In November 1799, in an event known as the coup of 18 Brumaire, Napoleon was part of a group (the Jacobins and Freemasons) that successfully overthrew the French Directory.
The Directory was replaced with a three-member Consulate, and Napoleon became first consul, making him France’s leading political figure. In June 1800, at the Battle of Marengo, Napoleon’s forces defeated one of France’s perennial enemies, the Austrians, and drove them out of Italy. The victory helped cement Napoleon’s power as first consul. Additionally, with the Treaty of Amiens in 1802, the war-weary British agreed to peace with the French (although the peace would only last for a year).
Napoleon worked to restore stability to post-revolutionary France. He centralized the government; instituted reforms in such areas as banking and education; supported science and the arts; and sought to improve relations between his regime and the pope (who represented France’s main religion, Catholicism), which had suffered during the revolution. One of his most significant accomplishments was the Napoleonic Code, which streamlined the French legal system and continues to form the foundation of French civil law to this day.
In 1802, a constitutional amendment made Napoleon first consul for life. Two years later, in 1804, he crowned himself emperor of France in a lavish ceremony at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.
Was Napoleon Bonaparte a member of the Masonic Brotherhood? Multiple hypotheses have been advanced on the subject, and although the probability is high, it has never been definitely established that he was made a Freemason, either in Valence (French Department Drome), Marseille, Nancy (“St. John of Jerusalem” Lodge, December 3, 1797?), Malta, Egypt or elsewhere.2
What is certain is that members of the expedition he commanded during the Egyptian campaign brought the Freemasonry to the banks of the Nile. General Kleber founded the “Isis” Lodge in Cairo (was Bonaparte a co-founder?), while Brothers Gaspard Monge (member, among others, of the “Perfect Union” Military Lodge, Mezieres) and Dominique Vivant Denon (a member of Sophisians, “The Perfect Meeting” Lodge, Paris) were among the scholars who would make this strategic and military setback a success that the young General Bonaparte would exploit upon his return to France.
What is also undeniable is that, beginning with Bonaparte’s coup of 18 Brumaire, the Freemasonry would thrive for 15 extraordinary years, multiplying the number of lodges and members. The First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte, understanding the advantages he could derive from the obedient Freemasonry, invested in these reliable men, hoping to be rewarded with faultless servility. He was not disappointed.
As a boy, Napoleon attended school in mainland France, where he learned the French language, and went on to graduate from a French military academy in 1785. He then became a second lieutenant in an artillery regiment of the French army. The French Revolution began in 1789, and within three years revolutionaries had overthrown the monarchy and proclaimed a French republic. During the early years of the revolution, Napoleon was largely on leave from the military and home in Corsica, where he became affiliated with the Jacobins, a pro-democracy political group. In 1793, following a clash with the nationalist Corsican governor, Pasquale Paoli (1725-1807), the Bonaparte family fled their native island for mainland France, where Napoleon returned to military duty.1