Aïsha Atherly November 2006
_How far did Napoleon Bonaparte maintain the revolutionary ideals of liberty and equality in France?_
Prior to the French Revolution, the system of government was based on Absolute Monarchy which meant that the monarch claimed total authority of the state. They were answerable to no one and their word was law. At that time, the social structure in France was in need of desperate reform. It was divided into three estates; the clergy, nobles and peasants. Each estate, especially the nobles and clergy, had its particular rights and privileges. There was no equality of taxation; the peasants were forced to pay the highest amounts while and the nobles were totally exempted. They were burdened with dues which limited their ability to survive from year to year. According to Derrick Murphy et al, because France was highly dependent on agriculture, feudalism was a necessity. Peasants were obligated to perform a number of tasks such as working for the landowner free of charge during harvesting or giving the landowner a proportion of their produce. Within each estate there was inequality. Within the clergy, the Archbishops and bishops lived like nobles whereas the priests lived like peasants. The nobility of the sword, who had inherited their titles, disregarded the nobility of the robe who gained their status either by marriages or by other means. In turn, the nobility of the sword disregarded the Annoblis who had purchased their titles. Within the third estate, the bourgeoisie was considered to be superior to the urban workers and peasants. Accordingly, it is evident that the social structure in France disregarded the ideals of liberty and equality. Also, there was little or no provision of education by the monarchy, especially for the peasants. In terms of religion, faiths other than Catholicism were forbidden. In addition, the system of mercantilism contradicted the idea of free trade. The French Revolution which lasted from 1788 to 1799 resulted in many different ideas and beliefs being created among the vast population of France. The authority of the monarchy, aristocracy and church was challenged by certain _philosoph_es such as Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Because it was illegal to openly criticize the church and state, they wrote plays, novels, histories, dictionaries, and encyclopedias with subtle messages attached. The _parlements_ were able to attract popular support against the monarchy by the use of the 'language of liberty'. Liberalists proposed a society based on equal rights instead of a society based on privilege. According to Derrick Murphy et al, this idea encouraged personal and economic freedom. To them, personal freedom included the right to property, freedom of speech and worship and the liberty to participate in politics. Nationalists, who were against absolute monarchy, proposed a constitutional government that would serve the people. Economists proposed free trade as they were highly against the idea of protectionism. The success of the French Revolution brought the hope of drastic reform. It was up to Napoleon Bonaparte, who rose to power in 1799, to impose these reforms which would reflect the revolutionary ideals of liberty and equality. Some of these reforms were beneficial to the French population and kept with the revolutionary ideals, however, most reforms contradicted them. For this reason, he did not do a satisfactory job in maintaining them. According to Andrew Matthews, with regard to liberty, Napoleon disobeyed the revolutionary principles. He also states what in terms of equality, Napoleon somewhat confirmed the idea of the revolution.
According to J.M Thompson, Napoleon never believed in parliamentary government. He believed that a state should be governed like an army by a strong centralized government. Three consuls were established and according to Stuart Miller _'Napoleon manipulated his way towards sole, unlimited executive...
Bibliography: 1) Lefebvre Georges, NAPOLEON, 1969, Colombia University Press, Great Britain, ………..London
2) Matthews Andrew, REVOLUTION AND REACTION EUROPE 1789-1849, 2001,Cambridge ………..University Press, United Kingdom, England
3) Miller Stuart, MASTERING MODERN EUROPEAN HISTORY ,1997, Palgrave, United ………..Kingdom, Hampshire
4) Murphy Derrick et al, EUROPE 1760-1871, 2000, Harper Collins Publishers LTD, ………..United Kingdom, England
5) Thompson J.M, NAPOLEON BONAPARTE , 1969, Basil Blackwell and Mott LTD, ………..Oxford, London
6) Woods Alan, '"The Rise and Fall of Napoleon Bonaparte"
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