I disagree; his flaw was that he was too soft on the conquered. If he had any obsession it was an obsession to have peace in Europe so he could focus on his responsibilities as a statesman.
He essentially humiliated Prussia by keeping French forces stationed there, at Prussia’s expense (financially). Prussia had ambitions to unite Northern Germany (ie without Austria) under Prussian banner and Napoleon knew it, and wanted to prevent it.
Perhaps, but Prussia knew very well what it was getting into. Despite Napoleon’s personal plea, Fredrick Wilhelm did nothing to prevent the Prussian court from being dominated by the war party.
I disagree. Napoleon greatly offended the Russian court (Alexander found himself lambasted when he returned to court in St Petersburg) and his ‘construction’ of the Duchy of Warsaw was seen as the greatest offense, since the Russians feared it would kindle hopes in ‘Russian’ Poland for unification with the Duchy of Warsaw, which Russia was dead set against, because if Polish could harbor hopes of loosening from Russia, so could other nationalities. Furthermore, he greatly underestimated Alexander who started distancing himself from Napoleon not long after Tilsit, mostly under pressure from Russia’s aristocracy, his mother and also the British.
Which makes me sad that Alexander I came to power, period. His father would have been much more adept at guaranteeing peace in Europe and probably wouldn’t have been so influenced by anti-Napoleonic forces.
He was in no position to be harsher because he wanted Russian support for the Continental system.
He wanted Russian support, but again, he still had the power to create a march larger Poland at the expense of Russia, but he didn’t, partly because he was so despertate to forge a lasting peace, and partly because he wanted Russian support in the Continental System.
And he was poor at diplomacy because he generally imposed many things on the states that he directly or indirectly controlled rather than negotiate as an equal.
I both agree and disagree. In many instances (prominent among them the formation of the Confederation of the Rhine, which I’ll explain in a moment), Napoleon was very touchy about where he drew borders and was interested in what the heads of state of the vassal and allied states would have to say. On the other hand, he needed to guarantee the security of France, and, again, hated inefficiency and corruption, which often led to him being very imperious, as you said.
Friedrich Karl of Baden, Ludwig of Hesse-Darmstadt, Friedrich of Württemberg and Maximilian of Bavaria all owed the expansion of their realms to Napoleon.
That’s true, but none of them were inefficient rulers (with the possible except of Ludwig).
Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia had been humiliated at Tilsit and was only kept on by Napoleon because Alexander asked it of him.
Yeah, Fredrick got off easy. If Napoleon was the “19th century Hitler” that he’s frequently portrayed as I doubt Prussia as a nation would have even existed after Tilsit.
Napoleon casually moved areas and provinces from one kingdom to another.
Might you cite specific examples?
Napoleon imposed French as an official language on several areas of German states.
That doesn’t necessarily mean he wanted to ban German as a language, unlike the Japanese in Korea, who basically wanted to destroy Korean culture and language.
The number of people that resented French rule in German areas increased with time.
This is true; but remember why, in the first place, Napoleon demanded more resources and troops from the German states, because of the irreversible hatred of the European monarchies, Britain especially. If anyone’s at fault it is the British, who financed coalition after coalition to let Continental troops die for British interests, and who would threaten or outright bombard cities that did not abide by what His Britannic Majesety wanted (i.e. Copenhagen, Lisbon).
No, people like Benjamin Constant and Madame de Stael. The latter wrote a book criticizing the French treatment of Italy. She also wrote a book on German culture which contained so much implicit criticism of Napoleon that he had the book banned.
Let me show to you a segment from a book that talks about Stael:
Germaine de Stael, born of Genevan parents and Swedish by marriage, only became French when Geneva was annexed to France in 1791. Intelligent, ambitious and brilliant, this woman was totally lacking in any moral sense, and her love life would make a racy novel. She was a tireless and dazzling writer, but one who often showed poor judgment. Unfortunately lacking in physical charm, with a rather mannish appearance, she initially felt an ardent passion for the young General Bonaparte, the conqueror of Italy, and she wrote that he was “the most intrepid warrior, the most reflective thinker, the most extraordinary genius.” She even took it into her head to become an Egeria to her hero, after having dreamed of playing that role for Mirabeau and then Robespierre.
Through Talleyrand, Stael finally managed to get herself introduced to Napoleon. Slipping into the circle of people gathered around him, she called out to the First Consul, asking him who was in his eyes “the greatest woman in the world, living or dead”. “The one who has the most children, madame,” he answered. The interloper made a face but was not flustered, and pointed out to her unwilling conversational partner that he had a reputation “of not liking women much”. He replied, “Pardon me, madame, I like my own very much.”
Stael was unrelenting, and she laid siege to her idol, a siege Napoleon on St. Helena recalled with amusement: “She almost took me by the pants in my little house on rue Chanteraine. She followed me one day as I went into my dressing room. ‘But madame, I’m going into my dressing room,’ I said. ‘It’s all the same to me,’ she answered. ‘I’m an old woman.’ She said the Empress Josephine was a silly woman who was not worthy to be my wife and that only she, Stael, was right for me. She was crazy about me.”
The crazy woman wept with vexation after the coup d’etat of 18 Brumaire, which gave France a leader but also, through the favor of the First Consul, gave her lover, Benjamin Constant, a position. She pushed Constant to make a speech against the Consulate regime “of servitude and silence”. She was a fierce Calvinist in spite of her life of debauchery, and when the Concordat was signed with the Holy See she went over to the opposition and began dreaming of the overthrow of the regime with all the determination and malice of a wronged woman. As if to open hostilities, she published Delphine, a defense of divorce, Protestantism and England. She chose her time well! “I hope her friends have warned her not to come back to Paris,” exclaimed Bonaparte, “I would have to have her taken back to the border by the police.”
He did not need to say this twice. She was seen in Germany, spreading invective against the man who was to become Emperor and plotting against him in all the courts, even with the Bourbons. But she continued to reside at Coppet, near Geneva, where the prefect of the Emperor, the “tyrant”, turned a blind eye to her activities. She was even seen in some regions of France, still trying to get close to Paris. She soon published Corinna, a novel in praise of the emancipation of women, in which the French hero is a good-looking fool and the British hero a beautiful, deep, generous spirit. This further enraged Napoleon, and on St. Helena he said, “I cannot forgive Madame de Stael for having made fun of the French in her novel.”
Fallen under the influence of a German who was carrying on anti-French propaganda in Austria, the novelist finally brought down upon herself the official wrath of the Emperor, who in 1808 wrote to his minister of police: “Madame de Stael has an ongoing correspondence with a certain Gentz and has become involved with the clique of low characters in London…This relationship with this individual can only be to the detriment of France. You will make it known that until now she has been regarded only as a crazy woman, but that today she has begun to get involved in a clique that is contrary to the public peace.”
The guilty woman returned to Coppet, still without suffering any “persecution” by the authorities of the department, and started to write her major work, Germany, which gave her an excellent opportunity to exercise her bias against French literature, supposedly mired in classicism, and praise German genius in all its forms. She took a notion to have this volume published in France and went there, but the police seized the manuscript and ordered her to leave the territory. The minister Savary sent her a rather stern letter: “It appears the air of this country does not suit you at all. Your last book is not French; I have stopped it from being printed. I regret the loss to the booksellers, but it is not possible for me to allow it to be published.”
Can Napoleon really be blamed for approving this measure and refusing to permit the publication of a French book that was offensively pro-German, a book that would lead to a reawakening of the desire for dominance in Austria, only a few years after the dominance of the Holy Roman Empire, and cause the greatest damage to a precarious peace?
At the same time, Stael, who was now taking opium, secretly married a friend of her son 21 years her junior and, fleeing the discreet surveillance that had been established around her chateau in Coppet, set off on the roads of Europe. She was next seen in the Russian court when Napoleon entered Moscow; she pushed the tsar to make an alliance with Sweden, which she took it upon herself to drag into the war by exerting pressure on crown prince Bernadotte, who was her friend. She dared to write, “The good of France required that it suffer a reversal.” Then she was in London, where she was given a triumphal reception, since she was the embodiment of resistance to Napoleon’s “tyranny”. During the Hundred Days in 1815, assuming that Napoleon would relax his surveillance, she rushed to Paris to claim payment of two million francs loaned by her father, Necker, to King Louis XVI. Could it be that she had changed camps?
One might believe this when reading what she wrote to Joseph Bonaparte: “The return of your brother is extraordinary and surpasses all imagination.” But this was nothing but an act to gain a position for her son and obtain payment of her two million francs, because she maintained contacts with the enemies of the “tyrant”. One can easily get lost trying to follow the intricacies of her schemes.
Was Napoleon wrong to check the torrent of words from a woman who worked to set Sweden, Prussia and Austria against France? And could Madame de Stael, who hated Napoleon and her adaptive country with equal force, complain because she was not allowed to publish her book in France? This is the objective perspective from which the issue must be looked at.
He was a great man in history, but one with many flaws.
True; but then again, no great leader in history has no flaws.