CHAPTER NINE: NAPOLEON BONAPARTE
AND THE BIRTH OF NATIONALISM
Arc de Triumph
Confederation of the Rhine
Battle of Trafalgar
Admiral Lord Nelson
Peace of Tilsit
Orders in Council
Duke of Wellington
Battle of Nations at Leipzig
Congress of Vienna
In what way(s) was Napoleon’s rule over France consistent with the ideas of the French Revolution?
In what way(s) was Napoleon’s rule over France inconsistent with the ideas of the French Revolution?
What factor(s) caused Napoleon to fall?
We’ve already introduced Monsieur Bonaparte in Chapter 8 but, before we look further at the changes his rule brought for France (and indeed all of Europe), it is worth stepping back and looking at his own biography for a moment.
Napoleon had been born on the island of Corsica in 1769. The Buonapartes were members of the Corsican lower nobility and were of Italian origin -- from Florence originally. In 1778, at the age of 9, Napoleon came to France to study at the Royal Military College at Brienne. He hardly spoke any French and he thought of himself as a Corsican, not a Frenchmen. He actually hated France and the French at first. Napoleon at school was very proud and aloof and pretty much a loner. The other students made a lot of fun of him. At the age of 15, Napoleon was promoted to the Royal Military Academy at Paris- the main one. This was as much as finishing school as a military school. His main training came in artillery.
After graduation Napoleon returned to Corsica several times to participate in schemes to win the islands independence from France. Nothing ever came of these efforts. Due to Napoleon’s involvement in these efforts, he and his family were branded as traitors by the Corsican Assembly and they fled the island. They fled to France as exiles.
When the French Revolution broke out, he joined the French army. One of the results of the Revolution was that men of talent and ability were able to advance to high rank in the army. Napoleon, despite being from lower nobility, would have never become a General in the armies of the Old Regime (he probably would have only reached the rank of Captain or Major). Due to his ability he was rapidly advanced up the chain of command.
His first outstanding success was his command of the artillery during the Siege of Toulon, a French port city which the English held, during September-December 1793. For his efforts there, he was promoted to brigadier general. As I mentioned before, Napoleon had been in Paris in October 1795 and used his cannon to defend the National Convention by firing on the mob at the Tuileries Palace.
In 1796, Napoleon married a widow, Josephine de Beauharnais, who had connections with the Directory, and who, legend has it, was instrumental in getting him the command of the Army of Italy that won him fame.
Napoleon as First Consul
Mood for Peace
Frenchmen accepted Napoleon’s leadership, because they believed he would put an end to the internal disturbances and the war which had burdened France since 1792. There were other successful generals of the Republic, but none had succeeded in forcing the enemy to conclude a peace on the scale of the one that Napoleon had forced the Austrians into.
Knowing that the desire for peace was widespread, Napoleon opened his regime with proposals for a general truce. Ambassadors were sent to the courts of the major powers offering terms, but at the same time, Napoleon was preparing the French armies for war. The peace proposals were rejected and in the Spring of 1800, the Second Coalition declared war once again on France (Britain, Austria and Russia).
With customary speed and effectiveness, Napoleon crossed the Alps and in May defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo (June 14, 1800). In December, another Austrian army was defeated by the French General Moreau and the Austrians were forced to withdraw from the war.
The withdrawal of Austria from the war effectively broke the Second Coalition. In negotiations with the Russian Tsar, Paul I, Russia withdrew from the war, leaving Britain to carry on the fight alone. In March of 1802, Britain too withdrew from the war. Napoleon had once again established France as the major power in Europe.
Spoils of War
By the terms of the various agreements signed with the countries of the Second Coalition, France had annexed the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium), the left bank of the Rhine River, and the Italian Piedmont. Holland and Switzerland were also bound to France by a very close alliance. And the Italian city-states of Genoa and Naples recognized themselves as part of the French sphere of influence. Napoleon justified all these acquisitions and the spread of French influence on the grounds that the inhabitants of these territories welcomed union with France. To a certain degree this was true. But the other powers of Europe could not willingly sit by and see all of Europe gobbled up.
Britain in particular could not accept the French success indefinitely. With France in effective control of the Netherlands, Napoleon was a threat to Britain’s security, because the Netherlands sat directly across the channel from Britain- and especially the Thames valley- was an excellent launching point for an invasion of England. (In WWI- it was the German’s invasion of Belgium that brought England into the war against them). The British were also appalled that the French were in a position to dictate to the liberty-loving Swiss. Peace, the British said, was more disastrous than war. Neither side, the English nor the French trusted the other, so a renewal of hostilities was only a matter of time.
Napoleon’s Domestic Reforms
While Napoleon is known as one of the greatest military commanders of all time (if not the greatest). What is less known about him is that he was a civil administrator of great talent and success. Napoleon totally reformed the administration of France.
During the time of the National Assembly, France had been divided into 83 departments. The departments were also divided into districts. Napoleon established a system known as the prefecture system for the administration and policing of each of the departments of France- this provided for centralization of administration of the country with all the appointments being made from Paris. Napoleon chose the prefects who ran the departments and the sub-prefects who ran the districts. He also chose the mayors of cities over 5,000 people. This is still pretty much the system used in France today, except that the mayors are elected. This helped regularize the tax collection in France, making sure that taxes were collected equally and efficiently, and that the money got back to Paris.
Napoleon also made great strides in economic affairs in France. He delivered government aid to industrial development through the collection of tariffs and through loans. He also established the Bank of France and ended inflation. France had not had a national bank before. In the field of public finance, this was Napoleon’s greatest contribution. The Bank of France still exists today as a model of banking stability.
He pleased the peasantry by keeping bread prices low, providing jobs for the unemployed, and retaining the end of feudal privileges as well as the revolutionary land redistribution.
Another achievement of Napoleon was the reestablishment of the Catholic Church in France. In their attacks on the clergy, the French revolutionaries had become so anti-religious that they threatened the very existence of Christianity in France. While he himself was irreligious, Napoleon was a shrewd statesman and he realized that the overwhelming majority of the French people wished the Church to be reestablished.
In 1801, Napoleon came to an agreement with Pope Pius VII known as the Concordat of 1801. This document recognized that Catholicism was the religion of most Frenchmen (but did not quite designate Catholicism as the official religion of France). This agreement also provided that the Church would renounce all claims to church property that had been confiscated and sold by the revolutionary assemblies, and also that the French government would be permitted to nominate French Bishops who would in turn appoint the lower clergy. Salaries of churchmen would be paid by the state.
While this satisfied all parties, the mere fact that the election of Bishops and the payment of Church salaries remained in the hands of the state meant that the papacy had little control over the French Church. The Concordat won the approval of the French because it reconciled the state with the church and secured the redistribution of land that had been seized from the church by the revolutionary governments (especially important to the many bourgeoisie who had bought land). One concession he did later make to the church was the abolition of the Revolutionary Calendar and the reinstatement of the Christian-based, Gregorian Calendar.
In the realm of education, Napoleon completed a national system of public schooling, a project that had been begun by the National Convention. Napoleon’s system included elementary and secondary schools and special schools for technical training.
Napoleon also undertook a lot of work on the physical infrastructure of France. For example, he straightened and widened the streets of Paris. He built or repaved over 20,000 miles of roads in France. He provided Paris with a fresh water supply, via a new canal. He also had the city sewer system reconstructed. He built monuments such as the Arc de Triumph which celebrated the military and the exploits of his Grand Army.
Napoleon’s most famous contribution to France was his codification of the French law. Prior to Napoleon, the different departments and areas of France all had their different laws. A crime that was punishable by death in one part of France would in another part of France carry a monetary fine. Completed in 1804, the great Code Napoleon (sometimes also called the Napoleonic Code, or even Civil Code) was written with precision and clarity; it guaranteed many of the achievements of the French Revolution, such as religious toleration, freedom of speech and the abolition of serfdom. It also provided for civil marriages and civil divorce. When Napoleon had restored the church, people figured that the church would continue to keep the records of marriages, etc, the way they always had. Now, these records were kept by the state, so it was legal to have a civil marriage and civil divorces. This took power away from the church.
The most important thing about the code was that it gave France a unified set of laws for the whole country. The code was cheered by those who liked the liberal gains of the revolution. Years later, when he had been sent into exile at St. Helena Island, Napoleon said, “My true glory is not that I have gained forty battles. Waterloo [which was his final defeat] will efface the memory of those victories. But that which nothing can efface, which will live forever, is my Civil Code.”
However, Napoleon’s code was not perfect. Women were treated very unequally under the code, because it was a combination of the law of the Old Regime and those passed during the Revolution -- neither of which were favorable to women. For instance:
Women could manage their own property- a husband or male relative had to manage their property for them
Could not have bank accounts
Could not indulge in any sort of business
In matters of divorce there was great inequality. For example, if a man wanted to divorce his wife for adultery, all he had to do in court was to show that she had been alone with another man. However, a women could not find her husband guilty of adultery unless he brought a mistress into their home. If a women caught her husband in bed with another woman and shot him, she had committed murder. If a man caught his wife with another man and shot one or both of them, no charge was possible against him.
These laws regarding women were not changed until the time of Charles de Gaulle in the 1960’s.
PAUSE for 60-second Quiz #1: In what way(s) was Napoleon’s rule over France consistent with the ideas of the French Revolution? Which statement is not correct?
Napoleon took steps to subordinate the Catholic Church to the French state.
Napoleon took steps to unify or rationalize French law, to ensure that crimes were defined and punished uniformly across France.
Napoleon took steps to promote legal equality among all French men but did not extend this equality to French women.
Napoleon took steps to promote democratic governance by agreeing to leave the office of consul after a single, four-year term.
Napoleon becomes an Emperor
From Republic to Monarchy
When Napoleon had assumed leadership of the French Government, he had been made First Consul for ten years. By the new constitution that was drawn up in 1802, he became consul for life. However, Napoleon was very ambitious and was not easy to satisfy. Almost from the beginning, he consciously adopted all the trappings of royalty, surrounded himself with royal etiquette and ceremony, and went as far as to take up residence in Louis XVI’s Tuileries palace.
Finally, in 1804, principally through his conniving, the French senate offered him the title of Emperor. It was a calculated move. Several attempts had been made on his life, and the best way to preserve his reforms was to create a Bonaparte Dynasty. He would also install his relatives as “Kings” of his satellite kingdoms -- areas outside of France that he had acquired by conquest. However, Napoleon was the ultimate ruler of these areas. For example, his brother Joseph, became King of Naples in 1807 and later would be made King of Spain after Napoleon invaded Spain.
At Napoleon’s invitation, Pope Pius VII journeyed to Paris to lend Napoleon’s coronation ceremony an air of respectability and authority. The coronation took place in Notre Dame Cathedral on December 2nd, 1804, but instead of waiting for the Pope to place the crown upon his head, Napoleon crowned himself Emperor. In doing so, he was symbolizing that he did not owe his powers to the Church, but was monarch by the will of the French People. His wife Josephine became his Empress.
To accentuate his imperial dignity, Napoleon created a brand-new hierarchy of officials. Imposing titles were found for the members of his family (that is, those who were not Kings of Satellite Kingdoms); generals in the army were promoted to the rank of “Marshal”; leading statesmen were honored with the title of “highness”; and even senators were addressed as “excellency”- all this was very unlike the Revolution that had preached equality.
Thus, the place of one aristocracy destroyed by the Revolution was taken by another. But the new one was somewhat different. Whereas the aristocracy of the Bourbon Kings had been one of birth; Napoleon’s aristocracy was one of service.
Napoleon at the Height of his Power
War of the Third Coalition
Just before Napoleon assumed the title of Emperor, war again broke out between France and Great Britain. This was something he welcomed, for without conquests he could not be satisfied. Napoleon was only really happy when he was with his army in the field winning victories. During 1803 and 1804, he had made extensive plans for the invasion of England, but the inability of his navies to gain control of the seas and the formation of a Third Coalition against France composed of Britain, Russia, Austria and Sweden compelled him to abandon this idea.
Although he was not able to invade England, Napoleon was again able to successfully defeat his Continental enemies and bring an end to the Third Coalition. On October 20th, 1805, he defeated an Austrian army of 50,000 at Ulm, on the headwaters of the Danube. In December on the first anniversary of his coronation as Emperor, he defeated a combined army of Austrians and Russians at the Battle of Austerlitz, also known as the Battle of the Three Emperors in Bohemia. By the ensuing Treaty of Pressburg of late December, Napoleon for a third time forced Austria into make a humiliating peace with France.
Reorganization of Germany
Following the defeat of Austria, Napoleon organized the Confederation of the Rhine, which was an organization of German states that were allied with him. He became their protector. These states had all been a part of the Holy Roman Empire, the loose amalgamation of smaller- and larger German states, which had existed since the Medieval period, and of which the Austrian Emperor was the head. These states now agreed to support Napoleon with an army of 60,000 men and renounce all connection with the Holy Roman Empire. In 1806, Francis II of Austria was coerced by Napoleon into giving up the title of Holy Roman Emperor. Thus, after an existence of over 1,000 years that impressive medieval institution was gone.
The Battle of Austerlitz had shattered the Third Coalition, but it failed to give Napoleon access to England. While French armies might be supreme on the Continent, the British Royal Navy was supreme on the seas. At the Battle of Trafalgar, which had been fought in October 1805 off the southern coast of Spain, Admiral Lord Nelson destroyed the combined fleets of France and Spain. Though it cost him his life, Nelson assured Britain of naval supremacy until the end of the war. The Royal Navy would remain the greatest naval power until the emergence of the US Navy during WWII.
War of the Fourth Coalition
With the fall of the Third Coalition, a Fourth Coalition arose to take its place. Britain and Russia were again members and were joined by Prussia under its King Frederick William III. The Prussians fared no better against Napoleon than the Russians or Austrians and in October of 1806, in two separate engagements- the Battles of Jena and Aüerstadt, the French defeated the Prussians. By the end of October, Napoleon was in Berlin and Frederick William watched in humiliation as most of Prussia became a French dependency.
Napoleon next moved against the Russians, and after a series of victories, he persuaded the new Tsar, Alexander I, to make peace in 1807- the Peace of Tilsit. Under this treaty, Russia became an ally of France against England.
By the beginning of 1808, Napoleon controlled all of Europe from the Baltic to the Pyrenees including a large part of Italy. Prussia and Austria were powerless, while Russia was little more than a French satellite. Britain alone opposed him in any great force.
PAUSE for 60-second Quiz #2: In what way(s) was Napoleon’s rule over France inconsistent with the ideas of the French Revolution? Which statement is correct?
Napoleon forced all French citizens to convert back to Catholicism and attend weekly mass.
Napoleon brought the heir to the dead Louis XVI back to restore the Bourbon monarchy.
Napoleon pre-emptively surrendered large portions of French territory to hostile foreign powers, in order to protect peace in France.
Napoleon crowned himself emperor of France, ending elected republican government
The Downfall of Napoleon
Fortunes turn for Napoleon
The Peace of Tilsit marked the high-point of Napoleon’s power. After Tilsit it has been said that he began to attempt the impossible. As virtual dictator of Continental Europe, Napoleon grew more and more tyrannical and obsessed with the idea of bigger and greater conquests. No man could advise he. As one biographer put it, Napoleon was his “own War Office, his own Admiralty, his own Ministry of every kind. In all the offices of the state he knew everything, guided everything and inspired everything.” This was Napoleon’s weakness -- he refused to share power. His powers began to decline as his problems increased.
By 1808, it was apparent, or should have been apparent, that Napoleon’s empire could not survive unless it ended Britain’s monopoly of the sea. Lord Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar virtually ended all French hope of naval success. Safe behind her fleet, Britain’s factories could turn out more war goods. British commerce and wealth increased during the war, while French trade declined.
Napoleon attempted to counteract this by establishing the Continental System. Under this system, which he formulated in 1806, British vessels were prohibited from entering into the ports of any country under his control. Napoleon was never able to fully enforce this and many countries continued to allow smuggling in from Britain.
The British struck back by issuing the “Orders in Council” (which were orders issued by the King on the advice of his privy council). With these, the British forbade the importation into Britain of any goods manufactured in countries influenced by Napoleon.
Reaction to Napoleon’s Imperialism:
Napoleon always claimed that everything he did was in keeping with the spirit of the French Revolution. He said that he was an agent of the Revolution and when he conquered areas he did so to bring the people the freedom of the French Revolution. In the beginning, many of the people who Napoleon conquered accepted him as a liberator. This was especially true of the smaller states in Germany and Italy. Napoleon’s Grand Army at first brought with them the ideals of equality and fraternity preached by the French Revolution. Napoleon also provided a constitution for the states that he conquered- which is something that they had never had before.
However, as Napoleon became more imperialistic, these same people began to realize that they had simply exchanged one kind of despotism for another. What Napoleon did in posing as the champion of the revolution, was to sow the seeds of nationalism and liberty which proved to be his undoing.
Napoleon’s occupation of Portugal (1807) and Spain (1808) are two cases in point. In both nations, uprisings soon broke out. He had undertaken the occupation of these areas in part to enforce the Continental System. The Portuguese had refused to end their trade with Britain, some of which was being shared by the Spanish. Napoleon sent an army to Portugal in 1807, and in the following year forced the Spanish king Charles IV to resign and made a satellite kingdom out of Spain with his brother Joseph Bonaparte as the King.
These actions aroused the patriotism and nationalism of the Portuguese and Spanish peoples with the result that Napoleon eventually had to devote an army of 300,000 men in order to attempt to keep them in line.
Napoleon’s occupation of Portugal and his attempt to gain control of Spain led to the so-called Peninsula War, which lasted from 1808-1814. Under the direction of Sir Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington, a British expeditionary force was able to recover Portugal in 1809 and advance into Spain, which was finally recovered from the French in 1814. Napoleon pretty much left the fighting in Spain to his subordinates. However, his failure to defeat the British in the Peninsula War and to put down the rebels in Spain was one of the main causes of Napoleon’s eventual defeat. His invasion of Spain is considered Napoleon’s first great mistake.
One reason that Napoleon was not active in the fighting on the Peninsula was that he was mainly concerned with affairs in the East. In 1809, Napoleon was again forced to invade Austria, which had proclaimed a war for the liberation of the German states under his control. Napoleon received a temporary setback at the Battle of Aspern-Essling in late May but defeated the Austrians decisively at the Battle of Wagram in early July. This victory led to the Treaty of Schönbrun, by which the Austrian Emperor ceded territory (around 32,000 square miles) to France and her allies including Russia.
For a brief period after the Treaty of Schönbrun, Napoleon tried an alliance with Austria, who, despite her numerous defeats, always seemed to find the capacity for continuing the fight. In 1810, after having divorced his first wife, Josephine, he married Marie Louise, daughter of the Austrian Emperor, Francis I. This marriage helped make Napoleon look more like a Emperor- by marrying the daughter of a fellow emperor- gave he legitimacy.
Many have argued that his marriage to Marie Louise was another cause of Napoleon’s downfall. Napoleon in the early part of his reign had been a tough, grizzled fighter who had been more accustomed to life in the saddle and in camp with his army than at home in a palace. However, once he marries the young, pretty Marie Louise, Napoleon preferred to stay home more. He wasn’t the lean fighting man that he had been in his youth- he became a chubby, middle-aged guy who liked to stay home. This, some say, caused him to lose his touch.
The Russian Debacle:
Napoleon made his second great mistake in 1812, when, following a quarrel with Czar Alexander I over the Continental System and Napoleon’s marriage alliance with Austria, he invaded Russia. Initially, Napoleon had great success. With an army of 600,000, of which only 250,000 were French, they advanced on Russia in the summer, meeting very little opposition. After the bloody Battle of Borodino in early September, Napoleon occupied Moscow and set up his headquarters in the Kremlin on September 14th. He expected Alexander to plead for peace. However, the Russians had no intention of surrendering and they just retreated further into the interior of their country. They made things exceptionally difficult for the French, by burning all the crops and supplies, so that the French army could not live off country. This was a problem for Napoleon because he had largely outrun his supply lines.
After spending a month in Moscow, the Russians had still not surrendered and Napoleon ordered a retreat. The retreat began on October 19th, just at the beginning of the harsh Russian winter. As the weather became more severe, Napoleon’s army disintegrated. Guerilla forces constantly harassed the French flanks and rear. To add to their troubles, the French soon ran out of supplies, clothing, shoes and tents. Thousands of men froze to death or died of pneumonia and typhus. Out of the 600,000 troops that had entered Russia, barely 100,000 made it safely back. Over a century later, another would-be world conqueror, Adolph Hitler made the same mistake, with the same dramatic results. History does on occasion repeat itself.
Downfall of Napoleon:
After the disastrous Russian campaign, Napoleon’s power began to crumble. Early in 1813, most of his German allies deserted him, and the Austrian alliance ended in August. The Austrians, the Russians, the Prussians, and numerous other German principalities formerly under Napoleon’s control, inflicted a disastrous defeat upon the French at the Battle of Nations at Leipzig from October 16-19, 1813. During this three day war, Napoleon lost 30,000 men and he was forced to retreat into France. In the meantime, the British under Wellington had cleared the French out of Spain, and in November 1813, the Dutch revolted and drove the French out of Holland.
After Leipzig, Napoleon’s empire crumbled. In the early months of 1814, he found himself under attack at five different points by armies that totaled over 400,000 men. On March 31, 1814, the allied armies entered Paris. On April 11th, Napoleon surrendered unconditionally and agreed to abdicate as Emperor of France. He was given the Island of Elba, near his native Corsica and a pension of 2 million Francs per year. The French senate voted to restore the Bourbon monarchy in the person of Louis XVIII, brother of Louis XVI, who had been killed in 1793. Louis XVI’s son, the dauphin, had died in prison and he is referred to as Louis XVII- although he never reigned.
The Hundred Days:
This settlement with France, with the Bourbon family restored to power, satisfied the victorious powers: Britain, Russia, Prussia, and Austria. By the First Treaty of Paris on May 30th 1814, France was allowed to retain the boundaries of 1792, which included parts of Savoy, as well as parts of the German empire and Belgium. The allies also did not impose any kind of indemnity- or monetary payment- on the French fearing that such an action might lead to the renewal of hostilities.
The leniency of the allies was due to their desire to strengthen the Bourbon regime. They knew that the more lenient they were with the terms of the peace, the better chance the Bourbons had of making a success of their government. Louis XVIII’s allies urged him to be moderate, so as not to arouse the fears of the French people. He was persuaded to issue a new constitution based upon that of England. The new government was to consist of an elected lower chamber and an upper chamber of hereditary peers, nominated by the king, fashioned after the English Parliament. Napoleon’s civil service was maintained, as were his Civil Code and methods of finance and taxation.
Despite Louis’s moderation and his issuance of the constitution, the French middle class and peasantry soon learned to dislike and distrust him and his government. Louis was not a popular man. He lacked the appeal and the vitality of Napoleon, to whom the French population had grown sentimentally attached. The middle-class and peasants also feared the return of the French nobles, who had begun to flock back to France after Napoleon’s abdication. They feared that these nobles would again regain the privileged positions they held before 1789.
The French people, who at first had been glad to see the war come to an end, again wished for Napoleon’s return before the end of Louis XVIII’s first year on the throne. This change of sentiment gave Napoleon one last chance for glory. In February 1815, he was smuggled off the island of Elba, and after landing on the French coast, he went straight for Paris, collecting an army of his old veterans on the way. The troops sent to arrest him deserted to his standard.
For example, at one point Napoleon was confronted by troops deployed to capture him. He recognized from their standard that they were the Fifth Regiment of the line. He got off his horse and pushed past his men. The captain commanding the regiment ordered his men to fire on Napoleon. Napoleon addressed them saying: “Soldiers of the 5th, I am your Emperor. . .If there is a man among you who would kill his Emperor, here I am!” There was no firing, and the soldiers of the 5th joined his growing army shouting “Vive l’Empereur! Vive l’Empereur!”
On March 20, 1815, Napoleon entered Paris unopposed. Louis XVIII fled the capital at his approach. This begins Napoleon’s so-called “Hundred Days.”
While Napoleon had landed in France and took Paris, the allies had already convened the Congress of Vienna, which was a peace conference that was to divide among themselves the territories that had been reconquered from Napoleon. Napoleon was under the delusion that once he had seized the throne in Paris, his former enemies would leave him alone. In this he was mistaken, for no sooner had the word of his arrival back in France reached the delegates at Vienna than they formed a new alliance dedicated to removing him once again from the French throne. Declaring him to be an Outlaw, the four major powers each pledged to keep 250,000 troops in the field until this goal was accomplished.
Napoleon knew that he would have to face his enemies in the field. On June 16, Napoleon forced back a Prussian army who was advancing through Belgium at the Battle of Ligny. On the same day, the Prince of Orange with a Dutch army was turned back at the Battle of Quatre Bras. In the meantime, the Duke of Wellington was concentrating an army of British, Dutch and Germans near Brussels, Belgium.
Napoleon was confident of success, telling one of his generals that “Wellington is a poor general, the British are poor soldiers; we will settle the matter by lunchtime.” On June 18, the two armies met at Waterloo. All day Wellington held his ground against the terrific assaults of the French. Towards nightfall, just as it appeared as if Napoleon had won the day, the Prussian army, under General Blücher, arrived on the French right flank and the French army was routed. Napoleon had played his last card and lost.
Taking no chances, the British shipped the former emperor to the island of St. Helena, about 1200 miles off the west coast of Africa, where they knew he could not escape again to menace Europe. Here he spent the rest of his life under guard, dictating his interpretation of the history of his era----and to explain and justify his career. He died of cancer at the age of 52 in May of 1821.
There are numerous reasons for the collapse of Napoleon’s Empire. In the first place, he had been too ambitious. Again he had been too dictatorial; many of the countries, which at first had welcomed his intervention in the hopes of gaining some degree of liberty, equality and fraternity that he had talked of, turned against him when the freedom promised was not forthcoming. His entry into Spain and his failure once he did enter Spain of containing the situation there was one reason. His failure to cope with the British navy was another reason for his defeat. Finally, the invasion of Russia in 1812, was certainly one of his most disastrous blunders. Had he left Russia alone and contented himself with what he already had, he might have been able to preserve his empire.
Despite all the war that he brought to Europe, Napoleon cannot be judged wholly negatively. Unconsciously he preserved and spread many aims of the French Revolution, and his interference in many parts of Europe kindled the spirit of nationalism that in the later 19th century caused the unification of the German states into Germany and the Italian states into Italy. Both of these areas were places where Napoleon had exercised great influence. Nationalism in both the areas was brought into being because of Napoleon. (We will talk more about nationalism in subsequent chapters.)
Without Napoleon, the French Revolution might have remained largely a French affair. Because of Napoleon, however, the Revolution spread in Europe---it blazed, it shocked, it was fixed forever by trauma in the European mentality. In part deliberately, in part despite himself, Napoleon made the Revolution a crucial even in European and world History.
Many historians [i.e. Connelly] argue that Napoleon intended to form a sort of United States of Europe. He intended to integrate countries which he had seized into France and make them responsible to Paris. Each country would be divided into departments just as France was divided. They would each have representatives in the legislature and over time, the non-French departments in the legislature would outnumber the French ones. This never came about of course because of the Russian campaign.
In this idea, Napoleon was 150 years before his time. This sort of arrangement is really what is taking shape in Europe now with the European Union. Had Napoleon succeeded in setting up his United States of Europe, it might could have headed off World War I and II- who knows.
PAUSE for 60-second Quiz #3: What factor(s) caused Napoleon to fall?
Increasing numbers of military defeats at the hands of France’s enemies.
Increasing uprisings and resistance to French rule over non-French territories, due to the influence of nationalism.
He died in office of cancer.
A pro-Jacobin revolt inside of France led to his arrest and execution.
All of the above
(a.) and (b.) only
Key to 60-second Quizzes:
D. Although Napoleon was initially only one of three consuls, he went on to become consul-for-life, then crowned himself emperor; so he never left office (until he was forcibly overthrown).
D. Napoleon crowned himself emperor of France, ending the very idea of elected republican government, which was a cornerstone of the Revolution against un-elected Absolutism.
F. After the Russian campaign, Napoleon was basically losing battles and taking too many casualties, despite his lingering popularity at home. This, coupled with anti-French nationalism in territories under French occupation led to revolts against his rule that made it harder to hold onto his empire.
Primary Source Exercise
Reading: The Imperial Catechism (1806)
After you have read the primary source listed above (as well as Chapter 9), answer the following questions, based on what you have learned so far:
What do you think is important to know about the author of this text? What can you learn from the words he wrote on the page? What can you infer or piece together from the background information in the textbook chapter? Why is this important?
What is the author’s goals in writing this text? To whom did he address it? What purpose did it serve? Can you point to one or more examples to support this analysis?
What, if any, hidden assumptions can you detect in this text? That is, can you find word choices, phrasing, innuendo, or other examples of the author’s (explicit or implicit) bias with regard to the subject matter? Does this bias (or these assumptions) affect how you understand and react to the authors’ words? Why or why not?