Napoleon Bonaparte or Napoleon was one of the primary figures in the French Revolution that spanned from 1789 to 1799. His influence in the political sphere and his experience as a military general made him a frontrunner of the collective resistance against the French monarchy.
The Role of Napoleon in the French Army During the Early Years of the French Revolution
It is important to highlight the fact that Napoleon did not play a principal role during the formative years of the French Revolution. Take note that prior to the insurgency, he was training to become a member of the French Army. He later became a second lieutenant in the first artillery regiment in 1785.
Napoleon was later assigned to the Valence garrison in the southeast of France where he spent most of the next seven years on furlough in Corsica. He subsequently aligned himself with the French Revolution in 1789. However, note that he and his family fled to Marseilles in 1793 after he came into conflict with Corsican nationalist Pasquale Paoli.
Take note that the French Republic already existed in 1792 following the establishment of the National Assembly and the abolishment of the French monarchy. This new government had tasked Napoleon to command an artillery brigade during the Siege of Toulon in 1793 in which the Republican forces clashed against a Royalist rebellion. The Republican forces emerged victoriously. The French Republic rewarded Napoleon by promoting him as general of the brigade.
Napoleon was specifically assigned to the French Army in Italy in 1794. However, during the same year, due to allegations that he was part of a faction that supported the revolutionary albeit radical leader Maximilien Robespierre of the Montagnard Convention that led the National Convention, he was briefly imprisoned but later released. He was assigned to fight a rebellion in Vendée but refused the order to focus instead on the topographic section of the army. This refusal resulted in his name being stricken out from the list of general officers in September 1795.
A More Prominent Role in the French Directory During the Middle Years of the French Revolution
Discontent grew in Paris due to the unfavorable means of implementing the new constitution introduced by the National Convention. A revolt broke out in October 1795. Napoleon was assigned by French political Paul Barras, who had been given full military powers, to defend the convention. He succeeded in defeating the insurgents within four months.
A new government called the French Directory headed by Barras emerged in 1795. Due to his success in quelling the insurgency in Paris, Napoleon was appointed as the commander of the Army of the Interior in March 1796, and he earned wealth and patronage from the new government due to his military brilliance.
Subsequent assignments were given to Napoleon from 1796 to 1797. These included military campaigns in Italy against Austrian and Sardinian factions in which he emerged victorious. For example, in April 1796, he defeated the Sardinians in Mondovi, resulting in the surrendering of Savoy and Nice to France. He also won Lombardy from the Austrians, particularly after the last Lombardy stronghold fell in February 1797. The Austrians offered an armistice and Napoleon personally negotiated the Treaty of Campo Formio in October 1797, thus ending the war of the First Coalition.
Apart from his military involvements, Napoleon also engaged in the political affairs in Italy. He created the Cisalpine Republic in 1797 to organize Northern Italy. He also negotiated several agreements with different Italian leaders to promote social order.
Other military involvements include the occupation of Egypt in 1798 to threaten British India. He successfully occupied Alexandria and Cairo in the process. He also attempted to invade Syria to forestall the plan of the Ottoman Empire to wage war against France through an attack in Egypt. However, in Europe, French forces were suffering losses from the armies of the Second Coalition. Napoleon decided to return home to France in 1799.
Leading the End of the French Revolution and Establishing Himself as the New Ruler of France
When he came back to France in October 1799, Napoleon witnessed a destabilized French government and the absence of proper leadership. He saw this as an opportunity to ascend to power and authority, particularly by joining French political theorist Emmanuel Sieyès in a conspiracy to overthrow the French Directory
Napoleon launched a coup in November 1799 that forced the legislative assemblies to relocate from Paris to Saint Cloud and for the five Directory members to resign. He used troops to disperse the assemblies and was later appointed as one of the three new French consuls of the new French Consulate together with Emmanuel Sieyès and former member of the National Convention and the French Directory Pierre Roger Ducos.
There was an attempt to dominate the French Consulate on the part of Emmanuel Sieyès. However, through political maneuvering, Napoleon succeeded in establishing himself as the first consul, thereby giving him executive and legislative powers in the new government. Some of the new policies he introduced include the centralization of the government, the Napoleonic Code, the reestablishment of the Roman Catholic Church in France through the Concordat, and several peace treaties and international agreements.
Takeaway: Understanding the Role of Napoleon Bonaparte in the French Revolution
Note that the homecoming of Napoleon in France and the establishment of the French Consulate in 1799 coincided with the end of the French Revolution. Some may consider Napoleon as a mere opportunist. After all, when France was on the brink of collapse, he saw an opportunity to position himself as a more feasible leader. It is also important to note that he did not play a critical role in provoking one of the causes of the French Revolution.
Although it appeared that Napoleon capitalized on the progress made by the people responsible for the French Revolution and took advantage of the internal sociopolitical struggles, it cannot be denied that when he gained power and authority, he effectively ended the upheaval by guaranteeing a more unwavering brand of governance. Napoleon was instrumental in rebuilding France from the remnants of the French Revolution. He was also one of the notable products of the revolution.