Sénat conservateur

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Sénat conservateur
Founded1799 (1799)
Disbanded1814 (1814)
Preceded byNone
Succeeded byNone
Meeting place
Palais du Luxembourg
Constitution of the Year VIII

The Sénat conservateur ("Conservative Senate") was an advisory body established in France during the Consulate following the French Revolution. It was established in 1799 under the Constitution of the Year VIII following the Napoleon Bonaparte-led Coup of 18 Brumaire. It lasted until 1814 when Napoleon Bonaparte was overthrown and the Bourbon monarchy was restored. The Sénat was a key element in Napoleon's regime.[ citation needed ]

French Consulate former government of France

The Consulate was the top-level Government of France from the fall of the Directory in the coup of Brumaire on 10 November 1799 until the start of the Napoleonic Empire on 18 May 1804. By extension, the term The Consulate also refers to this period of French history.

French Revolution social and political revolution in France and its colonies occurring from 1789 to 1798

The French Revolution was a period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France and its colonies beginning in 1789. The Revolution overthrew the monarchy, established a republic, catalyzed violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon who brought many of its principles to areas he conquered in Western Europe and beyond. Inspired by liberal and radical ideas, the Revolution profoundly altered the course of modern history, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. Through the Revolutionary Wars, it unleashed a wave of global conflicts that extended from the Caribbean to the Middle East. Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history.

Constitution of the Year VIII constitution

The Constitution of the Year VIII was a national constitution of France, adopted on December 24, 1799, which established the form of government known as the Consulate. The coup of 18 Brumaire had effectively given all power to Napoleon Bonaparte, and in the eyes of some, ended the French Revolution.


With the Tribunat and the Corps législatif, the Senate formed one of the three legislative assemblies of the Consulate.

The Tribunat was one of the four assemblies set up in France by the Constitution of Year VIII. It was set up officially on 1 January 1800 at the same time as the Corps législatif. Its first president was the historian Pierre Daunou, whose independent spirit led to his dismissal from the post by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. The Tribunat assumed some of the functions of the Council of Five Hundred, but its role consisted only of deliberating projected laws before their adoption by the Corps législatif, with the legislative initiative remaining with the Council of State.

Corps législatif Wikimedia disambiguation page

The Corps législatif was a part of the French legislature during the French Revolution and beyond. It is also the generic French term used to refer to any legislative body.

A legislature is a deliberative assembly with the authority to make laws for a political entity such as a country or city. Legislatures form important parts of most governments; in the separation of powers model, they are often contrasted with the executive and judicial branches of government.

The constitutions of Year X (1802) and Year XII (18 May 1804; instituting the First French Empire under Napoleon) reinforced the importance of the Sénat conservateur.

Constitution of the Year X

The Constitution of the Year X was a national constitution of France adopted during the Year X (10) on 16 Thermidor of the French Revolutionary Calendar. It amended the Constitution of the Year VIII, revising the Consulate to augment Napoleon Bonaparte's authority by making him First Consul for Life.

Constitution of the Year XII

The Constitution of the Year XII was a national constitution of France adopted during the Year XII of the French Revolutionary Calendar.

First French Empire Empire of Napoleon I of France between 1804–1815

The First French Empire, officially the French Empire, was the empire of Napoleon Bonaparte of France and the dominant power in much of continental Europe at the beginning of the 19th century. Although France had already established an overseas colonial empire beginning in the 17th century, the French state had remained a kingdom under the Bourbons and a republic after the Revolution. Historians refer to Napoleon's regime as the First Empire to distinguish it from the restorationist Second Empire (1852–1870) ruled by his nephew as Napoleon III.


Conserving the constitution

Napoleon receives the delegates of the Senat conservateur at the Stadtschloss, Berlin, November 19, 1806 (painting by Rene Theodore Berthon, 1808). Berthon - Napoleon Ier recoit au Palais Royal de Berlin, les deputes du Senat francais, le 19 novembre 1806.jpg
Napoleon receives the delegates of the Sénat conservateur at the Stadtschloss, Berlin, November 19, 1806 (painting by René Théodore Berthon, 1808).
Relation between different offices and assemblies under the Constitution of the Year VIII. Constitution an VIII et le Empire Francais.png
Relation between different offices and assemblies under the Constitution of the Year VIII.

Set up under the direct influence of the regime's new master, First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte, the Constitution of 22 frimaire year VIII (13 December 1799) was the first to recreate a senate. Napoleon was to make this "Sénat conservateur", charged with watching over the survival of the Constitution, a key element in his regime.

The Senat conservateur met in the Luxembourg Palace. Palais du Luxembourg hiver.JPG
The Sénat conservateur met in the Luxembourg Palace.

This first senate had to be made up of only 60 inamovible (immoveable, i.e. permanent) members, aged at least 40, to which had to be added two supplementary members every year for ten years, ending up with 20 supplementary members. There was no longer any question of elections (even indirect ones) to form this assembly. The Constitution provided for Sieyès and Roger Ducos, the outgoing second and third consuls, to become ex officio members of the Senate. In consultation with Cambacérès and Lebrun (the new second and third consuls directly designated by the Constitution), it also granted the outgoing consuls the privilege of choosing the majority of the Senate (i.e. 29 other senators). This majority then picked the rest of the members. The Senate thus recruited itself and subsequently replaced deceased members by choosing from among three candidates presented to it by the First Consul, the Tribunat and the Corps législatif.

Roger Ducos French revoltionary

Pierre Roger Ducos, better known as Roger Ducos, was a French political figure during the Revolution and First Empire, a member of the National Convention, and of the Directory.

Charles-François Lebrun French politician, linguist and translator

Charles-François Lebrun, 1st duc de Plaisance, was a French statesman who served as Third Consul of the French Republic and was later created Arch-Treasurer and Prince of the Empire by Napoleon I.

The Napoleonic senate set itself up at the Luxembourg Palace, based in a semicircle of seats added to the central part of the building by the Palace's architect Chalgrin – in the words of the Constitution, "The sittings [of the Senate] are not [to be] public". The first Sénat conservateur included former members of the revolutionary assemblies (François de Neufchâteau, Garat, Lanjuinais), as well as scholars (Monge, Lagrange, Lacépède, Berthollet), philosophers (Cabanis), and even the explorer Bougainville and the painter Vien, member of the Institut.

Luxembourg Palace Seat of the French Senate

The Luxembourg Palace is located at 15 Rue de Vaugirard in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. It was originally built (1615–1645) to the designs of the French architect Salomon de Brosse to be the royal residence of the regent Marie de' Medici, mother of Louis XIII of France. After the Revolution it was refashioned (1799–1805) by Jean Chalgrin into a legislative building and subsequently greatly enlarged and remodeled (1835–1856) by Alphonse de Gisors. Since 1958 it has been the seat of the Senate of the Fifth Republic.

Jean Chalgrin French architect

Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin was a French architect, best known for his design for the Arc de Triomphe, Paris.

François de Neufchâteau French statesman, poet, and scientist

Nicolas-Louis François de Neufchâteau was a French statesman, poet, and agricultural scientist.

The era of "Sénatus-consulte"s

Letterhead. Senat conservateur.png

In year X (1802), a revision of the Constitution reinforced senators' positions. From then on the Senate would rule via acts having the force of law, known as "sénatus-consultes", in all matters unforeseen by the Constitution and which needed political action from the regime. The procedure was used, for example, for the 1802 amnesty for émigrés.

An émigré is a person who has emigrated, often with a connotation of political or social self-exile. The word is the past participle of the French émigrer, "to emigrate".

The number of senators rose to 120. First Consul Bonaparte directly controlled the Senate's activity and composition – he convened it, presided over it, reserved the right to present it with its candidates, personally designated three candidates from the list of citizens elected by the electoral colleges and could also name senators of his own initiative.

Examples of "Sénatus-consulte"s

First page of the Constitution of the Year X. Constitution of the Year X.jpg
First page of the Constitution of the Year X.
  • Sénatus-consulte du 22 Ventôse An X (13 March 1802) relating to the manner in which the renewal of the first four-fifths of the Corps législatif and of the Tribunat would be made in year X, and in the 3 subsequent years
  • Sénatus-consulte du 6 Floréal An X (26 April 1802) relating to émigrés
  • Sénatus-consulte du 14 Thermidor An X (2 août 1802), proclaiming Napoleon "First Consul for life"
  • Sénatus-consulte organique du 16 Thermidor an X (4 August 1802), on the Constitution
  • Sénatus-consulte organique du 8 Fructidor an X (26 August 1802), reuniting Elba into the territory of the French Republic
  • Sénatus-consulte du 8 Fructidor an X (26 August 1802) relating to the classification of the members of the Corps législatif "en séries", and the means of reducing the members of the Tribunat
  • Sénatus-consulte du 8 Fructidor an X (26 August 1802), relating to the terms under which the "sénatus-consulte" pronouncing the dissolution of the Corps législatif and/or the Tribunat would be edited
  • Sénatus-consulte du 10 Fructidor An X (28 August 1802), designating the towns whose mayors would be present at the oath-taking of any citizen named to succeed the first consul
  • Sénatus-consulte organique du 24 Fructidor an X (11 September 1802), reuniting the departments of Pô, Doire, Marengo, la Sezia, la Stura and Le Tanaro into the territory of the French Republic
  • Sénatus-consulte du 26 Vendémiaire An XI (18 October 1802), suspending jury functions in several departments during years XI and XII
  • Sénatus-consulte organique du 26 Vendémiaire An XI (18 October 1802), relating to foreigners becoming naturalised French citizens, for services rendered to the Republic, importing of useful inventions or the foundation of major establishments.
  • Sénatus-consulte du 8 Ventôse an XII (28 February 1804), suspending jury functions for treason trials for years XII and XIII.
  • Sénatus-consulte du 27 mars 1805, concerning the grant of French citizenship to prince Camillo Filippo Ludovico Borghese
  • Sénatus-consulte du 9 septembre 1805, on the reestablishment of the Gregorian calendar
  • Sénatus-consulte organique du 28 octobre 1805, concerning the return of Gênes, etc., into the French Empire, and the deputations to furnish to the Corps législatif by the departments of Gênes, Montenotte and les Apennins

A pampered elite

In January 1803 Napoleon created the system of sénatoreries, which ensured the senators' complete compliance and docility. From June 1804 onwards, these were granted to 36 senators and made these senators regional "super-préfets". They gave these senators the right, during their own lifetime, to have a residential palace (a château or a former episcopal palace) and to annual revenue from 20,000 to 25,000 francs – doubling ordinary senatorial pay. For example, Berthollet received the sénatorerie of Montpellier, occupied the bishop's palace at Narbonne and received an annual revenue of 22,690 francs.

Rise and fall of an emperor

Painting by Georges Rouget showing Napoleon in Saint-Cloud receiving the senatus-consulte proclaiming him Emperor of the French (1804). Napoleon Ier recoit a Saint-Cloud le Senatus-Consulte qui le proclame empereur des Francais.jpg
Painting by Georges Rouget showing Napoleon in Saint-Cloud receiving the sénatus-consulte proclaiming him Emperor of the French (1804).

The Constitution of the Year XII (1804) proclaimed the First French Empire and increased the Senate's dependency on Napoleon (now emperor). Napoleon's rewards to his senators became more and more frequent, as did the senators' shows of allegiance to him. On 1 January 1806, in homage to these "sages de l’Empire" (wise-men of the Empire), the emperor granted the senators 54 enemy flags. The "sénateur maréchal d’Empire" (marshal of France) Catherine-Dominique de Pérignon then enthusiastically proposed the construction of a triumphal arch to the glory of the emperor, a suggestion warmly backed by his colleagues, including senator Bernard Germain de Lacépède.

Napoléon summoned into the Senate the French princes, the Great Dignitaries and all his choicest friends, with no limit on numbers. He granted this to his brother Joseph, but also to Cambacérès, Chaptal, Fouché, Fontanes, Tronchet and generals such as Caulaincourt and Duroc.

Despite being laden with Napoleon's favours, the senators nonetheless proclaimed his fall on 3 April 1814 and summoned Louis XVIII to take the throne. Louis XVIII abolished the senate.

Presidents of the Sénat conservateur

The Abbe Sieyes, president of the Senat conservateur 1799-1801. Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes, by Jacques Louis David.jpg
The Abbé Sieyès, president of the Sénat conservateur 1799-1801.
Bernard Germain de Lacepede, president of the Senat conservateur 1811-1813. B G de Lacepede.jpg
Bernard Germain de Lacépède, president of the Sénat conservateur 1811-1813.


Empire [1]

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  1. Almanach impérial pour l'année 1813, par Testu, 1813, Paris Sur Gallica