Various reasons contribute to the rise and fall of Napoleon. Before we jump into the fall of Napoleon, let us first discuss the rise of Napoleon from the position of a humble Corsican to that of the Emperor of the French. The reasons for the rise of Napoleon are: Firstly, he was a genius with superhuman power and energy. Secondly, his generalship was the highest order. Thirdly, chaos in France, and particularly the Reign of Terror paved the way for Napoleon’s rise. People wanted peace and order, and Napoleon could give them what they wanted. Fourthly, the Revolution gave rise to a new spirit in French men. Hence, Napoleon could utilize that spirit for establishing his supremacy.
Besides the above points, below are the other reasons for the rise of Napoleon. In fact, the introduction of Napoleon’s reformations was the main cause of the rise of Napoleon.
- Rise of Napoleon:
- CAUSES OF NAPOLEON’S DOWNFALL
- Early Life, Education, and Character of Napoleon Bonaparte
Rise of Napoleon:
The most remarkable achievement of Napoleon as the Consul was his internal reforms. The revolution let loose the anarchy in France and since 1799 people of France did not know what peace was.
Thus, Napoleon on becoming Consul devoted himself to the work of the reorganization of France. His best services to France are found in his progressive reforms. He could well understand the ills of France and as a great statesman could give the proper remedies for the removal of those ills. In short, in his reforms, we see him as s constructive genius and as a great statesman.
Napoleon saw that in the name of democracy the revolutionaries had let loose anarchy in the country. He was no believer in democracy. So he destroyed and re-established autocracy in France. He was all-powerful in the state; and all officials-high and low-were directly appointed by him and responsible to him alone. The system of election which was introduced during the revolution was retained, but the electors could not influence government in any way. The administrative reforms of Napoleon were not of progressive nature. He destroyed the political liberty of the people which was one of the basic principles of the Revolution. In this respect, Napoleon put the clock back in France.
The revolutionaries preached the doctrine of equality in France. Though Napoleon had no faith in liberty, he had great faith in the word equality. He hates the system of Privilege and was tries to destroy it. To give equality to the people, Napoleon codified the good laws of France. Therefore, he ordered that justice all over France would be administered by these laws. The laws of Napoleon were to be no respecter of persons. All persons, rich and poor, were to be equal in the eye of law. It was a new thing in history.
Again, Napoleon’s maxim was ‘career Open to talents’. In giving appointments to high and responsible posts, Napoleon’s only let capable person fulfill the vacant post. For him, the birth was no consideration to fulfill the vacant post.
When Napoleon came to power, he found the French people in an angry mood because of the revolutionary government’s anti-religious policy. The revolutionary governments quarreled with the Pope on the question of the management of the Church, and finally cut-off connections with the Pope. Common people of France did not like it; they had the highest respect and veneration for the Pope as he was the head of the Catholic Church.
Thus, as a great statesman Napoleon understood that if he was to win over the love of the people, he must settle the quarrel with the Pope. So in 1801, he made a compromise with the Pope. By this settlement, the Pope got back certain powers on the French Church. But the real power still remained in the hands of Napoleon. Anyway, the French people were happy to see the end of the quarrel with the Pope.
In order to improve the material condition of France, Napoleon undertook many economic reforms. Under him, there was an immense extension of public works. Means of communications were enormously improved, marshes were drained, and dikes were strengthened. Under the patronage of Napoleon, the French peasants now adopted improved methods of agriculture. Thus, French industrialists took up advanced methods of manufacture.
Napoleon established the Bank of France in 1801. The businessmen and manufacturers got loans from this bank on easy terms. Napoleon enforced a rigid economy in administration and adopted better methods for the collection of taxes. By these measures, he increases the revenue of the state.
Napoleon also reforms education. He set up educational institutions, beginning from Primary schools to Universities. There was, however, a great defect in his system. The government kept very strict control of education. The watch was kept on what the teachers taught in schools and colleges. Napoleon wanted that teachers should develop among boys and a sense of loyalty towards him;
Estimate: There is no denying the fact that Napoleon by his Vigorous reforms brought back peace and order in the country people, who now earnestly wanted peace, didn’t care to see if his reform were progressive in nature. They were happy with him, as he established a strong and stable government in the country. When we judge Napoleon’s reforms critically, we find that he can be described both as the destroyer and a preserver of the Revolution. The Revolutionaries fought for two basic principles – Political Liberty and Equality. Thus, Napoleon destroyed the former and saved the later.
CAUSES OF NAPOLEON’S DOWNFALL
There were many causes of Napoleon s downfall. We are not surprised by his fall, for a study of his history makes it clear that his fall was inevitable. Napoleon’s fall was inevitable partly because of certain defects in his character, and partly because of the rise of some new forces. What was inevitable came earlier as he committed some blunders.
His Ambition & Pride
The drawbacks of Napoleon’s character which brought about his fall were his vaulting ambition and inordinate pride. His ambition knew to limits. Beginning his career as a humble Corsican he became the Emperor of France.
But he was not happy with this. He wanted to be the master of Europe. With the increase of his power, he became very much proud. Because of his pride, he believes that he could master any problem and defeat any enemy. Napoleon was no doubt a genius, but he should have remembered that there is a limit to the capacity of a genius.
Rise of National Spirit in Europe
Napoleon’s want and conquests gave rise to the national spirit among the different peoples of Europe. So long this spirit was absent; Napoleon could easily defeat the kings and conquer their countries. But with the rise of national spirit people of Europe raised their arms against him. Napoleon was no doubt an extraordinary general, but even for an extraordinary man, it was not possible to fight successfully against the entire people of a continent.
The Continental System
The Continental System of Napoleon is one of the great blunders which hastened Napoleon’s fall. During the early years of his conquests, Napoleon was popular with the conquered people, as everywhere he carried the idea of equality with him. But his Continental System made him unpopular with the people as this system brought great economic distress to them. With the adoption of this system, people of Europe did not get the daily necessaries of life.
The Peninsular War
It was another blunder of Napoleon. He could easily avoid war with Spain. But power made him blind, and he attacked that country. The Spanish war proved to be very costly, and what was all the more unfortunate for Napoleon he could not conquer Spain. In Spain Napoleon lost his prestige as a general. But what was most alarming for Napoleon was the rise of national spirit among the Spaniards. From Spain, this spirit spread in other countries.
Quarrel with the Pope
In 1809, Napoleon quarreled with the Pope as the latter refused to boycott British goods. Napoleon being angry arrests the Pope and for years held him as a prisoner. The Pope was the head of the Catholic Church. Naturally, his arrest created a flutter all over Europe. As a result, all Catholics now began to hate Napoleon.
The Russian Expedition
It was also a serious blunder of Napoleon. By honoring the Treaty of Titlist he could avoid this conflict with Russia. But here also pride made him blind. He led an expedition against Russia in which he lost his Grand Army. This army was the main source of Napoleon’s strength. Alter his return from Russia Napoleon’s fall was a question of time.
The want for a strong navy paved the path of Napoleon’s fall. It was for want of a strong navy he could not defeat England. And it was England which, remain safe on the sea, repeatedly built up coalitions against Napoleon. If Napoleon could defeat England, his history might have been different.
Thus, from the above discussion, we can say that there are many reasons for the rise and fall of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Besides, the reasons for the rise and fall of Napoleon, let us further discuss various wars Napoleon fought during 1803-1815.
Early Life, Education, and Character of Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon was known at Ajaccio on the 15th of August, 1760 in a poor family lawyer’s family of Corsica. The name of his father and mother were Charles Merry Bonaparte and Letizia Remolinio respectively. Though his mother does not have high education. But she was very bright and intelligent. Even Napoleon had great respect for her mother. His family had a respectful position.
Formerly, Corsica was under the supremacy of Geneva but later on, it came under the influence of France. The parents of Napoleon had taken part in the war of independence of Corsica. They had to face several difficulties during the period. Napoleon Bonaparte had heard several stories of the war of independence and had decided to begin a war of independence against France.
Napoleon Bonaparte received education in Paris and Brienne. He belongs to the family of lawyers of Corsica, hence Louis XVI (1754-93) had also helped him. At school, Napoleon’s friends were wealthy enough. His friends used to make fun of him due to his poor circumstances. But he completed his education under the poor conditions in Paris and Brienne.
Napoleon used to utilize his vacant time in the study of books. His favorite subjects were history, mathematics, politics, and philosophy, geography. He has greatly adored Rousseau (1712-78). He often says, “Had there been no Rousseau, there would have been no Napoleon.” He is a hard-working person. Once he wrote to his mother: “I don’t have any friends except the books.” In 1785, he was appointed to be the Second Lieutenant in the army at the age of sixteen.
Character of Napoleon
Napoleon hails from the Mediterranean. He is a man with a warm and vivid imagination. According to Caulaincourt, “Emperor’s feelings were expressed through every pore. When he chose, nobody could be more fascinating.” He had charming manners. When it comes to talking, very few could compete with him.
He had a high sense of humor. Once, the lunatic has said, he was in love with the Empress. His reply was: “You should choose somebody else to confide in.” It is said that one night at Vienna Napoleon asked for the cold chicken which was always kept ready for him for his supper. When the chicken was brought Napoleon looked at it and observed: “Since when has chicken been born with one leg and one wing? I see that I am expected to live off the scraps left me by my servants.“ Napoleon pulls the ears of his servant who had eaten the part of the chicken.
Napoleon had close relations with his friends and companions of the youth. His friends like Lannes, Ney, Marmont, Mural, Junot, etc. could say to Napoleon what they pleased. Napoleon wept bitterly at the time of death of Lannes and Duroc.
It is wrong to call him a cold-blooded tyrant. He put on a mask in the interests of policy. Napoleon himself said: “There are in me two distinct men: the man of head and the man of heart.”
He showered wealth and position on his brothers and sisters. Also, he made Joseph, the King of Naples and then, of Spain. He appointed Louis (1778-1846) the King of Holland. He made Jerome, the King of Westphalia. In spite of that they grumbled, he never complained about it.
He Saves the Convention
The second great achievement of Napoleon was the saving of the National Convention in 1795. In that year when the National Convention sat to frame a constitution for France, it was attacked by the royalists. The royalists feared that the Convention would frame a republican constitution. The Royalist attack caused a great crisis, but it was the courage of Napoleon that saved the Convention from this crisis.
In 1796 Napoleon married Josephine, a Widow. This lady had a great influence on French society. It was through her influence Napoleon got the post of the commander-in-chief of the Italian expedition. It was certainly a lucky marriage.
In I796 Napoleon set out for the Italian expedition, and it was the beginning of his career. In Italy, he showed his wonderful ability as a general. There he inflicted crushing defeats on the Austrians in the battles of Lodi and Ravioli and completed his task within a year. Since that expedition, he had become the idol of the French army.
On his return from Italy, Napoleon led a campaign in Egypt. But that campaign failed miserably mainly because of the operations of the British navy. Finding his position hopeless in Egypt, thus, Napoleon came back to France in 1799.
The five Directors who were ruling in France since I795 were men of mediocre ability. But France at that time required miserably tackling the problems – both domestic and foreign. Taking advantage of their unpopularity in the country Napoleon overthrew the Directors. The army stood by the side of Napoleon. With the help of this army, he established a veiled dictatorship in the country.
Napoleon as Consul
Napoleon was now the first Consul. Two other Consuls were his colleagues. As the first Consul, he ruled over France from 1799-1804. During this period he thoroughly reorganized France by internal reforms. His reforms brought back stability and prosperity in the country.
His management of foreign affairs as the Consul was also very successful. When he became the Consul he found France engaged in war with England, Austria, and Russia. He inflicted crushing defeats on Austria and compelled her to make a treaty (Treaty of Luneville) with France. By diplomacy, he made Russia neutral. With England, he fought, but there was no decisive result.
At last, being tired, both England and France wanted to conclude the war, and so the Treaty of Amiens was signed in I802.
Napoleon Becomes Emperor
The French people were simply charmed to see Napoleon’s ability both as a general and as an administrator. They now began to worship him like a God. Napoleon understood their mind and so he now wants to be an Emperor. As Consul, he maintains an outward show of a republic. But in 1804, he put an end to the republican show. In that year he proclaimed himself to be the Emperor of the French.
Thus, we can say that there are many reasons that contribute to the rise and fall of Napoleon. Though he was a great ruler, there was a lot of resentment against him. Besides, his egoism became a mania. Consequently, he refused to listen to the advice of others.
Apart from the reasons for the rise and fall of Napoleon, there are many other reforms of Napoleon Bonaparte. His reforms include Finance, Judicial, Education, Public work, Bank of France, etc.
Source: Mohammed Rafi Komol & O. Jnanendra Singh
A Guide to History of Modern Europe 1789-1945.
Imphal, Khumanthem Babudhon, 2018,