Fouché, Part II: The Statesman and His Fall

Harold Kurtz describes how for nearly ten years, in two spells of office, the Republican Fouché was the virtual head of the internal government of France under the increasing Traditionalism of Napoleon’s rule.

Although Fouché had been Minister of Police for only three months when General Bonaparte made his bid for supreme power in the coup d’etat of Brumaire (November 9th and 10th, 1799), the First Consul and his colleagues confirmed him in office afterwards. His contribution to the success of the great venture had been comparatively modest.

On the second day, when Bonaparte was to win over the elected representatives of France assembled at Saint-Cloud, Fouché, cautiously remaining in Paris, had sent Thurot, Secretary-General at his Ministry, to Saint-Cloud with orders to keep him informed. “Success,” said this man to Lavallette, “is essential. I know my Minister well enough to foretell that he would make you pay dearly for the crime of failure.”

As is well known, success at Saint-Cloud came, not through Bonaparte’s persuasions, but through Murat’s grenadiers, and the First Consul learnt only later that Fouché at Paris had made all preparations to have him and his fellow-conspirators arrested should the attempt fail.

Fouché remained Minister of Police less in recognition of services rendered during the coup d’etat than in acknowledgment of his unrivalled personal knowledge of the enemies of the Consular regime: and these Bonaparte, like Talleyrand and Sieyès, identified exclusively with the Jacobins and extreme Republicans. Within a year of their arrival in power, Fouché was able to teach his new masters a sharp lesson in this respect.

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