Second French Empire
"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity"
"Departing for Syria"
The Second French Empire in 1862
|2 December 1851|
|14 January 1852|
|19 July 1870|
|1 September 1870|
|4 September 1870|
The Second French Empire (
Historians in the 1930s and 1940s often disparaged the Second Empire as a precursor of fascism. That interpretation is no longer promulgated and by the late 20th century they were celebrating it as leading example of a modernising regime. Historians have generally given the Empire negative evaluations on its foreign-policy, and somewhat more positive evaluations of domestic policies, especially after Napoleon III liberalised his rule after 1858. He promoted French business and exports. The greatest achievements came in material improvements, in the form of a grand railway network that facilitated commerce and tied the nation together and centered it on Paris. It had the effect of stimulating economic growth, and bringing prosperity to most regions of the country. The Second Empire is given high credit for the rebuilding of Paris with broad boulevards, striking public buildings, and very attractive residential districts for upscale Parisians. In international policy, Napoleon III tried to emulate
On 2 December 1851,
At that same referendum, a
The empire was formally re-established on 2 December 1852, and the Prince-President became "Napoléon III, Emperor of the French". The constitution had already concentrated so much power in his hands that the only substantive changes were to replace the word "president" with the word "emperor" and to make the post hereditary. The popular referendum became a distinct sign of
With almost dictatorial powers, Napoleon III made building a good railway system a high priority. He consolidated three dozen small, incomplete lines into six major companies using Paris as a hub. Paris grew dramatically in terms of population, industry, finance, commercial activity, and tourism. Working with
Napoleon, in order to restore the prestige of the Empire before the newly awakened hostility of public opinion, tried to gain the support from the Left that he had lost from the Right. After the return from Italy, the general amnesty of 16 August 1859 had marked the evolution of the absolutist or authoritarian empire towards the liberal, and later parliamentary empire, which was to last for ten years.
The idea of Italian unification – based on the exclusion of the
Ultramontane Catholicism, emphasising the necessity for close links to the Pope at the Vatican played a pivotal role in the democratisation of culture. The pamphlet campaign led by Mgr Gaston de Ségur at the height of the Italian question in February 1860 made the most of the freedom of expression enjoyed by the Catholic Church in France. The goal was to mobilise Catholic opinion, and encourage the government to be more favourable to the Pope. A major result of the ultramontane campaign was to trigger reforms to the cultural sphere, and the granting of freedoms to their political enemies: the Republicans and freethinkers.
The Second Empire strongly favoured Catholicism, the official state religion. However, it tolerated Protestants and Jews, and there were no persecutions or pogroms. The state dealt with the small Protestant community of Calvinist and Lutheran churches, whose members included many prominent businessmen who supported the regime. The emperor's Decree Law of 26 March 1852 led to greater government interference in Protestant church affairs, thus reducing self-regulation. Catholic bureaucrats both misunderstood Protestant doctrine and were biased against it. The administration of their policies affected not only church-state relations but also the internal lives of Protestant communities.
Napoleon III manipulated a range of politicised police powers to censor the media and suppress opposition. Legally he had broad powers but in practice he was limited by legal, customary, and moral deterrents. By 1851 political police had a centralised administrative hierarchy and were largely immune from public control. The Second Empire continued the system; proposed innovations were stalled by officials. Typically political roles were part of routine administrative duties. Although police forces were indeed strengthened, opponents exaggerated the increase of secret police activity and the imperial police lacked the omnipotence seen in later totalitarian states.
Napoleon began by removing the gag which was keeping the country in silence. On 24 November 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
Napoleon again disappointed the hopes of Italy, allowed Poland to be crushed, and allowed
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 minister
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
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 international events such as the reopening of cotton supplies when the American Civil War ended in 1865, by the apparent closing of the Roman question by the convention of
France was primarily a rural society, in which the social depended on family reputation and extent of land ownership. A limited amount of upward mobility was feasible, thanks to the steadily improved educational system. Students from all levels of society were granted admission to public secondary schools, thus opening a ladder to sons of peasants and artisans. However, whether through jealousy or a general distrust for the higher classes, few working-class families took advantage or wished to see their sons move up and out of the class of origin. Very few sons of poor families sought admission to the 'grandes écoles.' The elite maintained their position while allowing social ascent the professions for ambitious sons of wealthy farmers and small-town merchants.
The Ultramontane party were becoming discontented, while the industries formerly protected were dissatisfied with
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 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 killing of the journalist
In a concession to democratic currents, the emperor put his policy to a plebiscite on 8 May 1870. The result was a substantial success for Bonaparte, with seven and a half million in favour and only one and a half million against. However, the vote also signified divisions in France. Those affirming were found mainly in rural areas, while the opposition prevailed in the big towns.