Napoleon Bonaparte is one of the mmost remarkable figures in the history of Europe. Despite being a great conqueror of his time and creating terror in the continent, he also carried out a number of reforms and lay down a very sound administration in France and proved himself a very efficient administrator. He carried out his civil works and established alw and order in France after it had seen many years of anarchy and confusion. That is why H.A.L. Fisher says, “If Napoleon’s conquests were ephemeral, his civil work in France was built on grainite.” Even Ludwig observes, “He strives for order and peace more resolutely than for war and conquest.”
He carried out his works in all spheres --- political, financial, religious, social, cultural etc. so successfully thayt his name still lives in France.
Centralised Local Government: The National Assembly in France had framed the local administrative system on the electoral basis. But Napoleon was not satisfied with this system.His system was, instead, based on the principles of centralisation and autocracy, and resembled more to the Old Regime than to the Revolutionary. He had more of the spirit of Louis XIV. Grant & Temperley observe, “He desired in everything the establishment of a central authority --- which could only be his own authority --- which should direct or control every part of the life of France.”He placed the Departments and other smaller administrative units ---- arrondissements and communes ---- in the hands of prefects, sub-prefects and mayors. These officers were appointed directly or indirectly by Napoleon.
Napoleon knew that it was only through this system of Centralisation that peace and order could be restored in France and an efficient administrative machinery could be framed. the system worked well, indeed, though it completely ignored teh ideas of self-government.
Equality vs. Liberty: Napoleon had devoted himself to the reorganisation of France. According to him, “Bonaparte came to close the romance of revolution, to heal the wounds, to correct extravagances.” To establish efficiency in administration, he adopted many measures to bring social and economic equality. Equal social rights were provided to all. High posts were no more reserved only for the privileged classes, and merit was the only basis for selection. The officials had to remain faithful to the Emperor and obey his orders. Thus all the able and meritorious persons were offered an opportunity to rise. He also brought many important changes in the Taxation system. Equal taxes were imposed and there was no sign left in the indifference and inequality of taxes.According to A.J. Grant, “He never proposed to re-establish the system of financial privilege.” By making appointments on merit, he became very popular among his subjects, because no French ruler had ever taken steps in this direction so far.
However, he did not favour Liberty, because he considered it as an important factor for creating chaos and anarchy. Grant & Temperley observe, “He thought of liberty as a disturbing factor that prevented the efficiency of a State. There is no hint in anything that he said or wrote that he thought of it as the great force making for stability, order and efficiency.” Press and books were kept under censor-board. Even theatres were controlled by the Government.
Finances : The financial condition in France was deplorable under the rule of the ancien regime. The National Assembly took some steps to reform the French finances, but its reformatory measures added to its debts. The National Convention and the Directory had also not been successful to check the financial indebtness. The economic settlement had failed all trade and industry in the country. Napoleon took very sound measures in this regard. First of all, he equated the taxation system in the country. Then he developed means of irrigation for the development of agriculture. New debt letters were replaced by the old ones. A separate treasure was established for the payment of the national debts. The Government made many arrangements for the technical education in the country. To popularise the national goods among the French, he increased the taxes on the imported goods.
The most significant work, which increased his honour in France, is the establishment of the Bank of France. It was a remarkable measure in the economic field. It was founded in 1800 A.D. Through this bank, he made many attempts to revive the economy of France. Prof. Hayes is very right in his assumption when he considers as “one of the soundest financial institutions in the world.”
Crushing of Rebels and policy of conciliation : The Monarchists attempted to overthrow Napoleon and to reinstate monarchy in France. The Jacobins were seeking an opportunity to defend the Republic. But Napoleon had already made himself popular and won the public support by his extra-ordinary reforms and remarkable successes in the military front. He had raised the prestige of France in the entire vworld. He arrested his rivals and executed many of them. During the revolutionary days, the members of the privileged classes had to run away from France. Now he treated very sympathetically towards these emigrees and invited them to their native country. The offices were opened to all, including the royalists and the Girondists, provided they accepted the existing system.
Military Policy : Basically Napoleon was himself a soldier. Whatever he was and whatever he had achieved was all due to his military power. He introduced many changes in the military organisation and made several reforms in order to defend his achievements and also France against the foreign invasions. He established a very powerful army with modern techniques and arms. He gave no opportunity to his Generals and soldiers to make any complaint. He served them with dresses, shoes and good food. Payments were made regularly. Thus this organisation helped him to establish internal peace and order, conquer the foreign States and defend France against any invasion.
Napoleonic Codes : There existed a number of laws in France before Napoleon. Prof. Hayes says that the laws varied from one place in France to the other. To reconstruct France internally, his greatest achievement in this field was his Codes, which are considered as ‘a benefactor of mankind.’ During his days of exile in St. Helena, he once said taht his Civil Code and not his victories in war, was his most real claim to fame. His Codes came into existence in 1804 and many of them form the law in France till this day. It gave to France a common system of law, which was at all clear, orderly and systematic. It also made justice more rapid, cheap and reliable. Besides, it established social equity in the eyes of law and secured religious toleration for all.
In all, there were five Codes of Napoleon --- Civil Code, Code of Civil Procedure, Code of Criminal Procedure and Penal Law, Penal Code, and the Commercial Code. The Codes passed through many stages before they became binding on France. He took an active part in revising the final draft of the Code. By his Civil Code, he stood for the absolute authority of father within the family. This Code even allowed the father to imprison his children. He was strongly in favour of the subjection of women. He used to say, “The angel told Eve to obey her husband.” It secured many of the victories that had been won by the Revolutiom. The Code of Criminal Procedure followed in many respects the English practice. Although the jury-system was severely criticised, Napoleon maintained it by his influence.
In the Penal Code, branding and confiscation of property was allowed as penalties.
Fisher concludes that although there are some defects, “the Codes preserve the essential conquests of the revolutionary spirit --- civil equality, religious toleration, the emancipation of land, public trial, the jury of judgement. ”
The Concordat : The Civil Constitution of Clergy (1790 A.D.) had divided the Church and the French people in their attitude towards the revolution. A large number of lower clergy had completely turned against it. It had made a considerable section of masses against it. Napoleon sought to win their gratitude by restoring the Roman-Catholic Church in France which had been the chief stumbling throne of the Revolution. In 1801 A.D., he made an agreement with the Pope, popularly known as the Concordat. He approved Catholicism as the greatest religion in France. The Church was returned its confiscated property. The bishops were now to be appointed by the State though nominated by the Pope. “The Pope could only reject his nominees on the ground of heresy or immorality, and, if there was no fault to be found with them on these points, was bound to grant canonical investiture.” The bishops had to take an oath of fidelity to the Government. Thus Catholicism was re-established in France, dependent on the State and satisfying the majority of the population.
Though Napoleon re-established the Catholic Church in France, its position was entirely different than in the pre-revolutionary France. To quote Napoleon, “The people must have a religion and the religion must be in the hands of the Government.” The object of his religious policy in the words of Ketelby is, “Religion was to him only a useful political instrument, a national imaginative focus, a social cement, a safety valve.”
Educational system : Napoleon introduced a number of reforms in the educational field as well. ‘Education is very essential for the development of a nation’, were his views. There were to be schools of four catagories : primary, secondary, military training (lycees), and technical training. There was to be the Imperial University at the head of all the centres. There was to be one University for all France, and it was intended to bring the whole educational system of France under the control of the University. To be a Graduate was an essential qualification to teach.
The Institut de France was established in 1795 A.D. for higher studies and research. Napoleon was satisfied with its works in physical science, fine arts, mathematics and literature. He disliked the study of moral and political sciences, and suppressed these departments by one his Decree of January 23, 1803.
His object in the educational field, like in religion, was also to fulfil his self-interests. He, however, did not succeed in his educational mission, because of the lack of wealth and experienced teachers. Moreover, his much attention to the military and political exigencies also prevented him to fulfil his desires in this field.
Legion of Honour : In 1802 A.D., Napoleon established an institution, Legion of Honour. It was established because “the French are accessible to only one sentiment --- love of honour.” This honour was confined on those persons who, according to Napoleon, had done something extra-ordinary either in civil or in military spheres. In the beginning, it was criticised very much, but soon its members got very respectable position in the French society. Even today, this system works in France and is a very significant and important institution.
Works of Public Welfare : Napoleon inaugurated a vast series of public works. Roads were projected and many were taken under construction. Canals were cut. Agriculture was improved by the introduction of modern scientific methods; industry was developed in France. Gas was introduced for illuminant. Trees were grown on both sides of the roads. These works also helped the improvement of finances in France. To quote Garnt & Temperley, “The general condition of France until the Empire touched its period fo ruin, showed an air of prosperity in all classes.”
David Thompson observes that between 1800 and 1803 A.D., Napoleon as First Consul devoted himself mainly to the interval reorganisation of France. “It was in this period that his most constructively valuable work was done. He brought to the task of reorganisation the qualities of swift decision and action, the same precision and concentration upon essentials which had already brought him success in war. The spirit behind the great reforms of the Consulate at home was the transference of the methods of Bonaparte the general to the tasks of Bonaparte the statesman. And, as in war, he was able to enlist in his service a brand of men imbued with the same spirit and devoted to the same ends.” Fisher confirms the above contention as he says, “Napoleon’s reforms in the domain of law, education, finance, religion and local administration certainly proved more solid and more enduring as compared to his military conquests. He esatblished many many enduring and everlasting institutions in France. He consolidated his country and at the same time preserved certain fruits of revolution. He had displayed his marvellous quality as an organiser and talented administrator.”