If the citizens of Paris had become accustomed to the intervention of the line army in civilian politics by 1799, they were probably not aware of just how close Napoleon’s coup d’état came to being a fiasco. It was a bungled plot, messy and confused, and if it had a true hero, he was Lucien rather than Napoleon Bonaparte. But Lucien, then president of the council of five hundred, having improvised an irregular way of getting the councils of the Directory dissolved and serving briefly as minister of the interior, was soon packed off to less prominent pastures as ambassador to Spain. Napoleon’s propaganda at once presented Brumaire as a resounding personal triumph . It is true that the conspirators had sought to maintain at least the semblance of legality in carrying out their coup, but that hope had soon evaporated in the heat of Napoleon’s intemperate intervention at Saint-Cloud, to which safer retreat the councils had been removed so as to avoid an uproar in the capital. Isser Woloch sees this as one questionable episode in the public life of modern France, ‘a nation where coups clothed in pseudo-legality have repeatedly changed the rules of the game’ [64: xiv].
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