NapoleonHorse.jpegRyan Chiem

Introduction

The blast of cannons, explosions of gunfire, and the screams of men were a common occurrence in the life of Napoleon Bonaparte. Bonaparte rose from meager beginnings to become one of the most powerful and feared men of the 19th century. He single handedly reshaped the map of Europe and ended hundred-year-old traditions. Destruction, however, was not his only talent. He also left numerous positive and lasting impressions that would be replicated for generations to follow.

Personal Background

On August 15,1769 Charles Marie Bonaparte and Maria Letizia Ramolino had their second son, Napoleon Bonaparte (Appleton). Bonaparte was born in the city of Ajaccio on the island of Corsica and was the second oldest of his seven siblings. Charles Marie Bonaparte was a lawyer who had minor connections to the French nobility, however for the most part the family was not wealthy (Dougdale). Bonaparte would stay on the island of Corsica with his family until the age of eight.
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In 1779 Bonaparte received a scholarship (Appleton) and was sent to Brienne military school in France (Dougdale). During his time in school he was teased for his Corsican accent, poor French, and was seen as quiet and distant. It was during these times that Bonaparte would identify himself as Corsican rather than French (Betros). In class he was said to be very intelligent, determined, and to have a good memory, however it was mathematics and science where his intelligence truly shined (Dougdale). With these skills it was no surprise that Bonaparte would later join the artillery.

Continuing his education Bonaparte later moved to the royal military school in Paris in 1784. To occupy his free time he would often read books about history and philosophy. His fascination about history made him feel that he was able to achieve great things like the men did in books. In 1785 when news of his fathers death reached him it caused him to dive deeper into his studies; trying to graduate early worried about his family's financial status. Bonaparte worked hard and graduated the royal military school in Paris after only attending for one year (Betros).

After leaving school Bonaparte was sent to the town of Valence as a lieutenant in the artillery. While stationed here he became depressed and would often write about his thoughts on Corsican independence and his desire to return home (Betros). In 1793 his family was forced to leave Corica and move to France due to their involvement with Corsican rebels. Bonaparte was finally able to prove himself in 1793 at Toulon. Toulon was a French naval base that had been given to British forces. Bonaparte with 11,000 men to the British 16,000 was able to retake the fortress and secure a French position overlooking the harbor. For his work he was promoted to a Brigadier General (Dougdale).

When riots broke out and threatened the National Convention Bonaparte took command and successfully defended against loyalist counter revolutionaries. This gave Bonaparte national fame and he was given command of the Italian army (Betros). However before he left for Italy a woman by the name of Josephine caught his eye. Josephine was six years older than Napoleon and was a widow. In March of 1796 the two were married, however in the same month Bonaparte would leave for Italy (Betros).

When Bonaparte arrived in Italy he did not receive a warm welcome. He was expecting 60,000 men however he was only given command of 45,000. He also found that the men assigned to him were undisciplined, lacked respect, had low moral, and were badly supplied (Dugdale). While he was Italy Bonaparte wrote many passionate letters to Josephine, however his new wife did not share in his affection. While Bonaparte was away Josephine was having affairs with other men (Betros).

Although outnumbered and under supplied Bonaparte won a series of battles in Italy against the Austrians, forcing them to sign treaties benefiting France. Along with obtaining lands Bonaparte reopened peaceful communications with the Papal States. Bonaparte, knowing the power of religion, negotiated with Pope Pius VI to restored the Catholic presence in France; which had been damaged during the French Revolution (Appleton). After the negotiations with the pope in October of 1797 Bonaparte returned to France in December as a hero. At the age of 28 Bonaparte had achieved the unthinkable and was quickly gaining popularity with the French people (Dougdale). Fearing him as a political threat the French government sent him to Egypt to attack British colonies and trade routes (Appleton).

In May of 1798 Bonaparte arrived in Egypt expecting victory. His plan was to go through Egypt and attack British colonies in India. At first Bonaparte was successful in capturing key cities and coming out victorious in the Battle of the Pyramids. However on the first of August the British navy destroyed the French ships docked in Abokir Bay. Cut off from France and lacking supplies the French army suffered a series of losses. Seeing no chance of victory Bonaparte left Egypt and returned to France in October 1799 (Dougdale).
When he returned to France Bonaparte saw an opportunity to seize power. With abundant external threats and internal unrest Bonaparte was able to carry out a coup in which he disbanded the council of five hundred and in May of 1802 took the title of first consul of France (Appleton). However his ambition would soon lead him to convert his title from first consul of France to Emperor of France (Dougdale).
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As emperor Bonaparte won countless battles, disbanded old traditions in foreign countries, and achieved the unprecedented. However his obsession with Britain led to his fated downfall. As emperor Bonaparte made rash decisions to attempt to damage Britain. These decisions would lead to him losing thousands of troops, local support, millions of riches. With Bonaparte vulnerable the British rallied support from other European countries and mounted a Coalition against the emperor of France. Bonaparte was defeated and exiled to the Mediterranean island of Elba in 1814 (Betros).

While on Elba Bonaparte heard stories of unrest and general civilian unhappiness in France. Sensing an opportunity to return to power Bonaparte left Elba and returned to France where he was met with smiling faces. Bonaparte retook control of France, however this did not go unnoticed by surrounding nations. They quickly called upon their armies and were once again at war with France. Unsurprisingly Napoleon lost; his final loss was the battle of Waterloo. Following his defeat at Waterloo Bonaparte was exiled to the South Atlantic on the island of St. Helena in 1815. He stayed on the island until his death on May 5, 1821 (Parr).

Personality Traits


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Napoleon Bonaparte was a man of many faces. To those close to him he was said to be very caring while to his enemies he was the very face of death. As a child Bonaparte was said to be very smart, as he excelled in math and science in school. His favorite subject was history; reading about historical figures and their accomplishments as a child inspired him to do great things (Appleton). He oddly enough enjoyed the stresses of war; late nights, little sleep, and not changing seemed to excite him. On his campaigns he was known for his short stormy temper, his skill with maps, and his ruthlessness (Dougdale). Bonaparte was a believer in the romantic notion of dying in battle. He would inspire his troops by preaching to them about glory and being remembered. However to his enemies he was seen as cold-blooded and deceitful; leaving deceased troops to die and falsifying reports of himself in France (Betros). Bonaparte was obsessed with his public image. To maintain a good image he would use censorship and exaggerate his accomplishments. Bonaparte believed that if he positively portrayed himself then his legends would not be forgotten. Even while he was in exile on the island of St. Helena he would dress in his royal clothing and present himself in a noble manner (Parr).

Obstacles
Napoleon Bonaparte accomplished many great things, however his life was not without conflict. Bonaparte faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles and overcame them time and time again. When he assumed the title of first consul, he was faced with the task of rebuilding France. The French Revolution had left France in less than favorable conditions and it was Bonaparte's duty to rebuild her. Bonaparte restored the Catholic religion in France, established the bank of France, a stock exchange system, and set in place a new system of laws dubbed the Napoleonic Code. As a man of military service, Bonaparte often faced threat from opposing forces and enemies of the state. In his years of service Bonaparte had established a nemesis, Horatio Nelson. Nelson was a British navy admiral and a thorn in Bonaparte’s side. He sunk French fleets in Egypt and prevented the invasion of Trafalgar. Throughout his lifetime Bonaparte was challenged by seven coalitions, all of which attempted to drag him from power. He was faced with the combined might (in varying combinations) of many European powers such as Spain, Austria, Prussia, England, and Russia (Weider).

Historical Significance

Napoleon Bonaparte was a man who was driven by his own ambition to, quite literally, changed the world. He took part a group of European wars so grand that they were named after him. The results of Bonaparte's actions impacted not only Europe but the whole world through directly or indirectly setting off a chain of events that have shaped modern history.
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During his campaigns in Europe, Bonaparte dethroned monarchs in countries he defeated. When he defeated Spain he established his own brother as its new head of state. This gave Spain’s colonies in Central and South America a cause to rebel. Those colonies went through their own revolutions and emerged as independent countries. Bonaparte’s actions in Europe inadvertently formed new countries that still stand to this day.

The series of European wars Napoleon fought resulted in the death of millions and delayed industrial advancement, however it also created a lasting peace in Europe that was unbroken for almost 100 years. After Bonaparte’s defeat a series of meetings were held in Vienna headed by Europe’s leaders. They expanded, created, and strengthened European countries to maintain peace.

During his conquest of Europe, Bonaparte ran into a problem, he needed funds. The French government had not left the best financial situation for Bonaparte. Seeing no future in the Americas, after the failure to retake the island of Haiti, he decided to cut his losses and sell the Louisiana territory to the United States. A deal was signed and Bonaparte gained the funds he requested however, the primary benefactorin the deal was the United States. The new territory doubled the size of the U.S. and allowed westward expansion for eager explorers. Consequently this directly led the relocation of thousands of Native Americans.

As Consul Bonaparte created the groundwork for policies and systems that are used today. Bonaparte created a system of Lycees, or public schools, where graduates were given positions based on skill rather than birthright. This system was revolutionary for its time and became the model for most modern societies. As a general he also created a system of organized military that has set the standard for modern militaries around the world.

Bonaparte’s actions are so numerous that they alone are enough to fill books. Although he was from common birth he achieved many things such as being the emperor of France, discovering the Rosetta Stone, and forming the basis of Braille to list a few. His significance to history can and should never be underestimated.


References

Appleton, Roberts. "Napoleon I", NapoleonBonaparte.org, 22 November, 2013. Web. 9 December 2014.
http://www.napoleonbonaparte.org/

Betros, Gemma, "Napoleon The Man", History today, 2012, Web. 28 September 2014.
http://www.historytoday.com/gemma-betros/napoleon-man

Dugdale-Pointon, T, "Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1832)", HistoryofWar.org, 7 January 2006. Web. 11 November 2014.
http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_napoleon.html

Parr, Fiona, "The Death of Napoleon Bonaparte and The Retour des Cendres French and British Perspectives", Napoleon.org, Web. 17 November 2014.
http://www.napoleon.org/en/reading_room/articles/files/479507.asp

Peterson, Robert K.D., "The Destruction of the Grand Armée", Entomological Society of America, 1995, Web. 12 October 2014.
http://entomology.montana.edu/historybug/napoleon/typhus_russia.htm

Weider, Ben, "Napoleon: Man of Peace", The International Napoleonic Society. May 2000, Web. 15 September 2014.
http://www.napoleon-series.org/ins/weider/c_peace.html