The French Revolution: Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte, who lived from 1769 to 1821, began his career as a French military commander, scoring major victories in Austria and England.

So, he was a military commander who showed great skill because he was able to win some major victories in other countries before he returned to France.


The transcript is for your convenience
Upon his return to the chaos of France, Napoleon led a coup against the current French government, and he was installed as the leader of France. He was soon elected by popular vote as well. So, while Napoleon did lead a coup and take over the French government before he was installed as the leader, he also – after he installed himself as the leader – gave people a chance to vote, and he was elected by popular vote to be the leader of France as well. So, he had taken over it without anyone’s permission, leading a coup or small revolt to take over the government. But then, he was voted to be elected as their leader as well. So, he did get the popular vote, as well as taking it without asking.

Almost immediately, Napoleon reformed French education, agriculture, and infrastructure. And this may be why people were happy to vote for him, why he was able to win the popular vote, because trying to improve education, agriculture, and the infrastructure of their society was going to be improving things for the people of France. And so, they were going to be happy about that and say, “Well, yeah, we like this guy. Let’s keep him there.”

But the main goal of Napoleon’s role was acquisition of territory, both in Europe and the New World. So, the Americas. So, while Napoleon did want to make things better at home in France, he also wanted to expand France’s territory and acquire land in Europe, from other countries, make them part of France, as well as colonize and claim land over in the New World.

His troops quickly conquered Austria, Portugal, Spain, and Prussia. So, he did take over some other parts of Europe and make them a part of France. Napoleon, who modeled himself after Charlemagne in many ways, then crowned himself emperor. So, once Napoleon had conquered these four previous countries, he named himself Emperor of France, and so, he was emperor of all of these lands.

But the French Empire proved too large to manage, however, as tends to happen when someone conquers too much land, they can’t control all of it, and so, either they try to split up power, or things just start to fall apart. And so, the French Empire proved too large for Napoleon, but he still tried to gain more land, and he further weakened himself with a disastrous campaign against Russia. Now, Russia was another large country. He’d conquer some smaller countries, but then he led a campaign against Russia, which was a very big country. And he lost.

So, after Napoleon’s debacle in Russia debilitated his military, so it was already having trouble maintaining its empire status because it had grown so large, but Napoleon still led another campaign into a big country and tried to take over there. He failed, and after this, his military was debilitated, it was broken. He didn’t have nearly as many soldiers as he had before because a lot of them had died during that campaign, and some, for sure, had died during these campaigns. So, he’d really shrunk down to size of his military, and he already had things kind of falling apart politically.

So, after Russia, revolts started springing up in many of the nations that he had conquered,  and Napoleon was overthrown and exiled. So, revolts started springing up in all of these countries that he’d conquered before. Austria, Portugal, Spain, Prussia. I’m sure some of the people in Russia also had something out for them because Napoleon had tried to invade Russia. But several of these countries had revolts, rise up, and say, “We’re not going to be part of France anymore.” Especially after they saw that Napoleon was able to be defeated.

So, the leaders of the countries that had overthrown Napoleon and exiled him, so they didn’t kill him. There had been a lot of violence from other leaders in this time, but they did not kill Napoleon. They said, “Okay, we’re going to exile you.” So, they sent him to this island called Elba out in the Mediterranean Sea, and they said, “Okay, you’re exiled to this island until we figure out what to do with you.” So, leaders of the countries that had overthrown Napoleon met in Vienna to decide how to respond to him. What should they do with him now? They didn’t want to kill him. They wanted to figure out something else to do with him.

However, these three men were in constant disagreement. So, our three men that were basically in charge of this meeting in Vienna. But they couldn’t agree on anything, and since they were in constant disagreement, that was kind of the distraction Napoleon needed, and he used that opportunity to return from his exile on Elba, and reclaim power. So, he didn’t stay in exile, he said, “Okay, I’m escaping from my exile, and I’m going to take back my power, at least in France.” He may not have been able to get to all the other countries who have revolted against him, but he could go back to France and claim some of his power back. But finally, Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo and sent into permanent exile. So, he did get out of exile, come back, make a small comeback as the leader of France, but then, these leaders said, “Okay, okay, that’s enough. We already exiled you once.”

So then they took him and they put him into permanent exile, and that was his punishment that they decided. They still didn’t kill him, but they said, “Okay, instead of being exiled for a certain amount of time,  now you are exiled permanently.” And the allies met again at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, where France wasn’t treated too harshly. So, they were still pretty fair. This group of leaders who came together in Vienna was pretty fair. They didn’t kill Napoleon, even after he escaped exile and tried to reclaim power again. They said, “Okay, we’re still not going to kill you. You’re going to go into permanent exile.” And then, whenever they were trying to decide how to sort everything out, France was not treated too harshly. They didn’t say, “Oh, since Napoleon was in charge of you, we’re going to take as much land as we can from you, France.” They were pretty fair with France, and it was determined that a balance of power should be maintained in Europe to ensure that no one in the future tried to dominate the continent.

So, you had several people that would gain power in their own country, and then try to expand and take over the countries around them, and sometimes, they would call it an empire, and sometimes, they would just say, “This is all one country,” and not actually call themselves an emperor, but they try to take over the surrounding countries. And so, this group said, “We need to maintain a balance of power.” So, no one leader is going to take over a country and then say, “Oh, let me take over the countries around us. Let me try to take over all of Europe.” So, that’s what they were trying to do here, was to make sure that no one country, or no one leader in a country, tried to dominate the whole continent and take over its surrounding neighbor nations,  trying to have a goal of expansion.

So , from now on, any expanding that was going to be done would have to be done in the New World. So, Napoleon was a strong leader in France. He did make some good reforms, but because his primary goal was expansion, both in Europe and in the New World, he didn’t get as far as he could have with France itself. And he did have several successful campaigns where he did gain more land for France, enough to call it an empire and call himself the emperor, but after his loss in Russia, he quickly lost the other countries he’d gained to a series of revolts against him. He was exiled, came back from his exile, and reclaimed some power briefly, but then went into permanent exile. And after Napoleon’s attempt to make an emperor out of all of Europe, the European nations decided to try to maintain a balance of power, so that no one nation would try to dominate the whole continent.