Study Guide

Napoleon Bonaparte in Louisiana Purchase Treaty

By Robert R. Livingston, James Monroe, and François de Barbé-Marbois

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Napoleon Bonaparte

When most people think of Napoleon Bonaparte's childhood, they probably don't think of sun-soaked Caribbean islands.

And they shouldn't—because that's not where he's from.

But he is from an island, and that island's name is Corsica.

Corsica is located in the Mediterranean Sea, a little south of France and a little west of Italy. It's got a super rich history and beautiful scenery, and in 1769, the year Napoleon was born, it passed into French control from the waning Republic of Genoa.

This ended up being pretty fortuitous for him, seeing as how he eventually became emperor of France.

But before the emperorship came the French Revolution, and that's where Napoleon's story really starts getting good.

War, What Is It Good For? Power Grabs.

In 1785, Napoleon graduated from the École Militaire, a prestigious military academy in Paris. Upon his graduation, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the French army, where he chilled and did artillery stuff for the next four years.

Then, in 1789, when the French Revolution teed off, Napoleon decided the time was right to take a hiatus from army life. He went back home to Corsica for about two years and got crazy involved with the island's own political and military drama. He wrote letters, organized clubs, and was asked to lead a volunteer battalion looking to secure Corsica's independence from France.

However, despite totally fighting against France (and saying some really nasty things about the country), between 1792 to 1793, he switched sides, moved his entire fam from Corsica to France, and became a general in the French army.

From then on, it was all gravy.

Napoleon's military history and aggressive style made him a shoo-in for army promotions. And if he got a posting or assignment he didn't like, he found a way to beg off of it, which is kind of a big no-no but for our boy Bonaparte, they let it slide.

In fact, after a particularly swift victory over some royalists in 1795, Napoleon was made commander of the interior and given control of the army of Italy. He went on a rampage, toppling and taking over governments like it was his job.

Which it was.

And then, after a few seriously embarrassing military defeats in Syria and Egypt, it wasn't all gravy anymore.

Luckily for Napoleon, things back home in France were in chaos. Sensing that the door of opportunity was opening, Napoleon fled Egypt, returned to Paris, threw out France's latest weirdo revolutionary government, and installed himself as the nation's First Consul (er, dictator).

Despotism, Exsanguination, and Gastric Troubles

At first, being an authoritarian leader worked out really well for Napoleon. It can be a lot easier to get stuff done when you don't have to worry about other people's annoying opinions.

And he did get stuff done.

He introduced relatively modern policies like the Napoleonic Code, which was not all that cool in terms of women's rights but was a big step forward with regard to legal institutions, property rights, and the rule of law.

He also continued on with his international conquests, naming himself king here and emperor there as he went along.

Of course, changing domestic policy and making war all over the place is not only time-consuming, it's expensive. And when it became clear that Napoleon's P&L statements were turning a decidedly reddish hue, he decided to offload one of the biggest money sucks he had: the Louisiana Territory.

Unfortunately (for Napoleon, anyway), the funds gained from the Louisiana Purchase were like a band-aid on an arterial wound: it just wasn't enough to keep the French economy from bleeding out.

By 1814, Napoleon had battled—and lost to—both the Brits and the Russians. Casualties were high, funds were low, and he was forced to abdicate the throne and go into exile on the Tuscan island of Elba (though to be fair, it was pretty cushy as far as exiles go).

Although he tried to regain power in 1815 and was temporarily successful, his success didn't last and he was exiled again. After six years trapped on the volcanic island of Saint Helena, stomach issues (most likely cancer) finally did him in, and he died.

But thanks to him, the world—and the United States—were forever changed.

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