Napoleone Bonaparte, also known as Napoleon 1, went down the annals of history as one of the greatest leaders of all times. His contributions and influence during his reign as emperor of France reverberated over the whole of Europe, and changed socio-political and economic systems in the entire world. Born on 15th August 1769 in Ajaccio, Corsica, Napoleon was an immensely gifted military and political leader who played a dominant role in shaping European history and political scene during the 19th century (Nosotro, 2008). It is the purpose of this essay to evaluate how Napoleon both continued and broke away from the objectives of his revolutionary predecessors.
The French revolution, which began in 1791, brought many changes in the way France was run by the political elite. When Napoleon assumed power as the first consul of France in 1799, he promised to maintain the useful changes that had been brought by the revolution and rebuild key institutions erroneously destroyed by the revolution (Levelle, 2009; Nosotro, 2008). First, the government structure in France characteristically changed during Napoleon’s rule. During the King Louis era, the masses had no say over electing their leader since the king enjoyed absolute power with no chance of being removed from office. The preserve of making laws rested squarely on the king since the government structure lacked any legislative authority to make and pass laws.
The French revolution changed the above scenario by establishing a parliament elected by voters and charged with the responsibility of making laws (Levelle, 2009). The revolution also took away the supreme power enjoyed by the king. Once in office, Napoleon broke away from the aims of revolutionary leaders by bringing back an archaic law practiced in King Louis’ era that made it difficult to remove him from power. He also brought changes in the legislative assembly to further assert himself in power. Under the leadership of Napoleon, members of the two national assemblies were directly handpicked by Napoleon from a list of people elected by the electorate. This system was viewed as a method of forcing allegiance to the emperor (Englund, 2006).
Before the French revolution, only the privileged children were allowed to attend school. The power held by the church exceeded that of the state. Indeed, it was compulsory for schools to teach pupils about how to respect the church (Levelle, 2009). However, the revolution proclaimed that education must be made readily accessible to everyone regardless of race, religion, or social status. The idea of setting up public schools to complement the church-led schools was proposed by revolution leaders (Hunt, Hsia, Smith, Martin, & Rosenwein, 2008).
However, no schools were set up by the revolutionary leaders. When Napoleon ascended to power, the education system in France was completely revolutionized. Indeed, the current education system in France owes its success to this particular period in history. Primary, secondary, and technical schools were set up. Due to his deep love for the military, Napoleon also came up with the idea of setting up military schools (Levelle, 2009). Present-day military academies evolved from this thought. Although the syllabus for primary schools remained greatly unchanged, science and mathematics were greatly emphasized in secondary schools. The astronomical scientific discoveries and industrialization of France can be attributed to the emphasis of science subjects made during Napoleon’s rule (Hunt, Hsia, Smith, Martin, & Rosenwein, 2008). Today, education systems around the world still lay emphasis on science subjects. Reforms on higher education were instituted during Bonaparte’s rule.
Napoleon was noted for his disapproval of the immense authority held by the church (Nosotro, 2008). In this respect, he did away with the decree that made it compulsory for schools to compel students to respect religion and the elderly. Instead, schools were supposed to stress the importance of obedience, respect, and military values. Also, public worship was regulated in his era. Historians argue that Napoleon was not disrespectful to the church but rather wanted to separate church from the state (Hunt, Hsia, Smith, Martin, & Rosenwein, 2008). Today, many political activists especially in Arab countries continue to fight for this value to be entrenched in their political systems.
The Napoleonic code stands out as one of Napoleon’s greatest achievements. In full agreement with the aims of revolution leaders, the Napoleonic code stressed that all individuals were equal before the law. While revolutionary leaders stressed that any religion was acceptable in France, Napoleon came up with the Concordat agreement to make catholic the religion of majority in France. However, the government was made supreme over the church. Napoleon also followed his revolutionary predecessors by making it difficult for women to sell, own, or give away property without their husband’s written consent (Hunt, Hsia, Smith, Martin, & Rosenwein, 2008). But unlike in the revolution where freedom of information was much more guaranteed, the emperor was on record for trying to censor and control some information outlets such as newspapers. Napoleon is also credited for eradicating feudalism.
By any standards, Napoleon’s legacy at the helm of power can be termed as a mixed one. He did so much for the people of France and indeed the whole world but still tried to limit their individual rights and freedoms to entrench his own rule. When he eventually went into exile after his army was weakened and defeated, Napoleon was easily the most reviled man in the whole world. But when his corpse was returned to France some fifty years after his death, he became a hero posthumously (Nosotro, 2008). To this day, historians are reluctant to draw conclusions of this man who changed the face of Europe, and indeed the whole world.
- Englund, S. Napoleon: A Political Life. Scribner. 2006. ISBN – 10: 0684871424
- Hunt, L., Hsia, R.P., Smith, B.G., Martin, T.R., & Rosenwein, B.H. Making of the West: Peoples and Cultures. Bedford/ St. Martins. 2008. ISBN – 13: 9780312452940
- Levelle, M. How did France Change under Napoleon? 2008.
- Nosotro, R. Napoleon Bonaparte. 2008.