Thursday, 7 July 2011
During much of the middle and late period of the French Revolution (1796-1799), the young General Bonaparte had been winning battles and gaining great popularity among the French people. This was largely due to his image as a savior of the Revolution, an image which remains today. In 1799, he participated in a coup d'état which established a three person consulate with him as first consul. Under the newly established system of government, most of the power rested with Napoleon. On December 2, 1804, First Consul Bonaparte became Napoleon I, Emperor of the French, and his control over the government became virtually complete.
Reforms in Law
While Napoleon is often seen in terms of his military image, he was also one of history's great administrators. Napoleon set out to make France the greatest nation of Europe. To do this, he proposed many changes and projects, ranging from a complete re-do of the nation's legal system, including the establishment of the civil Code Napoléon, to a massive road construction project.
In 1804, Napoleon took on the legal system of France. The system of laws was in a state of chaos. Laws were not codified and were based on Roman law, ancient custom or monarchial paternalism. During the revolution, many laws were changed. It was difficult to determine what law applied in any given situation, and laws were not equally applied to everyone.
The mishmash of laws were codified and written clearly so that the people could determine what law applied. It incorporated much of the Roman law. For the first time in history, the law was based on reason and founded on the notion that all men were equal before the law. It guaranteed individual rights (except for women and blacks) and the security of property. In short it codified many of the ideals of the revolution. The Napoleonic Code became profoundly influential to other European countries in the 19th century.
Reforms in Government
Napoleon centralized the government, putting control firmly in the hands of the national government. It became more efficient. Advancement in the civil service and the military was based on merit rather than rank. The tax system was applied equally to all.
Reforms in Education
Napoleon built many new lycees, schools for boys age 10 to 16. He recognized the importance of education in producing citizens capable of filling positions in his bureaucracy and military. Although he did not create a system of mass education, education was more available to the middle class than it ever had been before. He saw education as a way of indoctrinating "right-thinking" citizens from an early age. He didn't see the need to educate girls, since they could learn everything they needed from their mothers. They were not to be active citizens.