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“In all that he did, his main aim was to secure himself in power.” How far do you agree with this judgement on Napoleon’s policies as First Consul?
After the Coup of Brumaire in 1799, Napoleon emerged as the new leader of France and devised a system of government that gave him effective control over all aspects of life in France. He controlled religion, education, law-making, policing, legal reforms and the economic situation by putting in place a series of policies, designed both to comply with some principles of the Revolution whilst also giving Napoleon control and security in power. This essay looks to investigate how far each of these policies suggest that Napoleon’s main aim was always to secure himself in power.
Napoleons policy of police and propaganda is the most obviously repressive of all the policies. Many aspects of his heavy policing conform with dictatorial regimes, as does his policy of censorship and (often false or manipulated) propaganda. France became effectively a Police State, with Napoleon at the core. The Minister of Police, Joseph Fouchï¿½, who controlled National Security, established a network of informers who monitored public opinion and reported on any suspicious political activity. They also monitored everyday life in France: the education system; prisons; food supplies; conscription and public works. All findings were written in a daily report, submitted directly to Napoleon. These jobs were carried out by prefects (effectively spies) who were appointed directly by Napoleon.
By organising such a well-organised surveillance system, the regime encountered little opposition from the Jacobins, Royalists or Liberals. Due to the rigorous nature of the police, no uprising or rebellion was possible, thereby ensuring Napoleon was safe in power. Due to the dictatorial style of this policy, it is obvious Napoleon was trying to ensure security in power and establish himself as leader without immediate opposition or objection from minority groups and the general public by repressing anyone opposed to the regime. Under the Police State, arbitrary imprisonments and executions were frequent. As a result people were AFRAID to oppose the regime.
Napoleon also recognised the importance of censorship in securing his position in power as this quote shows:
“If the press is not controlled, I shall not remain three days in power”
In January 1800, Napoleon reduced the number of newspaper in Paris from 73 to 13 and forbade the production of any new ones. On top of this, newspapers were forbidden to discuss controversial subjects and were kept short of reliable news. Editors were forced to rely on military bulletins or articles published in the Official Government Journal. An example of a manipulated story within the press is the report of the Battle of Marengo. Although this battle was unsuccessful, it was presented as a triumph and Napoleon told people it was a well-devised plan. Prefects also kept a check on papers to ensure that they only published what Napoleon wanted. Not only were the bad aspects of the regime censored, but also the good aspects were highlighted (or sometimes invented). This was intended to rouse moral and encourage support for the regime. Napoleon’s increased popularity through propaganda meant increased security in power.
Napoleon did not only control the medium of text. Many theatres were forced to close, to avoid defamatory shows about the regime from being performed, and those that remained open were only allowed to show sanctioned plays. Napoleon also employed fashionable painters to depict him as a romantic hero (such as the famous picture of Napoleon crossing the Alps, by Jacques Louis David). In many of his portraits he is shown as having a positive impact on France, encouraging the public to believe this was true.
Napoleon aimed to create loyal followers, or at least people who accepted and tolerated the regime. His harsh measures of policing prove a desperation to remain in power and secure a popular public opinion. If the public were not convinced to support Napoleon through the extensive propaganda, then any opposed were repressed by force.
In Napoleons government policies and his self-induced role of First Consul under the Constitution of the Year VIII, it is clear he desired supreme control and power in France. The limited influence of the system of election on government figures meant virtually all aspects of the legislature were controlled or heavily influenced by Napoleon himself. Under the Constitution of the Year X, the system of election was abolished completely. This ensured Napoleon could not be removed from power. By organising the government in this way, he was obviously intentionally ensuring security in power.
However, not all of Napoleon’s government policies can be directly related to this aim. Although the overall nature of the legislature was very similar to the Anciï¿½n Regime (i.e. Napoleon had effective control of the entire government), some aspects were in keeping with revolutionary ideas that had no (obvious) effect on Napoleons security in power. For example, although Napoleon devised and instigated all new laws, they were in keeping with revolutionary ideas. Napoleon ensured a mixture of old and new laws under the Civil Code. This Napoleonic concept, somewhat in contrast with his policy of a police state, ensured equality in courts and also fairer trials and hearings. This cannot directly be interpreted as an intentionally devised plan to ensure Napoleon’s security in power. However, it is possible that by creating a legal system conforming to some revolutionary ideals, Napoleon hoped to gain the publics’ loyalty and support, thereby increasing his popularity, therefore securing himself in power.
Napoleon also developed a new religious policy. The Concordat signed by Pope Pius VII and Napoleon in 1801, saw the ‘restoration’ of the Catholic Church in France and the revolutionary idea of the state payment of the church. Napoleon was raised a Catholic and was keen to encourage religion within France, as this quote shows:
“No society can exist without equality of fortunes; and equality
of fortunes can not exist without religion.”
However, the Concordat was manipulated to Napoleons obvious advantage as well. In signing the Concordat, the Pope agreed to endorse the Revolution and regime, state control of the churches and church appointments and accept the loss of church lands during the Revolution. Also, in 1802, Napoleon attached the Organic Articles, without papal agreement, to the Concordat. These guaranteed the revolutionary principle of religious toleration and made the Protestant and Jewish churches similarly subject to state authority.
It can be argued that one of Napoleon’s aims in forming the Concordat was to ensure a lack of interference from the church, meaning his position in France could not be affected by the Pope or any other religious order. However, whether or not this was his main motive in signing the Concordat is less certain. Although the church was a powerful tool in controlling and influencing the public and was often used as a vehicle of propaganda, Napoleon’s desire to influence and manipulate the public cannot justify other aspects of the Concordat such as the state responsibility for the payment of the clergy.
On reflection, it appears that whilst in some aspects of his religious policy Napoleon may have been genuinely trying to improve life in France, it is clear that in other areas of the policy, such as his healing of rifts between the Church and the notables after the seizing of church lands in 1789, were designed to appease certain groups of people, such as the Bourgeoisie, therefore securing himself in power. He also aimed to disassociate the Catholic Church with the principle of counter-revolution and the restoration of the Bourbon Monarchy therefore avoiding a potential Jacobin uprising, which could be detrimental to his position in power. His further use of the church as a propaganda tool also justifies this theory, as in this way, the public were encouraged to see Napoleon as a positive figure. His desire to win the publics’ support of the regime and therefore of him, was rooted in his wish to remain in power, as is displayed in this policy.
Napoleon also established a new economic policy designed to ‘tap the wealth of the country’ more effectively than during the Anciï¿½n Regime or the Revolution. His principle of taxation went against revolutionary ideas, with industrial and commercial profits being taxed only lightly. This may be seen as a further example of Napoleon attempting to appease and win support of the Bourgeoisie, thereby ensuring popularity and securing his position in power.
Other aspects of this policy included the introduction of new discount banks designed to help the state pay off its national debt and pay its obligations to domestic creditors. This policy increased the efficiency of revenue and led to ‘the balancing of the budget’ by 1802. Citizens would have been pleased with France’s new economic stability, potentially leading to increased support for Napoleon and the regime. However, whether Napoleon put in place this policy for this reason of for the stabilisation and well-being pf Frances economy cannot be proven.
Napoleon’s educational policy is perhaps his most revolutionary policy due to his introduction of secondary schools into France. He formed 39 lycï¿½es in 1802, which were run by the state.
“Public education should be the first object of government. Everything depends upon it, the past, the present and the future. Above all we must secure unity: we must be able to cast a whole generation in the same mould.”
However, despite Napoleon saying that education should be based on ability, not birth, very few common people attended secondary school. They were taught up to the age of twelve by small, church-run schools. It was believed by Napoleon, that they needed no more than a simple ‘moral education’. No form of education was available to girls at any age or from any background. It was mostly the sons of notables who attended secondary school. In total there were 6,400 state scholarships available. One third of these (approximately 2,400) were chosen by the government from among the sons of soldiers of officials.
The remaining 4,000 were supposedly chosen from the best pupils at leading primary schools. However, well-off families were favoured and only a very small percentage of common people attended secondary school. Many bourgeois parents preferred to send their children to privately run Church schools, favouring the increased freedom of thought and wider curriculum. However, Napoleon did not approve and tried to close them by placing high taxes on them.
The education itself was ultitarian and based around a Spartan regime with a strong military ethos. At first only Latin and Mathematics were taught but as time went on, other subjects (deemed acceptable by the government) were introduced such as French, History, Science and Geography. Freethinking was discouraged and teaching methods followed a policy of indoctrination. Napoleon wanted education to encourage obedience to the regime and create loyal subjects from an early age. There is little in this policy that suggests Napoleon wishing to initially secure himself in power. However, as this new education system was largely beneficial to France, citizens may, unwittingly, increase their support of Napoleon and the regime. Whether, this was deliberately intended by Napoleon cannot be proven.
On balance, I believe that all of Napoleon’s devised policies had a basis in ensuring his security in power, some more so than others. His police and propaganda policy is obviously based on initially securing himself in power without hindrances from rebellions or uprisings. Also, his religious policy was designed not only to appease the Pope and guarantee a lack of interference, but also to avoid a potential Jacobin uprising through an association between the Catholic Church and the Bourbon Monarchy. Others, such as his educational policy, are subtler, encouraging support for the regime through improved life within France. In all areas, he is seen as either directly influencing the public, either by force or by propaganda, or indirectly influencing the public by creating better conditions in France, therefore encouraging support of the regime.
I believe that it was Napoleon’s main aim to secure himself in power. After all, if he fell out of favour quickly, all of his other aims, such as creating a better France, would fall with him. It was implicit that he secured himself in power as soon as possible, in order that he might put all his other aims into action. Ultimately, most of his actions aimed either to limit or prevent the impact any opposes to the regime may have on Napoleon’s security in power or to create a better France thereby increasing popularity of the regime. However that is not to say that other policies did not centre around a different aim, such as the economic policy, which aimed to create financial stability in France primarily, and possibly may have contributed to increased support and popularity of Napoleon and his regime.