History Mr.Ferrick 3256 words Table of Contents Introduction…………………………………………………





Table of Contents

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early life and rise to power……………………. pg.4-5


and “egalite”……………………………………… pg.7-

and “libertè”……………………………………… pg.7-9

and “fraternitè”……………………………………pg.














Did Napoleon fail in fulfilling the
basis of the French revolution: Liberté,
Égalité, Fraternitè?

When the French Revolution began on
July 14th, 1789, throughout the streets of France, revolutionaries
could be heard crying “Liberté, Égalité,
Fraternité”, liberty, equality and brotherhood. These same words have become an
integral aspect of French culture. They can be found inscribed in buildings, on
postal stamps, coins, and even the 1958 Constitution. This slogan has become
synonymous with the idea of freedom in France, and is the central idealism that
led to democracy. Yet, until 1792 France was ruled by an absolute monarchy. The
first son born into the royal family would be King, despite his wishes or

Societally, there was no unification. There were three
distinct classes, known “estates”. The first was the clergy since religion
played a central role in the monarchy in France, by establishing the clergy as
the top class, they were allowed to escape taxation. Religion played a central
role in post-revolutionary France, making the church an integral part of
society. Catholicism was the only permitted religion in France, which gave the
church significant power over the government, and allowed them to often acted
as government advisors. The second estate was the nobility, comprised of those
who possessed aristocratic titles. The second estate was split between those
who earned their titles by military service, and those who earned it by being
born into a noble family. The third estate made up 98 percent of the population
and was comprised of peasant farmers. Many were feudal tenants, in debt with their
landlords and  left with virtually no
money to pay for anything additional. In the post-revolutionary era of France,
the first and second estates were not taxed by the government, despite that they
were the classes that had enough income to pay them. The third estate received
the burden of paying taxes even though they had no representation in the

The French Revolution is widely acknowledged as the
catalyst of the French government. France had been ruled by an absolute
monarchy and the peasantry, known as the third estate, was struggling to pay
the increasingly high taxes and be able to afford necessities like food and
shelter. Though there were many factors that contributed to the start of the
French revolution, most notably, the success of the American Revolution which
had ended in 1783 and the unjust taxation the peasantry faced. The French
revolution officially began on July
14, 1789 when the Parisian
third estate seized the Bastille. This ignited the revolution in France and
began the “Reign of Terror” which lasted from September
5, 1793, to July 27, 1794.

 Though the revolutionary era had many
charismatic leaders none were as well-known as Napoleon Bonaparte. Bonaparte’s
humble origins set him apart from other generals and leaders. He was not born
into royalty or nobility, but rather into an average family on a small island.
Although his family was Tuscan nobility in the 16th century, they
lost a great deal of their wealth over time. They were lawyers by heredity and
were simple, just wealthy enough to own a modest home. Napoleon was born on
August 15th in 1769, the second child of Carlo Mario da Bonaparte
and Letizia Ramolino. As a boy, he wanted to serve in the British navy, but he
was dissuaded by his parents from perusing this. Bonaparte was a talented
mathematician, which was an invaluable gift, and served him well in his
militaristic pursuits. Napoleons life began to change when he was awarded a
place at a high-class French academy. On December 31st, 1778, at
only age nine, Bonaparte was given a place at the royal military school, as
well as at a preparatory school at Autun.  He spent a year schooling at Autun, and then
five years at the military college at Brienne, culminating with one year at the
academy for offices in Paris. Napoleons years of schooling marked his
transition to a professional French soldier.

The climate of revolution era France
provided to be the perfect place for a young, pragmatic leader such as Napoleon
to rise to power. Yet Napoleon did not want revolution. He believed in change,
the rapid evolution of a country. “He wanted things to work better, or more
fairly and faster.” The success of the American revolution was fresh in the
minds of the down trodden peasantry, as they clung to the belief that they could
free themselves from the oppressive upper estates. When the revolution began on
July 14th, 1789 with the storming of the Bastille, a military
fortress that symbolized the “ancien regime”, it was led by the third estate.
This began a period known as the Reign of Terror in France, which was marked by
mass executions by guillotine and betrayal in all layers of society. This is
when Napoleon took power. During the beginning of the Reign of Terror, Napoleon
was working in Egypt. Napoleon returned to France where, in one month after his
arrival, he and a group of politicians overthrew the current government known
as the Directory and established the Consulate.

Despite the political turmoil in
revolutionary France, the same principals that began the revolution, the
acquisition of liberte egalite and fraternite was still the driving force
behind the revolutionaries. Napoleon is without doubt one of the main
characters of the revolution, yet his personal ideology did not match up with
that of the initial revolutionaries. Throughout his rise to power and time as
leader, his disregard for all three major principals of the revolution raises
the question of if Napoleon failed in achieving the initial goals of the




The Napoleonic Code, sometimes
referred to as the “French Code Napoléon” was written on March 21st
1804 by the consulate led by Napoleon Bonaparte during his time as emperor of
France. The code was a necessary creation, as each of the different regions in France
was governed by different sets of laws, which varied greatly with each other.
Religion, specifically Roman Catholicism played a large role in the creation of
laws prior to the revolution. Unlike previous codes and sets of laws prior, the
Napoleonic code was created with the intent to be free from past prejudices,
whether they be religious or feudal. The Code regulated societal aspects that
were unclear or simply unregulated prior to its creation. By creating a
powerful and succinct code of laws, Napoleon solidified his position as the
leader of the country.

Napoleon’s religious beliefs were in
part what made him such a successful ruler. In 18th century France,
the majority of the population was Catholic. Prior to the French revolution,
the catholic church played a significant role in the government. Priests and
other church officials made up the first estate, paying no taxes and were
considered almost like royalty. When the French revolution began in 1789, many
citizens who were once catholic abandoned their religious beliefs, likely
because the revolutionaries considered anyone who sympathized with the church
to be an enemy of the revolution, and would possibly face the guillotine. Coming
into office, it was clear that Napoleon did not hold religion to a high regard,
and stated that “Religion is what
keeps the poor from murdering the rich.”, to emphasize his beliefs that
religion is a man made concept used for control. While Napoleon might have
regarded the ideology of using religion as a means for control as morally wrong,
it is one he adopted when he came into power. Though the Napoleonic code he
created allowed for freedom of religion it is regarded as a political tactic
created to help him gain more power over the individual. Because Napoleon did
not require for the citizens of the lands he conquered to change their
religion, he won the favor of the people there. This was politically successful
because it insured that they were less likely to rebel. Napoleon once said
that, “It is by making myself Catholic that I brought peace to Brittany and
Vendée. It is by making myself Italian that I won minds in Italy. It is by
making myself a Moslem that I established myself in Egypt. If I governed a
nation of Jews, I should reestablish the Temple of Solomon.” (Napoleon) . Since
his religious beleifs at the time he assumed a role of power were not strong, Napoleon
was able to use religion to his advantage. This made him more powerful in
achieving his goals of conquering other lands, as well as controlling France.
Since Napoleon allowed for freedom of religion in his Napoleonic code, it can
be surmised that religious liberty was achieved during his time as leader.
Although this liberty was only achieved because of Napoleons desire to gain more
power over the people, he provided them with a freedom they didn’t have while
the monarchy was in power.


Although one of the founding ideals of
the French revolution was equality, Napoleon’s personal actions point to the
fact that perhaps he did not believe in equality for all. Prior to the installation
of the Napoleonic code, nearly all aspects of family life was mandated by the
Catholic church. This made actions like divorce or annulment uncommon, only
being allowed if there was physical abuse or defamation (Napoleon series). When
the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” was written during the revolution, it
did not grant equal rights to women. They were denied many political rights
like voting, owning a home or business or initiating a lawsuit. Because of this
in 1791 feminist Olympe de Gouges to create the “Declaration of the Rights of
Woman”,  where she argued that women
should be viewed as equal to men. However, under the radical rule of the
Jacobins, her act was considered treasons and she was killed. Even prior to
Napoleons ascent to power during the revolutionary time, the entirety of The
French revolution proved to be a major setback for women’s rights, despite  many other groups being granted more political
freedoms and rights. As a ruler, Napoleon continued to hold women to the same
regard that they had been held to in the centuries prior. Napoleon stated that, “Women ought to obey us. Nature has made women our
slaves!”. This radical viewpoint held by Napoleon was
furthered in his Napoleonic code, which did not advance the movements of women’s rights in
France. As shown in the Napoleonic code, spousal abuse was not considered a
crime despite the fact that it was considered a crime during the French
revolution. This was a major setback on the front of gender equality, as it
furthered the predisposed gender roles. The code also declared that women were
subject to the control of their fathers or husbands, and could not own property
without their consent. Napoleon was able to continue the patriarichal society
in France together through these laws by refusing to give women any powers that
could allow them to become successful. The success of women during the
Napoleonic regieme was dependant on the men in their lives. Another setback to
women’s equality caused by the Napoleonic code was that according to the Code a
wife “could not inherit her dead husband’s
land because the “blood family” would then no longer own it.” (CRF). This law
was once an old feudal law, which Napoleon reinstated, which exemplifies his
antiquated position on the front of women’s suffrage. Through the
implementation of these regulations in the Napoleonic code, Napoleon failed in
achieving the goal of equality as women were greatly marginalized and silenced
by the laws instated in the Napoleonic code. Napoleon promoted the idea of  viewing women not as men’s equals, but
something they could control.






Napoleons regieme was marked by his desire and
ambitious plan to expand France’s colonial sphere. Napoleon planned to
establish colonies in America, India, and Australia to establish his power as a
world leader. Napoleons ambitious plan to expand France’s colonies included the
re-establishment of slavery although it was abolished during the French
Revolution. During the revolution, slavery was abolished, likely in the pursuit
of achieving “egalitè” for all, not only the French. However Napoleon did not
continue with the liberal minded thinking brought about during the revolution.
By re-establishing slavery in Frances colonies.

created and organized legion of honor, which was military that anyone could
join as long as they promised to uphold he principals of the French revolution,
liberty and equality. (Pallardy). In the rules of the Legion of Honor it was stated that “The trade in the blacks and their
importation into the said colonies shall take place in conformity with the laws
and regulations existing prior to the said date of 1789” (Costly). Although the
Legion of Honor was created to promote the re-instatement of slavery, one of
the requirements for joining was to honor equality. This in itself depicts
Napoleons disregard for equality in its truest form, and shows that Napoleon
used equality as a political excuse and a way to gain public support.

The re-instation of slavery in the French colony of Saint-Domingue was
met with much resistance. Napoleon planned to reinforce France’s dominance in
Saint-Domingue by sending the commander in chief of a twenty-thousand-man
expeditionary army, Leclerc to Saint-Domingue. Napoleons instructions to Leclerc
were split into three portions; to convince the residents of Saint-Domingue
that France only had peaceful intentions while establishing control of major
ports, to leave the masses leaderless, and to reinstate slavery, and return all
blacks to plantations. The Haitian troops rebelled against Leclerc led by revolutionary
Toussaint Overture an  used the tropical
climate to their advantage since many of the French soldiers became immediately
ill upon arrival. the rebel troops continued to fight against the French, using
their tropical climate to their advantage as many of the French immediately got
sick upon arrival. On April 27th, 1802, Napoleon issued a decree that
reestablishes slavery in other French colonies, but promised that slavery would
not be reinstated in Saint-Domingue. However, Napoleon went back on his word
and slavery was established again in Saint-Domingue.

Napoleon’s acquisition of colonies

 After Napoleons return from his
exile to the Mediterranean island of Elba he begins to look at slavery with a
more “liberal” approach. He decided to finally abolish the slave  trade 
in all ports of France as well as French colonies, any breach of these
laws will result in trial by jury.


While the Napoleonic regime had many negative aspects
on the front of equality, there were some successes. Revolutionary France was
the first European country to grant the Jewish civil rights. There were
ulterior motives to this though. The French hoped that by removing restrictions
on Jewish employment they would integrate into society and become a part of the
French culture. Even after achieving political rights, there were complaints
about the lack of integration of the Jewish in the French culture. Frustrated
by this, Napoleon asked a council of Jewish leaders 12 questions, all of which
were ignorant, and condescending, such as “Are Jews allowed to have more than
one wife?”. An imperial decree issued one year later stated that Jews must
apply yearly for a business license and they must take a French name.


Another one of the principals of the French
revolution was liberté. Liberty is defined as the “freedom from an arbitrary or
despotic government or control” and based off  this definition  alone, Napoleon did  not promote the liberty of the citizens of
France during his time in power. Napoleon seized his power in 1799 during a
coup d’etat, and established a new government, the consulate. To legitimatize
his reign and assert his power on may 18th 1804 Napoleon curated a
Senate who he knew would proclaim that he was the “hereditary emperor of the
French” (Shannon Selin) ,thus assuring that if he died while he was on the
throne, his legacy would live on. This also would reassure those who had
acquired assets from the revolution that their assets were secure.  There was also a national survey held to
confirm that the citizens approved of Napoleons change in status, over three
million people voted and “99.93% in favour and 2,569 against.” (Shannon Selin).
Over half of the potential voters in the country refused to vote and it can be
assumed that the results were doctored based off the sheer unfathomability of
over 99% of the population approving of the change in title. However, Napoleons
coronation was being planned regardless of the results of the vote. Napoleon
requested the Pope attend his coronation ceremony. The Pope attended
traditional coronations for French monarchs, and they had been treated as
legitimate and powerful rulers for centuries up until the revolution. Napoleon’s
replication of the ceremonies of previous monarchs, was done on purpose, and
was his way of establishing himself as a legitimate and powerful ruler. However,
in this act, he showed his blatant disregard for the causes of the revolution
itself. The French citizens did not want another monarchy, but a more
democratic and representative approach to government. At the ceremony, the Pope
anointed Napoleons head in accordance with tradition but Napoleon crowned
himself rather than letting the pope do it. This revealed Napoleons desire to
be viewed as powerful, even more so than the highest religious leader in the
world. This was the first in a series of many occurrences in his life where
Napoleon’s actions have appeared tyrannical. He
aggressively pursued his own objectives to seize power or win battles,
sometimes at the cost of individual liberties or even civilian lives. (Liberty
or Death) When Bonaparte’s troops were in Italy in 1796 and 1797, if civilians
resisted the occupying troops, Bonaparte responded ruthlessly. In the south of
Milan he ordered killings and allowed pillaging and looting that enriched both
he and his soldiers and the army in Italy had the benefit of receiving their
pay in cash. In Verona, 10,000 civilians were killed and his troops slaughtered
massive numbers in Nice.  He appeared not
to care about the cost of individual lives during his quest for success. Bonaparte
essential seized power of the Council of Five Hundred with the help and support
of his brother, who was President of the Council.  In November 1799, Bonaparte and his troops
essentially attempted to enter the Council to take over by force.  His brother ultimately needed to help but in
the end the members were driven out and this ended what had been 10 years of a
parliamentary rule.  A few months later,
his brother would again help as he altered the number of supposed “yes” votes
by the millions when less than 2000 had voted with the result that power was
limited within a few consuls that would pass legislation.  In addition, Bonaparte limited the powers of
local governments and made all the local mayors essentially be appointed either
by the Consul or his own department. 
Power, once again was being concentrated to a few and through
appointments, not free elections.  The
will of the local people governed by appointed.

In conclusion, Napoleon
failed to bring “egalité, liberté, and fraternité”, the driving principals of
the French revolution to the country. In many ways, his reign brought upon more
social constraints, and pushed the French further from achieving these goals
than they were under the monarchy.

Something that must be considered is
that throughout the span of the revolution and Napoleons time in power is that
liberte egalite fraternite may have lost their influence. While these points
were major points of contention during the monarchy, once the peasantry stopped
being obliged to pay such high taxes without representation, the
revolutionaries desire for liberte egalite fraternite may have decreased.









Johnson, Paul. Napoleon. Penguin Putnam Inc. 2002.

England, Steven. Napoleon: A Political Life. Harvard University Press, 2005.

Gengembre, Gerard, et al. Napoleon: The Immortal Emperor. Hachette
Illustrated, 2003.

Forrest, Alan. : Napoleon’s Conquest
and it’s Legacy.” OpenDemocracy, Open Security, 1 June 2010 www.opendemocracy.net/opensecurity/alan-forrest/napoleons-conquest-and-its-legacy.

Magazine.” Pitlane Magazine RSS, www.pitlanemagazine.com/ethnicity-and-gender/the-effect-of-the-napoleonic-code-on-womens-rights.html.

 “Napoleon, the
Jews and French Muslims.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Mar. 2007,

The Haitian
Revolution 1804-1805, library.brown.edu/haitihistory/11.html.

 “The Concordat of 1801.” HistoryWiz: The
Concordat of 1801, History Wiz, www.historywiz.com/concordat.htm.

Decree Abolishing the Slave Trade, 1815, The Napoleon Series, www.napoleon-series.org/research/government/legislation/c_slavery2.html.

Rose, Napoleon, I, Ch. XV; Henry
Adams, History of the United States, I, Chs. XIII-XVI, passim, for Napoleon’s colonial plans.


Exiled to Elba.” History.com, A Television Networks, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/napoleon-exiled-to-elba.

Andrew. “BRIA 15 2 a The Code Napoleon.” Constitutional Rights


Bumpy Coronation of Napoleon.” Shannon Selin, 9 Dec. 2016,




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