Napoleon’s Failure to Dominate Europe

In France, Napoleon used his power to make many reforms in all aspects of life. He incorporated a national bank, public schools, and constructed new roads. With these changes, he also enforced the Concordat of 1801 and the Napoleonic Codes of Law. While the Concordat focused mainly on Church affairs, the Code Napoleon covered a broad spectrum of new ideas and reforms.

Code Napoleon made France “more peaceful at home than it had been for many years,” (Modern Times 58) and it was one of his “most lasting domestic achievements.” (World History 641) It was made to have one code of laws for all of France, instead of many separate legal systems. The Civil Code recognized each individual’s equality and privileges. Some other changes included the supporting of religious toleration, right of divorce, and civil marriage. Private property, inheritance, and business laws were affected as well. Promotion for civil and military offices was based on ability only. The new laws basically applied to the bourgeoisie and landowning peasants, so the clergy and nobles did not benefit much from this act. Also, the Civil Code limited some of the rights of women. Divorce was made more difficult for them, and after marriage, the husband had control of their property. “In lawsuits, they were treated as minors, and their testimony was regarded as less reliable than that of men.” (World History 641) Also, there were “limitations on personal freedom” such as “press censorship, the use of spies, and the imprisonment of extremists.” (Modern Times 58) “In his domestic policies…Napoleon both destroyed and preserved aspects of the revolution. Even so, it appears that “for the time being,” Napoleon kept the people “fairly well satisfied.” (Modern Times 58)

Napoleon accomplished much during his era. “The name Napoleon recalls to mind great battles won, mighty countries humbled, and the near establishment of a union of all Europe under the supreme leadership of Napoleonic France.” (Modern Times 59) But “as others had discovered before him…no nation can rule Europe for long.” (The World in 1800 p89) Later came his ultimate downfall- the Russian Campaign in 1812.

While the Continental System was enforced, Russia was an ally of France, so Napoleon expected Russia to support the “anti-British blockade policy.” (Modern Times 62) Later, when he found that Alexander I of Russia “opened Russian ports to British commerce,” (Modern Times 65) Napoleon wanted to punish him because other countries might follow Russia’s act. He brought an army of six hundred thousand men to Russia with limited supplies, expecting a simple victory for himself. However, the invasion failed due to the lack of food, the cold weather, and the fact that the impossibly large army never had a chance to face the Russian one. The Russians knew that they could not beat an army of that size, so they “simply retreated before them, destroying everything as they went.” (Modern Times 66) Russians burned their own land to prevent the army from finding food. After Napoleon arrived at Moscow, he found that a fire had eradicated the whole city. He remained there for a few weeks, hoping the Russians would surrender, but then he retreated due to the food shortage and cold. When he got out of Russia, only one sixth of his army remained.

This defeat led to the War of Liberation, Napoleon’s true downfall. After he returned to France, Napoleon could not replace his former troops or build a large enough army in time to beat the great alliance that Britain, Austria, Russia, and Prussia had formed, which finally defeated him. Napoleon was forced to abdicate his throne and live on the Island of Elba, where although he escaped, he never again returned to full power. He was later again defeated and exiled to the Island of Saint Helena as “a prisoner until his death in 1821.” (Modern Times 66)

All great rulers have successful and unsuccessful times. Although Napoleon proved himself to be a strong ruler, almost controlling all of Europe, he is also seen as the one who failed on his grand mission. Napoleon’s downfall was partially due to his domestic and foreign policy. “The system adopted by Napoleon…must be counted among the causes of his fall.” (The World in 1800 p89) Also, his ambitions and confidence were too high. “Had the emperor been more reasonable, he might have stayed on the throne.” (The World in 1800 p89) Napoleon may have failed to dominate Europe, but he nevertheless left a mark on the French Revolution and European history.

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