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Evaluation of Napoleon Bonaparte’s Achievements

Dealing with his social, political, economical and military achievments.

Napoleon Bonaparte had many achievements which were, and still are, famously known throughout the world. Such achievements include his many famous military triumphs, typically under circumstances when his army is severely outnumbered, as well as his social, political and economic reforms. Napoleon changed the face of France, although his military conquests were short-termed, his political, social and economic reforms had a lasting effect in France way after his downfall. This man was described by François-René de Chateaubriand as the ‘mightiest breath of life which ever animated human clay‘.

One of Napoleon Bonaparte’s greatest achievements was the fame he gained as a military leader and commander. His brilliant commanding skills gained him the victory of five coalitions, from 1792 to 1809, in a row as well as ending the 850-year-old Holy Roman Empire. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo, said I used to say of him that his presence on the field made the difference of forty thousand men’. There were many reasons why Bonaparte was so successful in his military campaigns. Napoleon as a leader treated his soldiers as the most important members of his army. He provided improved food and provided regular pay as well as financial incentives. Bonaparte is remembered for his strategies and new and innovative military tactics. His army was usually outnumbered in many battles with the coalitions, however he still managed to win the battles most of the time because of well-timed and well-constructed battle tactics. The Battle of Austerlitz is a prime example of Napoleon’s military genius where his army of around 72,000 men decisively defeated 85,000 Austro-Russian soldiers with impressive statistics. Approximately 9000 French troops were killed or wounded while 16,000 Austrian and Russian soldiers were killed or wounded. The French also managed to capture 12,000 soldiers while the Allies only managed to capture 573. Not only this, but the Allies also lost 180 artillery pieces and 50 standards while the French lost only one standard. Napoleon’s military achievements were not all on land. At sea, he managed to set up a blockade called the Continental System which prevented European countries from trading with Britain. However, the economic blockade was not successful and only caused discontent with the various countries which agreed with the blockade.

Bonaparte’s achievements with social reform were not only felt immediately in France and the rest of Europe, but lasted for a long time after his downfall. Because of Napoleon’s lack of religious faith, he no longer made Catholicism the required religion in France and his conquered countries and made the state of France more tolerant to other religions. Napoleon signed the Concordat with Pope Pius VII in 1801. This settlement recognised that Catholicism was the religion of the majority of France and accepted that the Pope was the head of this religion. It was also agreed that the French government would continue paying the clergy. Protestants were allowed to worship freely, providing they remained loyal to France. Other social reforms implemented by Napoleon included the abolition of feudal rights, restoration of nobility, rewriting some of the constitutions and constructed the ‘Code Napoleon’ which rewrote the constitutional rights of the French. The code forbade privileges based on birth, allowed freedom of religion, and specified that government jobs go to the most qualified of people. The Napoleonic Code was a fundamental change in the nature of the civil law system; it made laws much clearer and much more accessible. Napoleon also managed to control the media, something nobody had ever done before. In 1799, there were 70 newspapers in France but by 1804, there were only 4 left. Napoleon even wrote some of the articles himself and owned some of the newspaper companies. Not only this, but Napoleon also managed to suppress freedom of speech which was one of the Revolution’s principles. He established a large secret police force to keep a close watch on political opponents of the regime.  Anybody who spoke against him was arrested and taken as a political prisoner. By 1814, there were several thousand political prisoners in the country. Napoleon also improved education in France by establishing primary and secondary schools in many parts of the country. He later established a school for training teachers and a national university in 1808.

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