French Consulate

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The 2nd consulate: Jean-Jacques Régis de Cambacérès, Napoleon Bonaparte and Charles-François Lebrun

The French Consulate marks a period in the history of the First French Republic . From November 10, 1799 to December 1, 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte ruled as the first consul . The consulate was replaced with the imperial coronation of Napoleon I on December 2, 1804 by the Premier Empire .

The transition from the Directory to the Consulate was brought about by the coup d'état of 18th Brumaire VIII (November 9, 1799). On November 10, Napoleon Bonaparte was elected First Consul by the National Convention under pressure from the military.

The Consulate Constitution ( Constitution of Year VIII ) came into force on December 24, 1799.

Structure of the constitution

Bonaparte as first consul for life, 1803, François Gérard

The consulate was based on a complex draft constitution, the core of which went back to Sieyès , a co-conspirator of Bonaparte and a member of the first consulate, but had been changed by Bonaparte.

The formal center of the constitution was the Senate ( Sénat conservateur ), which consisted of 80 members over forty appointed for life who met in camera. The Senate complemented itself ( co-optation ), and former consuls became constitutional members. His tasks were varied. He was entitled to choose the legislature, the tribunate , the consuls and the chief judges. In addition, he could declare every legislative decision and every other act of the government, but also the envisaged popular elections, as unconstitutional and thus invalid. Constitutional amendments were not expressly provided for, but were later practiced by means of resolutions called senatus consulta . The Senate was to a certain extent an electoral body, constitutional court and general supervisory authority in one.

As under the constitution of the directorate, the government was structured in two stages: the former directorate of the executive branch was replaced by the body of the three consuls, as it were as a replacement for the head of government and the head of state. Subordinate to this were the ministers as the actual executive bodies, but which were to remain without political influence.

Emblem of Bonaparte as First Consul
Marine, musician and grenadier of the Guards consulaire Illustration by Henry Ganier-Tanconville .

The consuls were differentiated as first, second and third consul and were elected by the Senate for 10 years each, with the third consul being appointed five years apart from the first and second. The First Consul (Bonaparte) was granted various privileges, including appointing the ministers and most of the judges, officers and officials. In the other government affairs he had to consult with his two colleagues and they had to sign the government files, but his decision alone was enough. In individual cases he could be represented in his privileges by one of his colleagues, who were also allowed to participate in the management of the State Council. Nevertheless, both legally and factually, the First Consul was the sole determinant.

The Senate also elected a kind of parliamentary chamber, the tribunate, which was allowed to discuss government bills and make requests to the other constitutional organs, but had no decision-making power. In addition, the Corps législatif (Legislative Body) was elected by the Senate, which, after listening passively to the spokesmen for the government and the tribunate, was allowed to vote in secret on the government's legislative proposals. Both chambers were partially renewed every year.

A council of state, Conseil d'État , consisting of thirty to forty experts, was newly established as an advisory body for the consuls in the management of government and administration , which in fact primarily acted as an administrative court and which still exists today. He was also given the task of drafting the executive's legislative proposals.

Popular elections were also planned, although they were not direct . In a complex three-level system, local lists were first determined at the various administrative levels by one tenth of all eligible voters, from these in a further ballot one tenth of the elected from the local lists on regional lists, and finally one tenth of the elected from the regional lists in national lists Lists that together formed a national list. The Senate and the first consul were only allowed to consider persons who were on the list corresponding to their respective function in elections or appointments. The Senate could, however, annul these lists at any time.

However, the envisaged elections were hardly used during the limited period in which the constitution was in force ; Various provisions prevented election results that were too free from the outset: For example, the first consuls were appointed under the constitution (2nd consulate) in the constitutional text; the Senate was formed in such a way that the former second and third consuls and the new second and third consuls united and together appointed the majority of the senate; the members so appointed then elected the rest of them. Sieyès and Ducos were named senators by the constitution.

1. Consulate of 18th Brumaire VIII

2. Consulate of the 24th Frimaire VIII


Web links

Commons : French Consulate  - Images, videos and audio files collection

Individual evidence

  1. wikisource (full text)
  2. Constitution du 22 Frimaire to VIII
  3. (German translation)
  4. ^ A b Adam Zamoyski: Napoleon: One life . CH Beck, 2018, ISBN 978-3-406-72497-8 , pp. 296-297 .