Napoleon Bonaparte Essay

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Prior to the French Revolution, the system of government was based on Absolute Monarchy. They were answerable to no one and their word was law. It is evident that the social structure in France disregarded the ideals of liberty and equality. Also, there was little or no form of education by the monarchy, especially for the peasants. In terms of religion, faiths other than Catholicism were forbidden. The French Revolution resulted in many different ideas and beliefs being created among the vast population of France. The authority of the monarchy, aristocracy, and church was challenged by certain philosophes. Liberalists proposed a society based on equal rights instead of a society based on privilege. To them, personal freedom included the right to property, freedom of speech and worship and the liberty to participate in politics. Nationalists, who were also against absolute monarchy, proposed a constitutional government that would serve the people. The success of the French Revolution brought the hope of drastic reform. It was up to Napoleon Bonaparte, who rose to power in 1799, to impose these reforms, which would reflect the revolutionary ideals of liberty and equality. Some of these reforms were beneficial to the French population and kept with the revolutionary ideals, however, most reforms contradicted them. According to Andrew Matthews (2001), in terms of equality, Napoleon somewhat confirmed the idea of the revolution, though with regard to liberty, he disobeyed the revolutionary principles. For this reason, Napoleon did not do a satisfactory job in maintaining the revolutionary ideals in France.

According to J.M Thompson (1969), Napoleon never believed in parliamentary government. He believed that a state should be governed like an army by a strong centralized government. Three consuls were established and according to Stuart Miller (1997), ‘Napoleon manipulated his way towards sole, unlimited executive power’ (pg20.) He was able to gain the title of first consul, introduce legislation and decide foreign policy. So, there was no compromise and Napoleon had the last word. According to Stuart Miller (1997), The Constitution of year VIII verified the rights of property and individual liberty. Citizens were now free to purchase land. Napoleon suppressed independent political activity and no organized opposition was allowed. According to J.M Thompson, literary men, editors and theatrical managers were subject to a continual and harassing censorship. In this way, freedom of expression was forbidden. Censoring the daily press however was not enough for Napoleon. He was afraid that any publication might endanger his regime. As a result, he relied on the Minister of Police and his ‘Librarian’ to read and analyze all the books, papers, plays, lectures and posters that appeared in Paris and to send in weekly or daily reports. An intentional attempt was made to ensure that the right messages about the government and Napoleon got full publicity in all media.

Napoleon established several financial reforms as well. In terms of equality, he introduced a fair system of taxation through centralization of the administrative department. There were no longer any tax exemptions for the wealthy. He got rid of some of the taxes that the peasants were previously forced to pay. He reconfirmed the abolition of the notion of meritocracy. Estates, privileges and local liberties no longer existed. In terms of liberty, Stuart Miller states that Napoleon’s ideas on economies were old fashioned. In the later war years, Napoleon turned mostly to market restrictions. The continental system was expanded. This was a self blockade of British goods. As a result of this, French traders were unable to choose who they wanted to trade with. Miller goes on to state that ,“The dominance and protection of French planters meant that it was very much a ‘one-way common market’ which would never produce an integrated European economy”(pg25.) So, in a sense,