Napoleon III. Life and Work as French President

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Napoleon III

(Charles-Louis -Napoléon).

Originally known as Louis-Napoléon-Bonaparte, Emperor of the French; b. at Paris, 20 April, 1808; d. at Chiselhurst, England, 6 January, 1873; third son of Louis Bonaparte, King of Holland and Hortense de Beauharnais, daughter of the Empress Josephine. After the fall of the First Empire, Hortense, who had been separated from her husband, took her two sons to Geneva, Aix in Savoy, Augsburg, and then (1824) to the castle of Arenenberg in Switzerland. Louis Napoleon had for tutor the scholar Le Bas, son of a member of the Convention. The "principle of nationalities" attracted him in youth, and with his brother, he took part in an attempted insurrection in the States of the Church, in 1831. He was on the point of setting out for Poland when he heard that the Russians had entered Warsaw. On the death of the Duke of Reichstadt (1832) he regarded himself as the heir of the Napoleonic Empire. The Republican press, engaged in a struggle with Louis Philippe's government, manifested a certain sympathy for Louis Napoleon. Though Casimir Périer had expelled him from France in 1831, he and a few officers from Strasburg attempted, but failed in, a coup de main (1836). In his book, "Idées Napoléoniennes", published in 1838, he appears as the testamentary executor of Napoleon I and a bold social reformer. His attempted descent on Boulogne, in August, 1840, resulted in a sentence of life imprisonment, notwithstanding his defence by Berryer. While in prison at Ham, he wrote, among other brochures, one on the "Extinction of Pauperism". He escaped from Ham in 1846. After the Revolution of 1848 he returned to Paris, became a member of the Constituent Assembly, and finally was elected President of the Republic by 5,562,834 votes, on 10 December, 1848.

Presidency of Louis Napoleon

Before his election Louis Napoleon had entered into certain engagements with Montalembert in regard to freedom of teaching and the restoration of Pius IX, who had been driven to Gaeta by the Roman Revolution. When General Oudinot's expedition made its direct attack on the Roman Republic, April, 1849, and the Constituent Assembly passed a resolution of protest (7 May, 1849), a letter from Louis Napoleon to Oudinot requested him to persist in his enterprise and assured him of reinforcements (8 May, 1849); at the same time, however, Louis Napoleon sent Ferdinand de Lesseps to Rome to negotiate with Mazzini, an agreement soon after disavowed. In this way the difficulties of the future emperor reveal themselves from the beginning; he wished to spare the religious susceptibilities of French Catholics and to avoid offending the national susceptibilities of the Italian revolutionists -- a double aim which explains many an inconsistency and many a failure in the religious policy of the empire. "The more we study his character, the more nonplussed we are", writes his historian, de la Gorce. Oudinot's victory (29 June, 1849) having crushed the Roman Republic, Napoleon, ignoring the decided Catholic majority in the Legislative Assembly elected on 18 May, addressed to Colonel Ney, on 18 August, 1849, a sort of manifesto in which he asked of Pius IX a general amnesty, the secularization of his administration, the establishment of the Code Napoléon, and a Liberal Government. The Legislative Assembly, on Montalemlbert's motion, voted approval of the "Motu Proprio" of 12 September, by which Pius IX promised reforms without yielding to all the president's imperative demands. The president was dissatisfied, and forced the Falloux Cabinet to resign; but he was soon working with all the influence of his position for the passage of the Falloux Law on freedom of teaching -- a law which involved a great triumph for the Catholics -- while, in the course of his journeys through France, his deferential treatment of the bishops was extremely marked. And when, by the Coup d'Etat of 2 December, 1851, Louis Napoleon had dissolved the Assembly, and by the plébiscite appealed to the French people as to the justice of that act, many Catholics, following Montalembert and Louis Veuillot, decided in his favour; the prince-president obtained 7,481,231 votes (21 November, 1852). The Dominican Lacordaire, the Jesuit Ravignan, and Bishop Dupanloup were more reserved in their attitude. Lacordaire went so far as to say: "If France becomes accustomed to this order of things, we are moving rapidly towards the Lower Empire".

Dictatorial Period of the Empire, 1852-60

The first acts of the new government were decidedly favourable to the Church. By the "Decree Law" of 31 January, 1852, the congregations of women, which previously could be authorized only by a legislative act, were made authorizable by simple decrees. A great many bishops and parish priests hailed with joy the day on which Louis Napoleon was proclaimed emperor and the day (30 January, 1853) of his marriage with the Spanish Eugénie de Montijo, which seemed to assure the future of the dynasty. At this very time Dupanloup, less optimistic, published a pastoral letter on the liberty of the Church, while Montalembert began to perceive symptoms which made him fear that the Church would not always have reason to congratulate itself on the new order. For some years the Church enjoyed effective liberty: the bishops held synods at their pleasure; the budget of public worship was forthcoming; cardinals sat in the Senate as of right; the civil authorities appeared in religious processions; missions were given; from 1852-60 the State recognized 982 new communities of women; primary and secondary educational institutions under ecclesiastical control increased in number, while, in 1852, Péres Petetot and Gratry founded the Oratory as a Catholic centre of science and philosophy. Catholics like Ségur, Cornudet, Baudon, Cochin, and the Vicomte de Melun founded many charitable institutions under state protection. Napoleon III was anxious that Pius IX should consent to come to crown him at Notre Dame. This request he caused to be preferred by Mgr de Ségur, auditor of the Rota, and Pius IX explained that, if he crowned Napoleon III, he would also be obliged to go and crown Francis Joseph of Austria, hinting, at the same time, that Napoleon could come to Rome; and he gave it to be understood that, if the emperor were willing to suppress the Organic Articles, he, the pope, might be able to accede to his request at the end of three months. Pius IX also wished Napoleon III to make the Sunday rest obligatory and abrogate the legal necessity of civil marriage previous to the religious ceremony. After two years of negotiations the emperor gave up this idea (1854), but thereafter his relations with the Church seemed to be somewhat less cordial. The Bull in which Pius IX defined the Immaculate Conception was admitted into France grudgingly, and after some very lively opposition on the part of the Council of State (1854). Dreux Brézé, Bishop of Moulins, was denounced to the Council of State for infringement of the Organic Articles, while the "Correspondant" and the "Univers", having defended the bishop, were rigorously dealt with by the authorities. Lastly, the return to the Cour de Cassation (Court of Appeals) of the former procureur général Dupin, who had resigned in 1852, was looked upon as a victory for Gallican ideas.

The Crimean War (1853-56) was undertaken by Napoleon, in alliance with England, to check Russian aggression in the direction of Turkey. The Fall of Sebastopol (8 September, 1855) compelled Alexander II to sign the Treaty of Paris (1856). In this war Piedmont, thanks to its minister, Cavour, had had a part, both military and diplomatic; for the first time Piedmont was treated as one of the Great Powers. After all, the Italian Question interested the emperor more than any other, and upon this ground difficulties were about to arise between him and the Church. As early as 1856 Napoleon knew, through Cavour, that the Piedmontese programme involved the dismemberment of the Pontifical States; at the promptings of the French Government the Congress of Paris expressed a wish that the pope should carry out liberal reforms, and that the French and Austrian troops should soon leave his territories. The attempt on the emperor's life by the Italian Orsini (14 January, 1858), set in motion a policy of severe repression ("Law of General Security" and proceedings against Proudhon, the socialist). But the letter which Orsini wrote from his prison to Napoleon, beseeching him to give liberty to twenty-five million Italians, made a lively impression upon the emperor's imagination. Pietri, the prefect of police obtained from Orsini another letter, pledging his political friends to renounce all violent methods, with the understanding that the enfranchisement of Italy was the price to be paid for this assurance. From that time, it was Napoleon's active wish to realize Italian unity. On 21 July, 1858, he had an interview with Cavour at Plombiéres. It was agreed between them that France and Piedmont should drive the Austrians from Italy, and that Italy should become a confederation, under the rule of the King of Sardinia, though the pope was to be its honorary president. The result of this interview was the Italian War. For this war public opinion had been schooled by a series of articles in Liberal and government organs -- the "Siécle", "Presse", and "Patrie" -- by Edmond About's articles on the pontifical administration, published in the "Moniteur", and by the anonymous brochure "L'Empereur Napoléon III et l'Italie" (really the work of Arthur de la Guéronniére), which denounced the spirit of opposition to reform shown by the italian governments. Catholics tried to obtain Napoleon's assurance that he would not aid the enemies of Pius IX. In the House of Representatives (Corps Législatif) the Republican Jules Favre asked: "If the government of the cardinals is overthrown shall we shed the blood of the Romans to restore it?" And the minister, Baroche, made no answer (26 April, 1859). But Napoleon, in the proclamation announcing his departure for Italy (10 May, 1859), declared that he was going to deliver Italy as far as the Adriatic, and that the pope's power would remain intact. The victories of the French troops at Magenta (4 June. 1859) and Solferino (24 June, 1859) coincided with insurrectionary movements against the papal authority. Catholics were alarmed, and so was the emperor; he would not appear as an accomplice of these movements, and on 11 July he signed the treaty of Villafranca. Austria ceded Lombardy to France, and France retroceded it to Sardinia. Venetia was still to belong to Austria, but would form part of the Italian Confederation which would be under the honorary presidency of the pope. The pope would be asked to introduce the indispensable reforms in his state. In November, 1859, at Zurich, these preliminaries were formally embodied in a treaty.

Neither the pope nor the Italians were pleased with the emperor. On the one hand the pope did not thank Napoleon for his hints on the way to govern the Romagna, and an eloquent brochure from the pen of Dupanloup denounced the schemes which menaced the pope. On the other hand it was plain to the Italians that the emperor had halted before enfranchising Italy as far as the Adriatic. Napoleon then dreamed of settling the affairs of Italy by means of a congress, and Arthur de la Guéronniére's pamphlet, "Le pape et le congrés", demanded of Pius IX, in advance, the surrender of his temporal power. On 1 January, 1860, Pius IX denounced this pamphlet as a "monument of hypocrisy", and on 9 January he answered with a formal refusal a letter from Napoleon advising him to give up the Legations. A few months later, the Legations themselves joined Piedmont, while Napoleon, by making Thouvenel his minister of foreign affairs and by negotiating with Cavour the annexation of Nice and Savoy to France, proved that he was decidedly more devoted to the aspirations of Piedmont than to the temporal power of the pope. Meanwhile the Catholics in France commenced violent press campaigns under the leadership of the "Univers" and the "Correspondant". On 24 January, 1869, the "Univers" was suppressed. The minister of state, Billaut, prosecuted the Catholic publications and pulpit utterances deemed seditious. To be sure Baroche, on 2 April, announced in the Corps Législatif, that the French troops would not leave Rome so long as the pope was unable to defend himself. But Napoleon, only too anxious to withdraw his troops, at one moment thought of having them replaced by Neapolitan troops, and then proposed to Pius IX, though in vain, that the Powers of the second order should be induced to organize a body of papal troops, to be paid by all the Catholic states jointly. Pius IX, on the other hand, allowed Mgr de Mérode to make an appeal to the aristocracy of France and Belgium for the formation of a special corps of pontifical troops, which should enable the pope to do without the emperor's soldiers. Among these soldiers of the pope were a large number of French Legitimists; Lamericiére, their commander, had always been a foe of the imperial regime. Napoleon III was annoyed, and ordered his ambassador at Rome to enter into negotiations for the withdrawal of the French troops: on 11 May, 1860, it was decided that within three months the soldiers given to the pope by Napoleon III should return to France.

In the meantime, however, Garibaldi's campaign in Sicily and Calabria opened. Farini and Cialdini, sent by Cavour to Napoleon, represented to him (28 August) the urgent necessity of checking the Italian revolution, that Garibaldi was about to march on Rome, and that France ought to leave to Piedmont the task of preserving order in Italy, for which purpose the Piedmontese must be allowed to cross the pontiffcal territories so as to reach the Neapolitan frontier. "Faites vite (act quickly)", said the emperor, and himself left France, travelling in Corsica and Algeria, while the Piedmontese troops invaded Umbria and the Marches, defeated the troops of Lamoriciére at Castelfidardo, captured Ancona, and occupied all the States of the Church except Rome and the province of Viterbo. Napoleon publicly warned Victor Emmanuel that, if he attacked the pope without legitimate provocation, France would be obliged to oppose him; he withdrew his minister from Turin, leaving instead only a chargé d'affaires, and was a mere spectator of that series of events which, in February, 1861, ended in Victor Emmanuel's being proclaimed King of Italy. The expedition to Syria (1859), in which 80,000 French troops went to the relief of the Maronite Christians, who were being massacred by the Druses with the connivance of the Turks, the two expeditions to China (1857 and 1860), in co-operation with England, which resulted, among other things, in the restoration to the Christians of their religious establishments, and the joint expedition of France and Spain (1858-62) against the Annamese Empire, which avenged the persecution of Christians on Annam and ended in the conquest of Cochin China by France, merited for the armies of France the gratitude of the Church. Still the attitude of Napoleon III in regard to Italian affairs caused great pain to Catholics. Falloux in an article entitled "Antécédents et conséquences de la situation actuelle", published in the "Correspondant", implied that Napoleon was an accomplice in the Italian revolution. The Catholic associations formed to collect subscriptions for the pope's benefit were suppressed, and Pius IX, in the consistorial allocution of 17 December, 1860, accused the emperor of having "feigned" to protect him.

Liberal Period of the Empire, 1860-70

It was just at this time that the emperor, by the decree of 24 November, 1860, made his first concession to the Opposition, and to Liberal ideas, by granting more independence and power of initiative to the Legislature. But the Liberal opposition was not disarmed, and the Catholic discontent was aggravated by his Italian policy, The emperor replied to Pius IX by publishing la Guéronniére's book, "La France, Rome et l'Italie", a violent arraignment of Rome. Then Bishop Pie of Poitiers published his pastoral charge in which the words, "Lavetes mains, O Pilate" (Wash thy hands, O Pilate), were addressed to Napoleon III. In the Senate, an amendment in favour of the temporal power of the pope was lost by only a very small majority; in the Corps Législatif, one-third of the deputies declared themselves for the pontifical cause. The emperor asserted his Italian sympathies more and more clearly: in June, 1862, he recognized the new kingdom; he sent an ambassador to Turin, and to Rome two partisans of Italian unity; and he used his influence with Russia and Prussia to procure their recognition of the Kingdom of Italy. One striking symptom of the emperor's changed feelings towards the Church was the circular of January, 1862, by which Persigny declared all the St. Vincent de Paul societies dissolved. Following upon Garibaldi's blow at the Pontifical States, which had been stopped by his defeat at Aspramonte (29 August, 1862), General Durando, minister of foreign affairs in Ratazzi's cabinet, declared in a circular that "the whole Italian nation demanded its capital". Thus were the Italians proclaiming their eagerness to be installed at Rome. Fearing that at the forthcoming legislative elections the Catholics would revolt from the imperial party, Napoleon suddenly manifested a much colder feeling for Italy. The Catholic influence of the empress gained the upper hand of Prince Napoleon's anti-religious influence. Thouvenel was supplanted by Drouin de Lhuys (15 October, 1862), who was made to give out a curt statement that the French Government had no present intention of taking any action in consequence of the Durando circular, thus bringing about the fall of the Ratazzi cabinet in Italy. A great many Catholics recovered their confidence in Napoleon; but a political alliance between a certain number of Liberal Catholics, devoted to the Royalist cause and members of the Republican party resulted, in June, 1863, in the return of thirty-five Opposition members to the Chamber, mostly men of great ability. Republicans and Monarchists, Freethinkers and Catholics, they grouped themselves around Thiers, who had been Louis Philippe's minister, and who won the confidence of Catholics by pronouncing unequivocally in favour of the temporal power, But the alliance between Republicans who wanted Napoleon to desist from protecting the temporal power and Catholics who thought he did not protect it enough, could not be very stable. From 1862 to 1864 the emperor did nothing in regard to Italy that could cause Pins IX any uneasiness. He was at that period busy with the early stages of the Mexican War, in which he had very imprudently allowed himself to become involved. Four years of fighting against President Juarez were destined to end in the evacuation of Mexico by the French troops, early in 1867, and the execution of Maximilian, brother of the Emperor of Austria, whom France had caused to be proclaimed Emperor of Mexico. The impression created by this disaster notably increased the strength of the Opposition in France.

Negotiations between Napoleon III and Italy recommenced in 1864, the Italian Government beseeching the emperor to put an end to the French occupation of the Pontifical States. The Convention of 15 September, 1864, obliged Italy to refrain from attacking the actual possessions of the Holy See and, on the contrary, to defend them, while France promised to withdraw her troops within a period of not more than two years, pari passu, with the organization of the pope's army. This arrangement caused profound sorrow at the Vatican; Pius IX drew the conclusion that Napoleon was preparing to leave the States of the Church at the mercy of the Italians. The diplomatic remonstrances with which the emperors government replied to the Syllabus, its prohibition against the circulation of that document, and Duruy's project to organize primary education without the concurrence of the Church, were causes of dissatisfaction to Rome and to the Catholics. The speech of Thiers against Italian unity, denouncing the imprudence of the Imperial policy, was loudly applauded by the faithful supporters of the HoIy See. Napoleon III, always a prey to indecision, no doubt asked himself from time to time whether his policy was a wise one, but the circumstances which he himself had created carried him along. Late in 1864 he thought of negotiating an alliance between the Courts of Berlin and Turin against Austria, so as to allow Italy to get possession of Venetia. Having paved the way for Italian unity, he was inaugurating a policy by means of which Prussia was to achieve German unity. He did nothing to prevent the conquest of Austria by Prussia at Sadowa (1866), and when he made a vain attempt to have Luxemburg ceded to him, Bismarck exploited the proceedings to convince public opinion in Germany of the danger of French ambition and the serious necessity of arming against France. By the end of 1866 the withdrawal of the French troops which had guarded the pope was complete. But Napoleon at the very time when he was thus carrying out the Convention of 15 September was organizing at Antibes a legion to be placed at the disposal of the pope; he once more exacted of Italy a pledge not to invade the Papal States; he conceived a plan to obtain from the Powers a collective guarantee of the pope's temporal sovereignty. On 3 November, 1866, he wrote to his friend Francesco Arese: "People must know that I will yield nothing on the Roman question, and that my mind is made up, while carrying out the Convention of 15 September, to support the temporal power of the pope by all possible means". But the season of ill-luck and of blundering was setting in for the Imperial diplomacy. None of the Powers responded to Napoleon's appeal. Italy, displeased at the organization of the Antibes Legion and the confidence reposed by the emperor in Rouher, a devoted champion of Catholic interests, complained bitterly: Napoleon answered by complaining of the Garibaldian musters that threatened the pope's territories. When the Garibaldians made an actual incursion, on 25 October, 1867, the French troops which had for some weeks been concentrated at Toulon, embarked for Civitià Vecchia and helped the papal troops defeat the invaders at Mentana. Cardinal Antonelli asked that the French forces should be directed against those of Victor Emmanuel, but the emperor refused. Menabrea, Victor Emmanuel's minister, though he gave orders for the arrest of the Garibaldians, published in spite of Napoleon, a circular affirming Italy's right to possess Rome. Napoleon found it increasingly difficult to extricate himself from the coils of the Roman Question; he was still thinking of a European congress, but Europe declined. At the close of 1867, Thier's speech in support of the temporal power gave Rouher occasion to say, amid the applause of the majority, "We declare it in the name of the French government, Italy shall not take possession of Rome. Never, never will France tolerate such an assault upon her honour and her Catholicity". That never was extremely unpleasant to the Italian patriots. The emperor had offended both the pope and Italy at the same time. When the Vatican Council was convoked the imperial government manifested no antagonism. M. Emile Ollivier, president of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, opined, on 2 January, 1870, that the States ought not to interfere in the deliberations of the council. His colleague Daru instructed Banneville, the French ambassador to Rome, on 20 February, to protest in the name of French Constitutional law against the programme of enactments "De ecclesia", and tried to bring about concerted action of the Powers; but, after Antonelli's demurrer of 10 March, Daru confined himself to reiterating his objections in a memorandum (5 April) which Pius IX declined to submit to the council. M. Ollivier, against the requests of certain anti-infallibilist prelates, directed Banneville not to try to meddle in the proceedings of the council. In 1870 Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern's claim to the crown of Spain brought on a conflict between France and King William of Prussia. A dispatch relating to a conversation which took place at Ems, between WilIiam and Napoleon's ambassador, Benedetti, was, as Bismarck himself afterwards confessed, tampered with in such a way as to make war inevitable. Bismarck's own "Recollections" thus supply the refutation of the charge made by him in the Reichstag (5 December, 1874), that the empress and the Jesuits had desired the war and driven him into it. The German historian Sybel has formally cleared the empress and the Jesuits of this accusation. (On this point, which has provoked numerous polemics, see Dühr, "Jesuitenfabeln", 4th ed., Freiburg, 1904, pp. 877-79). Pius IX wrote to Emperor William offering his good offices as mediator (22 July, 1870), but to no purpose. As for the Italian government, on 16 July, 1870, it refused an alliance with France because Napoleon had refused it Rome. On 20 July Napoleon promised that the imperial troops should be recalled from Rome, but no more, and so, as usual, he offended both the pope, whom he was about to leave defenceless, and Italy, whose highest ambitions he was balking. The negotiations between France and Italy were continued in August, by Prince Napoleon, who made a visit to Florence. Italy absolutely insisted upon being allowed to take Rome, and, on 29 August, Visconti Venosta, minister of foreign affairs, affirmed the right of the Italians to have Rome for their capital. The anti-Catholic controversialists of France have often made use of these facts to support their allegation that the emperor would have had the Italian alliance in the War of 1870 if he had not persisted in his demand that the pope should remain master of Rome, and that Italy's abstention entailed that of Austria, which would have helped France if Italy had. M. Welschinger has proved that in 1870 these two powers were in no condition to be of material assistance to France. After the surrender of Sedan (2 September, 1870), Napoleon was sent, a prisoner, to Wilhelmshöhe, where he learned that the Republic had been proclaimed at Paris, 4 September, and that the Piedmontese had occupied Rome (20 September). The National Assembly of Bordeaux, on 28 February, 1871, confirmed the emperor's dethronement. After the Peace of Frankfort he went to reside at Chiselburst, where he died. His only son, Eugène-Louis-Jean-Joseph,Napoléon, born 16 March, 1856, was killed by the Zulus, 23 June, 1879. Napoleon III left unfinished a "Vie de César", begun in 1865, with the assistance of the historian Duruy, and of which only three volumes were published. His history still affords occasion for numerous polemics animated by party feeling. The portrait of him drawn by Victor Hugo in "Les Châtiments" is extremely unfair. Napoleon was a tender-hearted dreamer, kindness was one of his most evident qualities. As regards his personal practice of religion, he was faithful to his Easter duties. Much of the censure which his foreign policy has merited is equally applicable to the anticlericals and the Republicans of his time, whose press organs were clamouring for French aid towards the speedy realization of Italian unity, while their systematic opposition, in 1868, to the Government programme for strengthening the army was partly responsible for the military weakness of France in 1870.

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Napoleon III

The Liberal Empire

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

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

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

Napoleon III

Emperor of the French

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

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

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Napoleon III


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

I. Introduction

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Napoleon III (1808-1873), emperor of the French (1852-1870), who revived the Napoleonic empire in the mid-19th century and led France to defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871).

Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Paris, the third and last son of King Louis and Queen Hortense of Holland, and thus a nephew of Napoleon I. Because the Bonaparte family was banished from France after his uncle's downfall, Louis Napoleon was educated privately in Switzerland and Bavaria. His mother schooled him in the glories of the Napoleonic legend and set his course toward the recovery of family power. Toward that end, he wrote pamphlets and treatises to formulate a political program, portraying himself as social reformer, political liberal, military expert, and proponent of agricultural and industrial development. He also led two unsuccessful armed attempts to overthrow the regime of King Louis Philippe, in 1836 and 1840. Imprisoned for life after the latter, he escaped in 1846, calling renewed attention to himself.

II. Leadership of France

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Once Louis Philippe was ousted in 1848, Louis Napoleon renewed his quest by offering himself as a candidate for the presidency of the new French republic. To the astonishment of political veterans, he won in a landslide. His triumph was diminished, however, by a Royalist victory in the legislative elections in 1849 and by the constitution's limiting him to one four-year term. He resolved that dilemma by a coup d'état on December 2, 1851, assuming dictatorial powers and extending his term of office to ten years. Despite continued pockets of opposition, clear evidence of widespread popular support encouraged him a year later to convert the Second Republic into the Second Empire; because Napoleon I's son had been known to his followers as Napoleon II, Louis Napoleon took the title Napoleon III. Historians divide his reign into two periods. The dictatorship persisted until 1860. During the dictatorship, Napoleon limited the freedom of the press and the freedom of intellectual thought; he censored newspapers and exiled many writers, including Victor Hugo, banning their works. During this period, opposition began to mount and Napoleon was forced to limit his powers. After 1860, Louis Napoleon began a series of liberal reforms that culminated in a limited monarchy, the Liberal Empire, on January 2, 1870. This liberalization was marked by labor legislation, a movement toward free trade, and a revival of opposition parties. In 1868 he granted freedom of assembly and loosened restrictions on the press. Napoleon also greatly extended the French railways and tried to improve the conditions of poor people. Perhaps Napoleon III's most durable work was the reconstruction of Paris, overseen by urban planner Baron Haussmann.

His successes, however, were overshadowed by a foreign policy that was too often idealistic, blinding the emperor to real dangers to French security. From 1854 to 1856 France joined England, the Ottoman Empire, and the kingdom of Sardinia in the Crimean War fighting against Russian advancement. In 1859 France went to war again with the kingdom of Sardinia in order to oust Austria from Italy. Although France received Nice and Savoy in 1860 because of its efforts, French intervention created other problems. The war was a costly one, and Napoleon had not foreseen the possibility that Italy would unite in 1861, creating another European power with which France must contend. In 1863 Napoleon encouraged Maximilian, the archduke of Austria, to become emperor of Mexico. Angered by French intervention, the United States demanded that the French leave. However, Maximilian did not leave and was killed by the Mexican government. The threat from Prussia, in particular, was perceived too late and caught the French unprepared in every respect when war came in 1870. Swift defeat in the field led to Napoleon's capture, and his regime was overthrown in Paris on September 4, 1870. He died in exile at Chislehurst, England.

III. Evaluation

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Evaluations of Napoleon III range from viewing him as a tyrant to praising his efforts toward democracy. He embodied strange contradictions and his reign vacillated from an authoritarian regime to an increasingly democratic one. Peasants strongly supported him and he was popularly elected. However, he crushed any adversaries. He improved France through his efforts to lessen poverty, to encourage industrialization, and to improve the infrastructure of the country. When he granted liberal reforms, he could not handle opposition. Napoleon was defeated trying to navigate between democracy and oppression.

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