Life Of Napoleon Bonaparte With A Sketch Of Josephine
Book: Life Of Napoleon
Author: Tarbell, Ida
Life Of Napoleon Bonaparte With A Sketch Of Josephine
Book: Life Of Napoleon
Author: Tarbell, Ida
Return Of The Emigres - The Concordat - Legion Of Honor - Code Napoleon
But there were wounds in the French nation more profound than those
caused by lack of credit, by neglect and corruption. The body which in
1789 made up France had, in the last ten years, been violently and
horribly wrenched asunder. One hundred and fifty thousand of the richest,
most cultivated, and most capable of the population had been stripped of
wealth and position, and had emigrated to foreign lands.
Napoleon saw that if the emigres could be reconciled, he at once
converted a powerful enemy into a zealous friend. In spite of the
opposition of those who had made the Revolution and gained their positions
through it, he accorded an amnesty to the emigres, which included the
whole one hundred and fifty thousand, with the exception of about one
thousand, and this number, it was arranged, should be reduced to five
hundred in the course of a year. More, he provided for their wants. Most
of the smaller properties confiscated by the Revolution had been sold, and
Napoleon insisted that those who had bought them from the state should be
assured of their tenure; but in case a property had not been disposed of,
he returned it to the family, though rarely in full. In case of forest
lands, not over three hundred and seventy-five acres were given back.
Gifts and positions were given to many emigres, so that the majority were
able to live in ease.
A valuable result of this policy of reconciliation was the amount of
talent, experience, and culture which he gained for the government.
France had been run for ten years by country lawyers, doctors, and
pamphleteers, who, though they boasted civic virtue and eloquence, and
though they knew their Plutarch and Rousseau by heart, had no practical
sense, and little or no experience. The return of the emigres gave France
a body of trained diplomats, judges, and thinkers, many of whom were
promptly admitted to the government.
More serious than the amputation of the aristocracy had been that of
the Church. The Revolution had torn it from the nation, had confiscated
its property, turned its cathedrals into barracks, its convents and
seminaries into town halls and prisons, sold its lands, closed its schools
and hospitals. It had demanded an oath of the clergy which had divided
the body, and caused thousands to emigrate. Not content with this, it had
tried to supplant the old religion, first with a worship of the Goddess of
Reason, afterwards with one of the Supreme Being.
But the people still loved the Catholic Church. The mass of them
kept their crucifixes in their houses, told their beads, observed fast
days. No matter how severe a penalty was attached to the observance of
Sunday instead of the day which had replaced it, called the "decade," at
heart the people remembered it. "We rest on the decade," said a workman
once, "but we change our shirts on Sunday."
Napoleon understood the popular heart, and he proposed the
reestablishment of the Catholic Church. The Revolutionists, even his
warmest friends among the generals, opposed it. Infidelity was a cardinal
point in the creed of the majority of the new regime. They not only
rejected the Church, they ridiculed it. Rather than restore Catholicism,
they advised Protestantism. "But," declared Napoleon, "France is not
Protestant; she is Catholic."
In the Council of State, where the question was argued, he said: "My
policy is to govern men as the greatest number wish to be governed. . . .
I carried on the war of Vendee by becoming a Catholic; I established
myself in Egypt by becoming a Mussulman; I won over the priests in Italy
by becoming Ultramontane. If I governed Jews I should reestablish the
temple of Solomon. . . . It is thus, I think, that the sovereignty of the
people should be understood."
Evidently this was a very different way of understanding that famous
doctrine from that which had been in vogue, which consisted in forcing the
people to accept what each idealist thought was best, without consulting
their prejudices or feelings. In spite of opposition, Napoleon's will
prevailed, and in the spring of 1802 the Concordat was signed. This
treaty between the Pope and France is still in force in France. It makes
the Catholic Church the state church, allows the government to name the
bishops, compels it to pay the salaries of the clergy, and to furnish
cathedrals and churches for public worship, which, however, remain
national property. The Concordat provided for the absolution of the
priests who had married in the Revolution, restored Sunday, and made legal
holidays of certain fete days. This arrangement was not made at the price
of intolerance towards other bodies. The French government protects and
contributes towards the support of all religions within its bounds,
Catholic, Protestant, Jew, or Mohammedan. The Concordat was ridiculed by
many in the government and army, but undoubtedly it was one of the most
statesmanlike measures carried out by Napoleon.
"The joy of the overwhelming majority of France silenced even the
boldest malcontents," says Pasquier; "it became evident that Napoleon,
better than those who surrounded him, had seen into the depths of the
It is certain that in reestablishing the Church Napoleon did not
yield to any religious prejudice, although the Catholic Church was the one
he preferred. It was purely a question of policy. In arranging the
Concordat he might have secured more liberal measures - measures in which
he believed - but he refused them.
"Do you wish me to manufacture a religion of caprice for my own
special use, a religion that would be nobody's? I do not so understand
matters. What I want is the old Catholic religion, the only one which is
imbedded in every heart, and from which it has never been torn. This
religion alone can conciliate hearts in my favor; it alone can smooth away
In discussing the subject at St. Helena he said to Las Cases:
"When I came to the head of affairs, I had already formed certain
ideas on the great principles which hold society together. I had weighed
all the importance of religion; I was persuaded of it and I and resolved
to reestablish it. You would scarcely believe in the difficulties that I
had to restore Catholicism. I would have been followed much more
willingly if I had unfurled the banner of Protestantism. . . . It is sure
that in the disorder to which I succeeded, in the ruins where I found
myself, I could choose between Catholicism and Protestantism. And it is
true that at that moment the disposition was in favor of the latter. But
outside the fact that I really clung to the religion in which I had been
born I had the highest motives to decide me. By proclaiming
Protestantism, what would I have obtained? I should have created in
France two great parties about equal, when I wished there should be longer
but one. I should have excited the fury of religious quarrels, when the
enlightenment of the age and my desire was to make them disappear
altogether. These two parties in tearing each other to pieces would have
annihilated France and rendered her the slave of Europe, when I was
ambitious of making her its mistress. With Catholicism I arrived much
more surely at my great results. Within, at home, the great number would
absorb the small, and I promised myself to treat with the latter so
liberally that it would soon have no motive for knowing the difference.
"Without, Catholicism saved me the Pope; and with my influences and
our forces in Italy I did not despair sooner or later, by one way or
another, of finishing by ruling the Pope myself."
When the Church fell in France, the whole system of education went
down with her. The Revolutionary governments tried to remedy the
condition, but beyond many plans and speeches little had been done.
Napoleon allowed the religious bodies to reopen their schools, and thus
primary instruction was soon provided again; and he founded a number of
secondary and special schools. The greatest of his educational
undertakings was the organization of the University. This institution was
centralized in the head of the state as completely as every other
Napoleonic institution. It exists to-day but little changed - a most
efficient body, in spite of its rigid state control. This university did
nothing for woman.
"I do not think we need trouble ourselves with any plan of
instruction for young females," Napoleon told the Council. "They cannot
be brought up better than by their mothers. Public education is not
suitable for them, because they are never called upon to act in public.
Manners are all in all to them, and marriage is all they look to. In
times past the monastic life was open to women; they espoused God, and,
though society gained little by that alliance, the parents gained by
pocketing the dowry."
It was with the education of the daughters of soldiers, civil
functionaries, and members of the Legion of Honor, who had died and left
their children unprovided for, that he concerned himself, establishing
schools of which the well-known one at St. Denis is a model. The rules
were prepared by Napoleon himself, who insisted that the girls should be
taught all kinds of housework and needlework - everything, in fact, which
would make them good housekeepers and honest women.
The military schools were also reorganized at this time. Remembering
his own experience at the Ecole Militaire, Napoleon arranged that the
severest economy should be practised in them, and that the pupils should
learn to do everything for themselves. They even cleaned, bedded, and
shod their own horses.
The destruction of the old system of privileges and honors left the
government without any means of rewarding those who rendered it a service.
Napoleon presented a law for a Legion of Honor, under control of the
state, which should admit to its membership only those who had done
something of use to the public. The service might be military,
commercial, artistic, humanitarian; no limit was put on its nature;
anything which helped France in any way was to be rewarded by membership
in the proposed order. In fact, it was the most democratic distinction
possible, since the same reward was given for all classes of service and
to all classes of people.
Now the Revolutionary spirt spurned all distinction; and as free
discussion was allowed on the law, a severe arraignment of it was made.
Nevertheless, it passed. It immediately became a power in the hands of
the First Consul, and such it has remained until to-day in the government.
Though it has been frequently abused, and never, perhaps, more flagrantly
than by the present Republic, unquestionably the French "red button" is a
decoration of which to be proud.
The greatest civil achievement of Napoleon was the codification of
the laws. Up to the Revolution, the laws of France had been in a misty,
incoherent condition, feudal in their spirit, and by no means uniform in
their application. The Constituent Assembly had ordered them revised, but
the work had only been begun. Napoleon believed justly that the greatest
benefit he could render France would be to give her a complete and
systematic code. He organized the force for this gigantic task, and
pushed revision with unflagging energy.
His part in the work was interesting and important. After the laws
had been well digested and arranged in preliminary bodies, they were
submitted to the Council of State. It was in the discussion before this
body that Napoleon took part. That a man of thirty-one, brought up as a
soldier, and having no legal training, could follow the discussions of
such a learned and serious body as Napoleon's Council of State always was,
seems incredible. In fact, he prepared for each session as thoroughly as
the law-makers themselves. His habit was to talk over, beforehand
generally with Cambaceres and Portalis, two legislators of great learning
and clearness of judgment, all the matters which were to come up.
"He examined each question by itself," says Roederer, "inquiring into
all the authorities, times, experiences; demanding to know how it had been
under ancient jurisprudence, under Louis XIV., or Frederick the Great.
When a bill was presented to the First Consul, he rarely failed to ask
these questions: Is this bill complete? Does it cover every case Why have
you not thought of this? Is that necessary? Is it right or useful? What
is done nowadays and elsewhere?"
At night, after he had gone to bed, he would read or have read to him
authorities on the subject. Such was his capacity for grasping any idea,
that he would come to the Council with a perfectly clear notion of the
subject to be treated, and a good idea of its historical development.
Thus he could follow the most erudite and philosophical arguments, and
could take part in them. He stripped them at once of all conventional
phrases and learned terms, and stated clearly what they meant. He had no
use for anything but the plain meaning. By thus going directly to the
practical sense of a thing, he frequently cleared up the ideas of the
In framing the laws, he took care that they should be worded so that
everybody could understand them. Thus, when a law relating to liquors was
being prepared, he urged that wholesale and retail should be defined in
such a way that they would be definite ideas to the people. "Pot and pint
must be inserted," he said. "There is no objection to those words. An
excise act isn't an epic poem."
Napoleon insisted on the greatest freedom of speech in the
discussions on the laws, just as he did on "going straight to the point
and not wasting time on idle talk." This clear-headedness, energy, and
grasp of subject, exercised over a body of really remarkable men,
developed the Council until its discussions became famous throughout
Europe. One of its wisest members, Chancellor Pasquier, says of
Napoleon's direction that "it was of such a nature as to enlarge the
sphere of one's ideas, and to give one's faculties all the development of
which they were capable. The highest legislative, administrative, and
sometimes even political matters were taken up in it (the Council). Did
we not see, for two consecutive winters, the sons of foreign sovereigns
come and complete their education in its midst?"
It was the genius of the head of the state, however, which was the
most impressive feature of the Council of State. De Molleville, a former
minister of Louis XVI., said once to Las Cases:
"It must be admitted that your Bonaparte, your Napoleon, was a very
extraordinary man. We were far from understanding him on the other side
of the water. We could not refuse the evidence of his victories and his
invasions, it is true; but Genseric, Attila, Alaric had done as much; so
he made more of an impression of terror on me than of admiration. But
when I came here and followed the discussions on the civil code, from that
moment I had nothing but profound veneration for him. But where in the
world had he learned all that? And then every day I discovered something
new in him. Ah, sir, what a man you had there! Truly, he was a prodigy."
The modern reader who looks at France and sees how her University,
her special schools, her hospitals, her great honorary legion, her treaty
with the Catholic Church, her code of laws, her Bank - the vital elements
of her life, in short - are as they came from Napoleon's brain, must ask,
with De Molleville, How did he do it - he a foreigner, born in a half-
civilized island, reared in a military school, without diplomatic or legal
training, without the prestige of name or wealth? How could he make a
nation? How could he be other than the barbaric conqueror the English and
the emigres first thought him.
Those who look at Napoleon's achievements, and are either dazzled or
horrified by them, generally consider his power superhuman. They call it
divine or diabolic, according to the feeling he inspires in them; but, in
reality, the qualities he showed in his career as a statesman and law-
giver are very human ones. His stout grasp on subjects; his genius for
hard work; his power of seeing everything that should be done, and doing
it himself; his unparalleled audacity, explain his civil achievements.
The comprehension he had of questions of government was really the
result of serious thinking. He had reflected from his first days at
Brienne; and the active interest he had taken in the Revolution of 1789
had made him familiar with many social and political questions. His
career in Italy, which was almost as much a diplomatic as a military
career, had furnished him an experience upon which he had founded many
notions. In his dreams of becoming an Oriental law-giver he had planned a
system of government of which he was to be the centre. Thus, before the
18th Brumaire made him the Dictator of France, he had his ideas of
centralized government all formed, just as, before he crossed the Great
Saint Bernard, he had fought, over and over, the battle of Marengo, with
black- and red-headed pins stuck into a great map of Italy spread out on
his study floor.
His habit of attending to everything himself explains much of his
success. No detail was too small for him, no task too menial. If a thing
needed attention, no matter whose business it was, he looked after it.
Reading letters once before Madame Junot, she said to him that such work
must be tiresome, and advised him to give it to a secretary.
"Later, perhaps," he said, "Now it is impossible; I must answer for
all. It is not at the beginning of a return to order that I can afford to
ignore a need, a demand."
He carried out this policy literally. When he went on a journey, he
looked personally after every road, bridge, public building, he passed,
and his letters teemed with orders about repairs here, restorations there.
He looked after individuals in the same way; ordered a pension to this
one, a position to that one, even dictating how the gift should be made
known so as to offend the least possible the pride of the recipient.
When it came to foreign policy, he told his diplomats how they should
look, whether it should be grave or gay, whether they should discuss the
opera or the political situation.
The cost of the soldiers' shoes, the kind of box Josephine took at
the opera, the style of architecture for the Madeleine, the amount of
stock left on hand in the silk factories, the wording of the laws, all was
He thought of the flowers to be scattered daily on the tomb of
General Regnier, suggested the idea of a battle hymn to Rouget de l'Isle,
told the artists what expression to give him in their portraits, what
accessories to use in the battle pieces, ordered everything, verified
everything. "Beside him," said those who looked on in amazement, "the
most punctilious clerk would have been a bungler."
Without an extraordinary capacity for work, no man could have done
this. Napoleon would work until eleven o'clock in the evening, and be up
again at three in the morning. Frequently he slept but an hour, and came
back as fresh as ever. No secretary could keep up to him, and his
ministers sometimes went to sleep in the Council, worn out with the length
of the session. "Come, citizen ministers," he would cry, "we must earn
the money the French nation gives us." The ministers rarely went home from
the meetings that they did not find a half-dozen letters from him on their
tables to be answered, and the answer must be a clear, exact, exhaustive
document. "Get your information so that when you do answer me, there
shall be no 'buts,' no 'ifs,' and no 'becauses,'" was the rule Napoleon
laid down to his correspondents.
He had audacity. He dared do what he would. He had no conventional
notions to tie him, no master to dictate to him. The Revolution had swept
out of his way the accumulated experience of centuries - all the habits,
the prejudices, the ways of doing things. He commenced nearer the bottom
than any man in the history of the civilized world had ever done, worked
with imperial self-confidence, with a conviction that he "was not like
other men;" that the moral laws, the creeds, the conventions, which
applied to them, were not for him. He might listen to others, but in the
end he dared do as he would.