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Napoleonic France

France had been wracked by turmoil since 1789. Napoleon made the restoration of order his primary goal. He planned sweeping changes to the corrupt government, bringing all groups together for the common purpose of the betterment of France, and bringing the French people on board with his regime. His goals were lofty, but Napoleon would reach them. He created a Bank of France to tackle financial problems and over several years the economy started to turn around. He used the military to instill a sense of pride and patriotism in the French people. He improved France on many levels by building parks, canals, sewer systems, and highways.

In order to bring the common people of France in line with his regime, he worked out a deal with the pope known as the Concordat of 1801. The agreement recognized Catholicism as the religion of most of the French, coming just short of saying that Catholicism was the official religion of France, thus allowing Napoleon freedom from Church rule. The Concordat also made French clergy take an oath of loyalty to the state and provided that France would pay the salaries of the clergy. The papacy won the right to select the bishops in France.

The Concordat worked out well for all parties. The people won back the religion that had been taken from them during the revolution, the Church found a way back into France, and Napoleon made peace with both the people and the papacy. Furthermore, Napoleon united the clergy, which had experienced a rift during the revolution when some took an oath of allegiance to the revolutionary government. Such calculated moves demonstrate Napoleon’s political savvy.

Changes in Government

Napoleon set out immediately to restructure the French government. He completely reorganized the administrative aspects of the government and the departements, or provinces within France. He created a vast bureaucracy with himself at the top. He centralized the government and brought people from all over France to fill his bureaucracy. By providing them with jobs, he created loyalty to France, or rather to himself, among the government officials and workers. Napoleon won the loyalty of thousands and thousands of royalists within France by granting them amnesty, making them take an oath of loyalty, and placing them in high positions. He created a meritocracy with special titles and privileges for those in the government who served him well. Napoleon also practiced nepotism, placing relatives in prominent government positions to further guarantee loyalty at all levels.

Civil Code of 1804

For all Napoleon’s restructuring, the greatest and longest-lasting of his reforms in France was that of the French laws. Before the French Revolution, no single code of laws existed in France. Laws varied from place to place and class to class and were riddled with loopholes, exemptions, and privileges. Napoleon wanted to create a new system that made all men equal under the law.

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Unfortunately for women, the code set back any progress made during the revolution. Under the code, women were reduced to legal dependents of their husbands and fathers. Furthermore, divorce became much easier to get, which did nothing to elevate women's status in society.

Napoleon based the format of his Code Napoleon, or Napoleonic Code, on that of the Roman emperor Justinian. He had his scholars codify French law, or combine the laws of France into a single, usable, and public code that was organized systematically. The new code, which went into effect in 1804, made the law clearer, more straightforward, and accessible to all. The new code guaranteed property rights and protection under the law to all male citizens. Though the Code Napoleon wasn’t the first codified law in Europe, it was the most comprehensive.

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