The most important, influential, enlightened, and powerful ruler since Alexander the Great was manifested in one of the most loved, hated, revered, respected, and feared figures of all European historyóNapoleon Bonaparte. Throughout history, the dream of the powerful has been to conquer and prosper. Alexander the Great, King of Macedon, conquered the known world by the time of his death in 323 BCE and strove to blend the three major cultures of the time, Greek, Persian, and Egyptian, into one perfect society. Almost three hundred years later, Julius Caesar was declared temporary dictator of Rome, and following his death, his successor, Octavian, was declared Emperor after a vicious and bloody civil war, setting the stage for the greatest Empire ever seen on Earth. These three rulers, namely Alexander, strove to improve the quality of life of their subjects, as many claim Napoleon did during his reign as emperor of France. Critics of these so-called benevolent dictators have stated that they mercilessly enforced their will among the people and only allowed imperial doctrines to be enacted. On July 14, 1789, a Parisian mob stormed the Bastille and began the French Revolution. This revolution was a reaction against the tyranny of the French society and the oppression of the masses, the exact crimes dictators are charged with. For the next ten years, the people of France issued constitution after constitution, continuously increasing their recognized rights. Many believe that Napoleonís rule of France even further developed these rights, whereas an equal amount believe that he stifled French rights as sacrifice to his own unquenchable thirst for absolute power. For almost two centuries, historians and philosophers alike have tried their hands at divining the truth as to Napoleonís rightful historical identity, and yet the question still remains unanswered: Was Napoleon a God among men, or a serpent in the fields of Heaven?
Born in 1769 on the island of Corsica shortly after France had annexed the territory, Napoleon was the brilliant son of a middle class lawyer of Florentine noble lineage and immediately seemed destined for great things. Young Bonaparte was so intelligent and creative that he was granted a royal scholarship in the Eícole Militaire, a military school in which he had many bad experiences. Napoleon was short and somewhat of a loner among the other children. Rejected because of his odd appearance and silly, unnatural French accent, he developed an extreme interest and pride in his studies, leading to the claim that books on famous military commanders and campaigns were his best friends. Napoleon very avidly read the works of the philosophes of the Enlightenment and developed the philosophical thinking that would benefit France so vastly in the future. It seems that Napoleonís great intellectual inkling, almost-infatuation with the military, short stature (though he curiously was slightly taller than the average Frenchman at the time), and rejected feelings during his school days contributed to a sort of inferiority complex the tilted him in the path of the James Bond-style, classic World Domination goal and drove his lust for power, possibly leading to many of the unnecessary corruptions of his enlightened rule. Thanks in large part to the rise of the French Revolution and its abolishment of the nobility dominating the military ranks, Napoleon was able to rise very quickly through the military due to his immense tactical and strategic skill. At the Battle of Toulon in 1793 against the British army, Napoleonís commanding officer was rendered incapacitated. Napoleon then took charge and shouted orders from atop a hill. The battle was a great victory and Bonaparte won much recognition. Napoleon would continue to picture the title of General as a goal too lofty to be realized until one crisp October day in 1795.
In October, 1795, an event would occur that would change the course of history in a most profound way. While Napoleon was leading some drilling soldiers and artillery units, the ever-present Parisian mob surged in uproar and tried to storm the National Convention. Napoleon, seizing the moment, turned the artillery on the crowds. The mob was instantly silenced and their rebellion squelched. Napoleon was then granted the rank of General for his heroism, quick thinking, and above all, patriotism. He was given control of the Italian Campaign, setting the course for a string of events all stemming from his blast to success in Paris which he would later very eloquently describe as a ďÖwhiff of grapeshot.Ē In his experience of the Italian Campaign, Napoleon shaped an army of immature green boys into the jewel of all Military Europe. He conquered all targeted lands and became the newest hero of the French people. Napoleon then turned his attention to Great Britain. Realizing that it was folly to attack the British mainland, he focused on taking British colonies in Egypt and then India. Napoleon sailed to Egypt where he met the Mamluk Turks in the Battle of the Pyramids and achieved a devastating victory which lasted only one hour and claimed only thirty French deaths against six thousand Mamluks. Shortly after this victory, the naval Battle of the Nile witnessed British Lord Horatio Nelson exercise his far superior fleet and destroy every vessel Napoleon controlled, cutting the young generalís sea routes. In response, the ever-resourceful Napoleon Bonaparte, in the wake of the destruction of his entire fleet, relaxed in the Egyptian paradise and was even crowned Pharaoh (as was Alexander and Caesar) and declared a god. Truly this contributed to his ever-expanding ego. Concerned about the political state of affairs in France, he secretly slipped away to Syria, abandoning his army. Napoleon returned in triumph to France before news of his defection was discovered. The military genius and defeater of the vile, evil, and barbarous Mamluk Turks was hailed as one of the greatest icons in France and saw his crown within reach. But, to rule France as he wished, the Pharaoh would have to join forces with a Priest.After the execution of Maxamilien Robespierre and the beginning of the Reactionary phase of the Revolution, the Directory was formed as the leading political body of France. The Directory was comprised of five members, the head of which was Abbe Sieyes. This was an ineffective and unpopular form of government which Napoleon and Sieyes allied against and overthrew in the coup of 1799. They established a consular system similar to that of Ancient Rome in which Napoleon was the First Consul and, according to Article 42 of the new French Constitution, the final decision-maker of the Consulate. Already extremely popular with the Romantic peoples for his astonishing prowess on the battlefield and his addition to French territory, Napoleon used his position as dominant first Consul to further his good name by enhancing the nation's domestic system. In the aftermath of Robespierreís fanatical de-Christianization, the French peasantry yearned for their religion and Napoleon delivered as he engaged in the Concordat of 1801 with Pope Pius VII. The Concordat provided that the Pope accept the Revolution, Catholicism be restored to France along with Protestant religions unhindered, and the French governmentís domination of the French Church. Napoleon also enacted a new and far superior Civil Code than any yet introduced to France, aptly dubbed the Napoleonic Code. The Code called for equality before the law, freedom of profession, complete religious toleration, and the full abolition of feudalism, prohibited secret laws by making all passed laws displayed in public records, strictly prohibited the practice of ex post facto law, encouraged judges to interpret the law (by not allowing them to refuse a judgment based on legal insufficiency) while discouraging bench legislation, and liberalized divorce while established the male as undisputed head of house. The Napoleonic Code did, however, undo much positive legislation enacted during the Radical Phase such as equal property inheritance among the sexes. Napoleon also counteracted the freedom of speech movement by censoring nearly all French newspapers and even allowing government officials to open mail. He restructured the French bureaucracy into an efficient and very cost-effective machine. He revised the tax system so that all French citizens were taxed equally and proclaimed in 1802 to have balanced the budget. Mathematicians even give Napoleon credit for discovering and proving what is called "Napoleon's Theorem," which states that when equilateral triangles are drawn on the sides of an existing equilateral triangle, the centers themselves form an equilateral triangle. In a highly enlightened yet generally unpopular political action, Napoleon emancipated the Jews of his lands by abolishing laws restricting them to living in organized ghettos (and in 1799 he actually prepared a proclamation declaring a Jewish state in Palestine but never issued it.) Realizing that had the Revolution not occurred and battered the hereditary bounds of military control, Napoleon never would have made General, he instituted a Merit System comparable to that set forth in Confucianism in which individuals would be judged by their talents and not status. Culminating everything the French people were looking for to regroup their society after the bloodthirsty chaos of the Revolution, Napoleon was legitimately elected to be Consul for life in 1802 and crowned himself Emperor Napoleon I in 1804 for better or for worse. The world was now Napoleonís for the taking. The armies of France were cheering for their emperor and ready to storm across Europe and evolve into the famed Grand Arme.
Fighting against the Baltic League and multiple coalitions between Austria, Russia, Prussia, and Great Britain, France managed to carve out new territories annexed throughout Europe and spread Napoleonís influence to the very outskirts of the continent. Contemporary historian Colin Randall claims Napoleon attempted chemical genocide to combat L'Overture's Hatian revolt by burning sulphur to create sulphur dioxide gas, which was used in ships holds as makeshift gas chambers to kill 100,000 blacks. The revolt, however, was successful and forced Napoleon to abondon his American campaign and sell the Louisiana Territory to President Thomas Jefferson in 1803. He won battles against the Austrians in Italy and tried, but failed, to invade the English mainland due to the prowess of Lord Nelson. Nelson in turn destroyed half the French fleet at the great naval battle of Trafalgar in 1805 off the southern coast of Spain. Napoleon then fought the astonishing battle of Austerlitz in which minimal and maximum casualties were suffered by the French and Austrian forces respectively, proving that France was the superior land force in Europe. Beethoven, awed with respect for the Emperor, wrote The Eroica for the idol and scratched out the dedication to the Emperor when he experienced first-hand Napoleonís tyranny to foreigners when the French marched into Berlin. The Grand Arme proved to be the most seasoned and feared fighting force in Europe after the defeat of the Russians at Friedland in 1807, resulting in the Agreement of Tilsit in which the Emperor and Czar Alexander agreed to ally and split the world between them, much as did Hitler and Stalin in World War II's nonagression pact. Napoleon and Alexander redrew the map of Europe as they saw fit. They dismantled the utter failure of the Holy Roman Empire, about which Voltaire had so cleverly quipped "[It] is neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire," and put in its place the sixteen state Confederation of the Rhine. In 1810 Napoleon made the mistake of divorcing his wife Josephine and marrying Marie-Louise, the daughter of the recently defeated Francis II of the Austrian House Hapsburg, the longstanding enemy of France and family of Marie Antoinette, the deposed Queen of France. This marriage caused the people of France to distrust their Emperor. In an effort to economically defeat Great Britain, Napoleon instituted the Continental System on Europe, which forbade trade with England. The Continental System disrupted the middle classís trade and broke the alliance with Russia. It was a complete and utter failure. The involvement in the Peninsular War of 1808-1813 mired Napoleon in conquered Spain and Portugal subject to guerilla attacks and battles with the Duke of Wellington, stretching the Grand Arme far too thin. Despite these heavy losses, Napoleonís army remained supreme in Europe and brought the monarchs of the world quaking to their knees and stuttering for mercy.
In 1812, the greatest army ever seen in Europe led by the greatest military commander since Alexander the Great, Emperor Napoleon I of France, embarked on one of the most colossal military blunders of all time. Napoleon had made the decision to invade Russia. It would seem as though Napoleonís ego had gotten the better of him as he marched his army into Russia continually defeating the Russian army and forcing their almost continuous retreat. Czar Alexander, however, was no fool. The Czar was purposefully retreating and drawing Napoleon further into the Russian landscape, knowing that winter was soon coming. Outraged by these tactics, Napoleon was forced to idly march as 150,000 French troops were killed by General Winterís brigade in a single month. Winning the Battle of Borodino sealed the conquest of Moscow, so the iron-tough Russians created what must have been one of the most dazzling and horrific sites any man has ever witnessed as they burned their own capital city to prevent Napoleon from quartering there. Napoleon had no other choice but to retreat. The winter continued to claim victims as did the tribes of raiding Cossacks. Upon his return to France, Napoleon had only ninety-three thousand troops out of the six hundred thousand with which he entered Russia. His force was exhausted and the Sixth Coalition saw its chance to strike and reclaim the globe. The Coalition met Napoleon in the Battle of Leipzig, or the Battle of Nations and defeated the Emperor. The Coalition Powers exiled Napoleon to the island of Elba and bestowed upon him the mocking title of ďThe Emperor of Elba.Ē The Powers then formed the Congress of Vienna in attempt to reconstruct the tattered world, but Napoleon would not have it. He escaped from Elba, gathered another army, engaged the Coalition in the Battle of Waterloo, and was defeated once and for all. He was then exiled to Saint Helena where he eventually died of what was proclaimed stomach cancer in 1821.
And so, even with a working knowledge of who and what Napoleon was, and what he accomplished, it is very difficult to evaluate his place in history. Napoleon was indisputably a fantastic general, brilliant mind, courageous and efficient ruler, and Master Manipulator of Men. Initially Napoleon ruled with a love of France and Revolutionary ideals in mind, but became slowly perverted by power. He enforced roaring contradictions on conquered lands and suppressed the new nationalistic movements began by the French Revolution and spread by his conquests that became his enemies. While Napoleon was equal to Alexander the Great in skill and intelligence, there is almost no comparison between the ideologies of the two. Alexander strove for the fulfillment and perfection of humankind whereas Napoleon strove for power and victory. Truly Napoleon is a great man in the sense that he shall never be forgotten, and in the end, that is for what all great men strive. Are deeds as colossal as the conquest of Europe through and supported by good or evil means any less stupendous than the other? Just as one looks back on the splendor of Hitlerís Third Reich, as the Nazi Party viewed it, and its strength, efficiency, and skill in attaining territory, one must view Napoleonís Empire in a class and light all its own and respect it if not for its government policies, for one thing: the sheer power that can be amassed by a single dreamer. Napoleon is not simply an evil, corrupt, twisted, and perverse figure, despite how many view him, but rather he is a man to be praised, feared, held in awe, revered, loved, and above all, respected for all time. Napoleon does not represent the tyranny of dictatorial governments, but the accomplishments that can come from the lethal focus of creativity and intelligence. Napoleon is a monument to stand for all time for that which is attainable through belief in oneself and the courage to seize what one wishes. The Emperor reminds future generations that having power means having a responsibility not just to oneself, but those which are dependant upon one. With the gifts given to humans comes the responsibility to use them for the benefit of all and not simply for self gain. Though, in the reality of history, it is one single doctrine which shapes time, tears borders and lives apart, produces the greatest of all accomplishments of the mind and spirit, and spins the world round. For this, in the collaboration of the Titans of History, Emperor Napoleon I of France ranks as one of the greatest men ever to exist. For this doctrine, Napoleon Bonaparte shall never be forgotten, and will always be held highest in the hearts of those men who respect above all things the omnipresent driving force of history: The Doctrine of Power.