Factors for the Rise of Napoleon to Power in France

The role or effects of the French revolution of 1789 greatly contributed to Napoleons rise to power in 1799;

The French revolution overthrew Louis XVI and the ancient regime hence bringing the bourbon rule to an end in France. The overthrow of Louis XVI and the bourbon regime created a political vacuum that was too filled by napoleon Bonaparte.

The revolution abolished the hated social classes and the privileges that had been promoted by the regime. The revolution opened chances to peasants, the idea of equality and promotion for all was enhanced by the revolution which helped a common man like napoleon to rise to power.

The revolution also brought the idea of career open to talent under which any person of ability or talent would earn promotion irrespective of their social status and origin. Napoleon was a man of rare abilities and talent which he used to rise to power in 1799.

The revolution also led to the scarcity of artillery officers because of the death or running to exile of officers of noble origin during the revolution. Napoleon benefited from this scarcity by rising through military ranks first as a brigadier and then to the rank of a general within a short period of time. His rise to such high ranks in the army helped him to rise to power.

The French revolution also created revolutionary wars and campaigns in which napoleon participated as a commander e.g. He commanded the Italian and Egyptian campaigns in which napoleon and the revolutionary army brought glory to France. The campaigns exposed napoleons heroics and greatness as a soldier. When he organized a coup in 1799 he was massively supported by the army and the population hence his rise to power.

The French revolution created internal enemies which led to a number of revolts against the governments of the time such as the royalist insurrection against the convention (whiff of grape shot) and the Babeuf plot against the directory government. Napoleon was used by both governments to suppress both revolts thereby displaying his military brilliance and leadership qualities.

The revolution also came with ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity which needed to be defended at home in France and also exported to other countries of Europe. Napoleon exported these ideas through the revolutionary wars he fought which earned him popularity.

The French revolution also led to the rise of weak governments such as the convention and directory which were characterized by a lot of inefficiencies which left the masses discontented longing for a savior who came in the name of napoleon.

The revolution also created a situation of fear and insecurity of property and needed people to safeguard the revolutionary gains. Napoleon was seen as the right person to protect the revolutionary achievements hence his rise to power.

QN 1.

To what extent was the French revolution of 1789 responsible for the rise to power of Napoleon Bonaparte in France?

QN 2.

“Without the French revolution of 1789 napoleon would have died a common man” discuss.  The weakness of the directory government.

The directory government rose to power after the reign of terror in October 1795 and lasted up to 1799 when it was overthrown by Napoleon.

It was characterized by the following weaknesses.

The directors were men of mediocre talent and little political experience, their government was inefficient characterized by corruption and bribery, government failed to solve the challenges of the time which left the French discontented. The political vacuum created by this government needed an efficient leader who came in the person of napoleon.

The directory government was extravagant in public expenditure. It set up a large army which needed a lot of money for maintenance which led to over taxation of the masses thus increasing discontent of the masses and unpopularity of the government.

The directory regime was characterized by insecurity as a result of internal revolts which led to hiring of napoleon to suppress the revolts. This made napoleon famous at home leading to his rise to power.

The same government was also faced with many external wars such as the Italian and Egyptian campaigns which were also commanded by napoleon. These also exposed napoleon’s military and leadership abilities thus helping his rise to power.

The directory government failed to control inflation, unemployment and other social- economic challenges. The government presided over a poor economy with low levels of production and high levels of poverty which led to discontent among the masses and favoured napoleon’s rise to power.

The directors were divided and lacked harmony among themselves as they disagreed very often on minor issues which left their government weak.

The government failed to solve problems of the church leading to religious discontent in France. Napoleon promised to put religious issues right thereby winning mass support for his coup in 1799.

Napoleon also befriended most of the directors such as barras. Napoleon married Josephine daughter of barras with whom he was passionately in love. Josephine had useful aristocratic connections which helped napoleon`s rise to power. He was also a close friend to abbey seiyez and Lucien Bonaparte his brother who were members of this government and instrumental in his 1799 coup.

The directory government also narrowed the franchise by increasing property qualification. This denied many French peasants their rights to vote or be voted to public offices. The government therefore lost its credibility among the masses hence paving the way for the rise of napoleon to power.


To what extent did the weakness of the directory government contribute to the rise of napoleon to power in France?

Napoleon’s military victories.

As a soldier and commander of the army napoleon participated in many wars or battles both at home and abroad in which he registered military victory and therefore became famous. He succeeded in suppressing many internal revolts against the directory government such as the royalist rising in Toulon, the Babeuf plot, the royalist rising against the convention (whiff of grape shot). He also commanded the Italian and Egyptian campaigns successfully. All these victories brought glory to France, portrayed napoleon as an efficient leader and a hero. When he organized a coup in 1799 he was massively supported hence his rise to power.

Napoleons personal ambition.

No doubt napoleon was a man of overwhelming ambitions. His ambitions can be traced from his childhood when he dreamt of liberating Corsica France and becoming the king of Corsica, his ambitions led him into the Italian and Egyptian campaigns, they made him tireless in activity and that`s why he slept for two hours only. His ambitions made him ruthless in his pursuit for power when he dreamt of building a French empire and use kings as his officials.

Napoleons luck or fortune.

He was lucky to have been born a Frenchman and to have survived childhood. The island of Corsica had come into French possession a year before napoleon was born making him a French man by birth to qualify for any public office.

In 1792, napoleon was dismissed from the army after overstaying his leave but he was lucky to be recalled in1793 due to the scarcity of artillery officers hence maximizing his potential.

He was lucky to receive education with sons of nobles when he was actually a peasant. It was a rare chance for a peasant to receive education before the outbreak of the revolution.

He was lucky to escape the guillotine after Robespiere’s downfall in 1794 yet napoleon was his close associate, he was just imprisoned and later released.

He was lucky to elude / dodge nelson’s fleet when going to Egypt and when leaving Egypt when he left his army stranded.

He was also lucky that the friends he had were influential in the French politics such barras, sieyes, carnot etc and this made him famous.

When he carried a coup in1799, he had nervous anxieties and fainted and failed to address the assembly but he was lucky that his brother Lucien was there who swore to stab the heart of his brother if he did not keep the gains and interests of the French masses.

He was lucky that a revolution broke out at the time it did to give him all the possible opportunities.

He was lucky that the revolutionary governments were weak and unpopular and could thus be toppled without anybody supporting them such as the directory government.

Napoleon’s character and personality.

He was intelligent, well read, educated and very ambitious for example, he was able to become a general at the age of 30. He was an opportunist in that things came at the time they were needed and as an opportunist, he was quick to exploit them to his advantage. He could even change opportunity into action very quickly.

He was courageous, confident, brave a man with extra ordinary brain, very resourceful and very energetic for example in war, napoleons presence in the battle field was equivalent to 40000 soldiers. He also had a lot of determination and it was as a result of his determination that he took up a disorganized army to the Italian and Egyptian campaigns against the strongest.

He was a diplomat too, he would crown his victories with peace such as the treaty of compoformio after he had defeated the Austrians in his Italian campaign.

He was also a genius and foresighted which explains why he kept aloof from the directory government knowing its weaknesses would ruin his future plans, he also abandoned his plans of liberating Corsica and instead took part in the French revolution which gave him a lot of opportunities for his rise to power.

Napoleon’s education also contributed to his rise to power, he was widely read especially in revolutionary literature of great philosophers like jean Jacques Rousseau, he also studied maths, political science and history. He was well versed with a lot of knowledge about the    art war and peace. He also greatly understood world politics having read the constitutions    of many countries like Britain, turkey, Switzerland and others which sharpened his mind and helped him to rise to power.

The support of the army. Napoleon was a military genius who rose to higher ranks in the army within a short period of time. While at military academies of Brienne and Paris he made friends who supported him as the leader of the army in the various assignments. It was this army which gave him support when he organized the coup of Brumaire in 1799.

Napoleon also had strong oratory abilities ie power of speech (he was a gifted speaker). He had a careful selection of words and powerful memory which impressed his followers both the soldiers and French civilians. For example while preparing for the Italian campaign he spoke and convinced the army when he said “you are badly fed and nearly naked — I am going to lead you to the most fertile plains in the world. You will find there great cities and rich provinces. You will find there honor, glory and wealth.”

Within a few weeks of invading Italy he defeated the Austrian army and forced them to sign the treaty of campo-formio and liberated the Italians to whom he said “people of Italy if the French army comes to break the chains of bondage, greet it with confidence your property, religion and customs will be protected.” Such convincing language won napoleon support of the army and the masses leading to his rise to power.

Napoleon’s humble background also provided him with the determination and courage to rise to power against all odds. He came from a poor family of 13 children 8 of whom survived childhood. While at school he was despised by his school mates and taken to be a social misfit.  He was penniless, friendless and had one meal a day which made him hardened and determined to break the chains of poverty. He welcomed the French revolution with open hands during which he became a disciple of Roussseau.

The annexation of Corsica, the Mediterranean island from Genoa by France in 1768. Napoleon was born a year after France annexed Corsica island from the Italian republic of Genoa which made him a French citizen by birth though he was an Italian by descent. He was therefore eligible to hold any public office in France, was able to benefit from French military training thus providing him the platform to rise to power.

The technological and scientific advancement during that time also conditioned his rise to power. This was a period of industrial growth which brought advancement in transport and military hardware. These simplified organization and execution of military adventures from which napoleon benefited as an artillery officer his rise to power.

The role played by Carlos Bonaparte, napoleon’s father also conditioned his rise to power in 1799. His father forged a noble origin hence enabling his son napoleon to join the military academy of Brienne on a noble scholarship, where he excelled in military science and maths, later joining the Paris academy where he graduated as a second lieutenant in the French army. Had it not been for his father napoleon would not have remained a common Frenchman.

The role played by Lucien Bonaparte. Lucien was his brother and president of the council 500,he used his position to influence the assembly to accept napoleon when he said “here   is the man you have been waiting for, he will respect you, he will respect the revolutionary gains. He is my brother. If he fails, I will stab him in the chest”. He also saved napoleon from failure when he was beaten hence saving the coup from failure.

Napoleons association with influential people like maximillien Robespierre and other army officers helped him to rise to power in a way that they helped him to learn military skills, to be vibrant and appealing at political public speeches. Napoleon learnt and was able to win support from the masses by promising political, social and economic changes hence his    rise to power.

Napoleons marriage to Josephine the daughter of Barras who was one of the directors in the directory government. This marriage gave him aristocratic connections and greatly elevated his status from a simple army officer to a son in law which gave him chance to lead military campaigns that made him popular hence his rise to power.

The military coup de’tat of Brummare in 1799 through which Napoleon captured power from the directory government. The coup nearly failed and Napoleon nearly killed but he was saved by his brother and with the help of abbey sieyes and ducas roger, napoleon saved the coup hence his rise to power.

Napoleons Consolidation of Power.

After the successful coup of Brumaire, napoleon devised means of strengthening himself on the throne so he adopted a number of policies which included the following.

He abolished the directory government and established a new government called the consulate. He became the first consul and gave himself all the powers to appoint and dismiss government officers. He also had powers to make war or peace though there were other consuls such as Ducos roger and abbey Sieyyes.

Another step was to organize elections for the legislative assembly. He drew and prepared the list of candidates to stand for elections. These candidates of his choice would help him control France and in the end napoleon surrounded himself with friends who supported him and his policies.

After putting the legislative assembly in place, he abolished the old constitution and started the process of making a new constitution. Again napoleon dominated the process of making laws. The constitution allowed him to rule for two years but later he turned against the constitution and extended his term to four years then to ten years and finally made himself ruler for life and his position hereditary.

In 1804 through a referendum napoleon changed the government from a consulate to an empire. He automatically became the emperor and crowned himself. He assumed the title of emperor napoleon 1 and became a complete dictator.

Napoleon also consolidated himself in power by using the French revolutionary ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity because these became the lasting symbols and gains of the French revolution.

He also set up a centralized system of administration by dividing the country into departments headed by prefects and also carried out other local divisions with all leaders answerable to him which helped him to control the country effectively thus consolidating himself in power.

Napoleon also adopted naked despotism by use of harsh methods of suppressing his opponents. Those who criticized him were dismissed from government; others were imprisoned, sent into exile or even killed.

He also employed spies in every sector and transformed France into a police state by establishing a strong police to deal with criminals. Efficient detectives kept napoleon informed about what was transpiring in different parts of France hence eliminating or reducing internal and external enemies.

Above all he censored the press to reduce criticism. The number of newspapers reduced from 70 to only 4 in Paris by 1810 all under strict state control, for he was quoted saying “ liberty is not for common people “. Newsmen who wrote against napoleon were either killed or exiled which scared many journalists who wanted to expose his weaknesses.

He reorganized the army by recruiting, training and equipping it. He used this army to maintain himself in power by using it to suppress rebellions and external enemies. He also used the army to fight wars of expansion and bring glory to France.

He also strengthened his stay in power by limiting the growth of intellectualism which would have resulted into opposition against him. He did this by banning the teaching of all liberal subjects such as history, literature, philosophy and political science.

He also transformed the French economy through improving trade relations, encouraging industrialization, improving commerce and agriculture. These gave a strong foundation for development and creation of employment to the French.

He also solved the long term problem between the state and the church by signing the concordat with the pope in which catholic religion became the religion of the majority in France and granted freedom of worship. This pleased many in France and strengthened his hold on power.

He practically contributed to the abolition of feudalism and serfdom in France through extensive land reforms thereby winning the loyalty of the peasants.

He was a patron of art and therefore restored and enlarged French palaces, beautified French city of Paris to become the leisure city of Europe eventually pleasing many glory seekers.

Napoleon`s principle of the legion of honor of 1802 that promoted hard work and patriotism created a big class of people of peasant origin who were loyal to him.

He carried out various education reforms which pleased many Frenchmen who had him at heart. His education reforms were aimed at producing citizens who were absolutely loyal to the state. He established many technical schools with the aim of improving French industrial sector. The University of France was founded with many academies which pleased many and strengthened his stay in power.

He emphasized the principle of equality by abolishing class divisions and their privileges thereby consolidating his reign among the peasants.

Napoleon also employed his relatives and friends in senior positions. It should be remembered that when he organized the coup, the assembly refused to accept his statement but his brother Lucien saved him. Therefore, since then he depended on his relatives and friends in his administration as mayors, governors and kings.

By the treaty of Amiens of 1802 between France and Britain, Napoleon pleased many Frenchmen whose opinion was in favour of peace. By this treaty, Britain restored the French colonies she had captured from France and in return Britain retained Trinidad and Ceylon. This also allowed him to concentrate on domestic reorganization.

He also strove to reform the tax system that pleased many peasants and middle class. The old tax system that exploited the peasants and the middle class was replaced with a fair tax system that was based amount of wealth and not social background.

He improved roads, constructed bridges and canals all of which improved transport and communication in France hence capturing the attention of many.

He pleased the middle class by establishing the value of the French currency on gold standards; he also set up the national bank of France in Paris to regulate financial affairs and support industrial growth, established a trade advisory board and put in place other trade incentives.

He closed the chapter of republican violence and uprisings and put in place peace and stability without sacrificing the achievements of the revolutions.

Finally, he involved France in an aggressive policy. This was because majority of the Frenchmen wanted foreign glory. So he started by defeating the second coalition of Austria, Britain, Prussia and Russia which won him the support of the French hence consolidating himself in power.