War and Conflict

French Revolution

What was the Brumaire Coup d’État?

It was the overthrow on November 9, 1799, of the French revolutionary government. The coup put Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) in power as one of three counsels intended to head the government.

While Napoleon was in Egypt and Syria waging what were for the most part successful military campaigns on behalf of the French government, there was growing discontent back home with the Directory, the group of five men who had governed France since 1795. His army stranded in the Middle East, Napoleon received word that France might soon be under attack by the Second Coalition (the second in a series of six alliances that formed in Europe in order to stave off French domination). Leaving another man in command of his troops, Napoleon hurried home where he was welcomed as a hero. Aided by his brother, Lucien Bonaparte (1775–1840), and the French revolutionary leader Emmanuel-Joseph Sièyes (1748–1836), Napoleon carried out a coup d’état, overthrowing the Directory. A consulate was formed, with the young Napoleon becoming first consul; the other counsels had little influence, acting primarily as advisors to the ambitious Napoleon.

The coup marked the end of the French Revolution: After the chaos and violence of the previous decade, the French people looked to Napoleon as a strong leader who could bring order to the country. They did not know that the 30-year-old possessed a seemingly insatiable hunger for power, which would soon transform the government into a dictatorship. After a brief peace, Napoleon declared himself emperor of France on December 2, 1804, by which time he had already begun to wage a series of wars to gain himself more power in Europe.

Scene of rioting during the French Revolution, a tumultuous decade that ended when General Napoleon Bonaparte seized control of the government.

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