‘A realistic attempt to build a working democratic government in post-revolutionary France’ Assess this interpretation of Napoleon’s government.

Was Napoleon’s government actually trying tp bring democracy to France.

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Husna Maryam
`A realistic attempt to build a working democratic government in postrevolutionary France'
Assess this interpretation of Napoleon's government.
Many historians are conflicted over Napoleon's government as democracy, despotism or more
convincingly the appearance of democracy. Napoleon's status as First Consul and then Emperor
suggests his desire to be a despot however democratic elements were arguably introduced to his
government suggesting that Napoleon concealed his true aims through the use of checks and balances,
plebiscites and universal suffrage. Napoleon had to present himself as an heir to the revolution to
maintain support therefore much of Consulate would be a democratic style government or at least the
appearance of a democratic government.
The government under Napoleon was `a realistic attempt to build a working democratic government'
considering the plebiscites and the maintenance of universal male suffrage. The most democratic
element of Napoleon's governments is most clearly the use of plebiscites. This plebiscitary government
was highly democratic considering it allowed all males over the age of 21 the right to vote. This was
quite revolutionary, in fact beyond the revolution in its offering of universal male suffrage as this was
more than even Britain had achieved in 1789. With an electorate of 6 million people Napoleon included
the peasants and the sanscoulettes, implying that Napoleon's government was a realistic attempt to
build a working democratic government considering that they could choose amongst themselves.
Throughout 1793 to 1815 plebiscites were held quite regularly implying that Napoleon valued the will of
the people. Popular sovereignty was an important concern in Napoleon's government considering that
under the Law of Brumaire the new convention could only have been legalised with the "acceptance
of the French people" so its actual formation required the 1800 plebiscite. The official results for the
February 1800 plebiscite showed 3011007 in favour and 1562 of the formation of the new constitution
which suggests overwhelmingly popular support. The fact that he offered universal male suffrage in
which the voters voted from 10% of themselves suggested that it was completely up to the people on
whom they voted and if they chose a working class man then their choice was respected. Napoleon
supposedly said that he would not have carried out these changes without the consultation and
approval of the people suggesting that he sincerely valued everybody's opinion and would therefore be
listening to the `will of the people'.
However it can be strongly argued that Napoleon had not realistically attempted to build a working
democratic government as his use of plebiscites and universal male suffrage were simply to appease
the public. Napoleon believed in popular sovereignty and the will of the people to be provided through
him as he supposedly knew what the people needed and wanted better than they did, suggesting
Napoleon's government was not a democracy at all. The plebiscites were not valued highly by officials
and many deliberately manipulated the votes to please Napoleon and in other places they were too
badly organised so the votes were not sent in. Some officers supposedly made up the votes without
even having a ballot simply for ease. The official results for the February 1800 plebiscite showed
3011007 in favour and 1562 of the formation of the new constitution. This extent of support is
absolutely unrealistic implying that they were fixed, Napoleon made Lucien fix votes in favour of him
which completely defeats the point of democracy suggesting that Napoléon's real aim was to maintain
absolute power whilst giving the public the appearance that he listened to their opinions. Furthermore
the electorate according to Napoleon was 6 million people and the 1800 plebiscite only accounted for
3,012,569 bringing the question of what happened to the other voters. Also there is evidence to suggest
that in reality there should have been an electorate of 8 million further emphasising the masses of

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Husna Maryam
people disregarded for in the vote count up. However even had the full electorate of 8 million voted in
these plebiscites it still seems unrealistic to argue that Napoleon would have actually listened to the will
of the public and given them a full democracy.…read more

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government a realistic possibility. Firstly the Senate's role in protecting democracy was completely
overridden by the Senatus Consultum. This allowed Napoleon to rule by decree which he did a
number of times from 1801.The name originated from Roman Empire as they realised these
assemblies were very corrupt and dysfunctional, the first emperors transferred all legislative powers to
the senate.…read more

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appointed them for life, so he chose rich landed gentry mainly to gain their loyalty. The Tribunate and
the Legislative seats could potentially have been filled by the working class if they managed to get
voted for in the lists. However after 1804 the Tribunate was purged so no people could get in and also
after 1802 the democratic system of lists was changed to electorate boards.…read more

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Husna Maryam
Overall napoleon's true objective had never been to make a realistic attempt to build a working class
government but rather to give the appearance of democracy to allow him to first become First Consul
and then Emperor in order to exercise full power without the protest of the people.…read more

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