Famous Rulers in History Napoleon Bonaparte Part 3

About the famous French Ruler Napoleon Bonaparte, biography and history of his reign and rule.

Famous and Infamous Rulers in History


Rise to Power: Napoleon was a young artillery officer on the move, determined to rise as high and as fast as conditions allowed. His big break came in 1793, when his brilliant campaign to capture Toulon, a British naval base in the Mediterranean, caught the eye of superiors. The French command turned to the young military genius two years later when an angry Parisian mob stormed the gates of a constitutional convention then in progress. Quickly sizing up the situation, Napoleon, who at this point still considered himself more Corsican than French, decided that what the unruly crowd needed was "a whiff of grapeshot." Although the "whiff" proved lethal to about 100 protesters, the mob dispersed quickly enough to impress Napoleon's military superiors. As reward he was given command of the army then fighting against Italy. Marshaling his forces at once, Napoleon easily conquered the land of his Corsican ancestors. From there, he wheeled northeast and intimidated Austria into signing a pro-French treaty. Then it was on to Egypt to strike his first blow against the British Empire. Leaving his army in North Africa, Napoleon sneaked back to Paris with a handful of his most trusted lieutenants, recruited key government personnel, and on Nov. 9, 1799, overthrew the ruling government, the Directory, in a lightning coup. The drama and pace of it all thrilled the French people. Their new leader had just turned 30.

In Power: Napoleon's immediate goal was to restore law and order and to consolidate his power in a way that would win approval of the French people. He dispatched military squads to patrol the streets and crack down on looters and other criminals. He devised a new constitution, which promised to uphold the "sacred rights of property, equality, and liberty." The document went to great lengths to disguise just how much power actually flowed to the emerging ruler. On paper, the people, i.e., adult French males, would vote for legislators. But from the pool of those elected, a Napoleon-dominated senate was to choose the membership of the Tribunate and the Legislature. To dilute the popular will still further, the Tribunate was authorized merely to discuss legislation drafted by Napoleon's hand-picked Council of State. The Legislature was then free to vote bills up or down, but could neither debate nor amend the measures. Given a vote of confidence in referendum, Napoleon proceeded to put his stamp on virtually every aspect of French life. He codified the amorphous body of civil law, modernized tax collection, created the Bank of France, revamped education, and signed a concordat with the pope, which, while making Catholicism the official state religion, also forced the clergy to swear an allegiance to the state. He was crowned emperor in Paris on Dec. 2, 1804.

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