As First Consul of France, Napoleon Bonaparte undertook an extensive variety of civic reforms. To celebrate his subjects’ talents, Napoleon founded the Legion of Honor. Perhaps mistakenly, he transformed education into a “free, compulsory, and secular” institution. (Internal Achievements of Napoleon). He also permitted the former French serfs to gain ownership of the land they cultivated.
Napoleon abolished the military draft, as he despised the concept of forced servitude. Due to the near-divine standing to which the populace had elevated him, he never needed to worry about troop shortages in his Grande Armée. He also reformed measurements and currency so as to achieve his dream of a universal standard by which those two concepts could be approached.
The new franc was established and, with it, the National Bank of France to assist in proliferating this monetary unit over the varying and inconsistent provincial systems. The Système Internationale (metric system) was devised during the French Revolution to abandon the Medieval methods of measuring relative to the bodily dimensions of King Henry II (of Britain!). The SI, a symbol of the new meritocracy, was spread to all the lands under Napoleon’s control; this coherent method of measurement served to fuel the scientific progress of the coming decades.
The First Consul even acted to such an extent as to standardize road traffic (for that time, horse-drawn carriages and other wheeled vehicles) by mandating driving on the right side of the road. During the Ancien Regime, it was customary that the nobility travel along the left while the pedestrian sans-culottes were bombarded with dust from the carriage wheels while walking on the right. The old system was ludicrous, since it did not permit for two-way traffic in addition to augmenting social differences.
The new standard, also initiated in France during the Revolutionary era, was well-received by nobles and middle-classmen alike. It soon spread to all the nations of the world with the sole exception of Britain, Napoleon’s archenemy.
But to check Britain, Napoleon devised another solution that simultaneously assisted him in gaining much-needed money for the war effort, as Britain renewed hostilities in the fall of 1803. To Thomas Jefferson’s United States, the First Consul sold the Louisiana Purchase, which granted him the funds that sustained the Grande Armée for the next ten years while bestowing upon the U.S.A. territory without which subsequent American expansion, exploration, and technological developments would not have taken place.
The Americans did not forget Napoleon’s generosity. One decade later, during the War of 1812, they provided for a second front to occupy the crack British troops while Napoleon beat back the Coalition in Europe. The Coalition was only able to defeat France after the conflict in North America ended and Britain was able to direct all of its forces against Napoleon.