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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Emperor of the republic

Editor’s note: This entry is the fourth in a series on Napoleon. BIH recommends reading the previous entries, A brand apartRise of the little corporal, and The return of Caesar prior to this one. They review the origin story of the young Napoleon, and then explore his development as a leader and strategist.

Napoléon as first consul, J. A. Ingres 1804.
Napoleon was anything but stupid. He knew that being dictator, while not in name but in position due to the Constitution of Year VIII, was completely dependent on the support of the masses. After all, the whole reason he was leading France was because of an uprising against the monarchy eight years earlier. Indeed, Napoleon started out as a republican supporter. Just because he was "First Consul" didn't mean that, in effect, one monarchy hadn't replaced another. Caution was a watchword for Napoleon. What he needed was French unity, and either real or imagined would do.

One political strategy Napoleon resorted to was holding regular elections with the French people. If there was a big question or issue, he essentially polled the French electorate. That's how he ratified the new constitution, although there were shenanigans with vote tallies. It's pretty well known that Napoleon's brother, Lucien, adjusted the returns doubling the actual vote to 3 million people having cast ballots when half that was more likely.

Keep in mind that while France was trying to heal herself from eight years of revolution, not to mention substantial interference from outside monarchies, the rest of Europe remained at war throughout 1800. What's more, by invading and occupying Italy, Austria reneged on the treaty it negotiated with Napoleon a few years earlier. As a result, Napoleon led his troops across the Alps into Italy.

Hodder & Stoughton, 1912
Marching an army over the Alps is not easy. The mountain range is very rugged, cold, and altogether inhospitable to an army on foot. Hannibal Barca knew this from his crossing a few thousand years ago, losing nearly half his men in the effort. But he had Celts ambushing him, adding to losses from the cold. Napoleon had no such problem. So while difficult, Napoleon and his troops managed to enter the plains of northern Italy—surprisingly unopposed by Austrian elements. The Austrian expedition into Italy, it seemed, hit snag even before Napoleon arrived.

There was a French army element stationed in Genoa, a city on the western coast of where Italy meets the European mainland. The French contingent in Genoa occupied the attention of Austrian forces, giving Napoleon time to get into Italy. It didn't take long for the two sides to find and engage each other. Actually, Austrian forces surprised the French, and while effective at first, the tide turned to Napoleon's favor. It's no wonder. He made sure his lines never broke, even during tactical retreats. Napoleon would ride among his troops, inspiring them to stand and fight. And then there was Napoleon's expert use of artillery, which had its intended impact. By the end of the action, Austria was down 14,000 casualties and had agreed to once again leave Italy.

The fly in the peace ointment was that the whole confrontation in Italy did little to settle the territorial dispute with Austria. Apparently Britain was the fly, conspiring with Austrians against the French. As a result, Napoleon decided hit Austria hard, plowing through Bavaria and securing a firm victory by December 1800. Two months later, he forced Austria to sign a treaty that, in effect, left Britain standing alone in a war with France. And within a year of that, Britain agreed to a treaty. By the spring of 1802, Europe was finally at peace.

Big victories have a habit of making leaders very popular, and Napoleon's win against Austria (again) made him even more so. Add to that the treaty between France and Britain, and Napoleon earned unprecedented popularity, not just among his own people, but also Europeans in general. The fighting was over. In 1802, the French people overwhelmingly voted to approve another constitution that made the Consulate permanent, and essentially making Napoleon dictator for life. But things wouldn't stay calm for long.

Coronation of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David in 1804.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Return of Caesar

Editor’s note: This entry is the third in a series on Napoleon. BIH recommends reading the previous entries, A brand apart and Rise of the little corporal prior to this one. They review the origin story of the young Napoleon, and then explore his development as a leader and strategist.

In ancient times, conquerors like Julius Caesar made it a point to extract funds and treasure from conquered lands, sending them back home. Napoleon was no different, making sure to top off France's coffers with millions in funds (adjusted for modern USD), and seized art treasures for her cultural enrichment. This swelled his popularity, particularly in Paris. Add to that the coup he orchestrated in 1797, and Napoleon was the "it" guy in French republican politics. Interestingly, he still wasn't the head guy. But he was the hero of France.

Napoleon helped vanquish all but one of France's immediate adversaries—Great Britain—the one he knew France still wasn't quite ready to take on. That was because the British Royal Navy was formidable, not just in terms of fleet size, but also experience and leadership. He needed time cogitate on Britain. So, again emulating Caesar, Napoleon took a couple of months off to invade Egypt, although there was a hidden, British-related agenda.

Seizing Egypt would severely inhibit Britain's access to near-east trade interests. It would also give France a foothold in the Middle East, enabling France to cozy up to one of Britain's enemies. A Muslim sultan in India did not like the British crown, which he demonstrated by firing rockets at British forces. It's not hard to imagine that Napoleon was delighted with the idea of Englishmen on the run. Based on the adage that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, he concocted the plan to conquer Egypt. Once he did so, he would establish relations with Indian leaders in order to team up against Britain.

Battle of the Pyramids on 21 July 1798 by
Louis-François, Baron Lejeune, 1808

Britain was not ignorant of Napoleon's intentions. Consequently, ships of the Royal Navy were deployed to find Napoleon and stop him. Fortune favored Napoleon as he managed to elude the British and he arrived at Alexandria on the 1st of July, 1798. Immediately the French clashed with the Egyptians. At the start of hostilities, French and Egyptian forces were close in terms of strength—about 25,000 each. But losses would separate the two. The Egyptians lost around 2000 compared to a hair over two dozen for the French. This made the French a bit cocky, although not for long.

Right when things looked up for Napoleon and his Army, Lord Nelson commanded the fleet that obliterated all but two of Napoleon's ships. This suspended efforts to reinforce French strength in the Mediterranean. Yes, there was the French foothold in Egypt, but it wasn't firm. The Egyptians weren't particularly welcoming to occupation. Still, Napoleon had the bright idea of spreading the love. He led a 13,000-man element along the coasts of what are now Gaza, Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. Nearly half the army was lost to combat or disease. This whole endeavor was less than successful, so he retreated to Egypt. To speed things up, he ordered plague-stricken men poisoned with opium—a number estimated as high as 580.

Napoleon wasn't alone in failure. Throughout 1799, France suffered a series of defeats from a revived coalition of European monarchs. And it hastened his return. Although Napoleon hadn't received orders to come home, luckily, the Directory had sent them. They just never reached him. When Napoleon reached Paris in the fall of 1799, France's situation improved from a few late victories. Unfortunately the Republic was broke. Further, the Directory became pretty ineffective and lost the support of the French. There was only one place turn.

Napoleon surrounded by members of the Council of
Five Hundred during the Coup, by François Bouchot.
Despite his failures in Egypt, Napoleon returned a hero. It enabled him to cobble together an alliance that included leaders from the Directory and Napoleon's brother, Lucien, who was then speaker of the one house of the legislature, and others. They formed a cadre that overthrew the Directory and dissolved the legislature. As a result of the coup, Napoleon became one of three consuls, and he was designated "first consul" for ten years. This arrangement was very, very similar to the First Triumvirate, formed by the partnership of the three most powerful men in Rome—Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus. Only in the case of the consuls, Napoleon held all the power. The other two consuls, whom he appointed, had only advisory roles. It was then that the "Constitution of the Year VIII" (VIII indicating the year of the Revolution), was edited by Napoleon and ratified by popular vote. Any resemblance to a republic given by the constitution was an illusion. Napoleon's revisions established his dictatorship.


In 1798, Napoleon was granted membership into the French Academy of Sciences. During his excursion to Egypt in May of the same year, he was joined by a large group of 167 mathematicians, naturalists, chemists, and others. The most noted of their discoveries was the Rosetta Stone. It is inscribed with three versions of a decree issued in 196 BC on behalf of King Ptolemy V. The two upper groups of text contain ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and using and Demotic script (a written evolution of hieroglyphs to script), and the lower version is ancient Greek. Since the decree is the same in each version, the stone is the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Celebrating a Really Big Brand!

Texas! The very sound of that word evokes an expectation. And packed within those five letters and two syllables is, well, a Texas-sized brand that calls to mind cowboys, longhorn cattle, oil, and football; a history of epic struggles among tribes of Indians, between many of those tribes and ranchers, oppressors versus visionaries, and whole communities against the worst nature could throw at them. All of it across a landscape so vast it slowly morphs from subtropical jungle to the tail end of the Rocky Mountains, from high plains to coastal prairie. Only one word can rustle up all that into one succinct package—Texas!

Every realtor on the planet will tell you success begins with one simple principle—location, location, and location. And, brother, Texas has all three, driving its very history almost to a point of predestination. Within its almost 270,000 square miles roams bountiful game, lies fertile land, flows crystal clear water, much-needed and valuable minerals, as well as other resources that have attracted people since deep into the pre-Colombian eras.
Essentially, Texas has almost everything anyone could want or need—but it's not for weenies. Texas can be so hot you boil in your own sweat, or bone chillingly cold. And then there are storms so wild as to shake the pillars of Heaven. 

Geographic location is only part of the story. If you're born in Texas you get it. And if you live there long enough, you'll get it. Texas becomes an attitude, the root of which comes from her tumultuous modern evolution. Unlike any other state in the Union, she is unique in stories of her very own independence. There were Dictator Santa Anna's signature slaughters of rebels at places like Gonzales, Goliad and, most notorious, the Alamo. But finally there was Sam Houston's resolve and swift victory at the Battle of San Jacinto. That moment 177 years ago today would forever carve out a legend known the world over, and that legend was the Republic of Texas. She began as a nation that stood alone and proud for almost a decade before joining the United States. That's how Texas became known as the Lone Star State. 

Houston, Bowie, Travis, Fannin, Seguin, Esparza, and Menchaca—these men inspire notions of toughness and grit. Texans hold very, very dear such examples of independent spirit, bootstrap determination and self-reliance. It is this spirit that infects anyone who lives in Texas long enough.

Some might say those were embellished tales of heroism. No one would say that about survivors of the 1900 storm. It wiped Galveston off the face the map and obliterated more than 6000 souls from the Earth in a single night. No FEMA, no insurance, no one but other
Texans to come to their aid. Even so, these people endured an aftermath of death and destruction that made Katrina in New Orleans look like an overflowing bayou. Galvestonians stayed to rebuild their battered town, raising it 15 feet with dirt, wood scaffolding, and sweat. 

In World War II, cities dismantled their trolley tracks and lopped off street light spires to collect metal for the war machine. An entire home front rallied and sacrificed so soldiers would have all the resources with which to fight. And of the Texans who once more marched off to fight for freedom, distinguishing their state were men like Doris Miller, Audie Murphy, David Lee "Tex" Hill, and Chester Nimitz.

During the early 80s, Texas suffered profound economic hits from the price collapse of petroleum. The city of Houston was labeled as a shining example of the state's overbearing self-perceptions. That’s because the state’s population bulged during the 70s as Midwesterners flooded into to Texas, and Houston in particular, looking for blue collar jobs to replace the ones lost in the auto industry retool. They split within months of the oil bust, leaving overbuilt cities. It was left to real Texans to rebuild an economy. Even in the current economic doldrums, Texas has persevered and held tightly to a pretty decent economy. 

While Texas is tough, it's also known as the "Friendly State." And nothing proves it more than Katrina. Hordes of refugees from New Orleans and place all across southern Louisiana were welcomed to Houston, Dallas and other cities throughout the state. The world watched as the Lone Star State opened its arms, its homes, its hearts, and its wallets to help those fleeing a superstorm. 

Since her birth, many people have called Texas home—native tribes, Tejanos, Germans, Vietnamese, Chinese, and everything in between. Yep, even Italians—as a matter of fact there was a helluva Mafia back in the day. It's still around, but a faded shadow compared to when the Texas Rangers stormed Maceo Brothers' Balinese Room in Galveston. 
What brings people to Texas is not just opportunity. It's also the anything is possible mentality. 

All these things make up a wild and woolly brand we call Texas. There is no other place like it. Love it or hate it, when someone says the word Texas, it sends a jolt between your ears generating a vision of something no other brand can.

Happy Birthday to the great and sovereign state of Texas!