What Were Some of the Pros and Cons of Napoleon’s Rule in France?

While Napoleon Bonaparte’s rule brought about positive change for the French people in the form of new technologies and improved economic conditions for the peasantry and middle class, his disastrous campaign against Russia cost the lives of about 500,000 men and forced him to raise taxes while France was also caught up in an industrial and agricultural crisis. The institution of the Napoleonic Code in France and in the conquered territories helped to eventually bring about the growth of a strong bourgeois society in Europe and ended preexisting feudal systems, but growing and debilitating unemployment caused Napoleon to also lose the support of the French people.

Major and often radical changes took place in French and European society during Napoleon’s rule. Most of the benefits of these changes went to the growing French middle class while the territories conquered by Napoleon outside of France were made to carry the cost of many of his military campaigns through conscription and heavy taxation.

Napoleon helped bring about a greater degree of religious tolerance to Catholic France regarding Protestantism and Judaism, and he also displayed an uncommon respect for Islam during his campaign in Egypt. Napoleon emancipated previously persecuted Jews and Protestants in the areas he conquered and guaranteed them the right to worship freely and own property.

A program of nepotism in which Napoleon’s family members were placed on the thrones of several European kingdoms enabled him to consolidate his power and to enforce his civil codes upon populations outside of France. He also created a system of institutionalized plunder of art objects throughout his sphere of influence, which helped stock French museums with artifacts taken from across the European continent.