To what extent are Napoleon's reforms during the Consulate (1799 - 1804) explained by his need to secure himself in power?

Napoleon, having seen many governments come and go, was weary of the problems involved in governing a country. Napoleon realizing the failures of past governments, wanted his to be a secure and lasting government. He wanted to unite all power in the country at one centralized base. These are the ideals that flow through his reforms under the consulate. His reforms are aimed at gathering all power to him, the main areas of reform were; the constitution, religion, the legal system, the judicial system and the economy.

All of these reforms, in one form or another, were means to gathering and centralizing power around him.

After the coup of Brumaire, there was confrontation between Sieyes, the original mastermind behind the coup, and Napoleon. There were differences in opinion and ideals between the two men on how the country should be run. Napoleon utilized Sieyes to his own end and forced through his changes to the constitution. The constitution of the year VIII was composed mainly of Napoleons ideals; it was a great success for him.

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He made himself first consul, which was in essence head of state. He also appointed two other consuls, Sieyes being one of them, the second and third consuls had no real power as such, they were merely there to give advice which in reality meant that Napoleon was running the country on his own but gave the impression that the system was democratic to the people. As the first consul, Napoleon had total control over both domestic and foreign policy.

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He had immense power, he was able to manipulate and mould such aspects as the constitution as it suited him. He demonstrated his great power, when in 1802 he changed the constitution to state that instead of having 10 years to rule, he would stay head of state for life. In the amendment of 1802 he also axed the two other consuls, who had neither real power nor significance in the first place but were instead used as false illusions of democracy. Using the senate, Napoleon appointed himself a new title, “The Hereditary Emperor of France”, this as a title alone stands against everything that the revolution had worked so hard for.

While the reforms to the constitution were major, he also transformed the way that local governments worked. Initially he used the constitution, to give him direct and supreme control over France, and also ensured the safety of his leadership and administration. He did not stop there; he wanted to be able to have control of all the resources across the country, willing to do as he pleases. For this to happen he would need to make severe changes to the administration system and this is what he did. He moved the power from smaller communes to larger departments, establishing a clear chain of command; this was, at the time considered extremely revolutionary, which Napoleon utilized heavily. As well as the idea of large departments, he also introduced Prefects, these were governors placed in charge of each department, and below the Prefects were various civil officials such as the mayor. These Prefects were personally appointed by Napoleon, ensuring that only those who were loyal and obedient to Napoleon were appointed.

The next major set of reforms he makes are those considering religion. During the years of the revolution when the Jacobins were in power, the government followed an atheist policy and attacked Christianity heavily. Napoleon reintroduced Catholicism as the main religion in France; this was different from the era of the Ancien Regime, when Catholicism was the only religion in France. Napoleon signed the concordat with the pope in 1801. Both the pope and Napoleon had much to gain from the concordat. The previous French government had tended to ignore or turn a blind eye to the practice of Catholicism in the country even though the law forbade it, much of the country was practicing Catholicism, by signing the concordat Napoleon stands to gain much support from the catholic extremists, such as those in the Vendee but stands to loose little as most of the country was catholic and practising Catholicism anyhow. The pope had much to gain in the sense that any influence in France is better than none, by signing the concordat the pope gained some influence in France. This again was a way of gaining support from the people, making the people think that he is doing what is best for the country when in reality he is choosing the best course of action that suits him and his administration. By legalising Catholicism in the country, his popularity among the people rose. Napoleon realised the advantages of this, he could use the church as a method of control amongst the people. He could distribute his message to the whole of France via the churches, considering most of the country was catholic and attended church regularly.

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To what extent are Napoleon's reforms during the Consulate (1799 - 1804) explained by his need to secure himself in power?. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

To what extent are Napoleon's reforms during the Consulate (1799 - 1804) explained by his need to secure himself in power?

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