Napoleon Bonaparte was born at Ajaccio, in Corsica, on August 15, 1769, of a good family in a well-established position. He had many brothers and sisters and these family relations played an important part in his later life. He was a soldier from his childhood, entered the military school at Brienne when he was 10, and obtained his lieutenant's commission when he was sixteen. He apparently began with some literary ambition and wrote various pamphlets. In these, as in all he ever wrote, there is a curious tendency to rhetoric, coupled with the power to drop such rhetoric completely and speak out with a native vigor and energy that burns and stings.
The wars of the French Revolution afforded Napoleon an opportunity to advance his career; in 1796, he was given command of the French army of Italy.
In Italy, against the Austrians, Napoleon demonstrated a dazzling talent for military planning and leadership, which earned him an instant reputation. Having tasted glory, he could never do with out it.
In 1799, he was leading a French army in Egypt when he decided to return to France and make his bid for power. He joined a conspiracy that overthrew the Directory and created an executive office of three consuls.
Napoleon tried to close the breach between the state and the Catholic Church that had opened during the Revolution. Such reconciliation would gain the approval of the mass of the French people.
The Concordat of Worms in 1801, recognized Catholicism as the religion of the great majority of the French, rather than as the official state religion. This Concordat made his regime acceptable to Catholics and to owners of former church lands.
In 1802, Napoleon was made first consul for life, with the right to name his successor. On December 2, 1804, in a magnificent ceremony at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, Napoleon crowned himself emperor of the French. General, first consul, and then emperor, it was a breathless climb to the heights of power. He was determined never to lose his power. He was not a tyrant; he was essentially an enlightened despot.
Napoleon did not identify with the republicanism and democracy of the Jacobins; rather, he belonged to the tradition of eighteenth-century enlightened despotism. Like the reforming despots, he admired administrative uniformity and efficiency, disliked feudalism, religious persecution, and civil inequality, and favored government regulation of trade and industry.
The disastrous defeat of the Prussian at Jena in 1806 and French domination of Germany stimulated a movement for reform among members of the Prussian high bureaucracy and officer corps. To survive in a world altered by the French Revolution, Prussia would have to learn the principal lessons of the Revolution that aroused citizens fighting for a cause to make better soldiers than mercenaries and oppressed serfs. Officers selected for daring and intelligence command better...