Did Napoleon Preserve Or Pervert The Gains
Of The Essay, Research Paper
Matt HinkleDid Napoleon preserve or pervert the gains of the Revolution Napoleon was indirectly responsible for spreading many of the ideals of the French Revolution throughout Europe. Although he never openly espoused revolutionary tenets his Empire and government was in many ways the living embodiment of those ideals. The three main areas that he had a significant impact were individualism, secularism, and nationalism. Prior to the French Revolution, class or social status was more important in French society and government than the individual. Merit and ability was subordinated to your family status and whether you were of the noble class. The Revolution did away with this and stated that all individuals were equal in the eyes of the government. How one advanced was based on merit rather than who one’s ancestors were. Napoleon enshrined this with a new aristocracy based on merit. Those who performed and contributed were rewarded. The new Princes, Dukes, and Barons were men who earned their titles, most often on the battlefield. A review of his Marshals would show that they came from all walks of life, including a barrel maker, a cabin boy, a former sergeant, and a minor noble. In addition to this, he created he Legion of Honor to recognize those who deeds merited it. The French Revolution placed the state above the Church, an extremely revolutionary concept. The Revolution even went as far to ban organized religion. Napoleon was willing to heal the rift between the Catholic Church and the government, but only if the Church did not meddle in state affairs. The Church lost its right to run schools, and to have special taxes and privileges, however Napoleon did re-open the churches and was tolerant of all religions. He even invited the Pope Pius VII to his coronation to crown him the new Emperor of France. Napoleon’s true feelings on his relationship with the Church were demonstrated by his actions at the coronation. When the Pope went to place the crown on Napoleon’s head, Napoleon took the crown out of the Pope’s hands and crowned himself. Thus showing that he believed that since he embodied the State, the Pope had no legitimate right to crown him for in the new France the state was not subordinate to the Church.Prior to the Revolution, the state was symbolized by the monarch and the loyalty of the people was to ruler not to the state. The Revolution made the government the sovereign of the people. It was to this government the people owed their loyalties. “National interests transcend dynastic and all other interests. Citizens are put in national armies and national schools. National flag and anthem supplant royal ensign and hymn.” (Hayes; 573). Napoleon built his Empire based on these concepts. It was his soldiers who ousted the old dynasties throughout Europe and gave rise to both German and Italian nationalism that eventually unified the numerous minor kingdoms, states, and principalities into the respective nations of Germany and Italy. After Brumaire (9-10 Nov. 1799) –the coup d etat which first set Napoleon on the path to becoming the supreme executive of a French empire Napoleon declared, The Revolution is made fast on the principles on which it began; the Revolution is finished. Since this famous utterance came so soon after he gained power, it is clear that Napoleon was saying something significant about what the role of his new-born regime would be to those which had preceded it. Like the man himself, this quote and the one at the head of this page are both highly complex and ambiguous. He is declaring that the new regime was both a break from the immediate past and part of a continuity with that past. What was Napoleon s relationship to the Revolution? To what extent was he its heir or its betrayer? Did he save the Revolution or liquidate it? To begin it is necessary to determine what one means by the Revolution . There was not one Revolution, but really a series of them which occurred as the French struggled to create a new political and social system. By the Revolution do we mean that of Barnave, or of Mirabeau, or Lafayette, or Brissot, or Danton, or Robespierre, or Hebert, or Tallien, of Babeuf, or Barras? All of these were men of the Revolution, yet they all held differing conceptions of what that Revolution was. Considering many of those fundamental principles, which guided most of these revolutionaries. In general, these principles include equal treatment under the law, one degree or another of centralization of the government, elimination of feudal rights, religious tolerance and careers open to talent not birth. Seeing in enlightened despotism a reconciliation of authority with political and socialreform, he became its last and most illustrious representative. In this sense he was the man of the Revolution. Napoleon considered the Jacobin government of Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety the only serious government of the Revolutionary period. During the Reign of Terror Napoleon was strongly identified with the Jacobins. Hisdialogue published in 1793, LE SOUPER DE BEAUCAIRE, championed the Jacobins over the federalist Girondins. What Napoleon admired were the Jacobins strong centralized government, their commitment to deal decisively with the problems facing the fledgling republic, and their attempt to forge a strong stable France while winning the war against its enemies. Napoleon clearly felt, like the Jacobins, that an energetic centralized state was essential to consolidate the advances achieved by the Revolution and, at the same time, he wished to bring about the stability many French longed for after the upheavals of the past decade. In his eyes this meant the need for a strong executive. From 1799 until his death on the South Atlantic island of St. Helena, Napoleon spoke of himself as the man who had completed the Revolution. By this he meant that the basic goals of the Revolution enumerated above had been obtained and that now it was time to consolidate andinstitutionalize those gains. France, after ten years of revolution, had still lacked the proper foundation upon which to institutionalize the revolutionary achievements until Napoleon provided it with his administrative framework. It was his boast that he did not belong to the race of the ideologues , that he saw facts through plain glass, and that he came to substitute and age of work for and age of talk…he would create a methodical government based upon popular consent, and conceived in the interests not of any particular faction but of France as a whole.
Napoleon is generally credited with having consolidated the gains of the Revolution With the exception of fathering the Civil Code, Napoleon perhaps gloried more in his reputation as consolidator of the Revolution than in any other one title. In this sense he can be credited with having saved the Revolution by ending it. Had the Bourbons come back to power in 1799 instead of Napoleon, they would at that time had less trouble turning back the clock to the ancient regime than they had in 1814. The Code Napoleon, one of the Emperor s most enduring achievements, embodied many of the principles of the Revolution and made them permanent. Feudalism was suppressed and careers were open to all those with ability regardless of birth. Napoleon became the personification of the revolutionary aims of the bourgeoisie. He reformed and modernized French institutions. He brought much longed for order and stability to France and forged a sense of unity. He attempted to unite under his wing both the revolutionaries and the emigres nobles, clergy and others who chose or were forced to live in exile under the Revolution. The sales of the lands taken from the nobles who had emigrated or been declared enemies of the state, from the Church, or from the Crown an important benefit for the middle classes and the peasants of the Revolution were recognized not only in Napoleon s coronation oath, but also in the signing of the Concordat with the Pope. It has been said that many of Napoleon s reforms were just continuations of reforms begun under the Revolution (just as it has been said that many of the reforms of the Revolution were continuations of those begun during the ancient regime). It is important to keep in mind that Napoleon also brought these reforms to the countries with the Empire, where they were truly revolutionary. The principles which Napoleon inherited from the Revolution and consolidated in France, he exported to the countries, which fell under the French empire. If Napoleon s reforms in France were no longer revolutionary, outside of France these same reforms were profoundly revolutionary. It had been the goal of many of the Revolution s leaders to revolutionize the rest of Europe. Napoleon accomplished this. The principle of equality was recognized in the destruction of feudal rights and privileges in the Empire and in the submission of all members of society to a common scheme of justice, the Napoleonic Code. The Legion of Honor was also intended to foster equality, as well as reward talent. The establishment of the Legion of Honor, which was the reward for military, civil, and judicial service, united side by side the soldier, the scholar, the artist, the prelate, and the magistrate; it was the symbol of the reunion of all the estates, of all the parties. The Emperor, as the supreme executive, was deemed the representative of the general will. This powerful executive was a feature also of the relationship between the Convention and the Committee of Public Safety, as well as the Legislature and the Directory. The Revolution, like Napoleon, bore a strong authoritarian streak. Napoleon declared that he wanted to cement peace at home by anything that could bring the French together and provide tranquility within families. Napoleon didn t see an incompatibility between the Revolution and monarchy. Napoleon did what the Bourbon King could not reconcile the elements of the monarchy with elements of the Revolution which was the failed goalof Mirabeau in 1790. Napoleon was largely successful in attracting men from all parties from ex-Jacobins to ci-devant nobles to his government. Signing the Concordat (15 July 1801) allowed Napoleon to reconcile the religious differences which had torn France apart during the Revolution. (At the same time, the Concordat insured religious freedom. It recognized Catholicism as the religion of the majority of the French, but did not make it an established religion as the Churchof England was in Britain. Protestants and Jews were allowed to practice their religion and retain their civic rights.) A general amnesty signed by Napoleon (26 April 1802) allowed all but about one thousand of the most notorious emigres to return to France. These two actions helped to bring relative tranquility to those areas of France which had long been at war with the Revolution. What of liberty? Of the three key principles of the Revolution liberty, equality, and fraternity it was liberty which suffered most under Napoleon. Bonaparte can be reproached for not having established liberty; he cannot be accused of having destroyed it, for the excellent reason that on his return from Egypt he did not find it anywhere in France. The French desiring to safeguard what that had acquired during the Revolution, be it rights or property, wanted these guaranteed. Many felt that guarantee could come only with the restoration and preservation of order. They were willing to sacrifice their liberties for that guarantee, for that order. He would keep most of the revolutionary institutions while at times amalgamating then with those of the Old Regime, which were restored but adapted. His work would prove so solid that it made any total restoration of the past impossible. The solutions Napoleon came up with leave little doubt that he was the heir and preserver of the Revolution. Napoleon had undoubtedly felt a revolution had been necessary. When it had achieved its purpose he felt that it was necessary to end the Revolution and begin the work of governing. He exported to those countries under French hegemony many of the achievements of the Revolution. He embodied these achievements in the Code Napoleon. Without the Revolution Napoleon, despite his talents, would have been no more than an obscure provincial military officer. He unified a country torn apart by ten years of political and religious strife. While liberty languished, he promoted equality and opened all careers to those with talent. A proletarian king, he humiliated kings and nobles in his antechamber. He leveled ranks not by lowering but by raising them. He insured religious tolerance. He consolidated and preserved the gains of the Revolution.