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One of the greatest military commanders and a risk taking gambler; a workaholic genius and an impatient short term planner; a vicious cynic who forgave his closest betrayers; a misogynist who could enthrall men; Napoleon Bonaparte was all of these and more, the twice-emperor of France whose military endeavors and sheer personality dominated Europe in person for a decade, and in thought for a century.
Napoleon was born on 15 August 1769 in Ajaccio, Corsica, on August 15th 1769 to Carlo Bonaparte, a lawyer and political opportunist, and his wife, Marie-Letizia. The Bonaparte’s were a wealthy family from the Corsican nobility, although when compared to the great aristocracies of France Napoleon's kin were poor and pretentious. A combination of Carlo's social climbing, Letizia's adultery with the Comte de Marbeuf - Corsica's French military governor - and Napoleon's own ability enabled him to enter the military academy at Brienne in 1779. He moved to the Parisian École Royale Militaire in 1784 and graduated a year later as a second lieutenant in the artillery. Spurred on by his father's death in February 1785, the future emperor had completed in one year a course that often took three.
Despite being posted on the French mainland, Napoleon was able to spend much of the next eight years in Corsica thanks to his ferocious letter writing and rule bending, as well as the effects of the French Revolution (which led to the French Revolutionary Wars) and sheer good luck. There he played an active part in political and military matters, initially supporting the Corsican rebel Pasquale Paoli, a former patron of Carlo Buonaparte. Military promotion also followed, but Napoleon became opposed to Paoli and when civil war erupted in 1793 the Buonapartes fled to France, where they adopted the French version of their name: Bonaparte. Historians have frequently used the Corsican affair as a microcosm of Napoleon's career.
The French Revolution had decimated the republic's officer class and favoured individuals could achieve swift promotion, but Napoleon's fortunes rose and fell as one set of patrons came and went. By December 1793 Bonaparte was the hero of Toulon, a General and favourite of Augustin Robespierre; shortly after the wheel of revolution turned and Napoleon was arrested for treason. Tremendous political 'flexibility' saved him and the patronage of Vicomte Paul de Barras, soon to be one of France's three 'Directors', followed.
Napoleon became a hero again in 1795, defending the government from angry counter-revolutionary forces; Baras rewarded Napoleon by promoting him to high military office, a position with access to the political spine of France. Bonaparte swiftly grew into one of the country's most respected military authorities - largely by never keeping his opinions to himself - and he married Josephine de Beauharnais. Commentators have considered this an unusual match ever since.
In 1796 France attacked Austria. Napoleon was given command of the Army of Italy - the post he wanted - whereupon he welded a young, starving and disgruntled army into a force which won victory after victory against, theoretically stronger, Austrian opponents. Aside from the Battle of Arcole, where Napoleon was lucky rather than clever, the campaign is legitimately legendary. Napoleon returned to France in 1797 as the nation's brightest star, having fully emerged from the need for a patron. Ever a great self-publicist, he maintained the profile of a political independent, thanks partly to the newspapers he now ran.
In May 1798 Napoleon left for a campaign in Egypt and Syria, prompted by his desire for fresh victories, the French need to threaten Britain's empire in India and the Directory's concerns that their famous general might seize power. The Egyptian campaign was a military failure (although it had a great cultural impact) and a change of government in France caused Bonaparte to leave - some might say abandon - his army and return in the August of 1799. Shortly after he took part in the Brumaire coup of November 1799, finishing as a member of the Consulate, France's new ruling triumvirate.
The transfer of power might not have been smooth - owing much to luck and apathy - but Napoleon's great political skill was clear; by February 1800 he was established as the First Consul, a practical dictatorship with a constitution wrapped firmly around him. However, France was still at war with her fellows in Europe and Napoleon set out to beat them. He did so within a year, although the key triumph - the Battle of Marengo, fought in June 1800 - was won by the French General Desaix.
Having concluded treaties that left Europe at peace, Bonaparte began working on France, reforming the economy, legal system (the famous and enduring Code Napoleon), church, military, education and government. He studied and commented on minute details, often while travelling with the army, and the reforms continued for most of his rule. Bonaparte exhibited an undeniable skill as both legislator and statesmen - a study of these achievements could rival those of his campaigns for size and depth - but many have argued that this talent was deeply flawed and even fervent supporters admit that Napoleon made mistakes. The Consul's popularity remained high - helped by his mastery of propaganda, but also genuine national support - and he was elected Consulate for life by the French people in 1802 and Emperor of France in 1804, a title which Bonaparte worked hard to maintain and glorify. Initiatives like the Concordat with the Church and the Code helped secure his status.
On May 18th 1804 the Senate – who had all been chosen by Napoleon - passed a law making him Emperor of the French (he had rejected king as both too close to the old royal government, and not ambitious enough) and his family were made hereditary heirs. A plebiscite was held, worded so that if Napoleon had no children – as he hadn’t at that point – either another Bonaparte would be selected or he could adopt an heir. The result of the vote looked convincing on paper (3.5 million for, 2500 against), but it had been massaged at all levels, such as automatically casting yes votes for everyone in the military.
On December 2nd 1804 the Pope was present as Napoleon was crowned: as agreed beforehand, he placed the crown on his own head (and on his wife Josephine’s as Empress.) Over the next few years the Senate and Napoleon’s Council of State dominated the government of France – which in effect meant just Napoleon – and the other bodies withered away. Although the constitution didn’t require Napoleon to have a son, he wanted one, and so divorced his first wife and married Marie-Louise of Austria. They swiftly had a son: Napoleon II, King of Rome. He would never rule France.

Comparison between French revolution and American revolution

Both the American Revolution and French Revolution were the products of Enlightenment ideals that emphasized the idea of natural rights and equality. With such an ideological basis, it becomes clear when one sets out to compare the French Revolution and American Revolution that people felt the need to be free from oppressive or tyrannical rule of absolute monarchs and have the ability to live independent from such forces. The leadership in both countries at the time of their revolutions was certainly repressive, especially in terms of taxation. Both areas suffered social and economic hardships that led to the realization that something must be done to topple the hierarchy and put power back into the hands of the people. While there are several similarities in these revolutions, there are also a few key differences. The political climate in France during its revolution was quite different than that in America simply because there was not a large war that had just ended in America (while in France the Seven Years War had nearly devastated the French monarchy’s coffers). Furthermore, although the lower and middle classes were generally the majority of the rebelling populace, there was far more upper class support for the revolution in France versus the participation of loyalists in America.
One of the most important similarities between both the American Revolution and French Revolutions was that there was a growing dissent among the people aimed at the monarchy and its associated elite and aristocrats. Even though they were powerful in both France and America at the start of each revolution, their strangleholds on both the people and economies of each nation were weakening. For instance, “In 1763 Britain was on the very pinnacle of worldwide power and her old enemies were seemingly prostrate. At the same time, however, the nation was beset with political instability and was stumbling on the edge of bankruptcy”. The reactions against the British monarchy in America only served to further weaken it and although it may have been strong in other parts of the world, the continued resistance exemplified by events such as the Boston Tea party and other revolutionary acts against the crown were taking their toll.
By the time the American Revolution was strong and the war was beginning, Britain’s defenses were already down since they had so quickly lost the vast amount of power they had gained in the pre-revolutionary years. In France and in the case of the French Revolution, it was much the same and although some of the reasons differed for the revolution, on the whole, it was a very similar attack against the monarchy. “In the eighteenth century, the French bourgeoisie had become aware of the increasing disparity between its wealth and social usefulness, on the one hand, and its social prestige and opportunities on the other. It way was blocked and recognition of its worth was denied by a decaying class of parasitic, hereditary privileged, noble landowners. Its vitality was further jeopardized by a monarchy not only committed to antiquated aristocratic values, but also incapable of giving the country that firm yet benignly restrained direction under which the initiative of men of business might flourish. Just as in America, it was the middle and lower classes involved in the revolution and although the loyalists in America had a sound following, the demographics of the revolution were essentially the same.
Another important similarity between the two revolutions in France and America was their emphasis on Enlightenment thought. The Enlightenment, which started in France and is associated with writers such as Rousseau and Voltaire, caused those under the thumb of monarchies to begin to recognize the inequality inherent in such systems. People of all classes, especially the middle and lower classes, began to use these ideas to formulate an ideology of resistance and insist on the implementation of new measures that would guarantee the natural rights of all citizens. These ideas shaped the American Revolution and the success of it went on to also inspire the French as well. In France, “the war was an ideological war, but anyone who tried to see it as a straight clash between Revolution and counter-revolution would soon become confused. Partisans of the Revolution differed violently with each other, as did their opponents.
To different parties, the French Revolution might refer to specific events, like the capture of the Bastille, or to a vast personified force, or to an abstract cause for which the French or others might be fighting. It could mean taking titles away from dukes, giving bread to the poor, or mean the teachings of Jesus or Voltaire”. This statement would also apply to America during its revolutionary period and acts of rebellion could be anything such as boycotting goods from Britain to violently attacking loyalist and British enterprises. The final result was that there “originated in the emergence of a new discourse on politics which grew up in opposition to the traditional ideology and practices of the old monarchy” in both countries as Enlightenment ideals were put into practice. In the end, “the prime fruit of independence was the national republic, resting its claim to resolve the old problem of American legitimacy on several bases. One was the charisma of General Washington, embodying as he did the states had fought the war together. Another was the half-realized myth of an ultimate popular sovereignty, superior to both the republic and the separate states”.
Like in the case of the American Revolution, the French Revolution and the years leading up to it saw increasing dissatisfaction with the absolute monarchy, especially in terms of his unwillingness to bring in a meaningful parliament or engage with demands of the citizens. On top of this, the Seven Years War had increased taxes by a huge margin and no one—not even those in the upper echelons saw the potential for personal yield. The nobility was becoming a useless old structure and the boredom of many of these idle aristocrats led to planning action. “In its French setting, then, the idea of “revolution” was inseparable from the condemnation of the past, which sharpened the will to exclude or eliminate those corrupt beneficiaries of the old order, the aristocrats”. What was perhaps most striking about the French Revolution was that it wasn’t merely a work’s revolt or a peasant’s rebellion—it was a wide-scale assault on the monarchy and the old values that were now stagnating in a world that was opening to industrialization. The difference between France and America was that in America there was not a period of protracted wars outside of the country going on that would weaken the economy and necessitate the need for additional funds. Even though there were battles in America with the Indians, mostly in the pursuit of land, these did not match the scope and cost of the Seven Years War that had driven the French nearly to bankruptcy. On the other hand, the British, the opponent to the Americans, were weakened because of outside (mostly colonial and land-grabbing) wars. The people in America were less impoverished than their French counterparts although the British government was coming close to breaking the bank through massive taxation.
There was also a difference in class participation in the Revolutions in America in France. In America, there were still a strong number of loyalists because they benefited from the great amount of favor they received from the British government. In France, however, even the nobles and aristocrats were angry at the monarchy because they were given less and less power. Although they still had money and a fair amount of control over local politics, they were almost figureheads instead of people with actual power. They saw that the king was limiting their role in government and they were part of the resistance effort as well. This is not to say that all of the nobility took part in reaction against the monarchy but the numbers of French aristocrats that were rebelling was significant. Still, the similarity of the rest of the population sponsoring the revolts was strong in both France an America.
From the top levels all the way to the lowest of laborers, everyone in France had a reason to want to prompt great change. The nobility wanted a greater stake in the future of the country, the middle classes wanted better representation and lower taxes, and the poor wanted to be able to earn a living and not be forced to give up well over half their earnings to a king they’d never seen for a war they’d never benefit from. While it seems that a majority of the focus of the French Revolution is on the plight and revolt of the working poor, the fact remains that this was a rebellion that was so effective because of this widespread support. Although there were certainly royalists among the rebellious French, their interests in crushing the revolt were equally self-centered. If they were lucky enough to enjoy a spot of favor with Louis XIV, certainly the lavish spoils that the monarch himself enjoyed were to be shared. With such nepotism, the introduction of an elected or mixed-class parliament would obliterate their security. Still, the ideas of the Enlightenment had gradually tricked down and soon enough, they may have had an influence on the agricultural poor. “Whether sentimentalist ideas had been widely enough disseminated to influence the laboring poor in cities and in fields is an open question. There are indications that the topics of sentimentalism were familiar far down the social ladder”
In sum, these revolutions had more in common than it might appear despite the slight difference in time period and national histories. They were both reactions against an oppressive monarchy that taxed heavily and attempted to control its subject and they both reacted in part because of Enlightenment ideals. While there were different circumstances that effected the governments being rebelled against and there were different demographics of supporters, these revolutions had similar aims and achieved the similar result of a new republic and constitution as the final outcome.

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