Constitution of the Year VIII
The Constitution of the Year VIII (French: Constitution de l'an VIII) was a national constitution of France, adopted December 24, 1799 (during the Year VIII of the French Revolutionary Calendar), which established the form of government known as the Consulate. The coup of 18 Brumaire (November 9, 1799) effectively gave all power to Napoleon Bonaparte, and in the eyes of some, ended the French Revolution.
After the coup, Napoleon and his allies legitimized his position by creating the "short and obscure Constitution of the Year VIII" (as Malcolm Crook has called it1). The constitution tailor-made the position of First Consul to give Napoleon most of the powers of a dictator. It was the first constitution since the Revolution without a Declaration of Rights.
The executive power was vested in three Consuls, but all actual power was held by the First Consul, Bonaparte. This was no longer Robespierre's Republic, which was more radical, or the oligarchic liberal Republic of the Directory, but the autocratic Roman Republic of Caesar Augustus, a Conservative Republic, which reminded the French of stability, order, and peace. To emphasize this, Napoleon used classical Roman terms in the Constitution: Consul, Senator, Tribune.
The Constitution of Year VIII established a legislature of three houses, which was composed of: a Conservative Senate of 80 men over the age of 40, a Tribunate of 100 men, and a Legislative Body (Corps législatif) of 300 men.
The Constitution also used the term “notables.” The term “notables” was a common usage under the monarchy; every Frenchman understood it, and it was comforting. It referred to prominent, "distinguished" men: landholders, merchants, scholars, professionals, clergymen, officials. The people in each district chose a slate of "notables" by popular vote. The First Consul, Tribunate, and Corps Législatif each nominated one Senatorial candidate to the rest of the Senate, which chose one candidate from among the three. Once all of its members were picked, it would then appoint the Tribunate, the Corps Législatif, the judges of cassation, and the commissioners of accounts from the slate of notables.
Napoleon held a plebiscite on the Constitution in December. The vote was not binding, but it allowed Napoleon to maintain a veneer of democracy. The vote was 3,000,000 in favor, and 1,500 against.
This Constitution was amended, first, by the Constitution of the Year X, which made Napoleon First Consul for Life, more extensively altered by the Constitution of the Year XII which established the Bonaparte dynasty with Napoleon as a hereditary Emperor, abolished by the first, brief Bourbon Restoration of 1814, revived and at once virtually replaced by the so-called "Additional Act" of April 1815 promulgated on Napoleon's brief return; and definitively abolished by the return of Louis XVIII later in 1815 (following the Hundred Days). The Napoleonic constitutions were then completely replaced by the Charter of 1814.
Connelly, Owen (2000). The French Revolution and Napoleonic Era. 3rd Edition. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt. pp. 201–203.
- Crook, Malcolm (1999). "The Myth Of The 18 Brumaire". H-France Napoleon Forum. Retrieved 2007-12-12.
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