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Nathan O’Donnell

Ms. Burke

Honors World History 10


Napoleon Essay

Napoleon Bonaparte has a complicated legacy. To some, he is an excellent example of a

strong willed and skilled military leader. To others, he is a brutal tyrant who did whatever he

wanted in order to achieve power. In some ways, he is both. His actions can be described as in

line with and against the revolutionary ideals the French people held to such a high regard.

Napoleon supported the Revolution by instituting necessary reforms in education and law, and

undermined the Revolution by making his friends and family nobles and by not abolishing


Napoleon was loved by the French people, was the first ruler after a revolution, and was

tasked with creating a government that would stand the test of time. This description sounds

remarkably similar to the American Founding Father George Washington. Napoleon granted

equal rights to all men, no matter class, and taxed the populace evenly. In America, similar

reforms were instituted. Post-Revolution America and France differed from each other in the rest

of their actions. Napoleon centralized the government and made it more involved in the people’s

lives. For example, Napoleon manipulated the financial system of France. While it did positively

impact the French economy, this is the exact opposite of the American Revolution. The leaders of

the American Revolution were against a centralized, or big, government. They had dealt with

tyranny and wanted to keep it from happening again.
America stuck to its ideas after the Revolution and followed them to perfection.

Napoleon however, did not stick to the ideas of the revolution. He went against the main

principle of destroying the Old Order by making his friends nobles. Napoleon also discriminated

against women and French people of African descent. Grant it, American leaders did nothing for

these two groups either, but it allowed people in these groups to speak their mind provided the

people around them did not discriminate. Napoleon’s government was not pro free speech like

America’s government was at the time. In American society, a women still had certain rights.

Napoleon stripped all rights away from women when he ruled.

Napoleon’s government ended up failing, while America’s government has thrived

throughout nearly 300 years. This is ultimately due to foreign policy. If Napoleon had not gone

on the offensive, he would have had the potential to create a lasting dynasty. He should have

secured his borders and not stolen land from other European powers. If he could have proven to

Europe that he did not want to spread the ideas of the Revolution, he could have pacified them.

America is a perfect example of this. The US decided not to involve itself in foreign politics for

almost 50 years. This allowed the fledgling nation to create a national identity, a working

political climate, and enough time to establish a powerful army. It also allowed for the

development of infrastructure. This period of absence in global affairs essentially sowed the

seeds for the global powerhouse the US would become.

If Napoleon would have modeled its foreign and domestic policy after America, he would

have had more success and been in full support of the French Revolution. While he did follow

most of its principles domestically, he strayed from them in his wars. His lack of adherence to

the principles of the revolution are ultimately what cost him the throne, and his empire.