How do the Concordat and Napoleonic Code reflect Enlightenment thought, and how did they affect Napoleon's legitimacy?

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Napoleon Bonaparte, who was from Corsica and of minor noble blood, rose to power in his early twenties as a brilliant military general during the French Revolution. The French Revolution was based on the ideals of the Enlightenment thinkers of the eighteenth century.

Such Enlightenment luminaries as Rousseau, Voltaire, and...

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Napoleon Bonaparte, who was from Corsica and of minor noble blood, rose to power in his early twenties as a brilliant military general during the French Revolution. The French Revolution was based on the ideals of the Enlightenment thinkers of the eighteenth century.

Such Enlightenment luminaries as Rousseau, Voltaire, and Locke postulated that people are born with natural rights and need to be free to engage in social contracts that allow them to worship as they see fit, to have a say in their governance, to overthrow tyranny, and to advance in their societies according to their abilities. These ideals helped to inspire the French Revolution. However, the methods of the revolutionaries became increasingly violent and chaotic, and most people saw in Napoleon a leader who could end the excesses of the Revolution and restore order and peace.

Napoleon, although he declared himself emperor, upheld many of the ideals of the Enlightenment. In the Concordant of 1801, Napoleon was able to balance a satisfactory relationship with the pope by acknowledging the primacy of Roman Catholicism in France, while at the same time securing religious freedom for Protestants and Jews in France, and advancing the cause of Jewish assimilation.

In the Napoleonic Code he enshrined many of the Enlightenment ideals, including freedom of religion, freedom of the press, equal treatment before the law, equal opportunity for all based on talent and hard work rather than birth status, set up a citizen army, and abolished the privileges of the noble class. He also established these rights in territories he conquered. Furthermore, he set up academic high schools, expanded the National Library, and established the Louvre.

These actions helped cement his legitimacy as the heir to the French Revolution and the Enlightenment ideals that had helped spawn it. He had become the champion of the middle class by establishing religious tolerance, freedom of thought, and the means for social mobility.

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The Enlightenment period brought about a change in the ideas regarding how government should work. Values that gained prominence during the Enlightenment included protected rights for citizens, equality before the law, religious freedom, and the responsibility of the government to protect the rights of citizens. Enlightenment ideas were reflected in the ideals of the American Revolution and the French Revolution and would grow during the following century.

The Concordat of 1801 was created to establish the relationship France would have with the Pope and the Catholic Church. Through the Concordat, those in the clergy fell under greater control of the French government and Napoleon. When examining the Concordat for its relationship to the Enlightenment, it is important to note that the Concordat provided for the freedom of religion in France. Although there was not a total separation of church and state, as had been called for by the Enlightenment thinker Voltaire, it was still significant in acknowledging the rights of religious minorities. The Concordat established that Catholicism was the religion of the majority in France but that Protestants and Jews had the right to their religion as well.

The Napoleonic Code reflected the ideas of the Enlightenment to a degree as well. While it did not provide rights for women, it actually strengthened the power men held within their households, it did provide all men equal rights under the law. It also further established the right to religious freedom within territory under the control of Napoleon. The Napoleonic Code was implemented across many countries as they came under control of Napoleon's empire.

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The Concordat of 1801 primarily reestablished the relationship between the French state and the Catholic Church. The Church had been brought under state control, and its lands sold off, under the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, a controversial measure that reflected the anticlericalism (a sentiment held by many Enlightenment writers) of the French Revolutionaries. The Concordat accepted Catholicism as the official religion of France, but reflected Enlightenment ideals in that it also guaranteed religious tolerance to others. The point of the Concordat was to unify the nation, and Catholicism was a powerful tool to that end. Enlightened thinkers would have been unsatisfied with much of the Napoleonic Code as well. This reformed law code established in 1804 was regressive in many ways, rolling back reforms made during the French Revolution. But it also permanently eliminated the social classes and privileges of the old regime, established equal protection under law, and got rid of discrepancies and incoherencies in the hodgepodge of existing French laws. This would have pleased Enlightenment legal scholars who had long sought to rationalize legal codes.

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