Napoleonic Empire

In adopting the title of Emperor of the French, Napoleon Bonaparte created a new nobility, formed by bourgeois and his faithful generals and marshals Bonaparte established in Continental Europe the Napoleonic Empire , which was a true family empire; imposing to the vanquished and protected the government of their relatives.

Facts that precede the Napoleonic Empire

The French Revolution had peaked during the Terror. The reaction came in 1794. The Directory was implemented. The difficulties the directors encountered in governing were enormous. On the one hand, they were attacked by the partisans of royalty who wanted the return of the Old Regime. On the other hand, the lower classes, led by the Jacobins, created serious problems trying to return to the policy of the Convention of the period of Terror.

The Directory could not consolidate. He struck the radicals on both sides. The exit found by some directors was the strengthening of power. For that, a military leader who was popular became necessary.

Napoleon, prominent military during the wars of Italy (1796-1797) and Egypt (1798-1799), fulfilled the requirements. Therefore, he was chosen to lead the coup that deposed the Directory, dissolved the Assembly and implemented the regime of the Consulate (1799-1802). During this period, there was a dictatorship in disguise. In 1802 appeared the Life Consulate, species of Monarchy for the life that happened to be hereditary in 1804.

Despite the existence of a constitution, Napoleon ruled despotically. For some time, the prosperity that resulted from the internal reforms and the successes in the external wars allowed the continuity of the regime. The failures in foreign policy shook the foundations of the regime, putting an end to the Empire in 1814 with a brief resurgence of 100 days in 1815. It would then begin the work of the Restoration.

The Consulate

In 1799, France looked bleak. Industry and commerce were ruined. The roads and the harbors, destroyed. The public service, disorganized. Taxes were not collected. Every day new immigrants left France to escape the disorder and threats of confiscation of property. Clerics who refused to swear to the new Civil Constitution of the Church were persecuted, leaving the country. Civil war threatened to erupt in numerous provinces.

Various measures were taken to establish inner peace. Napoleon adopted a policy of reconciliation. Vendeia and Brittany, rebelled, were pacified. Measures were taken that provided traffic safety along roads often dominated by highway robbers.

The Constitution of 1799 gave Napoleon almost unlimited powers under the guise of a republican regime. The universal vote, established by the Constitution of 1793, was abolished, becoming census, that is, according to the wealth of the citizen. The most voted candidates in the elections made up a list of notabilidades, from which the government chose the members for the public functions.

The Legislative Power was weak, almost without effective power. It had, therefore, merely formal existence. It was composed of four assemblies: the Council of State, which prepared the laws; the Tribunate, which discussed them; the Legislative Body, which voted; and the Senate, which guarded its execution.

The Executive Power prevailed over the others. He was entrusted to three consuls, appointed by the Senate for 10 years.

The First Consul effectively held power: he proposed and promulgated laws, appointed ministers and officers, Assembly officials, judges. The two remaining consuls were decorative figures. 
This Constitution was submitted to a plebiscite (popular referendum) and approved by more than three million votes. It established, in fact, the dictatorship of the First Consul.

On the external plane, the wars continued until 1802, when Napoleon signed the Peace of Amiens,which put an end to the European conflict begun in 1792.

The state administration was reorganized. Peace allowed the dedication to the internal affairs. The departments and other administrative units were entrusted to officials appointed by Napoleon, as well as the positions of judges, hitherto elected locally.

On the financial front, two measures are highlighted: the creation of a body of tax officials hitherto granted to individuals, and the founding of the Bank of France by a group of bankers who were given the right to issue paper money . The state’s economic situation improved markedly.

The teaching was organized with the purpose of instructing officials for the State. The lyceums, which had this function, were organized in military ways.

With regard to society, the great work was the creation of the Civil Code . It represented a reform of existing laws in the country, relating to individuals, family, property, contracts. Completed in 1804, the Code was based on Roman law, royal ordinances and revolutionary law. Its essence remains in force until today in France.

Peace with the Catholic Church was established in 1801: the Concordat. Pope Pius VII recognized the sale of ecclesiastical goods and the state was prohibited from interfering with worship. The bishops would be appointed by the government and invested in their religious functions by the pope. They would have to swear allegiance to the government. The papal laws would only take effect after they were approved by the French government.

The success of Napoleon’s domestic and foreign policy made the establishment of the life of the Consulate contingent in 1802. The First Consul received from the Senate the right to appoint his successor. It was, in fact, the implantation of the hereditary Monarchy.

Implantation of the Napoleonic Empire

The resumption of wars in 1803 led to the proclamation of the Empire. The national danger was taken advantage of by Napoleon, who became hereditary emperor. New Constitution came to legalize the fact (1804). Another plebiscite confirmed the institution of the Empire.

A new court was formed: the imperial family, the great dignitaries, marshals of France, great officers of the Crown. The label was meticulous, as in the Old Regime.

In 1804 imperial power was absolute. It was religiously sacred by the pope in Paris. An imperial nobility with the traditional titles was created. The hierarchy of titles corresponded to the hierarchy of functions. 
the government became despotic, even more so than the old kings. The Assemblies were abolished. The Tribunate and the Legislative Bodies lost their functions. After 1809, Napoleon began to determine the taxes to be collected. Individual or political freedoms were not respected. Arbitrary arrests followed. Freedom of the press was annulled.

The intervention extended to education. Imperial University monopolized higher education. The disciplines considered dangerous to the regime had their programs changed: History and Philosophy. 
Religious policy sought to give legal support to the regime. The catechism, at the same time, taught the duties to God and the Emperor. He sought to place the pope under his tutelage in the service of his policy. Papal refusal to integrate into Napoleon’s international politics led him to lose his states, being interned at Savona (1809). The bishops who took the Pope’s party were persecuted and deprived of their dioceses.

The general discontent advanced. The bourgeoisie was opposed to the loss of liberty and political persecution. Wars ruined the economy and the ports. The reinstatement of old indirect taxes on various products irritated taxpayers. The wars required the continuation of the mandatory convocation for the Army. The young men sought to escape from military service.

Economic policy of the Napoleonic Empire

The Civil Code was followed by the Commercial and Criminal Codes. France’s economy was boosted.

The proprietary peasants produced more in their fields than in the past. This prosperity explains his support for the regime. Likewise, the industry was stimulated.

Numerous works, initiated by the Consulate, were completed: opening of canals, reconstruction of ports, construction of roads, embellishment of large cities.

Foreign policy of the Napoleonic Empire

The resumption of wars in 1803 involved a struggle against England, Russia and Austria, united in the Third Coalition (1805). The English defeated at sea in Trafalgar, but the Austro-Russians were defeated on land (Austerlitz). Austria was expelled from Italy. In Germany was created the Confederation of the Rhine, that replaced the Holy Empire, under French tutelage. Italy was totally under the power of Napoleon.

In 1806, the Fourth Coalition was formed, with Prussia being beaten in Lena and Russia in Friedland. For the Peace of Tilsit, Prussia was dismembered and the Tsar became allied with Napoleon.

Against England, the Continental Blockade was enacted , an attempt to weaken the English economy, forcing all European countries to close their ports to English trade. The beginning of the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula opened new areas of conflict. In 1809 the Austrians retook the arms, but, defeated in Wagram, they underwent new dismemberment.

Napoleonic power was at its height. All of Western Europe was submitted to him; the army was well organized, numerous, almost unbeatable.

A serious threat presented itself. The French intervention provoked the emergence of nationalist rebellions, mainly in Prussia.

The alliance between the French and the Russians was broken in 1812, because the Russians could no longer maintain the blockade of English trade, very important for Russia. Napoleon invaded this country, won the Battle of Moscow, but winter forced him to a disastrous retreat.

Prussia and Austria joined Russia, defeating Napoleon in Leipzig (1813) and invading France the following year. Paris was taken by the Allies, who reinstated the deposed Monarchy in 1792: Louis XVIII was forced to accept the Treaty of Paris.

Napoleon, taken prisoner, was transferred to the Island of Elba, where he escaped a year later (March 1815), regaining his power. Reorganizing his forces, he collided with the last coalition in Waterloo, Belgium, where he was defeated and imprisoned by the English, who exiled him to the island of St. Helena, where he died.

Louis XVIII was restored for the second time, The Empire was over. The Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) reorganized the political map of Europe, troubled by Napoleon. The balance was established between the great European powers: Austria, Prussia, Russia, England. Germany and Italy remained divided, and England acquired maritime and colonial supremacy.

To preserve peace in Europe, the Holy Alliance emerged , a league of European states aimed at avoiding another cataclysm identical to the French Revolution and its maximum product: Napoleon.


The Napoleonic Empire was produced by the French Revolution itself. The Empire was the last phase of the Revolution which, shaken by extremism, resorted to the centralization of power. At that moment, Napoleon embodies national ideals, represented by the interests of the bourgeoisie. His works of economic, administrative and religious restoration demonstrate this.

The crisis of the Napoleonic Empire comes from the combination of the policy of internal economic oppression, which is worth the opposition of the class responsible for its rise to power, with the expensive wars that bring the general opposition of the nation.

While military successes remained, the Napoleonic Empire lasted. Its end begins with the first military stumbling blocks. The Continental Blockade prejudiced the European countries subjected to France more than those submitted to England itself: in fact, the former were closed within Europe itself; the latter, dominating the seas, could find new consumer markets for blocked English production in Europe.

The French Revolution was spread by Napoleon. His ideas of equality, liberty and the republican regime of government were implemented in several countries.

The Old Regime, shaken in its foundations by the Revolution in France, was also threatened in Europe by the expansion of the Napoleonic Empire. Hence the reaction of the absolute states in several successive coalitions, until the final victory over Napoleon and the Revolution itself. The reaction of the Old Regime was organized by the Congress of Vienna and held by the Holy Alliance.

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