Monday, May 28, 2012

Napoleon...Relevant to Americans Today?

Napoleon I, Maison Napoleon, Ajaccio
Is Napoleon relevant in any way to Americans today?  Does our war-weary nation simply regard him as the ultimate "War lover" and a bloated symbol of an outdated Imperialism?  Perhaps, but consider the following...

1) Louisiana Purchase.   In 1803 the Jefferson administration purchased the Louisiana territory from Napoleon for the sum of $15 million or about 3 cents an acre.  The Louisiana purchase accounts for 23% of all current US territory including ALL of the states of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, and parts of Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, Northern Texas and Louisiana.  Furthermore, the Louisiana purchase enabled the US to expand even further westward pushing on to the Pacific.

Commander Kelly and Self-made man shirt
Marshal Murat...Rock Star?

2) Self-Made Man.  Napoleon's life exemplified the social mobility beloved by Americans.  The Code Napoleon stipulated that government jobs would be awarded on the basis of merit.  He disrupted forever the hidebound class system of Royalist France.  He extended opportunity to those in the French military by promoting according to merit and asserting that there was the potential for "a marshal's baton in every soldier's  knapsack."  Marshal Ney, the bravest of the brave, was the son of a barrel cooper.  Marshal Murat, who looked like a rock star, was the son of an innkeeper.  Marshal Massenna was the son of a shopkeeper.  Nor was he unwilling to promote nobly-born officers such as Marshal Davout -- probably his most able subordinate.

Napoleon was the son of a petite bourgeoisie family who rose to become Emperor.  He was, as the t-shirts in Ajaccio say, a "self-made man."

3) Napoleon -- Amercian Ally.  This year, 2012, marks the bicentennial of the start of the War of 1812 againt Great Britain (see earlier post War of 1812, .  During this three year conflict Napoleonic France was the de facto ally of the United States.  The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

4) Napoleon and Modern Family.  Napoleon was part of a complicated blended family.  He was the second oldest of eight children.  His father Carlo Maria Buonaparte was a lawyer who died when Napoleon was only 16.  His first wife,  Josephine had creole (mixed race) roots.  Napoleon had two stepchildren, two wives and numerous mistresses.  He attempted to run Europe as if it were the Bonaparte family business with brothers assigned to thrones in Spain, Holland, Italy and Germany.

Napoleon briefly had an American sister-in-law named Elizabeth Patterson from Baltimore who wed his youngest brother Jerome in 1803 with the marriage later being annulled by Napoleon who had other plans for his brother.

Napoleon was, like so many American men, a mamma's boy.  Napoleon once said, "It is to my mother that I owe my fortune and all the good I have achieved."

Vote Napoleon!
5) Napoleon and Modern Politics.  Napoleon was, in many ways, the first modern politician.  William Dietrich writes, "modern politicians who seem coated with Teflon (meaning that nothing critical sticks to them) cannot compare to the slickness of Napoleon Bonaparte."  The Rosetta Key, William Dietrich 2008 (http:/  After the debacle of his expedition to Egypt where his army was a marooned when Nelson led the Royal Navy victory at the battle of the Nile. Napoleon fled back to France on a Frigate abandonning his army but his spinmasters went into overdrive touting his land battles against the Mamelukes and cultural gleanings from the invasion.  He was shrewd in his manipulation of the media -- he would sometimes dictate articles in newspapers like the Moniteur.

6) Napoleon and Louisiana.  The Code Napoleon was once in force in Louisiana and the state still is affected, for better or worse, by Napoleon.  Louisiana is divided into parishes rather than counties due to Napoleon.  Some argue that the curious structure of Louisiana may have have hampered relief efforts during hurricane Katrina.

In New Orleans today you can enjoy a drink at the Napoleon House ( which was the building that Bonapartist conspirators hoped to bring him to after rescuing him from the clutches of the British on the barren south Atlantic island of St. Helena.  Napoleon himself foiled the conspiracy by dying at the age of 51, most likely as a result of stomach cancer.

7) Napoleonic and Food and Drink.  Have you ever eaten Napoleonic?  The Napoleon mille feuille pastry is delicious.  Chicken Marengo, which includes crayfish, tomatoes and garlic, is a classic dish known world-wide.  Pumpernickel bread was allegedly invented for Napoleon who responded to its creation with "C'est bon pour Nichole!" -- "It's good for (my horse) Nichole!"

Du Vin Napoleonique
Have you ever drunk Napoleonic?  Ever quaffed a Napoleon brandy?  Ever sipped a glass of Chambertin Clos de Beze -- Napoleon's favourite wine?   He insisted that cases of this delightful Burgundy accompany him on his campaigns. In Corsica today you can even find a wine called simply 1769 -- the year of Napoleon's birth.

8)  Napoleon, Art and Museums.  Have you ever visited the Louvre?  It was once known as the Musee de Napoleon.  Visit and you may find the sword de Valette which was stolen at bayonet point from the knights of Malta when Napoleon's force captured the island in 1799 on his way to Egypt.  The inscription reads "A gift from the people of  Malta to the People of France," thereby explaining much of art collecting history!

Maltese Gift to France...?

Have you been to the British Museum in London?  Have you perhaps studied a foreign language with a certain company?  Are you interested in mummies, pyramid power or Egyptology?  It was Napoleon's expedition to Egypt that discovered the Rosetta stone which was the key breakthrough that allowed translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics.  For an entertaining take on Napoleon's expedition to Egypt Commander Kelly says "check out William Dietrich's novels Napoleon's Pyramids, 2007 (http:/ and  The Rosetta Key, 2008 (http:/!"

Napoleonic Air Force - Bonaparte's Gull
9) Napoleonic Names and Places.  Still don't think Napoleon is relevant to 2012?  You must not live in or near Napoleon Michigan, Napoleon Mississippi, Napoleon North Dakota and or Napoleon Missouri!  You must not live near Bonaparte Lake in my adopted home state of Washington.  Have you ever been to the beach and seen a gull flying overhead?   You may have seen a Bonaparte's Gull which was actually named after Napoleon I's nephew Charles Lucien Bonaparte who studied birds in America with James Audobon.

10) Napoleon and Film.  Have you ever seen a Napoleonic film or TV program?  Master and Commander was based on the Patrick O'Brian novel series and featured Russell Crowe.  The Hornblower TV series with Iaon Gruffud was exceptionally well-produced.  The Sharpe Novels of Bernard Cornwell were rendered into a TV series with a terrific cast featuring Sean Bean. The Emperor's New Clothes was a charming non-military take on Napoleon that featured Ian Holm as Napoleon.  Then, of course, there is always the 2004 classic Napoleon Dynamite!

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America Invades
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