Barras Lied. Surprised?

Posted in Book Review, Directory, France, French Revolution, History, Politics, Research with tags , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2011 by Nicholas Stark

I was reading through the 4 Volumes of Paul Barras’ memoirs. Barras was the chief member of the Directory, 1795-99, renown for his corruption, at least in his own time and as most historians have concluded, although a few like Martyn Lyons have disputed the degree of corruption.  He was a man of many stripes, who managed to survive every political turn. He was a powerful representative-on-mission under the National Convention, supported the coup of Thermidor, became a founder and leading member of the Directory, while Director organized the coups of Prairial and Fructidor, and then retired safely under the Empire with the confidence of having befriended and aided Napoléon, before flocking to the royalists under the Restoration, who however were less anxious to accept his hand.

A public audience of the Directory

In any event, I wanted to read through the accounts with an open mind. Interestingly enough, he presents himself as the foremost of patriots and a strong republican, despite his secret negotiations while Director to sell out France to the Bourbons for some 10 million francs or so.  I was starting to rethink Barras’ character, and then I was struck with the startling revelation: he is a habitual liar. Just two points for the moment should demonstrate how I came to this conclusion, apart from my knowledge of his intrigues from other sources. For one, I happened to note every time he mentions his displeasure with Pope Pius VI, who had a bad relationship with the French. Pius had from the very beginning, even before any bloodletting started, opposed not only the Revolution itself, but even the founding principles. He had threatened to excommunicate the entire French nation, and under the Directory had declared war on France (do not forget: at this time the pope was a temporal power as well as spiritual, commanding his own army). Although Napoléon had organized the Treaty of Tolentino with ‘the Pope after the French entered Rome, Barras complains that not only was the pope giving the Directory a hard time about paying up with promised money, but also that he feels that Napoléon did not exact enough from the pope. Barras then multiple times describes how “fanatical” he considers the Church of Rome, how he does not trust the pope with temporal power, and then details his orders for Gen. Berthier to invade Rome, depose the pope and remove him to Portugal, and create a Roman Republic. Several entries detail his orders for specific movement for the pope in that direction. However, once the news hit Paris that the pope died at Valence, Barras suddenly sings a different tune. Now, the entire drama with the pope is Napoléon’s fault. It was Napoléon’s fault for demanding so much from the pope, for ordering Berthier to invade later, and for deposing him. So instead of accepting his actions and either defending himself or claiming he was wrong if he had a change of heart, Barras instead passes off the blame in the most absurd and evidently self-contradictory way imaginable. That was worth a great laugh on my own part.

The other glaring lie he made was that when discussing the French invasion of England in 1797 (and yes indeed the French did land a small force of about 1000 men near Fishguard in early ’97 as I discovered in my Franco-Irish research), he claims he only became aware of the operation’s very existence once reports were printed in the paper when it was underway, and that if he knew about it while it was being planned, he would have opposed it. He even mentions that the other Directors say they had discussed it with him, but he still claims that he had no knowledge and orders a report to look into it. However, I happened to find a report with the exact directions for the English invasion in a letter from the Directory to Gen. Hoche from April ’96, and guess who’s signature is on it? You guessed it: Barras’. He not only knew of the expedition, but he also knew the precise details and approved of it. Although there is much more, that suffices to prove my point. As far as I am concerned, Barras deserves his reputation as a miserably corrupt politician and a habitual liar.

Napoleonic Petition

Posted in Education, History, Napoleon Bonaparte, Politics with tags , , , , on July 26, 2011 by Nicholas Stark

My friends, Paul-Napoléon Calland, President of the Bonapartist Movement, is presenting a major petition to the French government regarding a great idea that I personally love and with which I would appreciate all of your support. The petition is to make a lighter replica of the Napoléon statue, which had once been atop the Vendôme column but is now overlooking the Les Invalides courtyard. Its heavy weight is causing potential damage, and so the lighter replica would stay in the courtyard at Les Invalides, while the original would preferably be moved to another site of historic and cultural value, namely around the Louvre. This would not only solve the problem for Les Invalides, but also promote the memory of Napoléon. So please, it only takes a moment, add your signature electronically to the petition.

Here is the link:

A Day in the Empire 1810

Was the French Revolution a Failure?

Posted in French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte with tags , on July 18, 2011 by Nicholas Stark

My friend Nate Provost asked, “I’ve heard many time the French Revolution was a failure. Do you guys think it is? explain. personally in the long run i don’t think it was but it did cause many deaths and france is in turmoil today.” To his question, I responded as follows:

“Well, it depends by what your views are on the aims of the Revolution to say whether it was a failure or not. It depends on whose/which faction’s/your own vision. The Girondins/Brissotins of ’91 were the most successful for creating a stron…g constitutional state maintained by the bourgeoisie, whose vision was secured and perfected by Napoléon and restored again by Napoléon III and certainly cemented currently in the 5th Republic. If you mean did it secure the personal destinies set by say Napoléon’s desire for a dynasty, then of course no, at least it has been a failure in that sense since 1870. Did it succeed in liberating all the people of Europe? No, because neither the Revolutionaries nor Napoléon forced their reforms on the major nations of Europe, although they did liberate the majority of Europe as well as start the process in Latin America and Africa. Did it achieve the desires of the Hébertistes/Enragés? No, in that sense the Convention of the Robespierristes of ’94 killed that, although Napoléon brought some popular protections, which resurfaced again permanently since the socialist policies instated under Napoléon III. I would say, judge it by what the good effects were compared to the negative. In that sense, I feel the Revolution was a great success, although my favored faction and the ideal platform lost out. Nevertheless, great progress was made, and as stated, Europe and its people were shaken out of their lethargy.”


Posted in Research with tags on July 18, 2011 by Nicholas Stark

I apologize for not updating this sight more frequently. Whereas I previously only updated full essays, I think in order to get my thoughts better organized and invite more public feedback, I will post up shorter responses I make in blogs and online groups on the issues of Napoleon and the French Revolution. In the meanwhile, I am trying to develop a thesis for my next paper, which will most likely either be on Ireland again or else Argentina. Also, for those interested, I am the administrator for a rather good and thought-provoking Facebook group simply called “Napoleon Bonaparte,” if you want to check it out.

Napoleon Podcast: Wolfe Tone and France

Posted in France, Ireland, Politics, Research, War of the First Coalition with tags , , , , , , on February 11, 2011 by Nicholas Stark

United Irishmen

This evening I was welcomed on for yet another episode of the Napoleon Podcast, which I was much pleased and honored to accept. This time we talked about Irish patriot Theobald Wolfe Tone and his role in negotiating with the French Directory to launch the Irish expeditions of 1796 and 1798. Here’s the link:

In the process I must express my extreme gratitude to Stephen Dunford and Cécile Déjardin for their help with my research. Both have provided me directly with materials, and have through conversations helped guide my research. Thank you both!

Reaction to Felix Markham’s “Napoleon”

Posted in Book Review, Education, France, Napoleon Bonaparte with tags , , , , , , , on December 4, 2010 by Nicholas Stark

Here is a brief paper I wrote for a class. I had to read Felix Markham’s classic book simply titled “Napoleon,” and react in a 2 page paper to his handling of some specific aspect. What follows is my review of his handling of Napoleon’s religion reforms and settlements:

Napoleon Grants Freedom to the Jews


In handling the government in France, Felix Markham in his book Napoleon does an adequate job describing the Napoleonic reforms. However, it may be supposed that a better job was not done because of either the short length of the book [306 pages including indexes] or a sense of needing balance rather than taking an approach that could possibly appear biased. The author here shall undertake an expansion of the details of the Napoleonic reforms in France.

First, it should be noted what Felix Markham does detail. He discusses the economic reforms after Brumaire,1 the Concordat of 1801 with Pope Pius VII,2 the creation of the Legion of Honor,3 the creation of consolidated legal and criminal codes,4 and the education reforms.5 This is a good start, but more can and should be added, and the author shall take the present moment to do so.

One glaring issue that the author introduces, religious freedom, is worthy of review, since it is in this area that the extent of what was not said about Napoleonic reform is particularly evident. Felix Markham, in spending more time on the role of Pope Pius VII and the Concordat of 1801 than on any other issue except maybe the economy and focusing on a particularly positive view of the pope, fails to really delve into the nature of the religious freedom that the pope wanted. He quickly glosses over the pope’s desire to make Catholicism the sole religion of France.

However, it is not a trivial point, and is one of the most important gains made by Napoleon. Napoleon refused to accept Catholicism as the sole religion and indeed went so far as to sacrifice much political and popular support for the sake of achieving religious freedom for one group in particular: the Jews. Napoleon removed the requirements of Jews to wear Stars of David and freed them from their confinement in Ghettos wherever his armies went, beginning with Northern Italy, notably the city of Ancona. After the fall of Napoleon in 1815, Pope Pius VII’s view religious “freedom” was restored with a vengeance, with the rebuilding of the infamous Roman ghettos that Napoleon had actually torn down previously, Jewish re-segregation across Europe, and the return of the wearing of Stars of David.6

Napoleon had not only liberated them physically, but also made them full citizens of France, something unheard of in the Western world. On 23 July 1806 in Paris he summoned the Sanhedrin, a meeting of Jewish leaders, to discuss their full integration in society and allow them to defend themselves against popular charges against them. All of this was done in the face of insurmountable opposition, including from his own uncle, Cardinal Fesch, who argued that he was bringing about the end of the world, the pope, Tsar Alexander I of Russia, and notable ultra-Catholic opposition in Spain in the form of violence.7 This is the explanation for the

 decree of 17 March 1808 which restricted Jewish rights and created a periodic, gradual conferring of rights; the decree was not of Napoleon’s design, but rather intended to stem the immense and devastating opposition he was facing. However, upon further discussion on the topic, Napoleon ordered many of the departments to remove this restrictive decree, which was entirely removed in 1811.8 Judaism by 1811 had become one of the three recognized religions of France (alongside Catholicism and Protestantism)

 and Jews were finally full citizens of France, a complete novelty in world history worthy of a chapter in and of itself in the history of religious affairs and in the application of the concept of law as a force to protect both the majority and the minority.

The best way to summarize how amazing of a transformation of Europe Napoleon made in the realm of Jewish relations, far surpassing morally and practically for the sake of Europe the Concordat of 1801, by granting them real representation and full citizenship and freeing them from the ghettos, would perhaps be to read a prayer of thanks by the Jews to Napoleon, “How fortunate we are, how good is our lot, that from Thy hand glory and beauty were poured out upon the head of a powerful man, full of vibrancy, NAPOLEON the Great, to sit on the Throne of France and Italy. Could another be found as worthy as NAPOLEON deserving of such honours and kingship, who shepherds his people with sincerity and with the understanding of his heart? Thou, GOD, hast wondrously bestowed Thy kindness upon him.”9 This is something that is of more than enough note to have been included in Felix Markham’s

 Napoleon, and is worthy of addition in a future edition of the book.

1Felix Markham, Napoleon (New York: Mentor, 1966), 80-81.

2Ibid, 91-94.

3Ibid, 94-95.

4Ibid, 95-98.

5Ibid, 147-150.

6J. David Markham, “Was Napoleon an Anti-Semite?,” International Napoleonic Society, accessed 16 November 2010,

7General Michel Franceschi, “Napoleon, Victim of his Liberation of the Jews,” International Napoleonic Society, online, accessed 16 November 2010,

8Ben Weider, “Napoleon and the Jews,” Napoleonic Scholarship, Vol. 1, Number 2, December 1998, online, accessed 16 November 2010,



General Franceschi, Michel. “Napoleon, Victim of his Liberation of the Jews.” International Napoleonic Society. Online. Accessed 16 November 2010.

Markham, Felix. Napoleon. New York: Mentor, 1966.

Markham, J. David. Napoleon for Dummies. Indianapolis, IN: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2005.

— “Was Napoleon an Anti-Semite?” International Napoleonic Society. Online. Accessed 16 November 2010.

Weider, Ben. “Napoleon and the Jews.” Napoleonic Scholarship: The Journal of the International Napoleonic Society. Volume 1, Number 2, December 1998. Online. Accessed 16 November 2010.

Viability of Constitutional Monarchy in 1791

Posted in Education, France, French Revolution, Politics, War of the First Coalition with tags , , , , on November 16, 2010 by Nicholas Stark

Question: Over thirty years ago, François Furet and Denis Richet maintained that in 1791 the French Revolution veered off course by failing to set up a constitutional monarchy and by becoming radicalized in an atmosphere of civil and foreign war. Was a constitutional monarchy viable in 1791?


Contrary to the idea of Furet and Richet, a constitutional monarchy was not viable in 1791 It was a decision neither the people nor the king wanted, and therefore could not possibly have been viable. The Flight to Varennes in the summer of 1791 before the Constitution was passed, leaving behind his open scorn for it, clearly demonstrates Louis XVI’s unwillingness to cooperate, and you cannot reasonably have a king who refuses to be the king, unless you wish him to subvert the state or flee again. You can force one to rule, but not to rule well. Furthermore, he was highly unpopular anyway. The petition of the Champs de Mars and the subsequent massacre followed by the public fall-out resulting from it attest to this.

On top of this, the king and queen were actively seeking the overthrow of the government and there was concrete proof. He wrote to his fellow kings in Spain, Austria, Prussia, etc., encouraging war against France so that he could regain absolute power. The massacre of the people was preferable to serving them. The king created the foreign war, which was one of the biggest problems France would have for the next twenty-three years. His hesitation to sign off on the Constitution (which he dishonestly did eventually) and his refusal to sign the Civil Constitution of the Clergy only worsened the internal problem. He can be personally blamed almost entirely for the foreign war, and at least partially for the civil war, so if the Revolution was radicalized, he was much to blame.

The Terror was not the result of there being a republic, but rather was a reaction to the situation created by the constitutional monarchy. The Terror was an attempt to inspire terror in the enemies of the Republic and inspire action against them, a reaction to the situation already in existence. Therefore it is faulty to assume that the removal of the constitutional monarchy led to the problems. The constitutional monarchy fell because it was to blame. Creating the Republic allowed for the defense of the nation, despite excesses. To have maintained the nonviable monarchy would be to put the reigns of government in a crisis in the hands of a traitor to steer the country into the ground. The Republic was the only viable option. It put government in the hands of people wanting to keep away enemies, not invite them to the slaughter. The only alternatives would be sheer madness: émigré ultras who were the brothers of Louis XVI, his youthful son who had zero qualifications, or the duc d’Orléans, who if a true republican would be an unwilling monarch and the country would just as well be a republic anyway.


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