Thursday, 4 October 2012

Napoleon as administrator

Above, Jacques-Louis David, The Emperor Napoleon in his Study (1812).

Here are some thoughts about Napoleon's achievements in France.

Centralization: Napoleon created the agencies of centralized administration and the administrators to run them. These included the gendarmerie, the state-controlled paramilitary police force; the prefect, the head of departmental administration, appointed by the central government and accountable exclusively to it; a cadre of trained experts for the state, products of the École Polytechnique, founded in 1794; new state-run secondary schools, the lycées, whose curriculum centred on Latin and Mathematics.

Financial reform: In 1800 the Bank of France was founded and along with it the creation of a currency on the gold standard. A land register ensured that the propertied classes paid taxes and an efficient tax collecting system meant that the money actually reached the government.

The Church: Napoleon’s Concordat of 1801/1802 recognized the Catholic Church as ‘the religion of the great majority of French people’. The Church renounced its former privileges and property, but freedom of worship was restored. Pius VII was a (somewhat humiliated?) spectator at Napoleon’s coronation. Napoleon issued an amnesty to the émigrés (apart from the royal family) and many returned.

The law: The Code Napoléon codified the law of France. The civil code rationalized inheritance but entrenched masculine privilege. The Criminal Code did not take up the presumption of innocence or the right of habeas corpus as enshrined in the Declaration of the Rights of Man. But torture was prohibited and jury trials remained in force.

The return of the old regime?
Napoleonic France became increasingly monarchical. ‘Equality meant the equal subjection of every citizen to the state power.’ In 1802 Napoleon proclaimed himself First Consul for life and he crowned himself emperor in Notre Dame in 1804. The creation of a ‘Legion of Honour’ was followed up by the re-establishment of nobility and an imperial court. Was the Revolution over?

The imperial regime brooked little opposition. The two-house legislature was powerless. Newspapers were censored and their numbers greatly reduced. Political clubs were banned. Under the direction of the minister of police Joseph Fouché (Duke of Otranto), potential opponents – both royalists and Jacobins - were closely surveyed.

However access to the new nobility was by merit not birth, and Protestants and Jews enjoyed equality under the law. This was part of the Enlightenment legacy.