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Napolean Essay, Research Paper

Napoleon I (1769-1821), emperor of the France, who made reforms after the French

Revolution. One of the greatest military commanders of all time, he conquered the larger

part of Europe and did much to modernize the nations he conquered. Napoleon was born

on August 15, 1769, in Ajaccio, Corsica, and was given the name Napoleon. He was the

second of eight children of Carlo Bonaparte and Letizia Ramolino Buonaparte, both of the

Corsican-Italian ancestry. Napoleans father was a lawyer who had fought for Corsican

independence, but after the French occupied the island in 1768, he served as a prosecutor

and a judge and entered the French nobility as a count. Through his father s influence,

Napoleon was educated at the expense of King Louis XVI, in Paris. Napoleon graduated

in 1785, at the age of 16, and joined the artillery as a second lieutenant. After the

Revolution began, he became a lieutenant colonel. In 1793, however, Corsica declared

independence, and Bonaparte, a French patriot and a Republican, fled to France with his

family. He was assigned, as a captain, to an army besieging Toulon, a naval base that,

aided by a British fleet, was in revolt against the republic. Replacing wounded artillery

general, he seized ground where his guns could drive the British fleet from the harbor, and

the port fell. As a result Napoleon was promoted to brigadier general at the age of 24. In

1795 he saved the revolutionary government by dispersing an insurgent mob in Paris. In

1796 he married Josephine de Beauharnais, the widow of an aristocrat murdered in the

Revolution. Also in 1796, Napoleon was made commander of the French army in Italy. He

defeated four Austrian generals, each with superior numbers, and forced Austria and its

allies to make peace. In northern Italy he founded the Cisalpine Republic (later known as

Italy) and strengthened his position in France by sending millions of francs worth of

treasure to the government. In 1798, to strike at British trade with the East, he led an

expedition to Turkish-ruled Egypt, which he conquered. The British admiral Horatio

Nelson, leaving him stranded, however, destroyed his fleet. Undaunted, he reformed the

Egyptian government and law, abolishing serfdom and feudalism and guaranteeing basic

rights. The French scholars he had brought with him began the scientific study of ancient

Egyptian history. In 1799 he failed to capture Syria, but he won a smashing victory over

the Turks. France, meanwhile, faced a new army; Austria, Russia, and lesser powers had

allied with Britain. Napoleon, was no meek soul, he decided to leave his army and return

to save France. In Paris, he joined a conspiracy against the government. November 9-10,

1799, he and his friends seized power and established a new regime. Under its

constitution, Napolean, as first consul, had almost completely dictatorial powers. The

constitution was revised in 1802 to make Bonaparte consul for life and in 1804 to create

him emperor. Each change received the overwhelming assent of the French electorate. In

1800, he assured his power by crossing the Alps and defeating the Austrians. He then

negotiated a general European peace that established the Rhine River as the eastern border

of France. He also concluded an agreement with the pope, which contributed to French

domestic tranquillity by ending the quarrel with the Roman Catholic Church that had

arisen during the Revolution. In France the administration was reorganized, the court

system was simplified, and all schools were put under centralized control. French law was

standardized in the Code of Napoleon. They guaranteed the rights and liberties won in the

Revolution, including equality before the law and freedom of religion. In April 1803

Britain, provoked by Napoleon s aggressive behavior, resumed war with France on the

seas; two years later Russia and Austria joined the British in a new coalition. Napoleon

then abandoned plans to invade England and turned his armies against the Russian forces.

In 1806 he seized the kingdom of Naples and made his elder brother Joseph king,

converted the Dutch Republic into the kingdom of Holland for his brother Louis, and

established the Confederation of the Rhine of which he was the protector. Napoleon had

meanwhile established the Continental System; a French-imposed blockade of Europe

against British goods, designed to bankrupt what he called the “nation of shopkeepers.” In

1807 Napoleon seized Portugal. In 1808, he made his brother Joseph king of Spain,

awarding Naples to his brother-in-law, Joachim Murat. Joseph s arrival in Spain touched

off a rebellion there, which became known as the Peninsular War. Napoleon appeared

briefly and scored victories, but after his departure the fighting continued for five years,

with the British backing Spanish armies and guerrillas. The Peninsular War cost France

300,000 casualties and lots of money and contributed to the eventual destruction of the

Napoleons Empire. In all the new kingdoms created by Napolean, the Code Napoleon was

established as law. Feudalism and serfdom were abolished, and freedom of religion. Each

state was given a constitution, providing for the right for a male vote and a parliament and

a bill of rights. French-style administrative and judicial systems were required. Schools

were put under centralized government, and free public schools were thought of. Higher

education was opened to all that qualified, regardless of class or religion. Every state had

an academy or institute for the promotion of the arts and sciences. Incomes were provided

for scholars, especially scientists. Constitutional government remained only a promise, but

progress and increased efficiency were widely realized. Not until after Napoleon s fall did

the common people of Europe, alienated from his governments by war taxes fully

appreciate the benefits he had given them. In 1812 Napoleon, whose alliance with

Alexander I had disintegrated, launched an invasion into Russia that ended in a disastrous

retreat from Moscow. After that all Europe united against him, and although he fought on,

and brilliantly, the odds were impossible to beat. After the allies had rejected his stepping

down in favor of his son, Napoleon unconditionally surrendered and was exiled to a

Mediterranean island. Marie Louise and his son were put in the custody of her father, the

emperor of Austria. Napoleon never saw either of them again. Napoleon himself, however,

soon made a dramatic comeback. In March 1815, he escaped from Elba, reached France,

and marched on Paris, winning over the troops sent to capture him. In Paris, he

promulgated a new and more democratic constitution, and veterans of his old campaigns

flocked to his support. Napoleon asked peace of the allies, but they outlawed him, and he

decided to strike first. The result was a campaign into Belgium, which ended in defeat at

the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815. In Paris, crowds begged him to fight on, but the

politicians withdrew their support. Napoleon fled to Rochefort, where he surrendered to

the captain of the British battleship. He was then exiled to a remote island in the South

Atlantic Ocean, where he remained until his death from stomach cancer on May 5, 1821.

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