What effect did Napoleon have on Europe and the world?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Napoleon impacted both Europe and the world in a number of ways.  When thinking about Napoleon’s impact, we have to realize that he did not necessarily intend to have the impacts that he did.  Instead, much of his impact came about inadvertently or even in response to his actions.

One of the biggest impacts that Napoleon had was that he caused a major backlash against his ideas and against the prospect that a single country could dominate Europe.  After Napoleon’s fall, the leaders of the countries of Europe got together at the Congress of Vienna.  They changed the borders of the various countries of Europe in hopes of creating a large number of countries with relatively similar levels of power.  This would make it harder for any one country to dominate Europe again.  Another reaction to Napoleon was the move towards more conservative governments in most of Europe.  The leaders of the European countries were worried that the ideas of the French Revolution would spread to their own countries.  Therefore, they enacted laws and set up systems that made it harder for liberal ideas to take hold in Europe.  This led to such things as the failed revolution in Germany in 1848.

Another major impact that Napoleon had came about when people actually followed his ideas.  Perhaps the most important of these was nationalism.  Napoleon relied on and promoted the idea that French people should feel proud of their country and should feel connected to it.  He used this nationalism to help create his huge and dedicated military force.  This influenced people in other countries, leading to the rise of nationalism in those countries.  The forces of nationalism helped to bring about, for example, the later unifications of Italy and Germany.

Napoleon also introduced the idea of liberalism and the laws of the Napoleonic Code to many European countries.  The ideas of liberalism inspired many people to want to change their countries' systems (for example, in the German revolution mentioned above).  The Napoleonic Code improved the legal systems of many European countries.

Around the world, Napoleon had less of a direct impact.  He did indirectly impact the Americas in important ways.  When his armies conquered Spain and Portugal, they disrupted those countries’ ability to rule their colonies in Central and South America.  This helped cause the wars of liberation in those areas in the 1800s.  In addition, Napoleon sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States, thus making the US much larger and eventually much more powerful.  The nationalism that Napoleon fostered also had its impact in other countries of the world, eventually leading many colonized countries to rebel against their colonial rulers.

Napoleon did not affect Europe and the world in the ways that he probably intended.  Even so, he did have a significant impact on Europe and on the world as a whole.