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To Alexander Hamilton from Rufus King, 9 September 1797

From Rufus King1

London. Sat. Sep. 9. 1797

Dear Sir

We have this day accounts from Paris, which tho~ very important and interesting, are not unexpected. The Breach between the Councils and the directory has for some time destroyed all Prospect of a reconciliation between them; and either an organized civil war, in consequence of the different sides adopted by the several armies, or a Measure like that which has happened, had become inevitable—the march of the unreducable divisions of the army into the interior, the removal of Generals in whom they did not confide, the various messages in the stile of manifestoes addressed to the councils, and the sending for General Jourdan, who commanded the army of the Rhine, to Paris, and putting his army in the interim of his absence under Hoche, are now explained.2

Augereau who had been called from Italy for the purpose, upon the alarm Cannon being fired on the morning of the 4th. instant, marched his Troops and surrounded without opposition the Place of sitting of the Council of 500; he then proceeded to arrest Pichegru, and a considerable number of the other most influential Members of that Council, on the charge of a royalist conspiracy; having for its object the Massacre of three of the Directory, to make way for successors who would place Louis XVIII on the Throne of France. Carnot say the same accts. has fled, and Barthelemy say others is also arrested.3 I do not give you this account as authentic, tho I have little doubt that it is so, as far at least as it states an attack of the Directory upon the Council of 500. If the consequence of this proceeding was confined to France, it would be less the Subject of regret tho’ all must deplore the sanguinary scenes so frequently there exhibited; but in reference to the pending Negotiations,4 and the Return of Peace, this Transaction is very important. The two Councils who in this respect are supposed to have faithfully represented their Constituents desired Peace with sincerity: the Directory most certainly differed from them in their inclinations on this Subject—if the Directory overwhelm the Councils, the war must and will continue. But how will the armies, how will the nation conduct on this Occasion. I fear there is little consolation to the friends of humanity from ⟨the dou⟩bt wh. for a moment exists on these points. The nation are nothing—the Armies are most probably deceived—and the Directory will triumph.

Adieu   yrs &c

R King

P. S. If I do not forget names a majority of the Comee. to whom Pastorets Speech on our affairs was referred, are among the members now arrested.5 You will readily see how mischievous to us this success of the Directory may and probably will be.

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1This letter describes the coup d’etat of 18 Fructidor an V (September 4, 1797).

2After the failure of his German campaign in the late summer of 1796 (see King to H, November 30, 1796, note 1), General Jean Baptiste Jourdan resigned from the command of the army of the Sambre and Meuse and was temporarily replaced by Pierre de Riel, marquis de Beurnonville. In February, 1797, General Louis Lazare Hoche took command of the army after returning from an unsuccessful expedition to Ireland. In July, 1797, the Directors diverted Hoche from his second Irish expedition and ordered him to prepare a force to march on Paris. After returning with the greater part of his army to eastern France, Hoche sent to Paris a detachment of troops under General Louis Chérin which assisted in the coup d’état of September 4, 1797.

3Pierre François Charles Augereau, formerly a general in Napoleon’s army of Italy (see King to H, August 6–10, 1797, note 5), commanded the Paris military division which effected the coup d’état of September 4, 1797. Entering the Tuileries at dawn on September 4, Augereau’s men arrested General JeanCharles Pichegru, president of the Council of Five Hundred and a monarchist, General Jean-Pierre Ramel, commandant of the guard of the legislature, the Director François Barthélemy, and a number of deputies. The Director Lazare Nicolas Marguerite Carnot escaped from Paris on the night of September 3. On September 4, 1797, Barthélemy, Pichegru, and Ramel, with sixty-two others, were banished (Duvergier, Lois description begins J. B. Duvergier, Collection Complète des Lois, Décrets, Ordonnances, Réglemens, et Avis du Conseil-d’Etat, Publiée sur les Editions Officielles du Louvre; de L’Imprimerie Nationale, Par Baudouin; et Du Bulletin des Lois (Paris, 1824–1825). description ends , X, 44). Pichegru was the only one of those arrested who was actually guilty of treason, for, as general of the army of the Rhine and Moselle, he had accepted money from both the English and their ally, the Prince de Condé, who was at the head of a monarchist army which fought to place Louis XVIII, the brother of Louis XVI, on the throne. The full story of Pichegru’s relations with England did not reach the Directory, however, until several months after the coup d’état. Instead, on September 4, the Directory published the proposals made by the Prince de Condé in June, 1795, that Pichegru should hand over the city of Huningue to the monarchists and join his army with the army of the Prince de Condé to promote a monarchist rising in Alsace. Pichegru had agreed “in principle” with these proposals, but he did not carry them out.

5Claude-Emanuel-Joseph Pierre, marquis de Pastoret, a monarchist, was one of the new members elected to the Council of Five Hundred in April, 1797. On June 20, 1797, at a meeting of the Council, he spoke against the injustice of French policy toward the United States and ordered the arrêts of the Directory concerning the United States to be sent to a special commission appointed by the legislature to examine the constitutionality of the Directory’s actions (Réimpression de L’Ancien Moniteur description begins Réimpression de L’Ancien Moniteur, Seule Histoire Authentique et Inaltérée de la Révolution Française (Paris, 1847). description ends , XXVIII, 731). Pastoret left Paris in time to escape the effects of the coup d’état.

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