The Second Empire was the constitutional and political system established in France on December 2, 1852 when Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, President of the French Republic, became the sovereign Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, one year to the day after his coup d”état of December 2, 1851. This political regime succeeded the Second Republic.
Since Ernest Lavisse”s History of Contemporary France, the Second Empire has been analyzed by historians in two periods: the first, called the Authoritarian Empire, which extended globally from 1852 to 1860, is opposed to the second, called the Liberal Empire, extending globally from 1860 to 1870.
The Second Empire ended on September 4, 1870 following the defeat of Sedan, during the war against Prussia, a rising power in Europe led by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The Third Republic succeeded it and inaugurated the permanence of the republican regime in France.
The coup d”état of 1851
The coup d”état of December 2, 1851 was the founding act of the Second Empire. It was the conclusion of a 30-month conflict with the party of the Order (parliamentary majority) and marked the victory of the authoritarian Bonapartists. Faced with the constitutional legality of which the defenders of the Republic were then availing themselves, the Bonapartists declared to oppose the universal suffrage, placed above the Constitution, and the direct confidence expressed by the people as the only source of legitimacy. Thus, one of the main measures announced was the re-establishment of universal male suffrage, previously limited by the Assembly, and the restoration to all citizens of their rights to designate their representatives.
These decisions and the extension of the presidential mandate to 10 years were approved by plebiscite on November 21 and 22, 1852, in a context of repression of republican resistance and censorship of newspapers opposed to the coup de force. However, the president enjoyed real popularity among the peasants. Civilians were allowed to vote by secret ballot, while the army and navy voted by open ballot. Following the rallying of the clergy and a good number of the parliamentarians of the majority who had been arrested on December 2 and had voted for his disqualification, the electorate voted in favor of the revision by 7,481,231 “yes” votes against 647,292 “no” votes, according to the final results published by the decree of January 14, 1852 (for approximately 10 million registered voters).
The French Constitution of 1852
Louis-Napoleon had set out his conception of Caesarian democracy a few years earlier in Des Idées napoléoniennes, where he wrote that “in a government whose basis is democratic, the leader alone has the power of government; moral force derives only from him, and everything else goes directly back to him, either hatred or love”. The key elements of Bonapartism, combining authority and sovereignty of the people, are thus clearly exposed. It is from these principles that a new constitution is written and promulgated on January 14, 1852. Largely inspired by the Constitution of the Year VIII and founded at the end of its first article on the great principles proclaimed in 1789, the new consular Republic entrusts the executive power to a president of the Republic elected for ten years (article 2) only responsible before the French people to whom he always has the right to appeal (article 5). The new political regime was therefore plebiscitary and not parliamentary.
The head of state is the sole initiator of the laws that he sanctions and promulgates, whereas the ministers are responsible for their actions only to him.
The legislature was again elected by universal male suffrage, but it had no right of initiative, all laws being proposed by the executive (but passed by parliament). Among other things, the head of state appointed the members of the Council of State, whose task was to prepare laws, and the Senate, a body permanently established as a constituent part of the Empire. An oath of fidelity to the person of the head of state and to the constitution is instituted for civil servants and elected officials. The president also appoints all civil and military positions and justice is administered in his name. The head of state is also the only person empowered to declare war and to conclude peace and trade treaties. The press was subject to a new law restricting freedom, with the introduction of a system of prefectural warnings. As for the national guard, it was reorganized into a parade army.
The march towards the Empire
At the same time as the new Constitution was being put in place, the status of the President of the Republic changed to that of a monarch: he signed Louis-Napoleon and allowed himself to be called His Imperial Highness, while the effigy of the Prince-President appeared on coins and postage stamps. The imperial eagles were reinstated on the flags, while his friends and supporters were rewarded for their loyalty.
The Civil Code was renamed the Napoleonic Code, while August 15 became the day for the celebration of Saint-Napoleon”s Day, the first successful model for a popular national holiday in France.
On February 29 and March 14, 1852, the elections of the members of the Legislative Body were held. For these first elections of the new consular republic, the prefects were instructed to put the administration at the service of the official candidates, from the justices of the peace to the village wardens and the township workers. The latter then used all possible means to facilitate the election of the official candidate, whether by granting subsidies, favors, decorations, but also by stuffing ballot boxes, threatening opposing candidates and putting pressure on their dependents. While these practices are not new, having taken place under the constitutional monarchy, this time they are widespread. On the evening of the results, the official candidates obtained 5,200,000 votes against 800,000 for the various opposition candidates. The authentic Bonapartists, however, represented only 13 of the elected deputies, a good half of whom were Orleanists, the others being of various origins and allegiances. Thus, in the first legislative body of the consular republic, there were also 35 legitimist deputies (including 3 elected on the official list), 17 Orleanists, 18 independent conservatives, 2 liberal Catholics and 3 Republicans. The opponents who managed to get elected had to swear an oath of loyalty to the head of state and to the Constitution if they wanted to sit. Consequently, the 3 elected Republican deputies, who refused to take the oath, did not sit in the Assembly.
In order to test the possibility of the eventual re-establishment of the imperial institution, Louis-Napoleon undertook, from September 1, 1852, a trip to France with the aim of showing the enthusiasm of the people abroad.
If, in Europe, the coup d”état was welcomed by the governments, the signs announcing the re-establishment of the imperial regime worried Louis-Napoleon, forcing him to clarify his intentions: “Some people say: the Empire means war. I say, the Empire is peace. Conquests, yes: the conquests of conciliation, of religion and of morality. We have immense uncultivated territories to clear, roads to open, ports to dig, rivers to make navigable, canals to complete, our railroad network to complete. We have in front of Marseille a vast kingdom to assimilate to France. We have all our great ports in the West to bring closer to the American continent by the speed of these communications which we still lack. Finally, we have everywhere ruins to raise, false gods to put down, truths to make triumph. This is how I understand the Empire, if the Empire is to be re-established.
On October 16, the President of the Republic returned to Paris where gigantic triumphal arches were erected, crowned with banners to Napoleon III, Emperor. On November 7, 1852, by 86 votes to one, a senatus-consult re-established the imperial dignity, approved two weeks later, during a plebiscite, by 7,824,129 votes against 253,149 no and a little more than 2 million abstentions. For Jules Ferry, the authenticity of the result of the vote cannot be questioned and demonstrates the “passionate, sincere and free” expression of the peasant class as already expressed during the presidential election of 1848 and in December 1851, while the liberal journalist Lucien-Anatole Prévost-Paradol declares himself cured of the universal suffrage
The imperial dignity was thus re-established in favor of the prince-president Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, elected by the French people, who officially became “Napoleon III, Emperor of the French” as of December 2, 1852, the symbolic anniversary of the coup d”état, the coronation of Napoleon I and the victory at Austerlitz.
The constitution, the imperial mechanisms and their evolution
Although the mechanism of government was much the same under the Second Empire as under the First Empire, its founding principles were different. The function of the Empire, as Napoleon III liked to repeat, was to guide the people internally toward justice and externally toward perpetual peace. Holding his powers from universal male suffrage, and having frequently, from prison or in exile, reproached previous oligarchic governments for neglecting social issues, he resolved to deal with them by organizing a system of government based on the principles of “Napoleonic ideas,” that is, those of the Emperor – the elected representative of the people, of democracy – and of himself, the representative of the great Napoleon I, hero of the French Revolution, and thus guardian of the revolutionary heritage.
As the sole master of executive power, Napoleon III governed with the help of two bodies with distinct attributions: the cabinet particulier, a sort of general secretariat of the head of state, and the government. Until 1864, the cabinet particulier was directed by Jean-François Mocquard and was composed of loyalists. As for the government, it was composed of about ten clerks, individually responsible to the Emperor alone and revocable just as much according to his sole will. If the ministers could not oppose the projects of the head of state, it was not so for the State Councillors. High magistrates appointed by the Emperor, they were for the most part from the Orleanist administration and were not inclined to share the social concerns of Napoleon III. Although their role was essentially consultative, they did not hesitate to take up and discuss the work of the ministers and to amend in depth the texts on which they gave their opinion, including those coming directly from the cabinet. Thus, the abolition of the workers” booklet, the adoption of an insurance system for agricultural workers or the authoritarian fixing of the price of bread met with the opposition of the Conseil d”État, without Napoleon III proceeding, during his entire reign, to the slightest dismissal of councillors, even though he had the power to do so.
The legislature, composed of 270 elected officials, sat for a single annual session of three months. It could not elect its president or vote on the budget in detail, nor could it question the government or ministers. The only real power that members of the legislature had was to reject proposed legislation and budget estimates. As an emanation of universal male suffrage, Napoleon III and the Bonapartists believed that there could not be two competing expressions of the will of the people: that expressed by the voice of the plebiscite presented by the Emperor, the exclusive representative of national sovereignty under the Constitution, and that expressed by deputies through the relay of legislative votes. This Caesarian conception of democracy only intended to allow the popular vote to be expressed in other ways on condition that elections to the legislature were rare (the lower house was then elected for six years) and implied massive recourse to official candidacies, notably because these made it possible to gather the electorate around what could express its unity. They also had the function of polarizing the legislative elections and of giving an appreciation of the regime in general and not of the deputy in particular. The electoral districts were adjusted in such a way as to drown the urban liberal vote in the mass of the rural population.
Until the 1860s, Napoleon III relied essentially on the business bourgeoisie and the Catholic clergy to govern. There was no Bonapartist party to support him but only more or less sincere or opportunistic rallies. There are those who claim themselves of a “Bonapartism of the left” popular and anticlerical and those who claim themselves of a “Bonapartism of the right” conservative and clerical. The Emperor was aware of this and declared one day: “What a government mine is! The Empress is a legitimist, Napoleon-Jerome is a republican, Morny is an Orleanist; I myself am a socialist. There is no Bonapartist except Persigny: but Persigny is crazy!”
In addition to Morny and Persigny, he could also count on Eugène Rouher, his man of confidence from 1863 to 1869, who acted as “vice-emperor” or Prime Minister without the title. In fact, while the monarchy and the republic clearly had their supporters, the success of Bonapartism appeared at first as a sort of identification of the electorate with a man who claimed both 1789 and the glory of his uncle before becoming an ideology and a practice that borrowed elements from both the monarchist and clerical right and the republican and democrat-socialist left. However, it was difficult for Napoleon III to constitute a real adhesion to such a political synthesis and could only obtain the support of “clients” who expected him to apply a precise part of his program and who could very quickly turn away from him if they were dissatisfied. As a result, he will have few real supporters willing to fight for him.
Following the relative progression of the republican opposition, the Emperor refused to question the universal suffrage as requested by his entourage.
The attack of Orsini
Felice Orsini”s failed attempt on the life of the Emperor and Empress in 1858 claimed many victims and resulted in a hardening of the regime. Several high officials were dismissed from their posts as well as Adolphe Billault, the Minister of the Interior, who was replaced by General Espinasse. Public education was strictly supervised, the teaching of philosophy and history was suppressed in high school and the disciplinary powers of the administration were increased.
On February 1, a general security bill was introduced in the legislature, allowing for the punishment of imprisonment for any action or complicity in an act intended to stir up hatred or contempt among citizens. It also empowered the government to intern or deport without trial (“transportation”) after the expiration of his sentence, any individual convicted of offenses related to state security or for offenses against the person of the Emperor, but also any individual who had been convicted, exiled or deported following the days of June 1848, June 1849 and December 1851.
The Corps Législatif approved the law by 221 votes to 24 with 14 abstentions. In the Senate, only Patrice de Mac Mahon opposed it, while the Council of State only narrowly approved the text by 31 votes to 27.
General Espinasse was given carte blanche to act and did not hesitate to apply sanctions to potential troublemakers, but as of March, the law was put on hold and was never applied again until the end of the Empire. In total, 450 people were sent back to prison or transported to Algeria; most of them were released by August 15, 1859, during a general amnesty to celebrate the victories in Northern Italy. Some, like Victor Hugo or Edgar Quinet, refused to take advantage of it.
The rise of difficulties and challenges
In the 1860s, the Second Empire took a liberal turn. It gradually loosened censorship, liberalized the right of assembly and parliamentary debate. Under the influence of the Duke of Morny in particular, it slowly moved towards a more parliamentary approach to the regime. Nevertheless, this parliamentary liberalization, accompanied by the general amnesty decreed on the return from the Italian campaign, awakened the opposition, whether republican or monarchist, including the clerical right, which did not appreciate the Emperor”s Italian policy. If the republicans and liberals approved of the Emperor”s Italian policy as well as his commercial policy (in particular the free trade treaty with the United Kingdom ratifying the policy led by Richard Cobden and Michel Chevalier), these alienated him from the sympathy of Catholics and industrialists. This critical opposition was embodied in particular by the Univers, the newspaper of Louis Veuillot. It persisted even after the 1860 expedition to Syria in favor of the Maronite Catholics, who were persecuted by the Druze. Napoleon III was then obliged to seek new support in the country.
The constitutional reform of 1862
The decree of November 24, 1860, completed by the senatus-consults of February 2 and 3 and December 31, 1861, reformed the constitution of 1852. Napoleon III wanted to give the major state bodies a more direct involvement in the general policy of the government. Thus, the right of address of the Senate and the Legislative Body was re-established, the right of amendment was widened as well as the modalities of discussion of bills. A stenographic account of the debates was established and made public. The emperor counted on this measure to keep in check the rising Catholic opposition, which was increasingly alarmed by the laissez-faire policy practiced by the emperor in Italy. The methods of budgetary discussion were also modified, the budget ceasing to be voted globally by ministerial department, allowing the assembly to exercise a vigilant and rigorous control over the administration and the policy of the government. The functioning of the State then tended to approach that of a constitutional monarchy. The Second Empire was then at its peak. For Lord Newton, “If Napoleon III”s career had ended in 1862, he would probably have left a great name in history and the memory of brilliant successes.
This parliamentary liberalization accompanied by the general amnesty awakened the opposition, while the parliamentary majority immediately showed signs of independence. The right to vote on the budget by section was a new weapon given to its opponents.
The elections were followed by an important ministerial reshuffle. Those such as Walewski and Persigny, supported by the Empress, who wished to return to the authoritarian Empire, were opposed by the reformists led by the Duke of Morny, towards whom Napoleon III leaned. During the reshuffle, Eugène Rouher became the strong man of the government, a sort of “vice-emperor”. Persigny was removed from the Ministry of the Interior and replaced by Paul Boudet, an anticlerical lawyer, Protestant and Freemason, while a Saint-Simonian industrialist, Armand Béhic, became Minister of Agriculture and Victor Duruy, a liberal historian, took over the Ministry of Public Instruction. In the legislative body, the republicans who rallied to the Empire formed, with the liberal Bonapartists, the Third Party.
But even if the opposition represented by Thiers was more constitutional than dynastic, there was another irreconcilable opposition, that of the amnestied or voluntarily exiled Republicans, of which Victor Hugo was the most eloquent spokesman.
Those who had previously constituted the ruling classes were now again showing signs of their ambition to rule. There appeared to be a danger that this movement, born among the bourgeoisie, might spread to the people. Just as Antaeus derived his strength from touching the earth, so Napoleon III believed that he could control his threatened power by turning again to the working masses from whom he derived his power.
The concessions granted by the constitution of 1862 and in the years that followed accelerated the break between the authoritarian Bonapartists and the pragmatic Bonapartists, while remaining insufficient for the opponents of the Second Empire. In addition, the hazardous foreign policy had dented much of the confidence that the Second Empire had capitalized until then. Thiers and Jules Favre, as representatives of the opposition, denounced the errors of 1866. Émile Ollivier divided the Third Party by the amendment of article 45, and made it clear that a reconciliation with the Empire would be impossible until the Emperor really liberalized the regime. The recall of French troops from Rome, in accordance with the convention of 1864, also gave rise to new attacks by the ultramontane party, supported by the papacy.
The time for “useful reforms
In January 1867, Napoleon III announced what he called “useful reforms” and a “new extension of public liberties”. A decree of January 31, 1867 replaced the right of address with the right of interpellation. The law of May 11, 1868 on the press abolished all preventive measures: the procedure of authorization was replaced by that of declaration and that of warning was suppressed. Numerous opposition newspapers appeared, especially those favorable to the Republicans who “grew bolder in their criticism and sarcasm against the regime. The law of June 6, 1868 on public meetings abolished prior authorization, except for those dealing with religious or political issues. Nevertheless, the freedom of electoral meetings was recognized.
All these concessions, if they divide the Bonapartist camp, remain insufficient for the opponents of the Second Empire.
The press was subject to a system of “bonds”, in the form of money, deposited as a guarantee of good conduct, and “warnings”, i.e. requests by the authorities to cease publication of certain articles, under threat of suspension or suppression, while books were subject to censorship. With the freedom of the press, newspapers multiplied, especially those favorable to the Republicans. The Emperor had vainly hoped that, even by giving freedom of the press and authorizing meetings, he would keep the freedom of action; but he had played the game of his enemies. Victor Hugo”s Châtiments, Jules Ferry”s L”électeur libre, Charles Delescluzes” Le Réveil, Henri Rochefort”s La Lanterne, the subscription to the monument to Baudin, the deputy killed in the barricades in 1851, followed by Léon Gambetta”s speech against the Empire on the occasion of the trial of Charles Delescluze, quickly demonstrated that the republican party could not be reconciled.
On the other hand, the Orleanist party had become disgruntled because the formerly protected industries were not satisfied with the free trade reform.
In vain, Rouher tried to meet the liberal opposition by organizing a party for the defense of the Empire, the Dynastic Union.
The Niel Law
The succession of international setbacks during the period 1866-1867 and fears of armed conflict convinced Napoleon III to overhaul the military organization. In Mexico, the great idea of the reign ended in a humiliating retreat while Italy, counting on its new alliance with Prussia, mobilized revolutionary forces to complete its unity and conquer Rome. The Luxembourg crisis ridiculed the imperial diplomacy. Count Beust”s attempt to resurrect, with the support of the Austrian government, the project of a resolution on the basis of a status quo with reciprocal disarmament, was refused by Napoleon III on the advice of Colonel Stoffel, his military attaché in Berlin, who indicated that Prussia would not accept disarmament. Nevertheless, a reorganization of the military organization seemed necessary to him. The military reform law that the emperor proposed in 1866 after the Prussian victory at Sadowa was intended to modify military recruitment by eliminating its unequal and unfair aspects (the drawing of lots, for example) and to reinforce training. The Niel law as it was called was nevertheless considerably distorted by the parliamentarians, the majority of whom were hostile, and was finally adopted with so many modifications (maintaining the drawing of lots) that it became ineffective.
The legislative elections of 1869
The legislative elections of May 1869 gave rise to street battles, something that had not been seen for more than 15 years. Although the pro-Empire candidates won with 4,600,000 votes, the opposition, mostly Republican, won 3,300,000 votes and the majority in the large cities. In the legislative body, these elections marked the significant decline of the authoritarian Bonapartists (97 seats) against the great winner, the Third Party (125 seats), and against the Orleanists of Thiers (41 seats) and the Republicans (30 seats). While the regime retained the essential support of the peasantry, the workers rallied for the first time in majority to Republican candidates, which sounded like a failure for Napoleon III”s policy of social openness. The union between the internationalists and the bourgeois republicans became a fait accompli.
Following these elections, Napoleon III accepted new concessions while “the republican violence worried the moderates”. By a senatus-consult of September 8, 1869, the Corps législatif received the initiative of the laws and the right of interpellation without restriction. The Senate completed its transformation into a second legislative chamber, while the ministers formed a cabinet responsible to the emperor.
Comparative table of elections under the Second Empire: the turning point of 1863
Prosperity, economic and cultural development
The historian Maurice Agulhon notes that “the economic and cultural history” of the Second Empire is characterized by “a prosperous and brilliant period”.
The Second Empire coincided almost exactly, between two economic depressions (that of 1817-1847 and that of 1873-1896), with the quarter-century of international economic prosperity that France had experienced in the 19th century. The St. Simonian-inspired, strongly statist economic policy pursued in the aftermath of the coup d”état aimed at reviving growth and modernizing structures. Within 20 years, the country had acquired modern infrastructures, an innovative financial and commercial system and, in 1870, had caught up with the United Kingdom in terms of industry, thanks in part to the Emperor”s voluntarist policy and his choice of free trade.
During the 1860s, monetary and budgetary constraints led the government to follow the precepts of the advocates of an economic and financial policy less similar to those advocated by the Saint-Simonians.
The reign of Napoleon III was first marked by the completion of the construction of the French railway network supervised by the State. In 1851, the country had only 3,500 km of railroads compared to more than 10,000 km in Great Britain. Under the impetus of Napoleon III and his Minister of Public Works, Pierre Magne, whose policy was characterized by a financial commitment of the State in the railway companies, the country caught up with and surpassed its rival from across the Channel to reach nearly 20,000 km of railroads in 1870, on which more than 110,000,000 passengers and 45,000,000 tons of merchandise travelled annually. The railroads now served all the large and medium-sized French cities. This had a considerable impact on many industrial sectors, including mining, iron and steel, mechanical engineering and public works.
At the same time, the government also focused its efforts on the construction and maintenance of roads as well as on engineering structures, and then, from 1860 onwards, under the impetus of the Emperor, on the development of navigable waterways with the construction of new canals. Finally, the Bonapartist State favored the development of electric telegraphy, but also the mergers and the creation of large maritime shipping companies (messageries maritimes, the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, etc.) as well as the modernization of the fleet and the expansion of maritime trade by equipping large ports, notably that of Marseille.
Inspired by the Saint-Simonian doctrine, Napoleon III also multiplied the sources of credit and cheap money by reforming the banking system with the aim of better circulating money and draining savings in order to promote the country”s industrial take-off.
The French money supply increased from 3.9 billion gold francs in 1845 to 8.6 billion francs in 1870, thanks to the good world economic situation resulting from the intense monetary creation permitted by the California gold rush (1848) and the Victoria gold rush (1851).
The banking system was revived by the entry into force of the decree of February 28, 1852, which favored the establishment of credit foncier institutes, such as Crédit foncier de France for the agricultural world, and Crédit mobilier, a merchant bank directed by the Pereire brothers until 1867 and intended to finance industrial companies, especially those of the railroad, but also the Parisian omnibus and gas lighting. Between 1849 and 1869, the number of subscribers to the Caisses d”épargne increased from 730,000 to 2.4 million, and the amount of money deposited in the Caisses d”épargne rose from 97 to 765 million francs.
Later, many large deposit banks were created, such as the Comptoir d”escompte de Paris, the Crédit industriel et commercial (imperial decree of 1859) and the Crédit lyonnais. Moreover, the role of the Banque de France evolved and, encouraged by the Emperor, it became involved in supporting economic development, while the law of June 24, 1865 imported the cheque as a means of payment into France. At the same time, company law was adapted to the requirements of financial capitalism. Thus, the law of July 17, 1856 created the limited partnership with shares, the law of May 23, 1863 founded a new form of limited liability company called Société à responsabilité limitée, and the law of July 24, 1867 liberalized the formalities for the creation of commercial companies, including limited companies.
Such a policy required, for the security of mortgage credits, that not only mortgages, but also the alienation of real estate and the constitution of real property rights, or leases of more than eighteen years be published; this was the object of the law of March 23, 1855, which re-established the publication of deeds and judgments translating or constituting real property rights. The status of the registrar of mortgages, his responsibility in keeping the real estate file and issuing information, were henceforth fully applied to contribute to the security of the credit attached to these vast real estate operations.
The influence of the Saint-Simonians on economic policy was finally demonstrated by the policy implemented by the emperor to put an end to economic protectionism in the face of foreign competition, despite the opposition of French industrialists. Thus, on January 15, 1860, the conclusion of a trade treaty with England, secretly negotiated between Michel Chevalier and Richard Cobden, was a “customs coup”. This treaty, which not only abolished customs duties on raw materials and most food products between the two countries, but also removed most prohibitions on foreign textiles and various metal products, was followed by a series of trade agreements negotiated with other European nations (Belgium, the Zollverein, Italy, and Austria). This economic opening of the borders stimulated the modernization of the French industrial fabric and its production methods.
The era was also marked by the emergence of department stores such as Aristide Boucicaut”s Bon Marché, the Bazar de l”Hôtel de Ville, the Printemps and the Samaritaine, while the stock market experienced a golden age: Industry (steel, textiles) grew strongly, at least until the mid-1860s, and mining, coal in the East and North and slate in Anjou, took off (the latter were submerged by a record flood of the Loire in 1856, an opportunity for the head of state to visit Trélazé to restore his tarnished image following political repression of a republican riot one year earlier).
Capital of Europe as well as Victorian London, Paris hosted major international meetings such as the 1855 and 1867 World”s Fairs which allowed it to showcase France”s interest in technical and economic progress. The Universal Exhibition of 1867, which took place in a Paris transformed and modernized by Baron Haussmann, welcomed ten million visitors and sovereigns from all over Europe. The success of the Exposition was somewhat tarnished by Berezowski”s assassination attempt on Tsar Alexander II of Russia, and by the tragic fate of Emperor Maximilian in Mexico.
Personally interested in everything that concerns technical progress, the Emperor himself finances the work of Alphonse Beau de Rochas on the four-stroke thermal engine.
The Second Empire was a golden period for French architecture, favored by the intensity of urban transformations. Napoleon III commissioned Baron Haussmann”s work in Paris, with the aim of transforming this city, which was known in the mid-19th century for its overpopulation, insalubrity and susceptibility to epidemics, into a model of urban planning and hygiene, as London was at the time.
A convinced Saint-Simonian, inspired in particular by his close adviser Michel Chevalier, Louis-Napoleon dreamed of an organized and healthy city, with wide boulevards and avenues easily connecting the centers of attraction, where commerce and industry could develop and the poorest could live in decent conditions. The Paris transformed by Baron Haussmann would thus be the Saint-Simonian Paris imagined by the prince-president, many aspects of which appeared in the phalansteres of Charles Fourier and in the Icarie of Étienne Cabet. Following these Fourierist principles, Louis-Napoleon was responsible for the construction of the first 86 social housing units in Paris in the Cité Rochechouart in 1851, which he had financed by the Sub-Comptoir du Commerce et de l”Industrie pour le Bâtiment (Sub-Comptoir of Commerce and Industry for Construction) in order to compensate for the failure of the Paris City Council. He himself donated 50,000 francs to help build workers” housing to replace substandard housing in the capital and had Des habitations des classes ouvrières, by the English architect Henry Roberts, translated and published.
When on June 22, 1853, Georges Eugène Haussmann was appointed prefect of the Seine by Napoleon III, he was charged with realizing the Emperor”s dream of Paris, whose mission could be summed up as “airing, unifying and beautifying the city. The capital, for the first time considered as a whole, was thus transformed in depth and modernized with the creation of a coherent fabric of communication routes. New roads and axes linking the major train stations were built, perspectives and squares were opened, and numerous squares, green spaces and gardens were created (Montsouris, Buttes-Chaumont, Bois de Vincennes and Bois de Boulogne, Boucicaut…). Several miserable blocks such as the one known as “la petite Pologne” were razed. The Emperor himself kept a close eye on the work and drew up a plan for a set of 41 pavilions intended for the working classes on Avenue Daumesnil, which were to be presented at the Universal Exhibition of 1867.
The law of June 16, 1859 extended the limits of the capital to the fortifications of Thiers. The city absorbed eleven communes in their entirety (Belleville, Grenelle, Vaugirard, La Villette) or in part (Auteuil, Passy, Batignolles-Monceau, Bercy, La Chapelle, Charonne, Montmartre), as well as thirteen portions of communes. The surface area of Paris increased from 3,300 to 7,100 hectares, while its population grew by 400,000 to 1,600,000. Paris was now reorganized into twenty arrondissements. In 1870, the city reached 2,000,000 inhabitants. For the first time in its history, a general plan of the city was drawn up as well as a topographical survey.
Between 1852 and 1870, more than 300 km of new and lighted roads were built in Paris, accompanied by plantations (600,000 trees and 20,000 hectares of woods and gardens), street furniture, gutters and 600 km of sewers. More than 19,000 unhealthy buildings comprising 120,000 dwellings were demolished and replaced by 30,000 new buildings providing 215,300 dwellings, to which were added many new public monuments and buildings, the new Hôtel-Dieu, theaters (Le Châtelet), high schools, the Baltard halls and many places of worship (Saint-Augustin church, Saint-François-Xavier church, etc.). The use of iron and cast iron in the structure of public buildings was the main novelty of the time and made the reputation of architects Victor Baltard, Hector Horeau, Louis-Auguste Boileau, Henri Labrouste, marking also the beginning of Gustave Eiffel. In addition to the followers of metallic architecture, there were those who defended a more eclectic style, such as Théodore Ballu (Sainte-Clotilde church and the Trinity church in Paris), Jacques Ignace Hittorff (Cirque d”Hiver and Gare du Nord) or Joseph-Louis Duc (façade of the new Palais de Justice). However, the official architect of the Second Empire was Hector Lefuel, who completed the Louvre Palace, which he linked to the Tuileries Palace. As for the most important and emblematic architectural project of the Second Empire, it is that of the Garnier opera house, the construction of which began in August 1861 and which the Emperor never saw completed.
Opponents of the work also denounced the large boulevards (very wide and straight) as a way to better thwart possible revolts by preventing the formation of barricades. Haussmann will never deny this quasi-military role of the breakthrough of some of the Parisian roads, forming breaches in the middle of neighborhoods constituting real citadels of insurrection such as those of the city hall, the faubourg Saint-Antoine and the two sides of the Sainte-Geneviève mountain. However, he replied that the majority of the major arteries that were built were mainly to improve the circulation between the stations, between the stations and the city center, and also to aerate the city to avoid infectious outbreaks.
At the same time, Napoleon III encouraged this policy in the other large and medium-sized cities of France, from Lyon to Biarritz via Dieppe (the numerous imperial streets that were laid out at the time were often later renamed “rue de la République”). The Emperor multiplied his personal stays in water cities such as Vichy, Plombières-les-Bains, Biarritz, which contributed a lot to their launching and to their lasting fortune. A policy of large-scale works and sanitation allowed the development of regions such as Dombes, Landes, Champagne, Provence as well as Sologne, a region dear to Napoleon III because of his family ties to Beauharnais and who personally invested in the improvement of this region by participating in the financing of the works.
Wishing to make his reign appear as one of “scientific and social progress, of industry and the arts, of the rediscovered greatness of France”, Napoleon III found in photography a modern instrument that allowed him to realize this political ambition and to widely disseminate his image and the events of his reign alongside the more traditional techniques that were notably painting and sculpture.
The Mission héliographique testifies to the interest of the public authorities, allowing the notoriety and success of Léon-Eugène Méhédin, Gustave Le Gray (to whom Louis-Napoléon commissioned the first official photograph of a head of state), Auguste Mestral, Hippolyte Bayard and Henri Le Secq, as well as the public commissions that were subsequently given to Désiré Charnay, Auguste Salzmann, Adolphe Braun, Jean-Charles Langlois, Charles Nègre, Pierre-Louis Pierson and Pierre-Ambroise Richebourg, whose ultimate goal was always to give an account of the actions carried out by the Emperor and his ministries in the most diverse domains, including abroad.
The Second Empire appears as an intense period in the field of literary and artistic creation in spite of the repressive policy carried out at the beginning of the period known as the Authoritarian Empire. It is the time when new pictorial and literary movements appear such as impressionism, pictorial realism, literary realism and Parnassus.
The development owes much to the industrialization of printing and to the development of copyright protection (the law of April 8 and 9, 1854 increases the duration of the posthumous right from 20 to 30 years, extended to 50 years by the law of July 14, 1866).
During the period of the authoritarian Empire and to a lesser extent in the 1860s, censorship was rampant in the field of arts and letters. Preached by the Church, the return to moral order, supported by the Empress Eugenie, was one of the concerns of the regime. While the press attacked the lasciviousness of modern dances, the Seine prosecutor”s office prosecuted the writers Baudelaire, Eugène Sue and Flaubert for their works that were contrary to “public and religious morality” (1856-1857), while Renan was removed from his chair at the Collège de France. Nevertheless, in 1863, while Jean-Léon Gérôme and the great official painters were celebrated at the Salon de peinture et de sculpture, Napoleon III allowed the opening of a “Salon des refusés” where Courbet and the future Impressionists exhibited.
This period is however characterized by the richness of its literature, from Flaubert to George Sand or the brothers Edmond and Jules de Goncourt. The most emblematic writers and those closest to the imperial regime are nevertheless Prosper Mérimée and Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve.
The construction of the Garnier Opera illustrates the importance given to the world of entertainment, an element of the “imperial celebration”. The performances in the city developed in particular the opera-bouffe, a genre in which the composer Jacques Offenbach triumphed, but also plays such as those of Eugène Labiche, which were a great success. Although these two personalities assumed their Bonapartism, their works were a “corrosive but smiling criticism of the imperial society”. The imperial decree of January 6, 1864 established the “freedom of theaters”, which put an end to administrative controls, except for censorship.
Endowed with a large official pension and a very comfortable civil list, the festivities and the grandiose receptions of the Emperor and Empress at the Tuileries, Saint-Cloud or Compiègne also gave the “imperial party” a propaganda role. Numerous artists such as Eugène Delacroix, Gustave Flaubert, Prosper Mérimée but also personalities from the scientific world such as Louis Pasteur took part in the series of parties given for a whole week at the palace of Compiègne by the imperial couple.
Passionate about history, Napoleon III wrote a monumental History of Julius Caesar with the help of a team of collaborators under his direction, including Alfred Maury, Prosper Mérimée and Victor Duruy. The preface is written by the emperor (as well as the first two volumes) and takes up the themes exposed in his youth. Published by Plon in 1865 and 1866 for the first two volumes which go up to the beginning of the civil war in 49 BC, the work counts six volumes in total and is completed, at least for the last three volumes, under the pen of baron Eugène Stoffel. Much later, the work receives the recognition and the scientific guarantee of the historians Claude Nicolet, specialists of the Roman history and Gaul.
In parallel to his research on Roman artillery, the emperor played an important role in the implementation of a true national archaeology. In July 1858, he set up a topographical commission to draw up a map of Gaul. He instituted chairs of antiquity at the Ecole Normale, the Ecole des Chartes and the Collège de France. With his personal money, he bought the Farnese gardens on the Palatine and exhumed Caesar”s palaces. At the same time, he sent archaeological missions to Spain, Macedonia, Syria, Algeria, Tunisia, Greece and Asia Minor. In 1862, he opened the Museum of National Antiquities in Saint-Germain-en-Laye and erected a statue of Vercingetorix on Mount Auxois. With his personal funds, he financed more than 8 million francs in archaeological research, experimental studies and cartographic work and had excavations carried out at Alise-Sainte-Reine, identified as the site of Alesia, which he visited in 1861 before Gergovia.
Social situation under the Second Empire
When Napoleon III came to power, the Le Chapelier law of 1791, prohibiting all professional associations and putting the proletarian classes at the mercy of their employers, was in force. Deprived of the support of the Catholics, whom his policy in favor of Italian reunification worried, and of that of the employers and industrialists, ulcerated by his free trade treaty concluded in 1860 with Great Britain, Napoleon III, disappointed by the elites, sought the support of new supporters in the popular masses, in particular the workers.
From 1862 on, his social policy was more daring and innovative than in the previous decade. In May 1862, he founded the Prince Imperial Society to lend money to workers and to help families temporarily in need. His bill to create a general labor inspectorate to enforce the 1841 law on child labor, however, was revoked by the Council of State. That same year, with the encouragement of reformist parliamentarians (Darimon, Guéroult) and the working class elite, he subsidized the sending of a working class delegation led by Henri Tolain to the Universal Exhibition in London. For the economist and socialist politician Albert Thomas, “if the working class rallied to him, it was the realization of Caesarian socialism, the way barred to the Republic. Never was the danger so great as in 1862. Back from London, the workers” delegation asked for the application in France of a law allowing workers to coalesce on the model of what was done in Great Britain and, in the context of the elections of 1863 and those complementary to 1864, Tolain and workers” militants, including Zéphirin Camélinat, drafted the manifesto of the sixty, a program of social demands that asserted its independence from political parties, especially the Republicans, and presented candidates (who were eventually defeated). A law of May 23, 1863 gave workers the possibility, as in the United Kingdom, to save money by creating cooperative societies. The emperor nevertheless supported Tolain”s wish for the right of coalition, which was relayed to parliament by Darimon and the Duke of Morny. Despite the reluctance of the Council of State, the bill prepared by Emile Ollivier was adopted by 221 votes to 36 by the Legislative Body and by 74 votes to 13 in the Senate. Ratified and promulgated by Napoleon III, the law of May 25, 1864 recognized for the first time the right to strike in France as long as it did not infringe on the freedom of work and was exercised peacefully.
Many workers were then seduced by the social policy of the Emperor, but their rallying to the regime was not massive. Some refused to allow the “bourgeois-republicans” to speak on their behalf, but Tolain”s attempts to give these rallied workers parliamentary representation failed. The rallying was also limited by the uncertainties of the government”s economic policy, by the persistence of the cotton crisis and by the beginning of a recession in early 1866.
Despite the recognition of the right to strike, unions as such remained prohibited. An imperial circular of February 23, 1866 first asked prefects to allow gatherings with purely economic demands to take place. Then, the right of employees to organize in associations of a trade union nature was recognized in a letter of March 21, 1866 and by a decree of August 5, 1866 creating an imperial fund for cooperative associations. On March 30, 1868, trade union chambers were officially tolerated by the government, but the unions themselves were not authorized until the Waldeck-Rousseau law in 1884. Moreover, the working class was progressively won over by the collectivist and revolutionary theories of Karl Marx and Bakunin, put forward in the congresses of the International Working Men”s Association.
The contacts made in London with workers” representatives from various countries led to the creation, in 1864, of the International Workers” Association (IWA), which was then “dominated by reformists and Proudhonians”. Although torn between various tendencies, it was Karl Marx who wrote the inaugural address and the statutes according to which “the emancipation of the workers must be the work of the workers themselves” and is “implicitly based on the dogma of class struggle. The AIT opened an office in France in 1865, headed by Henri Tolain and animated by Proudhon”s supporters.
In 1866, at the Geneva Congress, the representatives of the mutuellist current presented a memorandum in which they advocated apolitism and condemned “the strikes, the collectivist associations of 1848, public education and women”s work”. Nevertheless, in February 1867, the AIT gave financial support to the victorious strike of the bronze workers led by the mutual credit and solidarity society of the bronze workers, directed by Zéphirin Camélinat. In September 1867, during the Lausanne congress, under the influence of Marx”s supporters who had come in large numbers and of the increasingly numerous “radical elements”, the AIT proclaimed that “the social emancipation of the workers should be accompanied by a political emancipation” and this “in complete rupture with the spirit of Proudhonian mutuellism and with the manifesto of the sixty”, even if the line of Proudhon”s supporters finally imposed itself by a narrow margin. Two days later, at the Congress of Peace and Freedom in Geneva, “the International strongly attacked standing armies and authoritarian governments”. On their return from these congresses, the members of the “Parisian bureau of the International, around Tolain”, who were already more and more “inclined to integrate politics into their project of social transformation”, renounced “Proudhonian reformism in order to launch themselves into active struggle and organize demonstrations”. The Parisian section was soon raided while Tolain was arrested and sentenced in court. The section was finally dissolved for having participated in demonstrations of a political nature such as protests against the sending of French troops to Rome. At the end of 1868, a second French section was created, led by Eugène Varlin and Benoît Malon, whose slogan was “political revolution” as the AIT “came under Marxist influence” at the Brussels Congress. If the government then envisaged the legalization of the unions with, as a corollary, their rallying to Caesarian socialism, it could not tolerate a rallying to Marxist international socialism, which seemed to be taking shape through the AIT. To cut a long story short, several militants were prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned (including Albert Theisz, Varlin and Malon) during three AIT trials held between 1868 and 1870. But in the legislative elections of 1869, for the first time, the majority of workers rallied behind Republican candidates, which sounded like a failure for Napoleon III”s policy of social openness. In 1870, a Parisian federation of the AIT opened again in Paris, but a few days later, on April 30, the “arrest” of all the individuals who made up the International “was ordered. On July 8, it was declared dissolved, although not effective in practice, following the declaration of war.
In spite of all these setbacks, Napoleon III decided to maintain what he considered to be his social work. Soup kitchens were organized for the poor while the first pension systems were set up and a law was passed to create a Death Insurance Fund and a Workplace Accident Insurance Fund (1868). On August 2, 1868, a law repealed an article of the Civil Code that gave precedence, in case of litigation, to the master”s word over that of the worker. On March 23, 1869, the Council of State refused to validate the project to abolish the workers” booklet, a recurrent demand of Napoleon III. In December, the labor exchange was inaugurated in Paris.
Over the period, although extreme poverty declined and the standard of living of workers remained precarious, their purchasing power did increase, while periods of underemployment became shorter.
At the same time, Victor Duruy, the Minister of Public Instruction, who was also an academic and historian whose ambition was “the instruction of the people”, emphasized popular education, whereas the first years of the decade were marked by some progress in this field: in 1861, the Fontenaicastrian Julie-Victoire Daubié was the first woman to receive the baccalaureate, but in order to obtain her diploma, she waited for the imperial couple to intervene with the minister, Gustave Rouland, so that he would sign it. In 1862, the first professional school for young girls was opened by Elisa Lemonnier while Madeleine Brès obtained the right to enroll in the Faculty of Medicine in Paris. As a member of the imperial government from 1863 to 1869, Duruy opened secondary education to girls and, from 1865 on, tried to develop primary education, despite the hostility of the Roman Catholic Church, which feared a loss of its influence. Although he had successfully pleaded with the emperor, and then with the legislature without success, for the constitution of a great public service of free and compulsory primary education, he imposed, in 1866 and 1867, the obligation for each commune of more than 500 inhabitants to open a school for girls, the extension of the “free” public education of the first degree to 8 000 communes, the institution of a certificate of primary studies sanctioning the end of the elementary cycle and developed the school libraries. He made the teaching of history and geography compulsory in primary school curricula, restored philosophy in secondary school and introduced the study of contemporary history, modern languages, drawing, gymnastics and music.
Fascinated by science and well informed about the latest inventions, Napoleon III maintained a privileged relationship with scientists whose lectures he enjoyed listening to and following their experiments. The one who met with his favor the most was Louis Pasteur whom he met for the first time in 1863 after the latter had refuted the thesis of spontaneous generation and demonstrated the existence of animalcules (later called microbes). He became a friend of the Emperor and the Empress, who took away all his material worries in order to pursue his work. He was appointed to the commission in charge of the reform of higher education, sent to the Gard region to fight against the pebrine epidemic that threatened the silkworm farms, before being appointed senator in July 1870.
Napoleon III”s support for the project of Ferdinand de Lesseps, also a cousin of the Empress, to pierce the Suez Canal was decisive on several occasions. After several hesitations, the emperor agreed to sponsor the project and to put diplomatic pressure on the Ottoman Empire, which was hostile to the project. He saved the project on several occasions by supporting it against the Viceroy of Egypt (1863-1864), once again against the Sultan (1865-1866) and again in 1868 by granting a loan to bail out the de Lesseps company on the verge of bankruptcy. However, the political and social context as well as his precarious health did not allow him to go to Egypt to see the completion of the works, leaving his wife alone to attend the inauguration of the Suez Canal on November 17, 1869.
A new place in Europe
Napoleon III, in the Napoleonic tradition, wanted an ambitious foreign policy. He directed it himself, sometimes short-circuiting the designs of French diplomacy, a high administration composed of diplomats who were mostly monarchists and opposed to the Caesarism of Napoleon III. Since 1815, France was relegated diplomatically to the second rank countries. For Napoleon III, the artificial work of the Congress of Vienna, which consecrated the fall of his family and of France, had to be destroyed, and Europe had to be organized in a set of great industrial states, united by communities of interests and linked between them by commercial treaties, and expressing their links by periodic congresses presided by himself, and by universal exhibitions. In this way, he wished to reconcile the revolutionary principles of the supremacy of the people with historical tradition, something that neither the Restoration nor the July Monarchy nor the Second Republic had been able to do. Universal suffrage, the organization of nations (of Romania, Italy, and Germany), and freedom of trade were for him part of the Revolution.
Napoleon III”s first objective was to give back to France a role in Europe, then in search of a new organization under the pressure of nationalism. He intended both to dislocate the anti-French coalition inherited from the Congress of Vienna (1815), and to help reshape the map of Europe according to the “principle of nationalities”: each people must be able to dispose of itself and the regrouping into nation-states must be favored.
The Crimean War (1854-1856), marked in particular by the siege of Sebastopol, allowed Napoleon III to lay the foundations of his foreign policy and to re-establish France on the European scene. The defense of the Ottoman Empire against Russia was also an excellent opportunity for him to forget the imperialist aims of Napoleon I and to bring Paris out of its international isolation. Thus, following the declaration of war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire on October 4, 1853, France, wanting to strengthen its influence in Egypt, and the United Kingdom, wanting to protect its positions in India, allied themselves with the Turks and, on March 27, 1854, declared war on the Russians whose ambition was to control the straits from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.
Paradoxically, the Crimean War represents first of all a diplomatic victory because the alliance with England breaks the one conceived before between the latter, Austria and Russia against Napoleon I.
After the battle of Alma, the destruction of the Russian fleet at Sevastopol and the battle of Malakoff, Russia capitulated. The policy of integrity of the Ottoman Empire, a traditional policy in France since the time of François I, won him the approval of both the old parties and the liberals. Nevertheless, this victorious war for France cost it 95 000 men, 75 000 of whom were killed during the siege of Sebastopol.
Coinciding with the birth of Louis, his son and heir, on March 16, 1856, the treaty of Paris was a personal triumph for the Emperor, who placed France on the side of the great European kingdoms and erased from the minds of the Congress of Vienna of 1815. The British and the French not only forced Russia to recognize the independence of the Ottoman Empire, the renunciation of any protectorate over the Orthodox subjects of the Sultan and the autonomy of the two Ottoman principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, but they also obtained the neutralization of the Black Sea and the freedom of navigation on the Danube. The signature of this treaty marked the apogee of Napoleon III”s good understanding with Queen Victoria”s Great Britain.
Count Walewski, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, gave a sudden and unexpected extension to the deliberations of the treaty by inviting the plenipotentiaries to consider the questions of Greece, Rome, Naples and the various Italian states. Piedmont-Sardinia, ally of the victors, took advantage of the occasion to denounce the occupation of Italy by Austria of the Habsburgs and to take date thus near the Emperor of the French.
Subsequently, supported by Napoleon III and despite the opposition of Austria, the two principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia both elected the same candidate to the throne, Alexander Cuza (1859). The union of the two principalities was formalized in 1862 with the formation of the United Principalities of Romania, which in 1881 became the Kingdom of Romania.
The Italian policy of the Emperor – in favor of the Unification and to the detriment of Austria – will allow France to annex after a plebiscite the county of Nice and Savoy (1860).
In the name of the right of peoples to self-determination, Napoleon III, a former carbonaro, wanted to engage against Austria and put an end to its domination over Italy, which was then divided into various duchies, principalities and kingdoms, to build a united Italy. But the French military regularly refused an open war, too risky. Moreover, Italian unification could threaten the temporal power of the pope, while the bankers feared the possible costs and economic repercussions of such an adventure.
It is the failed attack of Orsini of January 14, 1858 which will convince Napoleon III to get involved on the question of the Italian Unification. Condemned to death, Orsini wrote to Napoleon III that “the feelings of sympathy of a thin comfort at the time of dying”. The Emperor, very touched, could not obtain the grace of his aggressor but decided to renew his relations with the Sardinian kingdom. The victory of his armies in Crimea also gave him the necessary scale to accomplish this mission which was dear to his heart.
He secretly contacted Camillo Cavour, president of the Council of Ministers of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia to whom he offered his help for the creation of a kingdom of Upper Italy, during the agreements of Plombières (July 1858), in exchange for the duchy of Savoy and the county of Nice as well as the maintenance of the temporal power of the pope in Rome. It is not a question for the Emperor of making the unity of the peninsula but rather to help the populations of North Italy (Piedmont, Sardinia, Lombardy, Venetia, Parma and Modena) to free themselves from the Austrian power while the remainder of the peninsula would be divided between a kingdom of central Italy (Tuscany, Marche, Umbria, Rome and Latium) and the kingdom of Naples. To seal this mutual commitment, Jerome-Napoleon, a cousin of the Emperor, was to marry Clothilde, daughter of Victor-Emmanuel II of Savoy. A treaty of alliance with Piedmont-Sardinia was duly signed on January 28, 1859.
Before any intervention on Italian soil, Napoleon III made sure of Russia”s neutrality and British passivity. On April 26, 1859, following an ultimatum addressed to the kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia regarding the disarmament of its troops, Austria declared war on it. France, committed by its defensive alliance with Piedmont-Sardinia, honored the treaty and began a military campaign against Austria. Napoleon III himself took the lead of the army. After the battles of Montebello, Palestro, Magenta and Solferino in May and June 1859, Napoleon III decided to suspend the fighting because of the heavy French losses. He also feared that the conflict would get bogged down while Prussia was mobilized on June 6, 1859. After a summit meeting between Emperors François-Joseph and Napoleon III in Villafranca, Austria agreed to cede Lombardy but obtained to keep Venetia. The peace treaty was signed in Zurich on November 11, 1859, but Cavour, dissatisfied with the armistice, activated the Italian revolutionary centers through Garibaldi. From July 1859 to April 1860, the Italian duchies rallied together in a unitary movement, supported by public opinion and the King of Sardinia, Victor Emmanuel. The expedition of the Thousand led by Garibaldi, which began in May 1860, allowed the annexation of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. On March 14, 1861, the Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed and Victor-Emmanuel became King of Italy.
For Napoleon III, the results of this Italian policy were mixed. His military successes and the weakness of his diplomacy reinforced the hostility of Austria and Prussia towards him, while Italy, which owed him a lot, remained a weak state. By refusing to continue the victorious (but costly in men) campaign of 1859, the Emperor left Venice in Austrian hands and disappointed his Savoyard allies.
Napoleon III”s Italian policy, however, also alienated ultramontane French Catholics, as the unity of northern Italy put the Papal States in peril. Seeking to appease the discontent of French Catholic circles, the Emperor initiated an intervention in Syria in 1860 after the massacre of Christian populations and until 1870, prevented the new kingdom of Italy from finalizing unity, leaving troops in Rome to protect the last vestiges of the pope”s temporal power.
Distant expeditions and colonial expansion
When he came to power, Napoleon III had inherited a modest colonial empire that included Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Reunion Island, trading posts in India, St. Pierre and Miquelon, Mayotte and its dependencies, as well as a few other islands, notably in Polynesia. If at the beginning, Napoleon III had no program for the colonies, which he considered burdensome, the ideology of the Saint-Simonians was to influence the main political lines of colonization under the Second Empire, a period during which the surface of French possessions was finally tripled. Napoleon III encouraged a policy of expansion and intervention overseas, as much for the sake of prestige as to conciliate certain sections of society such as the military, Catholics and candidates for emigration to distant lands. On his initiative, the colonial administration was reorganized in 1854 with the creation of an advisory committee for the colonies, followed in 1858 by the creation of the Ministry of Algeria and the Colonies. The colonial policy of the Emperor was mainly inspired by the Saint-Simonians. It was manifested not only by the development of colonial ports but also by the beginning of the digging of the Suez Canal (1859-1869) in Egypt at the initiative of Ferdinand de Lesseps and Prosper Enfantin. Enfantin, along with the Saint-Simonian Ismaÿl Urbain, was the great inspirer of the Emperor”s Arabist policy, and in particular of his Algerian policy. Within the framework of this colonial expansion, the naval forces were also modernized with the construction of about fifteen battleships and steamships to transport troops.
In the name of free trade, of which he was an ardent supporter, and in spite of strong opposition, Napoleon III authorized the colonies to be able to trade freely with foreign countries under customs conditions similar to those of the metropolis. But it was in Algeria that Napoleon”s voluntarism was to manifest itself most brilliantly. French Algeria was a colony that he had not won over. The voters there had disapproved of the coup d”état during the plebiscite of December 1851. The colony was initially neglected in the first years of the reign and left under the control of the army. Napoleon III visited the colony for the first time in September 1860 and returned with a much more favorable view of it than when he arrived. Upon his return, one of his first initiatives was to abolish the Ministry of Algeria and the Colonies, whose civil administration had undermined Muslim land ownership, and to return the colony to military administration with the mission of stopping the cantonment of the natives. At the time, he envisaged the creation of an Arab entity centered on Damascus and led by Emir Abd el-Kader, former leader of the Algerian rebellion, whom he had freed in 1852 and who had since been living in Syria. Thus constituted, this Arab nation would be placed under the protection of the French Emperor. In 1862, in this perspective, he exposed his vision, tinged with paternalism, of the development of Algeria based on “perfect equality between natives and Europeans”. For him, Algeria is not a colony but an Arab kingdom, “the natives as well as the colonists are also entitled to my protection. I am the Emperor of the French and the Arabs. In Algeria, the declaration was not only badly received by the military authorities led successively by Marshal Pélissier and Marshal de Mac Mahon, but also by the colonists supported in France by Jules Favre and Ernest Picard. Symbolically, Napoleon III decorated Abd el-Kader with the Legion of Honor, while Ismayl Urbain published Algeria for Algerians, in which he defended the ideas of an Arab kingdom that Napoleon III was thinking of implementing, but which was fiercely opposed by the colonists and Algerian economic interests. During his second visit to Algeria in the spring of 1865, Napoleon III outlined his intention to create an Arab kingdom that would be united with France on the model of a “personal union” like Austria and Hungary and like Great Britain and Canada would soon be. He also envisaged the partition of Algeria in two, reserving a large maritime façade for the colonists who would then have to evacuate the entire southern part of the high plateaus as well as the Sahara. At the same time, several senatus-consults were issued to implement the Emperor”s will. After a first senatus-consult of April 22, 1863, which had reformed the system of land ownership in order to delimit the lands of the tribes and to protect them from abusive confiscations, another one dated July 14, 1865, granted French nationality to Muslim (and also Jewish) Algerians, accompanied by civil and political rights, on condition that they had renounced their personal status as determined by religious law (in concrete terms, they had to renounce polygamy, divorce, which was forbidden at the time in France, and the prescriptions of Koranic inheritance law). But these various initiatives, such as that of giving Algeria a constitution, did not withstand the opposition of the colonists, who were mostly hostile to the Empire, and then the famine that affected the colony at the end of the 1860s. The idea of establishing a kingdom in Algeria united to France by personal ties and ruled by the natives was finally abandoned in 1869.
In West Africa, the French presence was strengthened in Senegal by Colonel Louis Faidherbe, governor from 1854 to 1865. The construction of the Médine post in 1865 ensured control of the entire Senegal River valley. Skillful maneuvers allowed Joseph Lambert, a merchant and shipowner in Mauritius, to obtain for France, in 1860, a great influence over Madagascar which did not fail to extend to the Comoros. In 1862, France also established itself in New Caledonia and Djibouti with the purchase of Obock (1862).
Finally, in the Far East, following the massacres of missionaries in China and the seizure of merchant ships, the first large-scale expeditions were launched. France joined England in a punitive expedition. After bombarding Canton in December 1857, the Franco-British fleet sailed up to Peking where heavy losses were inflicted on the European squadron. A new expeditionary force comprising 8,000 French and 12,000 British was then sent to China in December 1858. After dispersing 40,000 Chinese, it took over the Summer Palace before entering Peking. The episode, which ended with the surrender of the Chinese and the drafting of a new trade treaty, was tarnished by the sacking of the Summer Palace, whose works of art were sent to enrich the collections of the Château de Fontainebleau.
In the same region, following the massacre of French missionaries in Annam, particularly in the Cochinchina region, the French fleet seized Saigon in 1859. On June 5, 1862, the Treaty of Saigon granted France three provinces of Cochinchina while the following year King Norodom I signed an agreement with France establishing a French protectorate over Cambodia in order to preserve it from the territorial ambitions of Annam and Siam. In 1867, in exchange for Siam”s recognition of the French protectorate, France undertook not to annex Cambodia to Cochinchina and agreed to recognize Siam”s control over the provinces of Battambang and Angkor.
In the end, the French colonial empire, whose surface area was less than 300,000 km2 in 1851, would exceed 1,000,000 km2 in 1870.
The Mexican expedition
In the early 1860s, Mexico was plagued by deep political rivalries and instability that brought the country to the brink of a new civil war. Impoverished, the Mexican state, indebted mainly to England but also to Spain and France, decided on July 17, 1861 to suspend payment of its foreign debt for two years.
For Napoleon III, who had just achieved relative success in Italy, the opportunity was tempting to intervene in Mexico and install a regime that would be favorable to him politically but also economically. For a long time, since the time when he was locked up in the fort of Ham, he had thought about the geostrategic stakes of this region of the world. Dreaming of the possibility of constituting a solid Latin empire in this region of North America capable of slowing down and pushing back the expansion of the United States and the Anglo-Saxon and Protestant influence, he had also become aware of the major strategic position of the isthmus of Panama. By creating a zone of French influence in this part of the world, it would provide opportunities for industry as well as access to many raw materials. Once order was restored, progress would be made, allowing this hypothetical new center of commerce and exploitation, a Mexico under French influence, to become the first industrialized country in Latin America, diverting from the United States thousands of Italian, Irish and Greek settlers, as well as nationals from any other country in difficulty.
If for his economic adviser, Michel Chevalier, the Mexican ambition constitutes a “visionary and modern work”, in the entourage of Eugenie, the political and religious stake prevails with the prospect of the emergence of a great catholic monarchy, regional model able to counter the Protestant republic of the United States and, by effect of dominoes, to provide thrones for the European princes.
In order to officially protect French economic interests in Mexico, Napoleon III, taking advantage of the Civil War that was tearing America apart, joined forces with the United Kingdom and Spain on December 31, 1861 to launch a military expedition. Negotiations took place between the Mexican liberal government and the Europeans, after the latter had signed the Convention of Soledad, but they ended in a deadlock. In April 1862, only the French army remained in Mexico following the withdrawal from the conflict of the British and the Spanish, who were reluctant to follow France”s initiatives.
After the battle of Las Cumbres followed by the siege of Puebla, Mexico City, the capital of the country, was taken on June 7, 1863. Benito Juárez withdrew to San Luis Potosi where he refused to resign, set up his government and his general staff and called on the population to resist. In July 1863, an assembly of notables from the Mexican conservative party, meeting in Mexico City, called for the formation of a monarchical government headed by a Catholic prince. The crown was offered to Maximilian of Habsburg, brother of Franz Joseph I of Austria, in order to compensate diplomatically for the French involvement in Italy and to strengthen the Franco-Austrian alliance. After having hesitated for a year, Maximilian accepted. If the Second Mexican Empire was proclaimed on April 10, 1864, Maximilian only entered Mexico City two months later on June 12, 1864, accompanied by his wife, Archduchess Charlotte.
However, he reigned over only part of the Mexican territory, with certain regions such as Oaxaca and the port of Matamoros escaping the control of the imperial government, while provincial governors supported Juarez, who had been forced to flee San Luis Potosi and settle in Paso del Norte. Aware that his army had only served to support the Mexican conservatives, Napoleon III decided to withdraw his troops in an honorable but definitive manner. He entrusted General Bazaine with a pacification mission, but the operations became bogged down in the face of the Juarista guerrillas, while Maximilian proved unable to gain the trust of the Mexican people and soon made himself unpopular. On the other hand, Juarez, assimilated to a new Simón Bolívar, gradually became the symbol of the refusal of servitude, the hero of the independence of the people and attracted the goodwill of the United States. When his own power was challenged within the republican camp, he organized a coup d”état that allowed him to extend his functions as head of the republican government instead of handing over powers under the republican constitution of Mexico. In February 1865, while Oaxaca fell to the French, the thousands of Mexicans who were taken prisoner during the fall of the city were released because they could not be imprisoned. Most of them joined the guerrillas or the troops of the republican government in the north.
Under the Second Empire, it was through Gustave Duchesne de Bellecourt, French ambassador to Japan (1859-1864) that relations between the two countries were formalized on October 9, 1858 around the Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Commerce, this treaty providing in particular for the opening of five ports to French trade and subjects (of Edo, Kōbe, Nagasaki, Niigata and Yokohama). On February 4, 1860, the ambassador brought the ratified Franco-Japanese treaty to the Shogun. Napoleon III later entrusted all of his prerogatives concerning Japan to Léon Roches who succeeded Duchesne de Bellecourt.
It is Shôgun Yoshinobu Tokugawa who reigns then on Japan; he belongs to a dynasty (1603-1867) having known how to establish and preserve 250 years of peace. Tokugawa was subjected to internal and external pressures, both from the supporters of the rejection of foreigners, who gradually came closer to the imperial authority and leaned towards the restitution of power to the emperor, and from the foreign powers who forced the opening of foreign trade and, apart from the French Empire, favored the rise in power of the Japanese emperor.
As a result, Léon Roches, who had won the Shogun”s confidence, held a privileged position with regard to the hermetic context of Japan inherited from a multisecular culture. Following the will of the French Empire, he succeeded in establishing a diplomatic, cultural, commercial, industrial and military relationship that served both the Japanese and the French development on crucial points of their history and development.
In 1865, the creation of a direct navigation line between France and Japan was obtained, provided by the Compagnie des Messageries Impériales (Messageries maritimes).
In the 1850s, silkworm breeding was severely affected by pebrine and French production, then at its peak in the silk industry in Lyon, deteriorated considerably. The Tokugawa Shogun sent silk cocoons to Napoleon III as a gift. From 1865, the trade of silk seeds and bales between Yokohama and Lyon developed (the twinning between Lyon and Yokohama initiated by the Consul General of Japan Louis Michallet under the aegis of the Lyon-Japan club is an echo of this period). Within five years, Lyon became the world”s leading silk trading center. In 1872, in order to meet the strong foreign demand, the first silk mill was built in Tomioka, Japan, and France played a leading role in Japanese exports.
Later, the Shogun entrusted France with the construction of the first Japanese naval arsenal. The French Empire sent its engineers who provided know-how and technology. From 1865 to 1876, François Léonce Verny initiated the construction of the Yokosuka arsenal. Moreover, in 1866, in order to resist the rise of rebel forces stirred up by politics and foreign aggressions, the Shogun asked for a French military mission to modernize and reinforce the army he was leading. Napoleon III responded to this request by selling French armaments and sending to Japan the artillery lieutenant Jules Brunet (who was later called “the last samurai” because of his untiring service to the Shogunat, fighting at his side). He arrived under the command of Captain Jules Chanoine to train the shogun”s army and establish a military administration based on the French model.
In 1868, Napoleon III recalled the ambassador Léon Roches to France after the fall of the Shogunate while the British ambassador remained in Japan because of his support for the emperor”s party. Modern Japan has paid tribute to the close ties between the French Empire and the Tokugawa Shogunate through the Miyamoto Musashi Budokan whose roof is reminiscent of the bicorn, the headdress of Napoleon III”s uncle.
Napoleon III”s support for the Italian cause had raised the hopes of other nations. The proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy on February 18, 1861, after the rapid annexation of Tuscany and the Kingdom of Naples, had proved the danger of half measures. But when the concession, even if limited, was made for the freedom of one nation, it could hardly be refused for the no less legitimate aspirations of others.
At the beginning of the 1860s, Napoleon III”s attachment to the principle of nationalities led him not to oppose the possibility of German unification, thus calling into question a policy that had been pursued since Richelieu and the treaty of Westphalia (1648). For him, “Prussia embodies German nationality, religious reform, the progress of commerce, and liberal constitutionalism. He considered it to be “the greatest of the true German monarchies”, in particular because it granted “more freedom of conscience, is more enlightened, grants more political rights than most other German states”. This conviction based on the principle of nationalities led him not only to support the Polish revolt against the Tsar in Russia in 1863 but also to adopt a benevolent neutrality during the decisive confrontation between Prussia and Austria. The Emperor hoped to take advantage of the situation, whoever won, despite Thiers” warnings to the Legislative Corps.
Following the Austrian defeat at Sadowa, Austria was driven back to the Balkans: Italy obtained Venetia as Napoleon III had wished, while Prussia obtained Holstein, Hanover, Hesse-Cassel, the Duchy of Nassau and Frankfurt am Main to form the North German Confederation.
Napoleon III also intended to reap the benefits of his conciliatory attitude towards Prussia. During the interview of Biarritz (1865), the chancellor Otto von Bismarck had affirmed to him that no cession of German territory to France was conceivable but that he admitted, however, that in case of intercession of France in the resolution of the conflict with Austria, territorial concessions could be possible. Thus, Prussia would remain neutral in case of occupation by France of Belgium and Luxembourg (the so-called “gratuity policy”). At the same time, Bismarck secretly concluded a treaty of mutual protection with the southern German states to protect himself from possible French aggression.
The annexation by France of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg seemed all the more accessible as William III, King of the Netherlands, sovereign in title of Luxembourg, declared himself open to a financial compensation. Thus, on March 23, 1867, he accepted the French offer to pay him 5 million florins in exchange for the Grand Duchy. The secret agreements of 1866 between Prussia and the southern German states having been formalized, William III made the sale of Luxembourg conditional on Prussia”s agreement. Prussia, via Bismarck, then made the French offer known publicly to the whole of Europe, thus divulging the content of these secret talks, unleashing an explosive reaction of public opinion in the German states and provoking the Luxembourg crisis.
German public opinion was all the more scandalized because the Luxembourg dynasty had given four emperors to the Holy Roman Empire. It is unimaginable for them to leave the Grand Duchy to France. Under these circumstances, Bismarck considered that he could no longer honor the promises made secretly to France and enjoined William III to reconsider the sale of Luxembourg.
In France, public opinion was also mobilized, leading to the mobilization of troops, while German deputies pushed Bismarck to decree the general mobilization of the North German Confederation. In Luxembourg itself, pro-French activists provoked the Prussian garrison, while other demonstrators demanded that the Dutch king return to the status quo.
The crisis was resolved by the second treaty of London, according to which France renounced its claims on Luxembourg, leaving its sovereignty to the king of the Netherlands, while Prussia demobilized its garrison and dismantled its fortifications as much as the king of the Netherlands deemed useful. It is understood that Luxembourg will remain neutral during future conflicts.
The unfolding of the Luxembourg crisis shows the weight of public opinion and the growing influence of nationalism. The antagonism between France and Prussia was further inflamed by the fact that Napoleon III now realized to what extent he had been played by Bismarck since 1864, not having obtained any of the compensations secretly agreed upon with the Prussian. As a result of the military expedition to Mexico and the Luxembourg crisis, his foreign policy was discredited and France found itself once again relatively isolated in Europe, including by England, which was now suspicious of the territorial ambitions of its neighbor. Thus, in the name of the principle of sovereignty of nations, Germany had been brought under the control of a dynasty of militaristic tradition, aggressive and enemy of France.
In January 1870, Napoleon III appointed Émile Ollivier, who came from the benches of the Republican opposition and was one of the leaders of the Third Party, to head his government. This was the recognition of the parliamentary principle. Ollivier then formed a government of new men by associating liberal Bonapartists (center right) and Orleanists rallied to the liberal Empire (center left), but excluding authoritarian Bonapartists (right) and Republicans (left). He himself took the ministry of Justice and Cults, the first in the order of protocol, and appeared as the real head of the ministry without having the title.
But the Republican party, unlike the country, which called for the reconciliation of liberty and order, refused to be satisfied with the freedoms it had acquired and, moreover, refused to compromise, declaring itself more determined than ever to overthrow the Empire. The murder of the journalist Victor Noir by Pierre Bonaparte, a member of the imperial family, gave the revolutionaries the long-awaited opportunity on January 10, 1870. But the riot ended in failure.
For his part, Émile Ollivier convinced the Emperor to proceed with an overall constitutional revision in order to set up a semi-parliamentary system. The procedures of official candidacy were abandoned and the prefect Haussmann, judged to be too authoritarian, was dismissed (5 January 1870). A senatus-consult proposing a more liberal regime was submitted to the people for approval in a plebiscite (the third since 1851): on May 8, 1870, the reforms were approved with more than 7 million “yes” votes despite the opposition of the legitimist monarchists and the republicans who called for a “no” vote or abstention. This is how the constitution of May 21, 1870 was put in place. Napoleon III is said to have exclaimed on this occasion, “I have my number!” Émile Ollivier believed he could say of the emperor: “We will make him a happy old age”.
This success which should have consolidated the Empire is only a prelude to its fall. It was supposed that a diplomatic success could make one forget freedom in favor of glory. It was in vain that after the parliamentary revolution of January 2, 1870, Count Daru resurrected, through the intermediary of Lord Clarendon, Count Beust”s plan for disarmament after the battle of Sadowa (Königgratz). He was refused by Prussia and the imperial entourage. The Empress Eugenie is credited with the remark “If there is no war, my son will never be emperor.”
Tensions with Prussia resurfaced over the succession to Spain when Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern became a candidate for the Spanish throne, which had been vacant for two years, on 21 June 1870.
A Hohenzollern on the Spanish throne would place France in a situation of encirclement similar to that which the country had experienced at the time of Charles V. This candidacy caused concern in all European chancelleries, which supported the efforts of French diplomacy.
In spite of the withdrawal of the candidature of the Prince on July 12, 1870, which constitutes on the moment a success of the French diplomacy, the government of Napoleon III, pressed by the bellicose ones of all sides (the press of Paris, part of the Court, the oppositions of right and left), requires a written engagement of definitive renunciation and a guarantee of good conduct on behalf of king Guillaume of Prussia. The latter confirmed the renunciation of his cousin without submitting to the French requirement. However, for Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, a war against France was the best way to complete German unification. The disdainful version that he had transcribed in the Ems dispatch of the polite answer that the King of Prussia had made borders on a diplomatic blow to France, especially since it was distributed to all the European chancelleries and published in the German press.
While the anti-French passion set Germany ablaze, the Parisian press and crowd called for war. Although both personally in favor of peace and the organization of a congress to settle the dispute, Ollivier and Napoleon III, who finally obtained from their ambassador the exact version of what had happened in Ems, let themselves be overtaken by the supporters of war, including the Empress Eugenie, but also those who wanted revenge on the liberal Empire. The two men end up letting themselves be dragged along against their deep conviction. Émile Ollivier, wanting to show himself as jealous of national interests as any absolutist minister, perceived the war as inevitable and, exhausted by the debates in the Chamber, on edge, declared that he accepted the war with a “light heart”. He did not dare to upset the pro-war majority opinion, expressed within the government and in parliament, including among the Republicans (despite the lucid warnings of Thiers and Gambetta), decided to fight Prussia.
The Chamber, in spite of the desperate efforts of Thiers and Gambetta, voted to enter the war, the reason for which was the public insult that was declared on July 19, 1870. The Prussian army already had the advantage in terms of men (more than twice as many as the French army), equipment (the Krupp cannon) and even strategy, which had been developed since 1866.
Entering the war, France was however without allies. The Emperor counted on the neutrality of the southern German states, but the revelation to the diets of Munich and Stuttgart of Napoleon III”s claims to the territories of Hesse and Bavaria had led them to sign a treaty of support with Prussia and the North German confederation. For its part, the United Kingdom, to whom Bismarck had communicated the draft treaty dating from 1867 by which Napoleon III claimed Belgium, was only concerned about the respect of the neutrality of the latter by the belligerents. For its part, Russia wanted the conflict to remain locally isolated and to have no consequences for Poland, while Austria, despite the good relations between the two emperors, was not ready and asked for a delay before associating itself with a possible French victory. Finally, Italy demanded the evacuation of Rome as a condition of its participation, but the hostility of the Catholic Empress was opposed to this, at least at first. The evacuation of the pontifical territory took place on August 19, but too late to allow the Italians to intervene alongside the imperial army.
The armies of Marshal Lebœuf were no more effective than the alliances of Agénor de Gramont, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who had actively participated in the verbal escalation between the chancelleries. The incapacity of the French army”s high-ranking officers, the lack of preparation for war by headquarters, the irresponsibility of officers, the absence of a contingency plan, and the reliance on luck, a previously successful strategy for the Emperor, rather than an elaborate strategy, were immediately apparent in the insignificant engagement at Saarbrücken.
Thus the French army multiplied the defeats and the unexploited victories, in particular those of Frœschwiller, Borny-Colombey, Mars-la-Tour or Saint-Privat, to end in the disaster of Metz.
With the capitulation of the battle of Sedan, the Empire lost its last support, the army. Paris was left unprotected, with a woman in the Tuileries (Eugenie), a terrified assembly in the Bourbon Palace, a ministry, that of Palikao, without authority, and the leaders of the opposition who fled as the catastrophe approached.
On September 4, 1870, the legislative body was invaded by demonstrators and dispersed. The Empress was forced to flee the Tuileries Palace with the help of the Austrian and Italian ambassadors before finding refuge with her American dentist. He helped her to reach Deauville where a British officer took her to England where she found her son. The Emperor was a prisoner in Germany.
In Paris, meanwhile, the republican deputies gathered in the town hall formed a provisional government and proclaimed the Republic.
The historian Louis Girard attributes this rapid fall of the Empire to the fact that it had few roots, that there was no loyalty to the dynasty, as shown after the defeat of Sedan by the abandonment of the Empress, who owed her salvation only to strangers, but also by the absence of defenders of the Constitution and the government. He also believes that the regime was perhaps too recent or too contested. For the historian André Encrevé, the reasons of the fast fall of the Empire are well to be sought on the side of the political action of Napoleon III. Not only does he note the inability of the Emperor to have succeeded in rooting Bonapartism against the royalists and republicans, but also the fact that he had been forced to govern often with men who shared only part of his ideas.
Stricken by the stone disease that had been ailing him for many years, Napoleon III died in exile in England in 1873 following a surgical operation. His personal image remained for more than a century marked above all by the defeat of Sedan and its consequences following the treaty of Frankfurt (loss of Alsace-Lorraine and payment of an indemnity of 5 billion gold francs).
Patriotic movement following the fall of the Empire
Following the fall of the French Empire, the German Empire was reunited and France lost Alsace-Lorraine. The new government advocated peace while the majority of French people (especially the middle and working classes) developed an anti-German sentiment. This feeling was reinforced by a campaign of patriotism launched in France, music, posters and press articles defending the national gains and denigrating the new German Empire.
A nationalist sentiment is growing in France, which is for historians the main reason for the rise and creation of boulangisme. The feeling of revenge on Prussia will be satisfied by the French during the First World War, then the fall of the German Empire in 1918.
The black legend
“Napoleon III has long been the victim of a black legend, a caricature forged by his many political enemies, Republicans, royalists, liberals … ” in the words of Professor of Contemporary History Guy Antonetti. According to the detractors and opponents of the last Emperor of the French, he is at the same time a “moron” (Thiers), “Napoleon the small” or “Caesarion” (Victor Hugo) or Badinguet, “a kind of unscrupulous adventurer, and a ridiculous mental retard, a mixture of debauched satrapy and smoky demagogue, in short a meaningless puppet.
If the “black legend” is so often evoked to talk about Napoleon III and his reign and if the Second Empire had “a long time bad press”, in particular because the historiography of the Second Empire “was often dominated by the opponents”, it nevertheless owes a lot to its founding act (the coup d”état) and to its end without glory in the disastrous Franco-Prussian war. The historian Jacques-Olivier Boudon notes in this sense that if the republic ends up imposing itself, it is because of the military defeat at Sedan and the capture of Napoleon III by the Prussians. Louis Pasteur, a fervent Bonapartist afflicted by the fall of the Empire, declared confidently that “in spite of the vain and stupid clamors of the street and all the cowardly failures of these last times, the Emperor can wait with confidence for the judgment of posterity. His reign will remain as one of the most glorious of our history”.
Thus, after Sedan and the death of Napoleon III, the imperial regime, which was doomed to be condemned, remained for a long time historically and politically summarized, at least in France, as a whole whose identity was summed up in the coup d”état, the original sin of the Second Empire, in the military debacle, in the affairism and in the moral depravity. The territorial gains of 1860 (Nice and Savoy) obtained following a victorious war against Austria were thus erased by the trauma of the loss of Alsace and Moselle, which left a lasting mark on the national consciousness until the end of the First World War. The writer Émile Zola, cautious about the Emperor, whose complexity he noted and whom he called “the enigma, the sphynx”, recalled in his novels the unbridled speculation and corruption born of the “Haussmannization” and the stock market boom (La Curée, L”Argent), the shock that the irruption of the department stores represented for small businesses (Au Bonheur des Dames), the harshness of social struggles under Napoleon III (Germinal). However, the same Émile Zola showed how the same man could be looked at differently depending on the ideological camp where one was situated, on ideological reversals or on the metamorphosis of age, by writing that “The Napoleon III of the Châtiments is a bogeyman who came out all booted and all spurred by the imagination of Victor Hugo. Nothing is less resembling than this portrait, a sort of statue of bronze and mud raised by the poet to serve as a target for his sharp strokes, let us say the word, for his spittle.
For historian Éric Anceau, December 2, 1851, which allowed “Republicans to set themselves up as defenders of the law and to make the coup d”état the absolute evil,” constitutes the original sin of the Second Empire. Since that date, “whoever calls himself a republican in France cannot lend a hand to a coup d”état, nor can he be an apologist for it”, as the historian Raymond Huard also notes. This negative reference was the argument of the republicans to fight any return in force of plebiscitary Caesarism, be it during Boulangism or later during the rise of Gaullism. The precedent of a president who became emperor thus made any election of the head of state by direct universal suffrage unthinkable until 1962, with François Mitterrand virulently comparing General de Gaulle to Napoleon III in order to bring the institutions of the Fifth Republic to trial.
For Pierre Milza, “the terrible year strongly traumatized contemporaries, perhaps as much as the debacle of 1940” which also explains, in addition to December 2, the “long discredit” from which the image of Napoleon III suffered for a long time. The new republican legitimacy required that all the myths on which the previous power was based, such as the idealized image of the “savior of the nation”, be shot down and discredited, while any name related to the imperial toponymy was generally eliminated from the public domain, with the exception of battles won during the regime. Nevertheless, as early as 1874, in a speech delivered in Auxerre, Léon Gambetta, an irreducible opponent of the Bonapartist regime, noted that it was during the 20 years of this “hated regime” that “a new France” had been formed, invoking in particular the policy of transportation, the freedom of trade, the diffusion of the Enlightenment and the progress of public education. A century later, in 1973, Alain Plessis, in his reference book, thinks he can write about the history of the Second Empire that “the myths that encumbered its black legend are one by one torn apart by new interpretations revealing an era surprisingly rich in contrasts”.
From the historiographical point of view, it was not until the 1890s that personalities began to produce works that were dispassionate about the political issues, at a time when the Bonapartist movement was in the process of dying out. Thus, Pierre de La Gorce wrote a History of the Second Empire in seven volumes, the first version of which, written against the background of the Panama scandal, remained hostile to the sovereign. However, with this author, “one leaves journalism to enter general history” while Émile Ollivier publishes his memoirs devoted to the liberal Empire.
While there was no consensus on domestic policy and diplomacy, the economic and social work of the Second Empire had already been analyzed in a more nuanced way, notably by Albert Thomas, to whom Jean Jaurès had entrusted the writing of volume X of Histoire socialiste. Nevertheless, “the instrumentalization of the former sovereign persisted despite the affirmation of a positivist and scientific history.
Targeting Charles Seignobos in particular, Pierre Milza considers that “republican historiography – in a dominant position in the French university – maintains a critical position at least until 1914. The Second Empire remained fundamentally linked to December 2 and the capitulation of Sedan. School textbooks are the vehicles of an official history intended to train citizens and patriots attached to republican values. This is also the opinion of the historian Louis Girard, who notes in the critical tone of Seignobos” work “the echo of republican passions. Nevertheless, these same school and university works also began to address economic and social achievements, moving away from the “outburst of hatred and bad faith” of the first years following the fall of the Empire and beginning to present more nuanced portraits of the Emperor”s personality.
From the 1920s, when France had regained possession of the territories lost in 1870, Napoleon III was the subject of more favorable, even romanticized biographies, while official historiography bore the mark of a revision of the judgments made about the Emperor and his regime.
After the Second World War, the Second Empire was finally studied in a truly scientific manner by numerous university historians and economists (Charles-Hippolyte Pouthas, Jean Bouvier, Alain Plessis, René Rémond, Maurice Agulhon, Jeanne Gaillard), while Napoleon III was the subject, in France, of the first in-depth studies by the historians Adrien Dansette.
Since the 1970s, many historians have written about the regime and the Emperor. When Maurice Agulhon notes that “the economic and cultural history” of the Second Empire is characterized by “a prosperous and brilliant period,” Louis Girard also notes that Napoleon III “never envisaged democracy as anything other than embodied in a leader” but that he wanted, in the long run, to be able to endow his country with institutions similar to those of Great Britain, waiting for an evolution of political mores. If for the historian Pierre Milza, following Louis Girard, the Second Empire is a “stage” more progressive than regressive in the democratization of France, a period that “familiarized the French with the vote”, that “the denunciation of Caesarism, real or supposed, belongs to the culture of the parliamentary republic”, he also believes that the political regime of Napoleon III “belongs to the democratic galaxy” and that it was able to evolve in the direction of liberalization. He also notes that “historians, political scientists, specialists in the history of ideas and the philosophy of history have undertaken to re-examine Bonapartism and to place it in the long term, which has made it possible to consider the balance sheet of the Empire in a new light. For André Encrevé and Maurice Agulhon, the rehabilitation or not of the Second Empire, and especially of its origin, the coup d”état, is not only a historian”s problem but also a “question of personal and civic ethics. For Jean-Jacques Becker, there is no need to “rehabilitate the Second Empire” but to analyze it without opprobrium because “history is what it is and does not need to be condemned or rehabilitated. Finally, for Jean-Claude Yon, more affirmative, “the black legend of the Second Empire belongs largely to the past but the study of the period is still sometimes affected by it”.