The Occupation of Europe
A continent under the French boot
"The attribute of popular government in revolution is at one and the same time virtue and terror, virtue without which terror is fatal, terror without which virtue is impotent. The terror is nothing but justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is thus an emanation of virtue."
Revolutionary France and the French Empire secured control over the majority of Europe in a number of ways. French influence had to be enforced in all aspects of society and government.
While the signing of treaties brought a formal end to hostilities, the effects of war never disappeared. Subjugated nations were restless and agitated for a plethora of reasons, from arbitrary taxation to totalitarian reform programs. Controlling this unrest was crucial to maintaining the French Empire. The most common way to do this was by appointing native bourgeois administrators and placating them through land grants or appeals to ambition. Once a stable government had been established, a thorough audit was undertaken to allow the French government to fine-tune occupation policy in order to further maintain order.
Napoleon's devolution of local affairs to local governments while maintaining strong Imperial authority allowed his Empire to remain remarkably stable during his reign. A Prussian ambassador named Küstler remarked:
"The main feature [of the French Empire] is the felicitous unity of the administration... its simplicity, rapidity and energy cannot fail to achieve full success."
"A means of softening the foreign yoke in the eyes of the Germans was to propose a man of repute who spoke their language, shared their tastes and even their weaknesses."
Jacques Claude Beugnot
Napoleon attends the Cisalpine Council, the legislative body of the Cisalpine Republic in northern Italy.
Conquering a nation's territory is one thing; conquering its people is another. Very few populaces willingly welcomed the arrival of French armies in their land, especially if they had been subjected to hardship by the war. Civilian populations often undertook passive resistance to the French, such as withholding food and sabotaging equipment. Some even took part in active resistance in the form of uprisings, though these were quickly quashed by the occupying army.
Events such as parades allowed the French to show their martial might to the population of a region in the hope of ending any rebellious thought before it developed into seditious activity. There were also instances of forceful oppression to terrify would-be opponents into submission, a course of action that had to be balanced with placating local leaders to keep order. In short, military power was not reserved for the battlefield and was frequently flexed in civil areas of life.
"There are only two forces that unite men — fear and interest."
Napoleon leads his troops through Berlin, 1806.
Once a region was secured by administrative and military domination, France could begin exploiting the economic resources it possessed for the sake of the war effort. Taxation was used to finance the burgeoning Grand Armée, which was increasingly populated by non-French soldiers - at the beginning of the Russian Campaign of 1812, more than half of the Grand Armée was composed of foreign soldiers.
Napoleon attempted to wield the economic might of the entire continent through the Continental System which began in 1806. This forced almost every country in Europe to cease all trade with Britain in the hopes that this would starve the country, forcing it to come to the negotiating table. The System came to harm the French Empire more than Britain due to the abundance of resources in the British colonies that simultaneously supplied Britain and starved Europe. Despite its failure, the Continental System demonstrated Napoleon's ability to command the entire European economy.
"There is no art which one government sooner learns of another than that of draining money from the pockets of the people."
French soldiers inspect Saxon merchants' cargo for smuggled goods.
"The most extravagant idea that can be born in the head of a political thinker is to believe that it suffices for people to enter, weapons in hand, among a foreign people and expect to have its laws and constitution embraced. No one loves armed missionaries."
The initial approach taken by the French Republic was to foster revolutionary sentiment abroad. The early republic was predicated on radicalism and revolutionary zeal. Politicians took up a kind of 'Frenchman's Burden', believing it was their duty to bring the light of the Revolution to all corners of the world. It was hoped that even if an independent revolution did not occur abroad, radical citizens of a conquered country would welcome French soldiers as saviours.
As revolutionary zeal gave way to pragmatism under Napoleon's dictatorship, the focus of French foreign policy changed. Power was taken back from the revolutionary 'sister-republics' established in earlier conquests for fear of intellectual opposition to Napoleon's policy and revolutionary reforms were scaled back to appease the increasingly agitated conservative elements of society.
For an in-depth look into how various countries responded to revolutionary ideology over the course of the Revolutionary-Napoleonic Wars, click here.
Polish war-scythemen during Tadeusz Kościuszko's Uprising, 1794.