Chateaubriand's memoirs, XX, 3

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XX, chapter 3
The Peace of Amiens –The breaking of the Treaty – Bonaparte created Emperor

The peace preliminaries between France and England, agreed in London on the 1st of October 1801, were converted into a treaty at Amiens. The Napoleonic world was not yet fixed; its boundaries changed with the ebb and flow of the tide of our victories.

It was about then that the First Consul named Toussaint-Louverture Governor for life of Santa Domingo, and incorporated the Isle of Elba within France; but Toussaint, treacherously taken, was to die in a harsh fortress in the Jura, while Bonaparte provided himself with a prison at Porto-Ferrajo, in order to meet the needs of the Emperor of the world when he no should longer possess anywhere else.

On the 6th of May 1802, Napoleon is elected Consul for ten years, and shortly Consul for life. He finds himself cramped by the overriding domination that the peace with England has accorded him: without being embarrassed for a moment by the Treaty of Amiens, without a thought for the fresh wars into which his decision will plunge him, under the pretext of the non-evacuation of Malta, he annexes the provinces of Piedmont to the French State, and, because of the disturbances arising in Switzerland, occupies it. England breaks with us: that rupture takes place between the 13th and the 20th of March 1803, and on the 22nd of May the unofficial decree appears requiring the arrest of all English people trading or travelling in France.

Bonaparte invades the Electorate of Hanover on the 3rd of June: in Rome, I was then closing the eyes of a little-known woman.

On the 21st of March 1804 occurs the death of the Duc d’Enghien: I have described it to you. On the same day, the Civil Code or Code Napoleon is decreed in order to teach us to respect the law.

Forty days after the death of the Duc d’Enghien, on the 30th of April 1804, a member of the Tribunate named Curée presents a motion elevating Bonaparte to a position of supreme power, apparently because they are all dedicated to freedom: never has a more brilliant master been created at the suggestion of a more obscure slave.

The Senate (Sénat Conservateur) in its decree alters the Tribunate’s suggestion. Bonaparte imitates neither Caesar nor Cromwell: more assured regarding the crown, he accepts it. On the 18th of May he is proclaimed Emperor at Saint-Cloud, in the rooms from which he had himself driven the people, in the place where Henri III was assassinated, Henrietta of England was poisoned, Marie-Antoinette gathered fugitive joys which led here to the scaffold, and from where Charles X left for his last exile.

The speeches of congratulation flowed. Mirabeau in 1790 had said: ‘We provide a fresh example of that blind and unmotivated thoughtlessness which has led us, from age to age, into all the crises that have successively afflicted us. It seems that our eyes cannot be opened and that we have resolved to be, to the end of time, children who are sometimes rebels and always slaves.’

The plebiscite of the 1st of December 1804 is presented to Napoleon; the Emperor replies: ‘My descendants will command this throne for many years.’ When one beholds the illusions with which Providence cloaks the powerful, one is consoled by their short duration.