Napoleon Bonaparte has a complex legacy in history. To some, he was a dictator who hijacked political instability to take power for himself. To others, he was a master tactician who took France from a chaotic mess to a united nation-state. And to people with really no knowledge of history, he is just a short joke. I often don’t like history being clumped into being the accomplishments of a single person. Napoleon, however, used his military and political knowledge to seize absolute control in one of the most unstable political situations ever seen in Europe. Not only did Napoleon stabilize France, he turned it into an empire (for a short amount of time) that went in a decade from practical anarchy to defeating monarchies. The Napoleonic Wars changed the face of Europe on a level comparative to the World Wars. Napoleon’s actions arguably killed millions of soldiers and innocent civilians but directly led to what we know today as modern-day Europe. So, that spurs the question: What if Napoleon never came to power? What if in an alternate timeline, somehow Napoleon just never took charge? How would this change the history of the world? Well kiddies, once again here is one scenario. But first, as usual, some context. If you want to skip straight to the scenario, click here. For one of the most influential European leaders of all time, Napoleon’s history is not well known to the general public — at least in the United States. Other than, “Heads go flying and Napoleon deems himself emperor of mankind or something.” If we want to talk about how Napoleon took power in France, we need to talk about the events that led up to that: good old-fashioned revolution! Before the Revolution, France’s society and government could be split into three Estates: The Clergy, who represented the Catholic Church, The Nobility, the wealthy landowning Elite, and the Third Estate, or everyone else. The representatives from these different classes occasionally met in the Estates General. I say *occasionally*, as in “every century or so”. The Estates General wasn’t like a parliament. It held no true power like in Britain. It was pretty much symbolic, as the King still had the true authority. The Third Estate left the Estates General to form their own national assembly. To vastly oversimplify, actions were taken by the King, which resulted in riots across Paris, and this is where the fun began!
The Bastille was stormed, leaders were killed, and the violence scared the King just enough that he didn’t take further action. In the chaos, the National assembly abolished feudalism, which had existed in France for more than a thousand years. The revolutionary spirit was beginning: a call of action against the society of before. It was not just a political shift, it was a cultural one. The French Revolution began in 1789. It became a rebellion against the old order of the Estates, Clergy, and the grip of the Nobles. As rebellions tend to do, noble intentions were hijacked and extreme radicals took charge. (Sound familiar?) In just a decade there was decriminalization of homosexuality, legalization of divorce, abolishment of slavery, and rights for Jews and Black people. To the rest of Europe, France basically hit its head and forgot its entire identity. But don’t celebrate just yet, Tumblr. With extreme radicals comes … extremism. The revolution took a *very* dark turn. The King was the first to be executed. And eventually, 16,000 enemies of the new government were beheaded. Nobles, Clergy, … anybody. Old systems such as Catholicism became openly despised by some revolutionaries. The new government even got rid of the 12-month calendar and replaced it with an entirely new French one. Churches and Clergy were even attacked. This didn’t really go over well with Catholics, even if some were opposed to the King’s rule at first. So, this is where the fighting began. Revolution breaking out into civil war isn’t just a Middle East invention. If you were a monarch and saw another monarch get executed, you’d be kind of worried. Maybe hope your people don’t realize you just spent millions of dollars on clothes — while they go hungry. So you try to stop it from spreading. And that’s what the other monarchies went and did. War was declared by Austria, Prussia, Britain, … you get the point. In the span of two decades, France was not only in turmoil within itself, it was at near constant war with a new, diverse cast of enemies. After a series of failed governments, the final — simply known as the Directory — took stage. The Directory was really no different than past governments. It imprisoned and often executed anyone they saw an odds with their government while ironically criticizing the former regime for doing the same. So during this whole mess of a situation, where is Napoleon? Napoleon’s origins go back to the island of Corsica, in the Mediterranean. His family were nobles…. But not “high” nobles, yet his father was able to get him a scholarship to a prestigious military school on the mainland. Barely able to speak French, and being Corsican, Napoleon became a loner. His high self-esteem personality certainly didn’t help either. French society was absolutely rigid. You were born into your class and wealth. While his family were nobles, they were not wealthy, and the set Napoleon back to the French. Lucky for him, it’s revolution time! And this system was on its last legs. By this time, it was the start of the 1790s. A young Napoleon fresh out of academy welcomed the change, although he never actively participated in the Revolution himself. He saw his homeland of Corsica as far more important. But his dreams of living on the island were dashed, as he was deemed too French-friendly. And this led to a conflict with the local nationalist leader (to oversimplify things). With this falling out, Napoleon returned to France, which was now embroiled in complete and utter chaos, as is tradition. The Kings and royals were executed, religious fighting was everywhere, and just in time as Napoleon joined as an officer in the military. After bombing the British at Toulon and saving the Republican government by literally blasting protesters in the face with cannons, he was given command of an army at the age of 26. Just in time to help in the war against the Austrians in Italy. (To oversimplify again,) he defeated the Austrians and negotiated with them himself. These actions made his name pretty known across Europe. But, like Frank Underwood, he wanted more. Napoleon led an escapade of Egypt (the exact reason for doing so is iffy). Long story short, things were going well at first until the British blew up their ships on the Nile, leaving them stranded. Disease struck his army, and Napoleon hightailed it out of there, alone, leaving his 20,000 men behind. When Napoleon returned, he was welcomed as a hero. The new government wasn’t that popular. The Directory was now on the verge of collapse, and he saw this as his moment, his perfect timing. In 1800, Napoleon overthrew the Directory in a coup and named himself First Consul of the Republic. While he replaced the system before, Napoleon championed himself as a defender of the Revolution and of Liberty. Was he? Well, in some ways. In 1804, Napoleon declared himself Emperor of the French. The First French Empire was born. So it’s easy to see France going from this, to this, to this. But was it really so simple? No. Napoleon was an Emperor, but he wasn’t like the other kings of Europe. He truly saw himself as a champion of the Revolution, a defender of a new liberal idea against feudalism that was under attack from the old monarchs, which it was. But in a quest for power, he ruled harshly and silenced any opposition. Napoleon, though Emperor, believed in some aspects of the Revolution, and his military skill meant that it had the teeth to enforce that Revolution. To the rest of Europe, Louis (the XVI) was dead, the peasants revolted, and now this lower-class man had taken charge? “This won’t do.” Many wanted to see Napoleon gone. And so they teamed up into a coalition and went off to war. Napoleon and his supporters saw this as a threat to their values. So what better way to defend the Republic values than to have your Emperor lead an army to crush the enemies of the Empire? Yay. To vastly oversimplify, France won against the 3rd and 4th Coalitions, destroying the Holy Roman Empire in the process and replacing it with the French-controlled Confederation of the Rhine. Not to go into too much detail, but by the end of the first two wars, 70 million people were now subjects of Emperor Napoleon. France was seen as unstoppable. Napoleon was always egotistical. (He crowned himself Emperor, by the way.) But that egotism always ended up benefiting him somehow. Well, that soon began to fail him. It led to some bad decisions. Britain hated France, and France hated Britain. This has been a story tried and true since the days of old. Napoleon saw that Britain’s power came from the seas (Britain was blockading France at the time). So France needed a way to counter the UK’s influence. It’s embargo time! After beating Russia into a pulp until they agreed, France was able to have most of Europe embargoing Britain. … except for Portugal. So Napoleon, at the height of his power, had an idea: Team up was Spain to invade Portugal. Take its riches and not worry about that little thorn in Napoleon’s side. Spain agreed, and the two invaded Portugal. Unsurprisingly, having a hundred thousand French troops waltz into Spain wasn’t really the smartest move for the Spanish, because immediately after, Napoleon captured Madrid as well. The Spanish king was deposed, and now all of the Iberian Peninsula was under French control, with a French monarch — Napoleon’s brother as King. By the way, Napoleon was trying to make his own dynasty. The Iberian Peninsula was different. Even though Spain and Portugal had empires, their people lived in poorer lives compared to the rest of Europe. They were more devout and nationalistic than anyone Napoleon had encountered before. While Napoleon himself was non-traditional in European warfare, he still played by the rules. The Peninsula Wars, as it came to be called, was not traditional. This conflict is where the term “Guerrilla war” came from. Militias would fight in the shadows picking off French soldiers. Atrocities would be committed against the locals. Fighting wasn’t clean-cut, it was brutal and everywhere in Spain. This lasted for five years. Remember that embargo? Well, eventually the Russians betrayed that agreement. Napoleon didn’t really like this one bit. His advisors told him to talk it out with the Tsar, but he would have none of it. His next conquest was going to be Russia. Napoleon raised an army of 450,000 men and set off for Moscow. This is Russia we’re talking about. Napoleon beat the Russians in a few battles and marched right into Moscow. Nobody was there. Napoleon won fair and square, but that didn’t mean the Russians would accept it. And then, Moscow burned. The city was useless, and there was nowhere else to go but back. Winter came three weeks early and destroyed his entire army. Only 90,000 of the once-Grande Armée returned. With this defeat, France was weakened. the time to take Napoleon down was seized, and a Sixth Coalition was immediately formed. Basically, all of Europe. Napoleon was deposed and sent into exile. He became Emperor of Elba, a tiny little island next to Italy. He grew bored and literally escaped, returning to France. He convinced the army, sent to kill him, to join his side, and he retook Paris, ruling for a hundred and eleven days. Of course, this was a no-no, and a Seventh Coalition was formed. Napoleon’s army had one last stand at Waterloo. As we know, he lost and was sent once again into exile. This time, not a nice Mediterranean island, but a British colony in the South Atlantic. This was a fate worse than death to Napoleon, who saw his Empire entirely crumble. He died in his 50s from failing health, his writings one last effort to immortalize himself. What if Napoleon never came to power? In this alternate timeline, let’s say that one thing that changes is Napoleon never becomes First Consul or Emperor. He easily remains a prominent, even popular, general in the French army but he never uses that fame to, you know, take over the government of France. But for the sake of the scenario, somehow he just doesn’t. Some people are so influential in history taking them away from their position doesn’t just shift wars or events, it changes the entire progression of Europe’s destiny. There is a reason this age is called the Napoleonic Era. It was dominated by what Napoleon wanted and the will of the French empire. So, in this alternate timeline, it is 1799. The Directory, composing of five Directors, is on the brink of collapse. France is fractured, bankrupt, and in chaos. This issue was slowly solved when General Bonaparte took charge, but instead, his attempt at a coup fails and just creates anger across French parliament. He is outcasted for his bold gamble at power. In this alternate timeline, France is more of the same as has been for the last decade — instability, corruption, bankruptcy, endless wars. There is no French Empire that conquered land and installed new leaders. Instead, there is just a country wracked with corruption, bankruptcy, and fighting in the streets. This fighting is important to note. Without Napoleon, it’s possible France would have just descended into absolute civil war. The policies of the revolutionaries sometimes alienated and openly discriminated against Catholics at times. This anti-Catholic mentality isolated a lot of still-devout people, who then chose to ally themselves with the old order of the monarch. These tensions might explode in this alternate timeline as lawlessness consumes what stability is left in France. This isn’t too unimaginable. The war in the Vendée, in our timeline, led to royalists and republicans massacring enemy civilians in the streets. 200,000 people died in this single war. Royalist rebels were a significant problem for the French government. The foreign neighbors still wage war against the fledgling Republic, as installing a monarchy back into power is their only objective. The specifics of these alternate wars and politics I can’t really say, but it’s easy to assume it’d be the same players as the 1st through 7th coalitions, so that’s not much of a shock. By removing Napoleon, it’s entirely likely new players could have come into influence in France. Maybe have their own policies, like Napoleon or Robespierre. We’re predicting from 1799 onwards, when it’s possible, in the turbulent French government, things could have changed very fast. It’s pretty much certain the rest of Europe would have invaded once France became too tired to fight back and reinstall the Monarch back to the throne. In this alternate timeline, without Napoleon, the Napoleonic Code would not exist. Shocking, but what is the Napoleonic Code before the French Revolution? Laws, and the interpretation of those laws, changed entirely on where in France you went. Some factions held some control over some laws, others in other laws. During the Revolution, abolishing this was considered, but never put through until Napoleon. The Napoleonic Code was a clean slate: a secular and classless interpretation of the law and justice under it, It wasn’t the first of its kind, but it certainly was the most widespread, thanks to war and stuff. While the term “Emperor” doesn’t convey the most liberal picture, and Napoleon in many ways was not fair in his policies (even wanting to bring slavery back), the legal code he spread is one that is a foundation across Modern Europe and eventually the world. But wait right there, kiddies! In our own timeline, Napoleon’s wars shocked 19th-century Europe so much The victors decided to set a peace that would remain so such an occurrence when it happened again. (Sound familiar?) This was the Congress of Vienna, and the effects of it kept Europe at peace for over 40 years and prevented a major war on the scale of the Napoleonic Wars … until World War One. But, this was also probably just a way to stop the ever-growing spread of liberal ideas — — “liberal” as in against monarchies and authoritarianism. That sort of Communist stuff, you know. In this alternate timeline, without Napoleon, this council never happens and, ironically, isn’t good for conservative monarchs, as revolutionary fervor and liberal nationalism go unchecked across Europe. The early 19th century would not see peace, but a period of massive upheaval and competition through war. So what does this change? The unification of Germany and Italy. (Let me explain) Napoleon, in our timeline, destroyed the Holy Roman Empire, which at the time was basically just a united band of German kingdoms and small States which had existed for a thousand years, but lost its luster. These numerous states were kingdoms, princedoms, free cities, and every little monarchy you can imagine. Napoleon came in, broke their toys, and simplified the borders, creating around 30 larger but simpler states under French control, known as the Confederation of the Rhine. While French dominance didn’t last, the simpler borders did under the new German confederation. So while under French occupation, Germans began to see themselves along nationalistic lines, thinking “wouldn’t it be great if we couldn’t get invaded so easily?” In our timeline, liberal revolutions in 1848 yearned for calls of unity, but the question was: “who would lead this new Germany?” Well, Prussia, that’s who, and Prussia wanted a Germany controlled by Prussia. By the 1870s, Prussia had taken most of Germany, beat Austria and France, and declared a new German Reich in Paris after beating the French, setting the stage for everlasting friendships and love, of course, all thanks to Napoleon’s occupation in the first place. In this alternate timeline, without Napoleon, the Holy Roman Empire still struggles to continue on throughout the 19th century, including all the political squabbles inside of it. In fact, the Austrian Empire just simply doesn’t exist. It was only declared because Napoleon declared an empire of his own. Because the empire stays alive for a few more decades, That means there is no German confederation, and no simple (relatively) way for Prussia to rise. Prussia is unable to economically control the smaller German states. There is never a sense of economic unity which drives the push for centralization, which then allowed for a military victory to create an autocratic state. We could see Germany eventually unify, but it would not be under the swift effectiveness of Otto von Bismarck, as in our timeline — — all options are open, so to say. Germany could have won down different paths when unified: Paths when unified either an Austrian-dominated state with less centralized control; a liberal, constitutional German monarchy like attempted in 1848 (same flag, too); or the autocratic, militaristic Prussians who, through Blood and Iron, conquered their neighbors. Without Napoleon, the odds aren’t simply put in Prussia’s favor anymore. Your future is anything you make it. Now, Italy shares the same story, too: Napoleon destroyed many of the connections to the feudal powers on the Italian Peninsula, simplifying the many entities into larger and more generalized states. This laid the groundwork for a sense of nationalism that, just as in Germany, allow for a single state to unify and conquer the rest. This time, Sardinia. Both countries just became larger examples of their previous kingdoms. In this alternate timeline without Napoleon, feudal lords still hold far more influence, and unification just never happens. The formation of Germany and Italy changed Europe forever. While good for the people that live there, it directly led to the World Wars. Remove Napoleon, you remove the entire unification wars. You remove the spread of Prussia, [then you remove] the rivalry and hatred between France and Germany. The entire 20th century is not just different, it is completely unrecognizable. It could change in ways that I can’t even predict. Remember that whole peninsula war, and how that kicked out the Spanish and Portuguese monarchy? Well, by doing that, Napoleon kicked off a series of revolutions across Latin America, as many across the New World did not see Napoleon’s brother as the true king. Very, very, very long story short, this set in motion a series of revolutions which resulted in the independence of all of Latin America from Spain and Portugal just two decades later (except for Cuba and Puerto Rico and a few other places). In this alternate timeline, with Napoleon never coming to power, He never invades Spain. The Spanish and Portuguese empires are not utterly destroyed by a five-year occupation at home. Instead, tensions would grow as liberal and revolutionary ideas spread across the New World, but there isn’t an immediate spark like in our timeline. At home, they aren’t utterly destroyed by the occupation, and so the problems caused by that did not affect the countries (you know, Franco, civil war, that fun stuff). In this scenario, Spain and Portugal hold on to their colonies, at least for a few more decades. At most until the 1880s or 90s. That’s good for them, not so good for the Land of Freedom, and this brings us to the United States. The U.S. and Spain had a pretty rocky relationship for the early 19th century. The U.S. was a growing power and was a threat to the weakening Spanish Empire, even before Napoleon. In this alternate timeline, that tension easily spills into violence. For example, Texan rebels revolting in New Spain territory, when it just caused a war between the U.S. and Mexico [in our timeline], it caused a war between the U.S. and Spain [in this alternate timeline]. But this is only one example. At this time, manifest destiny was everything to the U.S., and in this alternate timeline, it’d be a far harder endeavor. Here in ‘Murica, we’re taught that Napoleon sold Thomas Jefferson the Louisiana Territory, effectively doubling the size of the country. Many just leave it at that, as if Napoleon was just such a swell guy. However, before then, the French territory was actually handed over to Spain in the Seven Years’ War. Napoleon secretly got the land back in a treaty just three years before selling it off to the Americans. The only reason Napoleon sold the land to the U.S. was because his colonial ambitions failed when France was unable to take back the profitable colony of Haiti, which rebelled during the French Revolution just a decade earlier. So in this alternate timeline, without Napoleon, Spain keeps the Louisiana territory, and even though only Native Americans live in it, this region remains under Spanish control. In this alternate timeline, Manifest Destiny is probably a much more complicated turn: Instead of just one purchase and maybe a series of purchases — invasions or incursions as the United States either negotiates, buys, invades, or Texases their way into taking the land. Either way, Spain plays a much larger part in U.S. history. Even with this, there is still a significant delay. Without an easy migration west, colonists don’t arrive as soon as they did in our timeline. States don’t pop up as fast, either: Kansas, Arkansas, Louisiana, all states borne from this purchase are either never founded or take longer than one simple grab. Whether a state should be a slave or free state divided the country entirely. It meant the balance of power in Washington and ultimately led to the Civil War. Delaying this tension, by having the U.S. focus on getting the land first, may mean that the Civil War would take place a decade or two farther than in our timeline. Weapons could be deadlier and more, more catastrophic. Pretty much one huge butterfly effect, where one event changes another event and ultimately spirals to effect an event entirely different than the first. Much of this is easily one huge butterfly effect. Napoleon took charge in one of the most significant times in the last two hundred years. The wars he was involved in led to the deaths of millions of Europeans. But the bloodshed created a time of peace among Europeans, apart from Prussia and Russia (bad Prussia and Russia!), that lasted all the way until World War One. In this piece, we saw Colonialism, the rise of industrialization, and the creation of modern Europe. His Napoleonic Code replaced feudal and petty codes of the time. He spread the Revolutionary ideas by force. Not free speech or democracy, but by the equality of the classes. Even though he declared himself an emperor, he was not an Emperor who divinely ruled by the will of God. He ruled because he was the leader of the French. Without him, Europe would have changed in ways nobody can even possibly predict. This is just one scenario. Nobody can know a hundred percent what could have happened, but as usual, it’s fun to theorize. What do you think would have happened had Napoleon never came to power? This is Cody, of the alternate history Hub. *♪ No Sustain/Trash Hawk – The Engine Test (Remix) ♪*