Napoleon decided early on a military career and won a scholarship to a military academy. His ensuing military conquests threatened the stability of the world and made France a powerful force. He built an empire extending throughout Europe, but his quest for France’s total world domination was doomed to failure.
Napoleon was decidedly effective against the Austrians in Italy in 1796. Ever a great self-publicist, he maintained the popular profile of a political independent, thanks partly to the newspapers he ran. Because he controlled printed matter in France, he was able to influence public opinion. His political talents and military expertise on land expanded his powers. He did, however, fail in his attempt to invade Egypt, and, crushed by the British navy, he was forced to abandon much of his army and return to the European front. In the meantime, however, the French public was aware only of his military successes, and he was considered a hero. Napoleon took control of France after overthrowing the republic. By 1801, as First Consul, he had restored order in France. He established the Civil Code on March 21, 1804, and it was renamed Code Napoleon in 1907. With its stress on clearly written and accessible law, it was a major step in establishing the rule of law. The principal tenet of the Civil Code was that every French person was equal before the law. Napoleon wanted to replace a series of existing laws in France with a standard code for all people. However, the law was inconsistent in that it established the supremacy of husband with respect to wife and children, but allowed divorce on a relatively liberal basis, including divorce by mutual consent. Other major points of the law were:
Napoleon’s empire controlled–either directly or through states under his sway–France, Portugal, Spain, modern-day Belgium, and the Netherlands, and large parts of modern Italy, Germany, and Poland. .