Fouché Joseph

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FOUCHÉ JOSEPH (1759?–1820), French politician, best known for being Napoleon's chief of police and for his central role in the Hundred Days and bringing about the Second Restoration.

The son of a merchant sea captain, Joseph Fouché was educated in the Oratorian school in his hometown of Nantes, then in the Oratorian College in Paris. He was never fully ordained as a priest, but taught in several Oratorian schools in the west of France before moving to Arras, where he became acquainted with Maximilien Robespierre. In 1790 he returned to Nantes as a college principal, and two years later he was elected as a deputy to the National Convention. Initially he linked himself with the Girondin faction, but early in 1793 he voted for the king's death, and over the following months, as a representative on mission in the provinces, he acquired a reputation for being a vigorous de-Christianizer and Jacobin terrorist. Returning to Paris he came into conflict with Robespierre and was involved in the Thermidorian coup (July 1794). He spent the next few years in obscurity, reemerging after the coup of Fructidor (September 1797) to hold diplomatic posts in Italy and the Netherlands. In August 1799 he was appointed minister of police under the Directory, the revolutionary government. As such he played a passive role in the coup of Brumaire (November 1799) that established the Consulate, which replaced the Directory. Bonaparte kept him in that post until September 1802, when, believing the internal situation to have settled down, he abolished the Police Ministry and passed its duties to the Ministry of Justice. Twenty-two months later, however, following a succession of plots and rumors, the ministry was revived and Fouché, once again, was put at its head.

Shortly after the Brumaire coup Fouché presented the first consul, Bonaparte, with a memorandum for reorganizing the Police Ministry that would have put it on a par with the Ministry of the Interior. Every official with policing responsibilities, including prefects and mayors, as well as every organization with policing tasks, would have been subordinated in some measure to the ministry. While Bonaparte favored centralized control, he was not prepared to contemplate such a powerful police minister, and the system that was established fell some way short of Fouché's plan. There was never a single police organization in Napoleonic France, and there were sharp rivalries between police institutions and their directors, not least between Fouché and General (later Marshal) Moncey, the inspector general of the Gendarmerie. Nevertheless, the Police Ministry that was established in the summer of 1804 was a formidable institution and, while under Fouché, a very efficient and effective one. The ministry divided the empire into four districts: the north, west, and part of the east of France; the rest of the east and the south; the Italian departments; and Paris. Each district was under a state counselor; for Paris this was the prefect of police. Regular reports were received from the districts, and these were distilled into a daily bulletin for Napoleon advising him of serious crimes, public order problems, and the state of public opinion. The print media and the theaters were controlled. In the context of the time this was, indeed, a police state. But even though Fouché countenanced and ordered the use of preventive detention for suspects, there were no show trials and few executions. He believed that it was counterproductive to get too concerned about, and to take serious punitive measures against, every utterance of seditious words and the occasional scurrilous printed comment about the emperor and the regime.

Napoleon never entirely trusted Fouché. In May 1810 he dismissed him for negotiating with the British. Yet, though he was banished from Paris, Fouché kept his title, Duke of Otranto (bestowed in 1809), and his other honors and posts. In 1813 he was made governor of the Illyrian provinces.

On Napoleon's first abdication in 1814 Fouché spoke up for the returning Bourbons in the senate. This did not prevent him accepting the post of minister of police from Napoleon on his return to France early in 1815. He maintained contact with the powers ranged against Napoleon throughout the Hundred Days, and following Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, Fouché contributed significantly to ensuring the emperor's second abdication and to establishing the provisional government that welcomed back Louis XVIII. Continuing as minister of police, he was required to list those who should not be considered for amnesty by the new regime; he helped many of these to leave the country. In spite of his assistance to the Bourbons, as a regicide and minister during the Hundred Days, Fouché himself was forced into exile in 1816. He died in Trieste in 1820.

See alsoHundred Days; Napoleon; Police and Policing.


Arnold, Eric A. Fouché, Napoleon, and the General Police. Washington, D.C., 1979.

Fouché, Joseph. Les mémoires de Fouché. Edited by Louis Madelin. Paris, 1945. This scholarly edition of Fouché's memoirs was made by one of his biographers.

Tulard, Jean. Joseph Fouché. Paris, 1998. A biography by the leading figure in Napoleonic studies in modern France.

Clive Emsley