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To some, he was an extraordinary military commander who led an army to victory. To others, he was a distinguished civil administrator, and yet others thought of him as a great man that was tossed complicated twists in his short life. He is both a historical figure and a legend and it is sometimes difficult to separate the two. There have been many successful military leaders through out time but no leader has ever taken over the whole world. This task was nearly accomplished by the greatest military leader in history better known as Napoleon Bonaparte was. In his lifetime, he took over most of Europe before conquering Moscow. History Place the publishers of the internet site napoleon Emperor of France had this to say about the way napoleon acted, "Having that much power can sometimes makes a man lose control and do bizarre things but in his short lifetime he was so puzzling to his opponents it drove them mad." All of these things help explain why Napoleon was a very complex person.
Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15, 1769 in Auaccio on the Mediterranean Island of Corsica. He was born to a poor family of lesser nobles on the island of Corsica. His family consisted of seven brothers and sisters and his father who was a lawyer. James Thompson's article "Napoleon Bonaparte" enlightened us about his father being a lawyer. His father was also his mother because she passed away when giving birth to Napoleon. So that meant that originally his nationality was Corsican-Italian. Being from Italy, he despised the French at that time. In 1784 to 1785, Napoleon attended the Ecole Militaire in Paris. That was the place where he received his military training. He studied to be an artilleryman and an officer. He finished his training and joined the French army when he was 16 years old. The year before he went to school at the age of 14, France had annexed Corsica, so he went to French schools. Napoleon possessed a brilliant mind, tireless energy, and tremendous ambition. In his own words, Napoleon himself once believed to be a "man of destiny." Believing in his self-fulfilling prophecy, military exploits, and his ruthless efficiency Napoleon rose from obscurity to become Napoleon 1, Emperor of France. (Thompson 128)
Rising rapidly to the rank of general, he was placed in command of French forces in Italy and won brilliant victories there, thus becoming a popular military hero.
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The French Directory was overthrown by the coup of 18 Brumaire, and the Consulate which History Place describes as a form of the French government that is much like our presidential cabinet, was set up with Bonaparte as first consul, or dictator. He centralized the administration, stabilized the currency, and reformed the tax system. He also made peace with the Roman Catholic Church by the Concordat of 1801 and reformed the legal system with the Code Napoleon. In 1800, Napoleon defeated the Austrians at Marengo, Italy, and the treaties of Lunoville and Amines made peace with Austria and Britain respectively. This phase is generally considered to divide the French Revolutionary Wars from the Napoleonic Wars. In 1802, Napoleon became first consul for life, and in 1803, Britain again declared war on France.
Napoleon had himself crowned emperor in 1804 and proclaimed king of Italy in 1805. Britain, Austria, Russia, and Sweden formed the Third Coalition against him but Napoleon crushed the Austrians at Ulm and won his most brilliant victory at Austerlitz over the Austrians and Russians. Prussia, which joined the coalition in 1806, was defeated at Jena. British sea power, however, grew stronger with Nelson's victory at Trafalgar. Napoleon then instituted the Continental System to try to halt British trade with France and her allies. On land, war with Russia continued. The indecisive battle of Eylau was made good by Napoleon at Friedland. The treaties of Tilsit with Russia and Prussia left Napoleon master of the Continent. The whole map of Europe was rearranged. The Holy Roman Empire was dissolved, and the kingdoms of Holland and Westphalia were created, with Napoleon's brothers Louis and Jerome Bonaparte as kings. A third brother, Joseph, became king of Naples and was made king of Spain. In 1809, Austria's attempt to reopen warfare was squelched at Wagram, and Napoleon annexed the Papal States to France despite the objections of Pope Pius VII. In 1809, Napoleon also had his marriage to the Empress Josephine, whom he had married in 1796, annulled. He then married Marie Louise of Austria, who bore him a son.
Britain remained an opponent. The Continental System proved difficult to enforce. Napoleon's first weakness had appeared in the Peninsular War, and his alliance with Russia was tenuous. When Czar Alexander I rejected the Continental System, Napoleon invaded Russia with the 500,000-strong Grande Army. After the indecisive battle of Borodino, Napoleon entered Moscow, but the winter and lack of supplies forced him to begin a disastrous retreat that became a rout after his troops crossed the Berezina R. in late November. Napoleon left his army and hastened to Paris to prepare French defenses. Prussia quickly turned against France and was joined in a coalition by Britain, Sweden, and Austria. The allies defeated the emperor at Leipzig, pursued him into France, and took Paris. Napoleon dictated and was exiled to the island of Elba, which the allies gave him as a ruling territory. According to James Thompson's article in the World Book Encyclopedia, ten months later in March of 1815 he escaped back into France. Accompanied by a thousand men from his old Guard he marched toward Paris and gathered an army of supporters along the way.
Once again, Napoleon assumed the position of Emperor, but it lasted only a 100 day until the battle of waterloo, June 18, 1885, where he was finally defeated by the combined English and Prussian armies. His victors were still deliberating at the Congress of Vienna when Napoleon landed at Cannes and marched on Paris. King Louis XVIII fled, and Napoleon ruled during the Hundred Days. He was defeated, however, in the Waterloo campaign and abdicated again. Sent as a prisoner of war to the lonely British island of Saint Helena, he died there of cancer on May 5, 1821. His remains were returned to Paris in 1840. Estimates of Napoleon's place in history differ widely. Beyond a doubt one of the greatest conquerors of all time, he also promoted the growth of liberalism through his lasting administrative and legal reforms.
All of us as younger adults have dreamt of becoming, rich and, famous or to go down in history books as a genius of our time. This task is very difficult to achieve in any part of the world and any time in history. Well both of these dreams came true for Napoleon Bonaparte. He had his good times where he controlled most of Europe. In addition, on the other side his bad times came when he was exiled to the dreary British Island of Saint Helena. He had his ups and his downs, but he is one of the few people in times that have successfully lived their lives to there fullest. That is why he proves to all of us that we can be as great as we want to be.
History Place. Napoleon Farewell to the Old Guard. [Online] http://www.historyplace.com/speaches/napoleon.html, January 23, 1998
History Place. Napoleon I Emperor of France. [Online] http://www2.lucidcafe.com/lucidcafe/library/95aug/napoleon.html, August, 1995
Thompson, James M. "Napoleon Bonaparte." The world Book Encyclopedia. 1988