Napoleon Bonaparte
Writings
(1796-1817)

The excerpts below come from a compilation of Napoleon Bonaparte's writings compiled by R.M. Johnston (in The Corsican: A Diary of Napoleon's Life in His Own Words, 1910).


April 22, 1796 (to the army.)
Soldiers! In fifteen days you have won six victories, captured twenty-one flags, fifty-five guns, several fortresses, conquered the richest part of Piedmont; you have made 15,000 prisoners; you have killed or wounded nearly 10,000 men.

Until now you have fought for barren rocks. Lacking everything, you have accomplished everything. You have won battles without cannon, crossed rivers without bridges, made forced marches without boots, bivouacked without brandy, and often without bread. Only the phalanx of the Republic, only the soldiers of Liberty, could endure the things that you have suffered.

But, soldiers, you have really done nothing, if there still lies a task before you. As yet, neither Milan nor Turin is yours. Our country has the right to expect great things of you; will you be worthy of that trust? There are more battles before you, more cities to capture, more rivers to cross. You all burn to carry forward the glory of the French people; to dictate a glorious peace; and to be able, when you return to your villages, to exclaim with pride: "I belonged to the conquering army of Italy!"

Friends, that conquest, I promise, shall be yours; but there is a condition you must swear to observe: to respect the people you are liberating; to repress horrible pillage. All plunderers will be shot without mercy.

People of Italy, the French army is here to break your chains; you may greet it with confidence.


June 17, 1800 (on observing prisoners of war who recognized him)
Many began to shout, with apparent enthusiasm: "Vive Bonaparte!"

What a thing is imagination! Here are men who don't know me, who have never seen me, but who only knew of me, and they are moved by my presence, they would do anything for me! And this same incident arises in all centuries and in all countries! Such is fanaticism! Yes, imagination rules the world. The defect of our modern institutions is that they do not speak to the imagination. By that alone can man be governed; without it he is but a brute.


July 4, 1800
I! a royal maggot! I am a soldier, I come from the people, I have made myself! Am I to be compared with Louis XVI? I listen to everybody, but my own mind is my only counsellor. There are some men who have done France more harm than the wildest revolutionaries, - - the talkers, and the rationalists. Vague and false thinkers, a few lessons of geometry would do them good!

My policy is to govern men as the great number wish to be governed. That, I think, is the way to recognise the sovereignty of the people.


March 21, 1804 (on the execution of the Duke d'Enghien for treason)
I will respect the judgment of public opinion when it is well founded; but when capricious it must be met with contempt. I have behind me the will of the nation and an army of 500,000 men. With that I can command respect for the Republic. I could have had the Duke d'Enghien shot publicly; and if I have not done so, I held back not from fear, but to prevent the secret adherents of his House from breaking out and ruining themselves. They have kept quiet; it is all I ask of them.


March 22, 1804
These people wanted an upheaval in France, and by killing me to kill the Revolution; it has been for me to defend and to avenge it. I have shown what it can do. The Duke d'Enghien was a conspirator just like any other, and it was necessary to treat him as any other might be treated.


May 14, 1804 (a month before he made himself Emperor)
The General Councils of Departments, the Electoral Colleges, and all the great Bodies of the State, demand that an end should be made of the hopes of the Bourbons by securing the Republic from the upheavals of elections and the uncertainty attending the life of an individual.


May 15, 1804
It is not as a general that I rule, but because the nation believes I have the civilian qualifications for governing. My system is quite simple. It has seemed to me that under the circumstances the thing to do was to centralize power and increase the authority of the Government, so as to constitute the Nation. I am the constituent power.

I can best compare a constitution to a ship; if you allow the wind to fill your sails, you go you know not whither, according to the wind that drives you; but if you make use of the rudder, you can go to Martinique with a wind that is driving you to San Domingo. No constitution has remained fixed. Change is governed by men and by circumstances. If an overstrong government is undesirable, a weak one is much worse.


November 4, 1804
To reign in France, one must be born great, have been seen in childhood in a palace, surrounded with guards, or else be a man capable of raising himself above all others.

My mistress is power; I have done too much to conquer her to let her be snatched away from me. Although it may be said that power came to me of its own accord, yet I know what labour, what sleepless nights, what scheming, it has involved.


December 27, 1804
Deputies of the Departments to the Legislative Body, Tribunes, and Members of the Council of State,
I have come among you to preside over your opening session. I have sought to lend a more imposing dignity to your labours. Prince, magistrates, soldiers, citizens, each in his own sphere, will have but one aim, the interests of the country. If this throne, to which Providence and the will of the people have called me, is precious in my eyes, it is for the sole reason that by it alone can the most precious rights of the French nation be preserved. Without a strong and paternal government, France would have to fear a return of the evils from which she once suffered. Weakness in the executive power is the greatest calamity of nations. As soldier, or First Consul, I had but one purpose; as Emperor, I have none other: the prosperity of France.


May 22, 1805 (to Count Fouché, Minister of Police)
Have some articles written against Princess Dolgorouki, who is spreading scandalous and ridiculous reports in Rome. You probably know that she long lived with an actor, and that the diamonds she displays so ostentatiously were given her by Potemkin and are the price of her dishonour. You can get information about her, and make her a laughingstock. She poses for a clever woman; she is on friendly terms with the Queen of Naples, and, which is equally surprising, with Mme. de StaČl.


May 30, 1805 (to Count Fouché, Minister of Police)
Have some caricatures made: an Englishman, his purse in his hand, begging the various Powers to accept his money, etc. That is the note to strike. Have printed in Holland that advices from Madeira state that Villeneuve met a convoy of 100 English merchantmen bound for India, and captured it.


June 1, 1805 (to Count Fouché, Minister of Police)
I read in a paper that a tragedy on Henry IV is to be played. The epoch is recent enough to excite political passions. The theatre must dip more into antiquity. Why not commission Raynouard to write a tragedy on the transition from primitive to less primitive man? A tyrant would be followed by the saviour of his country. The oratorio "Saul" is on precisely that text, - - a great man succeeding a degenerate king.


March 3, 1817 (during his final years as an exile on the island of St. Helena)
In spite of all the libels, I have no fear whatever about my fame. Posterity will do me justice. The truth will be known; and the good I have done will be compared with the faults I have committed. I am not uneasy as to the result. Had I succeeded, I would have died with the reputation of the greatest man that ever existed. As it is, although I have failed, I shall be considered as an extraordinary man: my elevation was unparalleled, because unaccompanied by crime. I have fought fifty pitched battles, almost all of which I have won. I have framed and carried into effect a code of laws that will bear my name to the most distant posterity. I raised myself from nothing to be the most powerful monarch in the world. Europe was at my feet. I have always been of opinion that the sovereignty lay in the people. In fact, the imperial government was a kind of republic. Called to the head of it by the voice of the nation, my maxim was, la carrière est ouverte aux talens without distinction of birth or fortune.





Imperial Catechism of 1806
From the Original Electronic Text at the Modern History Sourcebook.

The excerpt below is an example of Napoleon's efforts to control public opinion. French public school students were required to memorize and recite this catechism.

Question: What are the duties of Christians toward those who govern them, and what in particular are our duties towards Napoleon I, our emperor?

Answer: Christians owe to the princes who govern them, and we in particular owe to Napoleon I, our emperor, love, respect, obedience, fidelity, military service, and the taxes levied for the preservation and defense of the empire and of his throne. We also owe him fervent prayers for his safety and for the spiritual and temporal prosperity of the state.

Question: Why are we subject to all these duties toward our emperor?

Answer: First, because God, who has created empires and distributes them according to his will, has, by loading our emperor with gifts both in peace and in war, established him as our sovereign and made him the agent of his power and his image upon earth. To honor and serve our emperor is therefore to honor and serve God himself. Secondly, because our Lord Jesus Christ himself, both by his teaching and his example, has taught us what we owe to our sovereign. Even at his very birth he obeyed the edict of Caesar Augustus; he paid the established tax; and while he commanded us to render to God those things which belong to God, he also commanded us to render unto Caesar those things which are Caesar's.

Question: Are there not special motives which should attach us more closely to Napoleon I, our emperor?

Answer: Yes, for it is he whom God has raised up in trying times to re-establish the public worship of the holy religion of our fathers and to be its protector; he has re-established and preserved public order by his profound and active wisdom; he defends the state by his mighty arm; he has become the anointed of the Lord by the consecration which he has received from the sovereign pontiff, head of the Church universal.

Question: What must we think of those who are wanting in their duties toward our emperor?

Answer: According to the apostle Paul, they are resisting the order established by God himself and render themselves worthy of eternal damnation.




Return to the Hanover College History Department.