“His main aim was to himself in power” How far do you agree with this view of Napoleon Bonaparte from 1799 to 1850?
Napoleon Bonaparte was created by the revolution of 1789. In his 15 years of ruling, he managed to consolidate many of the aims of the French Revolution., However, whilst doing so, Napoleon also destroyed many aspects of the Revolution, breaking the trust and hope the people of France had in Napoleon when he promised to honour the revolution. Napoleon ruled the way he wanted to stay in power.
Napoleon was a war hero to the French people. His great military tactics helped him to rise to power. Napoleon believed that the army is the true nobility of a country. His skills as a general were both tactical and strategical. By 1810, Napoleon had dominated all of Europe; his victory made him popular amongst his people and brought praise. However, it this praise and popularity that urged Napoleon to stay in power. He thought that when one when does bring victory, then the people would soon get bored and uninterested, thus Napoleon became ruthless and tolerate no argument. This was to prove disastrous in his defeat at Waterloo. Napoleon’s constant ambition to go to war and return with victory was his aim of keeping himself in power.
Napoleon domestic policies gained the popular support he demanded in order to keep himself in power. He provided France with a strong centralised government, one that he would dominate when he became emperor in 1801, thus he went against the ideals of the French revolution as people of France wished for an end of the Monarch and one man power. Napoleon wanted to keep himself in power and stand against any threats. He also shaped public opinion by crude forms of propaganda, secret agents, arbitrary arrests and executions. Like a dictator, Napoleon relied on public opinion to prevent hostile criticism. This too was against the ideals of the French Revolution. Napoleon now controlled the media, maintaining his position as emperor. As he once said, “I can no longer obey; I have tested command and I cannot give it up”.
Napoleon also used religion to maintain himself in his high position. Although, Napoleon was not religious himself, as he thought it made people meek and mild rather than independent and strong, he knew the French pubic would not understand or agree with him. His aim was to reconcile the church state; this would gain even greater approval from his people. Napoleon was calculating, intelligent and shrewd. Napoleon granted one of the rights mentioned in the declaration of the rights of man as he made Catholicism as the favoured religion of France whilst Jews, Protestants and Catholics could freely practise their religion. By doing this Napoleon had given the people what they wanted increasing his popularity.
Napoleon said his aim was the defend the revolution, this is shown in the code Napoleon which incorporated the great principles of 1789 such as the equality before the law, freedom of religion, abortion of serfdom and careers open to talents. However, although the code agreed with most of the people’s interests, it took away some rights especially those of women and children, as Napoleon once said “Women are nothing but machines for producing children.” Workers were denied collective bargaining, trade unions were outlawed and women were excluded from education according to Napoleon they did not need education only religion. As the he once wrote”Marriage is their whole destination.”
Napoleons economic policies were designed to strengthen France and increase his popularity. To secure the economy and please the bourgeoisie, he aided industry through tariffs and loans. He built roads, bridges and canals. His main achievement was the Bank of France which secured Frances economy.
Observing what had happened to the men in power before him Napoleon assumed that he would not make the same mistakes, he knew that he must become both a statesmen and a tyrant. However, he became too confident and believed he was more powerful than ever before, as he once wrote “Power is my mistress. I have worked too hard at her conquest to allow anyone to take her away from me” While in France he had a police state, he has spies everywhere, he tried to control as much as he could to stay in power. He violated the freedom of the press in article 11, of the declaration of the rights of man, reducing and censuring the newspapers.
Although napoleon changed and improved France, it must be noted that, in his legal reforms especially, all that he was doing was building upon the ideas and activities of other reformers before him. All what he did was consolidation of the achievements and developments of the revolution, there is however absence in social reforms as Napoleon cared little and had not much interest in economic or social matters and did not aim at improving standards of living as he said “ France has more need of me than I have of France.”
Thus, although Napoleon changed France and improved its conditions much of it was only done, in order to keep his popularity and maintain his position in power. Napoleon from the start knew he was great, therefore he rose to achieve the power he wanted, like all dictators he has ambition. One that cared more for power than others, one that did not know when the possible ended and the impossible began.