Account of the State of France, 1804

Excerpts from the Original Electronic Text at the web site of the Hanover Historical Texts Project.

Five years after Bonaparte had become the head of the French government he sums up the general situation in France in a statement which he laid before the Legislative Body, December 31, 1804.

The internal situation of France is today as calm as it has ever been in the most peaceful periods. There is no agitation to disturb the public tranquillity, no suggestion of those crimes which recall the Revolution. Everywhere useful enterprises are in progress, and the general improvements, both public and private, attest the universal confidence and sense of security. . . .

A plot conceived by an implacable government was about to replunge France into the abyss of civil war and anarchy. The discovery of this horrible crime stirred all France profoundly, and anxieties that had scarcely been calmed again awoke. Experience has taught that a divided power in the state is impotent and at odds with itself. It was generally felt that if power was delegated for short periods only it was so uncertain as to discourage any prolonged undertakings or wide-reaching plans. If vested in an individual for life, it would lapse with him, and after him would prove a source of anarchy and discord. It was clearly seen that for a great nation the only salvation lies in hereditary power, which can alone assure a continuous political life which may endure for generations, even for centuries.

The Senate, as was proper, served as the organ through which this general apprehension found expression. The necessity of hereditary power in a state as vast as France had long been perceived by the First Consul. He had endeavored in vain to avoid this conclusion; but the public solicitude and the hopes of our enemies emphasized the importance of his task, and he realized that his death might ruin his whole work. Under such circumstances, and with such a pressure of public opinion, there was no alternative left to the First Consul. He resolved, therefore, to accept for himself, and two of his brothers after him, the burden imposed by the exigencies of the situation.

After prolonged consideration, repeated conferences with the members of the Senate, discussion in the councils, and the suggestions of the most prudent advisers, a series of provisions was drawn up which regulate the succession to the imperial throne. These provisions were decreed by a senatus consultus of the 28th Floreal last. The French people, by a free and independent expression, then manifested its desire that the imperial dignity should pass down in a direct line through the legitimate or adopted descendants of Napoleon Bonaparte, or through the legitimate descendants of Joseph Bonaparte, or of Louis Bonaparte.

From this moment Napoleon was, by the most unquestionable of titles, emperor of the French. No other act was necessary to sanction his right and consecrate his authority. But he wished to restore in France the ancient forms and recall those institutions which divinity itself seems to have inspired. He wished to impress the seal of religion itself upon the opening of his reign. The head of the Church, in order to give the French a striking proof of his paternal affection, consented to officiate at this august ceremony. What deep and enduring impressions did this leave on the mind of Napoleon and in the memory of the nation! What thoughts for future races! What a subject of wonder for all Europe!

In the midst of this pomp, and under the eye of the Eternal, Napoleon pronounced the inviolable oath which assures the integrity of the empire, the security of property, the perpetuity of institutions, the respect for law, and the happiness of the nation. The oath of Napoleon shall be forever the terror of the enemies of France. If our borders are attacked, it will be repeated at the head of our armies, and our frontiers shall never more fear foreign invasion.

The principles safeguarded by the coronation oath are those of our legislation. Hereafter there will be fewer laws to submit to the Legislative Body. The civil code has fulfilled the expectations of the public; all citizens are acquainted with it; it serves as their guide in their various transactions, and is everywhere lauded as a benefaction. A draft of a criminal code has been completed for two years and has been subjected to the criticism of the courts; at this moment it is being discussed for the last time by the council of state. The code of procedure and the commercial code are still where they were a year ago, (or pressing cares have diverted the emperor's attention elsewhere.

New schools are being opened, and inspectors have been appointed to see that the instruction does not degenerate into vain and sterile examinations. The lycees and the secondary schools are filling with youth eager for instruction. The polytechnic school is peopling our arsenals, ports, and factories with useful citizens. Prizes have been established in various branches of science, letters, and arts, and in the period of ten years fixed by his Majesty for the award of these prizes there can be no doubt that French genius will produce works of distinction.

The emperor's decrees have reestablished commerce on the left bank of the Rhine. Our manufacturers are improving, although the mercenaries subsidized by the British government vaunt, in their empty declamations, her foreign trade and her precarious resources scattered about the seas and in the Indies, while they describe our shops as deserted and our artisans as dying of hunger. In spite of this, our industries are striking root in our own soil and are driving English commerce far from our shores. Our products now equal theirs and will soon compete with them in all the markets of the world.

Religion has resumed its sway, but exhibits itself only in acts of humanity. Adhering to a wise policy of toleration, the ministers of different sects who worship the same God do themselves honor by their mutual respect; and their rivalry confines itself to emulation in virtue. Such is our situation at home.

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