A letter from Carnot to Bonaparte

A letter from Carnot to Bonaparte

  • Minute autograph letter from Carnot to Bonaparte (p.1).

  • Minute autograph letter from Carnot to Bonaparte (p.2).

  • Portrait of Lazare Carnot as a member of the Management Board

    BONNEVILLE Francois

To close

Title: Minute autograph letter from Carnot to Bonaparte (p.1).

Author :

Creation date : 1797

Date shown: August 17, 1797

Dimensions: Height 28.7 - Width 22.3

Technique and other indications: Autograph draft

Storage location: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photo workshop website

Picture reference: PC450100264

Minute autograph letter from Carnot to Bonaparte (p.1).

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

To close

Title: Minute autograph letter from Carnot to Bonaparte (p.2).

Author :

Creation date : 1797

Date shown: August 17, 1797

Dimensions: Height 28.7 - Width 22.3

Technique and other indications: Autograph draft

Storage location: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photo workshop website

Picture reference: PC450100265

Minute autograph letter from Carnot to Bonaparte (p.2).

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

Portrait of Lazare Carnot as a member of the Management Board

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: May 2006

Historical context

Carnot and Bonaparte: two soldiers in politics

Under the Directory, government is collective and entrusted to five heads of state chosen for five years, the directors. Lazare Carnot (1753-1823), elected in November 1795, was primarily responsible for military matters. Already in charge of the war in the Committee of Public Safety, he revealed himself there as the "organizer of victory" against the united European nations. This gigantic task enabled Republican France to win the victory of Fleurus, then to invade Belgium, the Rhineland and Holland.

Bonaparte, fourteen years younger than Carnot, sought the support of the person responsible for the war and maintained frequent correspondence with him upon his arrival in Italy. But at 28, after the brilliant victories he has just won, he is now seized by the great ambition of the supreme power.

As soon as the sudden news of the Leoben accords between the empire and Bonaparte arrived in Paris, Carnot approved them but urged the conclusion of peace; he tries to avoid the creation of sister republics in Italy which would require the support of France, and thus, in the more or less near future, the resumption of the war. In July, Bonaparte sent proof of Pichegru's betrayal and threatened to return to the head of his army to save the Republic from the royalist push that France was experiencing. Without leverage on the young victorious general, who has both armed force and the favor of public opinion, Carnot seeks to ensure that he will act according to his wishes.

Image Analysis

A letter from man to man

Despite this hectic context, Carnot wrote to Bonaparte with a firm hand, and this draft contains few erasures. The director speaks with clarity and warmth. He first appeals for this mutual understanding between military leaders accustomed to danger, describing with pity the diffuse fears that are manifested in Paris: “There is good reason to laugh at these panic and reciprocal terrors. "

Its main concern is to sign the peace to stop the fighting and fix the ever-shifting borders. He tries, while emphasizing the celebrity of Bonaparte in France, to convince him to be one of those "reasonable men who finally want an end to the evils of the fatherland". His "let's not put the republic in trouble" shows his deep conviction of the validity of this regime tossed about on all sides and which needs peace to take root. Faced with the madness of conquest, he recommends sticking to a balance of forces that ensures lasting peace, the strategic elements of which he clearly details.

Both know that the Republic is unstable and that the Directory is fragile, between supporters of a return to Jacobinism and royalist agents. But undoubtedly Carnot considers himself indispensable to the party which will win him. He has not yet realized how much his and Bonaparte's options diverge on internal government and whether or not to continue the war. Six months earlier, he had already written to her [1]: “I am sure that there are no two ways of seeing more in conformity than between you and me […] Count on me, as I count on you, with all wise men who love the republic for it and not for themselves. "

Nothing for Carnot is more important than the service of the fatherland. It is the ideal in keeping with the ancient grandeur of the citizen that he suggests to Bonaparte: "Come and astonish Parisians with your moderation and your philosophy. "His conclusion is clear and straightforward:" As for me, I believe that it is only Bonaparte, once again a simple citizen, who can show General Bonaparte in all his greatness. "

Installed in the Luxembourg Palace with the other directors who jointly carry out their work and fulfill their role of representation, Carnot wears like them a sumptuous uniform: purple satin coat, covered with gold embroidery, embroidered blue coat, large scarf, long sword, plumed hat. To his contemporaries, he appeared imposing and affable; Irish patriot T. Wolfe Tone, who met him at this time, found him to be a Van Dyck character.

Interpretation

The end of an era

"Carnot was hardworking, sincere in everything he did, without intrigue and easy to deceive ... He showed moral courage", Napoleon said on Saint Helena. Isn't that the admission that he himself had abused the great Carnot?

The situation partly explains the tone of the letter: Carnot director can no longer speak the same language as the member of the Committee of Public Safety. He is no longer "the organizer of victory"; It’s the end of a great era, and he’s no longer leading operations. Armies are increasingly operating in areas he does not know. On the Rhine, the generals took it easy and no longer provided him with the projects and plans they sent in 1793 and 1794. Now they worked for them. In Italy, where he had great success, Bonaparte acted as he pleased. Cleverly, this one quickly obtained carte blanche. Carnot, far from envying his genius, was friendly and confident. Suddenly, he lost not only the leadership of the Italian campaign and that of the negotiations, but also all control of the situation by the central power.

But Carnot still hopes to find in Bonaparte, who floods Paris with propaganda sheets in which he presents himself as a defender of the Republic, the same desire to serve it. Even if his moral exhortation appears derisory in the face of the ambition of the young winner, his determination and his simplicity of tone are not lacking in grandeur. He expresses without frills his conviction as a man, soldier and politician to act for the Republic and the common good.

Three weeks later, Carnot had to flee from the turnaround brought on by the day of 18 Fructidor [2]. Evicted on the pretext of links with the royalists, he must give way to new directors. Bonaparte, absent from events, continued to progress, however, under the guise of defending the achievements of the Revolution.

  • Italian countryside
  • Directory
  • napoleonic wars
  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)
  • mail

Bibliography

Marcel REINHARDThe Grand CarnotParis, Hachette, 1951, reprint 1994.André PALLUELEmperor's DictionaryParis, Plon, 1969.Marcel REINHARDThe Grand CarnotParis, Hachette, 1951, reprint 1994.André PALLUELEmperor's DictionaryParis, Plon, 1969.

To cite this article

Luce-Marie ALBIGÈS, "A letter from Carnot to Bonaparte"


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