Category Archives: France

Vive l’Empéreur !! (3)

Last time I was busy listing all the things that Napoléon did to help his country and its ordinary people. They are the reason that he was so hated by the British aristocracy with their mad king and his disgraceful son. They were all afraid that Napoléon’s ideas would sweep away their comfortable and lucrative world.

The best book about Napoléon was the source of the author’s TV series on BBC2:

cover

In it, Andrew Roberts summarises Napoleon’s legacy:

“The ideas that underpin our modern world–meritocracy, equality before the law, property rights, religious toleration, modern secular education, sound finances, and so on–were championed, consolidated, codified and geographically extended by Napoleon. To them he added a rational and efficient local administration, an end to rural banditry, the encouragement of science and the arts, the abolition of feudalism and the greatest codification of laws since the fall of the Roman Empire.”

Napoleon had no time for the idea that men were superior just because of their birth. He believed totally in having people around him who were genuinely talented rather than members of the nobility:

napoleon-passant-en-revue

Napoleon had between 20-25 “Marshals of the Empire”. Here is a list of the occupations of their fathers. Nobody got a job with Napoleon because his Dad owned huge tracts of land:

“An officer in the Engineers, a Hussar, a well off farmer and an innkeeper, a small town lawyer, a surgeon (although his son enlisted in the army as a private), a shopkeeper, a fruit seller and servant, a small town prosecutor, a lawyer, a country solicitor, a surgeon barber, two farmers, a master barrel-cooper and ex-soldier, a farmer (whose son served in the army as a drummer boy), a Jacobite rebel, exiled from the Outer Hebrides, a brewer, a farmer and distiller of brandy, a silk manufacturer and a tanner.”

Napoleon made use of the nobility, with four major nobles and two members of the petty nobility. None of the noblemen he used, though, were from the absolute top of the Nobility Tree.  Napoleon chose one petty noble who was a Seigneur de Sort. His bizarre job was to act as a mole-catcher at the king’s horse breeding stud. Another was a mere sergeant in the city of his birth and had the job of locking the city gates every night. Another one had begun his career as a lowly page-boy.
This wasn’t how the English kings organised things. Nor indeed, the way anybody has ever organised things in England, right up till the present year.
No wonder the English upper classes wanted Napoleon dead. And that is why they exiled him to a place where the appalling weather would soon kill him off, housing him in a property where water ran down the walls when the weather was damp:

napoleondeath

When the ship with Napoleon’s coffin arrived back in France from St Helena, a million people were waiting there to shout “Vive l’Empéreur !!” And this was 25 years after he was exiled from France for ever.

In Paris, between the River Seine and the site of his funeral at Les Invalides, another crowd of around a million people were assembled. There were in excess of 150,000 ex-soldiers there too, loyal veterans of the Emperor’s army. There would, no doubt, have been more spectators, had there not been a blizzard that particular day. Here is his ornate sarcophagus:

tomb

And here is how his people remember him. The man who crowned himself Emperor:

Napoleon[1]

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Vive l’Empéreur !! (2)

Last time, I wrote about how Napoleon wanted to export the liberal values of the Enlightenment across Europe. And how the British upper classes wanted none of it. They wanted to keep society as it was, rotten the core, but with them in charge of every facet of life. And that’s why they paid countries such as Austria and Russia £65,000,000 over the years to attack and annihilate Napoleon, without any English lives being lost:

What a chance we missed by ignoring the ideas Napoleon eschewed. Just look at what Napoleon achieved in his own country.

The Code Civil was “a fundamental change in the nature of the civil law legal system with its stress on clearly written and accessible law”.  It was created by committees of experts and closely monitored by the Emperor. He set up other codes for criminal and commercial law:

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He set up a system which established “due process”, the requirement that the state must respect the legal rights of its citizens, and which protects the individual from a powerful government.
Napoleon carried out steps which would allow both Germany and Italy to emerge within less than a century as unified nations. He helped the USA to expand with the Louisiana Purchase:

lousisa n purchase

He founded the Légion d’Honneur, awarded for excellence and achievements not just in war, but also for achievements by civilians which helped the French nation. Here is the first ever award, presented by the Emperor himself:

Debret_-_Premiere_distribution_des_decorations_de_la_Legion_d'honneur[1]

Napoleon abolished the ancient system which forced peasants to work as medieval serfs for their lord and master, carrying out specific jobs every year. This helped the growth of a money based economy, rather than paying rent, for example, by any other means, such as barter or the carrying out of physical tasks.

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Napoléon abolished the medieval guilds, allowing the birth of the entrepreneur.

He abolished ghettos for Europe’s Jews who were made equal to everybody else. In fact, everybody enjoyed equality in every field.

The power of the church was vastly reduced, especially their ecclesiastical courts. The Inquisition came to an end. (Nobody expected that.)

monty-python-spanish-inquisition_article_story_large[1]

His military innovations led Wellington to say, when asked who was the greatest general of the day: “In this age, in past ages, in any age, Napoleon.”

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Napoleon gave enormous support to the metric system, introduced by the French revolutionary government in 1799. He made use of the process of storing and preserving perishable food in tins. His armies were the first to use the baguette:

French became the official language of the state. No more Basque, Breton, Corsican, Occitan nor, indeed, any of the countless dialects spoken in Europe’s second biggest country. Instead, everybody spoke French.

Secondary education was supported by the state, and lycées were established. State secondary schools followed the same system as nowadays. He made major efforts to keep education totally free from church interference. He introduced scholarships for poor students.

He introduced science into the school syllabus. In England, the church were still busy at this time trying to stop vaccination being introduced as anti-religious. Not so in France:

And that is not the end of Napoléon’s list. More next time.

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What do you do with your Freed Slaves ? (5)

In my last article I posed the question of  “How did the British free their slaves?”. They had none of the difficulties faced by the USA (a bloody civil war), Russia (a bloody revolution and a bloody civil war) or France (a bloody revolution in Haiti).

west injdies plantation

Unbelievably, a decision was taken that the government would use taxpayers’ money, taken from the ordinary man in the street, to buy the owners’ slaves from them. This was a very cunning plan on so many levels. The government remained popular with the rich people. The rich people who owned no slaves remained rich. The rich people who owned slaves also remained rich. Nobody lost any money whatsoever except the poor old taxpayer, who now had to wait a little longer for his free medical care, free education, sanitation, decent roads, law and order in the streets and so on.

And what about the slave owners?

Carried_Slaveowner

Well, by this windfall, they became even more unbelievably rich. And then they went on to invest their cash in other ventures so they could make even more money.

They didn’t hate the politicians who had abolished slavery either, because the slave owners had suddenly been made so rich by their actions.  You can probably guess who came out of it badly…

The population of black ex-slaves who now had nowhere to go. They couldn’t go down to the docks and catch a boat to West Africa. Instead they had to stay where they were and work for a pittance at their old job. This man’s family (218 slaves) made a good profit on the whole deal. They received £4,442 compensation, the equivalent of £3 million today. Don’t know who he is?:

orwell

And this man’s father received £106,769, the modern day equivalent of £80 million. Don’t know who he is?:

1271754717_william-e_-gladstone

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Vive l’Empéreur !!

I watched a fantastic programme, or rather series of programmes, last winter on BBC2, I think it was. They were so good that I bought the book:

cover

They were all about Napoleon.
I had always wondered why the British hate Napoleon so much and the French love him. Why the British call him names and the French name streets after him.
Both the programmes and the book were by Andrew Roberts:

andrew-roberts
He did a great job at explaining exactly why this situation has arisen.

It was because on the one hand, the England of the Napoleonic era had always prided itself on being full of free men, free to say what they wanted, to go where they wanted and so on. With a parliament and a monarch beloved by all, bless him, who never interfered in the running of an almost perfect society. Deep down though, the English knew that this portrait of their land was a complete load of rubbish.

They knew that Napoleon was a child of the Enlightenment, the fullest and finest flowering of ideas in the history of Mankind:

stamp-napoleon-france

Napoleon wanted to export the values of the Enlightenment across Europe. And the British wanted none of it. That’s why they coughed up £65,000,000 over the years, paying for countries such as Austria and Russia to attack and annihilate him, without any English lives being lost:

wallpaper_cossacks_2_
The British saw Napoleon as a direct threat to “England’s Green and Pleasant Land”.

A “Green and Pleasant Land” where the rich seized the poor’s common land and called it their own.

Where Corn Laws prevented hungry poor people from eating bread made from cheap imported foreign wheat, so that rich English farmers could stay wealthy.

Where all of the people in charge of anything, the army, the navy, the government, everything, was a nobleman and had a title:

house-of-lords4[1]

And parliament was full of greedy men elected by unbelievably tiny numbers of voters. This practice made use of “Rotten Boroughs” and Pocket Boroughs”. Here are two of the “Four Prints of an Election” by William Hogarth.  You can see them in greater detail here.

This is the “Election Entertainment“:

chairing

This one is called “Chairing the Members”:

election enter
Next time, we will look at the achievements of Napoleon. They are many and apply to so many different fields, from giving a mole catcher a more important job to making the arrangements to educate young women:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What do you do with your freed slaves? (3)

I suppose that the major problem with abolishing slavery is knowing what exactly to do with this newly created army of probably uneducated people, who may well be quite ill fitted to deal with an independent life. Jefferson, the man who coined the expression “all men are created equal” seems to have supported a gradual process, with slaves being first educated and then freed as they reached adulthood:

Thomas_Jefferson_Regular_Issue_1968-1c

Apparently he later realised that this would created an inadequate return on the slave owner’s investment, if that’s the word, and altered the age of freedom to 45. After that, they would be taken back to Africa:

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Overall though, mainly for various personal reasons, Jefferson did not have a lot to say about slavery.
He did recognise one dilemna though.

The difficulties of freeing the slaves and the difficulties of not freeing the slaves:

“There is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from (slavery).
We have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other”

Jefferson was not the only one to have worries about “safely letting go” the country’s slaves.. In 1806, the Virginia General Assembly grew so concerned about the number of free black people living in the state that they changed the law to make freeing slaves more difficult.  From 1790-1810 the population of black people there had risen from virtually nothing to more than seven percent. In Delaware, they too were worried about freeing their slaves. By 1810, 75% of the state’s slaves had been given their liberty.

Many of these politicians were equally worried about the influence Haiti might have on the thinking of black people in the USA. Around this time, of course, Haiti was a revolutionary state on an island in the Caribbean to the south of the USA. A little like a black Cuba rather than a red one:

revolution in haiti

And presumably, the Americans did not want similar scenes of bloody revolution in their own southern states:

haiti

In 1801 President Jefferson was delighted to see the French intention to take back the island and thereby stop it becoming a base which might foment black revolution in the United States. He loaned the French $300,000 “for the relief of whites on the island.”

The southern slave owners in the US, of course, were just as scared of similar rebellions in their own states as President Jefferson. He said of this dilemma:

“If something is not done and soon, we shall be the murderers of our own children.”

But, in practical terms, what could be done?  Another article to follow in the near future.

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Freedom and the Americans (2)

In a recent article, I wrote about Thomas Paine and his defence of the French Revolution of 1789, Rights of Man, which was published two years later, in 1791:

paine

Fifteen years earlier, on July 4th 1776, the United States Declaration of Independence had also been a major step on the road to freedom.

Back towards the end of the eighteenth century, the Americans were more than a little dissatisfied with the treatment they received at the hands of the British, and rightly so:

bostonmassacre

The document, originally composed by Thomas Jefferson, explains why people, have the right to rebel against their government. I have tried to make the language a little easier:

“Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.  Whenever any Government becomes destructive, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers such as to them shall seem most likely for their Safety and Happiness.”
Prudence will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience has shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”

Fine words, and you can hear Thomas Paine clapping in the background.
King George III, of course, around this time, was beginning to show the very first signs of his madness.

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Most typical was his talking at great length, with enormously long sentences. Four hundred words per sentence. He repeated himself. Talked so much that he frothed at the mouth. Page boys would have to hold him down on the floor for his own safety. He spoke to dead relatives and thought he was in heaven. He talked with the angels. We don’t know what was wrong with him. Bipolar disorder, perhaps. Porphyria, maybe. It may have been his doctors who gave him “ James’s Powders” until his arsenic levels were 300 times the level of being merely toxic. After all, he did get better when his doctors stopped treating him.

george III picture

Wearing a big hat, though, is no recipe for stable government, and you can understand why the Americans left the Empire.  Their declaration contained one of the greatest, if not the greatest, sentences ever written by Man:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Even when the Declaration was being signed though, the inevitable question of slavery raised its ugly head. Thomas Day wrote:

“If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves.”

Thomas_Jefferson_Regular_Issue_1968-1c

Thomas Jefferson owned two hundred slaves and freed only five. George Washington had 317 and of the other ten presidents who had slaves, the totals were James Madison (100), James Monroe (75), Andrew Jackson (200), Martin van Buren (1), William Henry Harrison (11), John Tyler (70), James K Polk (25), Zachary Taylor (150), Andrew Johnson (8) and Ulysses S.Grant (5).
Clearly, a difficult and awkward problem, and one to be returned to in the near future.

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Freedom and the English (1)

The other day, I was reading that classic work, the “Nottingham Date-Book” when I stumbled upon two little gems. The first was dated September 30th 1793 and showed a Blackadder type of world where alcohol replaces political thought:

“The Mayor’s installation banquet at the “New Change” as it was termed, was distinguished by excessive displays of loyalty. Amongst the toasts were “the King and Constitution,” with three times three, “the Duke of York and the Army,” “the Duke of Clarence and the Navy,” and so on.

george III stampcccccccccccccccccccccccc

The Mayor himself sang the air, “God save the King,” and his guests the chorus, followed by loud huzzas and  Constitutional songs.”

These drunken fools in the past made me realise just how free Englishmen are in our present time. Free  to do what your rich betters want you to do. A good citizen as long as you think exactly what you are supposed to think. And any thought of a questioning kind is just not welcome. As it is now, so it was then, back in 1793, in the era when first the Americans and then the French had found other ways to rule themselves than with a king.

declaration of independence

The next entry in this diary of Nottingham is for November 12th 1793, in an entry where the author of the book promises us that “The spirit of the times will be observed in the following circumstances”. The events all took place in  Spalding, just over forty miles from Nottingham, in neighbouring Lincolnshire.

spalding

Here is the sorry tale:

“One of the Officers of the Nottingham Regiment of Militia” states the Journal, “now lying at Spalding, went to a shoemaker’s of that place to order a pair of boots, but on observing that detestable outcast of society’s book, Paine’s Rights of Man, lying on the table, he thought proper to countermand the order, and take the book along with him. Next day, the soldiers being under arms and forming a circle round a large bonfire, this knight of the lapstone was summoned to appear before them,, and made to burn the celebrated jargon of nonsense, the music playing “God save the King” during its burning, at the end of which the soldiers and inhabitants gave three loyal huzzas, and then this wonderful would be wiseacre was suffered to depart”.

And just in case you are wondering, a lapstone is, according to the Free Dictionary, “a rounded device or stone on which leather is beaten with a hammer by a cobbler”

Here is Thomas Paine:

paine

According to Wikipedia, Thomas Paine is exactly what you don’t want in a society run by the upper classes, especially when, deep down, they know that they are not particularly clever or competent. And they worry therefore when the ignorant peasant class produces a “political activist, philosopher, political theorist and revolutionary” like Thomas Paine, “The Father of the American Revolution”:

paine statue

Paine came from Norfolk and his famous book, Rights of Man,  was in part a defence of the French Revolution:

rights man book

Paine believed that each individual has rights and that all the institutions that do not benefit the nation are invalid.  Top of the list was the monarchy and the aristocracy.
He wanted a written Constitution for England, a national assembly and a national budget without any money to be spent on military or war expenses.

He demanded lower taxes for the poor and free education for all.

He wanted a progressive income tax, to limit the power of wealthy estates, so that a ruling class could not preserve power, whether economic, political or religious, uniquely within the nobility.

Indeed, Paine stated that the ability to govern is not hereditary. This would mean that any idea of inheritance or royal succession would be abolished.

Paine was tried in his absence for seditious libel against the King and the Royal Family but could not be hanged because he never returned to England.
At this time, George III was as mad as a fish although there are plenty of people who say that it was mostly down to the medicines given to him by his doctors.

Madness_of_king_george-715444

When the doctors stopped treating him as, presumably, a hopeless case, King George got better almost straightaway.
It says a great deal for the repressive machinery of the government that those buffoons in Spalding who gave “three loyal huzzas” for the king didn’t even realise that their king was completely mad. They might just as well have gone down to the local fishmongers and pledged their undying loyalty to the largest cod on the counter.

Fish-with-Crown-

 

 

 

 

 

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