Napoleonic Reforms

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The Lycee de Galatasaray

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The Age of Napoleon
by Alistair Horne


a new look at Napoleon's Europe


Reforms in Law:

In 1804, Napoleon took on the legal system of France. The system of laws was in a state of chaos. Laws were not codified and were based on Roman law, ancient custom or monarchial paternalism. During  the revolution, many laws were changed. It was difficult to determine what law applied in any given situation, and laws were not equally applied to everyone.

The mishmash of laws were codified and written clearly so that the people could determine what law applied. It incorporated much of the Roman law. For the first time in history, the law was based on reason and founded on the notion  that all men were equal before the law. It guaranteed individual rights (except for women and blacks) and the security of property. In short it codified many of the ideals of the revolution. The Napoleonic Code became profoundly influential to other European countries in the 19th century.

Reforms in Government:

Napoleon centralized the government, putting control firmly in the hands of the national government. It became more efficient. Advancement in the civil service and the military was based on merit rather than rank. The tax system was applied equally to all.

Reforms in Education:

Napoleon built many new lycees, schools for boys age 10 to 16. He recognized the importance of education in producing citizens capable of filling positions in his bureaucracy and military. Although he did not create a system of mass education, education was more available to the middle class than it ever had been before. At a meeting in 1807 he declared:

Of all our institutions public education is the most important. Everything depends on it, the present and the future. It is essential that the morals and political ideas of the generation which is now growing up should no longer be dependent upon the news of the day or the circumstances of the moment. Above all we must secure unity: we must be able to cast a whole generation in the same mould.

He saw education as a way of indoctrinating "right-thinking" citizens from an early age. He didn't see the need to educate girls, since they could learn everything they needed from their mothers. They were not to be active citizens.

Concordat of 1801 Text

Part of Napoleon: Hero or Tyrant? a HistoryWiz Exhibit

The French Revolution

The French Revolution Primary Sources

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