Recent legal events have led me to recall St. Helena, one of the most remote places in the world. St. Helena is a small volcanic island in the Atlantic, about 1,200 miles off the coast of Africa and 4,000 miles from the coast of Brazil. The island was, of course, the final place of penal exile for Napoleon Bonaparte, the self-crowned Emperor of France. St. Helena is now a British Overseas Territory, and I’m sure the Brits would welcome a new revenue stream from an old business — a small but very special penal colony.
St. Helena wasn’t the first place the world sought to stash Napoleon. In 1814 he was exiled to Elba, an island in the Mediterranean. Elba had a population of 12,000 and Napoleon was allowed the somewhat humiliating title of Emperor of Elba. Arriving at Elba he immediately began plotting his escape, which he accomplished in 1815 by slipping past his guards and eluding British ships.
Once back in France Napoleon began drawing huge crowds. French police forces were sent to arrest him, but upon arriving in his presence, they kneeled before him. Does this remind you at all of the fealty shown to a certain political cult leader in America today?
It wasn’t until after his defeat at Waterloo in 1815 that Napoleon was exiled to St. Helena. That island was chosen because it was believed that escape was virtually impossible since the British Royal Navy controlled the Atlantic. Still, the British put Napoleon under armed guard, stripped him of most of his companions and placed him a lonely, windswept house named Longwood.
While at Longwood House, Napoleon constantly complained about the damp and windy structure, alleging that his captors were trying to kill him by means of the rather primitive conditions. Finally the British agreed to improve things and built him a new residence, but he died from complications from an ulcer in 1828 before it was completed.
Penal exile is not an option under the federal criminal statutes of the United States, but it is an intriguing idea for a President who fomented an insurrection and coup attempt. We may simply have to be satisfied with the thought that he could make new friends at a prison within the country.