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The Napoleon The Preserver And Destroyer History Essay


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Napoleon Bonaparte can be viewed as both the preserver and destroyer of the French Revolution. While he certainly, institutionalized the core values of the French Revolution such as legal rights through his well known Napoleonic Code, his personal traits such as the need for conquest and power resulted in tyranny across Europe. Napoleon kept true to the revolution in the sense that his laws and codes solidly abolished the old regime and monarchy in France. At the same time however, one can argue that his rule was marked by his own self interests. That he chose which ideals of the revolution he would keep or leave out in order to maintain his power over Europe.

Napoleon was very popular in France particularly for his military tactics and his idea of talent and merit. The Directory took a liking to Napoleon, as his strong military strategies led to the defeat of Austria. Napoleon himself, without approval from The Directory, signed a treaty with Austria and for the most part ended the war in Europe. Although his campaign in Egypt was not as successful in a military respect, his ambition nonetheless led to scientific findings including the Rosetta stone. Clearly Napoleon earned respect in France and became a figure of ambition and success to the people of France.

Ambition and power are the two words that summarize Napoleon as a figure in European history. His strive for power led him and his followers to eliminate the Directory and create the Consulate. From here, Napoleon named himself first consul and eventually crowned himself as Emperor of France. Although he did have the support of the French citizen's based on the plebiscites, most of the voting was fixed in order to show more support for Napoleon than there actually was. "Although lip service was still paid to the principle of popular sovereignty, Napoleon negated its democratic essence by claiming that he alone embodied the indivisible rights of the people." Napoleon felt that his own beliefs embodied those of the French people. Even though the nation voted on all of his policies they were always fixed and the French citizens could only answer yes or no. There were not a variety of choices for them. The people could not challenge or take part in the organization of the state, they only had the power to agree or disagree, but that hardly made a difference. In other words Napoleon limited popular sovereignty for his own personal benefits.

As Emperor, Napoleon in several aspects did and did not follow revolutionary ideas. For example, Bonaparte created the Legion of Honor. While the Legion of Honor acted as a new form of nobility, giving members titles and pensions, it also established the idea of merit and talent. This meant that anyone who was talented and capable could receive honor and recognition. In this sense the Legion did keep with the idea found in the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizens " all being equal in its sight, are equally eligible to all honours, places, and employments, according to their different abilities, without any other distinction than that created by their virtues and talents". However, in reality most of those receiving recognition were either in the military or wealthy, few were peasants. In this sense it did create a barrier similar to that of pre-revolutionary France.

Napoleon also appointed family members to high positions throughout Europe. For instance, he named his brother Joseph ruler of the Kingdom of Naples and eventually King of Spain, as he began taking control of other European countries. The act of establishing a hereditary line of rulers in Europe was perhaps done purposely for Napoleon to keep full control over Europe. It also instilled the idea used in monarchies of blood line and heirs to thrones. In doing this Napoleons figure of power and supremacy was established across Europe. His face was placed in coins and statues of him were created across France depicting him as a strong force. His actions can be seen to pursue his own self-interests of ambition since he denied the value one of the values of the French Revolution, which was an end to monarchial-like thrones.

Although Napoleons actions did seem to be somewhat self-centered, one of his greatest accomplishments as Emperor of Europe was his establishment of the Napoleonic Code. In establishing this code, Napoleon permanently institutionalized core ideals of the French Revolution and brought order to France. This code in essence laid the foundation for a modern state that would continue up to the present time. "Moreover, the Civil Code protected many of the gains of the French Revolution by defining and assuring property rights, guaranteeing religious liberty, and establishing a uniform system of law that provided equal treatment for all adult males and affirmed the right of men to choose their professions"(Hunt,626).

In addition, the Napoleonic code helped establish a national education system that gave all French citizens regardless of their social standing opportunities to succeed. Napoleon's administration centralized state bureaucracy, created a tax code, and a National bank. With the success of his Code, Napoleon soon instilled foreign policies similar to the Napoleonic Code in other European countries. Although his Napoleonic Code for the most part succeeded in maintaining revolutionary ideas, it also had its flaws. The Napoleonic Code limited the rights of women and emphasized their place in the home. It also limited worker's rights and made them dependent on their employers.

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