How Far Did Napoleon Maintain the Ideals of the French Revolution?

Napoleon managed to maintain the lesser ideals of the French Revolution. However, he managed to do this by giving all of the former ideals a ‘twist’ of his own if he was displeased by them. This included the fact that he re-wrote the constitution that had previously been written; he partially reversed the relationship with the Church, turning France into a Catholic country. It can also be stated that the way he gained power was against the French Revolution’s ideals: and this was the very beginning!

On the other hand, Napoleon managed to maintain equal taxation, which had previously been a big issue, especially for the poor. Distinction was removed and there were no privileges for any parties neither was there a way to ‘sneak out’ of paying taxes (even for the first and second estate) as the system was efficiently managed-something that caused financial stability for France. Napoleon Bonaparte was in command of the French Army which gave him a lot of power, something Napoleon knew all too well.

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In the year 1799, he sensed a chance to win power for himself and made his way back to France where he joined a plot to overthrow the directors and close down the Councils. Napoleon’s Brumaire shows a step against the new revolutionary ideas as it clearly stated there would not be a ‘monarch’. Bonaparte was not a monarch but he did reign like one, wanting all power for himself. He is quoted saying that: “I can no longer obey; I have tasted command and I cannot give it up. ” This shows that he knew that he could not reign along with other directors and wanted all power for himself.

This was against the one of the ideals of the directory and the terror. On top of this, Robespierre was against giving the army a lot of power because he believed this could result in a take-over: exactly what Napoleon did. Napoleon ran a very centralised: all focus was supposed to be on him. However, Napoleon claimed that, in principle, the French population was still able to vote (plebiscites). In practice, the number of voters was very low, which shows that the previous approach was actually being destroyed by Napoleon.

Napoleon also claimed there was ‘freedom of speech’: this was not true. Napoleon made sure that all newspapers wrote news he approved of: he censored all press and made sure that everything delivered was official propaganda. He reduced the amount of political journals published from 73 to 9 and made it clear there were to be no new ones. All articles were written by Napoleon himself or one of his ministers. On top of that, more than half of the printing-presses were shut down and remaining publishers were forced to take an oath declaring loyalty to the government.

This again points to the fact that Napoleon centralised his reign and made sure that the legislature had little to no power. The fact that Napoleon re-wrote the constitution that had previously been written-up shows that he made sure of the fact that the legislature was much less powerful: in the Constitution Napoleon wrote effectively gave him all power: this caused some people to believe the end of the French Revolution had arrived. However, Napoleon partially copied the previous constitution. All the citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law, are equally admissible to all public dignities, places, and employments, according to their capacity and without distinction other than that of their virtues and of their talents” – a quote from the Declaration of Rights of Man. Napoleon often declared his belief in ‘equal opportunities for all’ but as far as education was concerned, ordinary people were neglected, just as it had been during the ancien regime. On top of that, it was not his priority to consider education for girls as they were getting ready for their destiny: marriage (according to Napoleon).

One of his most famous quotes is: “women are nothing but machines for producing children. ” Where the Estates were concerned, Napoleon made sure all ‘privileges’ were banned and that taxation remained equal – this was something that Napoleon managed to maintain from the previous leaders. He also removed distinction between the social classes. A down side was that Lettres de Cachet were reintroduced which took away the right of a proper court hearing or a trail: this was not showing equality.

Napoleon decided to build up a relationship with the church again: he could not have cared less for religion but he believed it “stopped the poor from murdering the rich” and was therefore considered the ‘social bond’ cementing together a ‘divided people’. Napoleon made the Church sign the Concordat which made sure that Napoleon had complete control over all French bishops and at the same time he was able to increase State control over any activities of the Clergy. Napoleon was driven by personal ambitions: he stated so himself.

He liked the ideas of the French Revolution and he built on the principles that had been set before. The French population was so fed-up of all of their hardships that they just accepted Napoleon as a leader. Once Napoleon realized he was not going to be stopped, he over-stepped boundaries (like crowning himself emperor). The points mentioned above have shown clear evidence of the fact that Napoleon did not keep to the revolution ideals. He wanted everything to suit his needs and he made sure that this happened by changing, adjusting or building upon previous ideas or setting up his own completely.

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How Far Did Napoleon Maintain the Ideals of the French Revolution?. (2016, Dec 25). Retrieved from