Did Napoleon’s rise to power represent a continuation of or an end to revolutionary ideals?

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This is a very good question, as the debate around this issue has been raging among historians for quite some time. In terms of military expansion and conquest, Napoleon was very much a child of the Revolution. The French revolutionaries sought to extend the Revolution beyond the boundaries of France...

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This is a very good question, as the debate around this issue has been raging among historians for quite some time. In terms of military expansion and conquest, Napoleon was very much a child of the Revolution. The French revolutionaries sought to extend the Revolution beyond the boundaries of France to bring the benefits of liberty to the poor, benighted masses of other countries groaning under the lash of monarchical oppression. However, what started out as a war of liberation soon turned into a war of conquest, and this formed the basis of Napoleon's inheritance. However, it should be acknowledged that Napoleon was no ideologue; he was a pragmatic opportunist who believed that military conquest would add to his personal glory and strengthen his grip on power.

Much the same could be said about Napoleon's attitude toward the centralized state he inherited from the revolutionaries. The revolutionaries believed that a strong, centralized state was necessary to build the new nation. Gone was the loose and often bewildering patchwork of ancient regions and provinces; it was to be replaced by a single, unified nation. That was the theory, at any rate. In any case, Napoleon realized that a centralized structure of government was better able to maintain and consolidate his hold on power.

To some extent, Napoleon represented a synthesis of the ancien regime and the Revolution. At heart he was a revolutionary, but, in practice, he acted more like a king, culminating in his crowning as Emperor in 1804. In time, he came to regard the inheritance of the Revolution largely as a means to an end: a strong, stable France with himself as its undisputed master.

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