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Napoleon: Man of Peace
By Ben Weider, CM, PhD
If ever a ruler owed his position to what is called the "will of the people," Napoleon did. Napoleon won it by his success with the sword, not the sword of execution, nor the sword of the guillotine, but the sword of battle against the enemies of France.
The people of France elected Napoleon as the Emperor, because he saved France from its enemies and he defended the gains of the Revolution at home.
Napoleon established both the Bank of France and the French bourse (stock exchange) as well as National and Departmental Tax Boards, to insure equitable taxation for all. Consequently, the income of the French peasants skyrocketed.
Napoleon established awards such as the "Legion of Honour" to reward those whose services to the nation merited special recognition; the recipient could be scientist, composer, legislator, clergyman, writer, as well as a soldier.
In the area of public works, over 20,000 miles of imperial and 12,000 miles of regional roads were completed, almost a thousand miles of canals were build, the Great Cornice road was constructed along the Mediterranean coast, mountain roads were constructed across the Alps by ways of Simplon Pass and Mont Cenis, and harbors were dredged and expanded at many ports, including Dunkerque and Cherbourg.
Not only was Paris beautified with the construction of boulevards, bridges and monuments, but the National Archives received a permanent home. Napoleon also saved the Louvre.
Monument buildings were constructed throughout the Empire and structures, such as the Imperial Cathedral of Speyer, made famous by Luther, were preserved while work on the spires of the great cathedral of Cologne were continued on Napoleon's orders. In fact, Napoleon's architectural handiwork can be found scattered across Europe, from Rome to Vienna.
"Think tanks" and research centers were established in France to work on projects vital for national economy. An Industrial Board was organized to provide data and information to French Industry, as exemplified by the success of the sugar beet farming and the canning industry.
For religion, Napoleon ended the schism and restored the Catholic Church to France by the Concordat in 1801. He insured freedom of religions and equality to the Protestant sects, and he declared France the homeland of the Jews, after it became obvious he could not establish their national home in Palestine.
The Code Napoleon established equality before the law, emphasized the sanctity of the family, and assured the legal gains of the Revolution. The Code of Civil Procedure insured widespread user of mediation in the courts and the laws, and the courts were secularized.
Napoleon created the Imperial University to administer French Education. Specialized engineering and technological schools were established along with the famous lycées to insure a scientific education. The establishment of a Professional School of Midwifery and first School of Obstetrics were formed during the consulate and the School of Veterinary Science was professionalized under Napoleon.
In the military, Napoleon pioneered in what we describe today as the "principles of war" which are studied by almost every military academy in the world. The armies of today are based on the organization created by Napoleon for his Grand Army and it has been used ever since.
Many historians claim that Napoleon created his own legend on St. Helena. The truth is that his legend started in Toulon in 1793.
Lord Holland, speaking in the British House of Peers, spoke about the deceased Emperor in August 1833. He stated: "The very people who detested this great man have acknowledged that for 10 centuries there has not appeared upon earth a more extraordinary character."
This is indeed a tribute to the Emperor.
Like all soldiers who have seen battle, Napoleon had a horror of war. He was sentimental and good. He loved the people and his soldiers like they were his children.
Never in his entire life did he start a single war. All the wars he conducted were forced on him by the reigning monarchs of Europe, who wanted to keep their ancestral privileges and feared the spread of republican ideas.
Consider what William Pitt said in the British Parliament on December 29th, 1796: "England will never consent to the reunion of Belgium and France. We will continue to wage war as long as France does not return to its 1789 borders." He kept his word, as did those who succeeded him, except during the brief interval of peace under the Treaty of Amiens from the 25th of March 1802 to the 16th of May 1803.
So, then! Napoleon was in no way responsible for the annexation of Belgium. It was the Convention of August 1795 that made it a French province. Besides, the annexation of Belgium was not the real issue behind what was at stake. More than anything, the British oligarchy wanted to crush this French Republic that intended to export the ideas of Liberty to the rest of Europe. Essentially, it wanted the King of France to be returned to the throne.
As a result, seven coalitions, spurred by Britain and funded by its gold, were mounted against France during the period from 1793 to 1815.
Here is the list, with a brief account of how each unfolded:
England, Austria, Prussia, Russia, Holland, Spain, Portugal, Papal States and Italy
In 1792, the armies of the Republic under the command of Dumouriez and Kellermen had repulsed the attacks of the Prussians at Valmy and the Austrians at Jemmapes.
In February 1793, English Prime Minister William Pitt, who had assumed that the armies assembled and seasoned by Prussia and Austria would make short work of the sans-culottes, decides to mount a major coalition of all the monarchies of Europe to put an end to the Republic.
In the face of this threat, the military strategist Lazare Carnot, later Napoleon's Minister of War, orders a mass draft and sets out to organize and train the troops by developing "the amalgam," whereby young recruits full of passion and enthusiasm at the prospect of fighting for liberty are posted around a core of veterans.
Soon the armies of the Republic are victorious on all fronts. The Italian Princes are the first to leave the coalition, followed by Prussia, Russia, Holland, Spain and Portugal.
This extraordinary victory of Bonaparte in Italy which ended the first coalition, stunned all of Europe.
In the spring of 1796, only England, Austria and the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia remain in a state of war.
It was at this point that Bonaparte was named Commander-in-Chief of the Italian army and began the dazzling campaign that astounded Europe.
12 April - Victory of Montenotte
14 Jan. - Victory of Rivoli
England, Austria, Russia, Kingdom of Naples
William Pitt, knowing Bonaparte to be in Egypt, believes this time it will be possible to defeat the armies of the Republic and restore the Bourbons to the throne of France. With a good deal of gold, he succeeds in persuading Austria, Russia and the Kingdom of Naples to join England to relaunch the war.
The hostilities get underway in the fall of 1798 in the Kingdom of Naples, where General Championnet quickly turns the situation to his advantage. King Ferdinand IV is forced to flee to Sicily.
In March 1799, the Directory decides to launch three offensives, one in Bavaria, one in Switzerland, and the third in Italy. It believes its forces are superior.
But Bonaparte was not there.
Jourdan engages Archduke Charles at Stokach on the 25th of March and is defeated.
In Switzerland, Masséna can do no better than hold his positions.
However, the grimmest setbacks occur in Italy.
Suvorov forces Shérer and Moreau to retreat and abandon Milan.
Joubert, who had replaced Moreau, attacks Suvorov at Novi on the 15th of August 1799. He is killed in action, and it is a disaster. Italy is lost for France.
Fortunately, Masséna buys time. At the Battle of Zurich (from the 23rd to the 27th of September) he drives the Russians back across the Rhine.
And then Bonaparte returns from Egypt.
On the 14th of June 1800, he defeats the Austrians at Marengo and on the 3rd of December, Moreau defeats another Austrian army at Hohenlinden. Treaties favourable to France put an end to the war:
9 February 1801 - Treaty of Luneville (Austria)
England, Austria, Russia, Prussia, Sweden
In 1803, William Pitt, now back in power in England, violates the Treaty of Amiens and declares war on France, while working to put together a new coalition. He is also party to the Count d'Artois' attempts on Bonaparte's life (Cadoudal - Pichegru).
Bonaparte assembles an army at Boulogne intending to invade England and impose peace.
But the Austrians advance in Bavaria and Napoleon, who has been Emperor of France since the 18th of May 1804, decides to break camp and march to encounter them. He captures General Machs army at Ulm on the 20th of October 1805.
Nelson destroys the French fleet at Trafalgar the following day on the 21th of October. Then comes the great victory of Austerlitz over the Austro-Russians on the 2nd of December 1805, the anniversary of the coronation.
The Treaty of Presbourg on the 26th of December 1805 brings the war to a close.
England, Prussia, Russia, Sweden
Prussia, which had not been able to act in 1805, drags England, Russia and Sweden into a new coalition against France.
On the 14th of October 1806, its army is simultaneously wiped out in two major battles: Jena, under the command of the Emperor in person, and Auerstaedt under the command of Marshal Davout.
The fleeing troops of both Prussian armies meet; the two routed armies collide and become entangled in indescribable mayhem under the dismayed eyes of King Frederick William and Queen Louise, who had come, as if to a parade, to attend the victory of their troops.
Napoleon enters Berlin in triumph.
However the Russians advance into Poland and the Swedes are in Pomerania. At the end of December 1806, Napoleon leaves Berlin and sets up in Warsaw.
After the indecisive Battle of Eylau (8th of February 1807), Napoleon crushes the Russians at Friedland on the 14th of June 1807.
The Treaty of Tilsit (7th to 9th of July 1807) ends the war.
At the end of 1808, England again tries to align the European powers against France. Austria alone accepts, and only on the condition that England pay their campaign expenses.
The Austrians take the offensive on the 10th of April 1809. They will be defeated in several battles, the most important of which are Eckmühls (22nd of April), Essling (22nd of May) and finally Wagram on the 6th of July.
The Treaty of Vienna of the 14th of October 1809 ends the war.
England, Austria, Prussia, Russia, Sweden
The monarchs, bolstered by the weakening of the Grande Armée following the Russian campaign, reassemble yet again to attack France.
The operations begin on the 15th of April 1813.
Initially victorious at Lutzen (2nd of May), Bautzen (20th of May) and Dresden (26th - 27th of August), Napoleon concedes to the strength of numbers at Leipzig (16th to 19th of October) and must retreat across the Rhine.
Now all of Europe, except Denmark, marches against France. This becomes the campaign of 1814 during which Napoleon will win his final victories:
29 January - Brienne
But the Allies are too numerous and Paris falls on the 31st of March. Napoleon abdicates and retires to the island of Elba, which the Allies have assigned him for life.
England, Austria, Prussia, Russia
When Napoleon, having left the Island of Elba, arrives in Paris on the 20th of March 1815, the Allies are meeting at the Congress of Vienna.
Despite the assurances of peace presented by the Emperor, they immediately decide to start a campaign. The force that prepares to march on France is 700,000 men strong.
In an attempt to prevent this movement, Napoleon heads to Belgium with an army trained in six weeks. He defeats Blücher's Prussians at Ligny on the 16th of June but is defeated at Waterloo on the 18th due to Marshal Grouchy's errors and torrential rains that make the terrain very difficult for troop displacements against the English troops entrenched in a defensive position.
Napoleon is deported to St. Helena, where he dies on the 5th of May 1821, the victim of poisoning ordered by the Cabinet in London and the Court of France.
March 1795 — A 25-year-old General, he categorically refuses the command of the Army of the West. He will be removed from the ranks and threatened with the scaffold by Letourneur of the Committee of Public Safety. Nothing can make him change his decision. "Never my sword against the people," he says. He will live in misery. His gauntness is deplorable, his complexion yellow, and his clothes threadbare.
18th of April 1797 — He writes to Archduke Charles of Austria, who he has just defeated hands down, to propose a peace that would salvage the remnants of the Austrian army: "Have we not killed enough people and committed enough harm to poor humanity? As for me, should the opening that I have the honor to offer you save the life of even one man, I consider myself prouder than the sad glory that can come from military success."
4th of September 1797 — The Directory wants to conquer everything. It wants all of Italy. It wants to overturn the Emperor of Austria and replace him in Vienna with a Republic. In addition to Belgium, it wants the left shore of the Rhine up to its mouth. It has sights on Turkey and Egypt. Napoleon is the one who stops it and demands peace under threat of his resignation. Talleyrand is the buffer between the warmongering government and the pacifist General.
Every year, expositions were organized in Paris and its suburban to present all the new products of the industry and agriculture.
25th of December 1799 — The very day he takes up his duties as First Consul, Bonaparte writes to the King of England and the Emperor of Austria, praying them "not to deny the happiness of bringing peace to the world." England does not reply. In May, the Austrian army crosses the southeast border of France and invades the French Riviera. Napoleon must then leave his exhausting work as an administrator and make extreme haste to save France from the invasion. He is worn out by the days and nights of work, he is lean, his wrinkled skin has become transparent and taken on a pallid hue; he can barely stay standing. This is the condition he was in when he crossed the St. Bernard pass and defeated Melas's Austrians at Marengo on the 14th of June 1800. This victory led to the Treaty of Luneville with Austria and that of Amiens with England.
William Pitt was overthrown in London.
This peace endows the Consulate with a radiance and splendor that will span the century, that will make it a blessed era, a golden age, one of those privileged periods that are so rare in the history of France. 1801, 1802, 1803 and 1804 are fortunate times for France, when just a year earlier, she was at the bottom of the abyss. And France revelled in the brightest dreams, for she had reached safe harbor, she had found peace.
Napoleon had delivered a tall order on time. In applauding him, France applauded herself for choosing so wisely, for calculating so well that she was in the charge of a man who fulfilled her desires: peace within, peace without, greatness, prosperity, and repose. These were the rewards for the lengthy efforts, and the end of a nightmare. An all but inexpressible sensation of happiness for a people that, for ten years, had been living through the tumult of the civil war and the war abroad.
Napoleon would have wanted, in fact it was his most ardent desire, that this peace endure forever. His duty performed, he too would have liked a little rest, a little happiness, a small share of the happiness he had worked so hard to achieve for others, and which he had never had time to stop and enjoy for himself.
The English people, for their part, welcomed the Treaty of Amiens with delirious enthusiasm. The French general who brought the preliminaries of the treaty to London, Lauriston, was received in triumph and the crowd unharnessed his carriage to pull it themselves "with the greatest signs of delight."
Alas! On the 16th of May 1803, William Pitt, now back in power, declared war on France and strove to unite Europe against her.
January 1805 — One month after his coronation, Napoleon sends letters to all the sovereign heads of Europe, including England, to present "the advantages of peace and the stupidity of the war, the stupidity of futilely spilled blood."
End November 1805 — Before Austerlitz, Napoleon tries to avert the battle through a negotiation with the Tsar. He waits, still hoping for peace. It is the Russians who attack with one hundred thousand men ...who are crushed in less than four hours.
The Third Coalition orchestrated by England is defeated and Pitt dies at the age of 46 of alcohol-induced cirrhosis, murmuring "my poor kingdom, in what state am I leaving you."
He could have said, "in what state have I put you."
Right after Austerlitz, Napoleon returns prisoners, leaves the remnants of the vanquished army and peacefully withdraws from Austria. He praises the Tsar and seeks his friendship with a view to establishing peace in Europe. He writes to him, "My heart bleeds! May as much spilled blood, may as many misfortunes finally befall the treacherous English who are the cause of it."
He is good, generous, intelligent and rational, and he never comprehends that the sovereigns of Europe care nothing for the lives of their soldiers and the happiness of their people. Each time he has them at his mercy, he forgives them instead of crushing them ...thereby allowing them to rebuild their forces to attack him yet again at a later date.
12 September 1806 — Prussia declares war on France and Napoleon writes to Frederick William, "This war would be a sacrilegious war. I remain unwavering in my bonds of alliance with Your Majesty."
Prussia replies with a scornful ultimatum. Less than fifteen days later, she will be annihilated in the victory at Jena on the 14th of October 1806. Prince Louis Ferdinand, one of the instigators of the war, is killed and the Duke of Brunswick is badly wounded. He was the author of a famous manifesto that threatened to level Paris stone by stone.
Five days after Jena, Napoleon again wrote to Frederick William, "It will be an eternal subject of regret for me that two nations, which for so many reasons should be friends, have been led into such a poorly motivated struggle. I wish to restore the former trust that reigned between us."
14th of June 1807 — Friedland.
Napoleon wants peace and the Tsar's friendship. He writes to him even though the two armies are already face to face:
"The time has come for Europe to live in quiet, sheltered from the malicious influence of England. Why this war? What good is it to kill one another when our peoples have so much mutual respect, so many grounds to be friends?"
The Tsar's response: A massive frontal attack. But later, after his army is crushed and fifty thousand lie dead, Alexander becomes gentle as a lamb and cannot contain his joy when Napoleon pardons him, and agrees to meet him on a raft moored in the middle of the Niemen River.
It is here that the famous embrace between the two emperors took place. A few days later, at Tilsit, the Tsar swears eternal friendship to Napoleon, saying of him:
"I love nothing more than I do this man. The magical power of his look and the smile from the soul that he has on his lips and in his eyes, completely turned me around. The great man of the century, the formidable Captain, is amiable, affectionate, magnanimous. He is persuasive because he is sincere."
Everything is in the Tsar's last sentence. Napoleon was sincere. He was always sincere in his desires for a general and absolute peace. The opposite is true of the bloodthirsty tyrants in England, Austria, Prussia and Russia.
Napoleon also invites the sad Frederick William and the all too beautiful Queen Louise to Tilsit. They, too, are won over. He now holds under the sway of his charm and prestige the heir of Catherine the Great, the Semiramis of the North, and of the great Frederick, the famous Prussian King and friend of Voltaire.
Together, they write an account "of the conduct that we must comport to make England finally understand all the benefits that she would derive from peace."
England's replies to the overtures of peace and friendship:
2nd of September 1807: England destroys Copenhagen by heavy artillery fire from the Navy. Denmark is a neutral country.
In Copenhagen several thousand women and children are blown up, eviscerated, torn to shreds and crushed under debris, while the officers of the Navy toast the King each time a shot hits its mark on populations without the slightest defence.
11th of November 1807, by decree from London, England obliges the ships from neutral countries to enter English ports to pay a tax and buy goods under pain of being declared open targets.
The blatant arbitrary power of the sea tyrants soon resulted in four thousand American seamen rotting on British barges.
At the end of 1807, Napoleon once again writes to Tsar Alexander:
" We will overcome England, we will establish peace in the world and the Treaty of Tilsit will be the starting point towards the happiness of humanity."
In 1810, after his marriage to Marie Louise of Austria, he makes new peace offers to England through the banker Labouchère. The English once again refuse.
At the start of 1811, Napoleon spends some time every day with his wife, who is about to give birth to the King of Rome; as he only works twelve hours a day, it is said that he is in love with Marie Louise's slipper.
On St. Helena, recalling this time, he says:
"Was it therefore not permitted for me, as well, to allow myself a few moments of happiness."
These simple words shed more light on Napoleon's life than any lengthy speech. He devoted himself entirely to the heavy task entrusted to him by the French people, who were not in the least concerned about his personal happiness.
Under Napoleon's authority, all the territories of Europe witnessed the implementation of civil procedures whose social efficacy and civic sense have long been proved beyond refute.
Napoleon made the people of every group and country benefit, through the genius of his ideas, his marvellous organizational ability, and his unparalleled spirit of tolerance.
It is by making myself Catholic that I brought peace to Brittany and Vendée.
It is by making myself Italian that I won minds in Italy.
It is by making myself a Moslem that I established myself in Egypt.
If I governed a nation of Jews, I should reestablish the Temple of Solomon.
Here, for those who dare to compare him to Hitler, let's turn to the ENCYCLOPEDIA JUDAÏCA:
"Napoleon proclaimed the Emancipation of the Jews in the Italian states, and the majority of the Jews in Italy hailed Napoleon as a liberator and political savior, calling him "HELEK TOV," (lit. "Good Part"; cf. Bona-Parte)."
In Palestine, Napoleon issued a manifesto that promised the Jews their return to their country, and therefore anticipated the creation of the state of Israel.
When the French entered Berlin, Napoleon asked: "Where are the Jews?" He removed them from the ghetto and made them full-fledged citizens.
Throughout Europe he held Assemblies of Jewish Notables and established Consistories of Rabbis so as to prepare to adopt modi-vivendi with the various State authorities.
It is he who convened the Grand Sanhedrin in Paris in 1807.
The full extent of Napoleon's kindness to the Jewish people was such that the Austrian authorities were apprehensive that the Jews would regard him in the light of a Messiah.
So let's get serious! The final solution? The holocaust?
All the evidence points to Napoleon as a man of peace, which will not prevent his detractors from continuing to nitpick for any fault they might find.
They will say, and his nepotism? And the Spanish War? And the Russian Campaign?
Fine! Let's look at them:
There is no doubt that it would have been better for Napoleon if he had not had brothers. His family spirit, his innate kindness, and his desire to make his mother Letizia, who he adored, happy drove him to make mistakes in his quest for peace.
He believed that his brothers could, like himself, exercise proper command and assist him in the immense body of work he had undertaken to oppose England's relentless attacks and free all the peoples of Europe from bondage.
However! Joseph proved to be jealous and incompetent. With his brother-in-law Bernadotte (they had married Julie and Désirée Clary respectively), he even went so far as to plot against Napoleon (the Te-Deum affair of Notre-Dame in 1802).
Napoleon not only forgave both of them, but even made Joseph King of Naples and then King of Spain, and Bernadotte King of Sweden; the same King of Sweden he found among the ranks of the enemies of France at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813.
Lucien, the one with the most class, spent most of his time fighting him, before begging his pardon and offering him help ...after Waterloo.
Louis, who he had raised and educated on his meager lieutenant's salary, was a gutless, lethargic depressive whose only merit was to be the father of Napoleon III.
Jérôme was sixteen years old in 1800; he was the last child, the spoiled baby. At first, he appeared interested only in honors, the fair sex and the high life, and it is only at the end of the Empire that he demonstrated a certain value.
Eugene of Beauharnais, his stepson, was the only member of the family to live up to Napoleon's expectations. Prince Eugene, Viceroy of Italy and Corps Commander of the Grande Armée was ...somebody. He is the ancestor of the Queen of Denmark and the Kings of Sweden, Norway and Belgium on the throne today.
Admiral Villeneuve, a mediocre, incompetent and pusillanimous man, is the person most responsible for the final fall of the Empire. While at the Camp of Boulogne, Napoleon ordered him into the English Channel with his squadrons to secure free passage for only twenty-four hours ...and that would have been it for England. But Villeneuve, back from a disappointing expedition to the West Indies, took refuge in Cadiz, which he left only for the shameful defeat at Trafalgar.
England's mastery of the seas made invasion impossible and, to attempt to induce England to sign the peace anyway, Napoleon decided to blockade England from European ports. He also hoped, over time, that he would manage to assemble a fleet capable of rivalling the Royal Navy. For all these reasons, it was vital that Spain be a strong and reliable ally.
Yet Spain, governed by Manual Godoy, Queen Marie Louise's lover, was in a state of total degeneration. King Charles IV, whose weakness and physical ugliness is painted and portrayed by Goya, tended to let things go. To complete the picture, Prince Ferdinand, heir to the Crown, plotted against his father and Godoy, who he hated. After considerable hesitation, Napoleon came to the conclusion that this foursome had to overturn to give Spain a government capable of restoring the greatness and power it had enjoyed in previous centuries.
It was a mistake he recognized. He should have set Ferdinand on the throne, as was the wish of the Spanish people, rather than appointing his brother Joseph.
Napoleon did not attack Russia. It was Tsar Alexander who, after violating the Tilsit agreements by opening his ports to England, triggered the hostilities.
Alerted by the Poles, France's only faithful ally, that the Tsar (who had solicited their support) was intensifying his preparations to attack him, Napoleon immediately asked Lauriston, now his Ambassador in Saint Petersburg, to make it known that he wished for a negotiation and not, above all, war.
Alexander appears deaf to all overtures of peace, and when Napoleon is compelled out of desperation to mobilize, he hopes until the last moment that the array of his forces - six hundred thousand men from everywhere in Europe - will bring the Tsar to his senses.
When Alexander takes the initiative with an ultimatum that orders him to withdraw to the other side of the Elba, Napoleon makes one last effort at peace.
He writes to him:
"I wish to avoid war, I remain true to the feelings that united us at Tilsit and Erfurt...."
In the meantime, on the 17th of April 1812, he had sent a new offer of peace to England proposing the evacuation of English and French troops from Spain, Portugal and Sicily. Castlereagh did not even respond.
On the 24th of June 1812, Napoleon crosses the Niemen and heads to Vilnius, where he remains for eighteen days awaiting the Tsar's reply to a new peace offer. On the 7th of September 1812, after the victory of Borodino — The Moskwa — he refuses to exploit the success and annihilate the Russian army simply to prove to Alexander his desire to reach an understanding, his desire for humanity. He did not want to topple the Tsar, who he believed to be sparing and considerate with regard to his soldiers' lives, like himself. He would soon find this army, that he could have so easily destroyed, facing him during the retreat. The French saying "your good heart will be your downfall" was never truer than applied to Napoleon.