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Napoleon’s Rise to Power

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Michael Rapport describes the last days of the old Revolutionary regime and the circumstances leading to the young general’s triumph at the coup of 18-19 Brumaire.

On October 9th, 1799, at Fréjus in south-eastern France, General Napoleon Bonaparte disembarked from the frigate which had carried him from Egypt, evaded British cruisers and brought him safely back to the French Republic. Bonaparte had been plucked from a disastrous campaign in the East – only a month later, he would be brought to power as First Consul over the ruins of the Directory, the regime which had ruled France for four years.

But this rapid rise was far from assured. Whatever the realities of Egypt, where he had abandoned his command, Bonaparte was considered the Republic’s only undefeated general. In Avignon, en route to Paris, he was greeted in a spontaneous show of popular acclaim. It was his reputation as a victorious commander that had brought him popularity, but it took far more than this to bring him to power. At the same time, the government which he and his partners overthrew in the coup of 18-19 Brumaire, Year VIII (November 9th-10th, 1799) was either hated or treated with indifference by the bulk of the population.

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