Of all the Events of European history, the French Revolution of 1789 is without doubt one of the most important and controversial. Similarly Napoleon Bonaparte has to be amongst the most written on and opinion dividing individuals world history has ever seen. Therefore the question as to weather Napoleon was an heir to the revolution, its saviour, hijacker, or simply consolidator is probably the most frequently asked question regarding the revolution and Napoleon. In this essay I will be attempting to answer the question of weather Napoleon was an heir to the French Revolution. This will involve me firstly exploring my definition of the term heir, and my views on the explanations and definitions of the French Revolution. Having done this I will then move on to examine the reign of Napoleon. By doing this I hope to prove my view that, whilst Napoleon may be considered an inevitable consequence of the revolution, he was not its heir. In my opinion the word heir describes a person’s or events natural successor. Therefore the term heir to the revolution would in my opinion be used to describe the next regime, which came to embody the principles and morals of the revolution. The revolution’s heir must be the regime that follows on from were the revolution left France, and presides over, or creates the kind of society the revolutionaries of 1789 intended to. It is my belief that Napoleon and the Napoleonic regime did not either preside over or create this kind of society and as such Napoleon cannot be considered an heir to the French Revolution. In order for this view to be qualified the next aspect we need to look at, is the various definitions and interpretations of the French Revolution. Put simply the French Revolution was, when in 1789 the old Ancien regime was overthrown, and France went from a monarchy-governed state to a republic. After this, France went through a number of different stages in terms of forms and types of government. The revolutionary government of 1789-1793 was the most immediate, until between 1793-1794, when Robespierre became the most powerful man in France overseeing the era known as the terror. This was followed by the Directory who ruled between the years 1794-1799, and this was the government Napoleon overthrew in the Coup of Brumaire on November 9-10th 1799. Studying the history of these events has gone through many stages and significant changes, especially in the last fifty years or so. For a long time after the revolution, the most dominant form historiography on the subject was the Marxist interpretation. This interpretation went largely unchallenged until the 1950’s and the arrival of the first generation revisionists. This was essentially a critique of the Marxist interpretation. This was followed up in the 1960’s and 1970’s by what is often called second generation revisionism, as historians such as Blanning and Doyle began to look more closely at the Nobility as a social group and found new definitions for the events in the years after 1789 up to when Napoleon took power.
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