Napoleon Bonaparte Research Paper

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Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Ajaccio, Corsica, and graduated from a French military school as an artillery lieutenant. In 1793 he scored his first victory as an officer in the French Revolutionary army, destroying ten British ships in the harbor at Toulon. He was then made brigadier general, at age twenty-four. On 5 October 1795, Napoleon’s ultimate triumph of force was foreshadowed when he used artillery to fire upon a Royalist mob—his famous “whiff of grapeshot”—to protect the Revolutionary government in Paris. Now a national hero, he was promoted to commander-in-chief of the French forces in Italy. From this position he would eventually go on to rule almost all of Europe.

Napoleon married Josephine de Beauharnais in 1796 and immediately left to lead the French army in Italy, which was fighting the Austrians. He was soon victorious and formed the Cisalpine Republic out of part of northern Italy.

When an invasion of England proved impossible, in 1798 Napoleon was sent to invade British-controlled Egypt. He was generally successful in his land battles, but Britain’s Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson destroyed his fleet in the Battle of the Nile. Nonetheless, the discovery of the Rosetta Stone and the many scholars, artists, and cartographers who accompanied Napoleon on the expedition laid the foundation for modern Egyptology, one of his enduring academic legacies.

When Napoleon returned to France, he took control of the government in the coup d’etat de Brumaire (9–10 November 1799), becoming, at thirty-seven, First Consul of France. Again faced with the Austrians in northern Italy, Napoleon led his army through the Alps and won the Battle of Marengo on 14 June 1800.

Later in 1800, Napoleon oversaw the drafting of his Civil or Napoleonic Code. Perhaps his most important legacy, Napoleon’s code organized the thousands of Royalist and Revolutionary decrees, abolishing feudal privileges and establishing equality before the law. The code also established freedom of religion and the separation of church and state. In 1801 he smoothed relations with Rome by signing the Concordat with Pope Pius VII, bringing Catholicism back to France while, over the Pope’s objection, maintaining freedom of religion.

The 1802 Peace of Amiens with England allowed Napoleon to concentrate on domestic reforms, including a nationwide infrastructure improvement program and the first moves in Europe toward universal public education.

On 2 December 1804, backed by the Senate and the people, and to thwart efforts by Royalists to assassinate him, Napoleon consolidated his power still further, and was declared Napoleon I, Emperor of the French. However, his imposition of the progressive Napoleonic Code over his successive European conquests, effectively dismantling the centuries-old conservative European social order, arrayed all the monarchies of Europe against him, and war soon returned.

In 1805, abandoning plans to invade England, Napoleon moved his Grande Armee to central Europe to meet oncoming Russian and Austrian armies. His greatest victory was the Battle of Austerlitz on 2 December 1805—although it was diminished somewhat by Nelson’s earlier destruction of the French fleet off the coast of Spain at Trafalgar. At Austerlitz, Napoleon defeated a larger force by employing masterful military and psychological tactics.

In 1806, Prussia and Russia declared war on France. Napoleon conquered Prussia and signed a treaty temporarily ending hostilities with Russia in 1807. In 1806 he established the Continental System, an economic blockade of England that lasted six years, doing economic damage on both sides but ultimately failing to break the island nation. He put his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne, but Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, invaded Spain and the French forces eventually withdrew.

When Josephine proved unable to bear children, Napoleon reluctantly divorced her and in 1810 married the Austrian Emperor’s daughter, Marie Louise. They had a son in 1811.

By 1810, England and Russia were the only major powers outside the French Empire. Czar Alexander had quit the Continental System, demanded that France abandon Poland, and was prepared to invade. Napoleon moved first, and in 1812 led his army into Russia. He won at Borodino on 7 September and entered an abandoned Moscow, which was soon engulfed in flames ignited by Russian partisans. Napoleon withdrew, and the campaign cost him 90 percent of his army. In October 1813, a massive coalition of forces defeated Napoleon at Leipzig in what became known as the Battle of Nations, sealing the fate of the first French Empire.

Paris fell to allied forces in May 1814. Napoleon abdicated on 11 April and was exiled as Emperor of Elba, a small island off the coast of Italy. On 1 March the following year he returned to France to reclaim his throne from the Bourbon Restoration of Louis XVIII. He took Paris on 20 March without firing a shot, beginning the period known as the Hundred Days. He wanted only to govern France, but his old enemies soon moved against him, and after initial success he was defeated at Waterloo, in Belgium, on 18 June 1815. Exiled to the tiny British island of Saint Helena in the southern Atlantic Ocean, he dictated his memoirs and died on 5 May 1821, officially of stomach cancer but possibly, as many historians now believe, of poisoning. His remains were returned to Paris in 1840.

Often considered the father of modern Europe, Napoleon’s legacy goes far beyond his military genius, and is subject to a wide variety of interpretations. Although he promoted the ideas of equality, meritocracy, religious freedom and a common system of law throughout his empire, he was an absolute ruler, suppressing many with whom he disagreed. Nonetheless, the Napoleonic Code remains the basis of French law, and it was the primary influence on nineteenth-century civil codes throughout continental Europe and Latin America. Napoleon’s sale of the Louisiana Territory to the United States helped lead to that nation’s greatness, and he had a profound influence on the rise of European nationalism: his efforts on the Italian peninsula and in the German principalities foreshadowed the unification of both Italy and Germany. Though the restored old regimes remained influential for a time, Napoleon’s example of leadership based on merit eventually became the goal of Western nations.


  1. Caulaincourt, A. A. L. (1935). With Napoleon in Russia: The memoirs of General de Caulaincourt, Duke of Vicenza. From the original memoirs as edited by Jean Hanoteau. (G. Libaire, Ed.). New York: Morrow.
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  4. Cronin, V. (1972). Napoleon Bonaparte: An intimate biography. New York: Morrow.
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  7. Markham, J. D. (2003). Napoleon’s road to glory: Triumphs, defeats and immortality. London: Brassey’s.
  8. Napoleon Bonaparte. (2002). In the words of Napoleon: The emperor day by day (R. M. Johnston, Ed.). London: Greenhill.
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  10. Weider, B., & Forshufvud, S. (1995). Assassination at St. Helena revisited. New York: Wiley.

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