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  • After the French Revolution erupted in 1789,

  • Europe was thrown into chaos.

  • Neighboring countries' monarchs feared they would share the fate of Louis XVI,

  • and attacked the New Republic,

  • while at home, extremism and mistrust between factions led to bloodshed.

  • In the midst of all this conflict,

  • a powerful figure emerged to take charge of France.

  • But did he save the revolution or destroy it?

  • "Order, order, who's the defendant today? I don't see anyone."

  • "Your Honor, this is Napoléon Bonaparte,

  • the tyrant who invaded nearly all of Europe

  • to compensate for his personal stature-based insecurities."

  • "Actually, Napoléon was at least average height for his time.

  • The idea that he was short comes only from British wartime propaganda.

  • And he was no tyrant.

  • He was safeguarding the young Republic from being crushed

  • by the European monarchies."

  • "By overthrowing its government and seizing power himself?"

  • "Your Honor, as a young and successful military officer,

  • Napoléon fully supported the French Revolution,

  • and its ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity.

  • But the revolutionaries were incapable of real leadership.

  • Robespierre and the Jacobins who first came to power

  • unleashed a reign of terror on the population,

  • with their anti-Catholic extremism

  • and nonstop executions of everyone who disagreed with them.

  • And The Directory that replaced them was an unstable and incompetent oligarchy.

  • They needed a strong leader who could govern wisely and justly."

  • "So, France went through that whole revolution

  • just to end up with another all-powerful ruler?"

  • "Not quite.

  • Napoléon's new powers were derived from the constitution

  • that was approved by a popular vote in the Consulate."

  • "Ha! The constitution was practically dictated at gunpoint in a military coup,

  • and the public only accepted the tyrant

  • because they were tired of constant civil war."

  • "Be that as it may,

  • Napoléon introduced a new constitution and a legal code

  • that kept some of the most important achievements of the revolution intact:

  • freedom of religion

  • abolition of hereditary privilege,

  • and equality before the law for all men."

  • "All men, indeed.

  • He deprived women of the rights that the revolution had given them

  • and even reinstated slavery in the French colonies.

  • Haiti is still recovering from the consequences centuries later.

  • What kind of equality is that?"

  • "The only kind that could be stably maintained at the time,

  • and still far ahead of France's neighbors."

  • "Speaking of neighbors, what was with all the invasions?"

  • "Great question, Your Honor."

  • "Which invasions are we talking about?

  • It was the neighboring empires who had invaded France

  • trying to restore the monarchy,

  • and prevent the spread of liberty across Europe,

  • twice by the time Napoléon took charge.

  • Having defended France as a soldier and a general in those wars,

  • he knew that the best defense is a good offense."

  • "An offense against the entire continent?

  • Peace was secured by 1802,

  • and other European powers recognized the new French Regime.

  • But Bonaparte couldn't rest unless he had control of the whole continent,

  • and all he knew was fighting.

  • He tried to enforce a European-wide blockade of Britain,

  • invaded any country that didn't comply,

  • and launched more wars to hold onto his gains.

  • And what was the result?

  • Millions dead all over the continent,

  • and the whole international order shattered."

  • "You forgot the other result:

  • the spread of democratic and liberal ideals across Europe.

  • It was thanks to Napoléon that the continent was reshaped

  • from a chaotic patchwork of fragmented feudal and religious territories

  • into efficient, modern, and secular nation states

  • where the people held more power and rights than ever before."

  • "Should we also thank him for the rise of nationalism

  • and the massive increase in army sizes?

  • You can see how well that turned out a century later."

  • "So what would European history have been like if it weren't for Napoléon?"

  • "Unimaginably better/worse."

  • Napoléon seemingly unstoppable momentum would die in the Russian winter snows,

  • along with most of his army.

  • But even after being deposed and exiled,

  • he refused to give up,

  • escaping from his prison and launching a bold attempt at restoring his empire

  • before being defeated for the second and final time.

  • Bonaparte was a ruler full of contradictions,

  • defending a popular revolution by imposing absolute dictatorship,

  • and spreading liberal ideals through imperial wars,

  • and though he never achieved his dream of conquering Europe,

  • he undoubtedly left his mark on it, for better or for worse.

After the French Revolution erupted in 1789,

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【TED-Ed】History vs. Napoleon Bonaparte - Alex Gendler

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    swtso   posted on 2016/05/13
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