In France, the sequel to the revolution of 1848 seemed to mean more than the disappointment of the hopes of republicans. It seemed to mean, as well, an undoing of much of the progress towards liberal government that France had made prior to the outbreak of the revolution. For the coup d'etat of 2 December 1851 inaugurated a more autocratic rule than France had known since the overthrow of Charles X, and inasmuch as one of the main purposes of this new absolutism was to safeguard the propertied classes and the church, its inception had the appearance of a return to the familiar pattern of political and social conservatism. Nevertheless, the Second Empire was not a mere retrogression, and the amiable adventurer who became Napoleon III was to earn the execration of reactionaries no less than of republicans. To the chagrin of both, time was to show that he was not insincere when he professed that the broad aim of his regime was to reconcile those whose watchword was ‘progress’ with those whose motto was ‘order’. His success was to prove meagre, since this schism was to persist throughout his reign, and it was to issue again in bitter internecine strife when ultimately the Second Empire disappeared. Yet the endeavour was not quite vain. The empire was to endure as long as any regime in France since 1789, and in this period the nation was to experience a remarkable economic advance. Moreover, whatever the original intention of the emperor, France was to witness a gradual return to the practices of representative government, which were to be more firmly established at the close of his reign than ever before.
At the outset of the revolution of 1848, an astute observer would have had good reason to suppose that the new republican venture would be short-lived, but he would have been bold indeed if he had predicted that its demise would mean the accession of Louis Napoleon. In the spring of 1848, less than four years before he became master of France, the Bonapartist pretender was virtually unknown in his native land, and his partisans numbered no more than a handful of his personal henchmen. The son of Louis Bonaparte, that brother whom Napoleon I made king of Holland, and of Hortense de Beauhamais, the daughter of the Empress Josephine, Louis Napoleon was born in 1808, at the zenith of the meteoric career of his uncle. But the nephew bore little remembrance of this age of Napoleonic grandeur, since he was not yet eight years old when the empire crumbled into ruins. Thereupon his mother, who had separated from her husband, took up residence in Switzerland and Bavaria, where Louis Napoleon grew to manhood. He had early given an indication of his taste for political escapades, as well as an omen of his later entanglement in the Italian national movement, when he took a minor part in the insurrectionary movement in the Papal States in 1831, in which his elder brother died of fever. Soon thereafter, on the death of the duke of Reichstadt in 1832, he had found his vocation, when the political inheritance of his uncle devolved upon him. From then on he had made it his one purpose to restore the empire, with himself at its head, and he had never wearied or grown discouraged in the pursuit of this aim. With a blithe confidence that France would welcome him with open arms as soon as he set foot upon her soil and proclaimed his mission, he had made a first, foolhardy attempt to seize power in 1836, when he crossed the border into Strasbourg and strove to raise an insurrection in his favour. But the venture had been a fiasco, and, taken captive, he had been thrust back into exile. Subsequently he had settled in England, where he had attracted some notice in the fashionable world. In 1840 he had made a second attempt, crossing the Channel and landing at Boulogne, but again the enterprise miscarried. This time he had been imprisoned in the fortress of Ham, near the Belgian border. In 1846 he had escaped, taking refuge once more in England, where he had remained until the outbreak of the revolution of 1848 in his homeland.
It was soon apparent that this revolution created a situation much more favourable to his cause than ever before. In his earlier ventures at the seizure of power, he had learned that the memories of grandeur which the name of Bonaparte evoked were not a strong enough magic to enable him to unseat Louis Philippe. The introduction of universal suffrage under the Second Republic, however, allowed the magic of his name to appeal to the middle-class and the peasant-proprietors, frightened by the threat of socialism, and gave him the overwhelming vote in the presidential election of 1848. Even the workers, disgusted by the bourgeois republic which had suppressed them in the ‘June Days’, were attracted to the Bonapartist programme. Immense as was this strategic advantage, however, his triumph at the polls did not assure Louis Napoleon of attaining that personal rule which was his ultimate purpose. In the first place, in seeking the office of president he had professed his acceptance of the republican regime, and his election did not give him a mandate to restore the empire. In the second place, the constitution of the republic provided that the president would hold office for a term of four years, and could not be re-elected. In the third place, he had to share power with a Legislative Assembly, elected in May 1849, in which he encountered a suspicious resistance from both the republican minority and the loose coalition of conservatives who comprised the majority. These conservatives were far from won over to republicanism; most of them would have preferred a constitutional monarchy, with a parliament representative of the propertied classes, had it been possible to mend the rift between the Orleanists and the Legitimists. Failing this, they preferred to see the republic continue, as long as the legislature remained under their control.
Hence it was apparent that Louis Napoleon must either induce the conservatives to revise the constitution so as to allow him to prolong his tenure as president, or risk a coup d'etat. At no time did he preclude the latter alternative, but now that he was so close to his goal, he evinced an unwonted hesitation at the prospect of a recourse to forcible means. For nearly three years he laboured assiduously to win the confidence and co-operation of the conservatives, and for a time he seemed likely to succeed. His readiness to dispatch an expedition to Rome (April 1849) to forestall Austria in defending the temporal power of the pope won him favour with the Catholics, as did his attitude towards the Falloux Law (15 March 1850), which opened the way for the church to share in primary and secondary education, while his acquiescence in the electoral law of 31 May 1850, which disfranchised a large proportion of the urban populace, gave evidence of his willingness to aid the conservatives in preserving their preponderance in the Legislative Assembly. Once it became plain, in the summer of 1850, that there was no immediate hope of an agreement between the Orleanists and the Legitimists which would permit the candidate of either faction to take the throne, it seemed best, to some among the leaders of both camps, to permit Louis Napoleon to remain in office as president, since the Legislative Assembly would remain under their control. However, others remained unconvinced of the wisdom of such a move, believing that sooner or later Louis Napoleon would use his position to secure a personal rule in defiance of parliament. Their suspicions gained new substance when on 3 January 1851 he removed General Changamier, who had avowed his determination to resist any move of the president to overpower the Legislative Assembly, from the command of the garrison and the National Guard of Paris. A sufficient number of conservatives therefore supported the republicans, when the issue of a revision of the constitution came to a vote in the Legislative Assembly (9 July 1851), to ensure that the proposal would not obtain the necessary three-fourths majority.
Thereafter Louis Napoleon had no choice but to prepare a coup d'etat. In October 1851 he named as Minister of War General St Amaud, who had agreed to share with him the risks of the bold gamble upon which he was now resolved, and as Prefect of Police, Maupas, who was also ready to become an accomplice. Meantime, with the intention of renewing the dissensions between the republicans and the conservatives, so as to prevent them from forming a common front against him, the president proposed the repeal of the electoral law of 31 May 1850 (which he had originally approved) and a return to universal suffrage. As he expected, the conservative majority voted down the proposal, thus making it possible for him, when the time came to strike a blow against the Legislative Assembly, to pose as the champion of popular rights.
After several postponements, the night of 1-2 December 1851 was chosen for the coup. The operation was carried out with remarkable ease, under the supervision of St Amaud, Maupas, and Momy—who took over the crucial post of Minister of the Interior. At the order of the president, the party leaders in the Legislative Assembly were arrested, the Assembly itself dissolved, and the personal rule of the president proclaimed. On 3 and 4 December some armed resistance developed in the republican quarters of Paris, but the army quickly and severely repressed this uprising, and though minor disturbances occurred in a number of localities in the provinces, nowhere did these attain grave proportions. They were enough, however, to confirm the widespread fear of anarchy as the year 1852 approached, when both president and legislature were due for renewal, and so to provide a justification for the coup d'etat.
Forthwith the president proceeded to organise his dictatorship as a new government. On 14 December 1851 the nation was summoned to vote in a plebiscite endorsing the coup d'etat and giving Louis Napoleon the right to promulgate a new constitution. The plebiscite registered more than seven million affirmative votes, as against less than one million in dissent. On 14 January 1852 the new constitution was issued, preserving the name of the republic but assuring an undisputed dominance to the president. Meantime, a campaign of political repression was set in motion, which was to be more systematic and comprehensive than any since the Terror of 1793-4. By an administrative order of 20 January 1852 special tribunals, known as ‘mixed commissions’, were instituted to take action against persons deemed dangerous to public order. These commissions, comprising the chief military and civil officials of each departement, were authorised to proceed according to their own discretion, without necessarily observing the usual rules of judicial procedure, and were empowered to impose sentences ranging from detention to banishment, or to hand over accused persons to military courts for trial and possible execution. Eventually, actions were commenced against a total of about 26,000 persons. About 10,000 of these were set free or released under continued police surveillance, while another 10,000 were transported to Algeria.
For a year after the coup d'etat France remained in a twilight zone, between the republic and the empire, while the prince-president tightened his grip upon the government, prepared public opinion for the ultimate step in his progress to the throne, and assured the diplomatic world that his reign would present no threat to the peace of Europe. Judging the time ripe at last, he summoned the nation to a second plebiscite on 21 November 1852, to sanction a restoration of the hereditary rule of the Bonaparte dynasty. Again, seven million voters gave their assent, as against about
250,000 in opposition, and on 2 December 1852 Louis Napoleon proclaimed himself emperor as Napoleon III. He styled himself Napoleon III on the ground that Napoleon I had abdicated in 1814 in favour of his son, later known as the due de Reichstadt, and therefore, in the short interval before the allies restored Bourbon rule under Louis XVIII, this infant Bonaparte prince had been the lawful sovereign of France as ‘Napoleon II’, even though he had not actually reigned. However, Napoleon III explicitly acknowledged that the rule of the Bonaparte dynasty had legally lapsed with the accession of Louis XVIII, until his own assumption of the imperial rank in 1852. Recognising that, as the head of a new hereditary monarchy, he must renounce his bachelorhood, he proceeded to choose an empress. On 30 January 1853 he married Eugenie de Montijo, daughter of a Spanish nobleman who had fought on the French side in the Peninsular War. The empress, who had from her childhood cherished a romantic faith in the Napoleonic legend, was to prove well chosen for her role of presiding over the improvised splendours of a parvenu court. Moreover, she presently discharged her other obligation, bearing a son, known as the Prince Imperial, to provide a normal line of succession to the throne.
Though the restoration of the empire, when at last it was accomplished, afforded no more surprise than the reaping of a harvest, the inception of the new regime gave little indication of its attitude towards the basic problems of French national life. As president, Louis Napoleon had been regarded as the agent of the conservatives, but his coup d'etat had been accomplished in defiance of their leaders, and the inauguration of the empire contradicted the hopes of the Orleanists and Legitimists, as well as of the republicans. To those who asked what was the sense of this new departure, the obvious answer was that it meant a renewal of Bonapartism. But no one could furnish a precise definition of what this signified, since the First Empire, which was its inspiration, had itself been an extemporisation. Before his rise to power Louis Napoleon had published a number of writings that expounded his conception of the tradition he represented. Notable among these were Des idees napoleoniennes, first published in 1839, and De l'extinction du pauperisme, which appeared in 1844. The former developed the familiar theme that Bonapartism meant the reconciliation of authority and liberty, and the more abstruse thesis that it meant a diplomacy dedicated to the preservation of peace. The argument was presented in such vague terms, however, as to give little clue as to the course the author would set in meeting the concrete problems now before him. The latter work was less remarkable than its title. It propounded a scheme for the resettlement of the urban poor, under the auspices of the government, on lands that had been allowed to pass out of cultivation. It bore witness to the concern of its author for the plight of the poor, but also to his desire not to arouse the trepidations of the rich.
In truth, Louis Napoleon had never had to make up his mind as to how he would solve the problems of his homeland. Having passed most of his adult life in exile, save for the six years of his imprisonment in the fortress of Ham, he had had little opportunity to gain a first-hand knowledge of the course of affairs in France, and because no large number of Frenchmen had ever rallied to his banner, he had never had to assume the responsibility for formulating the aspirations of a political party or directing a broad movement of popular opinion. His need, rather, had been to win friends however he could, while alienating as few as possible among those who might become his supporters, and thus the force of circumstances had abetted his own temperamental preference for dreaming of grandiose plans, instead of defining a precise programme.
Even after his election as president, he had remained a leader without a party. He had won a measure of support from the conservatives, since he served their need of a counterpoise to the republicans, but for the most part they thought of him as someone whom they could use for a while, then push aside. As president, he had begun to gather around him a number of individuals who had not been among his henchmen before the sudden improvement of his fortunes in 1848, but who now began to link their hopes of political advancement with his. Prominent among these were Rouher, Baroche, Billault, and Fould, who were to gain leading positions in the government of the empire. Though sometimes spoken of as the ‘party of the Elysee’, this loose consortium of place-seekers could hardly be considered a party in the full sense of the word, since they shared no common programme nor did they command a following among the public at large. Hence their presence in the entourage of the emperor neither determined nor indicated the course he would set.
Nor did the smaller circle of those whose attachment to the emperor was closer, for this inner council included persons whose views were so diverse as to show no common pattern. The Empress Eugenie, who soon gained and never relinquished a large personal influence upon the political decisions of her husband, made use of her position to urge him in the direction of a firm absolutism, coupled with an utter deference to the wishes of the church in respect to both domestic and foreign affairs. But her influence was offset by that of Persigny, who passed for a radical, and of the duc de Momy, who had ties with the Orleanists. No one had earned a better claim upon the emperor than Persigny, who had been his intimate friend and fanatical partisan since the bleak days of exile, while Momy, the illegitimate son of Queen Hortense, had won the trust of his half-brother by his share in planning and managing the coup d'etat in 1851. So receptive was the emperor to the counsel of advisers who had no bond save their desire for place and influence, so erratic proved to be the course he set, that some observers concluded that he never had or developed a clearer sense of his purpose than to remain in power, or any more precise notion of how to do so than to take whatever action seemed opportune at the moment. More than one historian has concurred in this view, and dismissed Napoleon HI as a man of mystery without a secret.
Yet it is possible to discern something more than sheer opportunism in his reign, or, at least, to discern a logic in his opportunism. For the emperor gave evidence that he believed himself capable of achieving that reconciliation of order and progress which he proclaimed to be his mission, and the measures he took at the outset of his reign gave reasonable promise of attaining his purpose. France, he believed, had no graver need than for a secure political order, and the Legitimists, Orleanists, and republicans, each in turn, had proved incapable of providing for this need. No alternative remained but the rule of a sovereign standing above these factions, who would give expression to the wishes of the mute mass of the nation, more desirous of the blessings of a stable government than of the triumph of any particular party. It would have been impossible for Napoleon III to wipe out by force the long-standing movements of opinion which were expressed in republicanism, Orleanism, and Legitimism, and it would have been neither feasible nor wise for him to seek to create a party of his own, to defend his cause in competition with the other parties already in the field. The only course open to him was to keep the reins of government in his own hands, while making sufficient concession to each party to blunt its opposition without becoming the captive of any one faction. Such a tactic was doubtless a kind of opportunism, but it was an opportunism serving the interests of France as well as of the emperor.
More would be required, however, than an autocratic rule combined with the dextrous balancing of one political faction against another. His regime would have to win the endorsement of the church, without which no regime could gain the acceptance of large sections of the rural populace or of the propertied classes in the cities and towns. Moreover, it must provide for the economic advance of the nation, which would at once give scope to the enterprise of the bourgeoisie and make possible an improvement of the condition of the urban masses. In such a view, there was no contradiction between serving the interests of the church and championing the cause of material progress, or between the defence of the propertied classes and solicitude for the poor.
Such seemed to be the logic in the mind of the emperor at the outset of his reign, and until 1859 the policies he pursued gave the appearance of a consistent programme. In this period he was to maintain an authoritarian personal rule, establish close and harmonious relations between the government and the church, and give vigorous aid and encouragement to business enterprise. During this interval, moreover, France was to show signs of accepting his governance with a minimum of dissension. From 1859 onward, however, the empire encountered grave vicissitudes, both at home and abroad, in response to which the regime was to take a new orientation. Under pressure from a number of sources, the emperor devolved more power upon parliament, until at length his regime became more liberal than autocratic, and his policies were to show a more eager desire to appease the left than to conciliate the right. Hence the reign of Napoleon III is divided into two periods, and if the policies he pursued at the outset represent a deliberate programme, those of the later years must be taken as a compromise of his principles.
At the start, the emperor made little or no attempt to disguise his personal rule. He delegated power only to subordinates who remained subject to his orders, or to agencies of government over which he retained a decisive influence, and he maintained so close a check upon the expression of political opinion that no opposition could overstep the bounds which he determined. For the surveillance of opinion, he relied in part upon the centralised apparatus of the administration, which previous regimes had utilised for the same purpose, receiving regular reports on the state of public sentiment throughout France from both the prefects and the procureurs-generaux. In part, he relied upon legislation adopted under the Second Republic for the regulation of political associations and the press. Thus, a law of 28 July 1848 required that all meetings for the discussion of political issues be open to the public and under the observation of an agent of the government, and no federation among political associations was permitted. Under press laws of 9-11 August 1848, renewed in 1849 and 1850 and rendered definitive by a decree of 17 February 1852, no newspaper might be published without the prior authorisation of the government, which meant that the publishers and editors must be persons of acceptable opinions, and the owners were required to put up a surety which might amount to as much as 50,000 francs. Within the government, the attribution of power which assured Napoleon’s personal rule was determined by the constitution of 14 January 1852, which required only minor revision upon the proclamation of the empire.
This constitution made the emperor absolute master of the executive branch of the government, and also gave him a large share in the legislative process. As sovereign, he retained sole charge of foreign relations, including the right to wage war and sign treaties, as well as supreme command of the army and navy. He appointed and dismissed at his own discretion the ministers, and these were responsible to him as individuals, rather than as a corporate group. Hence the cabinet had the character of a committee of officials, not an autonomous organ of government capable of opposing a collective will to that of the emperor. For the adoption of the budget and the enactment of laws, other than those of a constitutional nature, the government was obliged to secure the assent of the Corps Legislatif, the members of which were elected by universal suffrage for a term of six years. However, the Corps Legislatif was not given the right to initiate legislation or to draw up the budget, or to amend either the budget or other bills without the permission of the Conseil d'Etat, a council composed of officials to which was entrusted the drafting of all legislation. Hence the elective chamber could only accept or refuse measures proposed by the nominated agents of the emperor. Indeed, the Corps Legislatif was envisaged as a kind of consultative body, rather than as one shaping the fundamental policy of the government. Because it was to have only such a limited role, it was supposed to meet ordinarily for a session of only three months each year, and its members were to receive no remuneration. But in practice it was usually kept in session longer than three months, and eventually stipends, designated as ‘indemnities’, were paid to the deputies. The constitution also created a senate, comprising marshals, admirals, and cardinals, who held seats ex officio, and other members to a total of 150, appointed by the emperor for life. But at first the senate did not constitute an upper house, co-ordinate with the Corps Legislatif. Its share in legislation was limited to registering imperial decrees having the character of constitutional provisions, which were not submitted to the elective chamber, and reviewing laws passed by the Corps Legislatif to assure their conformity to the constitution.
Yet the empire was not as oppressive, even in the period of personal rule, as its constitution might give reason to suppose. Since those who were staunch partisans of his rule were never many, comprising little more than the circle of his personal intimates and the band of accomplices who had helped him execute his coup d'etat, the emperor could not exclude from public life all who continued to prefer another kind of regime. He made no attempt to prevent the recognised leaders of the Orleanist and Legitimist parties from expressing in the press their views on political issues, or to shut them out of political office provided that they took the oath of allegiance. Though the government used its influence in elections to secure the return of a particular candidate in preference to others, as previous regimes had done, often it was obliged to make its choice from among a number of candidates, none of whom could be regarded as a reliable supporter of its policies. Much less latitude was permitted the republican opposition than the Orleanists and the Legitimists. Nevertheless, even republicans were allowed to seek election to public office, provided they acknowledged their acceptance of the empire de facto.
From the start, the emperor made plain his desire to win the endorsement of the church. He maintained the French garrison in Rome which had been sent to the aid of the pope in 1849, and he allowed a free hand to the church in its efforts to extend its role in primary and secondary education, which the Falloux Law of 1850 made possible (see also chs. IV and V, pp. 80 and 107). In particular, the church was indebted to his government for permitting the rapid growth of religious orders, the members of which provided the teaching personnel needed for this expansion, and for encouraging local authorities to take advantage of the provision of the Falloux Law which permitted them to entrust the teaching in public schools to members of religious orders.
Meantime, steps were taken to encourage the economic expansion which was to be the complement to political order. Notable among these were measures to make credit more readily available. The Comptoir d'Escompte, originally organised in 1848 under the auspices of the provisional government, had proved efficacious in meeting the demand for short-term discounts for the needs of commerce, and its charter was renewed and its operations broadened. But a pressing need still remained for banking institutions which would make long-term investments in new productive enterprises. To serve this need, the government gave charters in 1852 to two new institutions, the Credit Mobilier and the Credit Fonder. Under the management of the Pereire brothers, the Credit Mobilier embarked upon a number of bold ventures in the financing of railways, shipping companies, gas-lighting companies, mining companies, and similar enterprises. The Credit Fonder, which put its funds into mortgages on land-values, devoted most of its resources to investments in urban real estate, especially in Paris. It thus facilitated the rebuilding of the capital and other large cities, a work for which there was much need. It proved disappointing, however, in the other role envisaged for it— making long-term loans for the improvement of agricultural production.
Vigorous stimulation was also given to the building of railways. The construction of numerous small lines had begun in the reign of Louis Philippe, but the completion of the trunk lines had been held back because of inadequate financing and the slowness of the government to give leadership in developing plans and policies on a nation-wide scale. Construction was lagging on the routes planned from the capital to the south and south-west, and France, with about 3000 kilometres in service was much behind Britain and Prussia. From its inception, the government of Napoleon III took prompt and decisive action to bring about the merger of numerous small companies into six large enterprises, each of which was to develop and operate a regional network. By the Franqueville conventions of 1859, moreover, the government put their finances on a sound basis by signing contracts, replacing a welter of previous agreements, that guaranteed these companies a stipulated return on their investment, on condition of their operating specified branch lines where the traffic was not dense enough to be remunerative. By 1870, more than 17,000 kilometres of line were in use. Attention was also given to maritime transport. Subsidies were paid to the Messageries Maritimes (cf. p. 432) to assist the development of shipping service to Mediterranean ports, and to the Compagnie Generale Transatlantique for service across the North Atlantic.
As part of the same endeavour to stimulate economic advance, Napoleon III also took bold action to reduce the customs duties protecting French industry from foreign competition. Political as well as economic considerations entered into this decision, for the emperor was desirous of maintaining an entente with Britain, and he knew that such a move would win him the applause of the British advocates of free trade. But he was also persuaded—owing, in large measure, to the influence of the French economist Michel Chevalier—that a general lowering of tariffs would be beneficial to the French economy, both because it would permit the importation of industrial raw materials at lower prices, and because it would spur French manufacturers to adopt more modern methods of production, in order to lower their costs. With the approval of Napoleon III, Chevalier entered into discussions with Richard Cobden from which there issued the draft of a commercial treaty, which was ratified and put into effect in 1860. Its terms, involving a sharp reduction of French duties, provided the basis for similar agreements which the empire subsequently concluded with Belgium, the Netherlands, the German Zollverein, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain (cf. p. 38).
As Napoleon III thus began to give substance to his vague promise of harmonising material progress with a conservative regime in politics, the empire began to win a wider and more positive public acceptance. Until 1859, indeed, it seemed not improbable that the issues which had so long divided the nation might gradually fade into oblivion, and ultimately Frenchmen might again discover how to work to a common purpose. For a decade after the coup d'etat, the republican movement remained in a nearly total eclipse. Most of its leaders had been driven into exile before the disappearance of the republic, and with the inception of the new regime, most of the others were forced to flee or reduced to silence. Among the Orleanists, none of the former leaders rallied to the empire. Guizot, Thiers, and Odilon Barrot all passed into virtual retirement, though Thiers was later to re-emerge as the leader of a conservative opposition. But others, like Rouher, Baroche, and Billault, refused to remain in the shadows when the emperor offered them positions in his service, while the substantial bourgeois of the provinces, who were the backbone of the party, were not inclined to make a fetish of their allegiance to the Orleans family, once it became apparent that Napoleon III was capable of maintaining his seat on the throne and preserving order. The Legitimists were slower to make their peace, and the comte de Chambord gave express instructions that none of his partisans were to accept office under Napoleon III. Even without this ban, men of the extreme right were loth to come to terms with a Bonaparte. Yet not all who would have preferred the comte de Chambord to Napoleon III made the restoration of Bourbon rule their sole political desideratum. Most of them were no less concerned with the cause of the altar than of the throne, and few of these could remain irreconcilable foes of a sovereign who had so far proved so amenable to the wishes of the church as had Napoleon III.
No less significant seemed the response of disciples of two movements for social reform that were not identified with any of the three political parties antedating the empire. The Saint-Simonians comprised one of these. Although the Saint-Simonian organisation had dissolved in 1832, a number of its sectaries remained faithful to the ideas that had inspired the movement, and some of them saw in Napoleon III a man of their own persuasion, who had put an end to the sterile disputes among political factions and had begun that liberation of the forces of production which was the great task of the modem age. Prominent among these were the brothers Emile and Isaac Pereire, who took a leading role in organising and managing the Credit Mobilier and in bringing about the mergers among railway companies from which emerged the six great regional networks, and Michel Chevalier, who was as enthusiastic an advocate of public works and of railways as he was a partisan of free trade.
For reasons quite unlike those which made the empire seem the realisation of the dream of Saint Simon, the new regime also gained approbation among the disciples of Frederic Le Play. The doctrines of ‘social peace’ which this gentle-spirited mining engineer propounded placed no premium on the increase of riches as the means to the increase of human happiness, and in his view industrialism represented a menace to the well-being of mankind, rather than a blessing. The only efficacious social reforms were those which would preserve and strengthen the family, for only the family could provide for both the material needs of men and their hunger for the affection and respect of their fellows. The emperor soon perceived that a social gospel of this kind, which minimised the importance of the traditional issues of political debate, could prove useful to his purpose, and he was generous in his patronage of Le Play, who eventually was named a senator. Though Le Play never gained a large following, he commanded the attention of a considerable number of Catholic conservatives, and his acceptance of the empire afforded a kind of moral counterpart to the endorsement of the Saint-Simonians.
But time was to disprove the omens that seemed to augur the ultimate success of the emperor’s design. His ill-starred participation in the War of Italian Liberation marked the beginning of a new period in his reign, which saw an exacerbation of the dissensions within France over religious issues, as well as a reopening of the social and political cleavages he had striven to mend. As the decade of the 1860’s wore on, it became obvious that, instead of affording a new solution to the problems of France, the empire could only maintain an unsteady equilibrium, in the midst of strife among irreconcilable adversaries.
Foremost among the issues that revealed the dilemma of the empire were those involving the church. Napoleon III was well aware that his policy of deference towards the church would aggravate the opposition of that portion of the left which saw in the church the quintessence of reaction. But he expected that this opposition would be more than offset by the approval of Orleanists and Legitimists, who would endorse his policy either because of a sincere religious devotion or because the church seemed a bulwark of a conservative social order. It was his misfortune, however, that his reign coincided with that of Pope Pius IX, under whose leadership the church was to maintain a position of utter intransigence towards liberalism in both the arena of practical politics and the realm of ideas. It became apparent, as time passed, that if Napoleon were to continue in the course he had set he would be obliged, not only to sustain the temporal rule of the pope against Italian nationalism, but also to acquiesce in the sweeping condemnation of the spirit of the modem age enunciated in the Syllabus of Errors, and defer to the extreme expression of ultramontanism which was to come out of the Vatican Council of 1870 (see ch. IV, pp. 93-9). In so doing he would alienate not only the anticlerical republicans, but also those conservatives who, while dissociating themselves from the anticlericalism of the left, remained faithful to the traditions of Gallicanism. Yet if he were to draw back, he would suffer the imprecations of the ultramontanists. He had little choice, therefore, but to pursue a policy of trimming that would give a minimum of offence to either the ultramontanists or their adversaries, without satisfying either.
Apart from this renewal of religious quarrels, which he was powerless to avert, Napoleon III also encountered an opposition which was, in part, the consequence of his own endeavours to stimulate economic expansion. His measures to loosen credit and complete a nation-wide network of railways were well received. But the policy of lower tariffs inaugurated by the Anglo-French treaty of 1860 aroused widespread and forceful protests from business men, especially in the metallurgical and textile industries, which had hitherto been sheltered from British and Belgian competition, while the increased sales of French wines abroad, which was supposed to offset some of the disadvantages of foreign competition, proved less than had been hoped for. From the chorus of complaints it became evident that even if the emperor and his advisers were right in believing that foreign competition would provide a spur to the improvement of manufacturing processes in France, a substantial portion of the business world was far from eager to meet the challenge.
As industrialists were giving angered voice to their dissatisfaction, the urban working class also began to show signs of a renewed restiveness. In part, this represented a recrudescence of the Jacobinism endemic to the populace of the larger cities, which began to reappear as soon as the government relaxed the political repression instituted after the coup d’etat. In part, it was a result of that same process of industrial advance which the emperor had striven to encourage. For the progress of the industrial revolution had, in France as elsewhere, the inevitable consequence of swelling the numbers of the industrial proletariat, while the improvement of business conditions brought a more rapid rise of prices than of wages. In response to this economic pressure, the trade-union movement began to gain new ground, in defiance of the legal prohibition upon the association of working-men for the purpose of securing higher wages. So far as the working-class gave indication of social aims broader than those of Jacobin republicanism, these owed their inspiration to the mutualist doctrines of Proudhon or Louis Blanc, and though Marx and Engels were elaborating the principles of ‘scientific’ socialism, their new creed remained almost unknown in France throughout the epoch of the empire. Nevertheless, the organisation in 1865 of a French section of the newly founded First International was the harbinger of a new and more formidable phase in the rise of the proletariat.
Time also brought a resurgence of the republicanism which appealed to some men of education among the middle classes. Few of those who had risen to prominence in 1848 as spokesmen for this kind of republicanism re-entered political life under the empire; most of them remained in exile, like Ledru-Rollin, or withdrew into private life, like Lamartine. But a new generation of leaders, dedicated to the same ideas, soon appeared. The elections of 1857 brought into the Corps Ugislatif a little band of five men, among whom were Emile Ollivier and Jules Favre, who, while accepting the empire de facto, were to become the nucleus of a republican opposition. Presently, other new names—Jules Simon, Leon Gambetta, Jules Ferry, Henri de Rochefort—were to be added to the group of republican adversaries of the regime.
The response of the emperor to these various pressures was to veer towards the left. One indication of this was a general amnesty accorded in 1859 to political offenders, most of whom were republicans. Then came a decree of 24 November 1860, by which the emperor accorded to both the Corps Legislatif and the senate the right to vote a reply to the address which he made at the opening of each annual session of these chambers, and the right to publish verbatim accounts of their debates. By a decree of 19 January 1867 both houses were given the right to interpellate ministers; thereafter, the annual throne address was discontinued. By a decree of 14 March 1867 the senate was given a suspensive veto over bills passed by the Corps Ugislatif, as well as its previous right to review legislation as the guardian of the constitution; thus the senate became an upper house, comparable to a House of Peers. In 1868 the laws governing the press and public meetings were made less stringent. Taken together, these reforms did much to increase the prestige of parliament and to allow political leaders, other than the narrow circle of the emperor’s associates and subordinates, freedom to express their views, even when these involved criticism of the government. However, the emperor still kept complete control of the executive (since the ministers remained responsible only to him) as well as sufficient influence over the legislature so that he could count upon the adoption of whatever bills his government might propose.
Other indications were also given of the new orientation towards the left. A concession of much importance to the working class was made in 1864, when working-men were given the right to strike, although penalties were still prescribed where men on strike sought to prevent others from working. Meantime, as Catholic publicists and high dignitaries of the church, after 1859, berated the emperor for abetting Italian nationalism at the expense of the temporal rule of the pope, the government showed less favour towards the expansion of the role of the church in education, and after the appointment of Victor Duruy as Minister of Education in 1863, this growth came to a stop.
Yet these moves did not suffice to appease the adversaries of the empire on the left and thus offset the Catholic criticism on the right. The elections of 1863 and 1869 saw successive increases in the number of republicans returned to the Corps Legislatif, while Thiers, who returned to active political life in 1863, undertook to organise a conservative opposition, known as the ‘Third Party’, distinct from that of the republicans but likewise committed to an unremitting resistance to the policies of the government. Again, the response of the emperor was to make new concessions to the left. In January 1870 he called into his service Emile Ollivier, who had risen to prominence as a leader of the radical opposition in the Corps Legislatif, and gave him a role which seemed tantamount to that of a prime minister. Under the provisions of a new constitution, submitted to a plebiscite on 8 May 1870, both the Corps Legislatif and the senate were given the right to initiate legislation, as well as amend bills proposed by the government, to draw up their own order of business, and to pass resolutions of comment on the actions of the executive.
The plebiscite produced a favourable vote of a size not much less than that of 1852. But the significance of this ultimate revision of the constitution remained obscure. To some, it seemed to mean the beginning of a new regime—the ‘Liberal Empire’—based upon parliamentary rather than autocratic government. However, the emperor still retained a number of important prerogatives. He continued to appoint the ministers, who remained accountable to him, and he kept command of the army and navy; moreover, he alone could propose a revision of the constitution, which would require a plebiscite but not the sanction of parliament. Hence he did not wholly commit himself to the principle of parliamentary supremacy, nor did he bind himself irrevocably, for he reserved sufficient power to re-establish his personal rule, if he should choose to risk another coup of the same kind as that which had established his dictatorship in 1851. But the likelihood of a return to absolutism seemed slight, for the emperor of 1870 was not the adventurer of 1851. Poor health had sapped his vigour, and even his interest in retaining a personal rule had seemed to ebb; he was now more anxious to preserve the empire for his son than for himself. In any event, questions as to what would be the subsequent evolution of the empire must remain unanswerable, since the regime was to disappear under the wave of foreign invasion only a few months after the promulgation of the new constitution.
But the sustained endeavour of Napoleon III to resolve the antithesis between authority and liberty in the realm of politics is not what gives his reign its principal importance in French history. The epoch is more significant for its remarkable economic advance, which was due to other circumstances as well as to the action of the government. In the slow process by which France modernised its economy in the nineteenth century, the phase coinciding with the Second Empire was of crucial importance, although it did not mark either the beginning of the industrial revolution in France or its ultimate peak.
The rapid development of land-and sea-transport was associated with a boom in the mining and metallurgical industries. The production of coal more than doubled, the smelting of iron shifted from the older methods using charcoal to the new technique using coke, in the 1860’s both the Bessemer and the Siemens processes for the manufacture of steel were introduced into France, and the total production of iron and steel increased enough to place her in the second rank, behind Britain but ahead of Germany. Meanwhile, machine methods became widespread in the spinning and weaving of cotton goods, and, to a lesser extent, in the woollen industry, although the older handiwork methods did not disappear. A rough measure of the general level of industrial progress was the total horsepower of steam engines in manufacturing establishments, which increased about 500 per cent between 1850 and 1870. No less notable was the increase of foreign investment, which during the Second Empire rose from a total of about two billion francs to about twelve billions. Much of this investment was in foreign government bonds, but a large share went to finance the railway systems of Spain, Italy, and Austria-Hungary, and (see p. 440) the Suez Canal.
Agriculture made much less progress than the other branches of the national economy. Throughout the nineteenth century, indeed, French agriculture proved slow to change, owing partly to the reforms effected in the revolution of 1789, which strengthened the position of the tradition-bound small-holder. However, the construction of railways, which made it possible to ship produce to more remote markets, provided a stimulus to the operation of larger holdings, on a business basis rather than as homesteads.
It is difficult to establish what brought about the economic upsurge in this era. The phenomenon is not peculiar to France, for the 1850’s and 1860’s were a period of general economic advance in many other countries, notably Britain, Germany, and the United States. In some measure, the boom was probably influenced by the discovery of gold in California and Australia, which naturally had an inflationary effect throughout the world. It may have been due, in part, to the trend towards lower tariffs, particularly after the Anglo-French treaty of 1860, which made possible a freer flow of international trade. Another stimulus was the construction of railways, which represented the exploitation of new technological advances, for the railways not only created a new large-scale demand for iron and steel, as well as a mobile labour force, but also widened the area of the effective market for both agricultural produce and manufactures. To some degree, the expansion was doubtless a consequence of the wider use of incorporation with limited liability, which was facilitated in France by legislation of 1867, and of the growth of new credit institutions. Notable among these, besides the Credit Mobilier and the Credit Fonder, were the Credit Lyonnais (1863) and the Society Generate (1864). It is still harder to assess the contribution of the government of the empire than to evaluate the importance of such other factors in the economic expansion. Clearly the government did not supply the whole impetus, but unquestionably it afforded encouragement to economic enterprise, and positive assistance at a number of points.
Associated with this business boom was the rise of the bourgeoisie to a position of unrivalled social pre-eminence. This process had, of course, begun much earlier, but not until the era of the Second Empire did the decline of the landed aristocracy become irreparable. This decline was due in part to the economic circumstances that gave business men command of new resources of wealth and prestige, but also to political, rather than economic factors. For the Legitimists, among whom were numbered most of what remained of the old nobility, largely boycotted political life, as well as the social life that centred in the court. They had pursued much the same policy under the Orleans monarchy and had already begun to suffer the effects of their self-imposed seclusion, but under the empire they prolonged their retirement into a third and fourth decade. The Orleanists, whose ranks included many country gentlemen as well as business men, did not adopt so intransigent an attitude, and many of them held positions of prominence. Yet clearly the characteristic figure of the Second Empire was the business magnate and stock promoter, whose wealth came from new industrial ventures, rather than landed estates.
Men such as these readily gained admittance to the circle about the emperor, and to them he accorded the highest patronage.
The process of industrialisation also wrought changes, though less pronounced, in the common people. An inevitable consequence of industrialism was that the proletariat gained in numbers and social importance. Nevertheless, throughout the period of the empire, the artisan remained the backbone of the working class. Paris was the only city in France in this era whose population surpassed one million, but not until a later date did it attain two millions. Its labouring populace still consisted preponderantly of skilled workmen, employed in small shops and producing luxury goods, together with a mass of unskilled casual labourers and domestic servants. Lyons, Marseilles, and Bordeaux—the next three largest cities, in that order—comprised among them a total population of less than one million. The new industrial proletariat arose mainly in the textile and metallurgical industries, and these developed in relatively small provincial cities, such as Lille and Roubaix, whose population ranged between 50,000 and 150,000. The rural population experienced even less change than the urban, since agriculture had only a minor share in the economic expansion of the period, nor was migration to the towns so rapid as to produce a marked rural depopulation. However, the empire showed much more solicitude for the peasants than any previous government since the revolution, and with the reign of Napoleon III we can perceive the beginning of that process of the wooing of the rural voter that was to become a characteristic of French political life under the Third Republic.
In the world of ideas there was no such accession of new vigour as was revealed in the world of economic enterprise. The debate went on between the champions of the church and the apostles of the rival religion of science, with little added to the argument save a more extreme dogmatism. On the one side, Veuillot remained the spokesman for those Catholics whose point of view was epitomised in the Syllabus of Errors (see ch. IV, pp. 90-4), while at the other pole, those who saw in the worship of science the new path to human salvation had their prophets in Auguste Comte and Littre, who became the principal expositor of the positivist tradition after the death of Comte in 1857. Yet France did not earn a clear pre-eminence in the work of enlarging the bounds of scientific knowledge. To be sure, this age witnessed the researches of Claude Bernard and Louis Pasteur, among others (see ch. m, pp. 50, 65-6). But the German universities remained the principal home of scientific research (cf. pp. 50-1, 114), if the progress of science be taken as depending upon the combined efforts of a large number of scholars, while Charles Darwin assured Britain of the honour of producing the scientific masterpiece of the period.
No one would question, however, the distinction which Paris held in the reign of Napoleon III as a cosmopolitan pleasure-resort. Long before this time, Europe had acknowledged the peculiar charm of la Ville lumiere, but during the early nineteenth century, its lustre had somewhat dimmed. The Bourbon restoration had given Paris an austere atmosphere, especially under Louis XVIII, mingling a chastened piety with an embittered conservatism, that did not lend itself to gaiety. The reign of Louis Philippe had seen some relaxation, but the industrious making of money had been more honoured than the prodigal spending of it. Napoleon III set quite another example. In the rootless years of his youth he had acquired both a taste for pleasure and an attitude of indulgence towards dissipation, and until nearly the close of his life he retained some of the habits of a rake. As a matter of policy, moreover, Napoleon III gave encouragement to social ostentation by his lavish expenditures on the ceremonies and entertainments of the court, which he strove to make the centre of fashionable society. In his reign, Paris was largely rebuilt, the principal streets widened, and public services such as street-lighting and sanitation much improved. This work was carried out under the energetic supervision of Baron Haussmann as prefect of the Seine, but the initiative came from the emperor. In part, his motive was political, for the broadening of the boulevards made it difficult to erect barricades across them, and this provided a safeguard against popular insurrections such as had overthrown Charles X and Louis Philippe. But the intention was also to embellish the city and to furnish facilities commensurate with its growing size. Two of the architectural monuments of this rebuilding of Paris—the huge canopied shelter constructed for les Hailes, or central market, and the new Opera, begun in 1863 though not completed until 1875 (cf. p. 142)—were later imitated in numerous other cities, both in Europe and America.
The fashionable world that congregated in Paris constituted, to a larger degree than ever before, a world of new-rich. It became so in part because the old aristocracy chose to withdraw into seclusion, in part because the economic expansion gave unprecedented opportunities for men to rise to sudden wealth, and in part because a self-made emperor was not disposed to discriminate against others freshly risen to prosperity. Also noteworthy was the conspicuous role of the social milieu known as the demi-monde. This was a world of women who were regarded as not quite respectable, while not altogether disreputable, comprising courtesans who had risen to some affluence and had attained a measure of social grace, and women of better origin who had left their husbands, either because they had been discovered in too open a breach of their marital vows or because they had chosen a life of independence at the cost of their good name. It was by no means a new phenomenon for men of high position to maintain illicit relationships with women such as these, but there was some element of novelty in the general acceptance of this demi-monde as a kind of annexe to the more exclusive precincts of the social Mite, and in the predominance of business magnates, rather than noblemen, among its habitues. The demi-monde did much to give the Paris of the Second Empire its reputation for raffish gaiety, a notoriety which the French capital was to keep into the twentieth century.
Of wider importance, however, were the results of Napoleon’s ventures in foreign affairs. In his nebulous conception of his mission, the restoration of the diplomatic pre-eminence of France was to be the counterpart to the resolution of the embittered dissensions within the nation. As one means to this purpose, he strove to rebuild the French imperium overseas, which had shrunk to the verge of extinction after Napoleon I had abandoned Louisiana in 1803. For the most part, with the conspicuous exception of his intervention in Mexico, success attended his enterprises outside Europe, and to his initiative were due the beginnings of much of the huge colonial realm which was to become the pride of the Third Republic. France strengthened her hold upon Algeria, increased her political and economic influence in the eastern Mediterranean basin (see ch. XVI, pp. 427-30), established bases in Senegal and Somaliland, began penetration into Indo-China, and participated in the opening up of China (see ch. XXVI, pp. 692-6, 700-9).
But not until a later age was dominion overseas to become again a common measure of national grandeur, nor did Napoleon III himself regard this as the gauge of his diplomatic skill. In his view, the measure of his success would be the break-up of the coalition that had triumphed over Napoleon I, and the undoing of the territorial settlement negotiated at the Congress of Vienna. He sincerely believed in his uncle’s prophecy from St Helena that ‘the first ruler who calls upon the peoples of Europe will be able to accomplish anything that he wishes’. Nationality was the force of the future, and it must be harnessed to French interests, so as to restore a moral hegemony of France in Europe. To be sure, the league of the victors of Waterloo had begun to dissolve long before his accession. Britain had proved unwilling to sustain her partners in the Quadruple Alliance in their crusade against Spanish liberalism, and with the independence of Belgium, the bastion which had been entrusted to the Dutch, to serve as a barrier against French expansion towards the Rhine, had crumbled (see ch. x). Nevertheless, the reaction which had followed the revolutions of 1848 had once more seen Russia, Prussia, and Austria draw together, and the impotence of the Second Republic in face of this combination could not but remind France how powerless she was to determine the pivotal issues in the political organisation of Europe. Though far from agreed among themselves as to how these issues ought to be solved, the French were of one mind that Europe must be taught again to show a proper deference to the wish and will of France.
The first task confronting Napoleon III was to gain diplomatic recognition of his regime. In itself, this would be an open sign that France was no longer under the tutelage of the four powers which had accomplished her humiliation in 1815, since one of the articles in the Quadruple Alliance bound the signatories never to permit a Bonaparte again to reign in France. Despite the divergences that had since developed among the allies, the question remained as to whether the partners would countenance so bold a defiance. Indeed, Nicholas I, who had succeeded Metternich as the arch-champion of reaction, was disposed to take a firm stand, and, had Britain been willing to co-operate, he might have induced Prussia and Austria to follow his lead. However, Britain, which was desirous of good relations with Paris, in order to ensure French aid in thwarting the aggressive designs of Russia in the Near East, did not hesitate to recognise the new empire, whereupon Vienna, Berlin, and St Petersburg fell into line.
Trivial as the issue of recognition seemed, once Britain declared her position, the outcome of this crisis indicated the pattern of an Anglo-French entente, which was soon to assume much importance. Less than two years after the formal proclamation of the empire, France and Britain were at war as allies, defending the Ottoman empire against the armies of Nicholas I. The intricacies of the dispute which led to the Crimean War are discussed in the next chapter (pp. 468-78). Suffice it here to note that, though France had quite as much reason as had Britain to oppose the further extension of Russian influence at Turkish expense, she also had another interest in the war, apart from the particular issues at stake. For the outbreak of the Crimean War marked the close of the era, beginning with the Congress of Vienna, when the quarantine of France had provided one of the basic principles of the organisation of the European diplomatic structure. Two of the four powers once pledged to the Quadruple Alliance were now, for the first time, engaged in open warfare upon one another, while France was the partner of one of them. Nor was she merely a pliant instrument of her ally. Not only did Napoleon III share in the prestige of victory, but also he succeeded in impressing a mark of his own upon the peace settlement, since it was at his insistence, against the opposition of Austria and despite the reluctance of Britain, that the sultan was required to concede self-rule to Moldavia and Wallachia in such a way that these two Danubian provinces were able to unite in 1859, to form what was known as the Principality of Roumania.
But after this considerable success in re-establishing France as one of the arbiters of Europe, Napoleon III next embarked upon the venture— his alliance with Sardinia in war against Austria (see ch. XXI, pp. 571-2)—that was to prove the first in a series of blunders and mishaps, culminating in his own ruin and a new disaster for France. To be sure, his plan in launching this enterprise was not as improvident as the outcome would suggest. By destroying Austrian preponderance in Italy, he would gain a revenge upon another of the victors of 1814-15, while at the same time he would give substance to his reiterated professions of devotion to the principle of nationality. He had no thought of helping Sardinia to absorb the whole of Italy, since this would not only mean the abrogation of the temporal rule of the pope, which Catholic opinion in France would not accept, but would make France for ever after obliged to reckon with a strong neighbour on her south-eastern border. His intention was to help Sardinia wrest Lombardy and Venetia from the Austrians, then to bring about some kind of federation among the Italian principalities, over which the pope, who would retain his rule of the states of the church, would preside, while in return for assistance against Austria, Napoleon III would acquire Nice and Savoy from Sardinia. It was on this basis that the emperor reached agreement with Cavour at Plombieres (July 1858), and that he entered upon the war which Cavour presently succeeded in provoking (April 1859). To the embarrassed surprise of Napoleon III, however, it proved impossible for him to restrain the force of the Italian national movement, once the French and Sardinians defeated the Austrians. Sensing his error, he brought the war to an abrupt stop (July 1859), permitting the Austrians to retain Venetia.1 Nevertheless, within little more than a year Sardinia acquired rule of all the remainder of Italy save Rome, which remained under the control of the pope, thanks to the presence of the French garrison stationed there since 1849. As prearranged, Napoleon III took over Nice and Savoy, but France could hardly regard this slight extension of her borders as an adequate compensation for having made possible the new kingdom of Italy, especially as these annexations aroused deep hostility and suspicion in England. In respect to Rome, moreover, Napoleon III found himself confronted with a dilemma that defied solution. If he were to keep the French garrison in Rome, thus preventing the new Italian kingdom from making this its capital, he would sacrifice the goodwill he otherwise might claim as the champion of Italian nationalism, while if he were to withdraw the troops and countenance the dispossession of the pope from the remaining vestige of his temporal power, he would outrage Catholic opinion in France. Deeming it better to lose the gratitude of Italian nationalists than worsen the reproaches of the Catholics at home, he chose to keep the garrison in Rome, until a new corps of volunteer troops could be organised to defend papal rule. But this hope for a solution of the problem proved vain. Though the French troops were withdrawn for a short time in 1866, they were soon ordered back, remaining until shortly after the outbreak of the war of 1870 that marked the doom of the empire. Thus for the remainder of his reign Napoleon III was to find himself pitted against the Italian national movement he had done so much to reawaken, while the protection he continued to give the pope was insufficient to silence Catholic criticism.
No more creditable to the emperor was the outcome of the French intervention in Mexico (see ch. xxv, pp. 677-8). France embarked upon this enterprise in 1861, in co-operation with Britain and Spain, when the three powers dispatched troops to Vera Cruz as a show of force in support of the European creditors of the bankrupt Mexican Republic. However, the French soon gave indication of broader aims, which involved giving extensive aid to those Mexican conservatives who were desirous of overthrowing the republican regime. Thus France would do a service to the Catholic Church, safeguarding its interests from the menace of the anticlerical policies which the Mexican republicans espoused, and would stand forth as the guardian of the Catholic and Latin peoples of the New World and their champion against the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ and Protestant influence of the United States. The British and Spaniards soon withdrew their expeditions. But the French persisted, and in alliance with the Mexican conservatives, set up in 1863 a Mexican empire, over which the Austrian Archduke Maximilian was induced to assume rule. Even with French help, however, Maximilian was unable to secure his hold upon Mexico, and his government soon demonstrated a hopeless ineptitude. The French began to lose interest, and as the Prussian challenge to Austria raised grave new issues in Europe, in which France was directly involved, they became anxious to rid themselves of their military commitments in the New World. Then, too, at the conclusion of the civil war in the United States, Washington, from the outset hostile to European intervention in Mexico, made clear its intention of aiding the leader of the Mexican republican guerrillas, Benito Juarez, in his struggle to unseat Maximilian. Thereupon in 1866 Napoleon III determined to liquidate his speculation, and ordered the withdrawal of the French expedition. Within a short time Juarez prevailed and put the hapless Maximilian to death.
Much more momentous in its consequences was the role of Napoleon III in the struggle which was beginning to develop between Prussia and Austria (see chs. XIX and XXII, pp. 517 and 577-8). No one had reason in 1862, when Bismarck became Minister-President of Prussia, to foresee the role he was soon to play in the unification of Germany. Nor was it plain in 1864, when he manoeuvred Austria into an alliance with Prussia to despoil Denmark of the provinces of Schleswig and Holstein, that this was to lead to a decisive test of strength between Prussia and Austria. But it soon became obvious that this was the purpose towards which Bismarck was working. As tension developed between Berlin and Vienna, Napoleon III showed no grave concern. He was not unaware, to be sure, of the French interest in maintaining an equilibrium of forces between Prussia and Austria. But he did not assume—nor did he have reason to suppose— that in a clash of arms Prussia would win a speedy victory. Rather, he presumed that a new disturbance of the status quo would afford a fresh opportunity for intrigue to the advantage of France, and even if war should develop, he would have ample time to interpose as an arbiter. Hence he was susceptible to the shrewd manoeuvres of Bismarck, when the latter, seeking to assure himself of French inaction in the event of war between Prussia and Austria, vaguely indicated his readiness to allow the emperor to realise his aspirations. Austria seemed no less amenable. Indeed, negotiations between Paris and Vienna issued in a definite engagement that, provided Napoleon III remain neutral in the war now brewing, Austria would assure him a voice in the settlement and would hand over to him the province of Venetia, which he would thereupon cede to Italy. But to the discomfiture of Napoleon III, the war of 1866 broke out before he had time to proceed farther with his own diplomatic preparations, and ended before he had a chance to influence its outcome.
After this rude shock, the emperor could not fail to recognise how serious was the problem before him, for no one supposed that Bismarck would rest content with the success he won in 1866, while France could never permit without a challenge the further progress of Prussia towards German unification. Yet the endeavours of the emperor to make ready for this eventuality revealed so little trace of the boldness he had so often shown in his earlier career, and so unwonted a disposition to temporise, as to suggest that the weariness of age and the ravages of poor health—he was suffering extreme pain from a stone in the urinary tract—had levied toll upon him. In a pitiful attempt to conciliate French public opinion by making at least some minor annexation to offset the aggrandisement of Prussia, he opened negotiations in 1867 for the purchase of Luxemburg from the king of the Netherlands (cf. ch. XXII, pp. 581-2). But nothing came of this wan hope. Meantime, taking heed of the unexpected strength Prussia had shown against Austria, he began to reorganise the French army. But so loud a clamour arose in parliament, when the government sought authority to increase the number of men under arms, that little was accomplished. No more success attended his efforts to conclude an alliance with Austria and Italy. The Italians were unwilling to co-operate unless the emperor withdrew the garrison from Rome, which he dared not promise, while the response of Vienna was indecisive. Discussions continued throughout 1869 and 1870, but no agreement was achieved before the fateful climax was reached in the diplomatic crisis, discussed in another chapter (pp. 586-99), out of which came the war of 1870.
Thus with no allies and its army ill prepared, the empire entered upon its decisive test of strength. The outcome was not long in doubt. In less than two months the German armies left French resistance a forlorn hope, and the emperor himself was taken prisoner in the battle of Sedan on 2 September 1870 (see ch. XII, pp. 325-7). Thereupon the Second Empire collapsed. As soon as the news of Sedan reached Paris, the republican opposition in the Corps Legislatif proclaimed the overthrow of the empire and the establishment of a republican government of National Defence (4 September 1870). Utterly deserted, the empress escaped to England, where she was soon joined by the prince imperial and at the conclusion of the war by the deposed emperor. There Napoleon III lived out the last of his days in what he seemed to regard as a temporary but not wholly unwelcome retirement.
The collapse of the Second Empire was due to its inherent contradictions. Internally, it had proved impossible to reconcile the Bonapartist principle of authoritarian rule with the growth of industrialism and liberalism. In foreign policy, Napoleon III had misconceived the form which nationality would take. Instead of weak federal states under the patronage of France, it had produced powerful unitary states in Germany and Italy, which had completely altered the balance of power. Against his better judgment, which still inclined him even after Sadowa to be true to his principles and accept the fait accompli, he was driven by the pressure from his entourage and from French public opinion into a desperate policy of diplomatic gambling, in an attempt to retrieve the prestige of the regime.
Once the reign of Napoleon III was over, France seemed to repudiate all that was distinctive of his regime. Nevertheless, the empire did not disappear without leaving some mark upon the political life and institutions of France. Doubtless the ascendancy of parliament, which was one of the outstanding characteristics of the Third Republic, represented a return to the tradition of Orleanism, rather than an outgrowth of the grudging concessions Napoleon III made towards the close of his reign. However, universal suffrage, another of the hallmarks of the Third Republic, owed perhaps more to the empire than to the republican regime of 1848, for it was due, in large measure, to the long usage and reiterated praise of this institution under Napoleon III that the conservatives who drew up the constitution of 1875 dared not abolish it. In an opposite sense, Napoleon III was also responsible for another of the features of the Third Republic—the reluctance of the republicans to allow a man who showed signs of ambition for personal power to hold the office of President of the Republic, and their unwillingness to entrust the choice of the president to a popular election.
In the two decades after the war of 1914-18, when throughout Europe political movements arose that strove to establish authoritarian governments resting upon democratic principles, the Second Empire seemed to take on a new and broader meaning than had before been evident. To some observers it appeared that as a dictator ruling in the name of the people and consulting the popular will by means of plebiscites, Napoleon III was a precursor of such caesarian demagogues as Hitler and Mussolini. Yet the distinctions between his regime and theirs are perhaps greater than the similarities. For, in contrast to the later exponents of totalitarianism, Napoleon III made no attempt to create a single political movement dedicated to the support of his rule and to eliminate all other opinion than that which he expressed. He was too much a man of the mid-nineteenth century to conceive of what the German National-Socialists were to call Gleichschaltung—the regimentation of the entire life of the nation, public and private, under a single leader. Of all his inconsistencies, none was more excusable.