The Sénat conservateur was a body set up in France during the Consulate by the Constitution of the Year VIII. With the Tribunat and the Corps législatif, it formed one of the three legislative assemblies of the Consulate. The constitutions of Year X and Year XII (18 May 1804), instituting the First French Empire, did nothing but reinforce the importance of the Sénat conservateur.
Guarding the constitution
Set up under the direct influence of the regime's new master, First Consul Bonaparte, the Constitution of 22 frimaire year VIII (13 December 1799) was the first to recreate a senate. Bonaparte was to make this "Sénat conservateur", charged with watching over the survival of the Constitution, a key element in his regime.
This first senate had to be made up of only 60 inamovible (immoveable, i.e. permanent) members, aged at least 40, to which had to be added two supplementary members every year for ten years, ending up with 20 supplementary members. There was no longer any question of elections (even indirect ones) to form this assembly. The Constitution provided for Sieyès and Roger Ducos, the outgoing second and third consuls, to become ex officio members of the Senate. In consultation with Cambacérès and Lebrun (the new second and third consuls directly designated by the Constitution), it also granted the outgoing consuls the privilege of choosing the majority of the Senate (i.e. 29 other senators). This majority then picked the rest of the members. The Senate thus recruited itself and subsequently replaced deceased members by choosing from among three candidates presented to it by the First Consul, the Tribunat and the Corps législatif.
The Napoleonic senate set itself up at the Luxembourg Palace, based in a semicircle of seats added to the central part of the building by the Palace's architect Chalgrin – in the words of the Constitution, "The sittings [of the Senate] are not [to be] public". The first Sénat conservateur included former members of the revolutionary assemblies (François de Neufchâteau, Garat, Lanjuinais), as well as scholars (Monge, Lagrange, Lacépède, Berthollet), philosophers (Cabanis), and even the explorer Bougainville and the painter Vien, member of the Institut.
The era of "Sénatus-consulte"s
In year X (1802), a revision of the Constitution reinforced senators' positions. From then on the Senate would rule via acts having the force of law, known as "sénatus-consultes", in all matters unforeseen by the Constitution and which needed political action from the regime. The procedure was used, for example, for the 1802 amnesty for émigrés.
The number of senators rose to 120. First Consul Bonaparte directly controlled the Senate's activity and composition – he convened it, presided over it, reserved the right to present it with its candidates, personally designated three candidates from the list of citizens elected by the electoral colleges and could also name senators of his own initiative.
Examples of "Sénatus-consulte"s
- Sénatus-consulte du 22 Ventôse An X (13 March 1802) relating to the manner in which the renewal of the first four-fifths of the Corps législatif and of the Tribunat would be made in year X, and in the 3 subsequent years
- Sénatus-consulte du 6 Floréal An X (26 April 1802) relating to émigrés
- Sénatus-consulte du 14 Thermidor An X (2 août 1802), proclaiming Napoleon "First Consul for life"
- Sénatus-consulte organique du 16 Thermidor an X (4 August 1802), on the Constitution
- Sénatus-consulte organique du 8 Fructidor an X (26 August 1802), reuniting Elba into the territory of the French Republic
- Sénatus-consulte du 8 Fructidor an X (26 August 1802) relating to the classification of the members of the Corps législatif "en séries", and the means of reducing the members of the Tribunat
- Sénatus-consulte du 8 Fructidor an X (26 August 1802), relating to the terms under which the "sénatus-consulte" pronouncing the dissolution of the Corps législatif and/or the Tribunat would be edited
- Sénatus-consulte du 10 Fructidor An X (28 August 1802), designating the towns whose mayors would be present at the oath-taking of any citizen named to succeed the first consul
- Sénatus-consulte organique du 24 Fructidor an X (11 September 1802), reuniting the departments of Pô, Doire, Marengo, la Sezia, la Stura and Le Tanaro into the territory of the French Republic
- Sénatus-consulte du 26 Vendémiaire An XI (18 October 1802), suspending jury functions in several departments during years XI and XII
- Sénatus-consulte organique du 26 Vendémiaire An XI (18 October 1802), relating to foreigners becoming naturalised French citizens, for services rendered to the Republic, importing of useful inventions or the foundation of major establishments.
- Sénatus-consulte du 8 Ventôse an XII (28 February 1804), suspending jury functions for treason trials for years XII and XIII.
- Sénatus-consulte du 27 mars 1805, concerning the grant of French citizenship to prince Camillo Filippo Ludovico Borghese
- Sénatus-consulte du 9 septembre 1805, on the reestablishment of the Gregorian calendar
- Sénatus-consulte organique du 28 octobre 1805, concerning the return of Gênes, etc., into the French Empire, and the deputations to furnish to the Corps législatif by the departments of Gênes, Montenotte and les Apennins
A pampered elite
In January 1803 Napoleon created the system of sénatoreries, which ensured the senators' complete compliance and docility. From June 1804 onwards, these were granted to 36 senators and made these senators regional "super-préfets". They gave these senators the right, during their own lifetime, to have a residential palace (a château or a former episcopal palace) and to annual revenue from 20,000 to 25,000 francs – doubling ordinary senatorial pay. For example, Berthollet received the sénatorerie of Montpellier, occupied the bishop's palace at Narbonne and received an annual revenue of 22,690 francs.
Rise and fall of an emperor
The Constitution of the Year XII (1804) proclaimed the First French Empire and increased the Senate's dependency on Napoleon (now emperor) still more. Napoleon's rewards to his senators became more and more frequent, as did the senators' shows of allegiance to him. Thus, on 1 January 1806, in homage to these "sages de l’Empire" (wise-men of the Empire), the emperor granted the senators 54 enemy flags. The "sénateur maréchal d’Empire" Pérignon then enthusiastically proposed the construction of a triumphal arch to the glory of the emperor, a suggestion warmly backed by his colleagues, including senator Lacépède.
Napoléon summoned into the Senate the French princes, the Great Dignitatries and all his choicest friends, with no limit on numbers. He granted this to his brother Joseph, but also to Cambacérès, Chaptal, Fouché, Fontanes, Tronchet and generals such as Caulaincourt and Duroc. Laden with Napoleon's favours, the senators nonetheless proclaimed his fall on 3 April 1814 and summoned Louis XVIII to take the throne.
Presidents of the Sénat conservateur
- From the first sitting of 4 nivôse year VIII (25 December 1799) onwards, the oldest of the first members who sat at that time who presided : Dailly
- 5 nivôse, year VIII (26 December 1799) – ... : Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès
- 2 August 1801 – ... : François Christophe Kellermann
- 19 May 1804 – 19 May 1806 : Nicolas-Louis François de Neufchâteau
- 19 May 1806 – 1 July 1807 : Gaspard Monge
- 1 July 1807 – 1 July 1808 : Bernard Germain de Lacépède
- 1 July 1808 – 1 July 1809 : comte de Saint-Vallier
- 1 July 1809 – 1 July 1811 : Germain Garnier
- 1 July 1811 – 1 July 1813 : Bernard Germain de Lacépède
- Almanach impérial pour l'année 1813, par Testu, 1813, Paris Sur Gallica
- Histoire critique du Sénat Conservateur depuis sa création en nivose an VIII jusqu'à sa dissolution en avril 1814, par René Jean Durdent, 1815.
- Les grands corps politiques de l'État : biographie compléte des membres du Sénat, du Conseil d'État et du Corps Législatif, par un ancien député, Paris, E. Dento