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The Man and the MythNapoleon and JosephinePolitics in Napoleon's TimeNapoleon at War

The French Revolution
Politics and the People
The Fall of Napoleon's Empire
Napoleon's Legacy

Politics and the People

Napoleon takes sword

After a series of whirlwind victories, General Bonaparte led his victorious army into Milan on May 5, 1796. The Milanese greeted him as a heroic liberator, the general who freed them from the rule of the Austrian emperor Francis I.

"People of Italy, the French army is here to break your chains," Napoleon proclaimed, "our only quarrel is with the tyrants who have enslaved you."

Bonaparte made himself the head of a provisional Italian government. Those who resisted his rule were shot. His soldiers sacked towns and burned villages. The greatest treasures of Italian art were looted from palaces and shipped to Paris. Italians quickly turned against Napoleon and the ideals of Revolution he professed.

Bonaparte’s successful campaign in Italy convinced him that he was destined to be a great leader. He personally negotiated the Treaty of Campo Formio with the defeated Austrians, bringing vast new territories under French control.

The people of Paris welcomed their returning hero. They looked to Bonaparte to end the political chaos into which the Revolution had descended once again.

"What I have done up to now is nothing," he said privately. "I am only at the beginning of the course I must run... I can no longer obey; I have tasted command, and I cannot give it up."

But the time was not right for a coup. Not wanting to fade in the public eye, he sought to sustain his glory by further conquests. On May 19, 1789 he set sail with an army, headed to Egypt.

When he returned to France over a year later, he was greeted by cheering crowds. The campaign in Egypt, a military disaster, had been a propaganda triumph.

Napoleon leads a coup

BERTRAND: His genius was to come to France and say, "You need a savior. Here I am." The French people believed that Napoleon was destined to do great things.

By November 1799, Bonaparte had established a new government, rewritten the Constitution, and made himself head of state under the title First Consul. As the year 1800 began, Napoleon Bonaparte, now 30 years old, was the most powerful man in France.

"The Revolution is over," Bonaparte told the French people. "I am the Revolution."

WOLOCH: [Napoleon says] "the Revolution is safe on my watch. I am the product of the revolution myself. But the chaos and uncertainty of the Revolution is going to be over. People should go back to their private interests, their private concerns. And the new government will provide the order and the stability and the strength to allow that to happen."

"A new born government," Bonaparte told his secretary, "must dazzle and astonish." With the reins of power firmly in his hands, he set out to convince the French people and the kings of Europe that could govern as well as he could conquer.

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