AUTHOR’S NOTE: The extraordinary historical document transcribed below was recently found at the California State Library in Sacramento.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.
Question: 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.
Q: What do you consider your main achievements?
A: I want to be remembered for my administrative and legislative legacies. The French Civil Code I created forbids privileges based on birth, protects civil rights, and allows freedom of religion. It created a fair and just system where all citizens are treated in a similar way, based on equality. It greatly enshrined the rule of law by providing safeguards to all citizens against abuse and by strengthening accountability at all levels.
Q: What is the main advice you can provide to world leaders?
A: Never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence.
DISCLAIMER: Although this interview is unfortunately fictional, it is presented to highlight the important but often overlooked role Napoleon played in ushering the universal concepts of civil rights and accountable governance in the 19th Century – principles which guide our international development work today.
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Painting of Napoléon Bonaparte abdicated in Fontainebleau by Paul Delaroche (public domain)