Napoleon Bonaparte Bring Progress And Stability To France History Essay

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Undoubtedly Napoleon was one of the most powerful characters ever to influence not only the history of France, but also that of Europe. Beginning from 1799 until 1815, the controversial figure of Frenchman changed completely the way the whole continent was. In order to give a precise answer to the essay question a number of factors need to be taken into consideration. The Revolution itself seemed a period in history so turbulent that our focus should be put, in fact, on the last period known as the Directoire which preceeded directly the coup d’Etat carried out by Napoleon. It was soon after that coup d’Etat when the greatest of reforms were introduced. They certainly transformed the country and some consequences of those reforms can still be observed in France! One must admit it is rather extraordinary. I am now going to determine to what extent Napoleon brought progress and stability to France in the wake of the Revolution. 163

First of all, we need to know what the life in France of the Directoire was like. When the Reign of Terror came to an end, the people were happy to live in the country where they did not fear execution on the guillotine. France was in a bad state and needed recovery. Unluckily the Directory was unable to heal the wounds or solve the problems that the country faced. 70

The economy was badly damaged by the civil war and the war against the First Coalition (1792-1797), even though the French were victorious having won the battle of Valmy, there was no way Directoire could stop growing inflation and the continuous fall in value of the assignats. These were not the only issues to be taken care of. The emmigres and their relatives continued to be discriminated against. It was an open secret that Barras-the leader of the Directory regime- was corrupted. His immorality in private and public life can be seen as one of the factors which contributed to the collapse of Directory. Finally the general maladministration combined with other problems left the Directoire very vulnerable. Eventually the coup d’Etat of 18 Brumaire overthrew the Directoire and the Consulate was established. 134

Napoleon was in the right place at the right time. Well known for his military successes during the wars of The First and Second coalitions, the Frenchman mastered the art of propaganda. Thanks to Sieyes, the young general was named head of the Consulate. Soon Napoleon used his influence to become the sole person out of three Consuls to actually have power to rule the country. 65

The first reforms were aimed at making sure that Napoleon would remain in charge and that no coup d’Etat was going to prevent him from building the empire. He restructured the police, departmental, local government and criminal courts systems. As a result he got rid of the potential ennemies (people still faithful to the old regime), now every single newly named officer owed his career to Napoleon. That kind of relationship developed between him and civil servants helped Napoleon win their fidelity. He could carry on with further reforms without fearing another takeover. 91

The next step was to gain control over the press. The freedom of speech was not the priority for Napoleon. He was very “image concious” and was perfectly aware that the propaganda will only succeed, if there is no free press to keep a close watch on his moves. Only few titles survived e.g. Le Moniteur Universel, which was actually controlled by Napoleon. 61

1801 was the year when one of the most uniqe and interesting reforms were introduced. The Concordat between the state and the Catholic Church. Again, the reason for this kind of reform was the will to bring stability to France.The Church suffered a lot during the Revolution and was dispossessed of its properties. Moreover, the history of France shows that the mutual hatred between different religions can lead to violence (e.g. French wars of religion). Thus, in search of peace and stability Napoleon decided to sign an agreement according to which the state offered to pay clerical salaries and declared Catholicism the religion of the great majority of the French. In return, the Church renounced its claim to the confiscated land and the clergy would swear an oath in order to become state officials. Napoleon didn’t favour any religion, by not declaring the state religion he managed to maintain freedom of belief. 153

It must be said that maintaining the power was not the only concern for Napoleon. Although his economic ideas were rather old-fashioned, they definitely worked for France well enough to restore the economical stability. The Bank of France was established in 1800 and was responsible for the note issue, the stock of gold and silver backed up their value. On the other hand Napoleon was in favour of the labour control by banning the trade unions and introducing the passbooks to limit worker’s freedom of movement. He set the maximum prices for food i.e. bread and flour at the same time limiting the exportation of these products. All those reforms had a good effect on country’s stability; the hunger is a much greater problem than people’s wish for liberty. 130

We should not forget that Napoleon was a fantastic strategist. Just like on the battlefield he would plan every move carefuly thinking about its consequences, he reshaped the French educational system so that it would produce the administrators and new leaders of France. The Lycees were established as a long-range strategy to produce the new generations of the future French elite. The creation of Lycees is one of those reforms which survived until our times. 89

The questions of economy, education, religion and censorship have been analysed. It is now the time to look at the radical reorganisation of the country. France was not the unified country as we know today. The law would vary not only from one region to another, but even from town to town. Napoleon ordered works on that subject and after several years the Napoleonic Code was issued in 1804. The old local laws were replaced by the innovative code which was far more clearly written making the law more accessible. The separate codes for civil procedure, criminal instruction and commerce law were introduced later, improving the situation in France. 110

I would like to take a closer look at the civil code which is now referred to as Code Napoleon. The code considered by the Frenchman himself to be his greatest achievement. However cheesy it sounds, the Napoleonic Code changed the world, and no one would exaggerate by saying that. It wasn’t only the case of countries like Netherlands (Batavian Republic), Switzerland and Italy where the Code was passed, even the new countries in South America based their law systems on it. In fact, the Code was largely based on the achievements of the Revolution as the equality, citizen and property rights were all guaranteed.104

Napoleon’s France 1799-1804

Between 1799 and 1815 the fate of France and Europe was in the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte, the man described by Chateaubriand as the ¿½mightiest breath of life which ever animated human clay’. Napoleon’s ultimate downfall was due to the forces that the Revolution had unleashed and Napoleon accelerated.

Napoleon Bonaparte was a Corsican and also an officer of artillery – an unfashionable branch of the army. He was therefore doubly handicapped because of his unacceptable accent and military expertise. However, he did have the right connections. During the Terror, his friendship with Robespierre’s brother, and his skilful use of artillery at Toulon in September 1793 helped him rise to the rank of brigadier. His cool head during the Vend¿½miaire revolt and his friendship with Barras carried him to the next level. Marriage to Barras’ ex-mistress Josephine de Beauharnais in October 1796 put him into the centre of fashionable circles, and got him the command of the 30,000 men of the Army of Italy.

Napoleon was very ‘image conscious’ and had a great flair for publicity. His published battle reports and his ¿½ordres de jour’ attracted popular attention. He once said that ¿½moral force wins more victories than mere numbers’. He was an excellent actor who could appeal to the deepest loyalties of his soldiers: ¿½The military are a free masonry and I am their grand master’.

Although Napoleon was capable of humane gestures, they never came between him and ambition. He had little concern for the high casualty rates of 30-40%, which resulted from his tactics of ‘toujours l’attaque’ (always attack). His military ability consisted of his combination of mass conscript armies and very rapid movement by ¿½living off the country’ – unlike the British army under Wellington, which ‘marched on its stomach’. Napoleon’s victories were due more to logistical planning than tactics. In addition, he deserted two armies in his life, one in Egypt in 1799 and one in Russia in 1812.

Napoleon was also incredibly lucky. Not only did he slip past a couple of British frigates on his way back from his Egyptian disaster he also happened to be the best man on hand when Siey¿½s was looking for some way of linking the army and the political system and, in particular, a popular military hero as a ¿½front’ or a ¿½sword’. Siey¿½s did not often make mistakes, but he made one when he chose Napoleon from a shortlist of three potentials. Initially Siey¿½s produced a constitution in the cynical belief that ¿½authority must come from above and confidence from below’. A complex system of indirect elections would produce lists from which an unelected Senate would choose the legislators and two Consuls, one for foreign and one for internal affairs. From this basis Napoleon manipulated his way towards sole, unlimited executive power.

First of all he got Siey¿½s to agree to one of the Consuls being in office for four years and having considerable powers over appointment of officials and the initiation of legislation. He used these powers to restructure the police, departmental, local government and criminal courts systems so that he could control them in his own interests. The election of officials was discarded – even for local mayors. Napoleon’s personal standing was enhanced by the military victories of 1800 and the Treaty of Lun¿½ville; he went on to conduct purges of the legislature, the army officer corps and surviving Jacobins. Then, in May 1802, with the rejoicing at the Peace of Amiens in the background he converted his job into that of Consul for Life and amended the constitution to give himself virtually dictatorial powers. A plebiscite of 3½ million votes to 8000 ratified the extension of his term of office.

In 1803, war broke out with Britain again and a plot by the royalist Georges Cadoudal to kidnap Napoleon with the assistance of British agents was revealed. This was an excuse for another purge of royalists and Jacobins; in May 1804 the Senate also offered Napoleon the status of hereditary emperor in the interests of national stability. In December 1804 he crowned himself at Notre Dame in the presence of Pope Pius VII. The trappings of a court had already appeared, but in 1808 he founded an imperial nobility. In 1802 the Order of the Legion of Honour had been established, but it was based very much on meritorious service to the state.

Napoleon’s domestic reforms 1800-3

It was in the period of the Consulate that Napoleon produced his most valuable reforms with the advice of his Council of State a non-political body of experts.

Economic management

The Bank of France was established in February 1800. Stability was restored to the country by giving a monopoly of note issue to the new central bank and backing it firmly with gold and silver.

Labour was controlled. Napoleon’s ideas on economics were rather old fashioned. He even considered restoring the guilds. The ban on trade unions remained though and passbooks were introduced to limit workers’ freedom of movement

Control of prices and the supply of food was introduced. There were no bread riots to threaten his rule. The export of corn was firmly restricted and maximum prices for bread and flour were introduced in 1812. He was aware that hunger was a much greater threat than the desire for liberty.

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