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Napoleon Bonaparte

The Establishment of the French Republic, and The Italian Campaign

The Young Napoleon

The Egyptian Campaign and Napoleon's Rise

Summary

Soon after the Republic was declared, Corsica became embroiled in civil strife. One faction of Corsicans wanted to join the new Republic, and the other faction wanted an independent Corsica. The Bonaparte family had always been pro-French, and they were leaders of the pro-Republic faction. Napoleon himself was a member of the Jacobin club in Corsica, which favored a constitutional monarchy. Ultimately fearing for their lives, the Bonapartes fled to France in June 1793.

Napoleon finally returned to military duty in 1793, now in the Republic's army, and became a captain. His task was to help suppress the anti-Republic insurrections sweeping the French countryside. Also, various European armies were violating the French border during the revolutionary period of confusion. Under General Carteaux, Napoleon served as an artillery captain in the Siege of Toulon, in which France recaptured Toulon from British pro-Royalist forces on September 22, 1793. Nappoleon handled his artillery units so well in this battle that he was promoted to Brigadier-General, and caught the eye of Maximilien Robespierre, who in 1794 made Napoleon the commandant of artillery in the French Army in Italy, which was controlled by Austria at the time.

In the month of "Thermidor" (July) 1794, the more moderate factions of revolutionaries brought down and executed Robespierre. Napoleon, whose promotion by Robespierre had established his reputation as the dictator's protégé, was temporarily thrown in jail for being a Jacobin. However, because he was so valuable as a military commander, Napoleon was released in September, though he was not given the Italian command, as many still feared he was ambitious and dangerous. Napoleon went to Paris to complain to the authorities.

Fearing dictatorship such as produced Robespierre's "Reign of Terror," the new French government set up the Directory, a five-person executive council. Paul Francois Barras, a member of the Directory, had control of the army, and sought to use it to restore order against the resurgent royalist forces that were threatening to attack the National Assembly. On October 8, 1795, Barras made Napoleon second-in-command of the Army of the Interior. Napoleon defeated the royalists, preserved order in Paris, and saved the Directory's government. The Directory was profoundly grateful to Napoleon.

At a party at Barras' home, Napoleon met Marie Josèphe Rose de Beauharnais. Later, she would be called Josephine. They married on March 9, 1796.

By 1795, the anti-French coalition was dissolving, and only Austria and England remained at war with France. Napoleon convinced the Directory to let him attack Austria's position in Northern Italy, and on March 2, 1796, the Directory, still owing its existence to him, made him commander of the Army of Italy. Using lightning attacks and the advantage of surprise, Napoleon first defeated Austria's allies in the region (Piedmont and Sardinia). On May 10, Napoleon inflicted an embarrassing defeat on the Austrians at the Battle of Lodi. Soon the various republics of Italy, from Naples to Rome, surrendered to French control.

The Italian campaign was not over, however: the Austrians came back with 60,000 reinforcements to attack the now-weary French army. Yet the French, under Napoleon's leadership, still managed to win, at the Battle of Arcole (November 15-17, 1796) and at the Battle of Rivoli (January 14, 1797). Napoleon then marched to Vienna, the Austrian capital, and forced Emperor Francis II to sign the Treaty of Campo Formio on October 17, 1797.

Commentary

The Italian Campaign had numerous important results. First, it created a growing sense of French pride in its military capability as a nation. Second, it fanned the flames of Napoleon's personal lifelong ambition for world conquest and greatly increased his power and popularity in France. Third, the campaign toppled numerous old Italian governments, replacing them with a "Cisalpine Republic". Fourth, Napoleon's conquests in this period, as always, did bring a small degree of peace to Europe, if only for a short while. It was not long, however, before the fighting would begin again. Fifth, the end of the campaign marked Napoleon's first clear acts of political autonomy and power over and against the Directory. He negotiated the Treaty of Campo Formio with the Austrians without the Directory's consent; he again took the political initiative when the Directory couldn't afford to pay the Campaign's troops, and Napoleon appropriated their pay from the territories they occupied. (This also increased Napoleon's popularity among the masses.) Napoleon's most flagrant defiance of the Directory, however, was in his refusal to respect the original purpose of the Italian Campaign itself: the French government's plan behind the campaign had been not to keep the Italian territories it won, but rather to hold them temporarily hostage, giving them back to Austria only in return for control of Belgium; Napoleon, however, countermanded the Directory yet again by demanding Belgium without giving back the Italian territory.

Napoleon was getting out of the Directory's control, and the Directory knew that as well as anyone. However, they had no choice but to welcome him home as a hero, even as he disobeyed their orders and radically undermined their authority. The force of Napoleon's popularity was already apparent.

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Wrong date.

by kbbaby224, November 18, 2013

It wasn't in 1814 that he abdicated this throne. He abdicated his throne in 1815

response to abdication

by brianohhh, November 22, 2013

To the comment above.
Actually - Napoleon did sign an abdication on April 4, 1814, after the Allies ganged up on him and invaded France successfully. In 1815 he was sent to St.Helena after he had escaped from Elba and was defeated at Waterloo.

Waterloo Error

by brianohhh, November 22, 2013

The article makes a massive and typical blunder in stating Napoleon fought 'the British army' at Waterloo. In fact Wellington's army was made up of various nationalities; British, Dutch, Belgian, various German states. Of the 68,000 strong army of Wellington, just over 24,000 were actually British.

See all 6 readers' notes   →

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