The Objects

7th May 1815

Source: Document held in the Archives nationales, Pierrefitte-sur-Seine.

B/II/907A

Napoleon’s Plebiscite on the Constitution

Contributed by: Malcolm Crook

When he returned to power in 1815, Napoleon made some liberal concessions in the Acte additionnel (see entry for 22 April). Like previous constitutional changes, it was submitted to a plebiscite. All adult males were invited to sign registers, opened in their communities for several days at the end of April.

This was a public vote, so participants were invited to add their names, or have them written for them if they were illiterate, under two columns, yes and no. Few negative votes were cast – a mere 5,000, as opposed to 1.3 million yes votes, on a 20% turnout – but some 10,000 voters expressed an opinion, justifying or qualifying their verdicts.

The register from Montmirail, a village of 2,000 inhabitants in north-eastern France offers a fine example. An individual named Bailly amplified a negative vote at considerable length. His major objection, widely shared, concerned the establishment of a hereditary chamber of peers. Other annotations, entered elsewhere, questioned the extent of Napoleon’s authority and demanded greater power for an elected legislative assembly. By contrast, some supporters felt he was yielding too much authority, while royalists rejected the entire proposal.

These comments reflect hidden opposition to Napoleon’s attempt to reinvent himself as a people’s emperor during the 100 Days.

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