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Napoleon’s last interview

Gonzalo Castro de la Mata's picture

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The extraordinary historical document transcribed below was recently found at the California State Library in Sacramento. It records an interview of Napoleon Bonaparte made by a reporter of the San Jose Weekly Visitor (today the San Jose Mercury) dated July 14th, 1865, which for unknown reasons (sic) was never published.

Napoléon Bonaparte abdicated in Fontainebleau by Paul DelarocheQuestion: Thank you for allowing us the time. Why breaking your silence with an interview now?
Answer: I am turning 96 next month and I know that my last days are fast approaching. It is important to set the record straight.

Q: Didn’t you die in Santa Helena in 1821?
A: During my trip to what was supposed to be my final exile, Talleyrand had secretly arranged for me to be transferred to the Schooner Casuarina, which after several weeks at sea finally took me to the port of Yerba Buena, today’s San Francisco. We arranged for one of my doubles who usually played the role of a decoy during battles, Chef d'Escadron Deschamps, to be imprisoned which is why he was seldom seen at Longwood. He died there and is now buried at Les Invalides in Paris. He is a real hero.

Q: Why the West coast of America?
A: The weather is great. I purchased an old olive grove near San Jose and have farmed it ever seen, just like my family did for generations in Corsica. I have developed two new varieties of olives and invented a more efficient press for making olive oil.

Q: History sees you as a war-monger…
A: Nothing farther from the truth. I was always attacked by coalitions defending the old monarchies, but I know that I was on the right side of history. My main objective was always to consolidate the Revolution, and its principles of fraternity, liberty, and equality.

Q: By equality do you mean the abolition of classes recently postulated by German philosopher Karl Marx?
A: What I mean is equality of opportunities, under the principle that we are all born free and equal under the law. Trying to equalize people within a society leads to dictatorship and abuse of power. Civil and economic freedom is the essence of a true democratic society and lasting peace.

Back to the Future

Eliana Cardoso's picture

Imagine if, in 1799 – the year in which Napoleon seized power – a research institute had published its global forecasts for the next 20 years. Its researchers would have known about the tremendous changes that took place over the previous two decades: from the United States’ declaration of independence, through the French Revolution and the execution of Louis XVI, up to Napoleon’s victory over Austria in his Italy Campaign.

Even so, the chances of the researchers accurately predicting the events that came to pass over the subsequent 20 years, including their impact on the 19th century’s world order, would have been infinitesimal. No one could have anticipated that Napoleon would have plunged Europe into non-stop war for a decade until being overcome at Waterloo, or that, by the time of his defeat, he would already have swept away the foundations of traditional structures and initiated an unstoppable wave of reforms.

Because of its industrial might, this Europe would dominate the rest of the world during the 19th century. When European rivalries exploded into World War One, the face of the earth had already changed considerably compared to the previous century. And, having changed the world, Europe set the conditions for the demise of its own empire. Even before World War One, Teddy Roosevelt had heralded the start of the United States’ ascension to its current hegemony.