Example History Essay: Was Napoleon An Heir to the French Revolution?

Example History Essay: Was Napoleon An Heir to the French Revolution?
Of all the Events of European history, the French Revolution of 1789 is without doubt one of the most important and controversial. Similarly Napoleon Bonaparte has to be amongst the most written on and opinion dividing individuals world history has ever seen. Therefore the question as to weather Napoleon was an heir to the revolution, its saviour, hijacker, or simply consolidator is probably the most frequently asked question regarding the revolution and Napoleon.
In this essay I will be attempting to answer the question of weather Napoleon was an heir to the French Revolution. This will involve me firstly exploring my definition of the term heir, and my views on the explanations and definitions of the French Revolution. Having done this I will then move on to examine the reign of Napoleon. By doing this I hope to prove my view that, whilst Napoleon may be considered an inevitable consequence of the revolution, he was not its heir.

In my opinion the word heir describes a person’s or events natural successor. Therefore the term heir to the revolution would in my opinion be used to describe the next regime, which came to embody the principles and morals of the revolution. The revolution's heir must be the regime that follows on from were the revolution left France, and presides over, or creates the kind of society the revolutionaries of 1789 intended to. It is my belief that Napoleon and the Napoleonic regime did not either preside over or create this kind of society and as such Napoleon cannot be considered an heir to the French Revolution. In order for this view to be qualified the next aspect we need to look at, is the various definitions and interpretations of the French Revolution.

Put simply the French Revolution was, when in 1789 the old Ancien regime was overthrown, and France went from a monarchy-governed state to a republic. After this, France went through a number of different stages in terms of forms and types of government. The revolutionary government of 1789-1793 was the most immediate, until between 1793-1794, when Robespierre became the most powerful man in France overseeing the era known as the terror. This was followed by the Directory who ruled between the years 1794-1799, and this was the government Napoleon overthrew in the Coup of Brumaire on November 9-10th 1799.

Studying the history of these events has gone through many stages and significant changes, especially in the last fifty years or so. For a long time after the revolution, the most dominant form historiography on the subject was the Marxist interpretation. This interpretation went largely unchallenged until the 1950’s and the arrival of the first generation revisionists. This was essentially a critique of the Marxist interpretation. This was followed up in the 1960’s and 1970’s by what is often called second generation revisionism, as historians such as Blanning and Doyle began to look more closely at the Nobility as a social group and found new definitions for the events in the years after 1789 up to when Napoleon took power. The most recent historical study on the subject is known as post revisionism and this tends to place more emphasis on matters such as chance than previous approaches whilst also stressing the importance played by the aspects such as popular culture and the psyche of the days society and influential groups and people. Of these approaches I find the Marxist interpretation most convincing and therefore I will now move on to briefly explore this, in order to portray my definition of the French Revolution.

The Ancien regime saw an absolute monarch with complete power, running a feudal based society and economy. The Marxist interpretation of the French Revolution states that it was in essence a power struggle between the middle classes or the bourgeoisie and the upper classes, aristocracy and the nobility. This is proven by the view that it was the Third Estate, which began the revolution and this was dominated by the bourgeoisie. It is claimed that they had been motivated by political ideology inspired by the enlightenment and the fact their economic wealth did not reflect their share of power. The declaration of the rights of man on the 24th August 1789 and the abolishing of the feudal system are often pointed out as them most important evidence that the revolution was a bourgeois one, overthrowing the feudal Ancien regime after a power struggle.

The degree to, and speed with which French society changed after this has been much debated among historians. Many historians continue to define the revolution as the whole of the period 1789 – 1799. Historians such as Geoffrey Ellis who points out how Napoleon himself declared at the Coup of Brumaire that:

“Citizens the revolution is established on the principles which began it. It is finished.”

However I believe that the revolution is defined as the result of the power struggle between the old Ancien regime, and the newly emerging bourgeois middle class. The revolution is defined by the events of 1789 and 1789 alone. The founding principles and morals of the revolution were that of the bourgeoisie, and these can best been seen by such documents as the declaration of the rights of man, the decree abolishing the feudal system, the Cashier de Doleances referring to the middle classes, and the actions and constitution of the revolutionary government up until 1793 and the beginning of the terror.

Example History Essay: Was Napoleon An Heir to the French Revolution? 9.3 of 10 on the basis of 2965 Review.