Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Accomplishments and Legacy of Napoleon Bonaparte

Even when the shining star dims, its light continues to reach our eyes for ages to come. Such was the case with the life of Napoleon Bonaparte, brilliant military strategist, political reformer, and Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1815.
After his death, Napoleon's promises of a meritocratic order sparked further revolutions, including the July Revolution of 1830 and the chain of revolts in 1848, during one of which the nephew of the great leader, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte III, finalized the overthrow of the Ancien Regime and restored the French Empire.
Slavery was soon wiped off the face of Europe, and Napoleon's reforms, including the Code Napoleon, the metric system, and driving on the right side of the road, became instituted in many nations. "Alexis de Tocquerville wrote that Napoleon 'fell, but what was really substantial in his work lasted; his government died, but his administration continued to live...'" (Holmberg, 5). "As a result of the Napoleonic conquests, the Code Napoleon was introduced into a number of European countries, notably Belgium, where it is still in force. It also became the model for the civil codes of Quebec Province, Canada, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, some Latin American republics, and the state of Louisiana." (Encarta Encyclopedia.Code Napoleon).
The SI and driving on the right side of the road are applied virtually worldwide today. Freedom of religion and the abolition of slavery were, too, greatly advanced by the example of Napoleon's reforms in France and in the other countries he conquered. Furthermore, without Napoleon, meritocracy, a relatively unpopular concept during his time, would not have acted to transform societies and unleash the tremendous creative power of individuals born to "lower social classes".
Napoleon sparked nationalist movements in Poland, Italy, Egypt, and Germany directly and encouraged independence movements in Ireland and South Africa. (Internal Achievements of Napoleon).The plight of these peoples became recognized by public opinion as significant in when a strong, privileged leader demonstrated his support out of good will and conscience. Today, their wishes of liberty and meritocracy are evident, for they have all become independent nations.
Napoleon touched on numerous other fields of knowledge. For example, had French forces not attempted to liberate Egypt, the Rosetta Stone would not have been discovered and archaeologists would not have been able to utilize it for the purpose of decoding Egyptian hieroglyphics. However, due to Napoleon's love of the sciences, this discovery opened to us a rich new field of study, Egyptology, which permitted human beings to solve a plethora of mysteries about the ancient world.
Napoleon himself contributed to the world's supply of knowledge through his own writings. During his life he wrote and published numerous essays, literary critiques, stories, dialogues, pamphlets, and, most notably, his Memoirs, which gave posterity valuable insight into the life of this genius and the lessons that it had to teach humankind. Tens of thousands of books had also been published about Napoleon, his political influence, and his military tactics. Outstanding commanders, such as Ulysses S. Grant, Winfield Scott, and Robert E. Lee gained much of their expertise from studying Napoleonic warfare.
The Emperor of the French altered the social and military paradigms of his day and established an entirely new order that the French Revolution could not have accomplished without him. "Had the Bourbons come back to power in 1799 instead of Napoleon, they would at that time have had less trouble 'turning back the clock' to the ancient regime than they had in 1814." (Holmberg, 2).
He left us with numerous ideas that caused us to re-examine our values and become more tolerant and courteous toward fellow human beings. "It is the success which makes great men," Napoleon stated, rejecting the old hierarchy of birth and status. "High politic is only common sense applied to great things," he explained, justifying the theses of Paine and Voltaire concerning a universal sense of right present among all peoples and necessary for progress.
"Imagination governs the world," Napoleon wisely declared, noting how people's inner capacities affect their performance to a greater degree than does their environment. "The heart of a statesman must be in his head," he said, emphasizing the importance of rational thought over impulse and emotion. "Public morals are natural complement of all laws; they are by themselves an entire code," he stated in support of the ideals of courtesy, respect and tolerance.
Napoleon even foretold his own historical importance: "Even when I am gone, I shall remain in people's minds the star of their rights, my name will be the war cry of their efforts, the motto of their hopes."

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