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How Far Did Napoleon Bonaparte Maintain The Revolutionary Ideals Of Liberty And Equality In France?

2528 words - 10 pages

Aïsha Atherly November 2006European HistoryHow far did Napoleon Bonaparte maintain the revolutionary ideals of liberty and equality in France?Prior to the French Revolution, the system of government was based on Absolute Monarchy which meant that the monarch claimed total authority of the state. They were answerable to no one and their word was law. At that time, the social structure in France was in need of desperate reform. It was divided into three estates; the clergy, nobles and peasants. Each estate, especially the nobles and clergy, had its particular rights and privileges. There was no equality of taxation; the peasants were forced to pay the highest amounts while and the nobles were totally exempted. They were burdened with dues which limited their ability to survive from year to year. According to Derrick Murphy et al, because France was highly dependent on agriculture, feudalism was a necessity. Peasants were obligated to perform a number of tasks such as working for the landowner free of charge during harvesting or giving the landowner a proportion of their produce. Within each estate there was inequality. Within the clergy, the Archbishops and bishops lived like nobles whereas the priests lived like peasants. The nobility of the sword, who had inherited their titles, disregarded the nobility of the robe who gained their status either by marriages or by other means. In turn, the nobility of the sword disregarded the Annoblis who had purchased their titles. Within the third estate, the bourgeoisie was considered to be superior to the urban workers and peasants. Accordingly, it is evident that the social structure in France disregarded the ideals of liberty and equality. Also, there was little or no provision of education by the monarchy, especially for the peasants. In terms of religion, faiths other than Catholicism were forbidden. In addition, the system of mercantilism contradicted the idea of free trade. The French Revolution which lasted from 1788 to 1799 resulted in many different ideas and beliefs being created among the vast population of France. The authority of the monarchy, aristocracy and church was challenged by certain philosophes such as Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Because it was illegal to openly criticize the church and state, they wrote plays, novels, histories, dictionaries, and encyclopedias with subtle messages attached. The parlements were able to attract popular support against the monarchy by the use of the 'language of liberty'. Liberalists proposed a society based on equal rights instead of a society based on privilege. According to Derrick Murphy et al, this idea encouraged personal and economic freedom. To them, personal freedom included the right to property, freedom of speech and worship and the liberty to participate in politics. Nationalists, who were against absolute monarchy, proposed a constitutional government that would serve the people. Economists proposed free trade as they were...

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