What If? | A Lasting Peace at Tilsit

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The raft floated in the midst of the River Niemen. On it were two beautiful pavilions, one for the Emperor of the French and the other for the Czar and Autocrat of All the Russias. In the French tent, Napoleon Bonaparte argued with his foreign minister, Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, over how harsh the peace terms with the defeated Russians should be. Talleyrand, a servant of every revolutionary government since 1789, was a snake in silk stockings, but he knew foreign policy better than anyone else in the emperor’s entourage. He begged the emperor to treat Russia gently and put an end to fifteen years of war. But Napoleon, flush with the victory at Friedland earlier that year, was determined to humiliate Alexander I, and Talleyrand, ever the obedient servant in public, fell silent.
What if Napoleon had heeded Talleyrand’s advice in 1807 and treated the Russians with more respect? What would our world look like today if history had taken a different course?
In this series of bonus episodes on “15-Minute History,” Joe and I will be sharing some of our favorite “What If?” scenarios from this series with you. Building on the theme of Season Four, learning from history, we hope to provide some lessons on how individuals shape the destinies of large groups and entire nations.

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