The Great and the Controversial

People who are famous are usually known because they are known or because they did something extraordinary. But only few people though years of history did that much great and that much controversial as this one man. Napoleon Bonaparte.


His world story began as he, a Corsican child, went to France to attend school. He was good in mathematics, but also read much. Later on as he was around twenty a revolutionary discovered his political and military talents. He spent much time on battlefields, but later on was thrown into the great politics. Became the First Consul and later the French Emperor.

Although some of his reforms might seem controversial from today’s point of view he did much good like sending all children to school no matter the social class and parents’ wealth. He codified the civil law. Restructured the public administration that was failing in the first years after the French revolution after the old order was destroyed. He put a new light onto the public service in the field of diplomacy, public finance, civil engineering, etc.

For different reasons somewhere between personal ambition and the country’s need to defend against the powers abroad seeking back the old order, or because the French thought that the country’s development should rely on expansion, he engaged into military campaigns that led him to conquer Europe and make strong allies (the so-called Napoleonic Wars), reached Moscow, even conquered it for a short period of time but finally failed under the Russian cold winter.

When we look at all of those campaigns from today’s perspective it was simply no longer possible to maintain such a widespread empire. Although Europe still needed more than a century and a half to come to terms with interests of all countries and nations that live on the continent, although the process took years of bloodshed of the two cruel world wars, the Napoleonic campaigns brought for the first time many (but not all) of the European nations to the negotiation table. The Congress of Vienna (1815) was not held at one negotiations table. It was rather a series of more or less private meetings. But still it was unprecedented.

After a series of military and political defeats Napoleon was banished and sent to the Isle of Elba. Came back to Paris for 100 days. Later he was banished again and spent his final years on the St. Helena island among his closest brothers in arms only.

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