Napoleon is Crowned Emperor of the French

December 2nd, 1804

Napoleon Bonaparte was already dictator of France. Since 1802 he had been First Consul for life with the right to choose his successor. There were Second and Third Consuls certainly, who were duly consulted, but everyone knew that one man ruled France and who that man was. The new hereditary empire was meant to discourage assassination attempts and extinguish hopes for a Bourbon restoration, but more fundamentally, monarchy was as deeply planted in the French experience as the Catholic Church and Napoleon wanted to rest on both. That at thirty-five the new monarch had no son to succeed him was a pity, but on May 18th, 1804, after soundings had been taken in the army, it was announced that ‘Napoleon Bonaparte, at present First Consul of the Republic, is Emperor of the French’ and that ‘the Imperial dignity is hereditary’. This second clause, though not the first, was submitted to the people in a plebiscite which yielded more than three million votes in favour to fewer than three thousand against.


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