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Napoleon Bonaparte - World Leaders in History

Though his place in the French Revolution and the European theater has been disputed, Napoleon was undoubtedly monumentally influential.

5. Early Life

Napoleon Buonaparte was born on August 15th, 1769, in Ajaccio, Corsica to a noble family. His native language was Corsican, and he would speak French with a noticeable accent throughout the rest of his life. After completing school at a military academy at Brienne-le-Chateau, he was admitted to the Ecole Militaire (Military School) in Paris in 1785, and graduated after a year. Upon graduation, Bonaparte was commissioned as a Secondary Lieutenant of Artillery, and he had to return to Corsica because of his father's death. He joined the Corsican Resistance, but soon came into conflict with his father's former ally, Pasquale Paoli. As a result, his family fled to France in 1793 in the midst of the French Revolution.

4. Rise to Power

Upon returning to France, Napoleon soon returned to service with the French military. He supported the Jacobins, a radical political party that fervently supported the French Revolution. Maximilien de Robespierre, leader of the Jacobins, soon came to power, and his reign in 1793 and 1794 would later become known as the "Reign of Terror". Then, in 1795, the Jacobins fell from power, and the "Directory" took control. Napoleon seized opportunities In this time of turmoil in the interests of his personal ambitions for the nation. He was named Commander of the Army of the Interior, and led numerous military missions in the name of France. In 1799, he established a new government, the "Consulate", and he created a new Constitution that created the position of First Consul, which held all the power. Napoleon in fact assumed control of the nation as a dictatorship and, in 1804, he was proclaimed Emperor of France.

3. Contributions

While serving as the First Consul, Napoleon enforced a series of important reforms. He reformed the French economy, its legal system, and educational infrastructure alike. He also reformed the Church, reinstating Roman Catholicism as the state religion of France. More importantly, he instituted the Napoleonic Code, which constituted a system of codified civil laws. It forbade privileges based on birth, allowed freedom of religion, and established meritocracy (power afforded based on one's accomplishments and character) within the French government. These reforms proved popular at the time. Internationally, Napoleon also made great contributions by negotiating a European peace. This, unfortunately, did not last very long, and his subsequent conquests greatly expanded the French Empire.

2. Challenges

Napoleon's aggressive military measures, however gifted of a tactician he may have been, soon led him and his armies to defeat. In 1812, Napoleon led France to invade Russia, which resulted in devastating failure. Massive numbers of French soldiers were killed or badly wounded in Russia, and less than 5% of the soldiers returned. This massive failure subjected Napoleon to tremendous pressures, which eventually led him to surrender to Allied forces in 1814 and flee to the Island of Elba. He soon escaped and returned to power in 1814. He immediately assumed warfare, first defeating the Prussians. Nonetheless, just two days later, he suffered a humiliating defeat at Waterloo on June 18th, 1815. He abdicated his power soon afterwards.

1. Death and Legacy

Following his fall from power, Napoleon was exiled to the remote island of St. Helena in the Southern Atlantic. There, he spent his late years until his death. His health began to deteriorate in 1817, after suffering from a stomach ulcer. He died on May 5, 1821. Napoleon is remembered as one of the most controversial figures in modern history. He was a usurper that became a dictator and ruled France with absolute power, though he also left considerable legacies. During his reign, he ended much of the disorder and turmoil plaguing revolutionary France, and implemented a stable set of laws to ensure civil liberties. These actions have greatly influenced France, and much of the globe, ever since. He is also remembered as a legendary military figure, although many historians criticize the loss of lives brought about by the Napoleonic conquests. Napoleon is also a popular figure in cultural productions and folklores, often as a man of small stature, wearing a French bicorne hat and with his hand tucked into his waistcoat. In reality, he was of average or even above-average height relative to other European men of the time.

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