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Napoleon III

Napoleon III

Napoleon III (1808-1873) was emperor of France from 1852 to 1870. Elected president of the Second French Republic in 1848, he staged a coup d'etat in 1851 and reestablished the Empire.

Between 1848 and 1870 France underwent rapid economic growth as a result of the industrial revolution, and Napoleon III's government fostered this development. These years were also the period of the Crimean War and the unifications of Italy and Germany, and France played a pivotal role in these affairs.

Napoleon was born in Paris on April 20, 1808, the youngest son of Louis Bonaparte, the king of Holland and brother of Napoleon, I, and of Hortense de Beauharnais, daughter of Josephine. His full name was Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, but he was generally known as Louis Napoleon. After 1815 Louis Napoleon lived with his mother in exile in Augsburg, Bavaria, where he attended the Augsburg gymnasium, and at Arenburg Castle in Switzerland. In 1831 he and his brother joined rebels against papal rule in Romagna.

The Pretender

The death of his brother during this rebellion, followed by the death of Napoleon I's son, made Louis Napoleon the Bonaparte pretender. He took this position seriously, beginning his career as propagandist and pamphleteer in 1832 with Rêveries politiques. He also joined the Swiss militia, becoming an artillery captain in 1834 and publishing an artillery manual in 1836. Louis Napoleon attempted a military coup d'etat at Strasbourg on Oct. 30, 1836, but the ludicrous venture failed. Louis Philippe deported him to America, but Louis Napoleon returned to Arenburg to attend his mother, who died in October 1837.

France threatened invasion when the Swiss government refused to expel him, but Louis Napoleon withdrew voluntarily to England. There he produced his most famous pamphlet, Des Idées napoléoniennes (Napoleonic Ideas), effectively stating his political program, which combined the ideas of liberty and authority, social reform and order, and glory and peace. Louis Napoleon attempted a second coup d'etat on Aug. 6, 1840, at Boulogne-sur-Mer, but failed again. He was tried by the Chamber of Peers, condemned to perpetual imprisonment, and interned in the fortress of Ham (Somme). There he studied, and he wrote, among other things, L'Extinction du paupérisme, which increased his reputation as a social reformer. In 1846 he escaped to England.

Second Republic

Louis Napoleon hastened to Paris when he received news of the Revolution of 1848, but he withdrew on request of the provisional government. He declined to be a candidate in the April elections and resigned his seat when elected in four constituencies in June. In September 1848 he was again chosen by five districts and took his seat in the Assembly.

Louis Napoleon was of middle height with a long torso and short legs. He had gray eyes, pale immobile features, a prominent nose, and a thick auburn mustache. He was not a particularly impressive figure. Nonetheless, the appeal of the Bonaparte name, strengthened by the spread of the Napoleonic legend, and a general demand for order following the workers' uprising of June 1848 won him overwhelming election as president of the Second French Republic on Dec. 10, 1848.

Louis Napoleon used a French expeditionary force to restore, and then to protect, papal supremacy in Rome, thus winning Roman Catholic support at home. In 1850 the legislature established residence requirements that disenfranchised nearly 3 million workers. The next year it rejected a constitutional amendment permitting re-election to the presidency. Louis Napoleon used these actions to justify his overthrow of the republic by a coup d'etat on Dec. 2, 1851. His action was endorsed by nearly 7,500,000 votes, with fewer than 650,000 negative votes. A year later more than 7,800,000 Frenchmen approved reestablishment of the Empire, which was inaugurated on Dec. 2, 1852.

Domestic Policies of the Emperor

Napoleon III governed by the principle of direct, or Caesarean, democracy, through which power was transferred directly from the people to an absolute ruler who was responsible to them and whose acts were confirmed by plebiscite. Although he established a senate and a legislative assembly chosen by universal suffrage, they had little power. Elections were carefully manipulated, and political activities and the press were closely controlled. The Emperor's ideal was to serve as representative of the whole nation, and hence he never organized a true Bonapartist party. In 1853 he married the Spanish beauty Eugénie de Montijo, and in 1856 she bore him an heir, thus providing for the succession.

In economic affairs Napoleon III considered himself a socialist, and he believed that government should control and increase national wealth. His ideals resembled those of the Saint-Simonians, emphasizing communications, public works, and credit. The imperial government built canals, promoted railroad development, and fostered the extension of banking and credit institutions. The Emperor inaugurated great public works programs in Paris and in leading provincial cities, sponsored trade expositions, and in 1860 introduced free trade, which was unpopular with industrial leaders but ultimately strengthened French industry.

Foreign Policy

In policy statements Napoleon III consistently asserted that the Empire stood for peace, but in practice Bonapartism demanded glory. Napoleon III believed in national self-determination, and he wished to assume leadership in redrawing European frontiers in accordance with his "principle of nationalities." Thus he hoped to restore France to the position of arbiter of Europe that it had enjoyed under Napoleon I. In practice, Napoleon III vacillated between his principles and promotion of France's self-interest, and he involved France in three European wars and several colonial expeditions.

The first European conflict, the Crimean War (1854-1856), brought little material gain, but Napoleon III defended France's protectorate of the holy places and joined the British to avenge Russia's defeat of Napoleon I. In the Congress of Paris, Napoleon III came close to his ideal of serving as arbiter of Europe. Among other things, he championed Romanian nationalism, gaining autonomy for Moldavia and Walachia and later aiding those provinces to achieve unification.

Napoleon III's second war was fought in 1859 for the Italian nationalist cause. Shortly after Felice Orsini's attempt to assassinate him in 1858, Napoleon III planned the liberation of Italy with Camillo di Cavour at Plombières. He envisaged the creation of a federation of four states under the presidency of the pope. Although French battles against Austria were successful, Napoleon III was unable to control the Italian nationalist movement, was threatened on the Rhine by Prussia, and lost support from proclerical elements in France, who saw Italian unification as a threat to the papacy. Napoleon III therefore made peace at Villafranca di Verona without freeing Venetia, thus disappointing the Italians and alienating French liberals. Although he had not fully honored his commitment, Napoleon III later received Nice and Savoy, and this brought an end to the British alliance that had been a cornerstone of his early diplomacy.

In 1862 Napoleon III became involved in an attempt to establish a friendly, pro-Catholic regime in Mexico under the Austrian prince Maximilian. Mexican resistance proved stronger than expected; the United States concluded its Civil War and exerted pressure; and Napoleon III withdrew his forces in 1866-1867. This fiasco provoked powerful criticism in France, which was intensified by the subsequent execution of Maximilian in Mexico. Meanwhile, the Emperor had also failed in his attempt to gain compensation for France in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866.

Liberal Empire

Growing opposition after 1859 encouraged Napoleon III to make concessions to liberalism. In 1860-1861 he gave the legislature additional freedom and authority, and in 1868 he granted freedom of press and assembly. The elections of 1869, fought with virulence, brought more than 3 million votes for opposition deputies. The results induced Napoleon III to appoint the former Republican Émile Ollivier to form a responsible ministry. After further turbulence following a Bonaparte scandal, the Emperor resorted to plebiscite, and on May 8, 1870, more than 7,300,000 Frenchmen voted to accept all liberal reforms introduced by Napoleon III since 1860.

Franco-Prussian War

In 1870, when the Spanish invited Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen to become their king, French protests induced Prussia's William I to have the candidacy withdrawn. The ambassador to Prussia was then instructed to demand a Prussian promise that no Hohenzollern would ever become king of Spain. William's refusal to consider this enabled Otto von Bismarck to provoke war by publishing William's dispatch from Ems in slightly altered form, making it appear that insults had been exchanged. France declared war on July 19, 1870, and Napoleon III took command of his troops although he was so ill from bladder stones, which had long troubled him, that he could scarcely ride his horse. The Emperor's troops were surrounded at Sedan, and Napoleon III surrendered with 80,000 men on Sept. 2, 1870. Two days later the Third Republic was proclaimed in Paris.

When the Germans released him in 1871, Napoleon III joined his wife and son at Chislehurst in England. He still hoped to regain the throne for his son, but he died on Jan. 9, 1873, following a series of bladder operations. His son was killed in South Africa in 1879 while serving in the British army.

Further Reading

The best studies of Napoleon III's youth and early career are the two works of Frederick A. Simpson: The Rise of Louis Napoleon (1909; new ed. 1925) and Louis Napoleon and the Recovery of France (1923; 3d ed. 1951), but Simpson does not continue beyond 1856. An up-to-date one-volume biography that presents a balanced interpretation is James M. Thompson, Louis Napoleon and the Second Empire (1958). Albert Léon Guérard, Napoleon III (1943), is a more generous attempt to rehabilitate the Emperor and portrays him as an idealist and a Saint-Simon on horseback. T. A. B. Corley, Democratic Despot: A Life of Napoleon III (1961), also gives a generally favorable interpretation of Napoleon III, and it contains an excellent bibliography.

Important studies of specific aspects of Napoleon III's policies include Lynn M. Case, French Opinion on War and Diplomacy during the Second Empire (1954); David H. Pinkney, Napoleon III and the Rebuilding of Paris (1958); Theodore Zeldin, The Political System of Napoleon III (1958); Howard C. Payne, The Police State of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, 1851-1860 (1966); and E. Ann Pottinger, Napoleon III and the German Crisis, 1865-1866 (1966). □

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Napoleon III

Napoleon III (Louis Napoleon Bonaparte), 1808–73, emperor of the French (1852–70), son of Louis Bonaparte (see under Bonaparte, family), king of Holland.

Early Life

The nephew of Napoleon I, Louis Napoleon spent his youth with his mother, Hortense de Beauharnais, in Switzerland and Germany and became a captain in the Swiss army. Animated by a mixture of liberalism and Bonapartism, he indulged (1830–31) in revolutionary activities in Italy. In 1836 he attempted a ludicrous military coup at Strasbourg and was exiled to the United States by the government of Louis Philippe. He managed to return to Switzerland, but French protests at his proximity finally caused him to depart (1838) for England.

In 1840 he again attempted an insurrection, this time at Boulogne-sur-Mer. He was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment. Detained in the fortress of Ham, Somme department, he wrote letters, pamphlets, and books, among them a mildly socialistic work on the extinction of pauperism. He made an easy escape in 1846, walking out disguised as a laborer, and went to England.

A Myth Fulfilled

After the February Revolution of 1848 Louis Napoleon returned to France. He gathered a following, was elected to the national assembly, and in Dec., 1848, defeated Louis Eugène Cavaignac in the presidential elections by an overwhelming majority. Although assisted by Cavaignac's unpopularity with the working classes, Louis Napoleon's success was largely due to his name. He vaguely promised support to all interests, and he evoked French nostalgia for past Napoleonic glory. As president of the Second Republic, he was limited by law to one term. He soon began to strengthen his position and took special care to conciliate the powerful conservative forces. The strong Roman Catholic opposition was allayed by allowing (1849) a French army to restore Pope Pius IX to Rome and by assenting (1850) to an education bill, presented by Frédéric de Falloux, which greatly favored the church.

After the defeat in the assembly in July, 1851, of a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the president to serve for more than one term, Louis Napoleon began plans for a coup. The masterly coup of Dec. 2, 1851, was largely engineered by Louis Napoleon's half-brother, the duc de Morny. The legislative assembly was dissolved and its meeting place occupied by the army, universal suffrage was established, and a plebiscite authorizing the revision of the constitution was announced. An attempted uprising was brutally repressed. To assure a majority in the plebiscite Morny used tactics of intimidation and strict electoral management.

Victory would, in any case, have been the probable outcome. The Bonaparte name promised glory, order, and a possible solution of France's political division. The plebiscite registered overwhelming approval. The new constitution (Jan., 1852) gave the president dictatorial powers and created a council of state, a senate, and a legislative assembly subservient to the president. Subsequent decrees barred republicans from the ballot and throttled the press.

Emperor of the French

In Nov., 1852, a new plebiscite overwhelmingly approved the establishment of the Second Empire, and Louis Napoleon became Emperor Napoleon III. For eight years he continued to exercise dictatorial rule, tempered by rapid material progress. Railway building was encouraged; the rebuilding of Paris and other cities brought a construction boom; and the first French investment banks were authorized. Napoleon's foreign ventures were successful at first. The Crimean War (1854–56) and the Congress of Paris (see Paris, Congress of) restored French leadership on the Continent.

Napoleon then turned toward Italy. A long-time supporter of Italian nationalism, he met the Sardinian premier Camillo Cavour at Plombières and secretly agreed on a joint campaign by France and Sardinia to expel Austria from Italy and to establish an Italian federation of four states under the presidency of the pope; France was to be compensated with Nice and Savoy. War broke out in 1859 (see Risorgimento). However, after the costly victory of the French and Sardinians at Solferino, Napoleon suddenly deserted his Italian ally and made a separate peace with Austria at Villafranca di Verona. His act was partly motivated by the opposition of the French clerical party to a policy threatening the independence of the papacy at Rome.

The Liberal Empire

Having lost much popularity, the emperor inaugurated a more liberal domestic policy, widening the powers of the legislative assembly and lifting many restrictions on civil liberties. During the "Liberal Empire" (1860–70) such opposition leaders as Jules Favre, Émile Ollivier, and Adolphe Thiers were outstanding figures. A commercial treaty (1860) with Great Britain opened France to free trade and improved Franco-British relations. Imperialistic expansion was pushed by the French-British expedition (1857–60) against China, the acquisition of Cochin China, and the construction of the Suez Canal. Less fortunate was Napoleon's intervention (1861–67) in the affairs of Mexico; the French troops finally withdrew upon the demand of the United States, leaving Emperor Maximilian to his fate.

Napoleon remained neutral in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, underestimating Prussian strength. The rise of Prussia under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck revealed a new rival for European power. To regain prestige Napoleon, at the behest of advisers, took an aggressive stand regarding the candidature of a Hohenzollern prince to the Spanish throne. This gave Bismarck the opportunity to goad Napoleon into war (see Ems dispatch).

The Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) brought ruin to the Second Empire. Napoleon himself took the field, leaving his empress, Eugénie, as regent, but he early devolved his command to Achille Bazaine. He was caught in the disaster of Sedan (Sept. 1, 1870), captured by the Prussians, and declared deposed (Sept. 4) by a bloodless revolution in Paris. Released after the armistice (1871), he went into exile in England, bearing defeat with remarkable dignity. His only son, the prince imperial (see under Bonaparte, family), was killed while serving in the British army.

Assessment

Napoleon III was a complex figure. He combined traits of genuine idealism and liberalism with authoritarianism and ruthless self-aggrandizement. Although much less impressive than his mighty uncle, he was shrewd enough to capitalize on the Napoleonic image and to govern capably, albeit dictatorially. His downfall came when he encountered the far more canny Bismarck.

Bibliography

See studies of the Second Empire by P. de La Gorce (7 vol., 1894–1905, in French), E. Ollivier (18 vol., 1895–1918, in French), P. Guedalla (2d ed. 1928), and J. M. Thompson (1954, repr. 1967); F. A. Simpson, The Rise of Louis Napoleon (new ed. 1925, repr. 1968) and Louis Napoleon and the Recovery of France (3d ed. 1951); A. Guérard, Napoleon III (1943); D. H. Pinkney, Napoleon III and the Rebuilding of Paris (1958); J. P. T. Bury, Napoleon III and the Second Empire (1964); B. D. Gooch, The Reign of Napoleon III (1969); W. H. C. Smith, Napoleon III (1972).

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Napoleon III

Napoleon III (1808–73) ( Louis Napoleon) Emperor of the French (1852–70), nephew of Napoleon I. He twice attempted a coup in France (1836, 1840). Returning from exile after the February Revolution (1848), Napoleon was elected president of the Second Republic. In 1851 he assumed autocratic powers and established the Second Empire (1852), taking the title Napoleon III. His attempt to establish a Mexican Empire under the Archduke Maximilian ended in disaster, and in 1870 he was provoked by Bismarck into the Franco-Prussian War. Napoleon's defeat at Sedan led to a republican rising that ended his reign.

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Napoleon III

NAPOLEON III

Emperor of France; b. Paris, April 20, 1808; d. Chislehurst, England, Jan. 9, 1873. He was baptized Charles Louis and was the third son of Louis and Hortense Bonaparte (then king and queen of Holland) and the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. He was forced by the Congress of Vienna to spend his early manhood in exile. Educated in a Bavarian Gymnasium, he acquired Swiss citizenship. As a member of the carbonari he took part in a local Italian revolution (183031) against the Austrian Hapsburgs. The combined efforts of his mother and Cardinal Mastai (later Pius IX) were required to rescue him from capture and possible execution. He afterward attempted two ill-fated coups d'état against the bourgeois government of the Orleanist King Louis Philippe. Pardoned after the failure of his coup of 1832 at Strasbourg, Louis Napoleon visited Boston, MA (183637), before going to England to await the death of his mother. The attempted coup of 1840 at Boulogne led to his imprisonment at the Ham fortress near the Belgian border. With the help of Dr. Henru Conneau, he escaped (1846) to England, where he established important political and social connections. In 1848 he served as a constable in London during the Chartist demonstration.

As an intellectual, Louis Napoleon was influenced by the socialist ideology of saint-simon. He wrote several treatises, two of which foreshadowed his political and socioeconomic policies, which would place him among the first rulers to cope with problems emerging from the industrial revolution. His Napoleonic Ideas advanced a constructive social and economic program for the French people. In The Extinction of Pauperism he advocated a regulated economy and social hierarchy, ideas that led later critics to label him a protofascist.

In 1848 the February and June Revolutions in France spelled the permanent end of monarchy and ushered in the Second French Republic. A constitution was adopted in November, and, assisted by the Napoleonic legend, his own versatile appeal and program, and the fear of socialism, Louis Napoleon was elected president for a terminal four-year term. He had won Catholic support by promising, after negotiations with montalembert, to protect religion, grant the Church freedom of education, and guarantee the freedom and authority of the pope, then in exile at Gaeta. As president, he dispatched troops to occupy Rome and permit the return of Pius IX, and he recommended the Falloux Law on education. The constitution enabled the conservative Legislative Assembly to control the executive, but imprudent decisions in limiting the suffrage and in granting presidential power to appoint army and police chiefs made possible Louis's coups of 1851 and 1852. The first coup granted Louis sweeping powers to revise the constitution, while the coup of 1852 established the Second Empire. Montalembert broke with him, but Louis veuillot and Bishop maret led most Catholics to support his imperial claims. Republican opposition was subdued, and in 1853 the emperor married the beautiful Spanish countess, Eugenie de Teba. Three years later the prince imperial, Louis Napoleon (185679), was born, assuring succession to the throne.

The domestic policy of Napoleon III stimulated the progress of the industrial revolution. A network of railroads and a banking system contributed to national unity, while the economy was bolstered by government credit at home and in imperial territory. Banking developed with great vigor. Government banks (the Crédit Foncier and the Crédit Agricole) and the private Crédit Mobilier encouraged industrialization, commerce, urban development, and agricultural growth. The Bank of France centralized the banking structure. The Cobden Treaty of 1860 with England committed France to a policy of free trade. It was less remunerative than expected, but a public works program averted economic dislocation and made possible the prefect G. E. Haussmann's beautification of Paris. In 1864 the government permitted the rise of labor unions with rights of strike and bargaining.

Relative peace and prosperity were conducive to the growth of French culture and the contributions of L. pasteur in science, F. M. de Lesseps in engineering, C. P. Baudelaire and G. Flaubert in literature, J. Offenbach and G. Courbet in the arts, and J. Garnier in architecture. Catholicism flourished despite the growing differences between Liberal Catholics and the ultramontanists (see ultramontanism). Numerous religious congregations of women were authorized, and French missionaries labored in many parts of the world, especially in southeast Asia. lourdes became an international shrine of pilgrimage.

Ambitious overextension in the field of foreign affairs led France to disaster. Among Napoleon's imperial ventures, the Crimean War was particularly expensive in lives and money and brought questionable diplomatic gain. The War of Italian Liberation (185960) revealed that France alone could not control the balance of power. Theoretically committed to the risorgimento, Napoleon was fearful of alienating Catholic support, and consequently his maintenance of French troops in Rome deprived the United Italian armies of their most desired prize. Only with the withdrawal of these troops in 1870 was the last remnant of the states of the church occupied. The Mexican expedition (186167) terminated in the execution of "Emperor" Maximilian, the withdrawal of French troops, and loss of prestige. Imperial expansion into Indochina and Algeria led to a century of tension and eventual expulsion. In 186364 Polish patriots waited in vain for French help. Only Romania, which achieved autonomy, profited from Napoleon's idealistic belief that he could act as the arbiter of European destiny. Overconfidence and preoccupation with unsound foreign ventures blinded him to the rise of a powerful Prussia. The French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (187071) resulted in the capture and exile of the emperor and the humiliating Treaty of Frankfurt. France never wholly regained the prestige attained by Napoleon during his 22 years of rule.

Bibliography: a. l. guÉrard, Napoleon III (Cambridge, MA 1943). Oeuvres de Napoleon III, 5 v. (Paris 185469). p. gueriot, Napoleon III, 2 v. (Paris 193334). p. de la gorce, Histoire du Second Empire, 7 v. (Paris 18941905). j. maurain, La Politique ecclésiastique du Second Empire de 1852 à 1869 (Paris 1930). É. ollivier, L'Empire libéral: Études, ré cits, souvenirs, 18 v. (Paris 18941918). a. dansette, Religious History of Modern France, tr. j. dingle v.1 (New York 1961). r. w. collins, Catholicism and the Second French Republic (New York 1923).

[r. j. maras]

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Napoleon III

NAPOLEON III

prince-president of the republic
the second empire
conclusion
bibliography

NAPOLEON III (Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, 1808–1873), emperor of France from 1852 to 1871.

In the 1869 preface to his article on The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, a brilliant piece of political journalism written in 1852, Karl Marx (1818–1883) described his purpose as being to "demonstrate how the class struggle in France created circumstances and relations that made it possible for a grotesque mediocrity to play a hero's part." The "mediocrity" in question was Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, born on 20 April 1808, the son of Louis Bonaparte, appointed King of Holland by his brother Napoleon I (r. 1804–1814/15), and of Hortense de Beauharnais, daughter of the emperor's first wife Josephine. As a result of the couple's separation and the exile of the Bonaparte family from France, Louis-Napoleon was brought up by his mother at the château of Arenenberg in Switzerland, surrounded by memories of empire.

In addition to childhood socialization, another formative influence on the young prince was to be the experience in the years 1830 and 1831 of joining his elder brother Napoleon-Louis in a disastrous Italian rising against Austrian occupation. The death of Napoleon-Louis and in 1832 that of Napoleon's son, the so-called Duc de Reichstadt, left Louis-Napoleon determined to assert his claim to be the great Emperor's heir. As a result of his family background and upbringing he possessed an intense sense of personal destiny. In his determination to become guardian of the Napoleonic tradition, he combined the outlook of a romantic mystic with the instincts of a political opportunist. His friend from childhood, Madame Cornu, would describe his "mission" as a "devotion first to the Napoleonic dynasty, and then to France…. His duty to his dynasty is to perpetuate it. His duty to France is to give her influence abroad and prosperity at home." To achieve these objectives he would first have to gain power.

Otherwise farcical attempts to win the support of the military garrisons at Strasbourg in 1836 and Boulogne in 1840 at least associated Louis-Napoleon with a powerful popular cult of Napoleonic glory. In a series of pamphlets enjoying a wide circulation, including Les Réflexions politiques (1832), Les idées napoléoniennes (1839), and L'Extinction du paupérisme (1844), Louis-Napoleon also published his own ideas. Vague and full of contradictions, these writings, reflecting the utopian optimism of the 1830s and 1840s, were to serve as his "guiding ideas." They were characterized by a determination to eliminate the "party" divisions responsible for political instability. Although sharing with conservatives a determination to safeguard social order, Louis-Napoleon was distinguished by his apparent commitment to "social reform" and to "democracy." It was assumed further that in a restored empire, the emperor would initiate policy, but periodic plebiscites would be used to approve the regime's general policies, as well as to reaffirm the almost mystical link between the emperor and "his" people. The powers of the elected assembly would be reduced to a minimum.

prince-president of the republic

Louis-Napoleon's opportunity came as a result of a severe crisis, beginning with poor harvests and a generalized economic crisis, accompanied by agitation for electoral reform, and culminating in the revolution of February 1848 that established the Second Republic and "universal" (i.e., manhood) suffrage. Continued social and political tension characterized by a renewed insurrection in Paris in June, and its brutal military repression by a republican government, ensured that as a result of disappointed expectations—or in the case of conservatives, fear of further revolution—substantial parts of the population were prepared to contemplate the election of a potential "savior." This was the strength of Bonapartism—to be able to appear as "all things to all men." Reluctantly supported by conservative politicians, Louis-Napoleon's victory in the presidential election in December 1848 was overwhelming: he gained 74.2 percent of the votes cast (5,534,520). His leading opponent, the republican General Louis Eugène Cavaignac (1802–1857) obtained only 19.5 percent (1,448,302). In Paris the successful candidate gained 58 percent of the vote, with higher proportions in the popular quartiers for the supposedly "socialist" author of the Extinction du paupérisme. However, in a still predominantly agrarian country, it was peasant support that would remain the basis of Bonaparte's electoral strength for decades to come. The Austrian diplomat Rudolf Apponyi warned conservative political leaders that, in this situation, "if they believe themselves able… to dominate him, they are badly mistaken." This unique election of a monarchical pretender, of a man with complete faith in his historical "mission" and, once having gained power, determined to retain it, made a coup d'état almost inevitable. This was the point at which the construction of "the political system of Napoleon III" might be said to have commenced.

Initially, Louis-Napoleon sought collaboration with conservative elites in the re-establishment of social order through increasingly intense repression of the démocrate-socialiste left, and with the Roman Catholic Church in the inculcation of "moral order" through education. He also asserted his own independence as head of government by appointing dependent ministers and officials, while ignoring protests from deputies in the National Assembly elected in May 1849. Unable to secure the two-thirds majority in the Assembly that would have allowed him to stand for re-election in 1852, the president was well placed to employ the bureaucracy and army, in which his supporters had already been placed in key positions, to launch a carefully planned coup on 2 December 1851.

In Paris only very limited resistance occurred, due to preventive arrests and obvious military preparedness. Few workers were prepared to risk a repetition of the bloodbath of June 1848 to defend the rights of a conservative assembly against a president who presented himself as the defender of popular sovereignty and enjoyed the prestige that went with the name Bonaparte. The predominantly conservative deputies who gathered in the town hall of the tenth arrondissement refused to rally to a president who had broken his constitutional oath, but were unwilling to contemplate more than symbolic resistance to a coup d'état that promised to establish strong, authoritarian government and destroy the nightmare prospect of a socialist electoral victory in 1852. Although easily crushed, more substantial resistance in rural areas of central France, and particularly the southeast, was used both to justify the coup and a reign of terror directed at republicans.

On 20 December 1851 a plebiscite was held to sanction the extension of the prince-president's authority. The electorate was asked to vote on whether "the people wish to maintain the authority of Louis-Napoleon and delegate to him the powers necessary to establish a constitution." This appeal to popular sovereignty was to be a characteristic of the new regime. Louis-Napoleon was determined to secure a large majority as a means of legitimizing his actions. It was made clear to all officials, including village mayors, that their continued employment depended on enthusiastic campaigning. The basic theme was the choice between "civilization and barbarism, society and chaos." In place of the era of disorder that had opened in 1848, a new


period of order, peace, and prosperity was promised. Nationally, 7,500,000 voted "yes," 640,000 "no," and 1,500,000 abstained. Ominously, opposition was concentrated in the major cities. Coercion was widespread but primarily the result was due to the immense popularity of the prince-president. In the countryside he was perceived to be the only safeguard against renewed revolution and additionally offered protection against the restoration of the ancien régime. The following November, after a carefully orchestrated campaign during which Bonaparte promised peace, order, and reconciliation, and which culminated in a triumphant return to the capital where he was greeted by enthusiastic crowds and processed to the Tuileries Palace under a succession of triumphal arches, 7,824,000 voters approved the re-establishment of the hereditary empire, which was proclaimed on 2 December 1852, the anniversary of the Battle of Austerlitz.

the second empire

The new regime's origins in a coup d'état, its authoritarian and repressive character, together with its ignominious collapse in the war of 1870, subsequently ensured that it received, and indeed deserved, a bad press. By the 1930s the Second Empire was being described as a precursor of fascism. Certainly, the system of government established following the coup was constructed with the intention of strengthening the powers of the head of state at the expense of representative institutions. The emperor appointed ministers and senior officials and assumed responsibility for decision-making. The Senate was packed with supporters, the role of the elected lower house—the Corps législatif—with around 260 members was initially viewed as essentially consultative; although as its consent was required for legislation, it represented a potential center of opposition. For this reason its members were selected carefully and every effort was made to determine the outcome of elections through manipulation, coercion, and propaganda associating the regime with prosperity and social order. However, the decision to retain manhood suffrage clearly distinguished the Second Empire from previous monarchical regimes. This was a regime that owed its legitimacy not to divine right but to the popular will. In time, as fear of revolution declined and repression eased, the social elites that had been deprived of power by the coup were able to make use of their dominant position in the administration and Corps législatif to criticize the restrictions on political liberty as well as the emperor's adventurous foreign policy.

Napoleon III's objectives included revision of the treaties imposed on France in 1815 and a recasting of the map of Europe based on the principle of nationality, to involve a reconstitution of Poland, and the establishment of relatively weak confederations in Italy and Germany as well as the territorial aggrandizement of France itself. As far as possible this was to be achieved through congresses of the powers, but if necessary through engagement in limited war. The Crimean War in 1854 represented a first step, an alliance with Britain against Russia, the most reactionary of European states. Eventual military success considerably increased French prestige, although the Congress of Paris in 1856 did not result in revision of the treaties. War with the old rival Austria in 1859 brought further military successes at Magenta and Solferino in Northern Italy and a hastily concluded peace that united Lombardy to the Kingdom of Piedmont-Savoy and could not prevent Italian nationalists from seizing power in the duchies of Tuscany, Parma, and Modena, and in the Papal Romagna. As a reward, the territories of Savoy and Nice lost in 1815 were triumphantly restored to France, following plebiscites of their inhabitants. Popular images and songs, fireworks and military parades, celebrated this renewal of national glory. The dispatch of an expeditionary force to Mexico in December 1861 in pursuit of the dream of creating a French sphere of influence in the Americas while the United States was absorbed with civil war would prove to be beyond the public's comprehension, however.

The unexpected consequences of military adventure and, in particular, the collapse of the Papal States, followed in 1860 by the negotiation of a commercial treaty with Britain, ensured that both Catholics and protectionists felt betrayed. Criticism mounted. Unlike his predecessors, Napoleon III was prepared to adapt and to engage in the difficult process of regime liberalization, in spite of warnings that he risked opening the flood gates. The gradual extension of political liberties culminating in the establishment of a liberal empire in 1870 represented concessions to criticism from the social elite rather than to the growing republican movement. As well as much greater freedom of speech, the emperor accepted that ministers should be responsible to parliament as well as to himself. Nevertheless, as the elect of the people Napoleon III retained considerable personal power, including the right to dissolve parliament and appeal to the people by means of elections or plebiscites, the authority to negotiate treaties and declare war. The new constitution was approved by plebiscite on 8 May 1870 by 7,350,000 votes to 1,538,000. The future of the dynasty appeared to have been assured.

This political liberalization during the 1860s has, in a more recent "revisionist" historiography, served to excuse previous authoritarianism. Historians have also focused more on what were perceived to be the regime's positive achievements and particularly the reconstruction of Paris, the creation of a modern transportation infrastructure, the reduction of tariff protection, and, more broadly, the establishment of the conditions for rapid economic growth, for which the regime had claimed most—and deserved some—of the credit. This revisionism culminated in 1990 in the publication, by the conservative politician Philippe Séguin, of a study entitled Louis-Napoléon le grand, and in the inauguration of the Place Napoleon III in Paris by Séguin, flanked by Jacques Chirac (b. 1932)—then the city's mayor—and the contemporary Prince Napoleon.

conclusion

"Revisionism" has probably gone too far. In a perceptive comment in his notebook, Ludovic Halévy (1834–1908), the librettist who was also responsible for preparing the minutes of the Corps législatif, wrote following the announcement of the plebiscite results in 1870: "Too many Yes votes. The Emperor will believe that this is still the France of 1852 and do something stupid." The decision in July 1870 to go to war against Prussia, which threatened to upset the balance of power, perfectly illustrates the danger of allowing a single individual too much power. In order to avoid loss of face, and although he realized that the army was not ready, Napoleon III chose to engage in an extremely high-risk strategy. On 28 July, this sick and prematurely aged warlord, unable to sit on his horse or to concentrate for long periods, left Paris to assume command of his armies. On 2 September, an army under his direct command was forced to capitulate at Sedan in eastern France. On 4 September, the Republic was again proclaimed in the capital. No one was prepared to defend a regime responsible for such a catastrophic failure. After Sedan, Napoleon remained a prisoner in Germany until March 1871. He subsequently established his family at Chiselhurst in England, where, planning another coup d'etat, he died on 9 January 1873.

See alsoBonapartism; Crimean War; France; Franco-Prussian War; Paris; Revolutions of 1848.

bibliography

Agulhon, Maurice. The Republican Experiment, 1848–52. Cambridge, U.K, 1983.

Hazareesingh, Sudhir. From Subject to Citizen: The Second Empire and the Emergence of Modern French Democracy. Princeton, N.J., 1998.

McMillan, James F. Napoleon III. London, 1991.

Plessis, Alain. The Rise and Fall of the Second Empire. Translated by Jonathan Mandelbaum. Cambridge, U.K., 1985.

Price, Roger. The French Second Republic: A Social History. London, 1972.

——. Napoleon III and the Second Empire. London, 1997.

——. The French Second Empire: An Anatomy of Political Power. Cambridge, U.K., 2001.

——. People and Politics in France, 1848–1870, Cambridge, U.K., 2004.

Smith, W. H. C. Second Empire and Commune: France 1848–1871. London, 1985.

Zeldin, Theodore. The Political System of Napoleon III. London, 1958.

Roger Price

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