- Second French Empire
Infobox Former Country
native_name = Empire français
conventional_long_name = French Empire
common_name = France|
continent = Europe
country = France
government_type = Constitutional Monarchy|
year_start = 1852
year_end = 1870
date_end = September 4
event_pre = French coup of 1851
date_pre = December 2 1851|
p1 = French Second Republic
flag_p1 = Flag of France.svg
s1 = French Third Republic
flag_s1 = Flag of France.svg
s2 = German Empire
flag_s2 = Flag of the German Empire.svg|
symbol_type = Imperial Eagle, Merovingian Bee
image_map_caption = Map of the French Second Empire
capital = Paris
Partant pour la Syrie(unofficial)
common_languages = French
leader1 = Napoleon III
year_leader1 = 1852-1870
title_leader = Emperor
title_deputy = Prime Minister
legislature = Parliament
house1 = Senate
Rule of Napoleon III
Although the machinery of government was almost the same under the Second Empire as it had been under the First, its founding principles were different. The function of the Empire, as Emperor Napoleon III often repeated, was to guide the people internally towards
justiceand externally towards perpetual peace. Holding his power by universal suffrage, and having frequently, from his prison or in exile, reproached previous oligarchical governments with neglecting social questions, he set out to solve them by organising a system of government based on the principles of the "Napoleonic Idea", i.e. of the emperor, the elect of the people as the representative of the democracy, and as such supreme; and of himself, the representative of the great Napoleon I of France, "who had sprung armed from the French Revolutionlike Minervafrom the head of Jove," as the guardian of the social gains of the revolutionary period.
French Constitution of 1852instituted by Napoleon III on January 14, 1852was largely a repetition of that of the year 1848. All executive power was entrusted to the emperor, who, as head of state, was solely responsible to the people. The people of the Empire, lacking democraticrights, were to rely on the benevolence of the emperor rather than on the benevolence of politicians. He was to nominate the members of the council of state, whose duty it was to prepare the laws, and of the senate, a body permanently established as a constituent part of the empire. One innovation was made, namely, that the Legislative Bodywas elected by universal suffrage, but it had no right of initiative, all laws being proposed by the executive power. This new political change was rapidly followed by the same consequence as had attended that of Brumaire. On December 2, 1852, France, still under the effect of Napoleon's legacy, and the fear of anarchy, conferred almost unanimously by a plebiscitethe supreme power, with the title of emperor, upon Napoleon III.
Napoleon III soon proved that social justice did not mean
liberty. He acted in such a way that the principles of 1848 which he had preserved became a mere sham. He paralysed all those active national forces which create public spirit, such as parliament, universal suffrage, the press, educationand associations. The Legislative Body was not allowed to elect its own presidentor to regulate its own procedure, or to propose a law or an amendment, or to vote on the budgetin detail, or to make its deliberations public. Similarly, universal suffrage was supervised and controlled by means of official candidature, by forbidding free speechand action in electoral matters to the Opposition, and by a skilful adjustment of the electoral districts in such a way as to overwhelm the Liberal vote in the mass of the rural population. The press was subjected to a system of "cautionnements", i.e. "caution money", deposited as a guarantee of good behaviour, and "avertissements", i.e. requests by the authorities to cease publication of certain articles, under pain of suspension or suppression; while books were subject to a censorship.
In order to counteract the opposition of individuals, a surveillance of suspects was instituted.
Felice Orsini's attack on the emperor in 1858, though purely Italian in its motive, served as a pretext for increasing the severity of this " régime" by the law of general security ("sûreté générale") which authorised the internment, exileor deportationof any suspect without trial. In the same way public instruction was strictly supervised, the teaching of philosophywas suppressed in the " lycées", and the disciplinary powers of the administration were increased.
For seven years France had no democratic life. The Empire governed by a series of
plebiscites. Up to 1857 the Opposition did not exist; from then till 1860 it was reduced to five members: Darimon, Emile Ollivier, Hénon, Jules Favreand Ernest Picard. The royalists waited inactive after the new and unsuccessful attempt made at Frohsdorfin 1853, by a combination of the legitimists and Orleanists, to re-create a living monarchy out of the ruin of two royal families.
The December 2, 1851 coup d'état
December 2, 1851, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, who had been elected President of the Republic, staged a coup d'état by dissolving the National Assembly without having the constitutional right to do so. He thus became sole ruler of France, and re-established universal suffrage, previously abolished by the Assembly. His decisions and the extension of his mandate for 10 years were popularly endorsed by referendum, as was the re-establishment of the Empire from 2 December 1852. He thus became "Napoléon III, Emperor of the French", while the popular referendum became a distinct sign of bonapartism, which Charles de Gaullewould later use.
Napoleon III's joy was at its height after the
Crimean Warowing to the signature of a peace which excluded Russia from the Black Sea, and to the birth of Eugene Bonaparte, which ensured the continuation of his dynasty.
He then led France to war with Austria over Italy. France was victorious, and gained
Savoyand Nice, but the unification of Italy outraged French Catholics, who had been the leading supporters of the Empire. A keen Catholic opposition sprang up, voiced in Louis Veuillot's paper the "Univers", and was not silenced even by the Syrian expedition (1860) in favour of the Catholic Maronites, who were being persecuted by the Druzes. On the other hand, the commercial treaty with the United Kingdom which was signed in January 1860, and which ratified the free tradepolicy of Richard Cobdenand Michel Chevalier, had brought upon French industry the sudden shock of foreign competition. Thus both Catholics and protectionists discovered that authoritarianrule can be an excellent thing when it serves their ambitions or interests, but a bad one when exercised at their expense.
But Napoleon, in order to restore the prestige of the Empire before the newly-awakened hostility of
public opinion, tried to gain from the Left the support which he had lost from the Right. After the return from Italy the general amnesty of August 16, 1859had marked the evolution of the absolutistor authoritarianempire towards the liberal, and later parliamentaryempire, which was to last for ten years.
Freedom of the press
Napoleon began by removing the gag which was keeping the country in silence. On
November 24, 1860, he granted to the Chambers the right to vote an address annually in answer to the speech from the throne, and to the press the right of reporting parliamentary debates. He counted on the latter concession to hold in check the growing Catholic opposition, which was becoming more and more alarmed by the policy of " laissez-faire" practised by the emperor in Italy.
The government majority already showed some signs of independence. The right of voting on the budget by sections, granted by the emperor in 1861, was a new weapon given to his adversaries. Everything conspired in their favour: the anxiety of those candid friends who were calling attention to the defective budget; the commercial crisis, aggravated by the
American Civil War; and above all, the restless spirit of the emperor, who had annoyed his opponents in 1860 by insisting on an alliance with the United Kingdom in order forcibly to open the Chinese ports for trade, in 1863 by his ill-fated attempt of a military intervention in Mexico to set up a Latin empirein favour of the archduke Maximilian of Austria, and from 1861 to 1863 by embarking on colonising experiments in Cochinchina( southern Vietnam) and Annam ( central Vietnam). Similar inconsistencies occurred in the emperor's European policies. The support which he had given to the Italian cause had aroused the eager hopes of other nations. The proclamation of the kingdom of Italy on February 18, 1861after the rapid annexation of Tuscanyand the kingdom of Napleshad proved the danger of half-measures. But when a concession, however narrow, had been made to the liberty of one nation, it could hardly be refused to the no less legitimate aspirations of the rest.
In 1863 these "new rights" again clamoured loudly for recognition: in
Poland, in Schleswigand Holstein, in Italy, now indeed united, but with neither frontiers nor capital, and in the Danubian principalities. In order to extricate himself from the Polish "impasse", the emperor again had recourse to his expedient — always fruitless because always inopportune — of a congress. He was again unsuccessful: England refused even to admit the principle of a congress, while Austria, Prussia and Russia gave their adhesion only on conditions which rendered it futile, i.e. they reserved the vital questions of Venetia and Poland.
The "Union libérale"
Thus Napoleon had yet again to disappoint the hopes of Italy, let Poland be crushed, and allow Germany to triumph over
Denmarkin the Schleswig-Holsteinquestion. These inconsistencies resulted in a combination of the opposition parties, Catholic, Liberal and Republican, in the "Union libérale". The elections of May-June 1863 gained the Opposition forty seats and a leader, Adolphe Thiers, who at once urgently gave voice to its demand for "the necessary liberties".
It would have been difficult for the emperor to mistake the importance of this manifestation of French opinion, and in view of his international failures, impossible to repress it. The sacrifice of
Persignyminister of the interior, who was responsible for the elections, the substitution for the ministers without portfolio of a sort of presidency of the council filled by Eugène Rouher, the "Vice-Emperor", and the nomination of Jean Victor Duruy, an anti-clerical, as minister of public instruction, in reply to those attacks of the Church which were to culminate in the Syllabus of 1864, all indicated a distinct "rapprochement" between the emperor and the Left.
But though the opposition represented by Thiers was rather constitutional than dynastic, there was another and irreconcilable opposition, that of the amnestied or voluntarily exiled republicans, of whom
Victor Hugowas the eloquent mouthpiece. Thus those who had formerly constituted the governing classes were again showing signs of their ambition to govern. There appeared to be some risk that this movement among the bourgeoisiemight spread to the people. As Antaeusrecruited his strength by touching the earth, so Napoleon believed that he would consolidate his menaced power by again turning to the labouring masses, by whom that power had been established.
Assured of support, the emperor, through Rouher, a supporter of the absolutist "régime", refused all fresh claims on the part of the Liberals. He was aided by the cessation of the industrial crisis as the
American Civil Warcame to an end, by the apparent closing of the Roman question by the convention of September 15, which guaranteed to the papal statesthe protection of Italy, and finally by the treaty of October 30, 1864, which temporarily put an end to the crisis of the Schleswig-Holstein question.
Rise of Prussia
Things went badly, however, when
Prussiadefeated Austriain the Austro-Prussian Warof 1866 and emerged as the dominant power in Germany. Confidence in the excellence of imperial "régime" vanished. Thiers and Jules Favre as representatives of the Opposition denounced the blunders of 1866. Emile Ollivier split the official majority by the amendment of the 45, and made it understood that a reconciliation with the Empire would be impossible until the emperor granted entire liberty. The recall of French troops from Rome, in accordance with the convention of 1864, led to further attacks by the Ultramontaneparty, who were alarmed for the papacy. Napoleon III felt the necessity for developing "the great act of 1860" by the decree January 19, 1867. In spite of Rouher, by a secret agreement with Ollivier, the right of interpellation was restored to the Chambers. Reforms in press supervision and the right of holding meetings were promised. In vain did Rouher try to meet the Liberal opposition by organising a party for the defence of the Empire, the "Union dynastique". The rapid succession of international reverses prevented him from effecting anything.
The emperor was abandoned by men and disappointed by events. He had hoped that, though by granting the freedom of the press and authorising meetings, he had conceded the right of speech, he would retain the right of action; but he had played into the hands of his enemies.
Victor Hugo's "Châtiments", Rochefort's "Lanterne", the subscription for the monument to Baudin, the deputy killed at the barricades in 1851, followed by Léon Gambetta's speech against the Empire on the occasion of the trial of Delescluze, soon showed that the republican party was irreconcilable.
Mobilization of the working classes
On the other hand, the Ultratramone party were becoming discontented, while the industries formerly protected were dissatisfied with
free tradereform. The working classes had abandoned their political neutrality. Disregarding Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's impassioned attack on communism, they had gradually been won over by the collectivisttheories of Karl Marxand the revolutionary theories of Mikhail Bakunin, as set forth at the congresses of the International. At these Labour congresses, the fame of which was only increased by the fact that they were forbidden, it had been affirmed that the social emancipation of the worker was inseparable from his political emancipation. The union between the internationalists and the republican bourgeois became an accomplished fact.
The Empire, taken by surprise, sought to curb both the middle classes and the labouring classes, and forced them both into revolutionary actions. There were multiple strikes. The elections of May 1869, which took place during these disturbances, inflicted upon the Empire a serious moral defeat. In spite of the revival by the government of the cry of the "red terror", Ollivier, the advocate of conciliation, was rejected by Paris, while 40 irreconcilables and 116 members of the Third Party were elected. Concessions had to be made to these, so by the "senatus-consulte" of
September 8, 1869a parliamentary monarchywas substituted for personal government. On January 2, 1870Ollivier was placed at the head of the first homogeneous, united and responsible ministry.
Plebiscite of 1870
But the republican party, unlike the country, which hailed this reconciliation of liberty and order, refused to be content with the liberties they had won; they refused all compromise, declaring themselves more than ever decided upon the overthrow of the Empire. The murder of the journalist
Victor Noirby Pierre Bonaparte, a member of the imperial family, gave the revolutionaries their long desired opportunity (January 10). But the "émeute" ended in a failure, and the emperor was able to answer the personal threats against him by the overwhelming victory of the plebiscite of May 8, 1870.
This success, which should have consolidated the Empire, determined its downfall. It was thought that a diplomatic success would make the country forget liberty in favour of glory. It was in vain that after the parliamentary revolution of January 2, 1870,
Comte Darurevived, through Lord Clarendon, Count Beust's plan of disarmament after the Battle of Königgratz. He met with a refusal from Prussia and from the imperial entourage. The Empress Eugénie was credited with the remark, "If there is no war, my son will never be emperor."
End of the Empire
The rise of neighbouring
Prussiaduring the 1860s caused a great deal of unease within the National Assembly, culminating in the July Crisis of 1870. On July 15th, the government of Emile Ollivierdeclared war on Prussia, nominally over the Hohenzollerncandidature for the throne of Spain, the pretext for France to declare war in order to satisfy France's increasing unease and desire to halt Prussian expansion in Europe. During July and August 1870, the Imperial French Army suffered a series of defeats which culminated in the Battle of Sedan. At Sedan, the remnants of the French field army, and Napoleon IIIhimself, surrendered to the Prussians on September 1st. News of Sedan reached Parison September 4th. The National Assembly was invaded by a mob and during the afternoon of September 4th, Parisiandeputies formed a new government. At the Hôtel de Ville, Republican deputy Léon Gambettadeclared the fall of the Empire and the establishment of the Third Republic. Empress Eugénie fled the Tuileriesfor Great Britain, effectively ending the Empire, which was officially declared defunct and replaced with the Government of National Defence.
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