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Napoleon Essay

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Napoleon Essay


How is it possible that Napoleon Bonaparte, the most feared man in Europe, ruler of France, the most powerful nation in Europe in the early 1800’s, could ever possibly be defeated? The answer lies not so much the in battles that he lost, but rather in the many internal struggles Napoleon faced. The Quadruple Alliance was a unified effort with allied nations against Napoleon: Great Britain, Russia, Prussia, and Austria. These four nations agreed to put an end to existing revolutions in Europe. This force of nations coming together to defeat Napoleon did not make things any easier for the French emperor, but by this time, Napoleon was already in decline. Throughout history, it is clear that a huge empire will eventually have many forces working against it. An example of this is nepotism, which was present throughout countries that Napoleon controlled, which led to weak rulers. This is present in Spain, where Napoleon appointed his brother, Joseph Bonaparte as ruler, revolt eventually led to war. Another reason that Napoleon was defeated was the strength of the British and their Navy. Since they controlled the seas, they also controlled trading. Personal weaknesses, sickness, along with French exhaustion, all lead to the fall of Napoleon. Obviously the Quadruple Alliance itself was not the deciding factor in Napoleon’s defeat.


Great Britain alone was one of the strongest forces in the defeat of Napoleon. On land, Napoleon was successful against the British, but on sea the British, led by Admiral Horatio Nelson and his brilliant navel strategies, easily defeated the French Naval Forces. Great Britain also created the Orders of Council, which ordered neutral nations not to trade with France (World Book 116). This was much more effective than Napoleon’s Continental System because Great Britain controlled the seas. Napoleon had many problems that were unrelated to the Quadruple Alliance. When he issued the Decrees of Berlin and Milan, Portugal was not happy because they wanted to trade with Britain (Encarta CD-ROM). To subdue Portugal, French troops had to cross Spain. Soon troops were forced to occupy Spain as well as Portugal. When the Spanish revolted, Napoleon appointed his brother Joseph as Monarch. The Spanish found this to be very disrespectful to have a foreign ruler appointed, and thus fought with even greater passion and desire. Assisting the Spaniards in ultimately freeing themselves from Napoleon’s control was the English army under the command of Arthur Wellesley (Britannica 185). Wellesley was later made the Duke of Wellington, where he would take an even more drastic role in Napoleon’s defeat. This war with Spain, based on a rise of nationalism, was the beginning of the end for Napoleon.


There were also many more problems with rebellions by Austria and Russia. Alexander I of Russia broke his Alliance with Napoleon, due to Russia’s failing economy. This lead to Napoleon suffering what is considered to be his worst defeat ever when he went to war with Russia. This defeat was largely due to the French being pushed by the Russians towards the torched city of Moscow. Here they froze, starved or were killed in battle. This defeat encouraged other countries to try for victory. Although allied nations did combine to inflict another defeat for Napoleon at the battle of Leipzig in 1813, it must be noted that the Quadruple Alliance was not officially established at this time and there were many other influences that led to Napoleon’s decline, completely unrelated to the unification of allied nations (Connections 501).


Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo was not determined because of the Quadruple Alliance, but rather it was due to tactical mistakes on behalf of Napoleon. Napoleon made the mistake of entrusting his armies to inferior generals such as Ney, who had no real education, and Marshal Emmanuel de Grouchy, who lacked the charismatic spirit that Napoleon’s men needed before battle. He also made the mistake of underestimating his opponents. Napoleon’s health was also to blame for his defeat. At Waterloo he suffered an array of aliments such as stomach pains, and pneumonia (Encarta CD-ROM). His actions were lethargic; he was slow in issuing commands, and responding to messages. While Napoleon misjudged his opponents, Wellington did not. Wellington had fought against Napoleon before, and was a master of defensive tactics. Ney made many mistakes in the battle, his worst being sending his cavalry to attack hastily, unsupported by infantry (World Book 116). They were slaughtered within minutes. Despite the surprise attack by the Prussians and organization of the Quadruple Alliance helping defeat Napoleon at Waterloo, the British would still have defeated Napoleon due to his own personal doubts, faults and downfall.


Powerful and prospering nations do not fall for one single reason. In many cases organized opposition steps up to the powerful nation only after that nation has internal struggles or conflicts. The Roman Empire fell because of many reasons, one being nepotism, which was also one of the reasons of Napoleon’s defeat. To be successful, countries need to have many well-qualified leaders, especially one as complicated as Napoleon’s vast empire. Hitler was also defeated due to many nations uniting together and also because of personal weaknesses and mistakes in strategy. Nations need to realize that they can only push their luck so far because there will most likely always be opposition.


History shows that a nation that is based merely on the conquering of other nations will eventually fall to the mixture of rising opposition and internal problems. War is not a good foundation for a nation. A strong nation must develop a strong economy, one where peace and prosperity is more evident than war. If this is not so, the people will eventually become dissatisfied and begin to revolt. At the start of his reign, Napoleon stood for the beliefs of the French Revolution but his power and attention turned into conquering other nations. A nation seeking to conquer will not last, because there are simply too many powerful nations for one to rule all the rest. The world would start to realize that a nation built on the democratic principles of the United States of America would become more powerful with its strong economy than a nation always built on war. Peace is stronger than war.


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