Napoleon’s Reforms and the Principles of the Revolution

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By the late 1700s, the Directory was blamed for debasement and inefficiency, and lost prevalence because of the negligence of many foreign campaigns. Some citizens urged the return of the monarchy, however others demanded that radical policies established at the beginning of the revolution, needed to be implemented. There was a high chance civil war would break out, and Napoleon sought his opportunity to take over. With the army’s aid he overthrew the Directory which became known as the Coup of 1799. This was the beginning of his reign and he would soon enact many reforms on France, which would not maintain the principles of the Revolution.

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France wanted to make tracks in the opposite direction of the monarchy prior to the revolution. They wanted a voice based system, and to be heard by their legislature. However, Napoleon crowned himself emperor in 1804, and gave the people of France a false hope of a democracy with his plebiscites. They were fixed, and the plebiscites casting a ballot were agreeable to Napoleon and voted in favor of anything he desired. Napoleon also issued a secret police force which could arrest citizens without trial. This went against one of his reforms which was that trial by jury was guaranteed. These were all political signs he would not sustain one of the fundamental standards of the revolution; a democracy.

Similar to what King Louis did, but not sustaining the principles of the revolution, Napoleon attempted to censor the press, and control the newspapers. Also, free discourse was not impeded in the French Empire. Additionally, Napoleon created the Continental System. The British army was very powerful, and had a lot of strength. Napoleon was unable to defeat them, so he developed this system which eliminated trade between Great Britain and Europe, thinking it would weaken their nation. It did not affect their country though, because they created black markets. In 1806, Napoleon went on to write the Berlin Decree preventing any countries allied or dependent on France from trading with Great Britain. The following year, Napoleon issued the Milan Decree to reinforce the Berlin Decree. These reforms were socio-economic signs that he would not maintain the principles of the revolution.

Generally, Napoleon’s reforms did not keep up the standards of the revolution. A portion of his changes in Napoleonic Code however, did. It declared all people equal before the law; special privileges were abolished for the Churchmen, Nobles, and the wealthy. Also, feudal rights were ended, and trial by jury and religious freedom were both guaranteed. Napoleon furthermore changed the education system in France. He believed school was for everyone and set up four grades of school including primary, secondary, lycees, and technical schools. These reforms were very beneficial to the people and maintained the principles of the revolution.

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Napoleon's reforms and the principles of the Revolution. (2019, Nov 07). Retrieved December 9, 2022 , from

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