Make your own free website on


Joseph Fouchè

to return to French Revolution Index page

Joseph Fouchè

Joseph Fouchè, Duke of Otranto, born at Nantes on the 29th of May, 1763, was one of the most remarkable men of the Revolution, and at the same time one of the most difficult to appreciate. His life may be divided into three very distinct epochs. In the first he is simply a student and teacher at the school of the Oratory; in the second he appears to us during some years as the Seide (A character in the tragedy of "Mahomet," by Voltaire) of crime and anarchy; and in the third one only sees the man of power pursuing with perseverance and some dignity the self-imposed task of remedying the evils that he and his accomplices had brought upon France. In these two latter phases of his public life he did right and wrong with ability and calculation a' propos. Through all these variations the man showed himself privately as of good and simple manners, sensible of friendship and the domestic affections, always full of amenity, and treating frivolity with consideration. Whilst not pretending to an extra-ordinary amount of seriousness, he proved master of himself not only in the lightest affairs of life, but also in the most serious crises.

His ability was best displayed in controlling events whilst appearing to submit to them, because he knew how to appreciate them. No less discretion did he show in the selection of the men he employed.

The account of his life during the first of our three periods is very simple. Son of a captain in the merchant service at Nantes, Fouchè was at the age of nine years confided to the care of the fathers of the Oratory, who had a college in that town. At the commencement his success in his studies was small. To a mind slow to develop itself rebellious to the generally accepted rules of grammar and of Latin and French versification.

He was about to be classed as a wretched scholar, when one of the tutors noticed that he preferred the most serious books, amongst others the "Pensees de Pascal." Everything was done by this sensible instructor to cultivate agreeably the disposition of one who departed from the usual groove.

Fouchè was intended for the navy, but his delicate appearance caused his father to give way to the representations of the Oratorians, and the favourite pupil of M. Durif, the tutor, was consecrated to the public instruction in this learned association. Having made some progress in mathematics, he was sent to the Institute of Paris. Here the first books put into hi hands were Jansenius' commentaries on the Gospels and the catechism of the Council of Trent. Fouchè avowed to his confessor what a dislike he had to these books, and the wise director conducted him to the library, where he permitted the young man to choose his own books. Fouchè passed with distinction in philosophy and mathematics. All those who knew him at this peaceful time of his life give him credit for the regularity of his manners and zeal for his work. During the time that Fouchè was at Arras he became acquainted with Robespierre, and when the latter was elected to the Constituent Assembly lent him several hundred francs for his journey and his establishment in Paris.

When Fouchè was twenty-five he was appointed inspector of studies at the college of Nantes, when the ardour with which he embraced the new ideas threw him into the political storm. Not having taken orders he married, and founded the Popular Society of Nantes. He was not eloquent, but he distinguished himself by his manner of exaggeration, which at that time led to popularity. His election as deputy of the Loire-Inferieure in September, 1792, showed that he had calculated shrewdly.

During the first few months of the session of the Convention he was little remarked; he was biding his time, however. His acquaintance with Robespierre was renewed, but the disparity of their characters and the diversity of their political views were not long in causing a misunderstanding between them. Fouchè was too much of an egoist to submit to Robespierre, and joined the Danton Faction. From his first arrival in Paris he frequented the Jacobin club, and appeared to have a good understanding with Marat. At first he also seemed to join Condorcet and Vergniaud but already the fight had commenced between the Ironists and the Mountain, and Fouchè was too well advised to join the former party. Members of both parties were still in the habit of meeting each other. Coming from Fouchè's house on one occasion, where they had just dined, Robespierre was vehemently attacking Vergniaud, when Fouchè, addressing the former, remarked, "With such violence you may certainly gain the passions, but never esteem or confidence." Robespierre never pardoned this remark, but the author, having become a person of importance, was pleased to repeat it.

. Under the Revolution, the first Empire, and the Restoration, Fouchè played one of the most important parts. He is one of their curious visages. But if he has traced his name in effaceable characters on all the pages of the history of his epochs, it must be recognized that the judgment passed on this politician is generally pretty severe.

A brilliant pupil of the Oratory, - a religious order which took as active a part in the theological squabbles of the Church as in the affairs of the temporal order, - Fouchè devoted himself first to teaching, and we find him professor in the Oratory at Nantes when the Revolution breaks out. He is ablaze for the new ideas, and plunges into the political movement with the zeal of a convinced and ardent spirit. The department of Loire Inferieure having elected him deputy to the Convention, he takes his seat on the benches of the Mountain. When the Assembly tries Louis XVI., Fouchè delivers one of the most vehement speeches, and votes for the King's death without appeal or respite. Fouchè was as violent in his denunciation of royalty as was any member of the Mountain whose revolutionary reputation was well established. A little later he is among the number of those who overthrow the Girondins.

As a member of the Committee of Public Instruction, Fouchè at the sitting of 14th of February and 8th of March 1795 caused a decree to be issued for the sale as national property of all the establishments of public instruction except the colleges. On the Committee of Finances he was not idle. He caused a decree to be issued by which all property which had been kept in hand by the fiscal authorities for any reason whatsoever should be taken possession of by the government. All notaries and other officials were to give an account of all property conveyed by them since 1st of January 1793, under penalty of 20,000 francs. Ten years’ imprisonment was threatened to any official conserving the property of an émigré.

Soon after, upon the proposition of Marat, Fouchè was sent to the department of the Aube, where recruiting had been difficult, and was successful in raising a young and numerous militia simply by his persuasion.

Sent on a mission into the Nievre to put the law of suspects into execution, he places himself at the head of the anti-Catholic movement, suppresses the religious emblems which exist in the public places, and writes over the gates of the cemeteries, "Death is an eternal sleep." He only took four days to accomplish his purpose. He made a. Atheism the order of the day, decreeing that the dead should be buried in twenty-four, or at the latest forty-eight, hours, and the only inscription over them should be, “death is an eternal sleep”.

At the time he rifles the churches of their gold and silver vessels and all their precious objects, which he sends to the Convention that they may be employed in the defence of the fatherland. For this he received high praise. In one of his messages was included this phrase: “You will see with pleasure two beautiful crosses of ornamental silver, and a ducal crown in red. The gold and silver have done more harm to the Republic than have the fire and iron of the ferocious Austrians and cowardly English.” Charumette, who was in the department at the time, sent a most laudatory letter to the Convention concerning Fouchè.

The Convention were so well satisfied with Fouchè’s conduct in the Nièvre that they sent him with Collot-d’Herbois to Lyons in November, 1793, entrusted with the formidable task of re-establishing republican authority at Lyons, where the chiefs of the rebellion have made common cause with the foreigner and the royalists; to put into execution against that town the decree of destruction. This decree was carried out in all its horrors. It was at this time, that this terrible work was being carried out; that Danton was executed. In his repression, Fouchè shows himself pitiless: the blood of the Lyonnais flows in streams.

When he returns to Paris, Fouchè resumes his place in the Society of Jacobins as the president. On 6th of June, 1794, he loses no time in engaging in the strife with Robespierre, against whom he gathers the old Dantonists and Hebertists, and whose resounding gall he initiates by organizing the coalition of the 9th Thermidor. This growing popularity offended Robespierre, who had not forgotten the incident at the "Fete of the Supreme Being," when Fouche had predicted to him his approaching fall.

Fouchè was summoned to appear before the Jacobin society on the charge of persecution of the patriots. He declined to attend, but requested the society to defer its judgment until the report of the committees had been published. An individual from Lyons, having made certain charges against Fouchè, the latter was expelled the society. He had a narrow escape from Robespierre’s vengeance, his head being demanded. Tallien pursued him mercilessly. Denunciations continued to arrive from all the places where Fouche had been in power, and especially from Lyons. The inhabitants of Gannat also demanded his head, making the most terrible charges against him. The denunciations were overwhelming. His orders to the administrators of the departments were sent to the Convention. Laurenceot, the representative of Nevers, accused him of not having rendered any account of the taxes, which amounted to more than two million francs in the commune of Nevers alone. In an attempt to turn aside these attacks, Fouche attempted to again make friends with Tallien and the Thermidorians, whom he had not approached since Robespierre's fall. He found them willing, but weak. The result of this universal de`chainement was that Fouche was arrested, but he was soon released. He then lived partly in disgrace, until entrusted by the Directory with a mission to the frontier of Spain.

As prudent as ambitious, as sagacious as devoid of scruple, he has one foot in every camp. In touch with everything, he watches everything, scents tomorrow's success and always ranges himself on the side where the wind of the day is blowing. He has already been with the Mountain, with the Jacobins, with the Thermidiorans, with Babeuf, and yet is still not at the end of his political incarnations.

About this time Fouchè made the acquaintance of Barras. Fouchè, being in the secret of the Babeuf conspiracy, disclosed it to Barras, and was in return offered employment. He preferred, however, to have a share of the army contracting, and thus build up and immense fortune. At the 18th Fructidor (September 4th, 1797), Fouchè again rendered Barras and his party assistance by his timely warning and counsel. Barras now rewarded Fouchè, as desired by him, by sending him as ambassador to the Cisalpine Republic. In consequence of Fouche's conduct there, the Directory caused him to be replaced. Relying on Barras' influence, he was tardy in leaving Milan, but was obliged at last to return to Paris. Fouchè was the gainer by this arrangement, he being accorded an indemnity for displacement, the power of his opponents (Merline and Rewbel) being then on the decline.

Fouchè was next sent to Holland, but had hardly arrived there when he was appointed minister of police (July 31st, 1799). Fouchè on his appointment at once rose to the occasion and grasped the situation, having for some time coveted the position. Then, when he returns to Paris, he obtains, August 1, 1799, the ministry of police. The time is at the summit of his desires; he is in his element; he has in his hand a terrible weapon, which he manages for the best good of his personal interests without the least remorse, with the finest cynicism.

Fouchè's first action tended to give offence to his old friends the demagogues, who flattered themselves that they would find nothing but complaisance in the pro-consul of the Commune affranchie. He obtained carte blanche from the Directory, which enabled him to limit the license of the journals as well as the audacity of the popular societies. Fouchè saw that to show weakness would be to lose all, and, therefore, when attacked by the Manege Society, their club was closed. He also closed the Jacobins' Hall. The laws against the relatives of the émigrés were mitigated; and by this means he gained some royalist agents, and was enabled to finish more quickly the civil war. Shortly afterwards he was bold enough to suppress, at a single blow, eleven of the most important journals of the Jacobins and Royalist. Fouchè was attacked by Briot in the Council of the Ancients, the latter declaring that Fouche was preparing a coup d`etat, and after having recalled the atrocities of the missions of the deputy of Nantes, demanded the suppression of the ministry of police. On the morrow the Directory inserted in its journals a eulogy of their minister.

Briot would not own himself beaten; but returned to the charge. The situation was becoming strained. Joubert had been killed at Novi, and thus all the plans of the Directory had been reversed, as they had looked to Joubert for support. They were casting about for a successor to him, when Bonaparte disembarked on the coast of Provence. Fouche was already in indirect communication with the new dictator. Judging from the state of affairs that the Directory could not sustain itself, he took care not to hinder the conspiracy of Bonaparte. There is no doubt that though he was ready to agree if it were successful, he was none the less ready to strike if it failed. All precautions were taken. Had Bonaparte failed, his head and those of his accomplices would have been in jeopardy. Fouchè told the intimates of Bonaparte that the latter should lose no time, for if the Jacobins were allowed to rally, and he were decreed, all would be lost. Fouchè kept himself so well informed of what transpired at Saint-Cloud that, when the orders were brought from Bonaparte not to allow the fugitive deputies to return, those who brought the orders found themselves anticipated. Fouchè hoped by this action to win the favour of the new victor. He used his power with discretion, doing his best o calm the fears of the nervous and restoring to liberty those who had been arrested. By acting in this way he came into conflict with Sieyes. Finally, Fouchè was successful and his administration was such that the general police earned a character for justice and moderation. He was also successful in obtaining better treatment for those of the émigrés who had been shipwrecked at Calais; and when he found that the ameliorating orders were not properly carried out, he did not rest until he had obtained the release of the unfortunate émigrés, who were commanded to quit the territory of the Republic.

(From this instant he shows himself the enemy of the enfranchised, hastens to shut up the popular societies, suppresses eleven papers at a blow, arrests journalists. In compensation, he takes rigorous measures against the Chouans of La Vendee and Brittany; but he manages to mitigate the severity of the law in their favour, because he determines to spare the royalist faction, of which he may have need some day).

At this moment the Parisian world is thronging Josephine's drawing-rooms. Fouchè is not content with frequenting them assiduously. He already renders services of all kinds to the future Empress, whom he succeeds in attaching by personal interest, and from whom he draws useful information as to high police matters. Then, when Bonaparte, back from Egypt, prepares his coup d'etat of the 18th Brumaire, Fouchè does not hesitate to betray the Directory, to paralyze the Dubois-Crance ministry, which had suspicions, and to impose silence on his agents. He does more yet: the day the conspiracy is sprung; he sharply takes the side of Bonaparte, whom he seconds by every means in his power.

In payment for this treason, Fouchè preserves the post of minister of police. He affects great moderation toward the republicans, while he adopts measures favourable to the émigrés, of whom many owe him the restitution of their confiscated and not yet sold estates. In short, Fouchè prepares the country to submit to the coming yoke of absolutism.

One result of the improved state of affairs was that the priests who had been expelled were allowed to return and exercise their calling. Under the Directory, the filles publiques had been made use of as spies, thus obtaining indefinite license. The scenes in the Rue St. Honore and the Palace Egalite were scandalous every evening. By Fouchè's orders these women were arrested. They demanded their release on the grounds that they were police agents. This demand being sent to Fouchè, he answered that their arrest had been appreciated by the public, and that he could not order their release, also saying that the good they did was counterbalanced by the evil, and that it would be a disgrace to the law if such agents were necessary.

He would be thenceforth very happy has he not to keep himself constantly on his guard, be incessantly on the alert to please a chief who cares very little for him, and who, extremely suspicious by nature, has him watched by counter-police. In this struggle of stratagem and address, Fouchè, who by good fortune has the disposal of great pecuniary resources, is wonderfully tutored by Josephine, by Bourrienne the private secretary of Napoleon, and by innumerable agents hidden among all parties. This permits him to remain of good courage, and make himself indispensable.

Confirmed as consul with Cambaceres and Lebrun, Bonaparte took care to keep Fouchè near him; not that his confidence in the latter was so great -- on the contrary, but the extent and power of the revolutionary secrets of which the minister had made himself master rendered his services indispensable. His presence in power rallied to the First Consul the revolutionary interests, which had been alarmed at the dangers with which the Republic was threatened. Fouchè also rendered himself useful by efficacious measures relative to the troubles in the departments of the West. During all this time he did not neglect to increase his own fortune by permitting gambling, and became one of the richest men in France. It is said that he was paid 3,000 francs a day by on establishment alone for his goodwill. This immense revenue enabled him to make presents to members of the Court and to the Bonaparte family, who were able to furnish him with information. It is thus that he continued to have as pensioners Bourrienne and Josephine, and to the latter he is said to have given 1,000 francs a day. Lucien and Joseph Bonaparte were inimical to Fouchè, and did all they could to disparage him to their brother, who, having a penchant for the details of police, organized several, rival systems. So commenced a play of ruse against ruse between Fouche and his emulators. Informed by Bourrienne or Josephine, he often caused the Court police to fall into the snare they themselves had laid for him. Fouchè was amused at this little war, seeing that he always obtained the advantage but he showed so much mystery in the means he took to combat the plot against the Consul's life, that sometimes Bonaparte though his police had the advantage of those of the minister. That latter had smothered, just before its execution, a project of this kind formed by Juvenot and about twenty Jacobins. While these were under arrest, news came of a fresh plot to plot to murder the Consul at the opera. During the time that Fouchè had the plotters under supervision, one of them, a cashiered officer named Harrel, revealed it spontaneously to Bourrienne. He, by desire of Bonaparte, did not mention it to Fouchè, and acted in concert with the commander of the guard of the Consuls in order to follow the progress of the plot. Bourrienne, through the agency of the denouncer Harrel, furnished the conjures with the money necessary to purchase the arms. The gunsmith refused to supply arms without the authority of the police. Thereupon Fouchè gave his permission. The First Consul, thinking to take his minister unawares, reproached him bitterly. Fouchè endured his reproaches with his accustomed calm, his answer being to cause the man from whom he obtained his first information to appear. This was Barere, then charged with the political part of the journals written under the ministerial influence. Fouchè and Bonaparte now united to allow this affair to proceed to a certain extent. Bonaparte went to the opera, and the police agents arrested Diana, Ceracchi, and their accomplices.

But the gloomy First Consul hates indispensable people; so, in September 1802, he suppresses the ministry of police, which he consolidates with that of justice. As compensation and indemnity, Fouchè is appointed senator, with the titular senatorial district of Aix, and receives out of the police-fund reserve the sum of 1,200,000 francs. For some months Fouchè remains at Pontcarre, or at his house in the rue de Bac; up to the time (July 10, 1804) when, by a decree, Napoleon re-establishes the ministry of police, augments its functions, and confides the post to Fouchè, who radically reorganizes its numerous services, and makes the imperial police the most powerful and the best informed in Europe.

Fouchè is now the first personage in France next to the Emperor; he governs the country efficiently when his master is at the head of armies beyond the frontiers. His influence is preponderant in everything. After the peace of Presburg (25th of December 1805) Bonaparte consulted with Fouchè on the question of creating a new nobility, entirely honorary, that shall replace the old noblesse abolished by the revolution, Fouchè supports the proposition. Decorated with the Legion of Honour, he becomes successively count, the Duke of Otranto. In March 1806, he was admitted to the first rank as Duke of Otranto, with a large endowment on the state of Naples. This high position never dazzled Fouchè, and he was one of the few who always told the truth to the Emperor. He was totally opposed to the continental campaign, of which the first decree from Berlin in 1806 declared Bonaparte to be at war with all the commerce of Europe. He knew with how much blood and with what efforts the doubtful victory of Eylau had been bought. Paris even did not ignore it; and when Bonaparte wrote to Fouchè complaining of his inertia and negligence, the latter sent him letters from the army, which had reached him. After the peace of Tilsit, Bonaparte entertained designs upon Spain, and Fouchè had the good sense to attempt to dissuade him. "Go to Portugal, if you wish," said he, "that is truly an English colony; but the Bourbons of Spain are and always will be your humble prefects, and you have no cause to complain of them." But Bonaparte ridiculed the fears expressed that he would find himself between two fires, saying that we was sure of Alexander." When the knowledge of the invasion of Spain was made public, the reprobation of it was general.

About this time the son of Hortense died, and with his death Bonaparte saw the hope of perpetuating his dynasty vanish. This loss prompted Fouchè and all those whose political existence depended upon Bonaparte to think seriously, and he submitted his reflections to Bonaparte in a memorial the subject of which was the dissolution of his marriage with Josephine and union with one suited to his high position. Prompted by an excess of zeal or by impatient ambition, Fouchè, after having consulted certain senators, warned Josephine. Bonaparte soon learnt from Josephine of this false step of Fouchè and censured it, but would not send him away.

Nevertheless one day, in consequence of a false maneuver, he falls into disgrace, and is dismissed by Napoleon, who in full council reproaches him with "making war and peace without his participation." He retires to Ferrieres; then, as the Emperor makes requisition for his correspondence and important papers, he refuses to surrender them, and flies to Italy to escape the consequences of the imperial anger. In 1811, after a compromise, he obtains the favour of returning to France, and continues to intrigue, for intrigue with him is life. 1814 arrives. Fouchè offers himself to Louis XVIII., as minister; and if he refuses the post at the last moment, it is simply because he comprehends that the new monarchy is going to founder.

In fact, Napoleon returns from the Isle of Elba, re-enters the Tuileries, and recalls Fouchè to the ministry of police. The latter resumes the headship of his old functions but as he has no confidence in the duration of the Napoleonic reign, he negotiates underhand with the Bourbons. Finally, after Waterloo, he wrings his abdication from the Emperor, and has himself elected by the Chamber as president of the provisional government. This time he counts securely on becoming the sole master of the country. His illusion is short: he speedily realizes that the Bourbons intend to turn it over to the allies. He does not hesitate an instant: he enters into the Restoration league. So, a few days later, by King's Decree, he resumes possession of the ministry of police. In vain does he exert himself to make ideas of moderation prevail with the government. Overpowered, he is compelled to share in measures of proscription, and the election of the "Undiscoverable Chamber (The "Undiscoverable Chamber" was the epithet given by Louis XVIII to the Chamber of 1815, in his joy at fining it so much more eagerly royalist than he had expected; his meaning was, that no one would have supposed such deputies could be discovered in France.) overturns him from power.

He sets out for Saxony as ambassador but he has hardly installed himself at Dresden when the Chamber votes the law excluding the regicides from amnesty, and condemning to perpetual banishment whoever signed the "additional act." (The "Addition Act" was the name given by Napoleon to his ordinance on returning fro Elba in 1815, by which a liberal representative government was constituted in France.) or took part in the government during the "Hundred Days." Fouchè is instantly dismissed. He lives a few years more on a foreign soil, and dies of consumption at Trieste, December 25, 1820.

Such, in brief, is the career, so curious and so full, of the great policeman, whose life is only a group of contrasts. The plain professor of aforetime dies the owner of a colossal fortune; the savage republican of the Convention becomes one of the principal upholders of the empire; the proletarian is made a duke; the Terrorist marries a girl of the old nobility, Mademoiselle de Castellane; the regicide serves the royalty he has overturned and the man before whose power a whole people has long bent, the man who seemed impregnable to human catastrophes, ends his days in the sadness of exile. -------Leon Vallee

to return to French Revolution Index page

The Gilded Lily Graphics The Regency Lover's Cafe