Napoleon Bonaparte

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David's portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte crossing the Alps

Napoleon Bonaparte (15 August 1769 – 5 May 1821) was a military officer during the French Revolution and later the ruler of France, first as "First Consul of the French Republic" and later, after 1804, as "Emperor of the French". Today, he best remembered for the extensive European wars during which he commanded French armies marching across most countries in Europe, even all the way to Moscow, being defeated during the German campaign of 1813 and finally 1815 by the Prussians and British during the War of the Seventh Coalition.


Bonaparte as a young Officer
France & some of her conquests in Europe under Napoleon.

He spread some of the policies of the French Revolution to other parts of the world, but reversed others, such as by reinstituting slavery in the French colonies and prohibiting inter-racial marriages.

"Years later, questioned by his friend Truguet about what he had done in Saint-Domingue, an enraged Bonaparte declared that, had he been in Martinique during the Revolution, he would have supported the English rather than accept an end to slavery. “I am for the whites because I am white; I have no other reason, and that one is good,” he said. “How is it possible that liberty was given to Africans, to men who had no civilization, who did not even know what the colony was, what France was? It is perfectly clear that those who wanted the freedom of the blacks wanted the slavery of the whites."[1] See also Haiti.

Jewish issues

Continuing policies from the French Revolution, Napoleon removed previous restrictions on Jews/Judaism, sometimes referred to as Jewish emancipation. However, he also in 1808 issued the "Infamous Decree", which among other measures restricted Jewish money lending, annulled certain debts owed to Jews by non-Jewish debtors, and encouraged Jews to work in agriculture and craftsmanship. The motives for these actions have been debated. Less politically views include that Napoleon hoped to gain support from Jews, privately expressed anti-Semitic views, wished to stop activities such as argued exploitative usury against non-Jews, and thought that giving Jews equal rights and responsibilities would cause assimilation and even the disappearance of Jews as a separate group.[2] See also Jewish question.

"Count Louis Mathieu Molé (1781–1855), Napoleon’s informal advisor on Jewish affairs, resurrected the discussion as part of a personal effort to rescind Jewish ‘emancipation.’ [...] He persuaded Napoleon to convene a ‘Grand Sanhedrin’ — a kind of ‘Elders of Zion’ meeting — where Jewish leaders from across France would be compelled to attend and answer questions about the nature of Judaism and Jewish culture as it related to interactions with Frenchmen. Each of these Jewish notables was issued with Molé’s Instructions to the Assembly of Jewish Notables (1806), a summons to attend the Sanhedrin and a list of questions they were expected to answer. The message to the Jews was abrupt: “Called together from the extremities of this vast empire, no one among you is ignorant of the object for which His Majesty has convened this assembly. You know it. The conduct of many among those of your persuasion has excited complaints, which have found their way to the throne: these complaints were founded on truth; and nevertheless, His Majesty has been satisfied with stopping the progress of the evil.” Molé put to the Jewish leaders a number of questions concerning, among other things, intermarriage, loyalty to the state, Jewish attitudes to the laws of the state, and the practice of usury. Molé stated “You will hear the questions submitted to you, your duty is to answer the whole truth on every one of them.” But, of course, the answers were far from truthful, even if they were masterfully crafted works of Talmudic argumentation."[3]

The German Jewish Rothschild family was of major importance in financing the wars against Napoleon Bonaparte.

Anti-Napoleonic nationalism

The main site of anti-Napoleonic nationalism was in the German states, some of which had been absorbed by France, but most of which were in the Confederation of the Rhine. The German nationalist movement rebelled not only against French rule, but against the entire French intellectual tradition. The years of French domination saw a remarkable flowering of thought and art in Germany, with philosophers and artists such as Goethe, Schiller, Herder, Kant, Hegel, and Beethoven rising to the fore. Against the dominant tradition of French Enlightenment Rationalism that underlay the entire Napoleonic empire and its rules, German intellectuals now began a revolution in thought called Romanticism. Romanticism challenged nearly every aspect of French Rationalism. Since the French Empire was built on French Rationalism, the policies of the empire came under attack. The Enlightenment idea of universal laws that applied to everyone came under attack. J.G. Fichte, who drew on the work of J.G. Herder(discussed in Commentary, below) was a German philosopher and Romantic who argued that each person's inner self determined their morality. In 1800, Fichte proposed a "Closed Commercial State", advocating a centralized state that could isolate itself from the world to develop its own Volksgeist, a word describing a nations distinct sense of self. When Germany fell under French domination, Fichte argued (like Herder) that there was a special German "spirit" [Deutscher Geist]. Unlike Herder, Fichte claimed that the German spirit was better than that of other nations, and for that reason, it needed to be carefully protected from being perverted by contact with outside influences, such as the French influence. Thus, Napoleon's domination of Germany helped propel both a political and intellectual reaction, fueling the growth of German Nationalism and Romanticism. [...] Britain was also strongly swept by anti-Napoleonic nationalism. The years of Napoleonic rule were also crucial years in the development of British manufacturing through the Industrial Revolution. British workers were being horribly exploited, working long hours at monotonous and dangerous jobs for little pay. Unemployment was high. A workers' revolt might well have happened if the British people hadn't had Napoleon to rally against. Opposition to Napoleon unified Britain, and may be one factor explaining why workers didn't revolt against the factory system in this still early, fairly oppressive stage of the Industrial Revolution. Two exceptions to the general rule that French dominance created local nationalism were Italy and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. The Italians, lacking a unified history and broken into several states under Napoleon, never developed a strong anti-Napoleon nationalist movement. The Poles were also quite happy with their new, restored state. Even if it wasn't really independent, at least they had a state, rather than being split up and controlled by Russia, Prussia, and Austria, which was what would likely happen if Napoleon hadn't been supporting the Grand Duchy.[4]


  • “The joining together of the Germans had to be slower; that's why I had only simplified their monstrous complication. Not that they had not been prepared for this union; on the contrary, they were just too much and could have reacted blindly to us before they understood us. How was it that no German prince understood the mood of his nation or knew how to use it? Truly, had heaven allowed me to be born a German prince, amidst the innumerable crises of our day I should infallibly have united the thirty million Germans; and, as I think I know them, I still think that if they had once elected me and proclaimed me, they would never have left me, and I would not be here [...] However that may be, this union must take place, late or soon, by the force of things."[5] — Exile on St. Helena, Bonaparte had underestimated the Germans and overestimated the French.

Marriages and Children

Napoleon was married twice:

  • 9 March 1796 to Joséphine de Beauharnais[6] He formally adopted her son Eugène and cousin Stéphanie after assuming the throne to arrange "dynastic" marriages for them. He had her daughter Hortense marry his brother, Louis. Napoleon and Joséphine's marriage was unconventional, and both were known to have many affairs. Joséphine agreed to divorce so he could remarry in the hopes of producing an heir. Napoleon's letters to Joséphine available in the original French on the French wikisource site.
  • 11 March 1810 by proxy to Marie Louise, Archduchess of Austria, then in a ceremony on 1 April. They remained married until his death, although she did not join him in his exile.
  • Napoleon Francis Joseph Charles (20 March 1811 – 22 July 1832), King of Rome. Known as Napoleon II although he never ruled. Was later known as the Duke of Reichstadt. He had no issue.

Acknowledged two illegitimate children, both of whom had issue:

  • Charles, Count Léon, (1806 – 1881), by Louise Catherine Eléonore Denuelle de la Plaigne (1787–1868).
  • Alexandre Joseph Colonna, Count Walewski, (4 May 1810 – 27 October 1868), by Marie, Countess Walewska (1789–1817).

May have had further illegitimate offspring:

  • Émilie Louise Marie Françoise Joséphine Pellapra, by Françoise-Marie LeRoy.
  • Karl Eugin von Mühlfeld, by Victoria Kraus.
  • Hélène Napoleone Bonaparte, by Countess Montholon.
  • Jules Barthélemy-Saint-Hilaire (19 August 1805 – 24 November 1895) whose mother remains unknown.

External links


Napoleon and Jews


  1. Laurent Dubois. A Colony of Citizens: Revolution & Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 1787-1804.
  2. Napoleon and the Jews
  3. The Jewish Question: Suggested Readings with Commentary, Part One of Three: The Enlightenment and Jewish ‘Emancipation’ The Jewish Question: Suggested Readings with Commentary, Part One of Three: The Enlightenment and Jewish ‘Emancipation’
  4. German Nationalism and Romanticism Under French Rule
  5. Original (in German): „Die Zusammenfügung der Deutschen mußte langsamer gehen; deswegen hatte ich auch ihre monströse Complication nur vereinfacht. Nicht, als wären sie zu dieser Vereinigung nicht vorbereitet gewesen; sie waren es im Gegentheil nur zu viel und hätten blind auf uns zurückwirken können, ehe sie uns begriffen. Wie kam es nur, daß kein deutscher Fürst die Stimmung seiner Nation verstand, oder dieselbe zu benutzen wußte? Wahrhaftig, hätte der Himmel mich als ein deutscher Fürst geboren werden lassen, mitten durch die zahllosen Krisen unsrer Tage würde ich unfehlbar die dreißig Millionen Deutsche vereinigt haben; und, wie ich sie zu kennen glaube, denke ich noch, daß, hatten sie mich einmal gewählt und proclamirt, sie mich nie verlassen hätten und ich nicht hier wäre … Wie dem auch nun seyn mag, diese Vereinigung muß, spät oder früh, durch die Gewalt der Dinge erfolgen.“ — Exilant auf St. Helena Bonaparte hatte die Deutschen unter- und die Franzosen überschätzt; zitiert nach dem Original von Staatsrat Emmanuel Graf de Las Cases (1766–1842) aus dessen Werk Mémorial de Sainte Hélène, in „Literarisches Conversations-Blatt für das Jahr 1823“, Zweiter Band, Juli bis Dezember, Brockhaus, Leipzig 1823, S. 1054
  6. Epton, Nina, Josephine: The Empress and Her Children, Weidenfeld and Nicolson Ltd., & Readers Union Ltd, England, 1976.
  • Haythornthwaite, Philip J., The Napoleonic Source Book, Guild Publishing, London, New York etc., 1990.
  • Palmer, Alan, Napoleon in Russia, Constable & Co. Ltd., reprint, London, 1998, ISBN: 0-09-477560-5.
  • Hofschroer, Peter, 1815: The Waterloo Campaign, Greenhill Books, London, 1998, ISBN: 1-85367-304-8.
  • Petre, F. Loraine, Napoleon's Campaign in Poland 1806-1807, Lionel Leventhal Limited, London, 2001, ISBN: 0905-778-76-6.
  • Zamoyski, Adam, 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March on Moscow, HarperCollins publishers, London, 2004, ISBN: 0-00-712375-2.