Most people think of Napoleon Bonaparte as being a short, self-conscious, pompous tyrant. He may have been overbearing and vicious in his rise from an obscure past to becoming the supreme commander of the French army, but many people consider the benefit in young people knowing his story and seeing him as an example of how a self-made young man can achieve greatness.
Napoleon was born in Corsica and later trained in France as an artillery officer. Under the First French Republic, he was in charge of successful campaigns battling against the coalitions that had aligned themselves against France. In 1979, after staging a coup against the French government, he named himself a First Consul. Five years after that he crowned himself as Emperor. During the next ten years he gradually built the armies of the French empire and turned them against every European country, and through a series of battle victories, he eventually conquered the continent of Europe. By forming an extensive network of allies and by appointing his friends and family members to positions of power in other European countries, he steadily increased France's political influence around the world.
In 1812 when France invaded Russia, Napoleon's army suffered great damages and never completely recovered from the losses. The following year his forces were defeated at Leipzig. And the year after that the Coalition forced Napoleon's abdication and he was exiled to Elba. A few months after being exiled, Napoleon escaped and returned to rule France, but was defeated in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo, and spent the rest of his life supervised by the British on the island of St. Helena.
Napoleon's colorful life can be experienced firsthand at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia by viewing more than 300 items from his life. The collection includes the first letter he wrote when he was 14, the monogrammed shirt he was wearing when he died, and even a lock of his hair that was pocketed by a friend while the exiled emperor was sitting for a haircut. On display are also his snuff box, the sword used to declare himself emperor, the green canopy of his camp bed, and even one of the brown locks of hair from Napoleon's beloved Josephine.
The exhibition contains mementos from Napoleon's military adventures in Egypt, his various military conquests in Europe, his exile on Elba, his defeat at Waterloo, and his final years on St. Helena. Also on display is the leather portfolio in which he carried the signed documents detailing the Louisiana Purchase, when he sold 828,000 square miles of land to the United States for $15 million - less than five cents per acre.
A collection of portraits show Napoleon at various stages of his life in a variety of clothing, such as wearing laurel leaves like a Roman emperor, riding in a chariot wearing a toga, and the first portrait ever made of him standing with his right hand stuck inside his waistcoat. Also on display is one of his black felt bicorne hats, which Napoleon wore so people could distinguish him from his officers.
During his years in exile, Napoleon made a remark that sums up the story of his life and the purpose of the exhibition: "In 200 years, people will think about what I did."