In 1800, after more than a decade of instability following the first French Revolution, and after the establishment of the ineffectual Directory, which ruled France from 1795 to 1799, Napoleon staged a coup and replaced the Directory with the Consulate, a centralized, semi-authoritarian government with certain liberal characteristics that provided a modicum of political and economic freedoms to the populace and stability to the economy. The Consulate was compromised of three "Consuls," or leaders, otherwise known as the Triumvirate, based on the Roman system. The three consuls were: Jean Jacques Régis de Cambacérès, Napoleon Bonaparte and Charles-François Lebrun.
Napoleon and his co-consuls set up the new government as a republic, with three legislative assemblies (the Council of State, the Tribunate, and the Legislative Assembly) each given various degrees of power and differing responsibilities. This was an attempt to achieve a separation of powers, based in part on the American system, but also a very clever way to make sure that none of the legislative branches could accomplish much on their own.
Napoleon and his co-consuls also reinstated the popular vote, but the will of the people was diminished because a group of "notables," or pre-eminent members of society, were given greater authority to shape policy, and had been handpicked by the senate, so that these elected officials mostly towed the line of the Consulate, for fear of losing their positions and influence if they did not. In essence, the popular vote and the tri-cameral legislature were window dressing, allowing Napoleon's decision making to seem more democratic than it actually was. That said, Napoleon was actually very popular with the general public, because he restored order to a system of chaos, brought about real economic and political reforms, and proved a fearsome military leader, bringing glory and vast new territories (and revenue) under French control.
After four years of the Consulate, however, with his popularity among the French people soaring ever higher, Napoleon stopped trying to hide his true intentions, and disbanded the republic in order to become Emperor in 1804.