Although seen as a "son of the Revolution," Napoleon believed that reason, and not the desires of the masses, was the most important thing to follow. In this sense, Napoleon was an "enlightened despot": the best possible system of government, he thought, was absolutist–or "despotic"–rule by a wise–or "enlightened"–ruler; the ruler knew what was best for the people, while the people themselves often did not. In order to rule all the more wisely and rationally, then, he surrounded himself with intelligent and skilled advisors: mathematicians, scientists and statesmen.
Moreover, for Napoleon, enlightened despotism was not just an ideal; the man was indeed wise. Although he had a profound sense of a mystical destiny, claiming that he followed his "star," the quick-witted Napoleon was unusually shrewd and rational, unlike many European rulers of the day. Upon visiting him, leading intellectuals from around Europe were almost all impressed with the quality of his mind and speech. Although the Revolution's ideal of self-government withered under Napoleon, he was not a bad replacement for it.
Why was Napoleon so quick to sell the valuable Louisiana Territory to the U.S.? For one, his government needed the money. However, Napoleon was worried about getting involved in a conflict with the U.S. He knew such a conflict would divert needed resources away from his military efforts in Europe, and he also knew that a war with the U.S. would be an invitation for the British Navy, which dominated the seas, to harass his supply ships crossing the Atlantic. Although France appeared strong at the time, it was still recovering from the chaos of the Revolution years, and Napoleon knew this. Thus Napoleon's sale was far from a hasty moneymaking method; it was a carefully calculated instance of strategy.
The Concordat with Rome was a purely political move on Napoleon's part. A child of the Enlightenment, Napoleon was not religious. Still, he had no qualms about doing what was politically necessary, and he did not want the French clergy, who could influence the opinion of the people, to be against him. The Concordat was thus a masterpiece of political maneuvering.
The Napoleonic Code was the most famous law code since the Roman code or Hammurabi's Code. It was made up of five main branches, or codes, each referring to a different aspect of law. The Napoleonic Code unified and simplified the French legal system, and, with a few exceptions, it basically gave all citizens the same basic rights, justly regulating property, contracts, debts, stock company formation, and the like. However, the Code did not eliminate all mistreatment of French citizens: for instance, it banned labor unions and punished criminals extremely harshly; while the guiding assumption in U.S. criminal law is "innocent until proven guilty," under the Napoleonic Code, the burden of proof rested more with the accused. Furthermore, French women under the Code had very little power over their own property once married. Yet the Napoleonic Code remains one of Napoleon's greatest legacies; its simplicity and clarity lent it reliability and durability, and, with the advent of the Napoleonic conquests in later years, it was introduced into a number of European countries. While the Code did not remain in force in all of these (as it did in Belgium), it did serve as the basis for the modern legal systems of the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain, as well as for those of Quebec, parts of Latin America, and Louisiana.
Napoleon brought the definitive end of the Revolution. While the Third Estate (the common people) no longer held any real power under his dictatorship, Napoleon did consolidate and cement many of the changes for which they had fought, most notably equality for all. Moreover, his reign marked France's resurgence as a stable and strong nation, a nation free of internal strife and ready to forge a place for itself in international politics.