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Was Napoleon Bonaparte a Revolutionary or a Tyrant?

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Son of the Revolution

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. 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 the 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 with Napoleon Bonaparte. Rather than 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.

Napoleon as king

Napoleon as king

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 of stopping and shutting down sea trade and a failed invasion of the great country of Russia, Napoleon found himself falling into 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.

Famous painting of Napoleon

Famous painting of Napoleon

Whether or not Napoleon saved or suppressed the progress made during 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 almost all of Europe as a dictator and tyrant. It is hard to say he aided revolutionary ideas progress when he himself abolished many of its principles and reestablished a monarchy himself.


Kayla on December 23, 2019:

Is this primary or secondary?

Sethughes (author) on October 30, 2018:

Thats because I didn't have anything to cite other than the pictures. Information came from lectureships and my opinions. I suppose you could put down my old professors name. Message me bro.

BRO on October 29, 2018:

Hey SETH I tried to use your article as a source and my history teacher said it wasn't good because you only cited the pictures. SO NEXT TIME CITE YOUR SOURCES BROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

Jamie on September 09, 2017:

Of course you forget about the code Napoleon, his fervent support of meritocracy. his successful education and financial reform. He build infrastucture, a new legal system and much more. People also need to remember that he didnt start these wars. He only started the peninsular war and the war in Russia. The first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh coalitions were all declared against him.

Although I am British I think if you look for one nation that continued the war it is Britain. If was Britain who first broke the treaty of Amiens by keeping their troops on malta and then Britain who paid nations vast sums of money to declare war. Incidentally Britain was also behind several assasination attempts on Napoleon. One which nearly killed Napoleons teenage step daughter.

Overall I would say we should not be strapped to this idea that someone could either be a revolutionairy or a tyrant. Robespierre was both. Napoleon was neither.

Sanxuary on October 20, 2014:

I think he just took advantage of the times to further his own cause. This does not mean it was a bad thing. He was a shrewd politician knowing he had to establish a system to stop the revolution. At the same time he had to be a part of a new revolution to further his agenda. Over all I think he believed in his own agenda of making himself an emperor and making France the empire he believed it should be.

Sethughes (author) on July 15, 2012:

Thanks for reading! I went through a period where I was very interested in French history. I still am. Napoleon is certainly an important figure and quite interesting to study.

Thanks again

Deborah from Las Vegas on July 15, 2012:

Very interesting and well written, "Absolute power corrupts, absolutely."

I am a Napoleon history buff since I was a kid. I was always fascinated with the guy. Great article.

Congrats on your nomination for Hubnuggets! Rock on!

Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on July 14, 2012:

Whether one's opinion of Napoleon Bonaparte is one of revolutionary or a tyrant depends on one's reality. But for sure one thing is certain today, your hub is a Hubnuggets nominee! So be sure to read and vote, this way Have fun!

Ghost32 on July 01, 2012:

Huh. I'd never thought of it before, but could Obama be Napoleon reincarnated? You know, swearing during the 2008 campaign to do many many good things for government (transparency, for example), then doing a 180 after his inauguration as Emperor Obama the First of America?


Voted Up and Several.

Sethughes (author) on June 30, 2012:

Agreed, I haven't seen many people in history with the mixture of power and humbleness the Washington posessed.

mio cid from Uruguay on June 30, 2012:

A tyrant,a true liberator was george washington,who did what he had to do and then left to live the life of a simple person,probably not even fully comprehending the enormity of his feat.a true liberator was Artigas of Uruguay who said to his countrymen "my authority emanates from you and it ceases before your sovereign presence"

Larry Wall on June 30, 2012:

The newspaper approach to shorter paragraphs was to create more white space in the column. By having the paragraph end before the end of the available space and then starting the next with the first line indented, you have created white space and make the story more inviting to the readers. English teachers hate it. Some teachers still believe in the three sentence paragraph, which for newspaper work and for hubs, would be way too long and would make the final story as it appears in printed form uninviting to the reader.

Maybe I should start an online journalism class--probably not.

Sethughes (author) on June 30, 2012:

Thank you very much for the commentary and suggestion. I enjoy history (especially revolutions and things of that sort) so I enjoyed writing about this.

I appreciate the suggestion. I have often found it difficult to separate paragraphs and sentences. I think it is because I am not quite sure if I am really venturing to a new idea or not when I must decide. Sometimes I think the way people prefer to read is more important that the way English teachers prefer to write.

Larry Wall on June 30, 2012:

Congratulations on a well written article. Some Hubbers could use it as a guide. You picked a topic, narrowed it down to a couple of high points and told it in a flowing but informative manner.

If I was still at an editing desk the only thing I would have done differently would be to split the first paragraph into two sentences. English teachers would disagree with me, but my all my old reporter buddies would do the same thing.

Minor point--personal preference. Voted Up.

Sethughes (author) on June 30, 2012:

Great quote. This does tend to be the case all too often. It makes me glad to live in modern times and in this country where the people have somewhat of a say in things.

Tony from Ohio on June 30, 2012:

Unfortunate but true; even in this day..

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad man."