Events of 1811, 1812, and 1813
The year 1811 was regarded as the period of greatest depression and distress which the British empire had known for several ages. At this time, with the exception of an uncertain footing gained in Spain, the influence of England was unknown on the continent. Bonaparte seemed as firmly seated on the throne of France as any of her former monarchs, while every other civilized European kingdom either owned a monarch of his express appointment, or was in some other way subservient to him. By the Berlin and Milan decrees, he had shut the ports of the continent against British goods, so that they could only be smuggled into the usual markets. By British orders in council, which, though intended to be retaliatory, only increased the evil, no vessel belonging to a neutral power - such, for instance, as the United States - was permitted to carry goods to those ports, unless they should previously land and pay a duty in Britain. Thus the nation at once suffered from the shortsighted despotism of the French emperor, and from its own narrow and imperfect views of commerce; for, by embarrassing America, it only deprived itself of one of its best and almost sole remaining customers.
The power of Bonaparte, though sudden in its rise, might have been permanent if managed with discretion. It was used, however, in such a way as to produce a powerful reaction throughout Europe in favor of those ancient institutions, which, twenty years before, had been threatened with ruin. The exclusion of British goods a measure which he had dictated in resentment against England proved the source of great distress, oppression, and hardship throughout the continent, and was greatly instruct mental in exciting a spirit of hostility against him. The very circumstance of a foreign power domineering over their native princes, raised a feeling in favor of those personages, which, being identified with the cause of national independence, acted as a very powerful stimulant. On the other hand, a sense of the grasping ambition of Napoleon of his hostility to real freedom - of his unscrupulousness in throwing away the lives of his subjects for his own personal aggrandizement had for some time been gaining ground in France itself.
In 1812, when the transactions in Spain had already somewhat impaired Napoleon's reputation, Alexander, Emperor of Russia, ventured upon a defiance of his decrees against British merchandise, and provoked him to a renewal of the war. With upwards of half a million of troops, appointed in the best manner, he set out for that remote country, determined to reduce it into perfect subjection. An unexpected accident defeated all his plans. The city of Moscow, after being possessed by the French troops in September, was destroyed by incendiaries, so that no shelter remained for them during the ensuing winter. Napoleon was obliged to retreat; but, overtaken by the direst inclemency of the season, his men perished by thousands in the snow. Of his splendid army, a mere skeleton regained central Europe. Returning almost alone to Paris, he contrived with great exertions to reinforce his army, though there was no replacing the veterans lost in Russia.
Early in 1813, he opened a campaign in northern Germany, where the emperor of Russia, now joined by the king of Prussia and various minor powers, appeared in the open field against him. After various successes on both sides, an armistice was agreed to on the 1st of June, and Bonaparte was offered peace on condition of restoring only that part of his dominions which he had acquired since 1805. Inspired with an overweening confidence in his resources and military genius, he refused these terms, and lost all. In August, when the armistice was at an end, his father-inlaw, the emperor of Austria, joined the allies, whose forces now numbered 500,000 men, while an army of 300,000 was the largest which Napoleon could at present bring into the field. Henceforth he might be considered as overpowered by numbers. By steady, though cautious movements, the allies advanced to France, driving him reluctantly before them, and increasing their own force as the various states became emancipated by their presence. At the close of 1813, they rested upon the frontiers of France, while Lord Wellington, after two successful campaigns in Spain, had advanced in like manner to the Pyrenees.