Both parties in this gigantic struggle however were at last anxious to suspend the war. It was to give time for such an organization of France and its resources as might enable him to reopen the struggle with other chances of success that Buonaparte opened negotiations for peace at the close of 1801. His offers were at once met by the English Government. The terms of the Peace of Amiens which was concluded in March 1802 were necessarily simple, for England had no claim to interfere with the settlement of the Continent. France promised to retire from Southern Italy, and to leave to themselves the republics it had set up along its border in Holland, Switzerland and Piedmont. England recognized the French Government, gave up her newly conquered colonies save Ceylon and Trinidad, acknowledged the Ionian Islands as a free Republic, and engaged to replace the Knights of St. John in the isle of Malta. There was a general sense of relief at the close of the long struggle; and the new French ambassador was drawn in triumph on his arrival through the streets of London. But shrewd observers saw the dangers that lay in the temper of the First Consul. Whatever had been the errors of the French revolutionists, even their worst attacks on the independence of the nations around them had been veiled by a vague notion of freeing the peoples whom they invaded from the yoke of their rulers.
But the aim of Buonaparte was simply that of a vulgar conqueror. He was resolute to be master of the Western world, and no notions of popular freedom or sense of national right interfered with his resolve. The means at his command were immense. The political life of the Revolution had been cut short by his military despotism, but the new social vigour which it had given to France through the abolition of privileges and the creation of a new middle class on the ruins of the clergy and the nobles still lived on. While the dissensions which tore France asunder were hushed by the policy of the First Consul, by his restoration of the Church as a religious power, his recall of the exiles, and the economy and wise administration which distinguished his rule, the centralized system of government bequeathed by the Monarchy to the Revolution, and by the Revolution to Buonaparte, enabled him easily to seize this national vigour for the profit of his own despotism. The exhaustion of the brilliant hopes raised by the Revolution, the craving for public order, the military enthusiasm and the impulse of a new glory given by the wonderful victories France had won, made a Tyranny possible; and in the hands of Buonaparte this tyranny was supported by a secret police, by the suppression of the press and of all freedom of opinion, and above all by the iron will and immense ability of the First Consul himself.
Once chosen Consul for life, he felt himself secure at home, and turned restlessly to the work of outer aggression. The pledges given at Amiens were set aside. The republics established on the borders of Franee were brought into mere dependence on his will. Piedmont and Parma were annexed to France; and a French army occupied Switzerland. The temperate protests of the English Government were answered by demands for the expulsion of the French exiles who had been living in England ever since the Revolution, and for its surrender of Malta, which was retained till some security could be devised against a fresh seizure of the island by the French fleet. It was plain that a struggle was inevitable; huge armaments were preparing in the French ports, and a new activity was seen in those of Spain. In May 1803 the British Government anticipated Buonaparte's attack by a declaration of war.
The breach only quickened Buonaparte's resolve to attack the enemy at home. The difficulties in his way he set contemptuously aside. "Fifteen millions of people," he said, in allusion to the disproportion between the population of England and France, "must give way to forty millions "; and an invasion of England itself was planned on a gigantic scale. A camp of one hundred thousand men was formed at Boulogne, and a host of flat-bottomed boats gathered for their conveyance across the Channel. The peril of the nation forced Addington from office and recalled Pitt to power. His health was broken, and as the days went by his appearance became so haggard and depressed that it was plain death was drawing near. But dying as he really was, the nation clung to him with all its old faith. He was still the representative of national union; and he proposed to include Fox and the leading Whigs in his new ministry, but he was foiled by the bigotry of the King; and the refusal of Lord Grenville and of Windham to take office without Fox, as well as the loss of his post at a later time by his ablest supporter, Dundas, left him almost alone. But lonely as he was, he faced difficulty and danger with the same courage as of old.
The invasion seemed imminent when Buonaparte, who now assumed the title of the Emperor Napoleon, appeared in the camp at Boulogne. "Let us be masters of the Channel for six hours," he is reported to have said, "and we are masters of the world." A skilfully combined plan by which the British fleet would have been divided, while the whole French navy was concentrated in the Channel, was delayed by the death of the admiral destined to execute it. But the alliance with Spain placed the Spanish fleet at Napoleon's disposal, and in 1805 he planned its union with that of France, the crushing of the squadron which blocked the ports of the Channel before the English ships which were watching the Spanish armament could come to its support, and a crossing of the vast armament thus protected to the English shore. The three hundred thousand volunteers mustered in England to meet the coming attack would have offered small hindrance to the veterans of the Grand Army, had they once crossed the Channel. But Pitt had already found work for France elsewhere.