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Napoleon Bonaparte is regarded as one of the greatest military and political masterminds in the history of man. Napoleon's brilliance led him through extremely successful Italian campaigns, major battles against the Third Coalition and helped him rule politically to keep the gains of the revolution. Napoleon, through his military conquests and political alterations, made France a great nation.

Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15th, 1769 in small town of Ajaccio on the island of Corsica. He had seven siblings, and his father was a lawyer whose family stemmed from the Florentine nobility. In 1779, Napoleon went to school at Brienne in France. There he took a great interest in history, especially in the lives of great ancient generals. Napoleon was often badly treated at Brienne because he was not as wealthy as his fellow classmates were, and being short for his age did not help. Along with those shortcomings he did not speak French well, because mainly Italian was spoken in Corsica. He studied very hard so that he could do better than those who mocked him. Napoleon attended the Ecole Military School in Paris in 1784. This is where he received his military training to become an artilleryman and an officer. Napoleon finished his training and joined the French army at the age of sixteen years old. He was appointed to an artillery regiment, and commissioned as a lieutenant. Napoleon spent the next seven years reading the works of the philosophers, and educating himself in military matters by studying the campaigns of great military leaders of the past.

The French Revolution and the European wars broadened Napoleon's sights and presented him with new opportunities. Napoleon was a supporter of the French Revolution; he went back and forth between Paris and Ajaccio, working for the Republic. Napoleon rose quickly through the ranks and became a captain in 1792. At the age of 25, only one year after becoming captain, Napoleon performed so well that he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. He was given command of the artillery at Toulon, and in December of that same year, the French forced the English out of Toulon. The commander in chief wrote: "I have no words to describe the merit of Bonaparte. Much science, as much intelligence, and too much bravery."

In August of 1794 Napoleon was arrested because he had been a supporter of Robespierre, a radical revolutionary leader. He was accused of treason; but when he was released his career seemed to be over. Then in October of 1795, the government was threatened with a revolt in Paris. Paul Barras, commander of the home forces, appointed Napoleon to defend the capital. With amazing swiftness Napoleon massed men and artillery at important places in Paris so that the attack of 30,000 national guards was driven back by his men. Napoleon had saved the national convention from the Parisian mob, and one year later at the age of 26 he was rewarded with the position of commander in chief of the interior French army in Italy.

Once Napoleon took over it did not take long for him to turn the group of ill-disciplined soldiers into an effective fighting force. In a series of stunning victories, Napoleon defeated four Austrian generals in succession; every army he fought was larger than the last. This forced Austria and its allies to make peace with France. Throughout his Italian campaigns, Napoleon won the confidence of his men through his energy, charm, and ability to comprehend complex issues quickly and make decisions rapidly. These qualities, combined with his keen intelligence, ease with words, and supreme confidence in himself, enabled him throughout the rest of his life to influence nations, and win their firm support.

In July 1798, the Austrians sent three powerful waves of men through the Alps. In only six days, Napoleon and his men attacked each wave of soldiers, and defeated them all separately. When the third was defeated in a two-day battle at Rivoli on January 14th and 15th 1797, he invaded Austria. In October of 1797, Napoleon signed the treaty of Campo-Formio. With this treaty France was given Belgium and lands along the Rhine River. Napoleon's speed and his cleverness baffled his enemies. Besides the fighting, this 28 year old general made his own treaties, and conducted his own diplomacy; he also kept the Directory happy by sending home all the money and works of art that he seized.

In December 1797, Napoleon returned to Paris as a conquering hero. On return he received a huge welcome. At this time he began thinking of pursuing more political and military power. In May 1798, Napoleon sailed to Egypt; there he won the Battle of the Pyramids. On July 23 he entered the city of Cairo, but the British controlled the sea, and on August 1, 1798 Horatio Nelson, an English admiral, led an attack that destroyed the French Navy in Aboukir Bay. Napoleon could no longer keep in touch with France. The British had successfully cut off supplies from Napoleon's men in Egypt. Napoleon then advanced into Syria, but was stopped by the British defense of Acre. With no way of getting supplies from France, Napoleon's men started dying from disease and heat. On his way back to Egypt he came across the first French reports he had seen in ten months. He learned that Italy had been lost to the Austrians, and the Directory was unpopular. Seeing no future and certain defeat, Napoleon saw no choice but to abandon his army and return to Paris. Napoleon sailed home along with three other ships, and on October 16, 1799 he arrived in Paris. Napoleon then participated in the coup d'etat that ultimately led to his virtual dictatorship of France.

Barely thirty years old, Napoleon became First Consul of France. As First Consul, he directly controlled the entire executive authority of the government. Napoleon made dramatic changes in France's legal system, government administration, economic affairs, and the education system. To begin with, Napoleon instituted many significant changes to the French government. In the area of law and justice, he created the Napoleonic Code. This did many things for the citizens of France, such as declaring all men equal before the law, without regard for rank or wealth. Men were now entitled by birthright to a share of the earth's produce to fill the needs of his existence. Also, the Code gave France a single and coherent system of law, something that the Age of Enlightenment and the Revolution had tried but failed to do.



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