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Napoleon I, 1795 - 1804

Napoleon I  1769-1795  1795-1804  1804-1814  1814-1821

Napoléon and the Directory

On October 5, 1795, Napoléon was in Paris when a large, angry Parisian mob of royalists tried to attack the ruling National Convention at the Tuileries Palace.  Vicomte Paul de Barras, who had been at Toulon and was impressed by Napoléon’s military ability, called upon Napoléon to defend the palace.  Napoléon brought his canons to bear upon the mob, wounding and killing hundreds with his grapeshot, quickly clearing the streets.  Napoléon was hailed as a hero by Barras [one of the 5 directors of the government called the Directory] and was promoted to major. 

The Directory, which was created out of the Constitution of 1795, was made up of a five man executive directory that ruled France in conjunction with a two-house legislature.  The voters, under this constitution, were citizens that paid a certain amount of taxes.   

    Napoléon and Josephine
On October 15, 1795 Napoléon meet Josephine de Beauharnais, a leader of fashionable French society, who’s husband, Vicomte Alexandre de Beauharnais, had been guillotined during the Reign of Terror.  Josephine was a beautiful, but extravagant woman in both habit and taste.  She was of French decent, from Martinique, had two children and was six years older than Napoléon. 

From 1792 to 1795, France had been at war with most of Europe.  Napoléon drew up a plan for an Italian campaign.  On October 26, 1795, with the help of Barras, Napoléon was named Commander in Chief of the Army of Italy.   

Napoléon wed Josephine on March 9, 1796 and on March 11 he left for his new position at the Italian-French border where the Directory had ordered him to tie up Austrian forces with his meager, ill fed, poorly trained army of 38,000 men.  Within a short time he managed to transform the army into a first-class fighting force. 

    Napoléon's Italian Campaigns
In less than a year, he defeated larger armies at Montenotte [April 12, 1796], Mondovi [April 21, 1796], Lodi [May 10, 1796] and marched into Milan [May 15, 1796].   

Napoléon’s brilliant success, in the Italian campaign was due to five factors:  1) he trained his army well; 2) he made his supply system virtually independent of Paris by having his men live off the land; 3) he relied upon speedy surprise attacks by small units; 4) he influenced a heightened moral among his soldiers; and 5) he started each battle with the smallest possible force, holding back the bulk of his army in reserve until he found his enemy’s weakest point.  He would then direct his reserves against the weak point, at the optimum time, for a decisive victory. 

Napoléon’s victorious army swept rapidly across northern Italy.  In May, 1796, he forced Sardinia to sign a separate peace.  Following his May 14 victory at Lodi, he laid siege to Mantua on June 4, 1796.  He then rapidly won two more victories at Castiglione [August 5, 1796] and Arcole [November 17,1796].  His final victory was won by marching over the Alps and, on January 14, 1797, defeating the Austrians at Rivoli from which he threatened Vienna.   

    The Treaty of Campo Formio
The slow advance of the French northern armies in Germany worried Napoléon.  Fearing that he might be cut off from the rear, he negotiated, without instructions from Paris, the April, 1797 truce with the Austrians at Leoben which was formalized by France and Austria at the signing of the Treaty of Campo Formio on October 17, 1797.  This treaty ended the war with Austria in Italy.  Under the terms of the treaty, French territory was enlarged.  Austria ceded the Austrian Netherlands [Belgium] and Lombardy to France, which became the French Cisalpine Republic.  In addition, the Rhine and the Alps were recognized as the eastern boundary of France with the Pyrénées as France’s boarder with Spain.  France ceded the old Venetian Republic to Austria. 

On December 5, 1797, Bonaparte returned in triumphant to Paris where he was hailed as a hero.  On December 25, 1797 he was elected to the Institut de France. 

    Napoléon's Egyptian Campaign
The Directory offered Napoléon the command of an invasion of England in late 1797.  Instead, he proposed an invasion of Egypt [and ultimately India] to destroy England’s trade with the Middle East.  His plan was quickly supported by by Charles Maurice de Talleyrand and the other Directors.  On May 19, 1798 he set sail for Egypt with an army of about 38,000 men.  After capturing Malta on June 19, 1798, he captured Alexandria on July 2, 1798 and defeated the Mameluke military rulers of Egypt at the Battle of the Pyramids near Cairo.  He entered Cairo on July 24, 1798. 

On August 1, 1798, a British fleet, under the command of Lord Horatio Nelson, destroyed the French fleet in the Battle of the Nile, stranding Napoléon in Egypt. 

Inspired by the destruction of the French fleet in Egypt, the Ottoman Empire [of which Egypt was a province] formed an alliance with Britain and Russia and declared war on France.  Hearing this, the stranded Napoléon marched on Ottoman Syria and on March 7, 1799 captured Jaffa and began an unsuccessful siege English and Turk forces at the Acra fortress [now Akko, Israel] on March 19, 1799.   

Learning that an Ottoman army was moving to invade Egypt, Napoléon retreated to Egypt where he met and defeated a force of 10,000 Ottomans [Turks] at Abu Qir [Aboukir] on July 25, 1799.   

About this time, Napoléon learned that Britain, Russia and Austria had formed an alliance, called the Second Coalition, against the French and had defeated the French army in Italy.  In addition, the Directory was on the brink of ruin. 

Napoléon Establishes the Consulate
On August 22, 1799, leaving the army of Egypt in the command of General Jean-Baptiste Kléber, Bonaparte left Egypt, arriving in Paris on October 14.  By this time, counter-revolutionary up risings within France had been abated and the threat of invasion had been averted by French victories in Holland and Switzerland.  The French people, who had lost confidence in the Directory, once again hailed him as a hero.  Quickly taking the pulse of public opinion, he formed key political alliances to take control of the French government. 

Two days in November, the 9th and 10th of 1799 [Brumaire 18th and 19th  of the revolutionary year VIII] marked the end of the Directory in France through a coup d’état.  General Napoléon conspired with his brother, Lucien, and with two of the Directors, Emmanuel Sieyès and Talleyrand.  The four of them planned the successful coup that substituted the Consulate for the Directory.  By November 14, Bonaparte had been installed in the Luxembourg Palace as First Consul.  On December 15, 1799, he proclaimed a new Constitution that had been accepted by plebiscite.  Effectively, the new constitution established the dictatorship of Napoléon. 

Napoléon then set about implementing administrative reforms to transform France into an efficient, modern state that would be capable of effectively mobilizing its resources.  He centralized the government’s administration while simultaneously giving local prefects the power needed to execute the central government’s policies.  He recruited officials and military officers from all factions and appointed them to posts that were non-elective. 

On May 20, 1800 Napoléon, in a surprise move, lead his troops across the Alps, and through the Saint Bernard Pass, into northern Italy.  On June 14, 1800, he defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo [on the Marengo Plain, about 3 miles southeast of Alessandria in northern Italy.  In 1801, the French-Austo Treaty of Lunéville reaffirmed the Treaty of Campo Formio. 

    Napoléon and Civil Administration
Returning from Italy, Napoléon further demonstrated that he was a great civil administrator.  He supervised the revision and codification of French laws, and among other things, was responsible for bridge building and canal projects all over France [to improve transportation], for establishing Europe’s leading universities, les Grandes Écoles, and for founding the Bank of France.  In addition, he reformed primary and secondary education. 

In France, before 1500, most laws were of Roman origin but were drawn up and enforced mainly by local governments.  They differed greatly from one part of the country to another.  After 1500, the kings set out to form strong central governments.  To aid them in this pursuit, they began the codification of French laws that remained largely unsuccessful and without national unification. 

    The Code Napoléon
In 1800, Napoléon appointed a commission of jurists to combine and organize all of France’s civil laws into one Code.  On August 12, 1800 the new Civil Codes – seven in all – had been drafted.   

These codes were a skillful incorporation of some of the new ideas and freedoms gained during the Revolution, including the abolition of serfdom and religious tolerance, but also of the older ideas such as the system of inheritance.  They also embodied a compromise between northern France’s customary laws, that were based upon feudal Frankish and Germanic laws, and the older Roman based laws of the south.  The Code was based upon a purely rational law that was free from all past prejudices and which derived its content from ‘sublimated common sense’.  Its moral justification was not found in ancient custom or monarchical paternalism, but in its conformity to the dictates of reason. 

The code went into effect in 1804 and was known as the Code Napoléon [Code Civil].  It still forms the basis of French civil law, although it has been greatly modified by legislation and court decisions. 

    Napoléon and the Church
Following the French Revolution, Napoléon recognized that a more stable state-church relationship was in order.  On July 15-16, 1801, he concluded a concordat with Pope Pius VII.  It recognized that most Frenchmen were Roman Catholic and granted them freedom of worship.  The incumbent bishoprics were to resign and were to be replaced by those whom Napoléon, as first consul, would appoint.  The secularized church property was to remain in the hands of the government and the government was to support the clergy.  The concordat had the effect of neutralizing the antirevolutionary priests who had encouraged peasant unrest. 

    The Treaty of Amiens and Peace
On March 25, 1802 France signed the Treaty of Amiens with England.  It, together with the Treaty of Lunéville, marked the end of the Second Coalition, and France became the dominant continental power.  The treaty also reaffirmed the natural French boarders that Julius Caesar had given to Gaul and which had been agreed upon in the earlier Treaty of Campo Formio.  For the first time in 10 years, France [and Europe] was at peace.  That same year, in August, the French people overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment making Napoléon First Consul for life. 

On May 19, 1802, Napoléon established the Royal Order of the Legion of Honor.  It was the premier order and decoration of the French Republic to be conferred on the basis of merit, to civilians and military, to both French citizens and foreigners alike, without any regard to birth or religion.  Admission to the Legion, for war services, automatically carries with it the award of the Croix de Guerre, the highest French military medal. 

    The Sale of Louisiana
Fearing a war with England, Napoléon sold Louisiana to the United States on May 3, 1803 to raise money to fight the war.  The sale brought France a total of 15 million dollars [less than 3 cents per acre].  For that price, Thomas Jefferson managed to double the size of the United States with an additional 885,000 square miles, that encompassed the western half of the Mississippi River basin from New Orleans to the Canadian border.  The area amounted to the entirety of the states of Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Oklahoma.  The purchase also included most of the land in Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Minnesota. 

With the declaration of war by England, on May 16, 1803, war broke out between France and what was known as the Third Coalition [Austria, England, Russia and Sweden].  Napoléon built up his army and prepared to invade Britain.  But, the invasion never came about.  The fleet he assembled was repeatedly struck by storms and most of the French fleet was busy with Charles Leclerc’s disastrous expedition to Haiti. 

On January 29, 1804 the Parisian police uncovered a plot by émigré Royalists to kidnap or murder Napoléon and to restore the Bourbons to the throne.  The kidnapping plot was foiled.  General Ney’s friend, Moreau, was involved. 

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                                     Napoleon I  1769-1795  1795-1804  1804-1814  1814-1821



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