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Reforms of the Napoleon Revolution

written by: Terry Ligard • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/5/2012

Under the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte, the calls for liberty, equality, and fraternity were given high priority. With the beginning of the education system and introduction of the Napoleonic Code, Napoleon implemented many principles of the French Revolution.

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    Napoleon Bonaparte 

    “I am no ordinary man,” Napoleon Bonaparte once boasted. Napoleon, the son of a noble family, was once trained to become an army officer for the French. During the French Revolution, Napoleon rose quickly in the army. Personal qualities and military capabilities gave Napoleon popular support. Napoleon received command of the French army, being a young general until 1799, when, due to the discontent of the people towards the Directory, he and two directors overthrew the government. In its place they established a constitution, in which Napoleon was named First Consul.

    Although Napoleon centralized power into his own hands, he kept the interest of the people in mind, and continued many reforms of the revolution that supported liberty, equality, and fraternity. Therefore, Napoleon was a defender of the ideals of the French Revolution. To begin with, education was emphasized under Napoleon. Lycees were set up, a system of public education and scholarships were introduced, and with the establishment of the University of France, nationalism was promoted. Lastly, Napoleon introduced the Napoleonic Code, which recognized equality for all men before the law, guaranteed freedom of religion, and guaranteed a person’s right to work in any occupation.

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    Educational Reforms

    With the introduction of the education system under Napoleon, a long-standing goal of French revolutionaries was achieved. Unfortunately, some people criticized this new education system. When Napoleon set up lycees, government-run schools, people believed that Napoleon’s intention was to encourage extreme patriotism to him, thereby restricting people’s freedom of thought. However, this argument is an incorrect view, since it does not consider the entire truth. By setting up lycees, Napoleon intended to produce government officials who were loyal and patriotic to France and its wellbeing. Rather than restricting people’s thoughts, he broadened their scope of imagination and possibilities; therefore, he strengthened revolutionary ideals of liberty and fraternity. In addition, people would say that the school system under Napoleon did not promote equality.

    Only children of the wealthy could attend the lycees due to the tuition costs. Although this would seem to be an immediate problem, Napoleon introduced scholarships. Some students, including those who were not particularly well off, received scholarships that could help pay for their school fees. Therefore, Napoleon promoted equality by seeing to it that all children had an equal opportunity to attend school. The lycees represented a first step towards a system of public education—an objective set out by French revolutionaries. Moreover, some grew discontent with the curriculum established for the University of France, because it was a secular curriculum. They believed that Napoleon was discouraging nationalism by introducing such a curriculum for the university.

    This argument, however, is that of the church officials who blindly accuse Napoleon’s reform, since it includes minimal church involvement. On the contrary, the University of France promoted nationalism. The university brought the people of France together and united them under one cause—the advancement of France. Consequently, Napoleon produced citizens who were loyal to France and its wellbeing, a fundamental principle of the French Revolution.

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    Napoleonic Code

    Undoubtedly, among Napoleon’s greatest accomplishment towards the government of France was the Napoleonic Code. The purpose of the Napoleonic Code was to reform the French legal system according to the principles of the French Revolution. Many argued that the code placed the interests of the state above those of the individual citizens, thereby ignoring the calls for equality. This argument, however, clearly neglects the point made by the Napoleonic Code. The code promised for equality of all men, and that was indeed what it accomplished. Napoleon saw to it that all men were treated fairly and had equal opportunities, such as voting, something the French Revolution struggled to attain.

    Furthermore, some believed that, when the Concordat of 1801 was passed, instead of granting the Catholic Church more freedom in accordance to revolutionary ideals, Napoleon only tightened his grip on it. Nevertheless, this is the argument of Catholic officials who desired power and the return of church property seized during the revolution. They failed to see that Napoleon’s intention was to guarantee religious freedom, as stated in the Napoleonic Code.Through this code, Napoleon fulfilled the people’s desire for religious freedom, something attempted by the National Assembly during the revolution. Under Napoleon, religious persecution was not tolerated.

    In addition, there were people who grew discontent with the fact that Napoleon appointed local officials to replace elected councils that had operated during the revolution. They believed that Napoleon was limiting their right to hold positions that allowed them a voice in decision making.However, this argument could easily be coming from corrupted officials who sought political favors. Such officials would be taken out of office due to their selfishness. The Napoleonic Code stated that people’s right to work in any occupation would be guaranteed and that was just what Napoleon intended to promise. All men were given fair opportunities to hold occupations they sought to hold. Thus, Napoleon strongly emphasized French Revolutionary ideals.

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