Napoleon: Reforms and His Aspirations

In our last post, we have read about economic and political reforms of Napoleon. Now we will continue with some other reforms of Napoleon.

Reforms of Napoleon

Educational Reforms of Napoleon

In the pre-modern age education and laws were the monopoly of religion. National Assembly took a revolutionary step when they snatched away education from religion and established National Education Council. Before assembly would take any important step to improvise the education system, France became the victim of the internal crisis. In this situation when Napoleon came into the power he took a lead and founded the structure of modern education system. Example:

  • Primary Education
  • Secondary Education
  • Centres of Higher Education
Basic Building of Religion

Though he made a good contribution in educational field but here also he created some troubles. Example:

  • In primary and secondary level apart from military and discipline faculty training, Napoleonism made the part of the syllabus.
  • Established normal schools to train teachers of higher education and here teachers were taught devotion and dedication towards state religion and Napoleon.

Napoleon had an extraordinary memory and perfectly ordered mind. He said himself:

When I wish to put away any matter out of my mind, I close its drawer and open the drawer belonging to another. The contents of the drawers never get mixed up and they never worry me or weary me. Do I want to sleep? I close all the drawers and then I am asleep.

Religious Reforms of Napoleon

Napoleon signed an agreement with Pope Pius VII, creating a new relationship between church and state. The government recognised the influence of the church but rejected church control in state affairs. Specifically the French government was going to bishops, but the bishops would appoint parish priests. The concordat gained Napoleon the support of the organised church as well as the majority of the French people.

Though Napoleon was thoroughly irreligious and yet he encouraged religion. He looked upon religion as a prop to the existing social order. “Religion”, he said,

Associates with heaven an idea of equality, which prevents the poor from massacring the rich. Religion has the same sort of value as vaccination. It gratifies our taste for the miraculous and protects us from quacks… Society can not exist without inequality of property, but this latter can not exist without religion. One who is dying of hunger when the man next to him is feasting on dainties can only be sustained by a belief in a higher power i.e. god and by the conviction that in another world there will be a different distribution of goods.

In the pride of his strength, he is reported to have said:

Should the heavens fall down on us we shall hold them off with the points of our lances.

Code Napoleon in France

Napoleon thought that his greatest work was his comprehensive system of laws, known as the Napoleonic Code. This code was adopted in 1804. Although the code gave the country a uniform set of laws and eliminated many injustices but it actually limited liberty and promoted order. He interfered in everything with his amazing energy and vitality. He exhausted all his co-workers and secretaries. One of his co-worker writes about him during this period:

The ruling, administering, negotiating with that orderly intelligence of his (Napoleon), he gets through eighteen hours’ work a day. In three years he has ruled more than the kings ruled in a century.

Napoleon gets the credit of codifying modern laws like the code of criminal procedure, code of civil procedure, commercial code etc. He used to say that,

I will not be remembered in history for my forty wars but will be remembered for my contribution to the modern legal system.

The reforms of Napoleon were progressive in nature but the problem was he wanted to fulfil two opposite objectives at the same time. He wanted to strengthen the nation and also his position in France and he actually made his all the reforms contradictory which annoyed the progressive section of French society.

Reforms of Napoleon

Evaluation of the Personality of Napoleon

Napoleon had the magnetism of the great and he won devoted friendship from many. He once said,

I won my battles with my eyes, not with my weapons. Force was no remedy and that the spirit of man was greater than the sword. There are only two powers in the world: the spirit and the sword. In the long run, the sword will always be conquered by the spirit.

He was in a hurry and right at the beginning of his career he had chosen the way of the sword by the sword he triumphed and by the sword he fell. In his personal life, he was very simple and never indulged in any excesses, except excess of work. According to him,

However little a man may eat he always eats too much. One can get ill from over-eating, but never from under- eating.

It was this simple life which gave him splendid health and vast energy. He could sleep when he liked and as little as he liked. To ride 100 miles in the course of the morning and afternoon was not an extraordinary thing for him.

Aspirations of Napoleon

Napoleon was not content simply to be master of France. He wanted to control the rest of Europe and to reassert French power in the New World. Napoleon envisioned his western empire to include many Latin American states like Louisiana, Florida, French Guiana, and the French West Indies. He knew that the key to this area was the sugar producing French colony of Saint-Domingue on the island of Hispaniola.

For ten years he was Emperor and during these years he rushed about all over the Continent of Europe and carried on striking military campaigns and won memorable battles. All Europe trembled at his name and was dominated by him as it has never been dominated by anyone else before or since.

Napoleonic Reforms
Napoleonic Reforms

New World Territories Expedition of Napoleon

In 1789, when the ideas of the Revolution had reached the planters in Saint-Domingue, they had demanded the same privileges as the people of France. Eventually, the slaves in the colony had demanded their freedom. A civil war had erupted. The slaves under the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture seized control of the sugar producing colony.

In 1801, Napoleon decided to regain French control of the war-torn island. He then restored its productive sugar industry. Although he sent 23,000 soldiers to accomplish the task, the slaves proved to be difficult to defeat. His thousands of soldiers died of yellow fever.

The expedition to Saint-Domingue was unsuccessful. The U.S. government showed interest in buying the port of New Orleans. Napoleon recognised an opportunity to make some money and cut his losses in the Americas.

He also offered to sell all of the Louisiana Territory to the United States. In 1803 President Jefferson agreed to purchase the land for $15 million. Napoleon was delighted. He saw a twofold benefit to the sale: he would gain money to finance operations in Europe, and he would further punish his British enemies. He said,

The sale assures forever the power of the United States, and I have given England a rival who, sooner or later, will humble her pride. 


Though he was a great leader and provided the period of peace to the France but his superficial approach to deal with the immensely important subjects decided some other fate for the France. Once again economic, political and social crisis started to take their place in the France. In such internal turmoil, the blunders of Napoleon proved harmful for him and ended his story in France and Europe.

We will discuss the blunders of Napoleon in next coming post. 🙂

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