Unit 21 -- Revolution in Politics: Napoleon


Two Major Political Revolutions in the 18th Century



21.3  The Rise of Napoleon As Emperor of France and the Napoleonic Wars with Europe 1799-1815


France went to war against every major nation in Europe from 1799 until 1815. Napoleon’s armies invaded and conquered most of Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, and Bohemia.


Seven major coalitions of European nations formed between 1798 and 1815 to oppose Napoleon’s invasion of Europe.


During 1798-1801 the War of the Second Coalition was fought. Britain, Austria,and Russia join against France. Napoleon defeated the Coalition and the treaty of Amiens was signed in 1802. It was signed by France, Spain, the Batavian Republic, and Great Britain. Britain was to give up most of the areas won in the wars and France was to leave Naples and restore Egypt to the Ottoman Empire. Because of this great victory, in 1802 Napoleon was granted the title, Consul, for life.


After the War of the Second Coalition Great Britain stood alone against France and lived under the constant threat of invasion by a rapidly developing French navy. The British had a large contingency of ships off the coast of Portugal. Napoleon sent his new ships in pursuit of the British, with the plan to annihilate the British navy and thereby to make it easier for his troops to invade England. However, at the Battle of Trafalgar, the British defeated a combined fleet of French and Spanish ships in October 1805, and destroyed most of the French fleet. Plans to invade England were therefore scuttled.


In 1803-1806 the French armies fought against the Third Coalition known as the Triple Alliance , comprised of Britain, Russia, and Austria. Again the French were triumphant. An entire Austrian army was first destroyed at Ulm, and the combined Austrian-Russian army was defeated in December 1805 at the famed Battle of Austerlitz, considered to be one of the most brilliantly led battles in history. Austria and France signed a peace treaty, but neither Britain nor Russia did so. The treaty gave to France all of Austria’s lands in Bavaria and Italy and brought the end to the 1,000 year old Holy Roman Empire. Napoleon was crowned King of Italy in May 1806.


In 1806 Napoleon replaced the Holy Roman Empire with a new entity, the Confederation of the Rhine. Almost all of the German states joined the Confederation except for Prussia and Austria, although Austria was now under French governance.


A Russian fear that Napoleon would next invade Central Europe led to the War of the Fourth Coalition. In 1806 Russia, Prussia, Great Britain, Sweden, and Saxony joined in war A Russian fear that Napoleon would next invade Central Europe led to the War of the Fourth Coalition. In 1806 Russia, Prussia, Great Britain, Sweden, and Saxony joined in war against France.


Again France prevailed. The Prussian army was destroyed in a sudden invasion and Russia was forced to ask for peace and was compelled to join the Continental System, an umbrella of economic, trade, and judicial control that France imposed on Europe. The Continental System was essentially a naval blockade against Great Britain that sought to block all European trade with England and thus to bring England to its knees. (See Map A above of Napoleon’s conquests 1810.)


England was an important financial and military opponent of Napoleon and was his major obstacle to total European domination. He did not have the naval capacity to invade England. Therefore he resorted to economic strategies by forbidding all trade with Great Britain. England, meanwhile, used her superior navy to blockade the French coasts from all shipping. Both nations suffered deep economic loss as did most of Europe. The French ship building industry and rope manufacturing were severely harmed by the British blockade.


Imposing the Napoleonic Code (1804)


Napoleon imposed a new system of law within France and throughout Europe. In France the many provinces previously operated under their own laws. They were now under Napoleon unified. Traditional forms of law practiced in the various European regions were discarded and the Napoleonic Code enforced. (See Map B below)


The Napoleonic Code had as its foundations in the ancient Roman Law. It disregarded
all previous laws and prior legal decisions. Judges were appointed throughout Europe. Essential laws were written and distributed throughout Europe.


The Napoleonic Code was a form of Civil Law. In a legal system based upon civil law, the laws of the land are written for everyone to see. Judges make decisions based upon a person’s compliance with that law and imposes a sentence determined by that law. The judges are not free to rewrite the law, interpret the law, or change the consequences of breaking that law. Civil law provides for a more stable system. It does not, however, make room for interpreting the law and what the consequences should be based upon (1) circumstances, (2) what prior courts decided in similar cases, or (3) what a jury decides.


The application of the Code was simple: it was a written set of laws--you either obeyed them or you did not. If you broke the law, the judges at the time of your trial determined the penalty. There was no habeas corpus, no jury of peers, no legal defense counsel, and no appeal. The principle was simple:  a person was considered to be guilty unless proven innocent.


Civil Law has remained in force in many parts of Europe, except for those areas which formerly were part of the British Empire. In those areas English Common Law is still the basis for the legal system (Ireland, England, India, Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand). (See Map C below)


English Common Law, on the other hand, is based upon case law
or decisions made by courts in prior times who dealt with similar situations. Whatever decisions they made at that time bear heavily upon what is decided in a present case. (Map above shows the type of legal system practiced by the nations of the world: Red=English Common Law; Blue=Civil Law; Yellow=Islamic; Other=native or aboriginal law)


In Common Law courts determine what part of a body of law or a constitution applies to a particular situation, event, behavior, crime. If a case in the present falls within those guidelines, the courts determine whether the person is guilty or not guilty, using juries of peers to make that determination. If the jury determines that the person is guilty, the judge then gives the jury the guidelines for sentencing within which they must decide.


In Common Law, a prosecuting attorney and a defense attorney makes their cases to the jury. The jury makes a decision of guilty or not guilty. The guilty verdict can only be made if there is nor reasonable doubt of innocence. If the the jury finds the defendant guilty, the judge gives them the guidelines within which they can choose a penalty. The jury chooses the  penalty they believe to be appropriate for that particular case and involving only the evidence brought before them during the trial. Common Law makes room for interpreting the law and what the consequences should be, based upon (1) the circumstances, (2) what prior courts decided in similar cases, but (3) only within the boundaries given to them by the judge.


In English Common Law there is provision for a defense attorney, a jury of peers, the concept of innocent until proven guilty, and the right of appeal to a higher court.


The Louisiana Purchase 1804


Napoleon’s preoccupation with solidifying his power in France, pushing forward his agenda for expanding the empire, exhausting his energies required in warfare with the rest of Europe, and problems with the uprising of African slaves in Haiti, caused Napoleon to agree to sell the Louisiana Territory (see Map C below) to the newly formed United States of America for the ridiculous price of $15 million. When he agreed, the American ambassador had him sign immediately before he changed his mind!


Napoleon believed the sugar industry in Haiti was at the time and would be in the future far more important to France economically than the wild, uncharted wilderness of America.









Invasion of Russia (1812)


Russia in particular suffered great economic loss and reopened trade with Great Britain in 1812. This was the main opportunity that Napoleon was looking for to invade Russia.


By 1812 Napoleon commanded all the armies of continental Europe. He invaded Russia with nearly half a million infantry, 28,000 cavalry and 590 artillery guns. Russia defended with 72,000 regular infantry, 10,000 militia, 17,000 cavalry, 7,000 Cossack cavalry, and 640 artillery.


The Russians knew they were no match for the French in head to head combat and continued to retreat into the interior of Russia, stretching the French supply lines thinner and thinner. By September 1812, having not yet fought one battle with the Russians, Napoleon lost through sickness, lack of food, or desertion nearly two-thirds of his army. 


Yet Napoleon continued his advance all the way to Moscow (see Map A above), arriving at the city in September 1812. But when he reached his prize, he arrived at a burning city that was totally depopulated and all agricultural crops either destroyed or already harvested by the retreating population. There was not even shelter left for his troops to sleep in or to gain warmth in the middle of increasingly cold weather.


In October 1812 Napoleon gave the order to return home, not having accomplished his goal of forcing Czar Alexander to rejoin the Continental System. An early winter had already set in, the Cossack cavalry attacked the troops on their way back to Europe, and by the time Napoleon reached the German border, only 10,000 soldiers remained.


The disastrous invasion of Russia destroyed the mighty French army. They were not prepared nor capable of meeting the next Coalition that quickly formed upon hearing of  the French demise.


The Battle of Leipzig or Battle of the Nations (1813)


During his adventures in Russia a Sixth Coalition, known as the Quadruple Alliance, was formed in1813 by Great Britain, Russia, Prussia, and Austria.


After returning home following the failure in Russia, Napoleon raised a new French army with European allies and attacked Germany in 1813. He was dealt his first major defeat in battle by the Prussians and was unable to enter and seize Berlin. He was forced to retreat across the Elbe River near the city of Leipzig.


At Leipzig Napoleon was faced by approximately 360,000 coalition troops, including the Austrian-Hungarian, Prussian, Russian, and Swedish armies, in what has come to be called the Battle of the Nations, October 16-19, 1813. The Coalition had approximately one million troops east of the Rhine River by 1813. At the Battle of the Nations they assembled 360,000 troops and 1,500 guns.


Napoleon’s army was made up of French, Italian, Polish, and Germans from the Rhine Confederation and numbered about 200,000 troops and 700 guns.  Altogether over 600,000 troops were engaged in the battle, making it the largest single battle in European history until World War II.


The French were defeated by the superior Coalition armies and during their retreat a major bridge was mistakenly blown up by a French solider, greatly impeding the retreat. 30,000 men were cut off and captured in Leipzig. This defeat brought to an end the French military might in Europe. The Quadruple Alliance together with their allies were the victors.


Napoleon lost 40,000 either killed or wounded. Another 15,000 able bodied men were captured along with 21,000 sick or wounded and 350 guns.  The Coalition suffered 64,000 killed or wounded.


Napoleon retreated to France with the Coalition forces in hot pursuit. They invaded France and entered Paris in early 1814. The Coalition forced Napoleon from the French throne and exiled him to the island of Elba near his home island of Corsica.


The Monarchy Returns--Briefly


After the exile of Napoleon, the monarchies of Europe, namely Prussia, Austria, and Russia, used their right as conquerors to re establish the French monarchy, and Louis XVIII, cousin of Louis XVI, took the French throne.


Napoleon’s Return--The Hundred Days


In 1815 Napoleon escaped from Elba, returned to Paris, like a magnet attracted his old comrades in arms, and the French army and public were again ready to follow. He was  restored as Emperor of the Republic.



The Battle of Waterloo (1815)



Napoleon again ruled as emperor of France, but this time for only 100 days.  He marched north and was met by a Seventh Coalition formed by Britain, the Netherlands, Austria, Russia, and the German states of Prussia, and Hanover. The coalition was led by the British Duke of Wellington, and on June 18, 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo near present day Brussels, Belgium, Napoleon and his army was again and for the last time defeated by allied forces under the leadership of two outstanding generals,  General Blucher of Prussia, and the Duke of Wellington from Britain. (Picture above: British victory at Waterloo)


The Monarchy Returns--Again!


This time the Coalition stationed troops in Paris as occupiers, exiled Napoleon under the watch of 10,000 soldiers on the remote island of St. Helena in the mid Atlantic, and restored Louis XVIII to the throne.


Napoleon died on St. Helena on May 18, 1821 after six years of exile. His body was later entombed at Les Invalides in Paris.



Napoleon’s Contributions


  1. His conquests spread nationalism as European countries, formerly divided, united to resist His advances.

  2. Europe gained a sense of identify over against England, Russia, and the Middle East.

  3. He gave to France a sense of glory and created through his European empire France’s highest level of conquest.

  4. He combined important innovative elements that other authoritarian regimes could and did imitate: secret police, propaganda, orchestrating elections to gain achieve his own goals, empower the state use the educational system and religion to indoctrinate the public, and conduct external wars to get the minds of the people off of their problems at home.


Quotations From Napoleon


The true character of Napoleon can be seen in the following quotations.. History shows Napoleon to have been an ego-centric opportunist and power maniac.


“Love is the occupation of the idle man, the distraction of the warrior, the stumbling block of the sovereign.”


“When a king is said to be a kind man, the reign is a failure.”


“Women are mere machines to make children. “


I” like only those people who are useful to me, and only so long s they are useful.”


“The main thing is one’s self.”


“A legislator must know how to take advantage of even the defects of those he wants to govern.”


(From Streams of Civilization, Robert Clause and Richard Pierard, p. 123)


Napoleon’s Reported Late Conversion on St. Helena


On one occasion while exiled on St. Helena Island Napoleon in discussion asked a French nobleman a question. “Who was Jesus Christ.” When the nobleman declined to answer, Napoleon responded:


  1. Well then, I will tell you. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I myself have founded great empires; but upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love, and to this very day millions will die for Him. . . . I think I understand something of human nature; and I tell you, all these were men, and I am a man; none else is like Him: Jesus Christ was more than a man. . . . I have inspired multitudes with such an enthusiastic devotion that they would have died for me . . . but to do this is was necessary that I should be visibly present with the electric influence of my looks, my words, of my voice. When I saw men and spoke to them, I lightened up the flame of self-devotion in their hearts. . . . Christ alone has succeeded in so raising the mind of man toward the unseen, that it becomes insensible to the barriers of time and space. Across a chasm of eighteen hundred years, Jesus Christ makes a demand which is beyond all others difficult to satisfy; He asks for that which a philosopher may often seek in vain at the hands of his friends, or a father of his children, or a bride of her spouse, or a man of his brother. He asks for the human heart; He will have it entirely to Himself. He demands it unconditionally; and forthwith His demand is granted. Wonderful! In defiance of time and space, the soul of man, with all its powers and faculties, becomes an annexation to the empire of Christ. All who sincerely believe in Him, experience that remarkable, supernatural love toward Him. This phenomenon is unaccountable; it is altogether beyond the scope of man's creative powers. Time, the great destroyer, is powerless to extinguish this sacred flame; time can neither exhaust its strength nor put a limit to its range. This is it, which strikes me most; I have often thought of it. This it is which proves to me quite convincingly the Divinity of Jesus Christ.


  2. (From Jesus Among Other Gods, by Ravi Zacharias, W. Publishing Group, Nashville, Tennessee, 2000...quoting from Henry Parry Liddon, Liddon's Bampton Lectures, 1866 [London: Rivingtons, 1869], p. 148)


21.4  Major Peace Treaties Signed by France and the Other European Nations


The Treaty of Paris (May 1814) ended the war between France and the Sixth Coalition. It removed Napoleon from the French throne and exiled him to the island of Elba.


The Treaty called for a conference between the European nations to be held to discuss the future of Europe. This led to the Congress of Vienna (September 1814 to June 1815). The Congress was in session when Napoleon embarked upon his Hundred Days return. It continued through the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and set its final course by June 1815.


Europe had been through three major episodes since the turn of the century. The Holy Roman Empire was disestablished in 1806. The French Revolution concluded in 1798. And the Napoleonic Wars had torn traditional Europe apart at the seams.


Major land grants were given to Prussia, Austria, and Russia, but the Congress was very soft in its handling of France. Territories gained by France between 1799 and 1810 were taken from its control. The desire was to not burden France with large indemnities in order to make the transition back to a constitutional monarchy under Louis XVIII as smooth as possible.


Metternich, Prime Minister of the Austrian Empire, emerged as the leading figure at the Congress. Through his leadership absolutism was restored in much of Europe and maintained the balance of power between the dominant states. But the Congress also did much to restore Europe to peace and tranquility, which lasted for almost fifty years until the Year of Revolutions broke out in 1848. Metternich was the glue that held Europe together, but he held to a hard, unbending absolutism as the only viable form of government.


21.5  What the French Revolution contributed to the whole of Europe


  1. (1)Revolution became one of the world’s oft-used political tools. Revolution seldom occurred prior to the French Revolution.

  2. (2)It provided the model for the Russian Revolution fueled by the economic and political philosophy of Karl Marx.

  3. (3)It emphasized personal freedom and liberty -- freedom from feudalism, serfdom and the absolute rule of monarchs.

  4. (4)A new sense of nationalism was awakened in Europe--pride in one’s country.

  5. (5)A new idea was born: A nation is not a country filled with loyal subjects, but a population of free men living as equal citizens together and freely.                    

  6. (6)The political idea of freely elected parliamentary democracy was created in Europe.

  7. (7)The class of the privilege based upo heredity was demolished.

  8. (8)It led to the downfall of all remaining absolute governments (Prussia, Austria, Italy, Spain, Russia)

  9. (9)A new sense of the legal equality of all people developed.

  10. (10)Standardized weights and measures were adopted, leading to the industrial revolution

  11. (11)The Napoleonic Code developed a civil code of law that was practiced without deviation in every province of France and in all European states.

  12. (12)Advanced was the idea, although not successfully in France during the revolution itself, of a statewide school system.

  13. (13)A new form of government arose in which a constitution replaced the king.


21.6  Harmful effects resulting from the French Revolution


  1. (1)The French economy and French industry were set back a whole generation and lagged behind Germany and Britain.

  2. (2)Human reason was elevated to a level of worship -- the Religion of Reason -- from which France has never recovered. The Paris Cathedral was renamed the Palace of Reason. The Goddess of Reason was enthroned in the Paris Cathedral after all Christian symbols were removed.

  3. (3)Attacks on the Bible and on the Christian Church (both Protestant and Catholic) plunged France into a state of skepticism and humanism which remain more entrenched in France than other European countries.

  4. (4)It replaced the Christian calendar, eliminated all Christian holidays, and created a ten day week to prevent people from attempting to observe Sunday as a holy day.

  5. (5)French citizens were forced, either by mob action or social pressure, to leave the Roman Church, forced priests to marry, and forbade all Christian teachings.

  6. (6)A glimpse of the dignity of mankind was gained but failed to understand the origin of that dignity, substituting the words of the philosophes for the word of God.

  7. (7)It gave to Europe the Napoleonic Code which does not offer the personal guarantees to accused persons as are found in the English Code of Law as practiced in England and the United States.


21.7  What followed in France after the Revolution of 1789 and Napoleon’s defeat in 1815?


After the French Revolution came to an end in 1815 with the defeat of the French army at the Battle of Waterloo, the victors installed Louis XVIII on the restored throne, vacated when Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were executed. The goal of the victors-- Great Britain, Prussia, Austria, Russia, the Netherlands, Italy--was to establish a constitutional monarchy in France.


A succession of three kings began to slip again into absolutism: Louis XVIII (1814-1824); Charles X (1824-1830); Louis-Philippe I (1830-1848).  During the second revolution of 1848, the monarchy was once--and-for-all abolished, a constitutional republic was established, and the first president, Napoleon III, nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, was elected in the first, free national election. Within three years, however, Napoleon III plunged the nation again into absolutism by declaring himself the Emperor of a new Second French Empire. He remained emperor until removed from his throne in 1871 after suffering defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871).


The quest for a true republican constitutional government was not realized in France until 1870 when Napoleon III was defeated by Prussia and the other German states in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. France, however, continued to struggle for social and political stability until 1962 when the Fifth Republic was established. (See the next unit, Revolution in Politics: Conclusion, for the rest of this story.)