Explain the weaknesses of the Directory in the French Revolutionary period.
The Directory ruled France from 1795-1799. There were five Directors that led France. The Directory dealt with competing forces that wanted a constitutional monarchy or a radical democracy.
The radical forces seemed to gain the upper hand when food shortages and inflation occurred. However, when they called for the overthrow of the Directory, people became concerned. After a coup occurred, the Directory continued to rule for a few more years. However, they operated in a dictatorial fashion. They also killed many of their opponents. Because of the economic issues facing France, the corruption that existed, and the brutal way they ruled, the Directory was primed for being removed from power.
As events continued to unfold, one Director felt military intervention was needed. Napoleon arrived in Paris and worked with this Director to plan a coup. Eventually, Napoleon emerged as the dictator of France. The people of France voted for this to occur in 1800. Napoleon was made the Emperor of France in 1804. He ruled until his downfall in 1814.
The weakness portrayed by the Directory was majorly self inflicted because they chose to employ dictatorial strategies of governance at a time when the country was going through very tough economical times. The administration was very unpopular among the citizens and this situation was further supported by various groups like the Jacobins. This unpopularity can be seen when most of the officials in the Directory system were unable to reclaim their elective seats democratically; instead, they engaged oppressive tactics after their defeat. Royalty was also becoming an option given that the sanctions against the church were being revoked while the inflation rates in the economy were skyrocketing unabated. The war efforts abroad made the situation worse when the French army started to lose and face considerable threats from her enemies. A combination of all these factors went toward weakening of the Directory, leading to a coup by Napoleon to overthrow it ending successfully.
One problem with the Directory was that the Constitution of 1795 that established it severely limited the voting franchise and some civil liberties, making it unpopular with many ordinary Frenchmen. It was a government more aimed at advancing middle-class interests, particularly protecting property, than allowing common people to enjoy the fruits of the Revolution. On the other hand, the Directory continued, indeed escalated, the war in Europe. This angered many conservatives and old royalists. Many of the members of the five-man Directory also had a reputation for corruption and political opportunism. In short, the Directory pleased neither the masses who wished to see the gains of the Revolution consolidated nor the elites who wanted a return to normalcy.
Source: John Buckler, Bennett Hill, John McKay, A History of Western Society, 7th ed. (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2003)712.