Guidance to Freedom or Just Another Tyrant?
When most people think of Napoleon Bonaparte they think of either a tyrant emperor or a brilliant war strategist. Maybe both are right but in whatever conclusion any person comes to, they will know he was a small man who accomplished many great things. Napoleon conquered countries and developed a mass empire, which led to his celebrity like fame. He was a man that respected cultures and every religion and even cried when his men died on the battlefield. Bonaparte was an amazing person who drove himself with great ambition to become one of the greatest leaders ever in history.
In life every great leader has had their own story to tell. Napoleon was born a Corsican, at Ajaccio, in 1769. He had seven brothers and sisters and he was also a descendent from the Florentine nobility. He moved to France and started school at the age of nine. At school he was picked on because of his Italian accent and because of his influent French. When he turned sixteen he joined the French artillery and became a lieutenant in a short period of time. Napoleon spent the next seven years reading the works of philosophers and educating himself in military matters, by studying the campaigns of great military leaders of the past. He then became a general and then in 1795 was appointed to stop an uprising in Paris and seceded in doing so. After stopping the uprising he was then given the position of commander in chief of the interior French army in Italy. In 1799 he was elected as the First Consul of France because the people were sick of the directory. He rose up in power in the military and also politically. He then formed his own empire and won many battles with his brilliance.
Bonaparte was an intelligent man with an extrodinary memory, while staying very open minded toward other people’s beliefs. As Vox states “When he had an hour for diversion, he not infrequently employed it in looking over a book of logarithms . So retentive was his memory of numbers, that sums over which he had once glanced his eye were in his mind ever after (69).” If I lived in his empire I would at least respect Napoleon for his brilliance, his ability to memorize information, and his will to learn more. Although, Napoleon still had his flaws. He was still only human and I think his main flaw is his big ego. Yet without his ego he would have not been able to declare himself an emperor. Victor Blair says “Even his harshest critics have conceded that his egoism was the driving force towards greatness, and that his self-conceit was at least earned by genius and determination.”
With his studying he learned that in order to govern France he must first win over the people. He knew that not only did he have to win the people’s popularity, but that he also needed support form his soldiers. He promised all of his soldiers that they would eat, be clothed well, and paid for their services. Even after the French Revolution he still thought the French people only cared about how France was portrayed. “I do not believe the French love liberty and equality. They are not changed by ten years of revolution. They are like the Gauls, proud and fickle: they have only one sentiment, honor (Markham 63).” This shows he wanted the approval of the people to be emperor and not to be a slave of how the people thought. He began to win over the people in the late eighteenth century and decided that he wanted to be the next Alexander the Great.
As Bonaparte took power, some looked at him as a tyrant or even a new king maybe. He ran the government and made the decisions and laws for France. He hated and loved the people because they looked at him as a king but still they reinforced his position. Some people of the time thought that maybe the French Revolution was a waste if they are just going to have another ruler that makes the laws like a king. This annoyed Napoleon greatly because he was just another soldier of the revolution and that he was not a king just another person with flaws; His flaws being the inability to endure wrong and to lead the French with success.
Napoleon was incredibly fond of schooling so he created his own military geniuses. “As one would expect, the primary function of the educational institutions was to produce military men. Because Napoleon stressed the militaristic side of education, the best pupils of the lycees were sent at government expense to a special military school (Holtman “Propaganda” 132).” I think that Bonaparte was either looking for future leaders of his army or another boy like he was to be the next emperor.
Most if not all religions were accepted by Napoleon and this was shown when he accepted the pope to France and made Catholicism the official religion of France. Even though the official religion was Catholicism, all other religions were accepted and Bonaparte did not discriminate against people for their religion. When he took over Egypt he did not deny them anything because of their religion but actually only helped them to show that he did care:
Napoleon was determined to modernize Egyptian society while making every effort to respect its culture particularly religion. One of the first reforms he enacted was the establishment of a printing press, which he used to make posters in Arabic proclaiming the good intentions of the French who had come as liberators and who respected the Muslim faith. Napoleon even considered converting to Islam to demonstrate his good will. A tax-collecting bureaucracy was created and within weeks a sizeable revenue had been amassed. A mint was established to coin money. Napoleon used the generated revenue to install gas lamps for the streets of Cairo and build a sewage system. In addition he founded Egypt’s first Postal Service and Health Department. (Miller)
When I think of an emperor I would not imagine one that would conquer countries and then start helping them with the tax money that is collected from those countries. Napoleon was truly a unique man for being such a conquering emperor.
Napoleon was only able to achieve his positions in France by winning the trust of the people in France and the trust of his soldiers. Bonaparte knew one thing for sure about his soldiers and winning. He knew that if he was to win battles that the morale and the willingness of his soldiers must be high so that he would be able to win and move on. In order to keep the morale of his army high he started propaganda and spread it throughout his army. With the moral of his soldiers high he could start his own battle tactics and win fights for over 10 years.
Squared battalion was a tactic that Bonaparte used which used an approach of three roads and with his cavalry as a screen across the entire front. This strategy was only a success and helped in the spreading out of his army. Later on he started using more artillery in his battles and only used them to where the enemy might attack and not just randomly firing places. His enemies also became scared to fight him because of his mastery over terrain in the use of battle. Though the one true tactic that made Napoleon almost undefeatable was that “Napoleon was the first to grasp the principles of organized dispersion and apply them in a way permitting concentration when that was desirable (Holtman, “Revolution” 43).” When Bonaparte realized how effective his fighting was, he divided up his army into battalions. These battalions would be able to stand up to a bigger enemy until reinforcements arrived to help them out. This arrangement was known as the Corps System. “In theory, a corps with two or three infantry divisions, a light cavalry division, several companies of artillery and engineers, and its own trains was expected to hold off an entire army of the old unitary type (Britt 33).” Napoleon was able to do this because of the speed of his army. I think that this was an incredible strategy by Napoleon. It was able to work, because of the lack of knowledge that his enemies showed in war tactics.
When Napoleon fought the Austrians in July of 1797, he was able to defeat their three powerful waves of soldiers in six days. His ability to move fast and strike hard led him to beat the Austrians and then attack there home. Napoleon then invaded Austria and signed a treaty with them but now had possession of Belgium and other lands along the Rhine River. To me this is amazing to be able to put down an attack and then keep going without his troops being to worn down to keep fighting. The ambition and desire that Napoleon had for himself and his troops only helped him move forward in his battles.
After Bonaparte’s popularity had grown, the directory was scared of him and asked to go on another assignment to get rid of him. He went to Egypt to threaten England’s hold of India. He conquered over Cairo in July of 1978 and then an English admiral lead an attack that destroyed the French Navy in Aboukir Bay. He lost touch with France and then his men started dying of diseases. He fled back to France and realized that Italy had been taken over by the Austrians. He also noticed that the directory was not liked by the people of France anymore. Napoleon was accepted by the people in France and was highly liked when he returned.
After Napoleon returned from Egypt and was thirty years old he became the First Consul of France. With this position he had executive power over the government. Napoleon started by making dramatic changes in France’s legal system, government administration, economic affairs, and the education system. He created the Napoleonic Code which allowed all men to be treated equal whether their rank and wealth was high or low. This new code also allowed for a good and coherent system of law. People now had the ability to choose what religion and occupation they wanted to do. Another big change was the economy by Napoleon. He was able to lift the French economy out of their downfall and cut taxes. He was mostly able to do so by collecting money from battles he won and by making the tax collectors more honest and efficient. He then established the Bank of France which was under Napoleon’s guidance. After doing this he also put money into the schooling to create little war strategists. In this I think that he had only good intentions as far as doing what was for the better of France. Some of what he did do in the government is still in use today and many people still strongly agree with what he did.
In May of 1800 Napoleon led his army into Italy and crossed an impossible path known as the Great Saint Bernard.’ Then on June 14th the Austrians attacked Napoleon and a small part of his army. Although Napoleon was being beaten by the Austrians, he remained completely calm. He beat the Austrians when the rest of his army arrived at the battle field later in the evening. I believe that this battle shows the enemy his great confidence and his mastery of fighting on the battlefield. He then went all the way into Vienna, the Austrians capital. He then kept fighting the Prussians and in 1806 fought the battle of Jena. At the battle of Jena he captured Berlin and led his pursuit of the Prussians. The Prussian king fled to Russia and so Napoleon advanced through Poland and fought the Russians for a draw at Eylan, Germany. He then fought again and destroyed the Russians at Friedland, Germany. Napoleon had come to conquer most of Europe and split it up with Alexander. The Bonaparte family now ruled over the whole of Western Europe except England.
Napoleon never stopped when it came to fighting or when he was trying to prove a point. His ambition was too great and so he started the Continental System in which he cut off all trading with England since he could not win against them in war. This tactic has been used in all of history and could work immensely but not every country can survive without trade. It was then in 1812 when Russia started trading again with England because they could not make it without doing so. Napoleon was angered by this and rounded up 500,000 soldiers and marched to Russia. This was probably the worst mistake that Napoleon could have made at the time. Napoleon won his way into Moscow but Alexander did not give into Bonaparte and instead burned Moscow down. All of Napoleon’s men of 500,000 died except 40,000 because of the cold in Russia. They had no where to seek shelter or food. The 40,000 that did make it back were known as the Great Retreat. He went back to France and started the beginning of his end. Countries such as Prussia, Austria, and Russia began defeating Napoleon. Napoleon could no longer win because France was tired, had no money, and no more men to give. The countries of Europe exiled Napoleon in 1814, and made him leave to Elba. He then was even made king at Elba and organized an army. After this he headed back to Europe and started a famous battle called Waterloo.
At Waterloo many people died or were wounded. The English had over 15,000, Prussians with 7,000, and the French with 25,000 and 8,000 prisoners. Napoleon lost the battle at Waterloo, because it was almost as if he lost his brilliance as a war strategist. He was able to win easily against enemies fighting in the old style and then he did the same. “Napoleon did not maneuver at all. He just moved forward in the old style; in columns, and was driven off in the old style (Naylor 173).” It was as if Napoleon had lost himself when fighting this battle. I think Bonaparte could have won the battle if he had used the wits and intelligence he was famous for using when he had his empire. Waterloo was the end for Napoleon and the beginning of a new Europe.
Even after his death and his bad fighting at the end of his ruling, he is still regarded as one of the most brilliant men in history. As Vance states in his passage that:
But he cannot refuse to acknowledge, that no man ever comprehended more clearly the splendid science of war; he cannot fail to bow to the genius which conceived and executed the Italian campaign, which fought the classic battles of Austerlitz, Jena and Wagram. These deeds are great epics. They move in noble, measured lines, and stir us by their might and perfection. It is only a genius of the most magnificent order which could handle men and materials as Napoleon did. (Vance)
I think purely that Bonaparte had his faults as a leader and as a person but ultimately he was one of the greatest men that ever lived. To be able to allow religious freedoms, create a code where all men are treated equally, and to start a bank to help the finance of a country only reminds me of our current day system which many love with all their heart.
I have learned that Napoleon is and always will be known as a great leader. Even after learning of how many people he had killed and some of the pointless battles he caused, I still think he was magnificent. To rule over more countries is stupid to me, but after realizing what he did for some countries, especially Egypt. I think it was worth the blood that was spilled. I also realized that Bonaparte was not given power at all from his name, but yet he worked his heart out to get what he achieved. To me the greatest leaders are formed from their own brilliance and not from hand me down popularity.
Napoleon Bonaparte is still regarded as one of the greatest military and political masterminds in the history of man. Through his extremely successful Italian campaigns, his revolutionary changes in the French government and battles against the Third Coalition Napoleon gave France total domination over Western Europe. France then became a great nation because of Napoleon’s brilliance and achievements as a leader.
Blair, Victor. Napoleon, The Man, Encapsulated. 10 Dec. 2002
Britt, Alber Sidney. The Wars of Napoleon. New Jersey: Avery Publishing Group Inc., 1985
Holtman, Robert. Napoleonic Propaganda. New York: Greenwood Press Publishers, 1969
Holtman, Robert. The Napoleonic Revolution. New York: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1967
Markham, Felix. Napoleon and the Awakening of Europe. London: The English Universities Press Ltd., 1954
Miller, Tom. Before Brumaire: Napoleon’s Development as a Ruler. 10 Dec. 2002
Naylor, John. Waterloo. London: Pan Books Ltd., 1960
Vance, Thomas. The Lost Voices of Napoleonic Historians. 10 Dec. 2002
Vox, Maximilien. Napoleon. New York: Grove Press Inc., 1960