University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Was Napoleon a hero or a tyrant?
The great Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “The art of government is not to let me grow stale.” Napoleon meant that his leadership could protect France’s advancements of eliminating the “old regime” but only if the French could keep him in power. Bonaparte grew up in a noble Italian family and attended some of the most prestigious military academies throughout France. His military education proved beneficial in the long run as he went down in history as being one of, if not the, most honored military leaders in the world. His military skill gave him the ability to establish a strong political government, where he had absolute power, which was what the people were looking for. Due to his meritorious military strategies and early revolutionary advancements as the First Consul and Consul for Life of France, Napoleon Bonaparte can be seen as a hero in history.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s military skill and acts prevented France from being invaded during their construction of multiple governments to aid in the Revolution. Bonaparte entered the French military as a second lieutenant and won his first battle against the British at Toulon. This came as his first step in the fight against Louis XVI as he would then rise in rank and his image would become well known (Napoleon Bonaparte Biography). Bonaparte would always praise those who fought for him and never took full credit sharing it with those who truly put their lives on the line to protect their French nation. After his military career took a hiatus, due to an accident in a battle, he was moved to the mapping department for the military. His next major step came when several Emigres were attempting to overthrow the French National Convention (Napoleon Bonaparte Biography). Using military supplies his goal was to protect them from being overthrown.
If those loyalists succeeded King Louis XVI could have risen to power so as result Napoleon was appointed as the Commander of the Army of the Interior (Cawthorne 146). Napoleon is also known for creating the Army of Italy and gaining the country of Italy as a territory of the French government. His soldiers were kept in incredible and immaculate conditions for soldiers which kept them fighting harder and morale increased tremendously. The morale increase proved beneficial when Napoleon and his army invaded Austria. His success kept them from invading France and disrupting the advancements of the French Revolution. Finally, due to all of the previous mentioned accomplishments, Napoleon rose to power after he executed a coup d’etat on the Directory with the assistance of Abbe Sieyes (Kreis).
There are many reasons that Napoleon’s political career and reign of France can portray his heroism for his nation. During his reign, in power his first act was to create a new legal system, called the Napoleonic Code, or the Civil Code, which preserved the ideas of the Revolution such as: freedom of religion, equality for all, and no more feudal ideas or privileges (Kreis). The Napoleonic Code fortified the rights and privileges gained during the French Revolution. Hundreds of thousands of French civilians had sacrificed their own lives for these rights Without the Napoleonic Code they would of simply vanished with the restoration of the monarchy. By doing this he pleased many people in France as the majorities were revolutionaries.
Another important and heroic act that Napoleon achieved was the Concordat of 1801 in which Napoleon revived Roman Catholicism into the majority religion of France (Cawthorne 146). He gained the support of the peasants and gave them the land that was confiscated by the church during the revolution as gratitude for their support of not only him as a ruler, but for their sense of nationalism.
Another lionhearted act was the resolution of the growing economic crisis in France. He instituted the Bank of France which was able to start getting money flowing throughout France as well as fixing the problem that workers were being taxed unfairly, and not being able to achieve better jobs in society. By taxing at an equitable rate for all and paying back money to society, they were able to live in better conditions. This reform resulted in many bourgeoisie, and other middle and lower class, becoming educated which would give them opportunities to rise up the occupation ladder.
This was based on more revolutionary ideas which did nothing but increase his popularity and image of being one of France’s most successful, prominent, and heroic leaders in history (Kreis). As a secondary educational attempt Napoleon stressed the teaching of the new metric system which at first was rarely accepted until the government started to create government run schools called lycees in which he could control the curriculum being taught throughout France. This created a sense of French nationalism and unification as people would begin to understand mathematics on the relative same scale as their neighbors and political and religious officials (Napoleon Bonaparte Biography).
Napoleon led France to its greatest height both internally and geographically. As Napoleon continued his powerful push to gain most, if not all, of Europe he did in fact succeed. Some countries he fully conquered were Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, Spain and Italy as well as portions of Portugal (Cawthorne 147). By increasing the size of his empire the French people began to feel superior and call themselves one nation again and they temporarily flew a new flag over France called the Imperial Standard.
This flag had a custom made crest of a bronze eagle with a crown above it, and was surrounded by the French colors of red and blue. The French took great honor to protect any item, especially the flag, as to them it was a sign of commemoration of Napoleon’s efforts. Without his heroism they would not be where they were and would not be a top superpower in the world and time of expansion, imperialism, reform, and creation (Napoleon Bonaparte Biography).
In the end, Napoleon truly was the hero that France was looking for as he brought them out of their dark abyss into the light of their modern day. He gave them a flame of hope by creating the position of Consul for Life because the people were the reason he was leader. They knew that he had led them to this point, their pinnacle, and they felt safe in the hands of the great Napoleon Bonaparte. “A revolution can be neither made nor stopped. The only thing that can be done is for one of several of its children to give it a direction by dint of victories,” said Napoleon.
He meant that revolutions are constantly occurring during life, whether on a small scale or large scale, reforms are frequently being made and fought for. The only thing that could change the path of a revolution is if someone who was influenced by it made their point and continued fighting for more. He in deed gave a direction for the revolution and for the people who trusted him and put them in a great position for the future. Napoleon Bonaparte died on May 5, 1821 and it’s said that all good things must and will come to an end. However, Napoleon was not good, he was great and so he will live on.
Works Cited Page
Cawthorne, Nigel. Military Commanders: The 100 Greatest Throughout HIstory. New York: Enchanted Lion Books, 2004.
Kreis, Steven. “Lecture 15- Europe and the Superior Being,” The History Guide: Lectures on Modern European Intellectual History. February 8, 2006. September 27, 2011.
“Napoleon Bonaparte Biography.” notablebiographies.com. 2011 World Biography. September 27, 2011