When we think of Napoleon, we think of massive military conquest comparable to the Roman Empire. However, there are also the numerous reforms he made to domestic policy during his reign of 1799 to 1815. There are three main viewpoints relating to his domestic policy. The first is by Godechot who believed Napoleon “changed the history of France and the world”. He thought that Napoleon’s policies truly benefited France. However, a contrary viewpoint is made by Seward who thought Napoleon was a demagogue who had an “obsession with power”. A third median of the two extremes was proposed by Soboul. Soboul thought that Napoleon advantaged France in some ways but hindered in others.
-Strengths and weaknesses of each viewpoint
Despite all other viewpoints, Napoleon did benefit France and helped mold France and western society as to what it is today by introducing economic, political and social reforms to France’s domestic policy.
Napoleon was a political mastermind. France was divided in the judicial system they used. Northern France practiced customary law from medieval tradition, while southern France used law evolved out of Roman code. However, Napoleon codified the law code into one code for the entire nation. This gave equality, freedom from arrest without process, equality of taxation and religious freedom. Jewish people were allowed to live anywhere they could afford and not be restricted to ghettos. The Napoleonic Code of law made France a nation of equality, rights and liberty, such qualities expressed in today’s western society.
Economically, he forged France’s economy out from the fire of revolution. Napoleon recognized that economic reform was essential to increase employment and restore confidence in the government’s ability to foster economic growth. In 1800 he established the Bank of France. Modeled after the Bank of England, it was used to promote industry. As a result, the franc became the most stable currency in Europe. The Bank of France proved to be significant in the stabilization of the economy. This stabilization was necessary to be able to increase income and ensure the security of the nation. Furthermore, Napoleon refined tax collection by demanding 5% of every citizen’s income and there were no tax exemptions based on class. Hundreds of officials were appointed to collect taxes on income and property. In 1880, 660 million francs were collected, exceedingly more than pre-revolutionary times. With more income, the government could spend on various social programs for the people.
A main social program introduced, as a result of a healthier economy, was education. In 1802, he introduced lycees, the equivalent of high schools. These schools were designed to produce skilled civil servants and military officers. After the lycees, men could pursue medicine, law, teaching or military training. With enhanced education the entire country had greater potential to succeed. Napoleon also improved transportation and communication by constructing canals, ports and roads. He erected monuments such as the Arc de Triomphe, which helps incite French nationalism.