Due to my lackluster posting as of late, I thought I'd make it up to my readership (scarce though they may be) by doing a small series on the genius of Napoleon III, the genius of his uncle requiring a rather different and more carefully considered approach. I'll start it off with some articles translated over from the French and lifted directly from the FdeSouche history blog, the first of which is below. I'd like to note that some analysis in this article is not the one I'd have made. Also tell me if the font is a little tinted, I think somewhere in the formatting I may have messed with that but I can't really tell...
I will also get around eventually to commenting on the Gerard Depardieu affair, the whole gay marriage debacle (ugh), and some other important issues. I've got more free time than usual this month, might as well spend it wasting my time on the internet, right?
“The Emperor can await with confidence the judgment of posterity.
His reign will remain as one of the most glorious in our history.”
- Louis Pasteur
Part 1: Napoleon III, the Modernizer
Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte was elected the first president of the Republic in 1848 (at 74.1% of the vote) but it was from 1851 onwards that he could exert power in the manner he wished, being beforehand a prisoner of his government, which, dominated by royalists, continued to run business as it did under Louis-Philippe. In 1852, Louis-Napoleon restored the Empire following a plebiscite (91% of the vote for “yes”), the result of which not even Jules Ferry could doubt the authenticity.
The Empire lasted 18 years, and we traditionally distinguish within it the authoritarian phase (1852-1860) and the liberal phase (1860-1870). The Legislative Corps, composed of 270 members elected by universal suffrage, only possessed token powers in the authoritarian phase (essentially a consultative role). From 1860, the emperor liberalized his regime, softening censorship and giving more powers to to the Legislative Corps (the right to call on a government minister to explain himself, expanded powers concerning the revision of law). Napoleon III wanted to show that the Empire was compatible with liberty. In 1867-1868, the Empire takes an even more liberal turn with the suppression of imperial prerogatives as far as censorship go, and the the expansion of the powers of the Legislative Corps.
I - The Bonapartism of Napoleon III
|Allegory of the Second Empire|
Napoleon III did not consider himself an ideologue, considering himself resolutely a realist and adapted to his time. “Today France surrounds me with sympathies, because I am not of the family of ideologues,” he affirmed two months prior to the imperial restoration (speech at Bordeaux, 9th of October 1852). In 1849 he was already saying to the Assembly: “I will not sedate the people with illusions and utopias which exalt the imagination only to result in deception and misery.”
Bonapartism, according to Napoleon III, is before all a pragmatism: “Not only can a single system satisfy all peoples, but laws must be modified with each generation, with the situation being more or less difficult” (Political and Military Considerations on Switzerland). A few large intangible principles are nevertheless the foundation of Bonapartism: popular sovereignty, order, and liberty.
Napoleon III intended to reunite all Frenchmen and defend popular sovereignty. In this he learned from his uncle's model: “Napoleon had his wrongs and his passions, but what will forever distinguish him from other sovereigns is that he was the king of the people, while the others were the kings of the nobility and the privileged.” (Response to Lamartine, 1843) ; “Do not reproach him his dictatorship: it had led us to liberty, as an iron plow that digs furrows prepares the fertility of a country. […] The tragedy of the emperor Napoleon's reign was not having been able to reap all that he sowed, it is having delivered France without having been able to free it” (Political Ideals, 1832).
“Sorrow unto those sovereigns whose interests are not tied to those of the nation!”. “Each day proves it to me, my most sincere friends, the most devoted ones are not in the palaces, they are under the hut ; they are not under golden chandeliers, they are in the workshops, in the fields.” (Creil, June 1850). Conclusion of his Political Ideals: “Above all partial convictions, there is a supreme judge which is the people”. He reprises the idea in his proclamation on the 14th of January 1852: “the People always remains the master of its own destiny. Nothing fundamental can be done outside its will.”
After having been triumphantly carried into power, he attempted to govern in the first decade with the people, with no real intermediaries, which has resulted in him earning from some historians the label “populist” (Pierre Milza). A note written by the emperor's hand, found in the Tuileries, reads: “What is the People? Is it the five to six thousand people who meet in Paris at the club or the Redoubt and who believe to speak on behalf of all France? Is it the salons, the workshops? Is it [illegible]? Is it the youth, drunk on enthusiasm? Is it the elderly who regret the past? Is it the army? Is the Legislative Corps? No, the people, it is the entire mass of the nation, that which exerts universal suffrage. That is our master, and those ensembles which call themselves the people commit blasphemy.”
Napoleon III remained popular until the fall of the Empire. Peasants in particular remained his surest supporters. The Bonapartist party remained powerful in the first decade of the Third Republic: in 1877, legislative elections resulted in the election of 104 Bonapartist representatives! (versus 313 republicans and 55 royalists). The Bonapartist party vanished progressively upon the death of the heir of Napoleon III in 1879.
II - The Entrepreneurial Emperor
|Simplified graph showing the annual GDP growth of France, 1820-1900.|
Napoleon III led an active economic policy by launching a program of great works: “We have immense uncultivated territories to plow, roads to open, ports to dig, rivers to make navigable, canals to finish, our railroad network to complete. […] We have all the great ports in the West to get closer to the American continent by the rapidity of those communications which we still lack.” (speech at Bordeaux, 1852). The emperor hoped to rebirth growth through consumption by giving work to the idle, and furthermore, he was certain that the return on these investments would largely compensate the cost of the development.
In fact, the Second Empire experienced a period of sustained growth: from 1850to 1870, the GDP passed from 11 billion to 22 (the evaluation of historians diverge at 1870 in between 20 to 24 billion), in short a growth of +2.5% (on average). To compare, the GDP was at 9 billion in 1830 and would be at 23 billion in 1890 (still the evaluation of historians diverge by several billion).
Railroads received a decisive impulse: in 1851, France possessed 3500 kilometers of railroads (10000 in Great Britain), this number rises to 17000 in 1870 (2000 kilometers more than in Great Britain). The 1859 and 1863 laws gave birth to six great networks: North, East, Orleans, Paris-Lyon-Marseille, South, and West. The Empire did not neglect roads either, whose progression in kilometers was superior to +43% on average in relation to the two previous regimes (the amount of carriage-worthy roads tripled).
The Empire put in place a modern credit system, witnessing the birth of the national mortgage bank and the Credit Mobilier lending institution in 1852, the Industrial and Commercial Credit (1859), the Credit Lyonnais (1863), the Societe Generale bank (1864) and the Bank of Paris (1869). A law passed in 1865 authorized the use of cheques. The law of the 23rd of March 1863 created private and limited liability commercial corporations, expanded on in the 24th of July 1867 law.
To ensure the industry modernized (as far as the methods of production were concerned), France opened up to free trade in 1860 with Great Britain. Customs tax on basic resources and food products were abolished. Other commercial accords were concluded with Piedmont-Sardinia, Belgium, or Austria.
The economic outcome profited the more fortunate classes, but also the working classes. In 1848, Louis-Napoleon explained his will “to introduce in our industrial laws the improvements which tend, not to ruin the rich and profit the poor, but to found the well being of each man and the prosperity of all.”
Peasants experienced a “little golden age” (Matthieu Brejon de Lavergnee): the railways allow the opening of new openings to the country, the specialization of cultures, artificial 0000 and 0000. If the rural exodus accelerates in 1850, it slows again in the following year, as it only marginally affects the countryside (peasants and rural artisans). The emperor leads great drainage operations and irrigation projects (in Provence for example) leading to increased productivity. The peasantry remains the principal support for the Empire until its fall.
The increase in the salary of workers accelerated under the Empire: +6.7% from 1850 to 1860, +9.5% fro 1860 to 1870 ; meanwhile prices (principally in agricultural materials) were lowered. The popular classes saw their diet diversify as well: there was an increase in the consumption of meat (22%), of milk (+22%), animal fats (+27%), and of sugar and chocolate (+250%).
Commerce was transformed, with the development of large stores at the expense of small retailers. Le Bon Marche (bought from Boucicaut in 1863), the first great store, brought with it certain novelties: tickets to indicate each product's price, fixed prices, architectural decor, lighting, shop windows, and more. From 1865, the Printemps store began to compete with Le Bon Marche.
III - The "Social Fiber"
|Visiting flood victims at Tarascon, 1856.|
Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte became interested early on in social questions, influenced by his preceptor Philippe le Bas – a jacobin – and his mother Hortense. He was described by his contemporaries as sensible and generous. Victor Duruy, minister for six years under Napoleon III, witnesses:
“How many times did I see him arrive at the Council with projects to help the weak and the deprived! His hand was open: even too open, as he did not know how to refuse those who would implore his generosity.”In the fort of Ham, he had written a small treatise named The Extinction of Pauperism (1843). The emperor revealed within his vision of industry: “Industry, this source of wealth, has today neither rule nor organization, nor any goals. It is a machine that works with no regulator ; it matters not to it which force employs it. Grinding to dust within its wheels men as well as matter, it empties the countryside, agglomerates populations in airless spaces, weakens the spirit and the body, and then throws onto the street, when it no longer knows what to do with them, those men who have sacrificed, in order to enrich it, their strength, their youth, their existence. A veritable Saturn of work, industry devours its children and lives only off of their deaths.”
- Progressive Laws
- Imperial Charity
More symbolically, during the great works in Paris, the construction of an Opera had begun in 1861, and the project was managed by Charles Garnier. This building was to be grandiose and become, for the architect himself, one of the symbols of the Second Empire. At the same time, the emperor decided to rebuild the Hotel-Dieu on the Ile de la Cite. On the 31st of July 1864, he declared that the former building had more priority than the Opera: “I attach a great price that the monument dedicated to pleasure not be built before the asylum of suffering.”
- Efforts in the Domain of Education
Napoleon III said to Darimon in 1869: “I could have done so much more for the working classes, had I found in the Council of State a powerful auxiliary.”
IV - The Builder-Emperor
The Third Republic, desirous of denigrating the former sovereign, attributed the transformations of Paris to the Baron Haussmann, while it was Napoleon III who was the true architect behind the projects.
“For Eric Anceau, it is “one of the greatest injustices that befalls Napoleon III,. […] the creator of the whole, the arbiter of the possible, and even the exterminator of details, was the emperor himself. The prefect of the Seine recognized it himself, despite his immodesty. In this domain as in many others, Napoleon III matured his projects on a long term and realized them with an indomitable will.” (Napoleon III. The man, the politician).The Paris of the time was composed of narrow streets, dirty and poorly lit, propitious terrain for banditry and insurrections (the Three Glorious Days, the Revolution of 1848). Louis-Napoleon's quick stay in Paris in 1831 marked him profoundly. In 1832, following the cholera epidemic, he was open to the solutions proposed by the Saint-Simonians: eliminate the unhealthy islets and create grand arteries to bring in air and light. In Ham, he had much time to think about his projects. When he arrived in Paris in 1848, he carried in his baggage a great map of Paris.
Once elected president, he indicated the changes he wanted made: piercing long avenues, erect new buildings, create parks and green spaces. In 1853, he called upon Prefect Haussmann to whom he presented in their first interview a map of Paris crossed by differently lines of different colors determined by their priority.
One year before Haussmann's nomination, the emperor evicted thousands of Parisians (decree of the 26th of March 1852), whom he procured new housing for. The constructions were described by contemporaries as colossal: “it was no longer bands of insurgents who roamed the city, but squads of masons, of carpenters, of workers and of all sorts going about their work.” (Merruau).
Napoleon III talked often of these constructions in his council of ministers, consulting Haussmann several times each week, and going on site to see what progress had been made. Great buildings with a uniform and bourgeois aspect to them replaced unclean houses. Churches, hospitals, barracks, schools and parks saw the light of day. The emperor took pleasure in the installation of the Bois de Boulogne; not hesitating to go there early in the morning to oversee the direction of operations, grabbing a hammer and chisel to show in which manner the alleys should take form.
Gas-lighting became widely used, a sewer system was installed, and a water distribution system was developed. In twenty years, Napoleon III did more for Paris than had been done in a century.
---Translation of an article on FdeSouche Histoire.
“Napoleon III and the modernization of France (part 1)”
Published on the 2nd of December 2012 at
"Napoléon III et la modernisation de la France (partie 1)"
First published on 15/06/2011