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The Modern Era

1789 - 1914

In Europe, the revolutionary transformation of the ruling systems and state structures began with a bang: In 1789 the French Revolution broke out in Paris, and its motto "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite"—Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood—took on an irrepressible force. A fundamental reorganization of society followed the French Revolution. The ideas behind the revolution were manifest in Napoleon's Code Civil, which he imposed on many European nations. The 19th century also experienced a transformation of society from another source: The Industrial Revolution established within society a poorer working class that stood in opposition to the merchant and trading middle class. The nascent United States was shaken by an embittered civil war. The economic growth that set in following that war was accompanied by the development of imperialist endeavors and its rise to the status of a Great Power.


Liberty Leading the People,
allegory of the 1830 July revolution that deposed the French monarchy,
with Marianne as the personification of liberty,
contemporary painting by Eugene Delacroix.


see also:

Between Two Revolutions

(From David to Delacroix)



Napoleonic Domination

1792 - 1814


Napoleon Bonaparte - biography

1769 August 15 - Birth at Ajaccio, Corsica
1779 College d’Autun, later Military School Brienne
1784 Royal Military School in Paris
1793 Brigadier General
1795 Commander of the Army of the Interior
1796, March - Head of the Army of Italy
1798 Egyptian Campaign
1799 First Consul of France
1802 Treaty of Amiens
1804 Emperor of the French
1805, Sept 21 - Oct 20 - Battle of Ulm
1805, October 21 - Battle of Trafalgar
1805, December 2 -  Battle of Austerlitz
1807, February 7–8 - Battle of Eylau
1808 Peninsular War
1809, May 21-22 - Battle of Aspern-Essling
1809, July 5-6 - Battle of Wagram
1812 Russian Campaign
1813 Battle of the Nations at Leipzig, Germany
1814 Abdication, Elba
1815 Waterloo (Belgium), St. Helena
1821 May 5 - Death on St. Helena Island

The Loss of Hegemony over Europe

In 1810 Napoleon stood at the height of his power and ruled Europe. The wars with Spain and Russia, however, caused his fall.


Napoleon marched through Spain to Portugal, occupying Spanish cities and installing his brother Joseph Bonaparte as king, having inveigled the Spanish royal family to Bayonne and held them there. On the second of May, 1808, the people rebelled.

The 8 Spanish War of Independence was waged primarily as a guerrilla war and lasted five years, until the Spanish, aided by a powerful British army under the command of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, and later victor over Napoleon, were able to expel the invaders at the end of 1813. This victory proved to other nations that resistance against French occupation could be successful.

8 The Executions on Principe Pio Hill, executions of rebellious civilians by French soldiers in May 1808, painting by Francisco de Goya, 1814

Francisco de Goya's The Third of May 1808, painted in 1814, depicts the civilian executions that occurred following the Dos de Mayo Uprising. Five thousand defenders of Madrid were executed in two days.

Austria's leading minister, Count Johann Philipp von Stadion, believed in 1809 that the time was ripe for a revolt against France, but Napoleon's 12 victory at Wagram only caused Austria further loss of territory.

12 Battle of Wagram on July 5-6, 1809


Battle of Wagram

Battle of Wagram by Emil Adam

European history
(July 5–6, 1809), victory for Napoleon, which forced Austria to sign an armistice and led eventually to the Treaty of Schönbrunn in October, ending Austria’s 1809 war against the French control of Germany. The battle was fought on the Marchfeld (a plain northeast of Vienna) between 154,000 French and other troops under Napoleon and 158,000 Austrians under Archduke Charles. After a defeat at Aspern-Essling in May, Napoleon needed a victory to prevent a new anti-French coalition from forming. Charles deployed his army along a 14-mile (23-kilometre) front (with the village of Wagram in the centre) to await the French attack. Napoleon decided to attack before Charles could be reinforced by the 30,000 troops of his brother, Archduke John. On the evening of July 5, after having crossed the Danube River, he hastily attacked the thinly stretched Austrian positions but was beaten back.

On the morning of July 6 Charles attacked in the south to cut the French off from the Danube and envelop their southern flank. Napoleon’s main attack was in the north, at the Austrian line along Russbach Brook. By reinforcing his southern flank, Napoleon repelled the Austrian attack there; at the same time, the French attack in the north succeeded. Napoleon then launched the final assault against the Austrian centre and split it. By the time Archduke John appeared in the late afternoon, Charles’s army was already in retreat. John was easily driven off. The battle took a terrible toll, mostly from the heaviest concentration of artillery fire yet employed in any war; Austria suffered more than 40,000 casualties and France about 34,000. Four days later Charles asked for an armistice.

Encyclopaedya Britannica



11 Tyrolean freedom fighters led by Andreas Hofer

The 11 Tyrolean uprising was part of the Austrian revolt that was quickly crushed after initial successes; its leader, Andreas Hofer, was shot in 1810 in Mantua.

In order to bring peace to the French-Austrian front, Napoleon forced a marriage between himself and the emperor's daughter, Marie Louise.

In the same year, Russia refused to accept the Continental System aimed at isolating Great Britain, whereupon Napoleon invaded Russia in June 1812 with his Grande Armee of more than 600,000 soldiers, only about half of which were French. The French reached Moscow in September. The Russians retreated, leaving only "scorched earth" behind, thus minimizing French gains.

This tactic proved truly effective only after the 10 Battle of Borodino, one of the most merciless of the 19th century, the 9 torching of Moscow, and the refusal of peace negotiations.

Napoleon's army was suffering such privations that he was forced to retreat in the winter, losing most of his army. The myth of Napoleon's invincibility was gone.

10 Napoleon near Borodino, by Vasiliy Vereshagin; 9 Napoleon watches Moscow burn, 1812



Battle of Borodino

Napoleon and Marshal Loriston, "Peace at all costs!"
Vasily Vereshchagin, 1900

European history
(Sept. 7 [Aug. 26, Old Style], 1812), bloody battle of the Napoleonic Wars, fought during Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, about 70 miles (110 km) west of Moscow, near the river Moskva. It was fought between Napoleon’s 130,000 troops, with more than 500 guns, and 120,000 Russians with more than 600 guns. Napoleon’s success allowed him to occupy Moscow. The Russians were commanded by General M.I. Kutuzov, who had halted the Russian retreat at the town of Borodino and hastily built fortifications, to block the French advance to Moscow. Napoleon feared that an attempt to outflank the Russians might fail and allow them to escape, so he executed a crude frontal attack. From 6 am to noon the fierce fighting seesawed back and forth along the three-mile (five-kilometre) front. By noon the French artillery began to tip the scales, but the successive French attacks were not strong enough to overwhelm Russian resistance. Napoleon, distant from, and perhaps unsure of, the situation on the smoke-obscured battlefield, refused to commit the 20,000-man Imperial Guard and 10,000 other practically fresh troops. Because Kutuzov had already committed every available man, Napoleon thus forfeited the chance of gaining a decisive, rather than a narrow, victory. Both sides became exhausted during the afternoon, and the battle subsided into a cannonade, which continued until nightfall. Kutuzov withdrew during the night, and a week later Napoleon occupied Moscow unopposed. The Russians suffered about 45,000 casualties, including Prince Pyotr Ivanovich Bagration, commander of the 2nd Russian army. The French lost about 30,000 men. Although the Russian army was badly mauled, it survived to fight again and, in the end, drove Napoleon out of Russia.

Encyclopaedya Britannica




Archduke Charles of Austria in his speech:

"To the German Nation," 1809:

"We fight for Germany, for independence and to restore the national honor that is our due.

Germans, recognize your position!

Take help where it is offered; contribute to your own saving; Be worth our respect!

Only the German who forgets himself is our enemy."

Arch Duke Charles, Austrian Warlord
(1771 - 1847)



The Napoleonic Code

Napoleon's domination of Europe was founded not only on his success in war but also on his equally innovative—and restrictive—domestic policies.


In the same year as the 1 coup d'etat of November 1799, which led to the introduction of the Consulate, a new constitution, tailor-made for and approved by Napoleon, came into force.

1 The Directory is dissolved in a coup d'etat in 1799, contemporary depiction

Napoleon had himself elected 2 first consul and in 1802 secured the office for life.

2 Napoleon and his co-consuls

Two years later, he discarded the consulate entirely and had himself 4 crowned emperor of the French in November 1804.

4 Napoleon crowns Josephine Empress of France in Notre Dame Cathedral following his own coronation, painting by Jacques-Louis David, 1806-07

3 The Code Civil, 1804

Napoleon determined to centralize power, reorganize the economy and made a concordat with Pope Pius VIII, which recognized Catholicism as the religion of the majority of the French People but accepted the nationalization of Church property. He introduced civil service (with lifelong job security); reformed the educational system, civic administration, and courts; and centralized the government while preserving essential civil rights.

Enacted in 1804 and still in force today, Napoleon's 3 Code Civil (the Napoleonic code) guarantees individual equality before the law, personal freedom, the right to property, and a regulated civil wedding as well as divorce.

Napoleon also reorganized the constitutions and civil laws of the territories he conquered in accordance with this code, ironically, the rights and laws he himself introduced allowed resistance against the Napoleonic occupation to grow.


Napoleonic Code
France [1804]
French Code Napoléon Main
French civil code enacted in 1804 and still extant, with revisions; it has been the main influence in the 19th-century civil codes of most countries of continental Europe and Latin America.

The demand for codification and, indeed, codification itself preceded the Napoleonic era. Diversity of laws was the dominant characteristic of the prerevolutionary legal order. Roman law governed in the south of France, whereas in the northern provinces, including Paris, a customary law had developed, based largely on feudal Frankish and Germanic institutions. Marriage and family life were almost exclusively within the control of the Roman Catholic church and governed by canon law. In addition, starting in the 16th century, a growing number of matters were governed by royal decrees and ordinances and by a case law developed by the parlements. Each area had its own collection of customs, and, despite efforts in the 16th and 17th centuries to organize and codify each of these local customary laws, there had been little success at national unification. Vested interests blocked efforts at codification, because reform would encroach upon their privileges.

After the French Revolution, codification became not only possible but almost necessary. Powerful control groups such as the manors and the guilds had been destroyed; the secular power of the church had been suppressed; and the provinces had been transformed into subdivisions of the new national state. The Napoleonic Code, therefore, was founded on the premise that, for the first time in history, a purely rational law should be created, free from all past prejudices and deriving its content from “sublimated common sense”; its moral justification was to be found not in ancient custom or monarchical paternalism but in its conformity to the dictates of reason.

Under the code all male citizens are equal: primogeniture, hereditary nobility, and class privileges are extinguished; civilian institutions are emancipated from ecclesiastical control; freedom of person, freedom of contract, and inviolability of private property are fundamental principles.

The first book of the code deals with the law of persons: the enjoyment of civil rights, the protection of personality, domicile, guardianship, tutorship, relations of parents and children, marriage, personal relations of spouses, and the dissolution of marriage by annulment or divorce. The code subordinated women to their fathers and husbands, who controlled all family property, determined the fate of children, and were favoured in divorce proceedings. Many of these provisions were only reformed in the second half of the 20th century. The second book deals with the law of things: the regulation of property rights—ownership, usufruct, and servitudes. The third book deals with the methods of acquiring rights: by succession, donation, marriage settlement, and obligations. In the last chapters, the code regulates a number of nominate contracts, legal and conventional mortgages, limitations of actions, and prescriptions of rights.

With regard to obligations, the law establishes the traditional Roman-law categories of contract, quasi-contract, delict, and quasi-delict. Freedom to contract is not spelled out explicitly but is an underlying principle in many provisions.

The code was originally introduced into areas under French control in 1804: Belgium, Luxembourg, parts of western Germany, northwestern Italy, Geneva, and Monaco. It was later introduced into territories conquered by Napoleon: Italy, The Netherlands, the Hanseatic lands, and much of the remainder of western Germany and Switzerland. The code is still in use in Belgium, Luxembourg, and Monaco.

During the 19th century, the Napoleonic Code was voluntarily adopted in a number of European and Latin American countries, either in the form of simple translation or with considerable modifications. The Italian Civil Code of 1865, enacted after the unification of Italy, had a close but indirect relationship with the Napoleonic Code. The new Italian code of 1942 departed to a large extent from this tradition. In Latin America in the early 19th century, the code was introduced into Haiti and the Dominican Republic and is still in force there. Bolivia and Chile followed closely the arrangement of the code and borrowed much of its substance. The Chilean code was in turn copied by Ecuador and Colombia, closely followed by Uruguay and Argentina.

In Louisiana, the only civil-law state in the United States (which is otherwise bound by common law), the civil code of 1825 (revised in 1870 and still in force) is closely connected with the Napoleonic Code.

The influence of the Napoleonic Code was diminished at the turn of the century by the introduction of the German Civil Code (1900) and the Swiss Civil Code (1912); the former was adopted by Japan and the latter by Turkey. In the 20th century, codes in Brazil, Mexico, Greece, and Peru were products of a comparative method, with ideas borrowed from the German, French, and Swiss.

Encyclopaedya Britannica


„Boney and his New Wife, or a Quarrell about Nothing“
(caricature of Napoléon Bonaparte and his wife Marie Louise of Austria by
Thomas Rowlandson)



The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)

Born on August 15,1769, in Ajaccio, Corsica, Napoleon was marked out early for a military career. He graduated as a lieutenant of artillery in 1785 and quickly rose through the ranks.

He was promoted to brigadier general in 1793, after he had assumed command of an artillery brigade and recaptured Toulon from the English.

In 1795 he crushed a royalist revolt in Paris and was rewarded with appointment as commander of the Army of the Interior.

In 1796, he was given command of the army in Italy. His marriage to the aristocratic Josephine de Beauharnais in 1796 gave Napoleon access to politically influential people.

El triunfo de Bonaparte, by Pierre-Paul Prud'hon





The Consulate Constitution

The Constitution of 1799 was the fifth French constitution since the start of the French Revolution. It called for a Senate appointed by the first consul, a Tribunate, and the Corps Legislatif.

The three consuls were elected by the Senate for ten years. The legislative body, the heart of a democratic constitution, was subordinate to the first consul; it could vote only on bills presented to it.

Only the first consul could propose new laws. The first consul also appointed all officials, judges, and officers.

Napoleon Crowned by Time drafts the Civil Code, by Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse




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