Liberty, property, equality, fraternity, uniformity, utility, popular sovereignty; these are just some words that best describe the aims and principles of the French Revolution. Did Napoleon Bonaparte I, Emperor of France, hinder, maintain, or in fact ‘further’ the aims of the revolution?, this is a question in which many historians argue about and can come to no definitive answer.
First of all, in an economic sense, Napoleon definitely followed some of the earlier revolutionary principles in his reform of the nation. Napoleon introduced limits on grain exports (due to poor harvests) in 1811 and placed price limits on bread and grain in 1812, much like the revolutionary governments such as ‘The Assembly’ and ‘The Convention’. Napoleon also strengthened France’s finances with a currency reform, helping to stabilise the currency itself. France’s finances were further helped by Napoleons introduction of the Bank of France in 1803 along with the goods and money France got from plundering nations which were defeated by France. During Napoleons rule as Emperor, France were financially ‘better-off’ than it ever was under King Louis XVI, The Assembly, Convention or the Directory, this no-doubt helped the poorer people of France. But, it can be said that France was no longer very well off by the end of Napoleon’s regime and quite unstable. However, there were also reforms under Napoleon which ‘went against’ revolutionary principles. Indirect taxes were raised by a much higher proportion than taxes such as the ‘land tax’ (which would affect the more wealthy men). Taxation became unequal which made it harder on the poorer peasants and workers. For example taxes on tobacco, playing cards and alcohol rose by 50% from 1804 to 1814. Ironically the revolution was started by anger over high taxes under the Ancien Regime. What must be most alarming however was the (re)introduction of a salt tax in 1806, resembling the Ancien Regime’s gabelle, which the revolutionaries previously banned in 1789. Also a monopoly on tobacco was re-established, like in the Ancien Regime. These reforms certainly didn’t maintain the revolutionary aims. The right to rebellion and insurrection was also challenged by Napoleon in banning people to join unions. On the whole, economically it can be said that Napoleon did much to maintain the revolutionary aims, however on some occasions these aims were not met.
Much like Robespierre, Napoleon drastically reformed society and its structures in France. Napoleon totally transformed the educational system and structures in France; he founded the Imperial University (a ministry of education in this time) in 1808, and the curriculum was determined by the state and Napoleon achieving uniformity (an aim of the French revolution that was never truly achieved). The new educational system was largely based on equality and the idea of ‘merit and utility’ (mainly at a primary level however). Lycées (the highest and last stage of secondary education in France) and state scholarships were available to students on merit allowing a boy born into family without noble stature to gain a good education. However females were not afforded a great education and were taught very different things than the males (for example: to respect and obey their husbands). Also, most of France’s ‘upper’ education (secondary) was restricted to sons of Notables and Napoleons educational policies favoured those from property owning classes and the military elite. A large proportion of what schools taught was ‘propaganda’ about respecting Napoleon and being a ‘good’ citizen, and in 1906 Napoleon standardized the church catechism and forced schools to teach it, calling on the people of France to listen to their leader and treat him as they would treat God. This type of ‘dictatorship of divine right’ and the will to rid France of it was the major cause of the French Revolution in the first place.
Napoleons decision to agree upon the concordat with the...
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