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France at the beginning of the 19th century


1815 Napoleon
1815 Napoleon

The only real star in the new government, Bonaparte was designated as first consul and given a term of ten years. He quickly assumed nearly total power, despite the existence of a puppet legislature. In 1802 he signed a treaty with France’s enemies, which allowed France to keep control of northern Italy and the regions around the Rhine. It brought France the first real peace it had known in ten years. On a wave of popular acclaim, Bonaparte was appointed first consul for life. He successfully built up a wide constituency, drawing from both supporters and opponents of previous revolutionary regimes. To further that end, he pardoned most of the émigrés in 1802.

Even more important were Bonaparte’s institutional reforms, most dating from this early period of his rule. In 1801 he settled the outstanding issues related to the French Catholic Church in a concordat agreed to by the pope. The concordat affirmed Roman Catholicism as “the religion of the great majority of citizens,” limited papal interference in the affairs of the French church, provided state salaries for the clergy, and recognized the Revolution’s confiscation of church lands as permanent.

Bonaparte reorganized the civil administration, instituting a system of prefects, subprefects, and mayors charged with executing his orders in the provinces. To strengthen state finance, Bonaparte stabilized the value of the franc, the common name for the livre after 1789, and established the Bank of France (Banque de France), which facilitated government borrowing. To reform education, he instituted a series of secondary schools run according to a code of military discipline. These schools were later incorporated into the Imperial University, a state agency to oversee and coordinate education. Bonaparte also completed another project that would help define the modern French nation—France’s first systematic law code.

Having reformed France’s government, Bonaparte reformed his own status. In 1804 he crowned himself emperor as Napoleon I, thereby initiating the First Empire. The revolutionary dreams of liberty were now forgotten in favor of a benevolent despotism, whose citizens were kept under close surveillance by Napoleon’s police chief Joseph Fouché, duc d’Otrante. "France" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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