Napoleon - An Intimate Portrait

Did Napoleon Subvert the Ideals of the French Revolution?

It can be said that without Napoléon, the gains of the French Revolution would have disappeared in short order. When he first became a major actor on the political scene in 1796, France was still reeling from the horrors of the Reign of Terror, was massively in debt, and had enemies threatening her borders.

During the next two decades, Napoléon expanded the French Empire, created economic prosperity, extended the rule of law through the Napoleonic Code, abolished the privileges and tithes of feudalism, and established a bureaucracy that rewarded talent instead of hereditary connections. Yet, he also declared himself Emperor for life, ruling as autocratically as any monarch, employing a large, secret police force; strictly censoring political, literary, and artistic expression; and rewarding his family and cronies with aristocratic privileges. Thus, he both institutionalized the Revolution and subverted its ideals for his own interests and those of France.

Images © Chalençon
A Traveling Exhibition from Russell Etling Company (c) 2011