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Did Napoleon Betray The Revolution Essay

In order to investigate the claim that Napoleon betrayed the revolution , it has to be determined what is the French revolution? And what are the revolutionary ideals that Napoleon allegedly betrayed? If Napoleon betrayed the Revolution then he betrayed the ideals of Liberty, equality and fraternity. However if Napoleon did not betray the revolution, he consolidated the revolutionary ideals.

The only way of determining whether Napoleon consolidated or betrayed the revolution is to explore his actions such as his military success, Dictatorship and social reforms. The difficulty of this analysis is that Napoleons motives for his actions determine whether he consolidated or betrayed the Revolution.

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If Napoleon betrayed the revolution, then he betrayed the ideals of Liberty, equality and fraternity. For it is ideals rather than realities that Napoleon allegedly betrayed. The reality of the French revolution is 8 periods of constant change and successions of policies and leaders, with each new leader and party brining amendments to the revolution. Napoleon s coupd e`tat of 18 brumaire was an insurance against both Jacobin revolution and Royalist restoration. The French people expected Napoleon to bring back peace, order and to consolidate the political and social conquests of the Revolution. Napoleon considered these conquests to be the sacred rights of property, equality and liberty.

If Napoleon gained power with the promise of upholding the principles of the French Revolution how did he betray the revolution? Many historians argue that Napoleon was an effective but ambitious leader. This ambition led to a dictatorship, which they consider Napoleon’s ultimate betrayal.

However other Historians such as Tombs and Furet see Napoleon s regime as the most convincing though a temporary solution to the political and ideological problems bequeathed by the Revolution. Napoleons’ dictatorship can also be considered a natural progression from the authoritarian nature of the French revolution. One idea is that is undebatable is – if Napoleon betrayed the French Revolution, this means that his actions, motives and policies were disloyal to the Revolutionary ideals of Liberty, equality and Fraternity.

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Napoleon was an outstanding military commander and enjoyed many successful campaigns. Napoleon maintained the Revolutionary system of conscription and encouraged promotion based on ability. However, his motivation for military success was the consolidation of his authority My power is dependant on my glory and my glory on my victories Conquest made me what I am; conquest alone can keep me there. Napoleons’ Military campaigns can be interpreted as either a consolidation or a betrayal of the revolution. Napoleon continued in the Revolutionary tradition of liberating and introducing revolutionary ideals to the territories he claimed for France.

In the areas he conquered Napoleon granted constitutions, introduced law codes, abolished feudalism, created efficient governments and fostered education, science, literature and the arts. However these reforms always failed as Napoleon was always attempting the politically impossible. This did not stop Napoleon from continuing his conquests. Napoleons battles were fought in order to consolidate his dictatorship. His Military success initially consolidated the revolution, but once he turned France into a military dictatorship he betrayed the revolution.

Although Napoleon s military conquests started off based on the ideals of the French Revolution, Napoleon’s relentless quest for personal glory leads to a dictatorship. In Napoleon’s hands the state had become the instrument of dictatorship. The Ultimate betrayal was the institution of a hereditary monarchy. This hereditary monarchy began in Napoleon’s action of crowing himself Emperor and Culminated in his marriage to an Austrian Hapsburg princess the moment his power became hereditary it cut itself off from its source: he embarked upon a course different from that of the Revolution. Napoleon claimed that his motives for marrying an Austrian were to consolidate the Revolution, by allying France with a dangerous neighbour, and defended his actions of crowning himself Emperor and marrying a Hapsburg by declaring democracy establishes sovereignty; aristocracy alone preserves it.

It can be argued that Napoleon’s personal ambition and military conquest was a betrayal of the revolution because it was done to bring personal glory to his dictatorship. However, parts of his dictatorship such as his social reforms were consolidating the revolution. All that Napoleon did solely to satisfy his own thirst for glory and power was swept away in his fall. The conquests disappeared and the Bonaparte s dynasty was outlawed. What endured was the social and administrative structure he put in place to preserve the revolution

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Napoleon reorganized the religious, social and economic structures of France. This restructuring entailed Napoleon amending some revolutionary reforms. Historians who believe that Napoleon betrayed the ideals of the revolution believe that Napoleon’s restoration of the Clergy is evidence of his betrayal. However, Napoleon restored the clergy in order to appease the people and settle relations with Rome. Napoleon instated this reform in 1801 where he reinstated the Clergy and relations with Rome, while making sure that the people who had purchesed confiscated church lands during the revolution were secure in their property. This ended the division caused by the church reforms and confiscation of land performed during the French Revolution.

Napoleons religious reforms can be seen as consolidates rather than betrayal. Historians point to Napoleons reforms of the French bureaucratic service as the ultimate treachery. France had been through years of revolutionary change but it still lacked the administrative structure to implement revolutionary reforms.

Napoleon created a logically organized civil service that was so efficient that most of the world adopted the French administration system Much of it s efficiency came from the fact that position was awarded for skill rather then social status Napoleon’s motto being a career open to all talents, without distinction of birth. However outstanding service within this bureaucratic environment was often rewarded with titles, this looked like the feudalization of France, but in fact, 80% of ennoblements were for military or bureaucratic service. Even so, Napoleon’s aristocratic style of leadership tends to support the idea that his administrative changes and ennoblements were a feudalization of France.

This would suggest that Napoleon betrayed the revolution by resorting to an administrative system similar to the ancien regime. However, Historians such as Georges Lefebvre believe that the Emperor was a man of the Revolution in the sense that he detested feudalism, civil inequality, and religious intolerance. Proving that even though Napoleon s social reforms changed the social structures left by the Revolution. The reforms that Napoleon made were in line with the revolutionary ideals of Liberty equality and Fraternity.

Napoleon needed to consolidate the Revolution in order to establish himself as one of the most powerful leaders in history. It was both advantageous and necessary for Napoleon to employ revolutionary ideals in order to consolidate his military dictatorship. France benefited from these revolutionary ideals and Changes to their social system, which outlived Napoleon’s despotism. Consequently, it can be seen that Napoleon s actions originally consolidated the Revolutionary ideals. However, his motives for consolidating the Revolution was the increase of his personal power. In becoming a Military dictator and restoring France to a hereditary monarchy Napoleon betrayed the ideals of the revolution. When Napoleon Betrayed the Revolution, he lost the justification for his regime and consequently lost all the power he had amassed.

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Broers, Michael Europe Under Napoleon 1799-1815 Arnold, London, 1996

Ellis, Geoffrey Profiles in Power: Napoleon, Longman, New York, 1997

Encyclopaedia Britannica, CD Rom, Standard Edition, 1999

Furet, Francois Napoleon Bonaparte in G, Kates(ed.) The French Revolution: Recent Debates and New Controversies Clarendon Press, Oxford (1997)

Gildea, Robert Barricades and Borders: Europe 1800-1914, Oxford University Press, New York 2nd edn, 1996

Napoleon, Conversation, 1800 Herold, J.Christopher (ed.) The Mind of Napoleon (London,1955), item no.106

Holmberg, Tom The empire between dictatorship and monarchy, 1998

Napoleon to the French Nation, 15 Dec 1799, Howard, John Letters and Documents of Napoleon (London, 1961) p.428.

Lyons, Martyn Napoleon Bonaparte and the Legacy of the French Revolution Macmillan, London, 1994

Schroeder, Paul The Transformation of European Politics 1763-1848 Clarendon Press, Oxford 1994

Tombs, Robert France 1814-1914, Longman, NewYork, 1996

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