“Napoleon came to power in France due to his skills as a soldier” To what extent is this a fair assessment of Napoleon’s rise to power.
The statement: “Napoleon came to power in France due to his skills as a soldier”, can be said to be a fair evaluation of Napoleon’s rise to power only until a certain extent. Other aspects of Napoleon’s life need to be explored to explain how he came to full power in France by 1804. These are: his education, the situation France was in, the support of the army he had, the effective propaganda used by him, his skills as a leader, and of course, the luck he had of all these events getting together and casting him as emperor of France. Let us analyze all of these events and see to which point is this statement a fair assessment to Napoleon’s rise to power.
Firstly and most importantly, to verify the fairness of this statement lets see the importance of his military skills in his life. In 1785, Napoleon entered the Ecole Militaire Paris; where he was the first Corsican ever, to graduate as a sub-lieutenant of artillery. From this point on, he continued to train his artillery skills for four more years. After hard military training, in 1793 Napoleon received his first opportunity to show his potential. It was in the Toulon battle where he helped the French army to regain Toulon from the British.
At this battle, young Bonaparte proved his loyalty to his superior when he was asked to substitute him but denied it and also showed his competence when he convinced his superior to attack the British at the right time. After this victory, his superior officer wrote a letter to the minister of war acknowledging Napoleon as a brilliant young military talent, contempling his bravery, intelligence and character. In March 1796, Napoleon was appointed commander of the army in Italy. This was the chance Napoleon was waiting to prove his magnificent military skills. The skills, which led him to power, were not only proved in the battle of Italy but also in the battle at Egypt in 1796 3 years later.
Another aspect of Napoleon’s escalade to power was his background and education. Napoleon was of a noble Corsican family, his father was a bitter opponent of the foreign French occupation of the island. However, with the advantages he could obtain to his family by being an ally of the French government, Bonaparte’s father became one of the men who took care of the French administration of the island. With this, he obtained documentary proof of French nobility. This enabled him to send young Napoleon to study in France. Napoleon was given a crash course in France as soon as he arrived to prepare him for his future career. From then on, he entered the Ecole Militaire Paris from where he began his military life.
The situation France was passing after revolution was also a point, which Napoleon used to acquire full power of France. At that time, France was in a hectic situation. France economy was passing through a difficult moment, as there was a decline in trading which led to robbery and corruption. All people of France feared that all of that which was done at the revolution would be lost. All hopes of France returning to its state of majesty were being lost. People were still shocked with the effects of the Reign of Terror in France.
The government, which was set after this historical period, was known as “Directory”. It was unpopular and was not supported by the population. Everyone was insecure of what would happen to France in the hands of this new group, which would have the difficult mission, which was to solve the economic problems, which had, just arose and continue to support the revolutionary ideas passed on through the first years of the revolution. All of this unpopularity and insecurity on the new government gave Bonaparte the chance to rise. His will for power was achieved in 1799 in the ‘Coup of Brumaire’.
Another very important aspect in Bonaparte’s rise to power is his ability to use propaganda. Even historians, who don’t support Napoleon, agree he had an indescribable ability to use propaganda in his favour. AJP Taylor for instance is someone who doesn’t agree to Napoleon’s character but says: “The proclamations and bulletins of Napoleon, show him to have been a propagandist of genius…”1
The propaganda Napoleon used was very effective as he was able to create an image of himself as being a young, compassionate, heroic, brave, loyal, talented and magisterial young military officer. This made the people of France see Bonaparte as an alternative of the Directory at that time as no one supported the new government. Together with his military accomplishments such as the battle in Italy and Egypt, Napoleon created a wonderful image of himself by means of propaganda.
Napoleon’s propaganda influential abilities were proven magisterial in the Coup of Brumaire where he was able to influence all of the people of why to be on his side and why to dislike the Directory. With this, he was able to gain the trust he needed from the population to maneuver over France and become emperor in a1804.
Another fact, which triggered him to power were his manipulating skills as a leader. Napoleon was very good in showing superiority and showing leadership. This made people see him as the powerful person France needed to stand up upon all issues and problems the country would need to face because of the revolution. Propaganda was also used to emphasize his skills as a leader to the people. According to the film: “Napoleon: Soldier, Emperor, Lover Statesman”, propaganda had turned him to a divine figure in France, he was seen as a god which emerged in the mist of all the problems France was facing. The impressive manipulative power Napoleon had was especially due to his enormous self – confidence. According to AJP Taylor: Napoleon was, “a man who thought himself as a god”, this clearly show his self – esteem.
The luck Napoleon had was also an important factor to his rise to power. This is an incontestable argument. Napoleon knew the right people at he right time and he was also chronologically living his life together with France. By this I mean, he was even lucky when he was born, this is because he had the right age at the right time he needed to conquer France. When I say he met the right people at the right time, I mean for example he met Josephine his first wife in his early military life. As she was pat of the high aristocracy of France, she was very important in giving him a grater status in society. His war tactics also were helped by his luck. All this luck in his life made his soldier believe him at all times. Therefore, luck made everyone believe him. All trusted him. This was very important.
By analyzing all these factors, which did affect Napoleon’s rise to power in France we can conclude that it wasn’t only his military skills, which were responsible for his escalade to ultimate power in France. But indeed all of these factors had their own importance in Napoleon’s rise to power. In my beliefs, if any of these didn’t take part of Bonaparte’s life, maybe he wouldn’t be so successful and so famous until nowadays. Everything in his life worked as if he was born to become a legend. Imagine if his father hadn’t decided to become an ally of the French in Corsica. Napoleon wouldn’t go study in France and just this simple chance of events would already change all of his life. With this in mind we can see that it wasn’t only Napoleon’s military skills which were responsible for his conquering of France but all of these events of his life together.
> Taylor, AJP- From Napoleon to the second International. Penguin books: London, 1982
> Stiles, Andrina and Rees, Dylan- Napoleon, France and Europe. (2004)
> Napoleon: Soldier, emperor Lover Statesman.