Support for Napoleon’s Empire: Maneuvering, Manipulating, and Managing Public Opinion

  • Nicholas Rabnett


When Napoleon I crowned himself the Emperor of France, he had seemingly brought an end to the First French Republic under the auspices of public support. In his ascendency from Consul, he had employed plebiscites, invoked his military victories, and appealed to French Catholics. However, the public opinion of Napoleon I was not always as positive as it seemed, requiring political manoeuvring for the purpose of maintaining a visage of popular support. “Support for Napoleon’s Empire: Manoeuvring, Manipulating and Managing Public Opinion” is an analysis of the sources and mechanisms of support that allowed Napoleon I to rise from Consul to Emperor of France. Focusing primarily on the period of 1799 to 1804, this essay takes a textual analysis approach, examining secondary sources for two purposes. The first purpose is to determine where public support for Napoleon was legitimate, and where public opinion was managed, while the second purpose is to understand what mechanisms were employed in order to manage this public opinion. The essay begins with an analysis of the negative perception of the Directory among the French population, particularly its economic and democratic instability, to understand why support for a new regime arose. In the next section, the essay examines the plebiscites of 1800, 1802, and 1804, to identify and analyse the mechanisms that created the image of widespread support for Napoleon I, such as the simple design of the plebiscites and the public nature in which they were carried out. Finally, the essay concludes with an analysis of the organic and inorganic support that Napoleon I could draw on from within the French populace, focusing on that which was derived from Napoleon I’s military record, the Concordat with the Catholic Church, and a significant propaganda campaign.

How to Cite
Rabnett, Nicholas. 2024. “Support for Napoleon’s Empire: Maneuvering, Manipulating, and Managing Public Opinion”. the Ascendant Historian 3 (June), 104-11.