French Regime

French Regime
   A French army under General Charles-François Dumouriez entered Brussels on 14 November 1792 following victory at Jemappes (6 November) and a celebratory reception was held at the Hôtel du Prince de Galles. A liberty tree was planted at the place Meiboom and a Jacobin society—Société des Amis de la Liberté et de l'Égalité—created. A decree by the French National Convention (15 December 1792) dissolved all local authorities, abolished traditional taxes, and ordered municipal governments to provision French troops. Elections for an assembly on 29 December produced a majority of votes in favor of traditionalists, and democratic activists won elections to a provisional provincial assembly only because a single electoral site was permitted—the Cathédrale des Saints-Michel-et-Gudule. Jacobins gradually assumed control of the city. Street names were changed in January 1793, symbols of royal authority disappeared, and religion was denigrated. On 27 February 1793 residents voted in favor of union with France in French-supervised elections. Church statues were destroyed, archives burned, and homes pillaged.
   Supporters of the old provincial Estates, members of the nations, and the high clergy rallied citizens against the French. Promising to restore and respect traditional institutions, Austrians returned on 24 March 1793 to a rousing welcome. The Austrians were ousted again following their defeat at Fleurus (26 June 1794) and French troops entered Brussels on 9 July 1794. By a decree of the National Convention of 1 October 1795, Belgium was formally annexed to France. Austria formally surrendered its Belgian provinces in the Treaty of Campo-Formio (17 October 1796).
   French republicanism now emerged triumphant and Jacobins returned to govern. Brussels lost its status as capital in becoming the chief town (préfecture) of the département of the Dyle. The office of burgomaster was replaced by that of mayor. The nine surrounding communities that had been part of the cuve were separated from the city's jurisdictional orbit, which officials protested as a blow to civic pride and a loss of important tax revenues.
   Arriving as liberators, the French imposed an increasingly stringent regime, which developed from one of domination to exploitation. Most municipal officials were of French origin as few Belgians would serve. In the mid-1790s, the city endured hostage-taking, pillaging of works of art, and recurrent requisitions. The guilds were abolished and republican institutions established in administration, finance, justice, and education. Municipal elections on 21 March 1797 saw the wholesale defeat of officeholders, who, following the coup d'état of Fructidor (4 September 1799), were replaced by radicals from France. Religious orders were suppressed, schools and hospitals closed, and priests who refused to support the republic (about 400) deported. Street names still bearing monarchical or religious connotations were changed in 1798. Armed resistance arose while the city's finances went into deficit and the population shrank as civil servants, aristocrats, and artisans, many among the latter ruined by the loss of luxury trades, fled. Roads went unpaved and mud choked the Willebroeck Canal.
   A period of reconstruction and stability followed the rise to power of Napoléon Bonaparte. Religious repression ended. Under the empire, an imperial decree stipulated that the municipal council, made up of approximately 30 members of the nobility and upper bourgeoisie, was to be appointed by the préfet and the mayor by the emperor. Public life was completely Frenchified and the French linguistic and cultural presence in Brussels deepened, imparting a lasting influence on the middle classes.
   Economic recovery began, aided by the introduction of the metric system, establishment of a chamber of commerce, and extension of government credits. The remnants of the second town wall were pulled down and work was begun on the boulevards. Still, growth was retarded by the Napoleonic Wars, in which Brussels suffered from financial levies, conscription, economic blockade, and imperial neglect.
   Prussian and Russian forces arrived in Brussels on 1 February 1814 to the acclaim of the populace. A municipal council was installed, which sought a return to Austrian rule. Following the dictates of the Congress of Vienna, the Dutch regime ensued.

Historical Dictionary of Brussels. .

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