Was Napoleon Bonaparte the Saviour or the Destroyer of the Ideals of the French Revolution?
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With all the glory and the splendour that some countries may have experienced, never has history seen how only only one man, Napoleon, brought up his country, France, from its most tormented status, to the very pinnacle of its height in just a few years time. He was a military hero who won splendid land-based battles, which allowed him to dominate most of the European continent. He was a man with ambition, great self-control and calculation, a great strategist, a genius; whatever it was, he was simply the best. But, even though how great this person was, something about how he governed France still floats among people's minds. Did he abuse his power? Did Napoleon defeat the purpose of the ideals of the French Revolution? After all of his success in his military campaigns, did he gratify the people's needs regarding their ideals on the French Revolution? This is one of the many controversies that we have to deal with when studying Napoleon and the French Revolution. In this essay, I will discuss my opinion on whether or not was he a destroyer of the ideals of the French Revolution.
Certain individuals approved of Napoleon's reign as the saviour of France. He finished and completed the Revolution by fulfilling the ideals the people of France demanded. A person such as one belonging to the bourgeoisie, or even a peasant would be very satisfied with the way Napoleon ruled over the country. He gave them equality, freedom, justice, and many rights. Such things never existed during the reign of the monarchs before Napoleon stepped in. A banker too would be very affirmative on how Napoleon had truly helped France in its economic problems. He made the franc the most stable currency in Europe, and the banker had witnessed that, as probably one of the bankers of the Bank of France. Another type of individual that agrees that Napoleon isn't the destroyer of the ideals of the Revolution would be his soldiers and generals. He had fought alongside with his men in many battles. Through inspiration, he gained their loyalty, to "follow him to the stars" if he asked them to. Such inspiration would never be gained if he never respected them, if he never treated them fairly. And then, the "Legion of Honour", which awarded to some certain citizens for their civil and military achievements.
People like Jacques Louis David, the Pope, a lawyer, or even a student from a lycee would support the fact that Napoleon didn't destroy the ideals of the French Revolution.
On the contrary, many individuals blamed Napoleon for betraying the ideals of the French Revolution. They believed that he destroyed it by denying the French people the equality that they have waged the Revolution for. One big issue was how the women were treated during his reign. That was one of the few examples that the critics are criticizing Napoleon on. An individual such as Robespierre or Danton would have cut off Napoleon's head, if we assume Napoleon was active during the Reign of Terror. The Sans-culottes would be outraged by the fact that Napoleon was in agreement with Pope Pius VII to restore the Catholic religion and make it as France's main religion. A republican would be against Napoleon for sure because his main idea was to get rid of the monarchy. So as with the Jacobins, they would absolutely be against Napoleon's being the Emperor of France.
The French Revolution belongs to one of the most significant chapters in the book of the World's history. The revolution altered the Frenchmen's' lives from being oppressed to being free, from inequality to being equal, and from being disjointed to being unified. Napoleon strengthened these ideals even more when he reigned. However, critics argue over the fact that Napoleon is the destroyer of these ideals. Hereon, I will prove that Napoleon is the saviour of France.
Liberty, Equality and Fraternity - this is the Revolution's battle cry, and of course, the main ideals of why they waged the revolution. It is evident that this was what the people wanted. And Napoleon gave it to them. He upheld the ideals of the French revolution. He satisfied their hunger for liberty, equality, and fraternity.
Perhaps one of the most important and lasting contributions that Napoleon gave to the French people was the Civil Code or most widely known as the Napoleonic Code. This was written at a time in history when discrimination was rampant. It was then that Napoleon decided to liberate and offer Liberty, Equality and Fraternity to the Jews, Protestants, and other religions as well. He also opened the churches that were closed for years. In this part of the essay, I will talk most about how and why he promoted freedom of religion.
Napoleon Bonaparte was never that deeply religious. He showed that to everybody during his coronation as the Emperor of France: he took the crown from Pope Pius VII and placed it on his own head. That was a clear indication that religion had nothing to do with Napoleon's coronation. He wanted to prove that France chose him. But there was a contradiction to this when he allowed freedom of religion all over France. Why is this? Is he that religious? We've just seen how he clearly showed to everybody that religion has nothing to do with him being an Emperor. But, if we dig a little bit deeper, we can actually see that Napoleon didn't just think of himself when he made such laws. He wanted not only the Frenchmen to be happy, but also the Jews and other races. After he signed the Concordat, "churches of France reopened in April 1802, and the population of France rejoiced in this rejuvenation of Sunday services." (Century of Change, p. 57.) What about Judaism and other religions? Why did he allow that in France? It does not make sense, because he had nothing political to gain. However, these unanswered questions were soon revealed in a private conversation Napoleon had with his physician, Barry O'Meara, during his exile in St. Helena. The doctor asked why he was supporting the Jews. And I quote from Napoleon,
"My primary desire was to liberate the Jews and make them full citizens. I wanted to confer upon them all the legal rights of equality, liberty and fraternity as was enjoyed by the Catholics and Protestants. It is my wish that the Jews be treated like brothers as if we were all part of Judaism. As an added benefit, I thought that this would bring to France many riches because the Jews are numerous and they would come in large numbers to our country where they would enjoy more privileges than in any other nation. Without the events of 1814, most of the Jews of Europe would have come to France where equality, fraternity and liberty awaited them and where they can serve the country like everyone else." (Napoleonic Scholarship: The Journal of the International Napoleonic Society, Volume 1, Number 2, December 1998.)
That conversation Napoleon had with his physician alone proved undoubtedly that he actually promoted equality, liberty, and fraternity for France and for everybody.
The Napoleonic Code perhaps is one of the most astounding and significant achievements that Napoleon accomplished. It was through the Code that he promoted and strengthened the ideals of the Revolution. Determined to unify France into a strong modern nation, he pushed for a single set of written laws that applied to everyone. He made it clear, logical, and easily understood by everyone. This new code of laws applied equally to all French citizens regardless of what position they were in the society. It recognized that all men were equal in the eyes of the law. Not only were they equal before the law, but also, they were equal in taxation. Every single citizen had to pay the exact amount of tax that everybody paid. This was another example of equality among the people of France. However, there are always contradictions as to how Napoleon promoted equality among all people.
Equality - 'did Napoleon practice this fully during his reign?' critics might ask. What are the things that Napoleon didn't do in regard to equality? Most people would say that he didn't protect the rights of women. However, during Napoleon's time, man's concept on women was that they should be protected. And one way of protecting them was not to give them too many responsibilities. Government involvement entails many responsibilities. That is why women were kept from getting involved. To them, the women were tailored to be homemakers and as such, should be sheltered from the dangers and problems that they might face if they were in the outside world. If we just dig a little bit deeper, it is not that Napoleon didn't think about women, but it is that he cared about them.
Again, critics ask, 'what about fraternity?' Fraternity is brotherhood among men. They help each other out for the good of one thing - and in Napoleon's case, it was for the good of France. Fraternity was well shown during Napoleon's reign especially in his Grand Armee. These soldiers united together to defend France, to please France, to give glory and magnificence to France. These soldiers didn't have to be in Napoleon's army. They could have been businessmen, lawyers, merchants, and all the rest. They were never forced to join the Armee. As one article in the Napoleonic code says, there is freedom to choose one's work. But what drove these people to be involved in Napoleon's Grand Armee? One of Napoleon's soldiers quoted, "Faithful to our oath, we have not abandoned your eagles, and we are now without a country!... Sire, I beg of you, give us back our weapons..." - Jose Fernando (http://napoleonseries.org, 1995) Yes it was, brotherhood. It was for the love of France. Such brotherhood was what made France a stronger and unified country. What else did make France a stronger nation? It's the brotherhood of the people of France. Everybody's helping out. Everybody's cooperating. Never in Napoleon's reign did the people revolt. They helped each other instead. All of these things happened when Napoleon stepped on the throne.
Conclusion For this brilliant and ambitious man, who directed the destinies of France and Europe for some fifteen years, emerged as a historical "hero," not a person doing only good, but also a person that altered the course of history. No other figure, other than Caesar, Alexander the Great or Jesus Christ, has been the subject of more biographies than Napoleon. There would be others like him, but none so successful and none so respected historically. He gave France liberty by giving the Frenchmen rights, freedoms, and privileges that they asked for. He gave France equality by giving the Frenchmen the right to be taxed equally and the right to be equal before the eyes of the law. He gave France fraternity by unifying Her, by fighting for Her, and by helping each other, for the best of France.
Napoleon's reign ended the French Revolution. He completed it by practicing its ideals, and giving it administrative structure. His career was like that of a meteor, briefly lighting the night sky of France's history. Napoleon Bonaparte is undoubtedly the saviour of France.
"There was an eye to see in this man (Napoleon), and a soul to dare and do. He rose naturally to be King. All men saw that he was such." - Thomas Carlyle