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Changes Introduced By Napoleon in the Administrative System

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  • Last Updated : 24 Feb, 2022

The French Revolution of 1789 set up a new world order based on the democratic principles of equality, liberty, and fraternity. It also gave birth to many prominent individuals at that time. Napoleon Bonaparte was one of such people. After completing his graduation, Napoleon was designated as a military commander during the French Revolution. Later he moved up and became the head of the three consuls. By 1804 the senate declared Napoleon as the king of France.

Napoleon was the emperor of France from 1804 to 1815. He demolished the democracy achieved in France during the French revolution and re-established the monarchy. However, He did take a few measures in the political and social sphere for which he’ll always be remembered. Napoleon made many revolutionary administrative changes that made the system better and more efficient than before.  

1. Administrative Reforms:

  • Napoleon retained the administrative structure set during the time of the French revolution. However, he abolished the electoral system of local officials. On February 17, 1800, an act regarding local administration was passed.
  • Under this Act, a Prefect was appointed in each province and Deputy Prefects were appointed in the districts. France was divided into 102 provinces during this period and a Mayor was appointed for each province. These officials were given adequate executive powers, appointed by the first advisor at the center, and were accountable to him.
  • The political system was highly centralized and officers had to follow the orders and policies of the central government. Strict punishment was arranged for the officers guilty of extravagance and bribery in the governance. The French people were satisfied as they experienced a more efficient, firm, and orderly rule.
  • Like France, Napoleon made administrative reforms in every area under his control. He abolished the feudal system. The peasants were freed from slavery and payment of duties. He also repealed the restrictions imposed by the craft circles prevalent in the cities. Improvements were made in the means of transport and communication.

2. Economic Reforms:

  • The financial state of France was wracked by civil strife and foreign conflicts. Economic production, growth, and mobility came to a halt. To improve this, Napoleon made reforms in the tariff system. He established uniformity in taxes and arranged for taxation according to the income and capacity of an individual. 
  • Qualified and competent officers were appointed for the examination and collection of taxes. A new office for taxes was set up under the Finance Minister. It increased the revenue of the state and brought economic stability.
  • Franc, a common currency introduced in France. Napoleon also standardized measures and weights. Standardized units of measurement and common currency made trade and commerce more efficient and time-saving.

3. Religious Reforms:

  • The newly adopted civil constitution led to resounding differences between the Catholics and the state. Many clergies opposed this civil constitution but Napoleon believed that people must follow one religion.
  • He considered a state without religion as a “boat without a sailor“. Therefore, to remove religious disparities, he adopted the policy of religious tolerance and freedom on the one hand, and on the other hand, he came into an agreement with Pope Pius VII of Rome in 1801.
  • The agreement known as the Concordat of 1801, restored the pope’s power and position in society. However, the power of selecting the bishops and overseeing the Church finances went to Napoleon.

4. Judicial and Legal Reforms:

  • Before Napoleon, France had various types of laws in different provinces. They were complex, ambiguous, and lacked uniformity leading to chaos, doubt, and confusion in the judicial system.
  • Napoleon’s central role in the domain of judiciary and law is that he tried to bring fairness in the judicial system along with uniformity, simplicity, and clarity in the prevailing laws. Thus, he prepared a code of law for France called the Napoleonic Code.
  • Napoleon introduced the Civil Code in 1804. It took away all the privileges provided based on birth. The code provided Equal status to every citizen and strengthened the Right to Property.

5. Educational Reforms:

  • Primary and Secondary schools were established in each commune, operated under the supervision of a Prefect and a Sub-prefect. Languages like Latin, French, and science were taught in the schools. The Imperial University was established in Paris in 1808. Its syllabus was designed as prescribed by the government. It had five departments – Theology, Law, Medicine, Literature, and Science. Napoleon appointed the chief officers of the schools.


The Ordinary people understood how much business would benefit from equal law, the standard method of measurement, and a common currency. Subsequently, the farmers, artisans, and laborers welcomed this new freedom with open hearts. But foreign territories that France had occupied gave a mixed reaction to the French rule. Initially, people saw the French army as a messenger of freedom but that feeling changed. People began to understand that political freedom could not be desired from this new system of governance. There was a huge increase in taxes. People were forcibly enlisted in the French army. As a result of all this, the initial enthusiasm of the people soon turned into a protest.

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