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Perspectives on Napoleon

Perspectives on Napoleon

What was Napoleon's greatest achievement?

Mortier (Maryland):

Undoubtedly, Napoleon's greatest achievement was the spreading of French Revolutionary ideas across Europe and ultimately the world, which would lead to the revolutions of 1830, 1848, and other efforts by the masses to achieve true libertie, egalite, et fraternitie. Through his conquests and the subsequent prestige he gained, the ideas traveled quickly and with much force. We must give him credit for spreading republican and democratic ideals despite his having been an absolute ruler. It was circumstances that brought about his dictatorship and empire. Any other man would have done the same in his position.

hroyal77 (Louisiana):

I must say that I am but a tad bit partial to this question...living in New Orleans. The Napoleoanic code is still the baseline of our laws in a way...Louisiana still uses the term "parish" instead of "county". His influence is still felt in New Orleans. Yet, I haven't counted the Louisiana Purchase to the United States (which may not be a victorious thing...Toussiant L'Overture saw to that).

Sofia (California):

I believe Napoleon's greatest achievement was putting order to a revolution ridden France. If not for him, the disorder and chaos that followed the death of Luis the XVI would have continued. The fact that he succeeded in outsmarting all his fellow consuls was indeed a triumph worthy of mention because he managed to do it and keep his head. Furthermore, the fact that he managed to unite so many people under one form of government and rules is extraordinary and of gargantuan importance; this is supported by the fact that numerous codes of law of countries worldwide still follow legislation based on the Napoleonic code. His success in establishing some semblance of order remains the most important accomplishment, for without this, his ensuing victories could never have come to fruition.

Ariane (South Carolina):

Marketing. All his other achievements have been surpassed by others. Whatever idealism motivated him to rule France then Europe, and whatever glory he may have given to France was overshadowed by the number of deaths during his rule. Other military genius, such as Alexander the Great, Caesar, have made the same mistake, and so will other after him. These are men who believe the end justifies the means. So what if millions are killed, tortured, or suffered for the price of Glory? One would think that this is the same reasoning that Hitler or Stalin used to massacre people.

I think his greatest achievement is marketing, or self-marketing because nobody before him ever manipulated the press and popular opinion as he did: writing newspapers, commissioning paintings, etc... He used the media to its limits at this time. Can you believe what he would do today with the telephone, TV, and the Internet? One thing for sure you would not have election 2000 results. You would not have to recount anything! He would dominate the polls!

Joe (Missouri):

Napoleon, like Alexander the Great and Julius Ceaser, before him were men of tremendous ambition. Whether this ambition was born in them or not, it can safely be said it was certainly nurtured by each man's childhood. However, the most fascinat- ing aspect of Napoleon was the sense of destiny that he felt. He truly believed that he was born to rule France and the world. Obviously, from a historical sense France, Europe and the worl were changed forever by Napoleon. His military tactics are still studied and many of his ideas concerning laws and government remain with us today. Is the world better or worse because of Napoleon? No definite answer can be given, but it is a fact that history is much more interesting because of him.

Pat (Missouri):

The Napoleonic Code, also he created through his defeats of various German states to coalesce them into a single view of themselves as Germans as opposed to being Bavarian, Hessian or Saxon... the seeds of a German state were sown. For that matter the power vacuum created by his defeat of Spain & Portugal caused South Americans to also revolt and form new nations. Finally selling 30% of North America has had an outstanding impact for the US.

Daniel (Ohio):

Napoleon institutionalized the practice of rewarding an individual on the sole basis of his merit instead of his social origin. If it had not been for Napoleon, the revolutionary ideal of equality of rights may not have taken hold in a continental Europe which was deeply elitist. By making use of the talents of the common people, Napoleon laid the foundation of a society which was able to provide more social justice and economic wealth.


Napoleon's greatest achievement was not military. It was his vision not only of the modern nation state, but also of what he felt should transcend it: a unified Europe, a permanently harmonious union among the diverse peoples of a continent that had been war-torn for many centuries. His code of law was meant to be a component of this larger vision of a universally stable and peaceful order.

It is a vision which persists to this day, though his methods for attempting to institute it, by brute military force, were totally misguided and destructive, like those which came after it. It is Napoleon's most dubious achievement that he thought he could simply impose such an ideal on humanity. In this he embodied and set loose all the morally ambiguous elements of modern, romantic idealism, all the demonic energies that helped prepare the way for the horrors of the Twentieth Century. Unfortunately human ideals are always double-edged. They have profoundly negative as well as positive implications; they always involve risks and potentially grotesque and catastrophic perversions, as well as the most hopeful, desirable possibilities. This is especially so when we allow ideals of whatever sort to blind us to fundamental human needs and rights.

Nevertheless, Napoleon's greatest, most positive and lasting achievement is that his envisioned goal still endures, even as his means have proved disastrous and are now at last, hopefully, discredited in the western world. At this point in time his goal appears, in the current efforts at freely forging a European economic and political union, to finally offer a means of providing a voluntary unity and a desirable cooperation on a continent which has known far too little of either. If this long held vision of a peaceable Europe becomes a reality it will be the most important reason for Napoleon to be remembered–not for his military actions but for his romantic dream.

G.L. (Ohio):

Napoleon's greatest contribution to posterity was his policy of rewards being directly linked to merit. This was a policy inspired by the Revolution and solidified in the Marshallate and the Legion of Honor. His policy of "Fusion" was an attempt to open the system of rewards to anyone willing to be loyal to the new regime and contribute to the social order born of the ashes of the Revolution. Napoleon was the ultimate self-made man and it is for that reason I think he still inspires so much interest and debate. The fact that not one European nation could defeat him alone is testimony to his greatness. It required not only the combined forces of Russia, England, Austria and prussia to remove him from power, they needed treachery and deceit to remove him for good. His position in history is positively unique, there never was another character quite like him and there never will be again.

Robert (Virginia):

Although second only in importance to the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, Napoleon’s meteoric career spawned a host of important changes on the world stage. There is not one single important achievement that can be ascribed to this man; his whole political life is filled with important achievements, and the consequences of these achievements and actions (whether directly or indirectly) boggle the mind. For instance, selling Louisiana to the United States accelerated and facilitated the westward expansion of the Americans. By ceding the seas to Britain, especially after the battle of Trafalgar, Napoleon opened the way for the British Empire to rule the world in the mid- and late 19th century. And by uniting the Germans in their hatred for him through his heavy-handed rule, he opened the way for Bismarck and a united Germany later in the century. All of these events would, more than likely, have happened had there been no Napoleon; however, through the force of his ambition and energy, he precipitated changes that shaped our modern world. And the modern world can rightly be said to start at the Age of Napoleon…

Ben (Iowa):

The further rise of the notion of equality is a great acheivement. Not in his practice - of course - but in his example. A lowly Corsican, born in a poor, conquered state, rules France in short time. What better example for the lower and emerging middle classes to forsee a rise in station?

Kevin (North Carolina):

Acknowledging that Napoleon and the Grande Armee changed warfare forever, Napoleon's greatest achievements were in the field of law, the arts, government, and civil reform. Wherever the writ of the French Empire ran, there was basic civil rights, freedom of religion, hospitals and orphanages.The Code Civil, better known as the Code Napoleon has survived and thrived to this day, and gave France its first written code of law. It is also a part of the laws of Italy, Germany, and parts of the United States. He revamped French education, reestablished the Church, granted full citizenship to the Jewish people, granted freedom of worship for all denominations, encouraged industrialization and agriculture, built roads, bridges, harbors, drained swamps, encouraged and sponsored the arts, established the first governmental office to oversea France's natural resources, planted trees, balanced his budgets, put France on a stable economic footing, brought the smallpox vaccination to the continent, encouraged the use of gas lighting, and opened careers in France to talented people, not caring if they were peasant or noble, middle class or fanatic, as long as they would serve honestly and loyally. He also established the Legion of Honor as a system to recognize those who had served France in an extraordinary capacity, be they military or civilian. He also established fire departments, hospitals, and orphanages. He established his regime and its reforms so solidly that fifteen years of restored Bourbon rule couldn't get rid of it.

Cynthia (Alabama):

I believe that Napoleon's greatest achievement was mastery of propaganda, his Code Napoleon, and his organization of political structure. Through his mastery of propaganda he set the school for future students like Joseph, Adolf, Sadaam, and Sloban. The greatest testimony of his legal code is that it is still the basis of French law in France, Quebec, and Louisiana. To experience the legacy of his political structure look at any democratic government.

Read posted reponses to another question:

Could Napoleon have won the battle of Waterloo?
Did Napoleon change Europe for better or for worse?
Are there lessons to be learned from Napoleon?

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