It had taken centuries for English persistence to accomplish what France, with such appalling violence, had done in as many years. It had been a furious outburst of pent-up force; but the work had been thorough. Not a germ of tyranny remained. The incrustations of a thousand years were not alone broken, but pulverized; the privileged classes were swept away, and their vast estates, two-thirds of the territory of France, ready to be distributed among the rightful owners of the soil, those who by toil and industry could win them. France was as new as if she had no history. There was ample opportunity for her people now. What would they do with it?
What would they build upon the ruins of their ancient despotism? What would be the starting-point for such a task—every connecting link with an historic past broken, and the armies of an indignant Europe pressing in upon every side? Could they ever wipe out the stain which had made them odious in the sight of Christendom? Would they ever be forgiven for disgracing the name of Liberty?
It was the power and genius of a single man which was going to make the world forget her disgrace, and cover France with a mantle more glorious than she had ever worn.
The Revolution over, France, sitting among the wreckage of the past, found herself disgraced, discredited, and at war with all of Europe. Austria, naturally the leader in an effort to stop the atrocities which threatened a daughter of her own royal house, had been joined finally by England, Holland, Spain, and even Portugal and Tuscany, these all being impelled, not by the personal feeling which actuated Austria, but by alarm for their own safety. This revolutionary movement was a moral and political plague spot which must be stamped out, or there would be anarchy in every kingdom in Europe.
It was the difficulty in recruiting troops to fight this coalition which had embarrassed and finally broken the power of the revolutionary government. If the states of Europe had really acted in concert, the life of the new republic would have been brief. But Austria was jealous of Prussia, and Prussia afraid of the friendship which was forming between Austria and England, and Catharine, the empress of Russia, keeping all uncertain about her designs upon Poland—with the result that the war upon France was conducted in a desultory and ineffectual manner.
In the organization of the new French republic, the executive power was vested in a Directory, composed of five members, chosen by two houses of legislature.
A disagreement over some details of the new constitution led to a heated quarrel, and this to an insurrection in Paris, October 5, 1795, which Napoleon Bonaparte, a young officer who had acquired distinction at Toulon, was summoned to quell. The vigor and the success with which the young leader used his cannon in the streets of Paris struck precisely the right note at the right moment. Law and order were established. A delighted Directory yielded at once to the suggestion of a campaign against Austria which should be conducted in Italy, in combination with an advance upon Vienna from the Rhine.