Napoleon. Symbol of an Age
Prior to the revolution the country of France was ruled by ruthless monarchs who stripped any glimpse of equality from the citizens of this nation. The oppressive rulers took away their freedom and abolished their beliefs and religions. Throughout all of this the economy was on a downward spiral leading to an almost inevitable economic crash. One man was able to step in, solve these issues, and transform France into one of the great nations it is today. Napoleon Bonaparte led France through the revolution and liberated this nation from the terrors the monarchs brought upon it, establishing himself as the founder of the Modern State.
There were three main ideals that started the French revolution. The people of France wanted liberty, equality, and fraternity. Throughout his reign Napoleon managed to accomplish these three ideals, and offer them to the people of France. Napoleon was able to give the people liberty when he wrote his Civil Code, known as the Napoleonic Code, and gave the Jews freedom. He offered the Jews synagogues to worship in, and liberated them from the ghettos. Napoleons main concern while doing this was to offer the Jews a place to openly practice their religion, for he knew that if he gave the Jew’s a place to worship, the population, and therefore economy of France would grow immensely. This is shown in Mathieu-Luis Mole’s Opening Discourse to the Assembly of the Jews, “Rather than consider the government under which you live as a power against which you have to defend yourselves, you will seek only to enlighten it…you will prove that you do not seek to isolate yourselves.” Here Mole is stating that Napoleon is offering the Jews a place in which the government does not oppress them for their religion, and instead the government will benefit from the Jews.
One of the amazing things Napoleon was able to accomplish during the revolution was stabilizing the economy of France. Prior to the revolution the value of the Franc was extremely low, and showed no signs of increasing in the future. In less than a year Napoleon transformed the Franc into the most stable currency in all of Europe. He did this all with his Civil Code; by bringing the majority of Jews into France he was able to gain more wealth and revenue and bring stability to the economy.
Through this very same Civil Code Napoleon was able to bring equality to the people of France. This is shown in Martyn Lyons article when he says, “The affairs of all citizens were dealt with in principle on a basis of equality and according to fixed regulations”.(Lyones, 2008, pg.37-50) Napoleon created a system that taxed the people equally and did not allow for favoritism or exemption due to social status.
Through these examples it is clear to see that Napoleon did in fact safeguard the revolutionary ideals throughout his reign. Napoleon fought to establish equality and liberation in France, and brought the people stability, and created a safeguard for the Jews to enter and openly practice their religion. However there are some aspects of the revolution that he did betray while in rule of France.
Napoleons Civil Code did much to improve the equality of the men in France, but did very little to improve equality towards the women. Women caught committing adultery were sentenced to jail, while men had no legal punishment. This is mentioned in Jean-Entienne-Marie Portalis’s Preliminary Discourse on the Civil Code,” …But woman’s infidelity requires more corruption and has more dangerous effects than man’s…” A woman’s salary was also immediately given to her husband, leaving women with no financial stability. Any property that a woman had was owned by her husband and he had full control over it. All of this established a very paternalistic family environment.
Through all of the battles fought, and the thousands of people who were killed, Napoleon created much more than a stronger economy and a new set of reforms, he created a new modern state. Napoleons Civil Code spread throughout all of the nations he had conquered, and left a much stronger and more stable European foundation.
Before Napoleon, France was ruled by a monarchy that oppressed the people of its country, and left them without equality or stability. People of higher social class, or with relations to nobility gained exemption from taxes. In Judge Challamel’s “Letter on Brigandage” he states, “Peaceful citizens, friends of the revolution, and public officials have no security”. Criminals and thieves ruled the nation of France, yet nothing could be done about it because everybody feared them. Napoleon was the savior of these people
The age of Napoleon undoubtedly changed the course of France’s and Europe’s development. It is argued that Napoleon was simply just another enlightened despot who wanted dominance over Europe, and sacrificed thousands of soldiers to accomplish this, but this is incorrect. Napoleon established himself as the founder of the Modern state by creating the Civil Code and liberating the people of France and granting them equality.
Rafe Blaufarb, “Introduction: The Man in his Times”, in Rafe Blaufarb, Napoleon Symbol of an Age. A Brief History with Documents (Boston: Bedford/St.Martin’s 2008), p. 1-31 Judge Challamel, Letter on Brigandage (1800), in Rafe Blaufarb, Napoleon Symbol of an Age. A Brief History with Documents (Boston: Bedford/St.Martin’s 2008), p. 56-58. Mathieu-Louis Mole, Opening Discourse to the Assembly of the Jews (1806), in Rafe Blaufarb, Napoleon Symbol of an Age. A Brief History with Documents (Boston: Bedford/St.Martin’s 2008), p. 142-144. Jean-Entienne-Marie Portalis, Preliminary Discourse on the Civil Code (1801), in Rafe Blaufarb, Napoleon Symbol of an Age. A Brief History with Documents (Boston: Bedford/St.Martin’s 2008), p. 70-72.