Le souper de Beaucaire

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"Le souper de Beaucaire", depicting Bonaparte having the supper in Beaucaire on 28 July 1793, by Jean Lecomte du Nouy, 1869-94 Le souper de Beaucaire.png
"Le souper de Beaucaire", depicting Bonaparte having the supper in Beaucaire on 28 July 1793, by Jean Lecomte du Nouÿ, 1869–94

Le souper de Beaucaire was a political pamphlet written by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1793. With the French Revolution into its fourth year, civil war had spread across France between various rival political factions. Napoleon was involved in military action, on the government's side, against some rebellious cities of southern France. It was during these events, in 1793, that he spoke with four merchants from the Midi and heard their views. As a loyal soldier of the Republic he responded in turn, set on dispelling the fears of the merchants and discouraging their beliefs. He later wrote about his conversation in the form of a pamphlet, calling for an end to the civil war.

Contents

Background

During the French Revolution the National Convention became the executive power of France, following the execution of King Louis XVI. With powerful members, such as Maximilien Robespierre and Georges Danton, the Jacobin Club, a French political party established in 1790, at the birth of the revolution, [1] managed to secure control of the government and pursue the revolution to their own ends, culminating in a "Reign of Terror". Its repressive policies resulted in insurrection across much of France, including the three largest cities after Paris, namely Lyon, Marseille and Toulon, in the south of France. [2] [3]

National Convention single-chamber assembly in France from 21 September 1792 to 26 October 1795

The National Convention was the first government of the French Revolution, following the two-year National Constituent Assembly and the one-year Legislative Assembly. Created after the great insurrection of 10 August 1792, it was the first French government organized as a republic, abandoning the monarchy altogether. The Convention sat as a single-chamber assembly from 20 September 1792 to 26 October 1795.

Maximilien Robespierre French revolutionary lawyer and politician

Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre was a French lawyer and politician, as well as one of the best known and most influential figures associated with the French Revolution. As a member of the Constituent Assembly, the Jacobin Club and National Convention, Robespierre was an outspoken advocate for the citizens without a voice, for their unrestricted admission to the National Guard, to public offices, and for the right to petition. He campaigned for universal manhood suffrage, abolition of celibacy, religious tolerance and the abolition of slavery in the French colonies. Robespierre played an important role after the Storming of the Tuileries, which led to the establishment of the First French Republic on 22 September 1792.

Georges Danton French revolutionary

Georges Jacques Danton was a leading figure in the early stages of the French Revolution, in particular as the first president of the Committee of Public Safety. Danton's role in the onset of the Revolution has been disputed; many historians describe him as "the chief force in the overthrow of the French monarchy and the establishment of the First French Republic".

Citizens in the south were opposed to a centralised government, and to the decrees of its rule, which resulted in rebellion. Prior to the revolution France had been divided into provinces with local governments. In 1790 the government, the National Constituent Assembly, reorganised France into administrative departments in order to rebalance the uneven distribution of French wealth, which had been subject to feudalism under the monarchical Ancien Régime . [4]

National Constituent Assembly (France) former political body formed from the National Assembly on 9 July 1789 during the first stages of the French Revolution

The National Constituent Assembly was formed from the National Assembly on 9 July 1789 during the first stages of the French Revolution. It dissolved on 30 September 1791 and was succeeded by the Legislative Assembly.

In the administrative divisions of France, the department is one of the three levels of government below the national level, between the administrative regions and the commune. Ninety-six departments are in metropolitan France, and five are overseas departments, which are also classified as regions. Departments are further subdivided into 334 arrondissements, themselves divided into cantons; the last two have no autonomy, and are used for the organisation of police, fire departments, and sometimes, elections.

Ancien Régime monarchic, aristocratic, social and political system established in the Kingdom of France from approximately the 15th century until the later 18th century

The Ancien Régime was the political and social system of the Kingdom of France from the Late Middle Ages until 1789, when hereditary monarchy and the feudal system of French nobility were abolished by the French Revolution. The Ancien Régime was ruled by the late Valois and Bourbon dynasties. The term is occasionally used to refer to the similar feudal systems of the time elsewhere in Europe. The administrative and social structures of the Ancien Régime were the result of years of state-building, legislative acts, internal conflicts, and civil wars, but they remained and the Valois Dynasty's attempts at re-establishing control over the scattered political centres of the country were hindered by the Huguenot Wars. Much of the reigns of Henry IV and Louis XIII and the early years of Louis XIV were focused on administrative centralization. Despite, however, the notion of "absolute monarchy" and the efforts by the kings to create a centralized state, the Kingdom of France retained its irregularities: authority regularly overlapped and nobles struggled to retain autonomy.

Rebellion in Southern France

In July 1793, Captain Napoleon Bonaparte, an artillery officer, was placed under the command of General Jean-Baptiste Carteaux to deal with rebels from Marseille situated in Avignon, where army munitions required by the French Army of Italy were being stored. On 24 July, Carteaux's National Guardsmen assaulted Avignon which was held by rebellious Guardsmen. They killed thirty citizens in cold blood during the attack before capturing the town and army supplies. [5] Afterwards, Napoleon travelled to nearby Tarascon to find wagons with which to transport the munition. He visited Beaucaire, across the river from Tarascon, which had been holding an annual fair. Napoleon arrived on 28 July, the last day of the fair, and went to a tavern where he shared supper and conversation with four merchants – two from Marseille, one from Montpellier and another from Nîmes. [6]

Jean François Carteaux French painter

Jean Baptiste François Carteaux was a French painter who became a General in the French Revolutionary Army. He is notable chiefly for being the young Napoleon Bonaparte's commander at the siege of Toulon in 1793.

Avignon Prefecture and commune in Provence-Alpes-Côte dAzur, France

Avignon is a commune in south-eastern France in the department of Vaucluse on the left bank of the Rhône river. Of the 90,194 inhabitants of the city, about 12,000 live in the ancient town centre enclosed by its medieval ramparts.

Army of Italy (France) field army of the French Revolutionary Army

The Army of Italy was a field army of the French Army stationed on the Italian border and used for operations in Italy itself. Though it existed in some form in the 16th century through to the present, it is best known for its role during the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars.

That evening Napoleon and the four merchants discussed the revolution, subsequent rebellions, and their consequences. Speaking as a pro-Republican, Napoleon supported the Jacobin cause, and explained the benefits of the revolution, whilst defending Carteaux's actions in Avignon. One of the merchants from Marseille expressed his moderate views regarding the revolution, and reasons for supporting civil war against a central government. The merchant stressed that Marseille did not fight for the Royalist cause, but opposed the nature of the Convention itself, condemning its decrees and deeming the execution of citizens as unlawful. Napoleon concluded that the people of Marseille should reject counter-revolutionary ideals and adopt the constitution of the French Republic in order to end the civil war and allow the regular army to restore France. [7]

French Constitution of 1793 constitution

The Constitution of 1793, also known as the Constitution of the Year I or the Montagnard Constitution, was the second constitution ratified for use during the French Revolution under the First Republic. Designed by the Montagnards, principally Maximilien Robespierre and Louis Saint-Just, it was intended to replace the outdated Constitution of 1791. With sweeping plans for democratization and wealth redistribution, the new document promised a significant departure from the relatively moderate goals of the Revolution in previous years.

Following their conversation the group drank champagne until two in the morning, paid for by the Marseillais merchant. [8]

Publication and recognition

Shortly after the events, possibly on the 29 July whilst still in Beaucaire, Napoleon wrote a political pamphlet titled Le souper de Beaucaire (The supper at Beaucaire) in which a soldier speaks with four merchants and, sympathetic to their opinions, attempts to dissipate their counter-revolutionary sentiments. [7]

The pamphlet was read by Augustin Robespierre, brother of Maximilien Robespierre, who was impressed by the revolutionary context. [9] The pamphlet itself had little effect against the rebellious forces, [10] but served to advance Napoleon's career. He soon became recognised for his political ambitions by a Corsica-born politician, and family friend, Christophe Saliceti, who arranged to have it published and distributed. [11] Christophe's influence, along with fellow Convention deputy Augustin Robespierre, advanced Napoleon into the position of senior gunner, at Toulon. [12]

In Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte, a biography by Napoleon's private secretary, Louis de Bourrienne, he notes that Le souper de Beaucaire was reprinted as a book – the first edition issued at the cost of the Public Treasury in August 1798, and a second edition in 1821, following Napoleon's death. He also states, "It was during my absence from France that Bonaparte, in the rank of 'chef de bataillon' [major], performed his first campaign, and contributed so materially to the recapture of Toulon. Of this period of his life I have no personal knowledge, and therefore I shall not speak of it as an eye-witness. I shall merely relate some facts which fill up the interval between 1793 and 1795, and which I have collected from papers which he himself delivered to me. Among these papers is a little production, entitled 'Le Souper de Beaucaire', the copies of which he bought up at considerable expense, and destroyed upon his attaining the Consulate." [13]

Notes

  1. Doyle, p. 142.
  2. Hibbert, p. 202.
  3. Doyle, p. 241.
  4. Doyle, pp. 125, 127.
  5. Cronin, p. 71.
  6. Dwyer, pp. 130–131.
  7. 1 2 de Chair, pp. 59–70.
  8. de Chair, p. 70.
  9. Chandler, p. 21.
  10. Cronin, p. 72.
  11. Dwyer, p. 124.
  12. Dwyer, p. 136.
  13. Phipps, Colonel R.W., ed. (1891). "Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte, by Bourrienne (Volume I; Chapter II)". The Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 20 October 2011.

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