Napoleon

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Napoleon

In 1797, Napoleon Bonaparte became first consul after overthrowing the Directory and establishing the Consultate.  He had many achievements for France under educational, financial, administrative, legal and religious reforms.  However, these achievements are often exaggerated.  Napoleon was indeed the ‘heir’ of the revolution as he completed much of the work that the revolution had started, such as the creation of a Civil Code and the reforming of the education system.  Despite this, he also destroyed much of the revolution’s work.  He ignored and betrayed some of the revolution’s beliefs and much of his achievements were incomplete.  Napoleon’s achievements in Europe were mainly for his own purposes – he wanted to enhance his prestige and make France a great nation.  He appears to have had little interest in helping the European people.

Napoleon, although his main achievements centered on areas such as administration, had other remarkable, although minor, achievements in France.  He improved the appearance of French cities such as Paris by building bridges and canals and by planting trees at the sides of roads to protect them from the sun. This aided the beauty of Paris as it is today.  Napoleon also reformed the tax system, which meant that no one was tax exempt.

 One particular achievement, which may rank on the same level of importance as the Napoleonic code, but appears to be often overlooked in textbooks, is Napoleon’s founding of a national education system from primary to university.   The focus of his attention was secondary schools, of which he opened more.   Higher education also became more available in major cities.  Napoleon spent more money on education than anything else during his time in power.   However, Napoleon was somewhat inefficient in this achievement.   The educational system discriminated against females.   Napoleon saw education as being “not suitable” for girls.  Female students were to learn the very basics of education – how to read and write, and also how to do traditional female work such as nursing and embroidering.  Pupils had little choice over their career – most were forced into a military career.

What is considered to be Napoleon’s most significant achievement for France was his establishment of the ‘Napoleonic Code’. This was the codifying of all France’s civil, commercial and criminal law. This marked a trend to centralize and organize power on a national level. This code was successful as it formed the basis of many European legal systems. This ‘code’ was requested in many grievances, which were sent to Louis XVI and was demanded by the revolutionaries’. Thus Napoleon appeared to be truly the “heir of the revolution” as he had so claimed. The code took into account issues that the revolution had stood for, such as equality before the law and freedom of religion.

This Civil code also gave equal inheritance to all offspring should a parent die.  Marriage became a civil rather than a religious act.  Napoleon stopped a proposal for girls to marry at thirteen and for boys to marry at fifteen.  Instead, he increased the marital age to eighteen for girls and twenty for boys.  The civil code also permitted divorce.  On the other hand, according to John Merriman, this was also an incomplete achievement and did not satisfy everyone. Napoleon went against one of the revolution beliefs – equality for women. A woman’s wage went to her husband and she could also not buy any property without her husband’s or male relatives’ permission .   Women had to be committed to obedience and fidelity to their husbands. Napoleon further betrayed the opinions of most French people by declaring women were “ nothing more than machines for producing children”. He also betrayed the revolution by abolishing titles that the revolutionaries had abolished such as Duke or Prince. Although these titles were not heredity as before, it contrasted the aim of ‘equality’ in that people were still different in terms of social class.

Prior to the French Revolution, France was bankrupt.   Napoleon undertook vast financial reforms upon coming to power.  The French currency was stabilized and was the most stable in Europe until after World War 1.  In 1802, Napoleon was successful in achieving the balancing of the budget in France.  Taxes came from reasonable sources