Nowhere was Napoleon’s imperialism more evident than in the Continental System. This was an attempt to regulate the economy of the whole Continent. It had a double aim: to build up the export trade of France and to cripple that of Britain.
The French Revolution
Napoleon had barely launched the Consulate when he took to the field again. The second coalition was falling to pieces.
Czar Paul of Russia alarmed Britain and Austria by his interest in Italy, and Britain offended him by retaining Malta, the headquarters of his Knights. Accordingly, the czar formed a Baltic League of Armed Neutrality linking Prussia, Sweden, and Denmark with Russia against Britain.
To many in France, Napoleon was and remains the most brilliant ruler in French history.
To many Europeans, on the other hand, Napoleon was a foreigner who imposed French control and French reforms.
Napoleonic France succeeded in building up a vast and generally stable empire, but only at the cost of arousing the enmity of other European nations.
Political aims also governed the economic program of an emperor determined to promote national unity. French peasants wanted to be left alone to enjoy the new freedom acquired in 1789. Napoleon did little to disrupt them, except to raise army recruits.
Political considerations generally colored Napoleon’s decisions on religion. Since French Catholics loathed the anti-clericalism of the Revolution, Napoleon sought to appease them by working out a reconciliation with Rome.
The Concordat (a treaty with the Vatican) negotiated with Pope Pius VII (r. 1800-1823) in 1802 accomplished this reconciliation. While it canceled only the most obnoxious features of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, the French state agreed to end the popular election of bishops and priests.
Napoleon revived some of the glamor of the Old Regime but not its glaring inequalities. His series of law codes, the Code Napoleon (1804-1810), declared all men equal before the law without regard to rank and wealth.
It extended to all the right to follow the occupation and embrace the religion of their own choosing. It gave France the single coherent system of law that the philosophes had demanded and that the revolutionary governments had been unable to formulate.