by Ben Weider
of the International Napoleonic Society
Chemin Bates, Montréal, Québec, Canada H3S 1B7
1769 - 1821
If ever a ruler owed
his position to what is called the "will of the people",
Napoleon did. Napoleon won it by his success with the sword,
not the sword of execution, nor the sword of the guillotine,
but the sword of battle against the enemies of France.
The people of France elected Napoleon as the Emperor, because
he saved France from its enemies and he defended the gains of
the Revolution at home.
Napoleon established both the Bank of France and the French bourse
(stock exchange) as weIl as National and Departmental Tax Boards,
to insure equitable taxation for alI. Consequently, the income
of the French peasants skyrocketed.
Napoleon established awards such as the "Legion of Honour"
to reward those whose services to the nation merited special
recognition; the recipient could be scientist, composer, legislator,
clergyman, writer, as weIl as a soldier.
In the area of public works, over 20,000 miles of imperial and
12,000 miles of regional roads were completed, almost a thousand
miles of canals were build, the Great Cornice road was constructed
along the Mediterranean coast, mountain roads were constructed
across the Alps by ways of Simplon Pass and Mont. Cenis, and
harbors were dredged and expanded at many ports, including Dunkerque
Not only was Paris beautified with the construction of boulevards,
bridges and monuments, but the National Archives received a permanent
home. Napoleon also saved the Louvre.
Monument buildings were constructed throughout the Empire and
structures, such as the Imperial Cathedral of Speyer, made famous
by Luther, were preserved while work on the spires of the great
cathedral of Cologne were continued on Napoleon's orders. In
fact, Napoleon's architectural handiwork can be found scattered
across Europe, from Rome to Vienna.
"Think tanks" and research centers were established
in France to work on projects vital for national economy. An
Industrial Board was organized to provide data and information
to French Industry, as exemplitied by the success of the sugar
beet farming and the canning industry.
For religion, Napoleon ended the schism and restored the Catholic
Church to France by the Concordat in 1801. He insured freedom
of religions and equalily to the Protestant sects, and he declared
France the homeland of the Jews, after il became obvious he could
not establish their national home in Palestine.
The Code Napoleon established equality before the law, emphasized
the sanctity of the family, and assured the legal gains of the
Revolution. The Code of Civil Procedure insured widespread user
of mediation in the courts and the laws, and the courts were
as Emperor at the moment of his corononation, wearing the collar
of the Legion of Honour, which he founded in 1802.
Napoleon created the Imperial University to administer French
Education. Specialized engineering and technological schools
were established along with the famous lycées to insure
a scientific education. The establishment of a Professional School
of Midwifery and first School of Obstetrics were formed during
the consulate and the School of Veterinary Science was professionalized
In the military, Napoleon pioneered in what we describe today
as the "principles of war" which are studied by almost
every military academy in the world. The armies of today are
based on the organization created by Napoleon for his Grand Army
and it has been used ever since.
Many historians claim that Napoleon created his own legend on
St. Helena. The truth is that his legend started in Toulon in
Lord Holland, speaking in the British House of Peers, spoke about
the deceased Emperor in August 1833. He stated : "The very
people who detested this great man have acknowledged that for
10 centuries there has not appeared upon earth a more extraordinary
This is indeed a tribute to the Emperor.
Like aIl soldiers who
have seen battle, Napoleon had a horror of war. He was sentimental
and good. He loved the people and his soldiers like they were
Never in his entire life did he start a single war. AIl the wars
he conducted were forced on him by the reigning monarchs of Europe,
who wanted to keep their ancestral privileges and feared the
spread of republican ideas.
Consider what William Pitt said in the British Parliament on
December 29th, 1796: "England will never consent to the
reunion of Belgium and France. We will continue to wage war as
long as France does not return to its 1789 borders." He
kept his word, as did those who succeeded him, except during
the brief interval of peace under the Treaty of Amiens from the
25th of March 1802 to the 16th of May 1803.
So, then ! Napoleon was in no way responsible for the annexation
of Belgium. It was the Convention of August 1795 that made it
a French province. Besides, the annexation of Belgium was not
the real issue behind what was at stake. More than anything,
the British oligarchy wanted to crush this French Republic that
intended to export the ideas of Liberty to the rest of Europe.
Essentially, it wanted the King of France to be returned to
As a result, seven coalitions, spurred by Britain and funded
by its gold, were mounted against France during the period from
1793 to 1815.
Here is the list, with a brief account of how each unfolded:
14th , 1797
victory of Bonaparte in Italy which ended the first coalition,
stunned all of Europe.
1st Coalition: 1793 -
Austria, Prussia, Russia, Holland, Spain, Portugal, Papal States
the armies of the Republic under the command of Dumouriez and
Kellermen had repulsed the attacks of the Prussians at Valmy
and the Austrians at Jemmapes.
In February 1793, English Prime Minister William Pitt, who had
assumed that the armies assembled and seasoned by Prussia and
Austria would make short work of the sans&SHY;culottes, decides
to mount a major coalition of aIl the monarchies of Europe to
put an end to the Republic.
In the face of this threat, the military strategist Lazare Carnot,
later Napoleon's Minister of War, orders a mass draft and sets
out to organize and train the troops by developing "the
amalgam," whereby young recruits full of passion and enthusiasm
at the prospect of fighting for liberty are posted around a core
the armies of the Republic are victorious on aIl fronts. The
Italian Princes are the first to leave the coalition, followed
by Prussia, Russia, Holland, Spain and Portugal.
In the spring of 1796, only England, Austria and the Kingdom
of Piedmont-Sardinia remain in a state of war .
It was at this point that Bonaparte was named Commander -in-Chief
of the Italian army and began the dazzling campaign that astounded
12 April -Victory of Montenotte
21 April -Victory of Mondovi
28 April -Armistice of Cherasco with Piedmont
10 May -Victory of Lodi
15 May -Bonaparte enters Milan
5 August -Victory of Castiglione
8 Sept.&SHY; Victory of Bassano
17 Nov.-Victory of Arcola
14 Jan. -Victory of Rivoli
2 Feb. -Capitulation of the Austrians at Mantua
17 act. -The Treaty of Campo-Formio ends the war
25th of July
2nd Coalition: 1798 -1802
England, Austria, Russia, Kingdom of Naples
William Pitt, knowing Bonaparte to be in Egypt, believes this
time it will be possible to defeat the armies of the Republic
and restore the Bourbons to the throne of France. With a good
deal of gold, he succeeds in persuading Austria, Russia and the
Kingdom of Naples to join England to relaunch the war. The hostilities
get underway in the fall of 1798 in the Kingdom of Naples, where
General Championnet quickly turns the situation to his advantage.
King Ferdinand IV is forced to flee to Sicily.
In March 1799, the Directory decides to launch three offensives,
one in Bavaria, one in Switzerland, and the third in Italy. It
believes its forces are superior.
But Bonaparte was not there.
Jourdan engages Archduke
Charles at Stokach on the 25th of March and is defeated. In Switzerland,
Masséna can do no better than hold his positions. However,
the grimmest setbacks occur in Italy. Suvorov forces Shérer
and Moreau to retreat and abandon Milan. Joubert, who had replaced
Moreau, attacks Suvorov at Novi on the 15th of August 1799. He
is killed in action, and it is a disaster. Italy is lost for
France. Fortunately, Masséna buys time. At the Battle
of Zurich (from the 23rd to the 27th of September) he drives
the Russians back across the Rhine .
And then Bonaparte returns from Egypt.
On the 14th of June 1800, he defeats the Austrians at Marengo
and on the 3rd of December, Moreau defeats another Austrian army
at Hohenlinden. Treaties favourable to France put an end to the
9 February 1801 -Treaty of Luneville (Austria)
28 March 1801 -Treaty of Florence (Naples)
25 March 1802 -Treaty of Amiens (England)
1803 - 1805
England, Austria, Russia, Prussia, Sweden
William Pitt, now back in power in England, violates the Treaty
of Amiens and declares war on France, while working to put together
a new coalition. He is also party to the Count d'Artois' attempts
on Bonaparte's life (Cadoudal -Pichegru).
Bonaparte assembles an army at Boulogne intending to invade England
and impose peace. But the Austrians advance in Bavaria and Napoleon,
who has been Emperor of France since the 18th of May 1804, decides
to break camp and march to encounter them. He captures General
Mach's army at Ulm on the 20th of October 1805.
Nelson destroys the French fleet at Trafalgar the following day
on the 21 th of October . Then cornes the great victory of Austerlitz
over the Austro-Russians on the 2nd of December 1805, the anniversary
of the coronation.
The Treaty of Presbourg on the 26th of December 1805 brings the
war to a close.
14 th of june 1807
4th coalition: 1805 -1807
Prussia, Russia, Sweden
which had not been able to act in 1805, drags England, Russia
and Sweden into a new coalition against France. On the 14th of
October 1806, its army is simultaneously wiped out in two major
battles: Jena, under the command of the Emperor in person, and
Auerstaedt under the command of Marshal Davout. The fleeing troops
of both Prussian armies meet; the two routed armies collide and
become entangled in indescribable mayhem under the dismayed eyes
of King Frederick William and Queen Louise, who had come, as
if to a parade, to attend the victory of their troops.
Napoleon enters Berlin
in triumph. However the Russians advance into Poland and the
Swedes are in Pomerania. At the end of December 1806, Napoleon
leaves Berlin and sets up in Warsaw. After the indecisive Battle
of Eylau (8th of February1807) , Napoleon crushes the Russians
at Friedland on the 14th of June 1807.
The Treaty of Tilsit ( 7th to 9th of July 1807) ends the war.
end of 1808, England again tries to align the European powers
against France. Austria alone accepts, and only on the condition
that England pay their campaign expenses. The Austrians take
the offensive on the 10th of April 1809. They will be defeated
in several battles, the most important of which are Eckmühls
( 22nd of April) , Essling (22nd of May) and finally Wagram on
the 6th of July. The Treaty of Vienna of the 14th of October
1809 ends the war.
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