The Objects

17th Mar 1815

Journal image 1.jpg
Source:, with permission of the Bibliothèque nationale de France

The Journal des Débats

Contributed by: Michael Drolet

The 'Journal des Débats', a Parisian literary and political journal, displays two conflicting ideological positions in the run up to, and immediate aftermath of, Napoleon’s Hundred Days. Its abiding aim during the first Restoration of 1814 was to safeguard social and political order, and consolidate Louis XVIII’s reign. The Journal disavowed notions of popular sovereignty and citizenship, and stressed the paternal wisdom and grace of Louis XVIII over his subjects.

The news of Napoleon’s escape from Elba, reported in the Journal of 8 March, threatened this political settlement. Initial reports cast him as a foreigner to the French nation, stressing the Italian spelling of his name, and his links to Poles, Neapolitans, and Piedmontese. These reports rapidly gave way to a portrayal of Bonaparte as foreign to the human race in general. He is variously described as an Attila, Genghis Khan, Nero (as in this edition of the Journal from 17 March), ‘a maniac who has fallen through rage into imbecility’, – and a cannibal.

However, Napoleon’s supporters quickly took over the journal, and on 21 March, it was (again) retitled the 'Journal de l’Empire', its name from 1805 until 1814; the vilification of Napoleon ceased, and there was an immediate emphasis on citizenship, popular sovereignty and nation. But this shift too was reversed after Bonaparte’s defeat and the second restoration of the Bourbon monarchy; by 8 July 1815, the Journal des Débats was once again casting Napoleon as an enemy of the human race. The dehumanizing vocabulary of the journal would serve as a legitimising foundation for the Second White Terror, the backlash against Bonapartists across France in 1815 that ranged from the dismissal of government officials to mob lynchings.