The unification of Europe is a long dream of European people since the collapse of Western Roman Empire. This dream was an idea remained alive in the hearts of Europeans until Charlemagne (r. 768-814), the Holy Roman Emperor, who was the first ruler to turn this notion into a practice for the sake of European glory. The idea was further entrenched in the Europeans’ mind for the sake of being ruled by one law and one ruler.
To this context, Napoleon was brilliant thus, glorified. As he was influenced by this notion, he called himself the new Charlemagne. Bonaparte’s great aim was to be glorified. He was lucky enough to capture his destination. Of course, Napoleon, like other leaders, is subject to controversy, of being glorified and criticized, but there are more historians glorifying him rather than criticizing. This glorification is harmonious with the French look on Napoleon. The French people, just like those historians, glorify Napoleon for certain reasons.
Napoleon is considered as son of the French Revolution, which was the greatest turning point of history. The popularity of the French Revolution is not all positive for someone to be glorified because of playing a role in it. Many revolutionists went astray and lost the brightness of being part of the French Revolution. For instance, Maximilian Robespierre (Fig. 2. The arrest of Maximilian Robespierre to be executed later) who set off the French Revolution became a tyrant and he executed thousands of people for the sake of power and to defeat the counter revolution until his own execution.
The Directory, which was a body of five Directors that held executive power, changed from being guardians of the revolution principles to corrupted rulers, with much anarchy and insecurity that feared the French people. Napoleon was lucky. He was too far from Paris, so he never involved the crimes that could affect his reputation as it happened to Robespierre and others. He was in Italy, leading the army and winning important battles for France and gaining luster for himself. While he was winning crucial battles the situation in France was getting worse. His popularity made him to be the hope of the French people. Soon he was called to Paris to take an important role in the Directory of three, he was leading. But he toppled the Directors and he dictated the authority to restore peace and to save the collapsing economy. He played politic in its highest skill while he was genius in military.
Certainly, these are the major part of his legacy which historians glorified him for. But the question stands up, why he is viewed differently with the other leaders, for example Adolf Hitler while Napoleon was a dictator. Some historians think that in comparison to Hitler and Stalin, the difference is Napoleon had positive and negative sides but Hitler and Stalin only negative. More importantly, some other historians suggest that what made Napoleon’s model difficult to follow was that his martial skills were matched by his political abilities. Moreover, Napoleon considered himself as the true loyal to the French Revolution principles and he always embraced the great ideas of liberty, fraternity and equality while Hitler’s philosophy of the Aryan superiority faced a worldwide rejection. Even Napoleon’s downfall turned to be a free fruit he picked up on the way towards his glory. That is why he became an iconic figure for art and literature works.
It is true that Napoleon is counted as genius in military world, but this could not be enough to gain him glory. His Civil Codes remain one of the greatest aspects of his legacy as it had a great impact on the French law up to until current. He was always conscious about his future, even after his death, how he will be remembered. In his words, once in his exile in Saint Helena in the Atlantic Ocean, 1,870 km from the west coast of Africa, Napoleon expressed his concerns that Waterloo will wipe out the memory of his forty victories; but that which nothing can wipe out is Civil Codes. As this was something concerning him and interrupting his dream for glory, he questioned whether there existed any points in which he could be vilified without the defence of historians. Napoleon recounted his achievements, they being that he had closed the gaping abyss of anarchy and unscrambled chaos cleansing the Revolution and ennobled the common people and therefore why he should instead be glorified. Of course, there are many historians not taking up his defense only, but also glorify him as one of the greatest leader ever.
Napoleon’s dictatorship which had occurred in the most crucial time did not eclipse his glory because the elements of his glory are composed from what is beyond this political term which even his dictatorship is somehow justified.
Napoleon Bonaparte never lost the sympathy of the majority of the French people and to a certain extent from the European people too. He became the source of the literature and art, which concerned the long European legacy of struggling for the European United under one law and one ruler.
Napoleon revived this dream of glory and he gained his glory.