The Napoleonic Era study guide chapters summaries




The Napoleonic Era study guide chapters summaries


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The Napoleonic Era study guide chapters summaries

The Napoleonic Era: 1799-1815

Chronology and periodization are very important for this unit.

The “Age of Montesquieu”
(Constitutional Monarchy)

The “Age of Rousseau”

The “Age of Voltaire”
(Napoleon and Enlightened Despotism)

Nat’l Assembly: 1789-1791

  • Tennis Court Oath
  • Storming of the Bastille
  • Great Fear and abolition of feudalism
  • Civil Constitution of the Clergy
  • Declaration of the Rights of Man

Nat’l Convention: 1792-1795

  • Creation of the  Republic
  • Execution of Louis  XVI
  • Committee of Public Safety
  • Reign of Terror
  • Thermidorian Reaction

Consulate: 1799-1804

  • Code Napoleon
  • Concordat of 1801
  • War of the 2nd Coalition

Legislative Assembly: 1791-92

  • Jacobins vs. Girondins
  • War of the First Coalition
  • Paris Commune
  • September Massacres

The Directory: 1795-99

  • Ruling bourgeoisie vs. aristocracy and sans-culottes
  • Coup d’etat Brumaire

Napoleonic Empire: 1804-15

  • Confederation of the Rhine
  • Continental System
  • Treaty of Tilsit
  • Peninsular War
  • Russian Campaign
  • Waterloo
  • Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)
  • Born of Italian descent to a prominent Corsican family- French island of Corsica.
  • Military genius; specialized in artillery
  • An avid “child of the Enlightenment” and Revolution.
  • Associated with the Jacobins and advanced rapidly in the army due to vacancies caused by the emigration of aristocratic officers.
  • Eventually inspired a divided country during the Directory period into a unified nation but at the price of individual liberty.
  • Consulate Period: 1799-1804 (Enlightened Reform)
  • Took power on December 25, 1799 with the constitution giving supreme power to Napoleon.
  • As First Consul, Napoleon, behaved more as an absolute ruler than a revolutionary statesman.
  • Sought to govern France by demanding loyalty to the state, rewarding ability and creating an effective hierarchical bureaucracy.
  • However, wealth determined status
  • Napoleon may be thought of as the last and most eminent of the enlightened despots.
  1. Reforms




Goals of the Revolution

Equal, lower Taxes

Less corruption, equal opportunity

Religious tolerance by Protestants

Napoleon's Actions

Fairer tax code, national bank

Merit system, new law codes

Accord w/ pope


Equal taxation, Stable economy

Honesty, public education

Religious tolerance

  • Napoleon Code Legal unity provided first clear and complete codification of French Law

Perhaps the longest lasting legacy of Napoleon’s rule.
Included a civil code, code of criminal procedure, a commercial code and a penal code.

    • Emphasized the protection of private property
    1. Resulted in strong central gov’t and administrative unity.
    2. Many achievements of revolution were made permanent.
      • Equality before the law: no more estates, legal classes, privileges, local liberties, hereditary offices, guilds, or manors.
      • Freedom of religion
  • State was secular in character
  • Property rights
  • Abolition of serfdom
  • Gave women inheritance rights
    1. Denied women equal status with men (except inheritance rights)
  • Women and children were legally dependent on their husband or father.
  • Divorce more difficult to obtain than during the Revolution
  • Women could not buy or sell property or begin a business without the consent of their husbands.
  • Income earned by wives went to their husbands
  • Penalties for adultery were far more severe for women than men
  • “Careers Open to talent”

a.  Citizens theoretically were able to rise in gov’t service purely according on their abilities.
b.  Creation of new imperial nobility to reward most talented generals & officials.
c.   Wealth determined status

  • The middle class benefited significantly
  • The gov’t rewarded wealthy people who effectively served the state with pensions, property or titles.
    • Over ½ of titles were given to those who had served in the military
  • Napoleon created 3,600 titles between 1808 and 1814
    • Yet, the number of nobles in France in 1814 only totaled 1/7 of the nobles that had existed in the Old Regime.
  • Neither military commissions nor civil offices could be bought and sold.
  • Granted amnesty to 100K émigrés in return for a loyalty oath.
    • Many soon occupied high posts in expanding state.

e.  Some notables from foreign countries (e.g. Italy, Netherlands and Germany) served the empire with distinction
f.  Working-class movement (e.g. Sans-Culottes) was no longer politically significant.

  • Workers were denied the right to form trade unions
  • Religious reforms:
  • Concordat of 1801 with Roman Catholic Church
  • Napoleon’s motives:
    • Making peace with the Church would help weaken its link to monarchists who sought a restoration of the Bourbons.
    • Religion would help people accept economic inequalities in French society
  • Provisions:
    • The pope renounced claims to Church property that had been seized during the Revolution
    • French gov’t had power to nominate or depose bishops.
    • In return, priests who had resisted the Civil Constitutions of the Clergy would replace those who had sworn an oath to the state.
    • Since the pope gave up claim to Church lands, those citizens who had acquired them pledged loyalty to Napoleon’s gov’t.
    • Catholic worship in public was allowed.
    • Church seminaries were reopened.
    • Extended legal toleration to Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and atheists who all received same civil rights.
    • Replaced the Revolutionary Calendar with the Christian calendar.
  • To dispel notion of an established church, Napoleon put Protestant ministers of all denominations on the state payroll.
  • Financial unity
    • Bank of France (1800) served interests of the state and financial oligarchy.
  • A revived version of one of the banks of the Old Regime.
    • Balanced the national budget
    • Established sound currency and public credit.
  • This was far superior to the chaos surrounding the assignats during the Revolution.
    • Economic reform to stimulate economy:
  • Provided food at low prices.
  • Increased employment.
  • Lowered taxes on farmers
  • Guaranteed that church lands redistributed during the Revolution remained in hands of the new owners, mostly peasants.
  • Created an independent peasantry that would be the backbone of French democracy.
  • Tax collections became more efficient.
  • Workers not allowed to form guilds or trade unions
  • Retained the Le Chapelier Law of 1791
  • Educational reforms were based on a system of public education under state control

a.  Rigorous standards; available to the masses

  • Secondary and higher education (called lycées) was reorganized to prepare young men for gov’t service and professional occupations.
  • Education became important in determining social standing: one system for those who could spend 12 or more years at school; the other for boys who entered work force at age of 12 or 14.
  • Napoleon sought to increase the size of the middle class.
  • Creation of a police state.
  • Spy system kept thousands of citizens under continuous surveillance.
  • After 1810, political suspects held in state prisons, as they had been during the Terror.
  • 2,500 political prisoners existed in 1814.
  • Ruthlessly put down opposition, especially guerrillas in the west in provinces of the Vendèe and Brittany.
  • Most publicly notorious action was the 1804 arrest and execution of a Bourbon, the duke of Enghien, who had allegedly took part in a plot against Napoleon.
  • There was no evidence he was involved with the plot
  • European public opinion was livid
  • Drawbacks of Napoleon’s Reforms
  • Severe inequality for women (see above)
  • Workers not allowed to form trade unions
  • Repressed liberty, subverted republicanism, and restored absolutism in France through the creation of a police state
  • Practiced nepotism by placing his relatives on the thrones of nations he conquered (see below)


  • Napoleonic Wars during the Consulate Era
  • The series of wars were usually short and distinct.
      • Only Britain was at war continually with France at this time.
      • The four Great Powers (Britain, Austria, Prussia, Russia) did not fight France simultaneously until 1813.
  • Nations were willing to ally with Napoleon for their own foreign policy benefit.
  • Only gradually, after Napoleon had conquered Italy, did they decide Napoleon had to be defeated for a peaceful Europe.
  • War of the Second Coalition: 1798-1801
  • Napoleon had his navy destroyed by England’s Lord Horatio Nelson in the Battle of the Nile (1798).
  • Napoleon and the French army were thus isolated in North Africa.
  • Napoleon was victorious in the war, nevertheless
  • Treaty of Lunèville (1801)        
  • Ended the Second Coalition.
  • Resulted in Austria’s loss of its Italian possessions.
  • German territory on the west bank of the Rhine incorporated into France.
  • Russia retreated from western Europe when they saw their ambitions in the Mediterranean blocked by the British.
  • Britain again was isolated.


  • Peace Interim, 1802
  • Treaty of Amiens with Britain in 1802
  • Hoping to increase its trade with the Continent, Britain agreed to return Trinidad and Caribbean islands it had seized from France in 1793.
  • France remained in control of Holland, Austrian Netherlands, west bank of the Rhine, and most of Italian peninsula.
  • To the dismay of Britain, the treaty did not expand commerce between Britain and the Continent.
  • Treaty clearly a victory for Napoleon.
  • Britain technically violated treaty by failing to evacuate the island of Malta, thus provoking a new war with Napoleon
  • Napoleon reorganized the Confederation of Switzerland.
  • Sent large army to Haiti to subdue a slave rebellion
  • Forces decimated by disease and slave rebels.
  • Sold Louisiana to U.S. as his hopes for re-creating an American empire were squelched by problems in the Caribbean and an impending war with Britain.


  • Empire Period, 1804-1814 (War and Defeat)
  • Dec 2, 1804, Napoleon crowned himself hereditary Emperor of France in Notre-Dame Cathedral.
  • Hoped to preempt plans of royalists to return the Bourbons to the throne
  • Believed an empire was necessary for France to maintain and expand its influence throughout Europe.
  • Napoleon viewed himself as a liberator who freed foreign peoples from the absolute rulers who oppressed them.
  • His domination over other nations unleashed the forces of nationalism in those countries which ultimately resulted in his downfall
  • The Grand Empire
  • Beginning in 1805, Napoleon engaged in constant warfare 
  • Eventually, Napoleon achieved the largest empire since Roman times (although it was only temporary)
  • France extended to the Rhine, including Belgium and Holland, the German coast to the western Baltic, and the Italian coast extending down to Rome.
  • Dependent satellite kingdoms where Napoleon put his appointees on the throne:
  • Confederation of the Rhine
  • Brother, Joseph Bonaparte, became king of Spain in 1808.
  • Youngest brother, Jerome, became king of Westphalia.
  • Brother, Louis, was king of Holland for 6 years before Napoleon had him removed and incorporated Holland into France.
  • Italy
    • His sister, Caroline, became Queen of Naples.
  • Lombardy, Venice and Papal States ruled by his step-son
  • Abolished feudalism and reformed the social, political, and economic structures.
  • He decided against creating a unified Italy since it might one day threaten his influence.
  • Duchy of Warsaw
  • Illyrian Provinces, which included Trieste and the Dalmatian coast.

3.  Independent but allied states included: Austria, Prussia and Russia.
4.  All countries of the Grand Empire saw the introduction of some of the main principles of the French Revolution.

    • Notable exception: no self-gov’t through elected legislative bodies.
    • Initially, Napoleon was supported by commercial and professional classes who supported the Enlightenment.
    • repression and exploitation eventually turned his conquered territories against him.
  • Conscription into the French army
  • Higher taxes (while taxes in France were lowered)
  • Continental System
    • Enlightenment reformers believed Napoleon had betrayed the ideals of the Revolution.
  • War of the Third Coalition: (1805-1807)
  • In 1803, Napoleon began preparations to invade Great Britain.
  • In 1805, Austria signed an alliance with Britain.
  • Coalition was complete with the addition of Russia under Tsar Alexander I (grandson of Catherine the Great) and Sweden
  • Napoleon’s conquest of Italy convinced Russia and Austria that Napoleon was threat to balance of power.
  • Battle of Trafalgar, October 21, 1805

a.  French and Spanish fleets were destroyed by the British navy under the command of Lord Horatio Nelson, off the Spanish coast.

  • Established supremacy of British navy for over a century.

b.  French invasion of Britain no longer feasible

  • Though killed in the battle, Nelson became one of the great military heroes in English history.
  • Battle of Austerlitz, December, 1805 (Moravia)
  • Alexander I pulled Russian troops out of the battle, giving Napoleon another victory
  • Austria accepted large territorial losses in return for peace.
  • Third Coalition collapsed.
  • Napoleon was now the master of western and central Europe
  • In commemoration of his victory, Napoleon commissioned the Arc de Triomphe in 1806
  • Using a classical style, the Arc hearkened back to the Roman Empire when caesars would build arches to signify important victories.
  • Napoleon was clearly emphasizing the conquest of an empire
  • Prussia was twice defeated by Napoleon in 1806 at the Battle of Jena and at Auerstadt
  • Alexander I of Russia sought peace after Napoleon won another victory in spring of 1807.
  • Treaty of Tilsit, June 1807
  • Provisions:
  • Prussia lost half its population in lands ceded to France.
  • Russia accepted Napoleon’s reorganization of western and central Europe.
  • Russia also agreed to accept Napoleon’s Continental System.
  • In many ways, the treaty represented the height of Napoleon’s success.
  • French and Russian empires became allies, mainly against Britain.
  • Alexander accepted Napoleon’s domination of western Europe
  • France continued to occupy Berlin and enjoyed increased control in western Germany
  • Reorganization of Germany

1. After soundly defeating the two most powerful and influential German states—Austria and Prussia—Napoleon reorganized Germany.
2. He consolidated many of the nearly 300 independent   political entities.

  • Confederation of the Rhine: 15 German states minus Austria, Prussia, and Saxony.
  • Napoleon named himself “Protector” of the Confederation.
  • Many tiny German states abolished.

b.  Holy Roman Empire was abolished; emperor had traditionally been ruler of Austria.
c.   A new kingdom of Westphalia was created out of all Prussian territories west of the Elbe and territories taken from Hanover.

  • Ended serfdom and gave peasants the right to own land and move about freely

e.  Napoleon unwittingly awoke German nationalism due to France’s domination and repression of the German states.



  • The Continental System
  • Napoleon decided to wage economic warfare against Britain after his loss at the Battle of Trafalgar.
  • Through shifting alliances, Britain had consistently maintained the balance of power against France.
  • Berlin Decree, 1806: Napoleon sought to starve Britain out by closing ports on the continent to British commerce.
  • Napoleon coerced Russia, Prussia, neutral Denmark and Portugal, and Spain all to adhere to the boycott in the Treaty of Tilsit (1807).
  • England, in response, issued the “order in council”: neutrals might enter continental ports only if they first stopped in Great Britain.
  • Regulations encouraged these ships to be loaded with British goods before continuing on to the Continent.
  • British sought to strangle French trade, not French imports of British goods.
  • Milan Decree, 1807: Napoleon’s response to the “order in council”
  • Any neutral ship entering a British port, or submitting to a British warship at sea, would be confiscated by if it attempted to enter a Continental port.
  • War of 1812: U.S. eventually declared war against Britain in defense of its neutral shipping rights.
  • Continental System ultimately was a major failure
  • Caused widespread antagonism to Napoleon’s rule in Europe.
  • Imports from America were too much in demand in Europe.
  • European industries could not equal Britain’s industrial output.
  • Without railroads, the Continental system was impossible to maintain.
  • Shippers, shipbuilders, and dealers in overseas goods, a powerful element of the older bourgeoisie, were ruined.
  • Eastern Europeans especially were hard hit as they had no industry and were dependent on imports.
  • British made up lost trade with Europe by expanding exports to Latin America.


  • The Peninsular War (1808-1814)


1. First great revolt against Napoleon’s power occurred in Spain.
2. When Napoleon tried to tighten his control over Spain by replacing the Spanish King with his brother, Joseph, the Spanish people waged a costly guerrilla war.

  • Aided by the British under one of their ablest commanders, Duke of Wellington.
  • France suffered from Britain’s counter-blockade resulting in the Continental System’s failure.
  • Looking for a scapegoat, Napoleon turned on Alexander I of Russia, who had actually supported his blockade against Britain.
  • 1810, Napoleon married Marie Louise, the 18-year-old daughter of the Austrian emperor and niece of Marie Antoinette.
  • By marriage, Napoleon was now nephew of Louis XVI and he began to show more consideration to French noblemen of the Old Regime.


  • Russian Campaign (1812)
  • Napoleon invaded Russia in June of 1812, with his Grand Army of 600,000
  • Only 1/3 of his forces were French.
  • Cause: Russians withdrew from the Continental System due to economic hardships it had caused.
  • Battle of Borodino, 1812, ended in a draw with the Russians retreating in good order.
  • Napoleon had thus overextended himself.
  • Napoleon forced to retreat from Moscow after 5 weeks during the brutal Russian winter due to the “scorched earth” tactic of the Russians.
  • Russians evacuated, then burned Moscow and refused to negotiate.
  • Only 30,000 men in Napoleon’s army returned to their homelands.
  • 400,000 died of battle casualties, starvation, and exposure.
  • 100,000 were taken prisoner.
  • Napoleon raced home to raise another army while Austria and Prussia deserted Napoleon and joined Russia and Great Britain in the Fourth Coalition.


  • War of the Fourth Coalition: (1813-1814) Britain, Russia, Austria & Prussia
  • Battle of Leipzig (“Battle of Nations”), October, 1813: Napoleon finally defeated

a.  Napoleon lost 500K of his 600K Grand Army
b.  Largest battle in world history until 20th century.

  • Napoleon refused to accept terms of Austrian foreign minister Metternich’s “Frankfurt Proposals”  to reduce France to its historical size in return for his remaining on the throne
  • Quadruple Alliance created in March, 1814
  • Each power agreed to provide 150,000 soldiers to enforce peace terms.
  • Napoleon abdicated as emperor on April 4, 1814 after allied armies entered Paris.
  • Bourbons were restored to the throne; Louis XVIII.
  • Charter of 1814: King created a two-house legislature that represented only the upper classes.
  • First constitution in European history issued by a monarch.
  • Restoration maintained most of Napoleon’s reforms such as the Code Napoleon, the Concordat with the pope, and the abolition of feudalism.
  • The “first” Treaty of Paris, May 30, 1814
  • France surrendered all territory gained since the Wars of the Revolution had begun in 1792.
  • Allied powers imposed no indemnity or reparations (after Louis XVIII had refused to pay).
  • Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba as a sovereign with an income from France.
  • Quadruple Alliance agreed to meet in Vienna to work out a general peace settlement.
  • Congress of Vienna (September 1814-June 1815)
  • Representatives of major powers of Europe, including France, met to redraw territorial lines and to try and restore the social and political order of the ancien regime


  • The “Big Four”: Austria, England, Prussia, and Russia


Alexander I (Russia)

King Frederick William III (Prussia)

Lord Castlereagh

  • Klemens Von Metternich represented Austria.
  • Epitomized conservative reaction.
  • Opposed to the ideas of liberals and reformers because of the impact such forces would have on the multinational Hapsburg Empire.

2.  England represented by Lord Castlereagh.

  • Sought a balance of power by surrounding France with larger and stronger states.

3.  Prussia sought to recover Prussian territory lost to Napoleon in 1807 and gain additional territory in northern Germany (Saxony).
4.  Czar Alexander I represented Russia

  • Demanded “free” and “independent” Poland, with himself as its king.

5.  France later became involved in the deliberations.

  • Represented by Talleyrand, the French Foreign Minister.
  • The “Dancing Congress”
  • The Congress was held amid much pageantry, parties, balls and banquets.
  • This was intended to generate favorable “public opinion” and occupy the delegates, since they had little to do of any serious nature.


  • Principles of Settlement: Legitimacy, Compensation, Balance of Power

1. “Legitimacy” meant returning to power the ruling families deposed by more than two decades of revolutionary warfare.

  • Bourbons restored in France, Spain, and Naples.
  • Dynasties restored in Holland, Sardinia, Tuscany and Modena.
  • Papal States were returned to the Pope.

2. “Compensation” meant territorially rewarding those states which had made considerable sacrifices to defeat Napoleon.

  • England received naval bases (Malta, Ceylon, Cape of Good Hope)
  • Austria recovered the Italian province of Lombardy and was awarded adjacent Venetia as well as Galicia (from Poland), and the Illyrian Provinces along the Adriatic.
  • Russia was given most of Poland, with Czar as King, as well as Finland and Bessarabia (modern-day Moldova and western Ukraine).
  • Prussia awarded the Rhineland, 3/5 of Saxony and part of Poland.
  • Sweden received Norway.
  • “Balance of Power”: arranged the map of Europe so that never again could one state upset the international order and cause a general war. 
  • Encirclement of France achieved through the following:
  • A strengthened Netherlands.
  • United the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium) with Holland to form the Kingdom of the United Netherlands north of France.
  • Prussia received Rhenish lands bordering on the eastern French frontier (left bank of the Rhine)
  • Switzerland received a guarantee of perpetual neutrality.
  • End of Hapsburg Holy Roman Empire
  • Enhanced Austrian influence over the German states by creating the German Confederation (Bund) of 39 states out of the original 300, with Austria designated as President of the Diet (Assembly) of the Confederation.
  • Maintained Napoleon’s reorganization
  • Loose confederation where members remained virtually sovereign.
  • Sardinia (Piedmont) had its former territory restored, with the addition of Genoa.
  • A compromise on Poland reached—“Congress Poland” created with Alexander I of Russia as king; lasted 15 years.
  • Only Britain remained as a growing power—began their century of world leadership from 1814 to 1914.


  • Evaluation of the Congress of Vienna
      • Successfully restored the European balance of power
  • Not until Germany’s unification in 1871 was the balance of power compromised
  • No world wars occurred between 1815 and 1914
  • More successful in stabilizing the international system than treaties in the 20th century.
      • Criticized by liberals and nationalists for creating an atmosphere that repressed reforms and nationalist movements
    • Underestimated the new nationalism generated by the French Revolution

Napoleon’s Empire


Europe after the Congress of Vienna


  • Hundred Days (March 20-June 22, 1815)
  • Napoleon capitalized on the stalled talks at Vienna and left Elba for France.
  • Hundred Days began on March 1, 1815, when Napoleon landed in the south of France and marched with large-scale popular support, into Paris.
  • Seized power from Louis XVIII, who fled Paris.
  • Napoleon raised an army and then defeated a Prussian army in Belgium on June 16, 1815.
  • Battle of Waterloo, June 1815
    • Last battle of the Napoleonic Wars
    • Napoleon was defeated in Waterloo, Belgium, by England’s army led by the Duke of Wellington and Prussian forces
  • Napoleon was exiled to the South Atlantic island of St. Helena, far off the coast of Africa, where he died in 1821.
  • The “second” Treaty of Paris (1815): Allies now dealt harshly with France in subsequent negotiations.
    • Minor changes of the frontiers previously agreed to.
    • France had to pay an indemnity of 700,000,000 francs for loss of life


  • Evaluation of Napoleon’s rule
  • First egalitarian dictatorship of modern times.
  • Positive achievements.
  • Revolutionary institutions were consolidated.
  • Thoroughly centralized French government.
  • Made a lasting settlement with the Church.
  • Spread positive achievements of French Revolution to the rest of Europe.
  • Impact on other countries

1. Serfdom ended in much of Germany by 1807
2. Germany was reorganized into 39 states
3. Prussia and Austria, for self-preservation, reformed their military and provided some reforms.

  • Liabilities
  • Repressed individual liberty
  • Subverted republicanism
  • Oppressed conquered peoples throughout Europe.
  • Caused terrific suffering as a result of war.
  • Concert of Europe (1815-1848) (see Unit 7.1)
  • Included arrangements to guarantee enforcement of the status quo as defined by the Vienna settlement
  • Highly conservative in nature
  • Quadruple Alliance: Russia, Prussia, Austria & Britain
  • Provided for concerted action to put down any threat to the peace or balance of power.
  • France was usually seen as the possible violator of the Vienna settlement.
  • No Bonaparte should ever again govern France.
  • Austria believed concerted action meant the great powers defending status quo as established at Vienna against any change or threat to the system.
  • Liberalism and nationalism were seen as threats to the existing order.
  • Congress System: 1815-1822
  • European international relations were controlled by series of meetings held by great powers to monitor and defend the status quo.
  • Principle of collective security required unanimity among members of the Quadruple Alliance.
  • Britain eventually bowed out
  • Evaluation of the Concert of Europe
  • Congress of Vienna has been criticized for ignoring liberal and nationalist aspirations of Europeans.
  • Underestimated the new nationalism generated by the French Revolution
  • Yet, the Congress of Vienna may have been more successful in stabilizing the international system than those in the 20th century.
  • Not until the unification of Germany in 1870-71 was the balance of power in Europe upset.
  • Not until WWI did Europe have another general war.


  • The “Holy Alliance” of Czar Alexander I of Russia
  • Proposed for all monarchs to sign a statement agreeing to uphold Christian principles of charity and peace throughout Europe.
  • All signed it except the pope, the sultan, and Britain
  • No one except Alexander took it seriously.
  • Liberals came to view it as a sort of unholy alliance of monarchies against liberty and progress.

VII. French Revolution Evaluated

  • Results of the Revolution.
  • Old social system destroyed and replaced with a new one based on equality, ability and the law.
  • Guaranteed triumph of capitalism
  • Gave birth to notion of secular democracy
  • Laid foundations for establishment of modern nation-state.
  • Some modern historians have challenged the traditional view of the origins of the French Revolution.
  • Some argue that key sections of the nobility were liberal.
  • Others point out that the nobility and the bourgeoisie were not necessarily economic rivals.
  • Historians have traditionally concluded the French Revolution ended in failure.
  • The Revolution can be seen as having numerous successes
  • After fall of Robespierre, solid middle class, with its liberal philosophy and Enlightenment world-view, reasserted itself.
  • Under the Directory, it salvaged a good portion of social and political gains that it and the peasantry had made between 1789 and 1791.
  • Old pattern of separate legal orders and absolute monarchy was never re-established.
  • Napoleon built on the policies of the Directory
  • Added support of old nobility and the Church to that of the middle class and the peasantry.
  • Promoted reconciliation of old and new orders.
  • Centralized government.
  • Careers open to Talent
  • Louis XVIII had to accept French society based on wealth and achievement.
  • Granted representative gov’t and civil liberties.
  • Core of the French Revolution thus survived a generation of war and dictatorship.

VIII. How did the French Revolution embody the ideas of the Enlightenment?

  • Scientific and rational thought led to a desire for political reform.
  • Progress in all fields, including government, was seen as necessary and possible.
  • Political science could be based on natural laws. The economy, too, was made more “rational” through the ending of internal barriers to trade.
Phase One. The Age of Montesquieu: Pre-1789—The Monarchy
  • In The Spirit of the Laws (1753), Montesquieu argued for a constitutional monarchy and a liberal government.
  • Advocated a separation of powers (three branches) among the nobles, the monarchy, and the representatives of the cities to replace the Old Regime.
  • The Declaration of the Rights of Man called for the freedom of expression, representative government, and equality before the law.


Phase Two. The Age of Rousseau: September 1792-November 1799—The Republic
  • The Social Contract expressed the following republican views:
  • Popular Sovereignty—To have freedom, the people must control their own government.
  • Christianity should be replaced by a civil religion.
  • Force might legitimately be used to bring about freedom; a strong government might be needed to express the “general will.”
  • These ideas were adopted not only by the Republic, but also by the Committee of Public Safety.
Phase Three. The Period of Voltaire: 1799-1815—Napoleon
  • Voltaire had argued for “enlightened absolutism.”
  • An efficient, organized state was the best design to bring about “progress.”
  • A centralized state was not necessarily a threat to freedom; in fact it might increase freedom by reducing the power of the Church and the Parlements.
  • Napoleon was attracted to Voltaire’s updating of the “philosopher-king” concept.
  • Napoleon believed he was bringing “scientific” government to France and to Europe.
  • Napoleon’s use of the plebiscite had not been contemplated by Voltaire, nor would Napoleon’s military campaigns been approved of by Voltaire.






















Terms to Know

Napoleon Bonaparte
Consulate Period
First Consul
Napoleonic Code
Careers Open to Talent
Concordat of 1801
Bank of France
Duke of Enghien
War of the Second Coalition
Treaty of Lunéville
Jacques-Louis David
Empire Period
Grand Empire
War of the Third Coalition
Battle of Trafalgar
Lord Horatio Nelson
Battle of Austerlitz
Arc de Triomphe
Treaty of Tilsit
Confederation of the Rhine
Continental System
Berlin Decree
Order in Council

Milan Decree
Peninsular War
Russian Campaign
Battle of Borodino
War of the Fourth Coalition
Battle of Leipzig
Frankfurt Proposals
Quadruple Alliance
Charter of 1814
“First” Treaty of Paris, 1814
Congress of Vienna
Klemens von Metternich
Balance of Power
German Confederation (Bund)
Hundred Days
Battle of Waterloo
Duke of Wellington
Concert of Europe
“Holy Alliance”
Alexander I

Essay Questions

Note:  This sub-unit is a low probability area for the AP exam. In the past 10 years, 1 essay question has come in large part from the material in this chapter. However, Napoleon cannot be ignored for future AP exams! Below are some questions that will help you study the topics that have appeared on previous exams or may appear on future exams.

  • To what extent was Napoleon an “Enlightened Despot”?  Contrast Napoleon’s rule with that of Frederick the Great, Catherine the Great, and Joseph II.


  • To what extent did Napoleon maintain the ideals of the French Revolution?
  • To what extent was the balance of power maintained in Europe by 1815?


  • To what extent did each of the following social groups succeed in achieving their goals during the Napoleonic Era?
    • Clergy
    • Aristocracy
    • Bourgeoisie
    • Urban working class
    • Peasantry
    • Women


Source :

Web site link to visit: and AP Euro Lecture Notes

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The Napoleonic Era study guide chapters summaries