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Napoleon Bonaparte: The Exception to the Rule. . .Why?

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posted on May, 7 2014 @ 08:52 PM

General and Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte lived in a time of extremes. When it came to the change of power among national leaders, it was a process those times rarely saw happen smoothly or with a former leader to interview for opinion.

They were often executed as a part of the transition process. Napoleon stands as an exception to this rule. This thread attempts to understand exactly how and why.

Napoleon started life in a good position, as a son within a good family. His life took shape early on with his military school experience and fighting in the French revolution, where he rapidly saw promotion and found his calling in life. That this calling happened to include chaos through war across most of Europe was not yet known and could not be foreseen.

As it happens, his calling would see both very positive and very negative results for a percentage of the known world at that time.

His military accomplishments and misadventures are known and often referred to in cultural references today, which the man has come to symbolize. He is often associated with abuse of power and military conquest run amok. The other side of history shows he was also a successful administrator, as well as delegating authority in ways that simply worked for France.

Among his accomplishments and what he came to be respected for in some circles was the Napoleonic code. This set of principles and law was established in 1804 to the welcome of the French people. It forbade such things as birth rite privilege, assured freedom of religion and worship, as well as supported the ideal that Government posts be assigned by merit, not favor or familial connection.

These changes were revolutionary in the thinking and approach for the times. In the end, his accomplishments are what bought him tolerance. His excesses are what he came to be known across time for.
edit on 7-5-2014 by Wrabbit2000 because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 7 2014 @ 08:53 PM

The Beginning of the End


In 1812, the beginning of the end for Napoleon began where it has come for others, both before and since. His end started with plans to attack and subdue Russia. Emperor Bonaparte was determined to see Tsar Alexander submit to the terms of a treaty that had been imposed on him some four years earlier. On the 24th of June of that year, the largest ground army ever assembled to that date began crossing the Prussian/Russian frontier at the river Niemen. They numbered 500,000 men and they crossed in three main groups, spread over an area of 650 kilometers. The campaign for Russia had begun, as had Napoleon’s downfall as a leader. Many books have been written about the events that followed. I will keep my own look here brief as context to the main focus of the paper.

The invading force of nearly half a million men under arms faced a defending force of a quarter million in what formed roughly 2:1 odds. In modern military terms, that is a likely loss for the invader. In those times, Russia saw its doom in the events unfolding and moving closer. They had a plan, though.

Russia met the superior numbers and force with a strategic retreat, in how we would describe it now.

Realizing that the French were badly overextended with plans to forage supplies from the local population, they had a solution. They insured there was no local population to be pillaged.

In a move which would be repeated later in history, in similar ways, Russia took a slash and burn approach to its deliberate retreat. Napoleon must have thought he had a stroke of brilliance as he viewed his enemy fading before him. He could not have been more badly mistaken, if those thoughts were on his mind.

Contrary to some accounts, the Russian response was not one of consensus among field commanders. Particularly in June and July of 1812, there was serious dissent and doubt as to the wisdom of retreat ahead of French forces. The fighting was anything but one sided and raged on through 1814. What began as a push into Russia evolved into a run from it, and back to Paris. In March of 1814, Paris itself fell to allied forces. The defeat was complete and the circle, closed.

This represented the end of the first term of Emperor Bonaparte as both Russia and Europe had turned to assist in the end result. The Emperor abdicated his throne and was banished to the Island of Elba under the terms of the Treaty of Fontainebleau.

posted on May, 7 2014 @ 08:53 PM

Napoleon is sent into Exile

Emperor Bonaparte arrived on Elba on the May 4, 1814. Under the terms of the treaty that sent him there, he was allowed to rule the island of 12,000 people while retaining his symbolic title of Office. Given the history of most leaders who fall from Grace or power, his end would have been one of status and high regard if it had ended there. By appearances, the Emperor was content in his new station and set about getting settled in. As history now shows, he had actually been planning to escape and regain power in mainland Europe from the time of his arrival.

He lived on Elba while under the watch of French and Austrian guards, as this was still a sentence of exile, but by no means did this equate to isolation. Napoleon received thousands of letters from all over Europe while keeping abreast of the latest developments by newspapers regularly delivered for his reading.

In February of 1815, Napoleon acted on his planning and made his move. Somehow he slipped past his guards, the picket blockade of the island, and returned to France. Upon his arrival the people greeted and rallied to him as their returned Emperor. French police that were dispatched to arrest him, came to kneel before him in respect and submission. The Emperor carried a great charisma by all indications.

The Emperor Is Back

In March, he entered Paris to the welcome of the local population, while King Louie XVIII made a hasty exit of his own, to Belgium. At around this same time, word of his return reached Vienna where European powers were meeting to discuss post-Napoleon Europe. Their shock at news of his return was likely profound. They immediately declared Napoleon an outlaw. Unlike his previous success over time, the people were also not given to long period of patience in waiting for reforms. Napoleon attempted some minor reforms which reports show the people saw through and lost faith in, fairly quickly. He simply could not regain the magic he once seemed to carry.

A good deal of Napoleon’s success as a leader came from his appeal to the peasants and working class. They did not admire him for his status or title, but as a true ‘Son of the Revolution’, for the popular image that build around the man. This love from the people is likely what lead to his favorable terms of exile the first time. While he could not have been allowed to remain after the disastrous defeat in the Russian campaign, nor could he be executed or imprisoned like so many before him. The people, it seems, would not have stood for that. That popular appeal served him equally well, if far less successfully in the end, his second time.

posted on May, 7 2014 @ 08:53 PM

The Hundred Days

It was February of 1815 when Napoleon stepped off Elba to seek a return to power in Europe. The period that formed his time after Elba and while in power for the second time came to be known as “The Hundred Days”. It has been so named because his freedom was short lived and his second attempt at power ended no better than his first. Upon settling into his second term as Emperor of France, it soon became clear that the Austrians, British, Prussians and Russians saw him as a dire threat. Those nations began the immediate preparations for war, again.

Napoleon raised an army in short order and recognized the threats aligning against him. His plan was as simple as it was flawed. He intended to strike the allied nations individually and with overwhelming force to insure quick suppression before moving to the next. This was intended to prevent a united front against him, which he seemed to realize he could not successfully fight.

In June of 1815, the French forces crossed into Belgium and engaged the Prussian forces camped at Ligny. This was a military victory for Napoleon but it was not complete. He failed to destroy the Prussian force. In what came to be one of a couple flaws he made to seal his fate, he chose to turn toward a fresh fight rather than finish the one he had just engaged in with the Prussians.

The Battle of Waterloo

Two days following the break in contact from Prussian forces and what was considered a victory at Ligny, Napoleons army of some 72,000 men marched on the British army near a small village called Waterloo. The British numbered around 68,000 and that was not good for their chances against an army on the march and known for fighting hard. Elements and circumstances all turned against the Emperor in this engagement, and his past judgment failed him for recognizing it in time

The evening before the battle saw a fierce rainstorm. This left the field of battle waterlogged and muddy. In a fatal blunder, Napoleon felt it would be beneficial to wait until mid-day and some time had allowed the sun to dry the ground he was about to engage across. If things were as they seemed to his eyes at that moment, his decision would likely have been a sound one. They were not as they seemed, however, and his decision couldn't have been worse.

The French forces mounted a strong and costly attack against the British forces. Some accounts suggest Waterloo may have gone down as a British defeat and another major victory for the French. Any possibility of that happening was effectively removed by the poor judgment shown a couple days earlier in fighting the Prussians, as events unfolded to prove.

In what must have been a staggering shock to the General turned Emperor, the defeated Prussian force reappeared at the worst possible moment.

Late in the day and after considerable fighting had already weakened both armies, Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher came into view with the surviving Prussian force, still estimated to number near 30,000 men. The introduction of this relatively fresh group is what turned the tide and made Waterloo a profound lesson in military success turned to crushing defeat in the time it takes to describe it.

(Battlefield Map)

Across a battlefield only measuring four miles long and two miles wide, French losses are estimated at around 33,000 men for the engagement. That came from a starting total of near 72,000. Combined British and Prussian forces numbered around 100,000 men by the time Blucher’s command joined the British in the fight. In hindsight, it is easy to see that Waterloo was a battle which was lost before the first hostile act had been taken by either side, though neither side could possibly have known that at the time. The aftermath was not kind to Napoleon, however.

posted on May, 7 2014 @ 08:53 PM

After Waterloo – Exile for Real

Immediately following the defeat at Waterloo, the people who Napoleon had come to look to for support and strength, were not looking to him to supply leadership any longer. Whatever charisma and credit the Emperor carried was poorly spent that day in Belgium. Emperor Bonaparte returned to Paris on June 21st. His arrival was greeted by hostility and his plans were greeted by open skepticism and derision. On June 22nd, Napoleon abdicated his throne for the second and final time.

Unlike his first experience after stepping down, he did not submit to being exiled this time. In fact, the choice was made to attempt escape from France to the United States. While Napoleon was making his escape, the Second Treaty of Paris was being signed and giving Allied forces occupational control of France for years to come. It was also included within the treaty that there would never be another Bonaparte to serve in any leadership function, in perpetuity.

Failed Escapes and a New Island Home

The British found and captured the disgraced former Emperor at sea, while he was trying to cross the Atlantic for anticipated safety in America. The British held him for several months before banishing him in exile to the Island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic. This time, he would retain no title, rule no local inhabitants and was kept under close, serious guard until he died there in May of 1821.

This is where he currently lay in Les Invalides, Paris, France.

posted on May, 7 2014 @ 08:54 PM


The General and Emperor was a product of his times as much as those times became a product of his own influence. It is impossible to view 19th century Europe without acknowledging the nature of those two aspects. Some among the British called him a despot and a man awash in blood as early as 1812. Others respected his ability when it worked well, but were quick to condemn him when it did not. The majority of the people who formed his base of support did not see the man for his flaws and the reality of his humanity. They saw the symbol and they saw a man willing to fight tradition in things like the code he imposed and which still carries his name.

One common view is that the core support and well wishes of this majority within the population dictated the treatment he received. If treated too harshly or beheaded, it could have turned him into the modern equivalent of a martyr to rally future groups around. At worst, it could have rekindled the French Revolution or the dangerous sentiments among the peasants which spawned it. In that way, even the British were limited in their range of action.

How tempting it must have been to send Napoleon over the railing while he was held aboard ship in the open sea. He was certainly not among friends aboard the HMS Bellerophon. In the end, it is what he did well, if only seen in narrow isolation by one group, which allowed him to live where so many others were never extended that option. It is the lack of power within that segment which also insured he would see no better than he got, and was fortunate to have gotten the consideration he did.

It is also fair to say Napoleon was in different measure, a despot, a dictator, an inspired leader, a solid administrator and a man suffering a wide range of insecurities as well as personal demons, right into his final days. It often seems to hold true, but this example highlights it like few others. History is never quite what it seems at first glance, and the devil of reality always lurks within the details. For Napoleon, the details are what define the man apart from the image. He was simply human, with all the faults and problems that condition carries.


All images used in this thread come courtesy of Wiki Commons.

This was originally written as a history paper for a college course. I've adapted a bit, spaced differently and added graphics for interest. My effort here began as simply answering a simple question. Why was Napoleon's life spared when so few other leaders during and before his time were ever allowed to leave office alive?

There is much about his life which is still a question and Napoleon is, of course, the study of Historians and Academics as an exclusive topic. I merely hope to bring some insight and general information in searching for my answer. I believe I answered it to my own satisfaction. I hope I've helped cover some of that for others, as well. If not? Well....

It could just be a Conspiracy of History, eh?

posted on May, 7 2014 @ 09:05 PM
Very nice job Wrabbit, it was a good read. Thank you for the time and effort.

posted on May, 7 2014 @ 09:06 PM
I don't know.

You have a great presentation and several OPs for the thread.

I can't offer much to the conspiracy theme beyond: "History is written by the victors."

Awesome thread man.

posted on May, 7 2014 @ 09:20 PM
a reply to: Wrabbit2000

Awesome thread!

It will take me some reading before any commentary, but your conclusion of the man is much the same as mine I believe. He was who he was, revolutionary and genius and with all that comes mistakes and personality too.

S('s) & F

edit on 7-5-2014 by OpinionatedB because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 7 2014 @ 09:38 PM
Only thing that bothered me in the OP, was this bit, "It forbade such things as birth rite privilege, assured freedom of religion and worship," The commas confuse makes it seem the opposite. Good thread though.

posted on May, 7 2014 @ 09:44 PM
a reply to: smurfy

Well, I am always always working to improve my writing. That section was untouched from what I turned in and the person grading it (he's picky too!) ok'ed it...but that doesn't mean it's clear. Just proper. I appreciate the critique, as unusual as that may be on internet threads. I could have written that differently.

(making mental note)

posted on May, 7 2014 @ 10:01 PM
Nice paper Rascally,

Actually, the reason he was not killed was rather simple. He was too short! He couldn't reach the guillotine and the headsman's block was just the wrong size. So they exiled him instead.

With his head covered, all the headsmen in France thought he was just a small lad and they refused to lop off his head.

Just thought I would throw in an alternative view for those that need to conspire.


posted on May, 7 2014 @ 10:08 PM
a reply to: pheonix358

Wish I'd thought of that.

posted on May, 7 2014 @ 10:24 PM
very good thread, only thing i didn't see and if you include it i apologize.
but he gave us or inspired due to his ever increase conquests,one most significant inventions the world has ever seen.

Can Goods. although stored in glass jars, his army were the first to be served in mass from canned foods.
edit on 7-5-2014 by hounddoghowlie because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 7 2014 @ 10:30 PM
a reply to: hounddoghowlie

Oh really? The direction I went in researching my paper never covered that. That's a fascinating detail and thank you for adding that!

posted on May, 7 2014 @ 10:48 PM

originally posted by: Wrabbit2000
a reply to: hounddoghowlie

Oh really? The direction I went in researching my paper never covered that. That's a fascinating detail and thank you for adding that!

your welcome and here is a quick wiki about the subject, Canning

and a quote that everyone knows comes from him.

 “An army marches on its stomach” - Napoleon

and a couple of facts.
“30-40 tons of food to feed the soldiers in his Northern Italian army
in 1795 on a daily basis.” – (To Feed An Army)
 Could not have it delivered, so soldiers were given money to
purchase food from merchants
 When there was no food, soldiers often stole, ate spoiled food, or
went hungry
 Napoleon’s army were often deprived of food.

posted on May, 8 2014 @ 12:30 AM
Holy cow, what a good read.

Napolean is possibly the biggest character in history. it would be hard to argue that he isn't the most interesting.

Thanks for sharing. i would love to see more folks share the quality content from their academic careers here.

posted on May, 8 2014 @ 12:37 AM
This is 100% informative

Definitely an "A+"

Has anybody considered Nap's possible dilemma involving the Jesuits and the kidnapping of the Pope (Pius VII) ?

Might have some answers to his "ups" and "downs".

You know the old saying --- "Rome Never Fell".

The "Napoleon" subject has many conspiracies.

posted on May, 8 2014 @ 12:38 AM
a reply to: Wrabbit2000

With leaders like Napoleon, there are always two aspects, the man, and the myth. Exile is a great way to deal with a myth who is still a living man, lest the man charge forward and belligerently screw up -with his flawed humanity - the myth the storytellers have tried so hard to perpetuate.

Napoleon became a myth because through reason, he put forth ideas that transformed France, and will never go away. They are part of France forever more, because they work. Reason has the power to connect people with lasting truths, truths that a new power structure doesn't want to abandon, even if it is politically against the revealer of those truths. I mean this man, a clever mathematician, had the admiration and company of Joseph Fourier, a mathematician who's work lies beneath so much modern tech it would shock people if they knew. Can that be thrown in the trash as the work of a belligerent dictator and cronies? No.

But at the same time, he was a human man with all kinds of vanities and weaknesses and opinions, that might be against the people running the new France. They couldn't throw out all his ideas, but they also couldn't allow his opinions to undermine them. So exile became his destiny. The myth of Napoleon had to be preserved even at the cost of the life of Napoleon.

posted on May, 8 2014 @ 12:49 AM
a reply to: Wrabbit2000
Excellent thread, great read.
ive never bothered before to learn anything about Napolean, well today i learnt a bit
Thanks for that

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