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Napoleon Bonaparte, The True Son of the French Revolution

This is written in the form of an opening statement for a mock trial. We tried Napoleon as either contradictory of the French Revolution, or as the heir of the French Revolution. I chose to defend Napoleon.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I stand before you today to defend a man who brought stability to his people in a time of chaos. Napoleon Bonaparte most certainly did not want to return France to the ancient regime, but instead came to power promising to uphold both revolutionary principles and much-needed social order. Since 1789, France experienced considerable instability.

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The outbreak of an all-European war against France in 1792 resulted in a reign of terror and a dictatorship by radical moralists lead by Robespierre. There were so many conflicts of interest in regard to different government practices and unpredictable wars. By 1795, radical patriotism wore itself out and France was administratively in chaos. It was lacking the foundation that was essential in order to institutionalize the triumphs of the revolution. That is until Napoleon drew up his own administrative framework.

Napoleon Bonaparte answered the call of duty with military precision. Napoleon expanded French borders to an extent unprecedented by any other French ruler before him and distributed the fruits of the French Revolution, namely liberty and equality to all countries that he conquered. In the lists of grievances that had been handed to Louis XVI just prior to the revolution, many had asked that French Laws be uniform. Where Louis had failed to respond, Napoleon acted. The Napoleonic Code, one of Napoleon’s most important and lasting legacies embodied many principles of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution including the abolishment of feudal dues, the expansion of civil liberties, and religious toleration. Napoleon once declared that “The revolution is frozen” and the code was his way of preserving achievements brought about by the revolution. Another main grievance of those involved in the revolution was the lack of advancement within society.

The Bourgeoisie in particular found it difficult to advance their careers due to birth status. Napoleon, upon coming to power, enforced this revolutionary aim of the bourgeoisie. Careers were open to all those with ability, regardless of birth or social status. Napoleon proclaimed in 1816, “Wherever I found talent and courage, I rewarded it”. He backed up this statement by establishing ‘lyceés”. These were secondary schools for boys, where admission was based on ability.

The list of revolutionary grievances went on. Social divides were hindering France from reaping the benefits gained by the revolution. None more so than religious divides. As the revolution had progressed, traditional religions were persecuted, despite the fact that France was primarily a Catholic country. Leaders, such as Robespierre who had set up the Cult of the Supreme Being, had terrorized Catholics. Hostility also remained within the church between those who had supported the revolution and those who had not. Therefore, there was much discontent in France. Many felt that such divisions and terrorism contradicted the ideals of liberty and fraternity. Napoleon was one such person. Signing the Concordat with Pope Pius VII allowed him to reconcile the religious differences that had torn France apart during the revolution.

At the same time, the Concordat ensured religious freedom. It recognized Catholicism as the religion of the majority in France, but it did not make it an “established religion”. The Concordat brought tranquillity to France and therefore allowed Napoleon to solidify some of the changes brought about by the revolution. Many of Napoleon’s policies within France were not regarded as being truly revolutionary, but it must be acknowledged that Napoleon’s main aim within France was to consolidate rather than to advance.

It’s like this: in 1792, France was in shambles, they were struggling to prevent people’s heads from being chopped off just because they thought differently. There was no way that the French could continue their political innovations. Then came Napoleon who picked the country up from on the ground, kicked it in the nuts and said “This is what we’re gonna do if you want to come out of this alive.” The prosecution team will call him a plague, claiming that his charismatic and noble leadership was a bad thing. To that, we say that if we could go back in time and prevent Napoleon’s rise to power, then we’d find humour in France’s attempts to stabilize and reform at the same time. There’s no doubt that chaos would ensue and the French Revolution would be forever known as a failed European political experiment.

They will also go as far as to say that he was an imperialist. To that, I cite the Declaration of Independence, the most celebrated document of the Enlightenment. The Declaration of Independence makes it crystal clear that any government that carries out “a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” What this political mumbo-jumbo means is, in a country like Spain where feudal dues were an integral part of society, Napoleon stepped in to eliminate such indignities as the new emperor of Europe.

As Rousseau would have put it, Napoleon was acting in the best interest of the general will of Spain, and for that matter, the rest of Europe as well. Being a prosecutor, it’s easy to attack such a controversial figure by highlighting his faults. But in this case, it’s difficult to harp on Napoleon’s questionable rule because of what of the good that came from it. The ends justify the means, and through his actions, it’s easy to see why people regard Napoleon as a true son of the Revolution.

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Napoleon Bonaparte, The True Son of the French Revolution. (2021, Feb 18). Retrieved June 19, 2021, from