French Revolution and Napoleon
Ideas for a Research Paper on Napoleon and the French Revolution:
- In what ways was economic policy under the Revolution a rejection of Old-Regime life? In what areas, if any, can we see continuity?
- It has been common for conservative critics of the Revolution to say that it was “all the fault of Voltaire and Rousseau.” Do you agree with that assessment? (You may focus mainly on Rousseau if you want).
- Even at their most democratic, revolutionaries never gave women the right to vote. Moreover, in October 1793, the National Convention ordered that all women’s political clubs be closed. How do you account for the political marginalization of women during the Revolutions most radical period?
- At several points during the 1790s, people in France were legally required to wear a blue-white-red cockade. How would you explain the importance of symbols during the Revolution
**You can choose ONE from any of those four questions or combine them to make a broad research paper.
Further things to think about when writing on the French Revolution and Napoleon:
- These are big questions, and meant to be thought provoking.
- In many respects, there is no single “right answer” to any of these questions (though there are certainly wrong ones).
- Please do not construe the questions around each topic in an overly literal fashion–they are meant to start you thinking, not to limit your analysis.
Throughout your paper you will no doubt draw on historians’ works (journal articles, books, perhaps websites). In answering one of these questions, make sure that you both:
- Frame your answer with reference to existing historical scholarship
- Develop your answer by analyzing texts, images, and/or objects from the time, which you present as evidence in support of your over-arching argument.
No one who views Napoleon’s military and administrative achievements can see much of altruism in the set of motivations that lay behind them. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of men died because this man had an unquenchable ego and no scruples whatsoever about the means used to feed it. Your research will attempt to argue that Napoleon was, in fact, a forerunner of a type of man that became all too familiar in the 20th century—the amoral, absolutist ruler attempting to perfect power for power’s sake through the creation of a totalitarian system. Napoleon lacked the technology that was available to Hitler and Stalin. He therefore could not control the French people to the degree that Hitler controlled the people of Germany and Stalin controlled the Russian people, but his aims and methods were quite similar.
Napoleon’s rise to power was, in some respects, similar to Hitler’s and Stalin’s. All three achieved power as a result of shrewd, opportunistic handling of national emergencies, i.e. the French Revolution. Napoleon was able to take advantage of the political chaos in France under the Directory. Here his military ability was of great help.
Napoleon was hailed as a hero upon his return to France. Aided and abetted by Fouche, Talleyrand, and his brother Lucien, he was able to seize power from the tottering Directory in the coup of 18th Brumaire (November, 1799) and have himself proclaimed First Council (initially for ten years, later for life). Five years later, after the accumulation of more military glory, and a reforming administration that established prefectures and an efficient system of taxation, Napoleon had himself crowned Emperor of the French in 1804. His road to power in France was now complete.