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Napoleonic Wars (1789 – 1816)
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Beginning of French Revolution
(1789): A meeting of the First Estate
(the clergy), Second Estate (nobility) and Third Estate (everyone else)
failed to produce any reform, leading to riots throughout Paris. An
angry mob marched on the King’s palace, essentially making him a
prisoner of the Revolutionary Government (National Constituent
Assembly), which became the ruling force in France after anarchy
replaced royal rule.
(Timeline Continued Below)
New French Constitution
(1791): The Revolutionaries succeeded
in creating a new constitution that limited monarch powers to the point
where the king was primarily a figurehead.
Haiti Revolution Against French Rule
(1791–1804): The French Revolution, and
particularly the ideals regarding individual rights and abolitionism,
spark revolution in the French Caribbean colony of Haiti. The black
African slaves won independence, the only slave revolt in history to
result in a sovereign nation. The loss caused Napoleon to reconsider the
importance of France’s American colonies.
End of French Monarchy
(1792): The National Convention
replaced the National Constituent Assembly, declaring France a republic,
dissolving the monarchy altogether.
Beginning of French Revolutionary Wars
(1792): Revolutionary France declared
war on Austria, beginning the French Revolutionary Wars. Austria’s
emperor and other monarchs (cooperating with French nobles) threatened
severe consequences if the king was not restored. Other kings and
emperors throughout Europe were alarmed at the potential implications
the movement could have in their own lands if left unchecked. This was
seen as seen as a direct threat against France and its new government by
extremist revolutionaries, many of whom desired to spread the revolution
beyond the borders of France. France unsuccessfully attempted to invade
the Austrian Netherlands, due to an untrained and disorganized army.
Prussia invaded in response, galvanizing the French as they withstood
the Prussians. This invasion strengthened the resolve of the army, which
would quickly develop into an unstoppable fighting force, conquering
most of Europe by 1812.
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Causes of the French Revolution
Bankruptcy: French kings had engaged France in a variety of
expensive wars and conflicts, some of which proved to be ill-conceived,
such as the French & Indian War (1754–63), which was devastating to the
French colonial empire, its national psyche and its economy. The role of
the French in the American Revolutionary War was also financially
crippling. Plus, the king and his court continued to spend lavishly.
Even during times of economic crisis, the spending continued. Especially
in the years preceding the Revolution, France was no longer a trading
power, compared to UK, Netherlands, Spain or Portugal, since it had lost
most of its colonial empire. It had to rely on generating revenues
internally, so it had to increase taxation. The non-aristocratic class
(peasants, bourgeoisie, those in un-inheritable positions) carried the
tax burden, as nobles/aristocrats had generally purchased their
positions of privilege, and could not be legally taxed under their
then-current system. The king was unwilling and unable to reform the
system which heavily taxed the poor majority, while ensuring privilege
for the aristocrats. As a result of this limited tax base, the
government became bankrupt, and could no longer secure loans, as it had
defaulted several times in recent decades.
Starvation: A colder weather pattern struck during the economic
melt down, causing food to become even more scarce.
Social Inequity: France had a parliamentary system, which advised
the king on governance, but it was still an absolute monarchy in
practice. The king and aristocracy lived a life of great privilege,
while the majority in the middle and lower classes were overtaxed, and
even faced food shortages and starvation. During this age of
enlightenment, and with the influence of the American Revolutionary War,
the lower and middle classes were far from willing to accept of such an
outdated and oppressive fate. The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) was also a
target, since they successfully imposed their influence upon the king,
maintaining Catholicism as the state religion. The RCC was highly
favored, not subject to taxes, while collecting a required 10% from the
non-aristocracy (adding to their excessive tax burden). Clergy also led
a fairly lavish life compared to the middle/low classes, a fact not lost
upon the general public.
Lack of Action: Despite the desperation of the situation, no
effective measures were ever put into place to solve the worsening
economic shipwreck which was France in the late 18th century.
France Invades Spain
(1792): France invades Spain, gaining
control of nearly the entire kingdom by 1796. Portugal remains
independent at this time.
United Kingdom Naval Successes Against
France (1792-1816): France overwhelmed
its enemies on the mainland, capturing Spain, Italy, all of the
Netherlands, and most of Western/Central Europe. Great Britain remains
unharmed, while achieving victories against France at sea and abroad.
But through 1812, most of Britain’s allies were forced to drop out of
the war, due to repeated defeats at the hands of the French. Therefore,
despite Britain’s victories at sea and along the coasts, they were not
able to impede France’s expansion and dominance on the continent.
Reign of Terror in France
(1793): The French Revolutionary
government slayed thousands by guillotine without due process. Victims
were primarily suspected of counter-revolutionary activity. King Louis
XVI and his wife were executed for high treason against the state.
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2nd and 3rd Partitions of Poland
(1793 & 1795): Russia had been in
control of Poland since 1725, but Prussia and Austria also laid claim to
parts of Poland near their respective borders, knowing Russia could not
defend all of Poland. Russia was forced to concede parts of Poland to
Prussia and Austria in three separate partitions (also annexing land for
itself each time). A weakened Poland attempted to revolt, but was
repressed. The final partition in 1795 resulted in the complete
annexation of Poland to foreign powers.
France Conquers the Netherlands
(1795): Napoleon overruns the Austrian
Netherlands (south) and the sovereign nation of the Dutch Netherlands
(north). Forms the two Netherlands into the Batavian Republic. France
encounters little resistance since most of the Dutch (northern and
southern) favor revolutionary ideals. France forms the two Netherlands
into the Batavian Republic.
France conquers Northern Italy from
Kingdom of Italy Established by France
(1796): Milan & Venice Republic are
conquered from Austria, reorganized into a France puppet state.
France Annexes the Papal States
(1796): France conquers the Papal
States and subjects them to direct rule under Napoleon.
Military Overthrow of New French
Republic Government (1797):
Revolutionaries became alarmed that many royalists were being elected to
office. Under Napoleon’s leadership, they overthrew the newly-elected
government. Ironically, the new government became more of a police state
and military society. This did not cause a serious uproar, as most were
pleased with the turn of events in France (greater equality, military
successes). It would change the spirit of the revolution, which was now
showing characteristics of an authoritarian government.
End of War of the First Coalition
Against France (1797): Republic of
Venice comes to an end, split between France (Illyrian Provinces) and
Austria. France firmly in control over Spain, Netherlands, Northern
Italy, Switzerland, large parts of Germany, but not Prussia, or Austria.
Only Great Britain continues to fight, but without much consequence.
(1797): France conquers coastal lands
along eastern shores of the Adriatic Sea from Venice and Austria,
setting up the Illyrian Provinces.
Invasion of Egypt & Syria
(1798-1801): To offset British
dominance of the Asian trade, Napoleon invades Egypt and Syria in an
attempt to establish and protect alternative trade routes. Local
resistance and British naval power forces Napoleon to withdraw back to
Paris to focus on the continental wars.
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France conquers Switzerland, setting it
up as the Helvetic Republic (1798).
(1798): Rome finally falls to France, which sets it up as
separate from the rest of the Papal States.
War of Second Coalition Against France
(1799): Austria joins Great Britain in
hopes of regaining territory lost to France, without success. France
unsuccessfully invades Egypt and Syria.
Napoleon Overthrows Revolutionary
Government to Become Dictator of France (1799):
Napoleon was disenchanted that he was not invited by fellow
revolutionaries to serve in the executive branch of the new government
he installed by coup. In a second coup, he installed himself as First
Consul (essentially dictator for life). Napoleon was able to do this
since he had the undying loyalty of the military, and the support of the
general public, who worshipped him for his military triumphs. Napoleon
instituted several revolutionary reforms that the masses were eager to
see come to fruition, including legal/tax code reform (centralized coded
law that applied to everyone, removing aristocratic privilege), and
building more equality into the system. He created a central bank, made
higher education more attainable for the average person, infrastructure
improvements including road and sewer, and religious freedom. He created
a code for civil law (Napoleonic Code). Not the first to do so, but by
far the most successful, and influential (adopted by several nations,
still in place today). However, France was somewhat of a police state,
as certain liberties were reigned in, such as freedom of press. Security
was fairly tight, to keep control over the populace. However, it created
stability which had not been realized since the Revolution began.
Explaining France’s Military Dominance Under Napoleon
Galvanization Under Threat of Foreign Invasion. Foreign powers
such as Prussia and Austria consolidated to oppose France, as these
monarch-led nations were more than uneasy with the precedence a
Revolutionary France might set. This led to military conflict. France’s
Revolutionary government represented a cause that the bulk of French
could rally behind, enabling it to raise a massive army. Once France
drove foreign powers from its own soil, while conquering hostile states
and territories in its immediate vicinity, it realized it had almost by
accident created an army unequaled by any throughout Europe, since a
high percentage of males of fighting age had joined the army.
Required Military Service. When King Louis XVI was executed in
1793, after the Napoleonic Wars had begun, France faced even fiercer
opposition. Most of Europe was now turned against France, including
those (such as UK) that were initially sympathetic toward the
Revolutionary cause. Faced with such a large coalition against it,
France’s Revolutionary Government required military service from most
men of fighting age, also helped by the fact that the majority of the
nation supported the Revolutionary cause, and willingly complied. As a
result, France was able to amass a much larger army than any of its
rivals, since the feudalistic/monarchist system made it more difficult
to raise an army, especially on short notice. Under the monarchist
system, the king typically has to convince (and pay) nobles to commit
their men to the war effort. France also adopted the strategy of staying
on the offensive to push the enemies back, to avoid being overwhelmed by
invading armies on all sides. This is why it conquered Spain,
Netherlands, the Holy Roman Empire (Germany) and Italy. It was unable to
seriously threaten UK, since the UK’s navy was so much stronger. But if
UK were connected by land, it would probably have been overrun by
France’s superior army. The end of the First Coalition against France in
1797 left France victorious, with a large, new empire, and large buffers
to all sides.
(Timeline Continued Below)
Napoleon Establishes Equality for Jews
(1800): Napoleon gives Jews equal rights, which spreads throughout
most of Europe. They are still persecuted heavily throughout much of
United Kingdom Absorbs Ireland
(1801): Act of Unions of 1801.
Formation of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (UK). Great
Britain wanted stability, while Irish nobles were heavily bribed in
order to collaborate.
France Sells Louisiana to the U.S.
(1803): The territory of Louisiana,
covering much of the modern U.S. midwest, was taken away from France
during the French & Indian War. Great Britain later gave it to Spain in
exchange for Florida. During the Napoleonic Wars, France gained control
of Spain, and forced Spain to sign Louisiana back to France. France then
sold the expansive territory to the U.S. for about $18 per square mile
in order to finance the war, emblematic of its focus on the European
continent at the expense of its overseas empire. The transaction was
monumental for the U.S., helping to propel it toward becoming a super
power, enabling it to expand westward, while gaining control over
important trade routes, most notably the Mississippi River.
War of Third Coalition Against France
(1805): United Kingdom, Russia, Sweden,
Austria and German states (Holy Roman Empire) combine to fight France.
France defeats the Holy Roman Empire states other than Austria and
Prussia, forming the Confederation of the Rhine, ending the Holy Roman
Netherlands Lose South Africa to United
Kingdom (1805): United Kingdom takes
control over Cape Colony from the Dutch to prevent French from doing so,
since the Netherlands were now firmly under French control.
France Establishes Kingdom of Holland
Under Its Rule (1806): When the two
Netherlands fail to gel, resulting in political turmoil, the Southern
Netherlands are annexed directly into France, while the Dutch are formed
into the Kingdom of Holland.
France Dissolves Holy Roman Empire
(1806): Napoleon’s army conquers the
Holy Roman Empire, bringing it to an end. The two largest states within
the Holy Roman Empire (Prussia and Austria) resist France’s
remaining sovereign nations. Parts of Prussia and Austria are captured
by Napoleon though. France organizes its newly-acquired German
territories into the Confederation of the Rhine.
France Establishes the Kingdom of
Naples (1806): Conquered from Spain.
War of Fourth Coalition Against France
(1807): France conquers Prussian and
Austrian Poland possessions, establishing the Duchy of Warsaw. Already
in control of Spain, France invades Lisbon, beginning Peninsula War,
which would drain France. Portuguese move gov’t to Brazil.
Napoleon Ends Feudalism
(1807): France would abolish the
serfdom/feudal systems that still existed in much of eastern Europe,
such as large parts of Poland, Austria and Hungary, making them freer
Peninsula War Between France and
Portugal/Spain (1807): France invaded
Lisbon (Portugal), beginning a protracted guerilla resistance by
Portuguese and Spanish, which would drain the French Empire,
contributing to its eventual downfall. Portugal moved their government
to Brazil. UK invaded Spanish South America with the purpose to prevent
these colonies from falling into the hands of the French, who still
controlled Spain. Also, it presented an opportunity for the UK to add to
its overseas empire at the expense of a crippled Spain. The colonies
successfully defended themselves, contributing to their eventual
independence movement, as they realized they did not need to be reliant
on the Spanish mother land.
French-Ruled Duchy of Warsaw – Poland
(1807): France conquers large parts of
Prussian and Austrian territories annexed in 1795, but Russia retains
all the lands it annexed. The conquered portion of Poland is organized
into the French puppet state of the Duchy of Warsaw.
Failed UK Invasion of Spanish South
America (1807): As part of the
Napoleonic Wars, UK invaded Spanish South America. UK wanted to prevent
France from gaining control, since France controlled Spain. It also
presented UK with an opportunity to add to its empire, with Spain in
such a weakened and compromised state (being occupied by France). The
colonies successfully defended themselves against the British.
Note: Austria and Prussia Resist
Napoleon conquers most of the Holy Roman Empire, including some Prussian
and Austrian lands. However, Prussia and Austria manage to resist
complete conquest, and remain sovereign. Both Prussia and Austria
continue to fight the French throughout the Napoleonic Wars, despite
continued defeats at the hands of the French.
Finland Territory Conquered by Russia
from Sweden (1809): Russia gains
Finland from weakened Sweden in Finnish War. Russia suggested to
Napoleon that Sweden be forced to join the French-imposed Continental
System (forcing other nations to cease trade with UK). When Sweden
refuses, Russia has an excuse to invade with Napoleon’s blessing,
gaining all of Sweden’s Finnish territories.
Ottoman Empire Loses Bessarabia to
Russia (1812): The Ottomans ally with
France, in hopes of gaining back some of the territory it lost to Russia
in the previous century. The Ottoman Empire went to war with Russia in
1806. Russia gained the upper hand, conquering the territory of
Bessarabia (the majority of modern Moldova).
France’s Disastrous Invasion of Russia
(1812): Russia shows signs of defying
Napoleon, causing France to invade. A horrific disaster for France,
marking the turning point in the Napoleonic Wars when it appeared France
could not be stopped. A massive French army penetrates deep into Russia
during the harsh winter. Running out of supplies, they withdraw, with
the majority dying due to harsh conditions and guerilla-style attacks of
their back end by the Russians. Marks the beginning of the end of
Napoleon’s French Empire, as other nations are emboldened to attack the
severely weakened French army.
Failed French Invasion of
Russia: The Turning Point of the Napoleonic Wars
France’s disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812 truly turned the tide of
the Napoleonic Wars. By 1812, Napoleon’s French Empire had reached its
peak, and appeared to be unstoppable in its desire of even further
expansion. France’s motivation for invading Russia was to send a strong
signal that it was intolerable to undermine its Continental System.
which prohibited its client states and allies from trading with the
United Kingdom. The UK was France’s most formidable rival, since it was
not capable of invading the UK due to the unmatched naval power of the
British. The British were also responsible (financial, naval, military
support) for much of the resistance France still encountered throughout
Europe, and dominated France overseas. When Russia resumed trade with
the UK, Napoleon was prepared to demonstrate a harsh reaction.
Conquering Russia requires covering a large amount of land, and
submitting a large yet spread out population. As Napoleon’s armies
marched into the heart of Russia with little resistance, Russia resorted
to scorched-earch tactics, making the task all the more difficult. As a
result, France was unable to maintain sufficient supply lines, meaning
there was no way to sustain the large army necessary to control Russia.
Napoleon entered Moscow with little military resistance, but the city
was in ruins, and the Russians were prepared to mount a protracted
insurrection. Without supplies, a hope for victory, along with the
soon-arriving winter, the French began their retreat. Lacking sufficient
supplies as the harsh winter conditions fell upon them, many lives were
claimed by disease, desertion, starvation and exposure. Plus, the
Russians were attacking the rear of the French retreat as it marched
west. France entered Russia with 600-690,000 troops. A startling 558,000
died during the campaign. Russian military losses were comparable in
terms of total casualties, compounded by as many as one million civilian
losses. So the cost of victory was devastating for Russia, but not as
strategically crippling as the cost of defeat was for France, which
would not recover. The debacle encouraged enemies, allies and client
states alike to strike against France in its weakened state. Due to its
drastic losses, and destroyed morale, the military losses piled up after
its disastrous retreat from Russia. After sitting in a seemingly
invulnerable position in 1812, the French Empire would completely
collapse a mere three years later, primarily due to one of the most
ill-advised military campaigns in history.
War of 1812 Between United Kingdom and
USA (1812): For the UK, this was an
extension of the Napoleonic Wars. The primary causes were that the UK
was blockading trade between the US and France. Also, the British were
stopping and searching US merchant ships for British deserters (impressment),
since it was difficult to adequately man all the ships in its naval
fleet. British and naturalized US citizens were being forced into naval
service for the Royal Navy. This provoked the US to declare war. It
ended in 1814, with no territorial gains/losses, nor any agreements on
the matters of trade restrictions or impressment. But by this time, the
two major issues were a moot point, since Napoleon was on the verge of
War of Sixth Coalition – End of French
Empire (1813-15): As Napoleon’s army
retreated from Russia, they faced attacks from all directions, as
coalition nations sensed France’s severe vulnerability. France lost
everything gained through 1812, all between 1813 and 1814. France was
forced to sue for peace, with Napoleon surrendering to the coalition in
1814. He escaped for one last battle in 1815 (Battle of Waterloo),
leading to the final defeat of Napoleon and the French Empire.
Papal States Restored
(1814): The Papal States are restored
with the defeat of Napoleon.
Battle of Waterloo – Final Defeat of
Napoleon (1815): After Napoleon escapes
custody of the Coalition forces, he quickly raises an army, but is
defeated for the last time at Waterloo, in Belgium, ending the French
Empire for good.
German Confederation Created
(1815): The German states previously
under the Holy Roman Empire, before being conquered by Napoleon, were
organized into the German Confederation after the war. This was a
loosely-affiliated collection of German states, similar to the Holy
Roman Empire before. Prussia and Austria were the dominant components of
this new confederation, engaging a rivalry for the status as the leading
Austrian Netherlands Added to
Independent Netherlands (1815): The
Austrian Netherlands lost during the Napoleon Wars were not restored to
Austria. Instead, the “Southern Dutch” convinced the powers of Europe to
allow them to be consolidated with the Dutch of the “northern”
Netherlands (constituting the independent nation of Netherlands before
the wars). They combine to form the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Northern Italy Regained by Austria
(1815): After the fall of Napoleon’s
empire, Austria gained control over most of Northern Italy. Italian
nationalism was on the rise, while Austria naturally attempted to
suppress it to maintain control. Revolutionary groups such as Carbonari
Kingdom of Sardinia Restored
(1815): With the defeat of Napoleon,
Sardinia becomes a sovereign kingdom once again, regaining Savoy on
mainland Italy, while also adding the former Rep. of Genoa.
United Kingdom of the Netherlands
(1815): United Provinces (Dutch) and
the former Austrian Netherlands (modern Belgium, Luxembourg) became
independent from France in 1813. They decided to join together into a
single kingdom, to increase their collective strength, which was deemed
critical in the event of another overly-aggressive and ambitious
superpower, a lesson learned during the Napoleonic Wars. However, the
northern and southern Dutch never gelled, and political divisions
between the two resulted in a separation in 1830. The Dutch had lost the
majority of their colonial empire to the British during the Napoleonic
Wars, as they signed most of it over to them. Some territories were
returned in 1824. Only the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia primarily),
Netherlands Antilles, and Suriname were retained. South Africa and its
India colonies were not. As a result the Netherlands were no longer a
Russian-Ruled Kingdom of Poland
(1815): Kingdom of Poland, ruled by the
Russian Tsar (Emperor) was established in the aftermath of the
Old Swiss Confederacy Restored
(1815): The sovereignty of the Old
Swiss Confederacy was restored by the powers of Europe in the Congress
of Vienna (not yet known as Switzerland). The Swiss gained a little
territory, but most importantly, its neutrality was permanently
recognized by other nations. Switzerland is still well-known for its
continuing persistence of neutrality.
Congress of Vienna
(1815): The Congress of Vienna was the
conference where the major powers of Europe (responsible for the defeat
of Napoleon/France) convened to address unresolved issues in the
aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. The Good: It restored the
balance of power, which helped maintain relative peace for a century,
until WWI. There were several small-scale wars and multiple wars of
independence during this era, but were very mild compared to the massive
loss of life and destruction suffered during the Napoleonic Wars. The
Bad: It discarded revolutionary ideals, attempting to suppress and
enforce the pre-war status quo, where monarchist governments maintained
control throughout most of Europe. However, revolutionary ideals had
become too widespread and influential to
be vanquished. As a result,
constitutional monarchies became the most popular form of government in
the 19th century after the wars, since they represented a hybrid between
the old-guard kingdoms typified by absolute rule, and the new, universal
demand for democratic rule. However, this tug of war between entitled
elite and freedom-loving masses would result in multiple wars throughout
the remainder of the 19th century. The Congress of Vienna also placed
traditional “nations” under foreign rule (Italy and Poland in
particular), resulting in major revolts and wars of independence.
Kingdom of the Two Sicilies Under
Spanish Influence (1816): Spain joins
its two Italian properties (Naples and Sicily) into a single kingdom
upon regaining these territories after the final defeat of Napoleonic
France. However, Spain was forced by a treaty with Austria to give up
direct control, as Spain was substantially weakened during the wars,
enabling Austria to enforce its will and maintain dominance of Italy.
Therefore, the Kingdom of Two Sicilies was technically a sovereign
kingdom, independent of Spain. But the Bourbon king installed by Spain
was of the same dynastic family as the King of Spain, therefore
susceptible to Spain’s influence. This would be the cause of multiple
revolts culminating in the unification of Italy in 1860.
Mexico Gains Independence From Spain
(1810-21): Mexico took advantage of
Spain’s compromised state (being occupied by the French) to assert
independence. They were followed by other Central/South America Spanish
colonies soon after. After Spain was freed from French control in 1814,
it attempted to restore order by force. But the movement of independence
had gained too much steam to be reversed. All mainland colonies in the
Amerricas would achieve independence from Spain by 1824.
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|Further Understanding of the Napoleonic
Main Causes of the Downfall of
the Napoleonic-French Empire:
Overextension: Napoleon-led France apeared to be
unstoppable as it conquered most of western and central Europe
at will. Napoleon envisioned an empire reminiscent of the Roman
Empire at its peak. France effectively conquered and controlled
most of Europe between Spain/Portugal in the west, to Poland in
the east. Due to its massive army, it was able to maintain
sufficient supply lines across vast distances. However, it
reached its limit when Napoleon attempted to conquer the Middle
East and Russia. First, he sought to take advantage of the
weakening Ottoman empire, advocating an invasion of Egypt in
1798. Napoleon also rationalized that it would help them to gain
a strategic foothold between Europe and India, in hopes of
undermining British dominance of the Asian sea trade routes. The
expedition would fail, emboldening Austria and Russia to resume
warfare again (the War of the Second Coalition). France also
invaded Ottoman territories in Syria, a particularly brutal
campaign which also failed. Napoleon was then forced to return
to France. France did recover, but it was the first sign of
weakness. The invasion of Russia in 1812, at the peak of the
French Empire, proved to be catastrophic, and the primary cause
of France’s downfall. Like Hitler in WWII, Napoleon perhaps
could have maintained control over a greatly-expanded sphere of
control if he had stopped while he was ahead. The ill-advised
invasion of Russia proved to be the fatal move for both Hitler
and Napoleon. In both cases, it was initially successful, but
not sustainable due to the enourmous amount of troops and
supplies required, factors which were drastically
under-estimated by each.
Continental System: The United Kingdom was the only
European power that effectively defied France. The UK’s navy was
too powerful for France to even consider an invasion of Britain.
Therefore, Napoleon attempted an economic blockade against the
UK, forcing all nations under his control and/or influence to
comply. Napoleon knew it would not work unless all complied,
which is why he opted for such harsh action against Russia when
it withdrew from the system. This directly contributed to the
downfall of the French Empire. This is yet another example of a
dominant power unwisely insisting on complete hegemony, instead
of mere dominance. France could have co-existed with the UK,
since the UK could never mount a serious military challenge
against France on land. Instead, France pushed ahead as if it
were a zero-sum game, as though the enemy must be completely
destroyed at all costs, leading to its fatal invasion of Russia
and consequent demise.
Aftermath/Legacy of Napoleonic French
Democratic Reforms: By 1812, France had conquered most of Europe,
instituting democratic reforms such as civil law, due process, and the
end of aristocratic privileges. When monarchs regained power at the end
of the Napoleonic Wars, they were not able to resume absolute rule, so
some of the revolutionary reforms remained in place, making Europe more
democratic after the wars than it was before.
Nationalism: The Napoleonic Wars also sparked an intensified
sense of nationhood throughout Europe. On one hand, the French assault
on Europe galvanized “nations”, increasing their sense of nationhood in
the face of the threat of being conquered and reprogrammed into
Napoleon’s empire. The other side of this was that the French advance
caused revolutionary ideals spread throughout Europe, which espoused the
importance of state, rather than the elite (Kings, nobles, priests).
Under this ideology, it was expected that the state look after the
interests and rights of the individual, instead of the wealth and power
of the privileged few at the expense of the masses. Therefore, people
took more pride in their heritage, cultures, and sense of “nation”.
Nationalism was also fueled in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, as
it was perceived to be a necessity to consolidate to become stronger
against the possibility of foreign invasion by the next expansionist
regime. This began the process of unification of German principalities
into the German Empire (predecessor to modern Germany), and the
unification and sovereignty of Italy, which had previously been
fragmented under foreign rule for centuries, going back to the collapse
of the Roman Empire.
French-U.S. Relations During Napoleonic
Wars: The U.S. maintained friendly relations with France during the
Napoleonic Wars, especially after the critical French contribution in
the American War of Independence. The U.S. tried to remain neutral
between United Kingdom (UK) and France, which it did successfully at
first. But France imposed the Continental System forbidding trade with
UK. UK responded in kind, forbidding any of its territories or allies
from trading with France or any of its client states. UK controlled the
Atlantic, and was able to enforce this. The U.S. began to migrate closer
to France as the British continued to seize U.S. merchant ships,
searching for goods being sent to France or its client states, and
former Royal Navy sailors who had deserted. The U.S. finally declared
war on UK (War of 1812). By this time, the U.S. considered declaring war
on France as well, which was also seizing U.S. merchant ships, but not
to the degree that UK was, due to the UK’s greater naval presence in
Atlantic. Upon the end of the Napoleonic Wars, relations with both
Napoleon Wars Aftermath for France:
France is militarily weakened after its devastating invasion of Russia,
and now well behind the strongest powers in Europe (UK, Prussia). France
would still remain fairly strong, due to its sheer size, but it would
continue to suffer setbacks and turbulence. France would continue to
fall further behind the UK overseas, while experiencing frequent
political turmoil, enduring the collapse of four different governments
in the following 60 years after its 1815 defeat.
Napoleonic Wars Aftermath for Austria:
Austria was diminished militarily during the these wars. The monarchy
was weakened, as it was forced to free serfs, which did help lead
Austria into the industrial age (as peasants left rural lands for cities
to work in factories). Austria permanently lost some territories, such
as the Austrian Netherlands, parts of Poland it had conquered befre the
wars, and other German territories previously under its influence.
Austria did gain territory from the now-defunct Venice Republic.
Overall, Austria was weakened, as it was no longer the undisputed leader
of the German states.
Napoleonic Wars Aftermath for Italy:
Italy continued to toil under foreign domination, as the pre-war status
quo is established, with Austria ruling the north, and Spain the south.
However, Italians are no longer content with this arrangement after
being exposed to revolutionary ideals, engaging in several revolts until
finally gaining independence in 1860. Therefore, French occupation
proved to have a positive effect for the Italian people, driving them
Napoleonic Wars Aftermath for Poland:
When Poland was conquered by France during the wars, life improved for
Poles, as they enjoyed more favorable laws and freedoms. Russian rule
was restored at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, imposing a more harsh
burden for Poland, leading to multiple failed revolts throughout the
19th century. Each was brutally suppressed by the Russians.
Napoleon Wars Aftermath for Portugal:
Portugal was economically devastated, directly leading to its loss of
Brazil, which asserted independence from a Portugal severly weakened by
the French occupation. Portugal was forced to move its government to
Brazil during the wars in order to remain solvent. As soon as they
returned to Lisbon (Portuguese capital), the Brazil colonists siezed the
opportunity shortly after to claim independence – in 1821. Portugal was
only able to mount a small-scale war before ceding the independence of
Brazil. Portugal would never again be a major power.
Napoleonic Wars Aftermath for Prussia:
Until France was devastated by its invasion of Russia, it had inflicted
repeated military defeats against Prussia. But Prussia managed to avoid
complete conquest, and remained a sovereign state. Therefore, Prussia
was able to participate in the final battles that ended the war, along
with France’s control of much of Europe. As a result, it was
strengthened in the aftermath, not only regaining territory lost to
France during the war, but being enlarged compared to its prewar
boundaries. Prussia became an independent state within the German
Confederation, which replaced the now extinct Holy Roman Empire. It
would challenge Austria as the dominant German state, until defeating
Austria in 1866, forming a new consolidated, Prussia-dominated German
Napoleonic War Aftermath for Russia:
Russia delivered the decisive defeat that served as the turning point in
the Napoleonic Wars against France, although it was primarily through
destructive scorched earth tactics and French blunders. But due to its
decisive role, Russia gained great political influence in Europe,
including a strong say in the redrawing of the European map. Russia also
solidified its rule throughout eastern Europe (Ukraine, Belarus, Poland,
Baltic states). However, Russia and its client states did not progress
economically like the western & central European states would in the
19th century, due to the feudal system which was kept in place. Economic
problems would lead to the communist revolution in early 20th century.
Napoleonic Wars Aftermath for Spain:
Spain was devastated, in terms of its economy, loss of life, and
physical destruction within its own borders, due to the damaging French
occupation and the subsequent efforts to drive them out. This directly
led to the loss of its American mainland colonies (North/Central/South
American possessions including Mexico). Each colony collaborated in
opposition against Spanish rule to enable each mainland colony to earn
independence. Spain’s Caribbean colonies mostly remained under Spanish
rule, as they were unable to pool together in opposition like the
mainland colonies. These devastating losses would send Spain backwards
in terms of power and influence, as it would continue to decline until
eventually losing virtually all of its overseas empire. Spain would
never regain its status as a major world power. Spain was already in the
process of decline before the Napoleonic Wars and accompanying French
occupation, but this catastrophe would accelerate the process,
permanently diminishing Spain to a second-rate power.
Napoleonic War Aftermath for United
Kingdom: The UK’s naval capability is by far the greatest in the
world, as its chief competitors were badly weakened during the wars.
Although UK’s loss of life was significant during the wars, it was mild
compared to most participants. For example, the Dutch handed over parts
of its overseas empire to avoid having it fall into the hands of the
French, and would never be a formidable naval competitor again.
Obviously, the French were badly damaged, greatly diminishing their
ability to compete. The British homeland was untouched, as opposed to
the war-torn condition of most other nations on the continent. This is
due to the fact that the UK is not connected by land to mainland Europe,
combined with its strong navy, which prevented a French invasion across
the channel. As a result, UK emerged as the world’s most dominant power.
All nations fighting France depended on the UK for weapons, helping to
propel it toward its position as the manufacturing/industrial leader in
Build Up to World War I (1816 – 1914)
Age of Enlightenment/Expansionism (1650 – 1789)
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