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This Day in History: Napoleon Elected President of the Italian Republic

January 24, 2014 - 6:41pm
Napoleon was elected president of the Republic of Italy on Jan. 25, 1802.

Many seniors go on Europe tours of Italy to learn about the vibrant culture and rich history of the country. One major facet of its heritage is the Cisalpine Republic, also called the Italian Republic, a French vassal state in northern Italy that was led by Napoleon Bonaparte. The republic lasted less than a decade (from 1797 to 1805), but it meant huge political and social advances for the nation. And these changes began on Jan. 25, 1802, when Napoleon, the emperor of France, was elected president of the Italian Republic.

What is the Cisalpine Republic?
The Cisalpine Republic was established in June 1797 after the French won the Battle of Lodi, which took place in what is now called Italy. It was set up in the conquered territories of the Po River valley, initially taking over Lombardy and then extending to Bologna, Emilia, Modena and the hinterlands of Venice. During the same year, the state was deemed an official republic in the Franco-Austrian Treaty of Campo Formio, and the government drew up a constitution modeled after that of France. It became known as the Italian Republic four years later when Napoleon took over. But his reign was short-lived, and the state ceased to exist by 1805 with the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy, which saw Napoleon's rise to king as well as his fall from power.

Napoleon's Role as President
As a renowned military general and the emperor of France, Napoleon was the republic's first choice for the presidency. A 30-member commission was tasked with finding a leader for the state and, after much persuasion, was finally able to convince him to take the role. But Napoleon was busy with other endeavors in his homeland, and the Italian Republic took a back seat. He was mostly an absentee president, and vice-president Francesco Melzi took over most of his duties, working hard to run the state as Napoleon would.

The Republic's Effect on Italy
While Napoleon is often viewed as dictatorial and power hungry, his leadership in the republic was beneficial to the people of Italy in many ways. By setting up troops in the northern part of the country, it provided defense for the nation, though other governments were not happy that Napoleon turned Italy into a protectorate of France. He also reorganized the education model, established a treaty with the Catholic church and helped revolutionize military training in the region. But perhaps most important is that the republic allowed for the spread of the ideals supported by the French Revolution - ones based on democracy and liberalism.