Napoleon’s Foreign and Domestic Achievements

Last Updated: 20 Jun 2022
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In 1797, Napoleon Bonaparte became first consul after overthrowing the Directory and establishing the Consultate. He had many achievements for France under educational, financial, administrative, legal and religious reforms. However, these achievements are often exaggerated. Napoleon was indeed the 'heir" of the revolution as he completed much of the work that the revolution had started, such as the creation of a Civil Code and the reforming of the education system. Despite this, he also destroyed much of the revolution"s work. He ignored and betrayed some of the revolution"s beliefs and much of his achievements were incomplete.

Napoleon"s achievements in Europe were mainly for his own purposes – he wanted to enhance his prestige and make France a great nation. He appears to have had little interest in helping the European people. Napoleon, although his main achievements centered on areas such as administration, had other remarkable, although minor, achievements in France. He improved the appearance of French cities such as Paris by building bridges and canals and by planting trees at the sides of roads to protect them from the sun. This aided the beauty of Paris as it is today. Napoleon also reformed the tax system, which meant that no one was tax exempt.

One particular achievement, which may rank on the same level of importance as the Napoleonic code, but appears to be often overlooked in textbooks, is Napoleon"s founding of a national education system from primary to university. The focus of his attention was secondary schools, of which he opened more. Higher education also became more available in major cities. Napoleon spent more money on education than anything else during his time in power. However, Napoleon was somewhat inefficient in this achievement. The educational system discriminated against females. Napoleon saw education as being "not suitable" for girls.

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Female students were to learn the very basics of education – how to read and write, and also how to do traditional female work such as nursing and embroidering. Pupils had little choice over their career – most were forced into a military career. What is considered to be Napoleon"s most significant achievement for France was his establishment of the 'Napoleonic Code". This was the codifying of all France"s civil, commercial and criminal law. This marked a trend to centralize and organize power on a national level. This code was successful as it formed the basis of many European legal systems.

This 'code" was requested in many grievances, which were sent to Louis XVI and was demanded by the revolutionaries". Thus Napoleon appeared to be truly the "heir of the revolution" as he had so claimed. The code took into account issues that the revolution had stood for, such as equality before the law and freedom of religion. This Civil code also gave equal inheritance to all offspring should a parent die. Marriage became a civil rather than a religious act. Napoleon stopped a proposal for girls to marry at thirteen and for boys to marry at fifteen. Instead, he increased the marital age to eighteen for girls and twenty for boys.

The civil code also permitted divorce. On the other hand, according to John Merriman, this was also an incomplete achievement and did not satisfy everyone. Napoleon went against one of the revolution beliefs – equality for women. A woman"s wage went to her husband and she could also not buy any property without her husband"s or male relatives" permission . Women had to be committed to obedience and fidelity to their husbands. Napoleon further betrayed the opinions of most French people by declaring women were " nothing more than machines for producing children".

He also betrayed the revolution by abolishing titles that the revolutionaries had abolished such as Duke or Prince. Although these titles were not heredity as before, it contrasted the aim of 'equality" in that people were still different in terms of social class. Prior to the French Revolution, France was bankrupt. Napoleon undertook vast financial reforms upon coming to power. The French currency was stabilized and was the most stable in Europe until after World War 1. In 1802, Napoleon was successful in achieving the balancing of the budget in France.

Taxes came from reasonable sources – taxes were raised on alcohol and tobacco. The major financial reform was Napoleon"s establishment of the National Bank of France. This improved France"s ability to finance wars without the worry of inflation, which had been a problem for most French governments after 1789. Nevertheless, there was still a financial crisis in 1810. Military spending accounted for around forty to sixty percent of national expenditure, leading to an increase in taxation A further achievement by Napoleon was his reforming of the administrative system in France.

The Consulate inherited the Council of State from the revolution. He improved it"s handling of administration and justice issues in France. He used it to help weaken legislative assemblies and ministries. This reform ensured that Ministers were prevented from acquiring their own authority. Local government was practically abolished and prefects were appointed to carry out administration in each French region. Government chose prefects, Mayors and Ministers. The administrative system was Napoleon"s most permanent legacy in France and survived until very recently.

The revolution had started moves towards administrative reform, by abolishing institutions such as the ancient parlements. Napoleon"s role was to complete these reforms. Napoleon also helped to put an end to the conflict with the church, which had existed since the period of the Enlightenment. This is viewed as one of the few achievements which was entirely Napoleon"s – for example, work on the Civil code and the reforming of education had been started by the revolution. In 1801, he signed a concordat with the Catholic Church. Catholicism was recognized as the 'preferred" religion in France, but others were also tolerated.

Napoleon was believed to have had a "profound insight into the importance of religion for the mass of the people". Through this move, it can be argued again that Napoleon was indeed the 'heir" of the revolution as he did not change revolutionary reforms such as holding and selling church property and members of the clergy becoming paid servants of the state. Priests and Bishops had still to be elected and the clergy also had to take oaths of allegiance to the French government. Despite this, there was still some conflict with the church in that it was controlled and supervised by the French government, displeasing the Pope.

The government was given the "power of the police" in all matters concerning religion. Under Napoleon, the French economy also improved. France began to export goods, which had been imported before the French revolution. France"s industries improved with her exports of silk and cotton increasing (2). Under Napoleon, France produced more corn, meat, butter and cheese. However, D. G. Wright claims that French economic progress was in fact "unspectacular" due to France"s "lack of industrial and commercial innovation compared to Britain". Communications was another improvement brought by Napoleon.

Three canals three ports and three roads were built. The roads helped carriages to travel through the Alps, which had previously taken longer due to heavy snow. These roads made communications between France, Italy and Switzerland easier. Napoleon also had many achievements for Europe as well as for France. Napoleon replaced the old order with a contemporary, modern regime. In 1810, France"s boundaries were extended beyond her modern boundaries. France was almost constantly at war between 1792 and 1814. These Napoleonic wars were supposed to free oppressed individuals throughout Europe.

This was true of the wars with Austria and Prussia. France"s boundaries extended when Napoleon went to war against Austria in Italy in 1801, and succeeded in obtaining the north of Italy back in control. Napoleon"s main achievement in Europe was aiding the unification of the German and Italian states. Defeating Austria in 1805 at Austerlitz, and Prussia in 1806 left him free to rearrange the German territory, which these nations lost as a result. Napoleon reorganized the three hundred German states into thirty-nine states and also developed the Confederation of the Rhine, which consisted of sixteen states.

After Napoleon"s defeat at Waterloo in 1815, the forty states remained; therefore Napoleon partly achieved the unification of Germany by breaking down medieval boundaries. Napoleon also restored the Cis-Alpine Republic in 1797 and became its president. In 1805, he called it the Kingdom of Italy. Despite this, H Butterfield argues that Napoleon did not really intend to unite the German and Italian states. He believes that these states were 'open" to control by a foreign nation and that Napoleon seized this opportunity in his bid to make France greater. When Napoleon was defeated, there was a turning back towards the old order.

Many of the achievements and changes that Napoleon gave France and Europe disappeared. The Grand Coalition, consisting of Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia, restored the old French monarchy, which had been abolished by the French revolution. Napoleon betrayed France when he escaped from his prison on the Isle of Elba. In 1814, the Coalition had treated France lightly – she was allowed to keep her frontiers of 1792 (including the land she won in conquest) and was not required to pay for the cost of war. There had been constant warfare for twenty – five years and the French people appeared to be restless for peace.

However, all peace plans ere ruined when Napoleon returned from Elba and started the battle of Waterloo. In the second treaty of Paris (1815), France was treated much more harshly. Her frontiers were restricted to that of 1790 and she had to pay seven hundred million francs – the cost of war. The German Confederation of thirty-nine states remained, but Germany was still divided, ruled by monarchs and still under Austrian presidency. In addition, despite Napoleon"s attempts to give Italy unification, Italy was recognized as no more than a "geographical expression".

In conclusion, it is clear that Napoleon did have many achievements, especially with legal and administrative reforms, which remained long after his defeat. Napoleon established laws, which covered all of France, not just different regions, and also gave all French children the opportunity for education. Napoleon improved the appearance of France and brought France back form bankruptcy. Nevertheless, he does not appear to have been seriously concerned with the beliefs of the revolution – he had hoped that by getting involved, he would gain promotion.

Therefore, he was more concerned with himself than doing anything for France, Europe and their people. This can be proven in this statement given after his victory over Austria in Italy: "I realized that I was a superior being and conceived the Ambition of performing great things". Napoleon"s achievements in Germany and Italy were not for the benefit of these nations, as he himself admitted: " If I conquered other kingdoms, I did so in order that France would be the beneficiary" Napoleon went against the French revolution"s belief in freedom of speech.

He reduced and suppressed newspapers in France and the newspapers that remained were threatened or bribed in to supporting him. It has been claimed that "his genius owes more to propaganda than to deeds". Napoleon did wish to continue revolutionary reforms. Although it can be argued that he did not continue all of its aims, this was because many of the revolution"s goals and believes were impractical: "we must see what was real and politically possible in it"s principles, instead of grasping at their speculative and hypothetical side. After 1815,France lost all of the territory she had acquired in the Napoleonic wars. The monarchy was restored in France and Germany and Italy were still not united. Therefore, Many of Napoleon"s achievements did not last. Napoleon was the 'heir" of the revolution but his achievements are exaggerated because the revolution had already done much of his work for him: "... he found the work already three-quarters done for him".

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Napoleon’s Foreign and Domestic Achievements. (2018, Jun 21). Retrieved from

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