The French Revolution: Napoleon Bonaparte

Revolutionary Anarchist or True Emperor of France?

Sarah Zaidi

Mr. Winegarden



        During the Hundred Days Napoleon defended his past illiberal actions on political necessity. “I am not an enemy of liberty,” he said, “but I set it aside when it obstructed my way.” Indeed he did set it aside, altering thoughts and beliefs, and imposing absolute political authority. His selection of individuals for government titles and attempt at recreating a heritable dynasty, were policies much closer to the practice of the Ancien Regime than those of the Revolution. The use of censorship and propaganda and the activities of the police all played a part in the establishment and maintenance of the Napoleonic state. However, it quickly became evident that his actions were undeniably at the expense of liberty and equality. Napoleon was not able to maintain the ideals of the Revolution, as he re-established the aristocracy and his dictatorship mirrored policies that were present during the Ancien Regime.

        During Napoleon’s period in rule, the press was expected to act as the unquestioning voice of the government and the outlet for their official propaganda. Napoleon wrote, “The newspapers are always ready to seize on anything which might undermine public tranquility…Newspapers…announce and prepare revolutions and in the end make them indispensable. With a smaller number of newspapers it is easier to supervise them and to direct them more firmly towards the strengthening of the constitutional regime…I will never allow the newspapers to say or do anything against my interest.” In January 1800, Napoleon reduced the number of political journals published in Paris from seventy-three to thirteen and forbade the production of any new ones. By the end of the year only nine remained. These newspapers refrained from any reliable news and were forbidden to discuss controversial subjects. Furthermore, their editors were forced to rely solely on news the military bulletins or longer political articles published in the official government journal. Evidently, these were written by Napoleon himself or by his personal ministers.

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        Napoleon did not stop there and it was not only the newspapers which became censored. Reports and excerpts on all books, plays, lectures and posters which appeared in Paris were often sent to Napoleon and publishers were forced to take out a license and swear an oath of loyalty to the government. Booksellers were strictly controlled and severely punished, even with death, if found selling material that posed any threat to Napoleon‘s control. As well, authors were harassed and sometimes forced into exile if they, however indirectly, criticized the present regime. This censorship and propaganda, enforced by Napoleon, violated the ...

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