Sunday, 11 January 2015

Napoleon as administrator

Jacques-Louis David - ‘The Emperor Napoleon
 in His Study at the Tuileries’ -
Licensed under Public Domain
via Wikimedia Commons 
Here are some brief thoughts about Napoleon's achievements in France.


Napoleon created the agencies of centralized administration and the administrators to run them. These included the gendarmerie, the state-controlled paramilitary police force; the prefect, the head of departmental administration, appointed by the central government and accountable exclusively to it; a cadre of trained experts for the state, products of the École Polytechnique, founded in 1794; new state-run secondary schools, the lycées, whose curriculum centred on Latin and Mathematics.

Financial reform

In 1800 the Bank of France was founded and along with it the creation of a currency on the gold standard. A land register ensured that the propertied classes paid taxes and an efficient tax collecting system meant that the money actually reached the government.

The Church

Napoleon’s Concordat of 1801/1802 recognized the Catholic Church as ‘the religion of the great majority of French people’. The Church renounced its former privileges and property, but freedom of worship was restored. Pius VII was a somewhat humiliated spectator at Napoleon’s coronation. Napoleon issued an amnesty to the émigrés (apart from the royal family) and many returned.

The law

The Code Napoléon codified the law of France, based on the twin concepts of patriarchy and the sanctity of private property. The civil code rationalized inheritance but entrenched masculine privilege. The Criminal Code did not take up the presumption of innocence or the right of habeas corpus as enshrined in the Declaration of the Rights of Man. But torture was prohibited and jury trials remained in force.

The return of the old regime?

Napoleon wearing the cross
and grand eagle of the
Legion of Honour
After Paul Delaroche -
Licensed under Public Domain
via Wikimedia Commons
Napoleonic France became increasingly monarchical. ‘Equality meant the equal subjection of every citizen to the state power.’ The creation of a ‘Legion of Honour’ in 1802 was followed up by the re-establishment of nobility and an imperial court. With the creation of the Empire, the French Revolution was finally over. The revolutionary calendar was terminated on 31 December (10 nivôse Year XIV), 1805.

However access to the new nobility was by merit not birth, and as part of the Enlightenment legacy, Protestants and Jews enjoyed equality under the law. Napoleon institutionalised the concept of the 'career open to talents', the chance for all men (and he meant men) to rise, regardless of background or religious persuasion. 

A dictator

Though it was progressive in many ways, the imperial regime brooked little opposition. The two-house legislature was powerless. Newspapers were censored and their numbers greatly reduced. Political clubs were banned. Under the direction of the minister of police Joseph Fouché (Duke of Otranto, and a man with a murky, terrorist past), potential opponents – both royalists and Jacobins - were closely surveyed.

When the Franco-Swiss intellectual, Madame de Staël tried to have her book On Germany, a ground-breaking study of German Romanticism, published, she fell foul of the censors. Napoleon would not allow a book that praised German culture at the apparent expense of French - and anyway, he disliked uppity women!

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