The Successful Legacy of Napoleon
The French Revolution drew on many ideas of Enlightenment thinkers and the American Revolution. The three main ideals were, Liberte, egalite, fraternite which gave all men the liberty of freedom, equality between all social classes, and a brotherhood within the nation. However, the Revolution was also a turbulent and violent time in France.
The cataclysm of the political and economic upheaval, was constant and lead to instability in the nation. After the coup d’etat, Napoleon took power and reestablished stability. Napoleon’s reign and legacy marked a successful end to the French Revolution because he established a lasting new order and important institutions while preserving many ideals of the Revolution.
One of Napoleon’s greatest achievements was the Napoleonic Code, a new legal system that gave equality, a main ideal of the Revolution, to all people in France. The reformation of the legal system abolished the old laws of feudalism and organized the French civil law into a single code, giving permanent form to the great gains of the French Revolution (Napoleon I’s Reorganization of France). The code divided the Civil Law into three branches: personal status, property, and acquisition of property. The laws under personal status gave the lower classes the same equality and opportunities that were previously only given to the higher classes, such as acquiring professional jobs. This created new chances for qualified people to earn government jobs instead of getting them based on social status. Additionally, all individuals could now own their own land and property, unlike during the old regime where the land was mostly owned only by nobles. The Napoleonic Code unified the principles of the French Revolution into the set of laws that eventually would become adopted by many European Countries. Napoleon’s phrase, …what will live forever, is my Civil Code, (Bonaparte) would become part of his legacy because many governments are now based on the concepts of his code that kept the ideals of the French Revolution alive.
Another achievement of Napoleon’s was his economic reforms that led to the successful end to the nation’s debt after the French Revolution. King Louis XVI had put the country in debt and brought poverty in through costly wars, heavy taxation, and shortages of food during famines. Napoleon fixed these problems by instituting the Bank of France and building up the infrastructure to create economic growth after years of debt and bankruptcy. The Bank of France was established in 1800 and issued bank notes that kept inflation down. Napoleon also ensured that everyone paid taxes, instead of just the lower classes, who were the only one’s paying taxes before the Revolution. The new wealth supported the French Army to fight against foreign threats that tried to undermine the values of the French Revolution. Another one of his reforms was the control of food prices and food supply to make sure the people would not go hungry, unlike what happened before and during the Revolution. Because of his economic reforms, inflation was stopped in its tracks, the cost of living remained stable, the national debt was eliminated within a year, the government had a balanced budget for the first time since 1738, and poverty was greatly reduced (Stark). Napoleon left a legacy of strong financial institutions and a set of reforms that put France back in firm economic footings. Thus, Napoleon succeeded in accomplishing one of the first goals of the Revolution, to fix the economy and give the middle class a chance to earn their own wealth.
Napoleon’s legacy greatly impacted Europe, spreading the ideals of the Revolution even after his death. Napoleon was a military genius by winning decisive victories over French enemies that allowed France to form a Grand Empire. Napoleon imposed his reforms and his code on the states within the Empire, which spread the ideas of the Revolution and challenged the old order. Even the idea of Nationalism, which is the support for the state and the freedom and liberty from absolute monarchs, spread across Europe as Napoleon conquered these countries. These patriotic feelings towards one’s own nation during the Revolution carried on after Napoleon’s death because [t]he French showed the people of Europe what nationalism was and what a nation in arms could do (Spielvogel 568). Soon many countries started to declare their independence from their aristocracy and follow the ideals of the French Revolution. Ironically, even though the French Empire conquered these countries, the ideals that came from Napoleon led to these countries enjoying the same principles as the French Revolution.
Despite Napoleon’s many important legacies that he left behind, many consider him to be a tyrant who betrayed the values of the Revolution. One of the main principles of the French Revolution was liberty from oppression and absolute rule. Napoleon betrayed this ideal by proclaiming himself Emperor of France. The people of France revolted against the tyrannical rule of the monarchy, yet ended up with Napoleon as the Emperor. However, he did what many felt was necessary to bring stability to France after the chaotic period of the French Revolution. He also was not from the ruling aristocratic class and thus earned his title instead of inheriting it. Even after his enemies defeated him and sent him away, when Napoleon returned to France from exile, his men screamed Vive l’Empereur! l’Empereur! (Long live the Emperor! Long live the Emperor!) (Spielvogel 589). Napoleon’s men were still loyal and preferred him over the French monarchy because he brought stability to France and was more beneficial to the nation. While his Grand Empire only lasted eleven years, his legacy of reforms and equality last to this day.
The ideals of the French Revolution, Liberte, egalite, fraternite, were embraced by Napoleon and spread throughout Europe. Although he declared himself Emperor and ruled as an absolute ruler, he still implemented his Napoleonic Code of Justice for all people and created government institutions that protected the people. His economic reforms of fair taxes, debt control, and monetary policies stabilized the country and are still in use today. Although he conquered most of Europe, he left behind the original ideals of the French Revolution. His institutions embody the ideals of the French Revolution that survive to this day in France and many other European countries. His long-lasting legacy of achievements changed the way most European countries governed their people by bringing the French Revolution’s principles across the continent.
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