Napoleon's Legacy

The Personification of the "World-Historical" Figure

The Personality of Napoleon

Napoleon is a personification of the "world-historical" figure, meaning that with most people, it is not correct to say that he/she changed history forever, but Napoleon was a rare person whose life decisively changed the course of European (and world) history and human events forever. The man was truly an enigma; neither conservative nor liberal, neither a reactionary or a Jacobin, he was simply an intelligent, bold, and shrewd leader who took advantage of situations most would view just as reality that he viewed as opportunities.

"Everything on earth is soon forgotten, except the opinion we leave imprinted on history." - Napoleon

Napoleon's Legacy Within France

  • Napoleonic Code - forbade privileges based on birth, allowed freedom of religion, and made government jobs available to the most qualified instead of the ones with the most wealth/connections
  • Bankruptcy and territorial losses
  • Ended lawlessness, anarchy, and chaos within France

Napoleon's Legacy Abroad

  • Failed to consolidate Europe into a French empire
  • Doubled the size of the United States through selling the Louisiana Territory
  • The ideals of the French Revolution spread across Europe due to Napoleon's conquests
  • Inspired nationalism in areas he conquered

More About Nationalism...

Napoleon attempted to remove the balance of power between different cultures and nationalities in Europe. He believed these were just rituals of the past, but his failures prove that nationalism would have a lasting legacy on the infrastructure of Europe. Through Napoleon's losses we see that nationalism is not just a reactionary force, but a solid idea that shapes the country borders of most of Europe today. Progressive thinking, nationalism, AND limited governments can peacefully coexist, which Napoleon did not believe was possible as he attempted to rule all of Europe.

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study by Jacques-Louis David

The purpose of this artwork is to convey that Napoleon was not only focused on imperialism, but also on the welfare of his people. He is writing the Napoleonic Code in this piece, and many details such the clock at 4:13, the early morning light in the corner of the chamber, rumpled hair, baggy stockings, and almost completely burnt candle illustrate that he has been up all night working on the Code. His sword is placed on the chair to show that he is not focused on fighting but on the people. However, the sword being in the piece reminds viewers that he IS the famous conquerer of Europe. The unrolled map on the ground, lion on the desk, and blue uniform with red cuffs also reinforce his military prowess. This is an extremely symbolic piece of propaganda.

Napoleon - Tyrant or Hero?

Here is a satirical artwork highlighting how Napoleon's conquests ultimately divided Europe into the basic national boundaries it has today.