Pros and Cons Napoleon Bonaparte`s Rule

Prosand Cons Napoleon Bonaparte’s Rule



NapoleonBonaparte is one of the most recognizable historical figures inFrance an around the world. He was a military and political leader inFrance and is best known for his role in the French revolution.Bonaparte was born on 15thAugust 1769 in the island of Corsica to a middle class family. Heattended a military school and joined the military very early at theage of 16. He was quickly promoted and was made commander of theFrench army in Italy. One of his first major achievements as acommander was committing Austria and its allies to a peace treaty. He also led a military expedition to Egypt in 1798 and conquered theOttoman Province in what came to be known as the Battle of thePyramids. In 1799, he launched a coup that installed him as the FirstConsulate. In 1804, Bonaparte, in his dictatorial tendencies, pressedthe senate to declare him as the emperor of France (Emsly 24). Hisrule, which lasted from 1804 to 1815, had its advantages anddisadvantages to France, Europe and the rest of the world.

Advantagesof his rule

Onceappointed as the emperor, Bonaparte’s first major achievement wascreating the Napoleonic civil code. This code was developed afterintensive debate and planning that took place over four years. Thecode harmonized a number of laws that were in place in differentregions of the empire. For instance, prior to the revolution, theFrench law was divided into two systems customary law and writtenlaw largely based on the Roman law. The customary law (droitcoutumier)was in force in north of France while the written law (droitécrit)was in force in the south. The Napoleonic code borrowed from thesecodes to put in place a law that was applicable in the whole ofFrance. Furthermore, the civil code offered the first rational lawson property, colonial affairs, family and individual rights (Conner41).

Thecode further strengthened governance by separating state and theChurch. The code eliminated religious crimes from the code. This isline with what Napoleon believed in which is evident in hisleadership even before he was declared emperor. For instance, duringthe military campaign in Egypt, Bonaparte pardoned the sheiks andimams heading the Mosques in Egypt but beheaded the rebels in thecountry (Emsly 48). Additionally, the man, who avidly comparedhimself to Julius Caesar, showed respect to Islamic artifacts andhistoric sites while in Egypt as a show of respect and recognition ofother religions. The Napoleonic code was thus able toinstitutionalize these values in the constitution that recognizedreligious freedom and separated the state and the church. Previously,the Catholic Church and the state of France were both concerned withthe conduct of the emperor and the church had a great influence instate affairs.

Thecode set the basis for other legal codes and modern dayconstitutions. First of all, the code was formulated through a dueprocess. The due process requires that the legal rights owed topersons and entities to who the constitution will apply are fairlyrepresented in the debate process to ensure that fundamentalfairness, justice, and liberty are guaranteed. The code wasformulated through extensive public debates through which differentstakeholders presented their views for consideration. Today, variouscountries borrow from this process to formulate their constitutions.

TheNapoleon rule oversaw reorganization and modernization of themilitary. The emperor engraved meritocracy in the military ensuringthat personnel were promoted based on merits. Napoleon also instilleda stronger respect for artillery in the military as opposed to numberof soldiers. This also meant a change in military tactics whereinstead of relying on the infantry to wear away enemy defenses, theheavy artillery would pound enemy lines directly (Conner 102).

Suchchanges saw reforms in military tactics. The most vital tactic wasthe idea of destruction of military installations in enemy territoryduring war. Although such a tactic expanded the war fronts, it hadthe capacity to reduce casualties during war as destroying militaryinstallations had relatively lesser casualties than one-on-onemilitary confrontations in battleground. This approach was widelyemployed during the First and Second World War where air bombardmentsin both wars from either of the warring sides targeted militaryinstallations and infrastructure such as important bridges, seaportsand airports as opposed to killing of troops. The war thus took todisabling the war machinery as opposed to troops. Various warfareexperts and military strategists such as Antoine-Henri Jomini praisedNapoleon’s methods and even applied them in their militaryoperations (Emsly 176).

Napoleonmade France victorious over her enemies. He did this by raising amilitary of 150 000 strong men and injecting new military strategies.Reorganizing the military also ensured high level of discipline andefficiency were instilled. These tactics worked well against foreigninvasions and helped protect the French integrity and also expand itsinfluence in Europe. For instance, in 1809, Austrians launched anattack into France which Napoleon defended and consequently dissolvedthe fifth coalition and expanded the French Territory (Conner 69).Consolidation of Europe under the French rule created relative peacein the continent. Nonetheless, his rule was not without isdisadvantages to the people of France and Europe in general.


Napoleonexploited the church to glorify himself, more so than God. Althoughthe emperor was categorical in separating the church and state, hewent ahead to turn Christian festivals into state festivals. Theyincluded the Ascension Day, All Saints day, and Christmas. Inexchange, the Church was also to accept two state festivals, July 14and December 2, the anniversary of the coronation and the victory ofAusterlitz, and recognize them as Church festivals. As if that wasnot enough, Napoleon declared himself a Saint. He did this bytargeting the feast of St. Louis, the patron saint of every king from1610 to 1792, which was celebrated on August 15 every year andrenamed the feast as the feast of St. Napoleon and declared himselfas anointed by God (Conner 47). Accordingly, good Christians wererequired to love him and pay taxes which almost turned Catholicisminto worshipping him.

Asfor women and illegitimate children, the Napoleon era disadvantagedthem. The Napoleonic code that harmonized all laws used in Francedeprived women of any individual rights, and reduced the rights ofillegitimate children. This is in spite of the code offering moredemocratic space that the French people fought for during revolution.Nonetheless, the code was heavily influenced by the French culturalideals and the existing sexism that treated women as lesser than men(Dywer 53). Women were subservient to men and were perceived asproperty to be owned by their husbands. All these ideals wererespected and observed by the revolutionaries without complaint asthey espoused their social and cultural values which their deemedsuperior to others.

Consequently,the French under Napoleon rule believed they had a right to invadeand control other nations and impose on their culture. The warsresulted into numerous war casualties and also affected the Frencheconomy negatively. For instance, Napoleon in his pursuit to expandthe French territory waged an economic war against Britain. Dubbedthe ‘continental system’, the economic war rallied other Europeannations to boycott trade with Britain (Dwyer 91). This did not onlyhurt Britain but also France and other European nations that hinderedto the call for boycott. Portugal did not comply with the continentalsystem and Napoleon planned to invade the country. He sought thesupport of Spain but when the Spanish refused, he also attacked themalongside a battalion of British soldiers sent to support them. Heinstalled his brother, Joseph, as King of Spain which angered manySpaniards. As a result, nationalist revolts broke out in Spain whichtriggered other revolts in other countries such as Austria thatresulted into the collapse of French empire and Napoleon’s reign asruthless dictator (ibid).


NapoleonBonaparte’s reign in France not only affected the French people butnearly all European countries and their people. His legacy inmilitary strategies still lives on as they continue to be studied inlearning institutions. It is also through these wars that he wreckedhavoc in Europe politically and economically. Nonetheless, hisgreatest legacy during his reign is the Napoleonic civil code. Thiscivil code formed the basis of today’s modern constitutions. Itsaccession and formation, though largely informed by Napoleon’sunderstanding of the law, demonstrated the right due process informing laws to govern people freely.


Conner,Suzanne. TheAge of Napoleon.New York: Greenwood Publishing. 2004. Print.

Dywer,Phillip. Napoleonand Europe.New York: Routledge. 2014. Print.

Emsley,Clive. Napoleonic Europe. New York: Routledge. 2014. Print.