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1815 - The Hundred Days (War of 1815)

In the stipulations with the allies Napoleon was allowed to retain the title and state of Emperor, but was to be detained as a prisoner on the island of Elba. The relations between the newly restored Bourbons and the allies were settled by the First Treaty of Paris on May 30. The changes which had taken place in Europe since the outbreak of war in 1792 had been such that the old order could not be restored, and accordingly a congress of the Powers was summoned to meet at Vienna to make the necessary new arrangements. These were completed on June 9, 1815.

But in the meantime Napoleon had left Elba, landed in France on March 1, made his way to Paris, reestablished his power, gathered a new army, and advanced to attack the allies, whose representatives at Vienna planned at once to place new armies in the field and overthrow him a second time. The campaign, which lasted only a week, included Napoleon's defeat of Blucher at Ligny on June 16, Ney's fight with Wellington at Quatre-Bras on the same day, and the final overthrow of Napoleon on the field of Waterloo by Wellington and Bliicher on June 18, 1815.

After this last battle Napoleon fled to Paris, where he abdicated a second time on June 22. For a few days he hesitated between dreams of again playing a part in France and plans for an escape to America. The first was preposterous, the second impossible, and on July 15 he surrendered himself to Captain Maitland on board the English ship Bellerophon. The allies under Bliicher had entered Paris a second time, on July 7, and made the final adjustments for the settlement of Europe in the Second Treaty of Paris on November 20. Napoleon was taken to England, and after some deliberation his request to be permitted to settle in England was refused.

He was transferred to the ship Northumberland and on October 16 landed on the island of St. Helena. In his captivity he was accompanied by his faithful friend Bertrand, and by Gourgaud, Montholon, Las CaBes, and a number of other individuals of minor importance. In 1816 Sir Hudson Lowe, a British soldier, arrived as Governor of the island. Napoleon's chief occupations as a captive were his quarrels with Lowe and his monologues with Gourgaud and Montholon, which they wrote out and submitted for correction to the Emperor. These documents form a partial autobiography, valuable not for its facts, but for the light which' it sheds upon Napoleon's character. Napoleon gave himself up to long periods of gloom and humored himself in the most inexcusable obstinacies when a more rational behavior would have improved his health and rendered his surroundings more agreeable socially. Cancer of the stomach, which had carried off his father and which was to cause the death of two of his sisters, was slowly undermining his health.

On May 5, 1821, he breathed his last at the set of sun. He was buried with military honors upon the island, but, in accord with his own request, his remains were in 1840 taken from the island, attended by the faithful Bertrand, and under the direction of Louis Philippe placed in a magnificent sarcophagus beneath the dome of the Hotel dea Invalides in Paris. After his death and the restoration of the Bourbons a romantic tradition gathered about the name of Napoleon, which found expression in the literature of the period, notably the poetry of Beranger. He appeared to many the champion of the people, the bearer of the gospel of the French Revolution to the world, a martyr to the lost cause of democracy.

To others he was the archadventurer, the traitor to the democratic cause, who exploited the results of the Revolution for his own ends and used the Revolutionary phraseology and idealism to cloak a tyranny more dangerous because more effective than the despotism of the old regime.

He is significant historically not merely for the magnitude of his military exploits but for the ideas that these embodied in his own mind and in that of the French people. Napoleon carried to the world by force of arms the ideas of eighteenth-century France. The fabric of feudalism with all its inconsistencies and absurdities crumbled at his touch and in its place appeared the foundations of the nineteenth-century state, strange compound of political democracy and economic class rule. But it was the middle classes who now occupied the dominant position of the old feudal aristocracy. And it was a modern middle-class state with efficient centralized administration, uniform law, postal service and coinage, popular education and popular representation, and freedom of contract in economic matters that Napoleon made possible in every country of Europe to which his influence extended.

The remnants of serfdom, the privileges, legal and economic, of the mediaeval Church and the landed aristocracy, the archaic political system, in which despotism was combined with disorganization and maladministration, gave way before the bureaucratic, businesslike, logically organized modern state, with a modern ruler at its head, of a type - embodied later in Bismarck and Napoleon III one who was able to yoke the new democracy to the service of an oligarchy, whether plutocratic or aristocratic, who could rear a new despotism under cover of representative institutions and could appease the popular aspirations in internal politics with a brilliant foreign policy and an appeal to the enthusiastic young nationalism to which the downfall of the feudal regime had given birth.

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Page last modified: 13-09-2012 19:13:18 ZULU