Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Napoleon: Good or Bad Leader?

A photo of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)

Napoleon Bonaparte Overview

Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15th, 1769 on the Mediterranean Island of Corsica. He was sent to a military academy at the age of nine. After graduating from this school in Paris, he became a second left tenant in the Artillery, and the French Revolution made him more prominent. Napoleon ended up conquering many different countries and gained a lot of military success. The countries he conquered included Italy, France, Belgium, Egypt, Austria, Australia, Spain, and Germany. In November 1799, Napoleon was part of a group that successfully overthrew the French Directory. After seizing political power in France, he crowned himself emperor in 1804. Napoleon was finally defeated in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium. His forces were defeated by the British and Prussians. He was exiled to a remote island called Elba, where he died at age 51 in 1821. Napoleon is thought of as amazing to some, but horrible to others. Today, we will discover what experts think about Bonaparte's historical career, and the impact he had on both France and the world.

A full overview on Napoleon's life.

Napoleon's Impact: Political, Economic, Social

Napoleon had a huge impact on France itself, and the world. He also had huge social, political and economic impacts that changed how people lived their lives. In terms of political issues, Napoleon had both a positive and negative impact, depending on who is being affected. The political impact was positive for poorer, lower class citizens. This is because he created meritocracy. Meritocracy made it possible to get a job without needing family connections. Also, serfdom was abolished. However, his impact was negative for the kings of the countries he took over. The king had to follow the Napoleonic Code and follow his rules, whether they liked it or not. His political impact was also negative for churches, because church political power was significantly reduced. Now, onto his economic impact. For the most part, it was positive. Napoleon established the Bank of France and balanced the budget, encouraged growth of industry, controlled prices so more people had access to higher quality items, and built canals to encourage trade. However, his impact was negative for Italy because he stole a lot of money and wealth from them. Onto the last category of social impact. Napoleon's social impact was positive. He created meritocracy, which eliminated the importance of titles and abolished serfdom nobility, which made it possible for more citizens to have right to property and access to education. All of this tells me that Napoleon had mostly positive impacts on the lower classes, whereas the nobility would probably prefer to not have him in power.

Madame de Staël vs. Marshal Michel Vey

Madame de Staël and Marshal Michel Vey had certain views on Napoleon. Very different views. We will start off by looking at what de Staël had to say about Napoleon as a ruler. She claims that he liked to "persuade men by force and by cunning", and he "considers all else to be stupidity or folly". This quote tells me right away that she clearly did not think of Napoleon as a good and smart ruler. She went on to say that his system included intruding daily upon France's liberty and Europe's independence. Her opinion made it clear that she was a noble, and she thinks Napoleon is evil. Nobility didn't benefit from Napoleon's ruling, so this is predictable for a noble to think of him like this. Marshal Michel Ney had a totally different opinion than de Staël. He says that Napoleon has the right to rule over "our beautiful country", referring to France. He goes on to say that Napoleon is an august emperor, meaning a respected/impressive ruler. This piece of information given to us tells us that Napoleon impacted Marshal Michel Ney in a good way, and he clearly likes Napoleon more. He was a soldier to Napoleon, and he realized while working how much of a great leader Napoleon was.

"While we do not hesitate to speak with proper severity of Napoleon's reckless course in 1813 and 1814, of his obstinate adherence to a military solution of the difficulties which encompassed his Empire, of his indifference as a soldier to the evils of war, of his forgetfulness as soldier of his duties as a sovereign, -- while we recognize these defects and faults, let us be equally frank in acknowledging his great qualities, -- his untiring industry, his devotion to the public service, his enlightened views of government and legislation, his humanity."

-John C. Ropes, The First Napoleon: A Sketch, Political and Military 

The quote above was included in the reading about historians who spent most of their lives researching Napoleon, called The Lost Voices of Napoleonic HistoriansI thought this quote was important to include because it shows more of what people thought of when they heard Napoleon's name, as well as the impact he had on the world. The author who wrote this pointed out that so many people easily point fingers at Napoleon for his bad aspects. Ropes wants people to rather note that he had plenty of good to offer, including his devotion to public service and his humanity. This quote shows that people could see what made Napoleon both a good and bad leader, even though most people just focused on the bad parts. 

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