Directory

Directory, group of five men who held the executive power in France according to the constitution of the year III (1795) of the French Revolution. They were chosen by the new legislature, by the Council of Five Hundred and the Council of Ancients; each year one director, chosen by lot, was to be replaced. The Directory was balanced by two representative assemblies elected indirectly by property holders. Governing a nearly bankrupt nation, the Directory had a stormy history. Politically, it walked a narrow course between Jacobins on the left and royalists on the right. During its history, the Directory instituted positive monetary reforms, which helped revive trade and agriculture, and provided the basis for Napoleon's restoration of order. But full recovery from the Revolution was not possible. The Directory not only faced a series of political crises, but was riddled with inefficiency and corruption. It suppressed the conspiracies of "Gracchus"Babeuf on the left and royalist uprisings on the right and later annulled some results in the elections of 1797 and 1798. Its increasingly repressive measures resulted in political isolation and bankruptcy. In the coup of 18 Fructidor (Sept. 4, 1797), the more conservative directors, Lazare Carnot and François de Barthélemy were ousted, and measures against the church and émigrés were revived. In addition, the Directory lost control of foreign policy to the generals in the field, especially Napoleon Bonaparte. Some of Napoleon's actions, such as negotiating the Treaty of Compo Formio and the Egyptian expedition, may have led to the formation of the Second Coalition against France. Discontent with the Directory rose to a high pitch with the military reverses of 1799 in which the republics from Holland to S Italy fell to the combined assault of Russian, Austrian, and British forces. Despite the fact that an invasion of France was prevented and these forces were defeated before Napoleon's return, the Abbé Sieyès, elected a director in May, 1799, secretly prepared the coup of 18 Brumaire (Nov. 9, 1799), which put Bonaparte in power, replacing the Directory with the Consulate.

See M. Lyons, France under the Directory (1975).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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