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A radical period in history, the
French Revolution (1789-1799) was an epoch of altering the country’s political
landscape, inspired by the Enlightenment ideals such as popular sovereignty. A crucial
principle of the Revolution was the re-establishment of the monarchy, and the
restoration of many ancient traditions. As an inclusive, the Revolution spread
the notion of equality and ended policies such as feudalism. This at times led
to violent backlash and radicalism, thus setting the French Revolution as a
time of chaos and disorder. The ascent of Napoleon Bonaparte was present during
this time period, predominantly after the French Revolution, when he had come
into power as the French Emperor in 1804, with the intention of “establishing
security and order, and had the political will to impose it” (Roberts,
During his reign, the beliefs of the Revolution were embodied within various
policies of his, however there were certain Revolution ideals that were
overturned. This essay argues that Napoleon’s reign was consistent with certain
values of the French Revolution and exemplified in his political agenda. In
spite of this, there were developments of the French Revolution that were
abolished under Napoleon, and reversed the liberty that came with the French


Napoleon promoted the values of
the French Revolution during his reign through maintaining the greatest
achievements of this, such as the Constitution of 1799 and the Civil Code. The
Constitution of 1799 in France was an establishment, which ridded the large
representation of the country in the National Assembly and gave power back to
provinces. The Senate was also reinstated instead of the National Assembly,
where they were given power over international relations and policy. This
constitution gave Napoleon the majority power as a dictatorship, and removed
the previous monarchical structure. The establishment was maintained under
Napoleon’s rule, with it being further amended into making him First Consul for
Life, and was therefore valued from its origins during the French Revolution.
The Civil Code was also a series of laws, mainly accessible law, which was made
into a set draft during Napoleon’s reign, renamed as the Napoleonic Code, to
replace the previous feudal laws. This civil code was initiated during the Revolution,
but was not consolidated until the Napoleonic era. Under this code, liberty was
maintained in the country, through principles such as freedom of religion, as
well as ensuring that jobs were given to those based on ability and no other
prejudiced factors, through the civil service system. This ensured that the
“affairs of all citizens were dealt with in principle on a basis of equality
and according to fixed regulation” (Lyons, 1994), as an alternative
to the leniency of a monarchical system. Martyn Lyons (Lyons, 1994)
argues that under Napoleon the state was able to regulate the people more
efficiently, as data was gathered on civilians’ lives, and was therefore able
to maintain equality through their personal situations, and as a result tax
them accordingly. Hence, this was another value of the Revolution that Napoleon
had expressed in his control from the French Revolution, and demonstrates the
large influence of this revolutionary period in politics after its culmination
in 1799. Under Napoleon, these freedoms that were yielded from the French
Revolution were preserved and solidified, through the ratification and drafting
of the Napoleonic Code, previously the Civil Code during the Revolution.

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Another approach that Napoleon
had taken from the French Revolution was the educational program. Under the Constitution
of 1799 during the Revolution, the schooling system was such so that the
national government would fund the accommodation of primary school teachers, as
well as the introduction of three ranks of education: primary, secondary and
higher education. Napoleon had continued with this system under his reign,
whilst also later establishing state schools by the Imperial University in
1808, an anticipated project during the French Revolution which was never
completed. Through this, Napoleon had continued with the values of the French
Revolution which were already present, as well as embodying this through his
new policies, inspired by the proposals of the Revolution. Within the
university, the education consisted of “fidelity to the Emperor, the imperial
monarchy and the Napoleonic dynasty” (Holtman, 1967), thus exemplifying
the consistent dedication to the French Revolution and its history within
Napoleon’s regime. Robert B. Holtman (Holtman, 1967) claims that the education system was a
success for Napoleon as he was able train and educate people in support of the
government, as “functionaries”. As a result, those who graduated from higher
education would be readily available for the government, and were accustomed to
the values and ideals of the French Revolution inspired regime under Napoleon.
On account of the French Revolution, Napoleon has demonstrated his value for
this period of time through the structure of the education system, as well as
its teachings and functions.


On the other hand, some may argue
that Napoleon’s regime had overturned the principles of the French Revolution,
such as the attainments that women had achieved during this period. During the
Revolution, although women were not seen as equal to men, they were given
rights such as the ability to divorce their husbands and were able to inherit
property. As well as this, there was parity between males and females in terms
of education. Under Napoleon’s rule however, these principles were negated and
women’s rights were further condensed, deviating from the condition of women
during the French Revolution. The Civil Code under Napoleon, later known as the
Napoleonic Code, is example of the repression that women were faced with during
the Napoleonic era, as they were not considered within the characterisation of
citizenship. Joan B. Landes (Landes, 1988) argues that women under Napoleon were
“reduced to the status of a legal caste”, as the value of women in society was
reduced to being merely a means of property for men, at a time where men’s
liberty was advancing. The status of women had regressed from its previous
minor accomplishments during the Revolution, leaving them with less of an
identity and importance than beforehand. Consequently, this has left people
questioning whether Napoleon’s reign did in fact promote the values of the
Revolution, seeing he failed to preserve the rights that women possessed.


Furthermore, it could be argued
that Napoleon failed to maintain the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, founded
during the French Revolution in 1970. This constitution was a law that meant
the Catholic Church was being relegated to the French government, and thus was
under the control of the state. This was done in order to submit a new
administrative and regulate the running of the Catholic Church, such as the
reduction of bishops. Napoleon terminated this law under his rule by the
signing of the Concordat of 1801, an agreement with the Catholic Church that released
them from the control of the government and the reforms made. In this
agreement, Napoleon had the ability to elect bishops and would finance the
clergy, giving him partial authority over the Catholic Church. However, in
essence the control of the church was

now greatly reduced than that
under the Civil Constitution of the Clergy during the Revolution, leaving yet
another feature unvalued during the Napoleonic era. Alfred Cobban (Cobann, 1963) argues that the
public was unpleased with Napoleon’s decision after the realisation that they
had “accepted a master too fond of vulgar pleasures, and too far below their
own standard of faith and of talent”, demonstrating an abundant lack of support
for Napoleon following his sanctioning of the Concordat. This is due to
Napoleon’s refusal of several requests made by the Catholic party, such as the
conquest of clauses in the Concordat, thus triggering a backlash from the
people. As a result of this, Napoleon was disapproved by the public, exhibiting
that the signing of the Concordat weakened his reign and influence. The values
of the French Revolution were valued within society, revealed by the publics
distaste for the ridding of the clergy, and therefore a French Revolution
influenced regime is in the interest of the state. Napoleon failed to promote
the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, which therefore creates doubt about
whether his reign was indeed influenced by the Revolution.


Lastly, Napoleon had also
abandoned the abolition of slavery, which was confirmed during the French
Revolution. In 1794, the newly-founded government had eradicated slavery in the
colonies, seeing as it was already abolished in France, thus bringing an end to
the use of slavery as a whole. However, in 1802, Napoleon’s initiative was to
restore the French foreign empire, thus passing the Law of 20 May 1802,
re-establishing slavery in French colonies in the Caribbean. This led to a
racial war with Haiti, where they refused to uphold the reintroduction of
slavery, culminating in the eviction of France. This law initiated by Napoleon
led to violence and the loss of harmony within international relations, and was
therefore a loss in his political success. Seymour Drescher (Drescher, 1991) argues that the Napoleonic era was
“heir to a complex history that linked French overseas initiatives to
revolutionary violence, bloody restorations, military debacles, and colonial
economic disaster”, reasoning that the restoration of slavery was a decision
that led to bloodshed and disaster. This also demonstrates that there were a
number of detrimental consequences that Napoleon was dealt with following the
reintroduction of slavery; all things considered, the Law of 20 May 1802 was a
poor decision on Napoleon’s behalf. This weakened Napoleon’s reign as he faced
repercussion from foreign nations, thus losing a valuable international
relationship, as well as triggering a racial war. The abolition of slavery
during the French Revolution was one which celebrated the liberty and increased
freedom of the state and people, which was revoked by Napoleon, who inspired
oppression once again into society. This therefore was a demotion of the values
of the French Revolution in the hands of Napoleon, as he failed to endorse the
idea of liberty which was a key feature of the Revolution, and the end of
slavery which a crucial factor in the advancement of society.


In conclusion, the French
Revolution was a period of time with many crucial reforms that shaped
Napoleon’s reign. In the Napoleonic era, the Constitution of 1799 and the Civil
Code, were key features of the French Revolution that were maintained
throughout Napoleon’s political agenda, which shaped his position in ruling the
state and the people of France. The arrangement of the education system in France
was another aspect that Napoleon had adopted, as he had sectioned the system
accordingly to that of the Revolution. He had further developed proposals that
were made during the French Revolution but not carried out, such as the
Imperial University in 1808, thus implementing new accents of the Revolution
into his regime also. However, Napoleon has also revoked features of the
Revolution under his power, such as the attainments that women had achieved. This
is demonstrated through the retraction of women’s right to divorce and to
inherit property, therefore lessening the power than women had pre-Napoleon. He
had also failed to include women in the notion of citizenship in the Civil
Code, in which he reduced them to the property of men, and therefore failed to
preserve the rights that women had achieved in the Revolution. On top of this,
Napoleon had terminated the Civil Constitution of the Clergy by signing the
Concordat, releasing the Church from the control of the government, another
feature from the French Revolution that was overturned under Napoleon. The renewal
of slavery was another notion that Napoleon had neglected from the Revolution,
as this was abolished in 1794, thus again demoting a value of the Revolution.
Although, Napoleon had preserved some of the attributes of the French
Revolution, he had overturned a majority of the values which promoted liberty
and freedom in society and the state, a key feature of the Revolution. In
essence, Napoleon therefore did not promote the key features of the French Revolution,
as he failed to endorse liberation in society, yet promoted oppression instead.





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