Napoleon Bonaparte wasn’t born in a situation to take power simply. He had Corsican noble origins, born in 1769 (Schom, 1998). Originally, Napoleon had surpassed hatred for his country, unaware that he would be the leader many years later. Even though Napoleon’s prospects to ascend to leadership can be counted as being slim, his involvement in Frances army school assigned him an asset. He was continuously marked as an invader by the greatest number of trainees from wealthy families throughout his military practices. Napoleon came into the spotlight much later, when the French revolution occurred. Although France was on an economic and social decline, these facts cannot be attributed to his ease in rising to power. Other factors that will be evaluated and analyzed will look at the real reasons why he became an emperor.
France in Crisis
Before getting involved with politics, France was already in a war that divided the citizens. This war was however never protested. The right royalists were favoring war to revive the Louis XVI rule while on the other hand, the ideas of the republican’s left were contradictory (Proudhon, 2013). They were hoping that the war would be a great chance to overthrow the kingship and form a republic. At the initial stages of the revolution, France was left as a terrible state with an army that was below par. Few people were willing to engage in the war until a total mobilization was ordered compelling all the physically endowed to join the army. The married men were to forge weapons while women and children served in hospitals. Louis XVI was later on beheaded marking the birth of France as a republic with Robespierre as the ruler. He was executed a year later making the state vulnerable to Austria, Prussia, Great Britain and Spain’s influence. All these states did not believe in the idea of the republic.
At this period of crisis, the country needed a hero who would inspire them. Napoleon was the one who fit the criteria although it cannot be considered as a matter of circumstance. The politics of the country provided a good platform to be used, and it is worth noting some of his traits made him feared to those close to him. The majority who were not well conversant with his qualities were welcoming to his uprising. Napoleon was a representation of the French people, and he talked about the promises that the masses wanted to hear. A lot of hope was placed on this leader especially on peace restoration and unifying the torn country. Everything he did was self-motivated, and he aimed at increasing his self-worth (Lyons, 1994). It is reported that even his wife feared him and was it not for her financial deterioration, she would have divorced him.
As a French commander, he first got a got support from the Austrian in the revolutionary wars. Napoleon was able to secure a number of victories over the Austrian forces that were more superior, forcing Campo Formio to make peace with him in 1797 (Lyons, 1994). He counter-attacked the Austrians and took away enough resources to pay the soldiers. He was thus hailed as a national hero and gained respect among the soldiers. However, this did not bring him any close to a political seat apart from the military rank’s rise. Napoleon was always concerned about ensuring there was order in France, an aspect that made him gain support. When he crushed the Vendemiaire rising in Paris, he won the regime’s gratitude (Schom, 1998). The rebellion was from the royalist movement.
Napoleon was finally in the position to acquire the political power that he had being desiring. He was approached by Abbe Sieyes who was a French revolutionary leader (Rapport, 1998). A coup that overthrew the revolutionary government was led by Napoleon and was thereafter put in power as one of the selected three counsels which were intended to take over governance. Sieyes was aiming the high political seat by using Napoleon as a means to achieve the end. He was however not aware that Napoleon was also eager to take control from then henceforth. With the formation of the consulate, the young Napoleon become the first consul. The influence of the other counsels was insignificant, and they primarily served as advisors to the ambitious Bonaparte. Through him, the coup can be regarded as attaining an effective political power that was needed in France by this times.
To make sure that the move got legitimacy to the constitution, people were asked to vote. The new constitution was therefore promulgated. The plebiscite is however considered to have been doctored but the intended aim to lend legitimacy was achieved. Joseph Fouche was an influential man who helped Napoleon in his endeavors (Lyons, 1994). Joseph was propagandist who served in the policing ministry and was able to influence to influence the majority in France to support Napoleon. Through the work of artist, he commanded painters to have Napoleon depicted as a statesman, a Roman emperor and a military hero.
The domestic policies advocated for by Napoleon were successful. The reforms made in the economy were significant in stimulating the country’s financial sector. He revolutionized the existing economic opportunities in the country under the critic of Bourbon who had set aside education to be for the country’s elitist class. Napoleon changed this system and as a result got more support from his subjects. One of his greatest achievement is the introduction of the civil code in 1804 which was a populist policy which encompassed many liberal achievements that were appealing to the French people. There was also the introduction of the religious freedom in the form of the 1801 concordat. These further achievement made the French regard him as one of the best rulers to take the high political seat. It was worth noting that some of his ideas were illiberal such as the arbitrary arrest, the reintroduction of slavery in some colonies, and the subordinate view of women.
A revision done on the constitution in 1804 made Napoleon to be recognized as the emperor, a move that was endorsed by the plebiscites. The pope crowned him as Napoleon 1 on December 1804, making all important decision-making process to be on his hands. The government in this context can be regarded as being top-down, authoritarian and at the same time, centralized. He finally achieved the title of an emperor which he had for a long time dreamt of. Despite the illiberal measures that he had introduced in his regime, his rule received the favor of the majority, and his leadership had no opposition. The good deeds can, therefore, be regarded as making his dark to be overlooked.
An Analysis of the Changes That Napoleon Brought To France
Under the leadership of Napoleon, a number of changes were introduced. The changes were in the society, the government, the education sector, the rights and freedoms and the church. On this section, the reforms brought in France will be scrutinized. Before the French revolution, the leadership was under King Louis XVI, and education had been reserved for the privileged in the society. If somebody from the lower class had an opportunity to get to school, the only knowledge to be acquired would be in the field of religion and the need for respecting authority. The revolution period ensured that schooling was open to all. Upon ascending to power, Napoleon put up four levels of schooling which were primary, secondary, lycees as well as the technical school (Muzzey, 1911). The most important subjects stressed in the primary, and the secondary education was mathematics and science. The need for obeying the authority and the best military values were taught in the lycees. As a result of these changes, the number of learners attending school increased every in every intake.
The government was not left out in the changes. The King had the absolute power of the monarchy and would make all the important decisions in the France with consultations being an option. In the revolution period, the National Assembly was given the task of making laws. Being an emperor, Napoleon made France to be an empire, but this did not result in all powers to be rested on him. Two national assemblies that were made up of people selected by the citizens and Napoleon’s allies were responsible for making laws. He was, therefore, a different kind of leader from those that had previously ruled the country and other European nation. Ascending to power through the use of the military would in most cases result to the public having no voice on important national affairs.
When France was under the monarchy form of leadership, the Catholic Church had a great influence. The church had accumulated wealth and property in England. Among the richest people in the society were the clergymen but the revolution would mean something else to them. Changes brought by Napoleon had their wealth taken with their property either burnt or sold. Thereafter, the freedom of worship was introduced. The head of the Holy See met with Napoleon, and a concordat was made. The agreement arrived at was that Catholicism would remain the main religion but the government would not return the confiscated land. The church had previously been in charge of appointing bishops. However, with Napoleon, these powers seemed to purely rest on him when he appointed Bishops but with the pope’s approval. This move significantly reduced the powers of the church and the influence it had in the state.
Previously, King Louis had infringed on the rights and the freedoms of the citizens. These concepts only applied to the French’s upper class who were treated as first-class citizens. Getting to prison would be done without trial but this changed under Napoleon’s rule. The freedom of speech was back, and the newspapers would print any story they would wish. However, it should be noted that censorship under Napoleon was an effective tool to silence dissenting voices. As a result of this, censoring was common in the newspapers printing rooms which ensured that bad news about him did not feature. Although one had the right to trial, there existed a secret police service that would arrest those against the regime without trial. It should, however, be noted that the good citizens were protected and their freedoms assured, a great move towards the realization of democratic goals.
Changes were also done to the French society that had a rough time under the monarch rule. Previously, the society had been stratified with three classes being evident. These were the peasants, the clergy, and the nobles. The latter got the best treatment and accumulated a lot of wealth. The clergy came second and had risen to the class through the collection of tithe in the church. At the lowest level were the peasants who consisted of the largest portion of the population. The heavy taxes imposed on them made life to be had, and they could hardly feed neither themselves nor their families. Napoleon ensured that there was equality across these strata. This might have caused discomfort among the upper class, but the leader had now become influential and got the support of the largest portion of the population. To cover up for the nobles’ lost glory, Napoleon came up with titles that were given to them, an attempt to continue making them feel important and respected in the society. However, they would no longer gain wealth at the expense of the peasants. The clergy, later on, regained their lost glory – although not equivalent to the one under the king- after the concordat. Napoleon also ensured that the peasants were exempted from the tithes and the feudalism system abolished. The hardworking people, under the Legion of Honor, would receive incentives for their efforts to make France a better place.
Conclusively, Napoleon remains one of the most respected leaders, not only in France but the whole world for the leadership qualities possessed. He continues to inspire many leaders in the contemporary society who are after introducing reforms in the society and rising to power. Although he was a great leader, he never lacked some weaknesses, some which played to his favor. He eventually made the education to be for all, deprived of the church’s power, looked at the issue of freedoms and rights, stabilized the classes but it good to evaluate whether the pros outdid the cons. It should be noted that in a way, Napoleon took control of the government and had all the powers despite making the citizens look like they were in control. The fact the freedom of speech was said to have been bestowed upon the people, this was only in theory. Through the secret policing, it is evident that the government could not put up with criticism as this would mean rejection and the loss of legitimacy. A look at the advantages, therefore, reveals some loopholes. The idea of having the fundamental rights and freedoms, in theory, can, however, be recommended as it was a necessary step towards actualizing in practice. Napoleon was also advocating for the suppression of women in the society. Despite ensuring education for all, the patriarchal attitude or a male chauvinism is evident, when he showed in some instances that women were not equal to men, revealed the downside of the reform.
Lyons, M. (1994). Napoleon Bonaparte and the legacy of the French Revolution (Vol. 1). Basingstoke: Macmillan.
Muzzey, D. S. (1911). State, Church and School in France. University Press.
Proudhon, P. J. (2013). General idea of the revolution in the nineteenth century. Courier Corporation.
Rapport, M. (1998). Napoleon’s rise to power. History Today, 48(1), 12.
Schom, A. (1998). Napoleon Bonaparte: A Life. Harper Collins.