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Napoleon Bonaparte’s Background
From Corsica and of
Italian descent
Family was minor nobility
but not wealthy
Won a scholarship to a
famous military school
Was unpopular with his
fellow officers early in his
military career
Napoleon Bonaparte’s Background
Napoleon's background: Born in Corsica in 1769, Napoleon
attended a French military school. After graduating and
receiving a commission as a lieutenant in the army, he
continued to study Enlightenment ideas and noted military
campaigns of the past.
Military successes: During the French Revolution, the army
needed able officers, and Napoleon rose to become a
successful commander of the French armies in Italy. He then
led an invasion of Egypt that while successful on land was
foiled by British sea power.
From consul to emperor: When Napoleon returned from
Egypt, he participated in a coup that overthrew the Directory
and established a consulate in which he wielded absolute
power as "first consul." In 1804, he crowned himself as
Emperor Napoleon I.
Napoleon’s Rise to Power
What were major milestones in Napoleon’s rise to power?
Rose quickly through the ranks—from captain in
1792 to commander in 1796
Won battles early on in southern France, defeating
royalist forces supported by the British
Took control of France’s army in Italy and defeated
Austrian troops repeatedly
Overthrew the French government in a coup d’état
in 1799
Gained absolute power; made himself emperor in
Understanding Napoleon’s Success
What personality traits enabled Napoleon to be
Was dedicated and acted decisively
Was intelligent: studied famous military campaigns
to learn from others
Was ambitious and worked hard
Inspired loyalty amongst his troops
Spoke well and with confidence
What difficulties might
Napoleon's background have
presented to a man as ambitious
as he was?
Perhaps being of Italian descent
and not being of noble birth would
not have given him the same
advantages as others in the French
Napoleonic Wars, 1799–1812
What were highlights of the Napoleonic Wars?
During the first phase, France defeated Austria
several times and made peace with Britain in 1802.
France and Britain began fighting again in 1803,
with victories by the British navy making a French
invasion of Britain impossible.
Napoleon then fought a coalition of countries on
the European continent and won brilliant victories
at Ulm, Austerlitz, Jena, and Friedland from 1805
to 1807.
From 1808 to 1812, Napoleon was less successful.
His efforts to defeat Portugal and Spain were
thwarted by British support for his opponents.
After invading Russia in 1812, Napoleon and his
troops were forced to retreat in brutally cold
conditions. Napoleon lost 500,000 soldiers in
Napoleon's Domestic Policies
•Peace with the Church: Napoleon sought to improve relations with the
Catholic Church. He recognized Catholicism as the religion of the
majority of French people, and the pope relinquished claims on Church
lands seized during the French Revolution.
•Codification of laws: The complicated French legal system was
reduced to seven law codes. The most important was the Civil Code,
which, although preserving many rights that had been established
during the revolution, rolled back the rights that women and children had
•Creation of bureaucracy: Napoleon created a centralized
bureaucracy—based on ability rather than nobility—to carry on the work
of government. A new group of nobles, drawn from all classes of society,
was created from the bureaucracy's ranks.
•Censorship: Napoleon betrayed the revolutionary ideal of freedom of
expression, shutting down many newspapers, banning books, and
subjecting prospective publications and even the mail to government
What members of French society
might have disagreed with
Napoleon's domestic policies?
Members of the aristocracy and
nobility would not have liked how
Napoleon decreased their power;
some supporters of the revolution
might have disapproved of
Napoleon's recognition of the
What other domestic problems
might Napoleon's policies have
affected, either positively or
Problem—Poverty and hunger
among peasants; Solution—Feudal
system ended, and improvements
in public education and the Civil
Code made it possible for more
people to pursue their chosen
occupations; Result—Peasants had
more economic opportunities.
Napoleon’s Major Victories, 1805-1806
In 1805, Napoleon gave up on an invasion of England
because of France's naval inferiority. He turned his
attention to the European mainland and attempted to
expand France's control eastward. During this campaign
he won some of his most brilliant victories, and by the
time Russia and Prussia signed peace treaties with
France in 1807, Napoleon was near the height of his
Why was Napoleon's Grand Army successful?
Napoleon's army was successful because Napoleon
outsmarted his opponents militarily, often surprising or
tricking them. He also succeeded as a leader, since he
believed soldiers must be treated well in order for them
to fight better.
Napoleon’s Empire
Wars in Europe: Napoleon tried to make peace with France's enemies to
give his country a respite from warfare, but war broke out again with
Britain, Prussia, Austria, Russia, and Sweden. Napoleon managed to
defeat all his foes except Britain. Continental Europe became a Grand
Empire under his control.
Grand Empire: Napoleon's Grand Empire consisted of three main parts:
the French Empire; dependent states, in which Napoleon had installed his
relatives as monarchs; and allied states, which Napoleon had defeated
and forced to join his war against Britain.
Spread of revolutionary ideas: One effect of Napoleon's conquests was
the spread of French revolutionary ideas, such as equality under the law,
religious toleration, and economic freedom.
Continental System and spread of nationalism: Intent on defeating
Great Britain, Napoleon pinned his hopes on his Continental System,
designed to weaken Britain by trying to prevent British goods from being
traded in continental Europe. Napoleon also aroused the spirit of
nationalism throughout Europe, as the people he had conquered united in
hatred of the French occupiers.
Judging by the lands that Napoleon acquired for
France, what do you think was his number one goal
for his empire?
It appears that Napoleon was trying to control all of
Europe and access to all the major waterways—Atlantic
Ocean, North Sea, and Mediterranean Sea.
How did Napoleon create a revolutionary
government? How did he re-create a monarchy?
Napoleon's code of laws as being revolutionary and his
crowning himself emperor as being a re-creation of the
Napoleon’s Continental System
What did Napoleon try to do with his Continental System?
Prevent the British from trading with other
European countries
To weaken the British economy
To hinder Britain’s ability to wage war
Napoleon’s Continental System
Why did the Continental System fail?
Britain dominated the seas.
Some of Napoleon’s allies traded clandestinely in
British goods.
Other countries resisted participating in Napoleon’s
Smuggled goods entered many North sea
Portugal and Sweden refused to join.
Britain found trade markets outside Europe.
The Middle East and Latin America were new
outlets for British goods.
Napoleon’s Fall
The End of Napoleon’s Empire
Napoleon's defeat in Russia: Russia's refusal to adhere to the
Continental System led Napoleon to invade that country. The Russians
retreated, burning their own fields and villages to deny the French a
source of supplies. Napoleon was eventually forced to withdraw, and the
harsh Russian winter severely depleted the French Grand Army as it
Attack on France and restoration of monarchy: Napoleon's defeat in
Russia emboldened other European powers to make war on the French.
Their forces captured Paris in 1814. Napoleon was sent into exile on the
island of Elba, and the monarchy was restored in France.
Return from exile and final defeat: Napoleon managed to return to
France and raise an army, but in 1815 he was decisively defeated at
Waterloo by British and Prussian forces. He was exiled again—this time
for good—to the island of St. Helena.
Why did Napoleon decide to invade Russia?
He wanted to punish Russia because Russian leaders refused to
remain in the Continental System. Napoleon hoped the invasion would
send a message to other countries thinking of leaving the system.
What are some reasons Napoleon fell from power?
The force of nationalism in Europe; British sea power; the
ineffectiveness of the Continental System in stopping Great Britain;
major military defeats, including defeats in Russia and at Waterloo.
How was each of these islands (Corsica, Great Britain, Elba, and
St. Helena) important in Napoleon's life?
Napoleon was born on Corsica, failed repeatedly to defeat Britain, was
exiled to Elba, and was later exiled on St. Helena, where he died.
Europe After Napoleon
What were the conditions in Europe after the fall of
The Napoleonic Wars had ended.
European countries had developed strong spirits of
Monarchies were restored in accordance with the
principle of legitimacy.
There was relative peace and stability although
political freedoms were reduced.
The great powers rearranged territories to create a
balance of power.
The philosophy of conservatism prevailed.
Post-Napoleonic Europe
The Congress of Vienna: After the fall of Napoleon, representatives of
the victorious powers met at the Congress of Vienna, intent on
restoring the old European order. Led by Prince Klemens von
Metternich of Austria, they wanted to assert a principle of legitimacy by
restoring the royal families who had ruled before Napoleon.
Balance of power and conservatism: The representatives at the
Congress of Vienna redrew territorial boundaries to create a balance of
power in Europe, so that no country would again be able to dominate
the others. Metternich and many other leaders believed in the
philosophy of conservatism, based on a respect for tradition, social
stability, obedience to authority, and organized religion.
Principle of intervention: The great powers, except for Britain,
adopted a "principle of intervention," asserting their right to use
military force to oppose revolutions and restore what they considered
to be legitimate monarchs in countries where governments had been
What was the idea behind the
"balance of power" concept in
European diplomacy?
The great powers sought to prevent any
one nation from dominating the other
nations and thus ensure stability in
Europe by preserving the status quo.
What happened to revolutionary ideas after the French
Revolution was over?
Forces of Change
Liberalism: Opposed to conservatism was liberalism, a philosophy
that grew out of the Enlightenment and held that people should be
largely free from government restraint. Liberals favored the
protection of civil liberties, such as freedom of speech, assembly,
and the press; religious toleration; the right of peaceful opposition to
governments; and representative legislatures.
Nationalism: Another powerful force at the time was nationalism—
people's sense of unity with others sharing their language,
institutions, and customs. The belief arose that each nationality
should have its own government, and this belief was supported by
What Is Liberalism?
liberalism: a political philosophy based on the
ideas that people should be as free as possible
from government restraint and that civil liberties—
the basic rights of all people—should be protected
Example: In the United States, a written
document—the Bill of Rights—was created to
ensure people's freedoms.
What Is Nationalism?
nationalism: the unique cultural identity of a
people, based on a common language, religion,
and culture; a belief that each nationality should
have its own government
Example: The Hungarians wanted the right to
establish their own government rather than be
ruled by the Austrian emperor.
What Is Conservatism?
conservatism: a political philosophy based on
tradition and social stability, favoring obedience to
political authority and organized religion
Example: The powers assembled at the Congress
of Vienna advocated restoring the rule of the royal
families that Napoleon had removed from power.
How are the modern-day usages
of conservatism, liberalism,
and nationalism similar to the usages of the terms
in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe? In
what ways are they different?
Modern liberalism and conservatism both support
universal suffrage, a constitution, and a legislative
branch; modern conservatism does not support a king;
neither term is associated with class structure; modern
nationalism can lead to the division of a country rather
than its unification.