Napoleon Bonaparte

Biography
Summary

Napoleon's Years as First Consul

Summary Napoleon's Years as First Consul

Summary

Becoming First Consul at 30 years of age, Napoleon now cut his hair short. The French people quickly forgot about his disastrous Egyptian campaign and remembered his stunning victories in the Italian one. In December of 1799, Napoleon pushed for peace, but England and Austria rejected his proposals. So in 1800, Napoleon did the unexpected: restaging Hannibal's crossing of the Alps, he marched his army through the still-snowy Great Saint Bernard Pass to attack Austria's forces in Italy. Napoleon took the Austrian army by surprise and defeated them at the Battle of Marengo on June 14th, 1800. As a result, Napoleon was able to strong-arm Austrian Emperor Francis II into signing the Treaty of Luneville on February 9, 1801. Intimidated by this show of power, the British signed a peace agreement with France, the Peace of Amiens, on March 27, 1802.

As First Consul, Napoleon was clearly the highest power in the land, and a fairly absolutist ruler. However, he was still careful to set up what were largely imaginary representative institutions in order to preserve the illusion of a republic. These included a legislative body and a council of notables, neither of which held much power. Napoleon also sold the Louisiana Territory to the newly independent U.S. on April 30, 1803, for 80 million francs, or about 15 million dollars. In the U.S., this event is referred to as the "Louisiana Purchase."

In France, Napoleon showed considerable organizational genius as he worked to restore peace, order, and unity to post-Revolution France. He worked very hard to obtain the support of the Royalist factions, and he also worked to improve French relations with the Catholic Church, since Catholicism was the majority religion in France and thus a major force among the people. On July 15, 1801, he signed a Concordat with Pope Pius VII. In this agreement, the Church officially recognized the French Republic and gave back property it had appropriated during the chaos of the Revolution. In exchange, Napoleon, in a carefully worded agreement, pronounced that Catholicism was the religion of "most French", and thus the official religion of the Republic, though he still tolerated the practice of all religions in France.

Around 1800, when Napoleon was most popular, he worked hard to centralize French government agencies, which suffered from an overly complex system of organization. He created a "Bank of France" to improve French financial stability, and in May 1802 he created the first French lycees, or secondary schools, based on the military educational system. His immediate motive in doing so was to provide better training for government employees, but the lycees were ultimately to serve as the basis for the current French secondary-school system. He also completely overhauled French law, beginning in 1800, and instituting the Napoleonic Code in 1804.

In August 1802, Napoleon proclaimed himself First Consul for Life. A new constitution of his own devising legislated a succession to rule for his son, even though he had not yet fathered any children; although Josephine had two children from her previous marriage, she had not borne Napoleon any heirs.

But Napoleon's power did not go unchecked: in 1803, the British violated the Peace of Amiens, by backing a royalist plot to reinstate a Bourbon Prince on the French throne. The plot failed, however, and Napoleon's forces captured Louis de Bourbon-Conde on March 15, 1804, trying him as a criminal and executing him.

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