The Napoleonic Wars 1792-1815 as World War

In this section we examine Immanuel Wallerstein’s position that the Napoleonic Wars were in effect a type of world war.  We’ll recall that Wallerstein argues that the first world war had been the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) after which Holland becomes a new international power and empire through its commercial success in the Balkan trade and its acquisition of an empire in the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, its control of Java and Batavia and its commercial ties with Japan (Wallerstein 2011, xxv). A survey of the geographic range of French diplomacy, intervention and its army’s aggressive expansion in creating a Continental System that was intended to work around the Continental Blockade imposed by the British, its navy and its allies (Crouze 1958).  The classic study of the Continental System as a French-Napoleonic attempt at creating an empire and market for itself within Europe is Hecksher, The Continental System (Hecksher 1922).  An insight into Napoleon’s strategic political-economic thinking and advocacy of the Continental System is seen in his correspondence with Austrian officials after he defeated their forces at the Battle of Austerlitz on December 2, 1805.

‘I want peace on the Continent,’he insisted. ‘What I desire is ships, colonies, commerce, and that is as advantageous to you as it is to us.’ (Bruun 2008, 266)[1].

A normative discussion of this period through an International Relations (IR) “balance of power” approach includes Geoffrey Bruun (Bruun 2008) and various studies of the 1815 diplomacy of the Congress of Vienna in 1815 by Castlereigh (Webster 1925) and Canning of England (Temperley 1925), and Metternich of Austria, Talleyrand of France. It is an interesting aspect of historiography that the years in aftermath of World War I produced a flurry of historical inquiry and analysis of the Napoleonic period and its postwar settlement that had occurred a century before.  This also suggests that the historians of the World War I generation were keenly aware of the fuller and worldwide ramifications of the long period of the Napoleonic wars.

The range of the Napoleonic wars shows the following:

1791 – 1812 wars of invasion and occupation into all parts of Europe including Italy, Austria, the Spanish Peninsula, Prussia and the Lowlands.

1798-1801 Occupation of Egypt by Napoleon’s army

1800 – Invasion and occupation of Gaza, Palestine and parts of Syria by Napoleon’s army

1791-1803 French control of Haiti is lost but the Haitian Revolution and ending of slavery by Toussaint L’Ouverture is resisted by Napoleon

1795 French conquest of Belgium and Holland and reduction of the Dutch Republic into French control and renamed as the Batavian Republic

1795-96  In retaliation for the French seizure of the Dutch Republic, Britain seize Dutch overseas possessions in the Caribbean, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Cape Town in South Africa (Bruun 2008, 255)

1798 French army enters Rome, arrests and holds Pope Pius VI a prisoner and declares a Republic

1801 After the collapse of the Second Coalition (Allied coalition against France) when Tsar Paul withdrew his support, the French exploited their position by attacking and pressing against Austria.  Victory by Napoleon at the Battle of Marengo forced the Austian empire to sign the Peace of Lunéville.

1802 France has forced its way into occupying the Spanish peninsula and Portugal threatening Britain’s longstanding commercial interests in the Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic.

1803 Sale of French lands in the Americas under the Louisiana Purchase

1804  After seizing parts of Prussian territory Napolean crowns himself Emperor.

1805 In December Napoleon’s forces defeat Austrian and coalition forces at the Battle of Austerlitz allowing French forces to occupy and seize control of Austria.

1806 Defeat of Prussia by Napoleon’s forces