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What was The Directory of 1795?

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The Directory of 1795 was the chief governing body of France between 1795 and 1799. It was the entity that took over the French government in the wake of the Reign of Terror and was the final phase of the French Revolution proper. Its inherent weakness and corruption eventually led to its collapse, and to the ultimate establishment of the Consulate under Napoleon.

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After the Reign of Terror and the demise of the Committee of Public Safety, the French revolutionary government adopted a new constitution, France's third. As per this new constitution, the Directory was established with two houses: the Council of Ancients, made of 250 people, and a second council of 500 people. At the head of this bicameral legislature was a panel of five directors, of whom the most important historically was Paul Barras.

Because the Directory was an attempt to avoid the kind of tyrannical powers held by the Committee of Public Safety, its executive powers were necessarily weak. It also fell prey to rampant and obvious corruption. As stated in Encyclopedia Britannica, the Directory thus became a “fatal experiment,” one which demanded a more coherent and effective type of leadership for the country.

Unsurprisingly, critics of the Directory began to take action. By 1799, a small coup overthrew the Directory and established the Consulate, a body of three supposedly equal peers who would guide France with little to no assistance from the legislature. The de facto leader of the Consulate, however, was the former general Napoleon Bonaparte, who quickly consolidated power more formally for himself. In 1804 he was crowned Emperor of the French in the Cathedral of Notre Dame. The French Revolution was over, and the First Empire begun.

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