On This Day in 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte was elected as the Emperor of French. His reign would change the world irreparably. British historian Andrew Roberts stated, “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 Bonaparte was a military and political leader during the latter stages of the French Revolution. As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1815. His legal reform, the Napoleonic code, has been a major influence on many civil law jurisdictions worldwide, but he is best remembered for the wars he led against a series of coalitions, the so-called Napoleonic Wars, during which he established hegemony over much of Europe and sought to spread revolutionary ideals.
Napoleon was born in Corsica to parents of noble Italian ancestry and trained as an artillery officer in mainland France. In 1799, he staged a coup d’état and installed himself as First Consul; five years later the French Senate proclaimed him emperor on May 18th, 1804. In the first decade of the 19th century, the French Empire under Napoleon engaged in a series of conflicts—the Napoleonic Wars—involving every major European power. After a streak of victories, France secured a dominant position in continental Europe, and Napoleon maintained the French sphere of influence through the formation of extensive alliances and the appointment of friends and family members to rule other European countries as French client states. Napoleon’s campaigns are studied at military academies throughout much of the world.
The French invasion of Russia in 1812 marked a turning point in Napoleon’s fortunes. His Grande Armée was badly damaged in the campaign and never fully recovered. In 1813, the Sixth Coalition defeated his forces at Leipzig; the following year the Coalition invaded France, forced Napoleon to abdicate and exiled him to the island of Elba. Less than a year later, he escaped Elba and returned to power, but was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. Napoleon spent the last six years of his life in confinement by the British on the island of Saint Helena. An autopsy concluded he died of stomach cancer.