Sunday, February 22, 2015

Total Amnesty For Émigrés

Bonaparte earned great admiration for solving some of the most intractable political problems raised by the Revolution. Few scholars have recognized, however, that the Consulate's solutions only became possible after years of building up the government's capacity to control repression and police society. This development is illustrated by the means used to solve the problem of émigrés. In early 1800, the Consulate closed the list of émigrés and created a special political commission to screen applications for removal from it. The process remained slow and was badly tainted by bribery and favoritism. Six months later, the government adopted a partial amnesty. This granted automatic readmission to whole categories of émigrés, while also continuing to screen others on an individual basis. The key to the operation lay in requiring every returned émigré to register with a departmental prefect or urban police commissioner, who then reported to the minister of police. This enabled the government either to deny admission outright or to order police surveillance of any individual émigré deemed dangerous. This massive operation occupied one-third of all employees in the Ministry of Police. The minister, Joseph Fouché, showed no qualms about having dozens of returned émigrés suspected of royalist activities arrested and locked away in state prisons without trial. The whole process violated the Consulate's constitution, which, like that of the Directory, explicitly barred the return of proven émigrés. All the same, combining an amnesty that irritated republicans with police measures that contradicted the basic principles of the early Revolution proved very successful politically. In April 1802 the Senate adopted an almost total amnesty for émigrés. This removed most of the discretionary categories, but none of the police surveillance. Fouché instructed provincial officials to repress "with inflexible severity" any subversive activity, including trying to get nationalized property back (Madelin 1903: vol. 1, 327-349). In the end, the magnanimity of allowing all but a few thousand émigrés to return would have been impossible, and certainly unimaginable, without a security apparatus that combined an elaborate bureaucracy with appointed officials such as was in place by 1802. 

By this time, France was descending rapidly into dictatorship. The Concordat, enacted along with restrictive "organic laws" in April 1802, and the purge of liberal members from the Tribunate at much the same time, dismayed those who remained committed to a secular, democratic state. But their opposition was too little, too late. The many exceptional measures and institutions of repression they had previously approved now paved the road to Bonaparte's personal dictatorship. As well as making him First Consul for Life, the Constitution of Year X (August 1802) strengthened his hand in choosing lawmakers, authorized him alone to ratify treaties, gave him the power to grant pardons, to suspend the constitution, and even to suspend jury trials where he saw fit. The plebiscite that endorsed such changes confirmed that political legitimacy now rested in the person of Bonaparte and the apparatus of his rule, to the detriment of lawmakers and civil liberties alike. The new security state was as much a product of the French Revolution as Napoleon himself.

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