Was Napoleon Bonaparte a Revolutionary or a Tyrant?
Napoleon often referred to himself as a “son of the revolution.” Having developed a tremendous career in the French army during the French Revolution and once even saving the National Convention from defeat, he became a man of immense power. Napoleon was initially well liked. He was a confident, charismatic leader to whom his troops could relate and look up to. Napoleon’s early military career consisted of fighting for the revolution. His leadership and power ultimately did help ensure the abolition of the monarchy and establishment of France as a republic.
The trouble with gaining power and respect is that it can often cause us to develop an insatiable appetite for even more power and respect. Such was the case of Napoleon Bonaparte. Rather than to help ensure the development of France as a free republic, Napoleon decided what France (and all of Europe) needed was a sole individual overseeing the country. Thus, he crowned himself “Emperor Napoleon the First of France” This was a contradiction of epic proportions. This man, who had fought for the revolutionary movement during the liberation of France, now restored the very monarchy type government of the old regime he helped defeat. Many laws and liberties had been granted to the French people during the revolutionary movement. Bonaparte took many of those away. Women had nearly been declared as equal members of society, they were now regarded as mere accessories to the lives of men. Napoleon had in fact, let his egoism get the best of him.
Having self-crowned himself as ruler, Napoleon claimed to be somewhat of a protector of the principles established by the French Revolution. To everyone else, this was quite hard to see. While he was successful in balancing the budget crises, wars would soon follow. Napoleon’s Grand Army was quite successful in its victories over the Austrian and Prussian armies. He expanded the empire of France and gained tremendous amounts of land, calling the expansion “The Rhine.” Having failed to conquer England with the tactical maneuver stopping and shutting down sea trade and a failed invasion of the great country of Russia, Napoleon found himself falling in a downward spiral. Even before his defeat and exile to the island of Elba, European nations were developing peace agreements and ensuring nothing like what France had done would ever happen again.
Whether or not Napoleon saved or suppressed the progress made from the French Revolution is debatable. If his ego and personal agenda had not overtaken him, he may very well have been one of France’s greatest revolutionary leaders ever (in sustaining its principles that is).
In the end, Napoleon was regarded by most all of Europe as a dictator and tyrant. It is hard to say he aided revolutionary idea progress when he himself abolished many of its principles and reestablished a monarchy himself.