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Was Napoleon a Dictator? Essay

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Police and Prefects:

Prefects were a form of secret police and were appointed by napoleon as first consul (mainly Nobles). They were seen as the eyes, ears and hands of government at a local level. Prefects had wide ranging duties including the collection of taxes, the control of prices and food supplies and the appointment of mayors and town councils.

However, Napoleon also used Prefects to report on behaviour that was not acceptable to the regime. This meant telling Napoleon about any potential opposition and keeping a very strict grip on public opinion with propaganda and censorship.

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They helped to secure power because:

They helped ensure Napoleon had minimal opposition and was popular with the people (which was important in order to stop another constitutional change). Repression of opposition is a clear sign of dictatorship.

The Police (led by Joseph Fouché) were responsible for national security and the minister reported daily to Napoleon. They had spying duties and were also responsible for censorship and everyday law enforcement. The secret police were independent from Fouché and checked up on his agents.

Overall, Prefects and police did an effective job in preventing trouble; any form of protest proved difficult.

Fake Democracy:

Napoleon restored Universal male suffrage but in reality only a minute number of votes made it on to the national register and Napoleon had great control on public voting. He could choose all of the officials that were on the list and therefore get rid of any strong opposition. Any sign of democracy was squandered by the fact that restricting opponents meant his power as Consul was under no threat.

The results of plebiscites showed an overwhelming support for Napoleon. However, they were not held fairly. Firstly, they were held after decisions had already been taken and so merely approved of what had already happened. Secondly, the army’s half a million votes were simply recorded as ‘Yes’ assuming that was what they would’ve thought. Thirdly, many areas jut sent in unanimous votes or were intimidated in to voting that way. It is important to remember that the plebiscites took place after Napoleon had introduced the reforms so has do influence on the decision. They were simply approval and most likely acted as a disguise for his authoritarian nature.

1802 Constitution: The Tribunate and Legislature lost a lot of its importance which Is against popular sovereignty. The Tribunate was severely purged in 1802 just for criticizing the civil code which effectively ruined its existence. The Legislature was also packed with Napoleon friends who would never oppose him. Napoleon had the power to appoint people. This is very dictator like as he has prevented any check on power and centralised the power around himself yet tried to disguise it with fake public votes and limited selective lists of appointment.

Propaganda and Censorship:

Another of Napoleons policies that was used in order to secure power was propaganda and censorship. Propaganda was used a great deal during Napoleon’s rise to power to cultivate a desired image for himself. He achieved this by displaying his numerous military victories all over France and in doing so attained a persona associated with success and victory. Accomplished artists such as David and Ingres won honours and even wealth due to their portraits of Napoleon as both a glorious soldier and leader. Despite a failure in the Egyptian campaign, he was welcomed home a hero thanks to effective censorship.

One area in particular he focused on was shaping the thoughts of the youth, since they were the future of the country. The Imperial catechism for French children in schools was “We owe him love, respect, obedience, fidelity, military service, all the contributions ordered for the defence of the Empire and Throne.” This was very dictator like and suggests he was more concerned about opinion of himself then he was about the country. All of this propaganda proposes the idea that Napoleon wanted people to see him in a different way to what he was. Perhaps this was because he knew that this was the only way that the people of France would support him as leader and therefore allow him to stay in power. If people were allowed to form their own opinion of him it is doubtful that his power would’ve been secure.

Control of the press:

In 1800 he reduced the number of hournals published in Paris from 73 to 13. Those that remained where kept under close police supervision. Le Moniteur was made the official government newspaper and the only source press could use to report on military news. Topics like the Coup De Brumaire were strictly not discussed. Books, plays, lectures and posters had to be sent to a team of censors for inspection and publishers were forced to swear an oath to the government. Authors could be punished by death if they were found to be printing anti-Napoleon material.

The Livret

The Livret (introduced in 1803) was also used to keep control over workers. Napoleon has witnessed the power of ordinary people during the Vendemaire uprising of 1795 and the potential threat they posed to the state. The Livret was a passbook which every worker was expected to have and to hand to each new employer. It also operated as a form of identity card as it had the individuals personal details. Movement of labour was severely restricted and it was very difficult to change employment. This is dictator like as it shows Napoleon’s need to restrict people’s mobility and…..

Patronage and Bribery

The Legion of honour was set up in 1802. Recipients received a distinctive decoration as well as an prize of up to 5000 francs for grand officers. Most of the awards went to those among the military. Napoleon cleverly gave rewards of land in the empire, which meant the only way those recipients could keep that land was to stay loyal to Napoleon and it also ensured he could maintain the empires boundaries. Napoleon also regualry gave personal gifts to army officers. Imperial Nobility (1808) . Napoleon granted titles such as barons, princes and dukes to people in order to try and create a stable elite. Titles were made hereditary if the owner earned enough money. It is clear that Napoleon used bribery to sustain support and to reduce opposition and put people in a position where they would lose a lot of wealth if they supported the royalists.

Education, Religion and Civil Code reforms:

The Imperial University – controlled the curriculum, appointed teachers and tightly controlled the educations system (Ofsted type). Children and teachers in schools were therefore so standardised and restricted with petty rules that there was a lack of freedom of thought or expression. (against liberty). The introduction of Lycees can also be seen as an attempt by Napoleon to keep support of military peers and ensure he has soldiers to fight in the future.

A state controlled Church was established. The separation of church and state was one of the main principles of the French revolution and by bringing them together he betrayed the revolution. The clergy became paid civil servants appointed by the government and bound to it by oath. A state controlled church could be a form of indoctrination whereby Napoleon could keep control over one of the most important things in peoples lifes. It meant that Catholicism was no longer associated with the royalist cause but now with Napoleon.


In some areas Napoleon appears to be more liberal than authoritarian. He provided universal suffrage for all men and eliminated property based voting. Dictators often are more limited in their views and restrictive in allowing people to vote. Napoleon often used plebiscites to gain people’s approval too which is a democratic method which gave his regime some legitimacy. Napoleon confirmed some of the abolishment of special privilidges under the revolution. All feudal rights were abolished, the tax exemptions of the church were removed and there was now more equality before the law.

The schools were very centralised using a common syllabus and textbooks all around the country and it is said that Napoleon knew exactly what every child was studying. In 1802 Lycees were introduced but it was restricted to the sons of notables and was often free of charge to sons of army officers. He made great advancements in education and there were now more opportunities for children. Dictators are generally more restrictive in people’s opportunities.

Napoleon believed in careers irrespective of birth or wealth and careers open to talents. This was also the case of other careers in government where Napoleon claimed jobs would go to the most qualified person and past political affiliations would not be accounted for. Therefore some positions in government were given to those who would perform the best and not necessarily just those who would be loyal to Napoleon.

Napoleons attitude to religion is unlike that of a normal dictators. There was a lot of religious toleration to Jews and Protestants who could worship freely.

There were balances on his power which means it wasn’t absolutism?

The Acte Additionel (written by Benjamin Constant) was created with the intent of winning over liberals by promising :

The legislative power was to be exercised by the Emperor together with the Parliament, which was to be composed of two chambers: the Chamber of Peers composed of hereditary members appointed by the Emperor, and the Chamber of Representatives, composed of 629 citizens elected for 5 year terms by electoral colleges in the individual départments. The ministers were to be responsible to the Parliament for their actions. The liberalization dealt both with the guarantees of rights and the end of censorship/free press.

As before, the constitutional changes were proposed to the French people through a plebiscite which gained a lot of support.

In the conclusion and throughout must refer to how it is changing within the time period?

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