Between 1769 and 1821 lived a French commander, referred to as Napoleon Bonaparte. Many have come to associate the name with the French revolution, but the truth is, Napoleon was a product of the revolution. He was born while the great French Revolution was still in progress, but his action after taking over as the commander of the French army established himself as a chief proponent of the French revolution. The great French revolution was started to mimic the American revolution that had preceded it. The theories and the political ideologies during the great revolution were shaped by the historians and philosophers of the period. However, three ideals stood out from the revolution, liberty, freedom and equality for all. The French citizenry were tired of autocratic governments and envisioned a civilized government where he citizenry could participate in and that guaranteed equality for all. However, the French revolution is famed for the different stages that it had to undergo. Some critics even say that the various stages are ideologically different, some acting as the antithesis for the other stages. All along, the philosophers contributed to the ideologies. When one ideology failed, they could quickly take up another ideology from a different philosopher and implement it. This ideology changes characterized the French Revolution until Napoleon entered the scene when he oversaw a coup de tat on the government and took over as the consul of France in 1799. This research paper will seek to examine the reason behind the Napoleonic wars that characterized the rule of Napoleon, whether the wars were personal justification and the need for Napoleon to be feared, or they were based on the ideological differences between France and the rest of Europe.
Napoleon Bonaparte was born in 1769 to a wealthy family in Corsica Island. The island was independent before the birth of Napoleon. However, the French revolution saw France invade the island and conquer the island. Most of the Corsican army ran into the mountains where they continued to resist the French rule and invasion of their land. Napoleon was, therefore, born into an environment that was already filled with bold and wars. At his birth, the residents were Corsica were in despair, and the French revolution was to blame for their misery. Napoleon’s father, however, surrendered to the French and remained in Corsica to serve under the French rulers. Napoleon grew up hating the French for what they had done to Corsica, his place of birth. He grew up envisioning a time when Corsica would be free of the French rule. Napoleon father sent him to an academy in France, where Napoleon received his education. The education catered for by a scholarship that his father obtained through his influence in politics. Napoleon was later promoted to a military school where he got the opportunity to train with the very best of French soldiers ad artillery. The military school and the training prepared Napoleon into the most revered French commander in the history of the French. He began serving in the French military as a lieutenant though he harbored ambitions that went beyond just serving in the French military. He wanted a life that was only reserved for the noble people of French descent.
Another phase of the French Revolution prompted Bonaparte to take a leave of absence from the French military to make a return to his homeland in Corsica. In Corsica, he was actively involved in politics and his ideologies differed from the general of Corsica at the time. During this period, Corsica has been made part of the French Republic, and its citizens afforded all the rights enjoyed by the French citizenry. The governor of Corsica was soon at loggerheads with Bonaparte whom he considered too sympathetic to France. The governor was a Corsican Patriot and found Napoleon too ambitious and self –centered. Napoleon was able to gather a faction of people who ascribed to his ideals and his French revolutionary ideals. The rivalry between the two people soon reached a climax and broke out into war. Napoleon lost the war against the Corsican governor and was exiled from Corsica together with his family that included his widowed mother, his brothers, and his sisters. They left for France after being labeled traitors and enemies of the Corsica region. The family carried with them all that they owned in the world. At 24 years of age, Napoleon had been banished from the land where he was born. Napoleon returned to his military career in the French government and soon rose to general in command. He took charge of the French army in Italy and oversaw several victorious battles. The position of army general developed his personal ambitions to rule the French Republic. On returning to France after his escapades, he seized power through a coup de tat and was installed as the first consul of France. He held this position until he lost it in 1815 in the Battle of Waterloo against the British.
After seizing power in France and installing himself as the first consul of France, Napoleon sought to change several governance, economic and social structures in France, a feat he overwhelmingly achieved. As a military leader, he invaded neighboring countries and forced them to sign treaties that recognized him as the overall ruler and emperor. Napoleon repeatedly fought against Austria, Russia, and Prussian armies during his reign as emperor and first consul of France. The wars occur repeatedly as treaties were breached, and alliances shifted. The main enemy of the French army was the British and Napoleon could not get the British under his control even after controlling a substantial section of Europe that included Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Germany, Russia, and Spain. The other states did not like Napoleon or his quest to rule the entire Europe region and tried to ally themselves with Britain. The British had a superior army to France initially though Napoleon grew significantly over the period of his reign as he signed treaties with conquered lands to fight beside him during his quest to conquer more lands. The British intelligently took measures against the French invasion by protecting themselves from border attacks and took control of foreign French subsidiaries as well. Taking over French subsidiaries helped to neutralize the threat of the French invasion. However, throughout the French rule, the British remained wary of the French invasion and lived in fear. However, the British tried to realign the allegiances that the French had created with other countries and create new allies. This ploy to shift new alliances helped the British as Napoleon was tasked with fighting the British alliances throughout his reign.
Throughout his conquest of Europe, Napoleon sought to conquer and place his brothers and loyalist in charge of new territories so that he could remain in control of the new lands. He continued this throughout his conquests until he finally invaded Portugal in the Iberian Peninsula. The invasion of Portugal had far reaching effects on the reign of France and his subsequent wars. The invasion of Portugal led to an uprising of forces and guerilla warfare against the French invasion. The war in the Iberian Peninsula tied down thousands of the French troops, and the effect was felt across the Napoleon French empire. His influence and power over other states decreased during this period as more troops were tied down in the Iberian peninsula. While the Napoleonic troops were tied down, the British continued to blockade European ports that Napoleon controlled. The blockading had an effect of reducing the supplies and the amount of trade the regions under Napoleon could do with other countries of the world such as America. Napoleon felt the economic impact of the blockade and the wars and was forced to sell off some of the regions France controlled by the US. While Napoleon was tied up in the war, the British also mastered the seas and improved the influence of their naval ships and armies. Mastering the seas and the naval troops helped the British gain substantial economic advantage over the French. The blockading of the ports forced other countries that were under French to deal with Britain. It was the only way these countries could gain access to European goods. The blockading and the inaccessibility of the Ports helped the foreign colonies to gain independence from their French master. The blockading and the significant reduction in foreign international trade reduced the French’s power and contributed to its downfall.
In a bid to respond to Britain’s blockade and restrictions in international waters and cutting off of trade meant for the French territories, Napoleon passed Berlin and Milan decrees that would effectively mean that ships that were friendly to Britain were restricted. Neutral ships were to trade with the French. Britain retaliated by imposing a series of its own restrictions that affected the neutral ships. Most of the neutral ships in the region were American. The restrictions affected American ships, and the US responded to the restriction by declaring war on Britain. The Napoleonic wars had huge influences on a number of states across Europe and the world. Most of the countries were affected negatively during the Napoleonic wars, some losing their freedom and independence in the process. However, some countries thrived as a consequence of the Napoleonic wars. One such country was Canada. The American revolution that had preceded the French Revolution and the restrictions of European waters by the British and the French Rivalry left Canada as a neutral alternative for the supply of timber. The timber was necessary for both domestic chores, construction of homes as well as military ships. Britain and its huge military turned its attention to Canada as the provider of the Timber. Canada’s international trade soared. However, for the most part, these wars had a devastating impact on many countries as they were forced to abandon their cultures and governance structures to adapt the French cultures and beliefs.
The great French Revolution provided a platform on which Napoleon thrived. In fact, the French Revolution created Napoleon and Napoleon used it to thrive. Napoleon is the most recognized proponent of the French revolution. Critics, however, argue that Napoleon’s era was not based on the ideals promoted by the French revolution. The French revolution started after the English evolution and the American Revolution. Both the American and the British Revolutions had a unique agenda and revolutionary program that drove the people towards supporting the revolution. The French revolution was different in this regard. Though inspired by the two revolutions, especially the British revolution, the French revolution did not have a single revolutionary program to drive the people through the revolution. Initially, the revolution began on principles that were based on having a constitutional monarchy. Proponents of the revolution at the time argued that having a liberal constitution that provided for equality was the best form of government that the French citizenry deserved. They also argued and actively campaigned for the split of power across the various sovereign bodies within the government to get rid of the aristocracy and the negative effects that were associated with it. The new system that the revolution advocated for would have various centers of power that would act as internal checks preventing any of the bodies from becoming despotic. The revolution argued for a system that was similar to the what the English had achieved and implemented after their revolution.
In the English system, the power was split between the Crown, the Parliament, and the courts. None of the bodies had superior powers over the other and, therefore, they acted as internal checks for the system. The French system had estates that the people had grown accustomed to. The proponents of the revolution argued that the French system would be a bit different from the English system but would have the same ideologies. In the new system, they would make use of the estates, the crown, cities, courts, as well as the church. Many noble men at the time believed that the system would help in the government of the French republic. However, most of the people that were vocal in the revolution were the noblemen in France that had estates, and that had an influence in the society. Disagreements arose to which estates and cities would have what power among he aristocrats. The disagreements led to a change in the revolution and the ideas behind the revolution. While the first system was based on estates, the new demands fought for absolute equality. The first system had failed to achieve the ideals that the revolution had promised. The first two estates were not eager to share their sovereignty with the crown but wanted to keep their privileges even under the new system. Only the third estates, the estate that belonged to the common group, were willing to share their sovereignty with the crown.
The revolution moved into the second phase because of the disagreements and the inequalities the implementation process had witnessed with the first system. The very definition of liberty had to be changed. According to the second definition, liberty was defined as the freedom of being ruled by a law that one had enacted. The second definition of liberty meant that the citizen’s sovereignty was in their hands. The new definition led to the republican principles that characterized the second phase of the revolution. This phase suggested that love was the utmost factor in the fight against oppression. Arguments that were developed to cement the Republican theory were also twisted to serve the purpose of terror. It was during this phase that terror was openly administered by the government and the military on its people. The republican phase called for government and the rule of law to be used to suppress crime and also argued that man can be forced to be free. The philosophies on which the second phase is founded were propagated by Rousseau. Rosseau, at the time, was the main philosopher and expounded his theories and ideas publicly. The ideas resonated with the people and the philosopher continued to be idolized, even after his death. The republican phase handles the advocating of state powers to suppress crime. These powers were often abused to oppress dissenting voices in the French state. The republican phase reigned in France until a coup conducted by Napoleon in 1799 that brought to an end Robespierre’s reign as king of France to an end as well as the republican phase of the revolution. Contrary to what the French believed at the time, that the revolution had come to an end, Napoleon only acted to enhance the revolution by easing it into the third stage.
The third phase of the French Revolution, in which Napoleon ruled, was characterized by the implementation of the absolutism theories propagated by Voltaire, a philosopher. According to Voltaire, the sovereignty of the people was to be held in absolute terms by the monarch and not to be transmitted to the people. Voltaire proclaimed to be a disciple of the English philosophers, and his absolutism theory was based on his views of England and how they conducted their governance. Even though Napoleon implemented a system of governance that is attributed to the principles and theories propagated by Voltaire, his implementation deviated to an extent that Voltaire could never have approved. Napoleon added a democratic element to his system of governance. Voltaire assumed that a majority of the people were hopelessly unenlightened and that they could be led without their approval. The earlier stages of the French Revolution had introduced people into the governance process. Napoleon realized that they could not be pushed out. Instead, he opted to have an inclusive type of government that allowed people to have some form of influence in the way they were governed. Napoleon opted to persuade the people led, something Voltaire would never have envisioned from the French citizenry. Napoleon also proved to be a genius in the persuasion process as he was able to rally people behind his ideologies. Napoleon also re-established Catholicism in France, and the church played a big role during his rule. Critics have argued that Napoleon deviated from the principles and ideologies that founded the French revolution. However, during the Napoleonic rule, most of the institutions that were established by the French revolution’s earlier proponents thrived.
Effects of the Napoleonic Rule and Wars in Britain
The Napoleonic wars and rule had far reaching consequences in France and in the world. Particularly in France, the citizens had to deal with the effects that molded and affected their ways of lives. Some of these effects included:
Military and Glamor
The fear against a French invasion lingered among the British throughout the Napoleonic rule. Napoleon was conquering all of Europe and amassing troops as he conquered the lands. At one time, Napoleon became the most influential leader in Europe with most of continental Europe under his reign. The British citizenry were wary of the threat, and the public rallied behind their military. They were aware that in case Napoleon ever invaded the country, their military would be at the forefront to protect them. Critics and historians have argued that the British identity was forged at this time. The British military was at the center of the British identity, and many British men volunteered to join and train with the army. Everyone was involved with the military in one way or the other. While men joined the military or train with the volunteer soldiers to be ready or war in case the French landed, the women also found a way to participate. They participated in making uniforms for the troops while others enjoyed the less noble social activities that were the order of the day around the military camps. The British citizens were fascinated by their military and the market for commemorative goods that features military attires or attributes helped in enlisting men into the military at a time when the British really needed it.
Unemployment and Poverty
The government, in its efforts to protect its citizenry from a French invasion, strengthened its military through a series of recruitment and training regimes. The large military coupled with construction of defense towers across their coasts had a large economic toil on Britain. High food prices due to taxes meant that more people were left in despair and misery. More men joined the army, for this reason, to receive allowances from the government. The British government also had a policy that allowed for six military men in every company to be provided for and their wives. Joining the military helped unburden some of these problems from the British citizenry.
Defeat and Exile
Napoleon won any battles and wars during his reign over the French empire. His reign was often compared o the Roman Empire in terms of influence. The conquering of new lands was followed by cultural injection into the new lands. However, the chief enemy of Napoleon and his quest to conquer Europe was Britain. Napoleon succeeded in fighting and defeating almost all of Europe except Britain. However, Britain, though it was never invaded by the French troops, it did suffer in other ways. The people, in Britain, lived in perpetual fear and high taxes on its citizenry to finance the British military activities strained the British citizens’ lives. Napoleon also banned trade with Britain, which restricted Britain access to some European commodities.
In 1814, however, Napoleon surrendered to allied forces when his grip on power reduced due to the British insurgence on his territory due to his reduced military troops. He went into exile in Elba. He later escaped exile and returned to France and returned into power. He subsequently led the French to battle against Prussia, where he won. However, he lost the battle against the British in Waterloo a few days later. The humiliating defeat marked the end of his empire and reign.
Evidently, Napoleon was a military success, and the French have never had a leader with the influence and the military nous that he possessed. His military tactics are still being taught in military academies throughout the world. Napoleon is famed for combining energy, military tactical awareness and speed in his battles. These factors meant that he was successful in many battles. Even Britain, with its vast military and economic power, feared the French invasion. Britain had to make allies within the European continent to help them in case of attacks. The British depended on their navy to protect them from attacks. They also blockaded the ports controlled by Napoleon in order to starve the empire of supplies and to weaken them economically. The blockade also forced Napoleon’s foreign colonies to trade with Britain as they could not access their European master. Invading French territories and helping free some territories from French colonization helped in weakening the French as well as creating new allies for the British. Even as Britain succeeded in keeping Napoleon away, the threat from a French invasion always lingered especially whenever they heard of another successful Napoleon invasion. Apart from military success, Napoleon is also used in reference terms when referring to the French Revolution. He ushered in the third stage of the French Revolution and cemented some institutions that the proponents of the revolution before him had created. He is also known as to spread the French revolutionary ideals to other neighboring countries that he had conquered. He also succeeded in re-introducing religion and giving people something to believe in while they forged ahead with developing France with the ideals propagated by the French revolution.
Napoleon is also famed for making radical structural changes in France, socially, economically and legally. Some of the structural reforms attributed to him include; higher education, introducing tax reforms, roads, construction of the sewer system, as well as establishing the central bank of France. All of his establishments can still be seen today. Napoleon also regulated public worship through negotiating agreements with the Catholic church. However, the Napoleonic Code as the most famous legal achievement during his reign. In the code, Napoleon introduced a number of civil laws to govern the French Republic. In fact, the Napoleonic code has gone on to be adopted in most of Europe and the world. This achievement serves to silence his critics. Napoleon brought equality to most of Europe by introducing laws to govern equality in ownership of property across the lands he conquered and in France. The power of the Catholic church was significantly reduced to allow for equality of all people. His enemies also learned from his military techniques that made him so efficient in battle. His tactics have been studied and helped reform many countries’ militaries approaches to battles. However, these studies have made the art of war more costly to countries seeking to improve the efficiency of their military. Clearly, Napoleon played a pivotal in reforming the European legal system, the economic system, bringing equality to Europe as well as shaping the modern art of warfare.
The question of the actual reason behind the Napoleonic Wars continues to be debated with critics suggesting that the wars were for personal reasons and the need for Napoleon to be feared, while some suggest that the wars were due to ideological differences between France and the rest of Europe. The argument that the wars were based on ideological differences between France and the rest of Europe does not hold much water. First, the suggestion that the wars were due to ideological differences stems from the fact that France was undergoing a revolution at the time. However, it is important to note that the revolution was largely based on ideologies that were shaped by several philosophers at the time. Voltaire’s absolutism theory and philosophy are the closest theory to explain the type of governance that characterizes Napoleon’s rule. Voltaire’s theories and philosophies were inspired by English philosophers and his own perspective of the English system of governance. Therefore, Napoleon governance can trace its principles in England. However, it turns out that England was the main enemy throughout Napoleon’s reign. The fact that England was the main enemy and Napoleon spent his time fighting England, and its allies helps dispel the idea that the wars were based on ideological differences.
Critics have also argued that the wars can be attributed to Napoleon’s desire to be feared. This notion can be substantiated. Napoleon was banned from his homeland after differences with his father’s former ally and patriot of Corsica. When he was young, Napoleon was sent to France on a scholarship where he spent a lonely life due to his pride and his cultural difference from the other kids. He was also bullied while in school. His bullying and his pride could help explain his desire to conquer and take over Europe.
Napoleon is a revered military leader who led the French into many battles that he won. He engineered a coup that saw him overthrow the republican king to pave the way for his imperialist system of governance. Napoleon quest to conquer Europe was successful in over two decades. He invaded countries and forced them to sign treaties to fight alongside him in his battles and to recognize him as the emperor of Europe. In his quest for Europe, however, Britain remained its biggest enemy. Napoleon never succeeded in invading Britain during his reign, though he successfully invaded Britain allies and defeated them repeatedly. Napoleon was not just military success. He was able to gain the support of his people and to successfully play a huge part in enhancing the French revolution. He conducted reforms that are still in place in France. His notable achievements include the Napoleon’s Code in which he legalized divorce and liberalized property ownership to bring equality to all. Many questions have been asked as to the true reason as to why Napoleon invaded other countries. Historians have suggested that it could be due to the ideological differences that existed at the time or due to Napoleon’s personal need to be feared. The latter seems to be the case based on the fact the ideals that the French revolution was based on were borrowed from countries such as Britain. During the quest, Britain, on which most of the philosophies were based, was the main enemy of the Napoleon Empire. Therefore, the quest to conquer Europe was based on a personal need by Napoleon to be feared and to conquer.
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