieyès, and Ducos provisional consuls, and named the Legislative Commission. Some tractable members of the Five Hundred, rounded up afterwards, served to give these measures the confirmation of their House. Thus the Directory and the Councils came to an end.


The Directory was crushed, but the coup within the coup was not yet complete. The use of military force had certainly strengthened Napoleon's hand vis à vis Sieyès and the other plotters. With the Council routed, the plotters convened two commissions, each consisting of twenty-five deputies from the two Councils. The plotters essentially intimidated the commissions into declaring a provisional government, the first form of the Consulate with Napoleon, Sieyès, and Ducos as Consuls. The lack of reaction from the streets proved that the revolution was, indeed, over. "A shabby compound of brute force and imposture, the 18th Brumaire was nevertheless condoned, nay applauded, by the French nation. Weary of revolution, men sought no more than to be wisely and firmly governed."[2] Resistance by Jacobin officeholders in the provinces was quickly crushed. Twenty Jacobin deputies were exiled, and others were arrested. The commissions then drew up the "short and obscure Constitution of the Year VIII", the first of the constitutions since the Revolution without a Declaration of Rights.[3]

Bonaparte thus completed his coup within a coup by the adoption of a constitution under which the First Consul, a position he was sure to hold, had greater power than the other two. In particular, he appointed the Senate and the Senate interpreted the constitution. The Senate allowed him to rule by decree, so the more independent State Council and Tribunate degenerated into impotence, serving merely as window dressing. It led ultimately to Empire.

See also


  1. ^ Lefebvre, Georges; Soboul, Albert (1962). The Directory. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. p. 199. OCLC 668426465. "Gohier and Moulin were powerless, and Moreau held them prisoners until they tendered their resignations." 
  2. ^  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). "French Revolution". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  3. ^ Crook, Malcolm (1999). "The Myth Of The 18 Brumaire". H-France Napoleon Forum. http://www.acs.ucalgary.ca/~mstaum/hist329/NapForumCrook.html. Retrieved 12 December 2007. 

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  • Brumaire — was the second month in the French Republican Calendar. The month was named after the French word brume (fog) which occurs frequently at that time of the year.Brumaire was the second month of the autumn quarter ( mois d automne ). It started… …   Wikipedia

  • Brumaire (journal) — Brumaire, dont le nom évoque le coup d État du 18 brumaire an VIII, fut de 1931 à 1940 une publication bonapartiste en France. Brumaire, d’abord revue des étudiants bonapartistes, fut fondé en 1931. Devenu publication bimensuelle du Parti de… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Brumaire —   [bry mɛːr; französisch »Nebelmonat«] der, (s)/ s, der zweite Monat des Jahres im Kalender der Französischen Revolution. Dem Brumaire entspricht der Zeitraum vom 22. (auch 23. oder 24.) Oktober bis 20. (22., 23.) November im gregorianischen… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Brumaire — (spr. brümmähr), im republikanischen Kalender Frankreichs der zweite Monat des Jahres, 23. Okt. bis 21. Nov. Am 18. Brumaire des J. VIII (9. Nov. 1799) ergriff Bonaparte als Erster Konsul die Regierung …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • brumaire an VIII — (18), journée (9 nov. 1799) au cours de laquelle Bonaparte fut nommé commandant des forces armées de Paris. Le 19 brumaire, il lança les grenadiers de Murat contre le Conseil des Cinq Cents sur la demande de leur président, Lucien Bonaparte. Le… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Brumaire — Bru maire , n. [F., fr. L. bruma winter.] The second month of the calendar adopted by the first French republic. It began thirty days after the autumnal equinox. See {Vendemiaire}. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Brumaire — (fr., spr. Brümähr), im neufränkischen Jahre die Zeit vom 22. Oct. bis 20. Nov. Am 18. B. des Jahres VIII (9. Nov. 1799) erfolgte der Sturz der Directorialregierung durch Vertreibung des Rathes der 500 aus dem Sitzungssaale zu St. Cloud auf… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Brumaire — (franz., spr. brūmār , »Nebelmonat«), zweiter Monat im französischen Revolutionskalender. Am 18. B. des Jahres VIII (9. Nov. 1799) stürzte Bonaparte das Direktorium und machte sich zum Ersten Konsul …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Brumaire — (frz. Brümähr), im republikanischen Kalender der Franzosen vom 22. Octbr. bis 20. Novbr. Geschichtlich merkwürdig ist der 18. B. des Jahres 8 (der Republik), der 9. Nov. 1799, an welchem Bonaparte die Verfassung vom Jahre III umwarf und die… …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • brumaire — BRUMAIRE. subst. masc. Second mois d Automne de la nouvelle année Françoise …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française 1798

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