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Napoleon Seizes Total Power In The Coup of 18 Brumaire

Today on November 9, 1799, Napoleon suddenly overthrows the French Directory in the Coup of 18 Brumaire.

The Coup of 18 Brumaire was undoubtedly one of the most influential coup d'etats in history. It ultimately led to Napoleon Bonaparte overthrowing the government and seizing total power. France was in the midst of emerging from the decade-long French Revolution. Throughout the 1790s, several forms of government and political leaders came into power, but none of them lasted very long; constant political upheaval had become the norm. Napoleon recently sailed back to France after his unsuccessful campaign in Egypt seemed hopeless. He left many of his finest troops stranded overseas and hastily returned home. Habsburg-controlled Austria had suddenly declared war on France and quickly won several key victories on the battlefield.

France began implementing emergency measures, and the political environment was once again ripe for change. Two other prominent politicians, Abbe Sieyes and Talleyrand, aided General Bonaparte in planning the Coup of 18 Brumaire. Sieyes began spreading rumors of a Jacobite uprising and convinced the government to move locations. He introduced a motion to have the Ancients (the upper house) and the Council of Five Hundred (the lower house) meet in a distant palace at Saint-Cloud. By moving the government away from the safety of Paris, they could now be easily intimidated by Napoleon’s troops. However, tensions quickly grew with hundreds of soldiers camped outside.

The next day, Napoleon blundered through a brief speech in front of the Ancients and quickly left the hall. The assembly erupted into anger and confusion. He then marched into the adjacent building alongside his loyal grenadiers. In front of the Five Hundred, he announced he was dissolving the republic. Napoleon forced the Ancients to decree the end of the Directory itself (rendering them all powerless) and established himself as the new head of government. Historians generally consider the Coup of 18 Brumaire as the official end of the French Revolution. Five years later, he crowned himself Emperor of France during a lavish coronation in Paris.


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