Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 November 2009
The Constitution of 1795 was inaugurated in an inauspicious fashion and enjoyed a charmed existence until it was overturned four years later. This was longer than either of its predecessors, but because the Directory came to an ignominious conclusion historians have been only too willing to write it off as a bad job and to overlook its achievements, especially in the political sphere. The significance of the electoral apprenticeship that was conducted during the second half of the revolutionary decade has largely escaped attention as a result. It is seldom recognised that the franchise remained a very broad one, or that in two of the annual elections which were held the level of participation was reasonably high. An interesting experiment with declared candidatures was also undertaken, despite a dogged reluctance to endorse the existence of parties, which were more effectively organised than ever. If government intervention of the most blatant sort brought the electoral system into disrepute, the unprecedented involvement of the executive was nonetheless a reflection of the crucial role that elections now played in the political process.
The Directory is rarely viewed in a positive light and its electoral contests are usually regarded as fiascos which attracted only a derisory turnout.