Here is part two of two as far as translations from FdeSouche are concerned - next up will be some of my own work concerning the life, and especially the tempestuous youth, of Napoleon III.
“Embrace Louis, he is perhaps the future of my race.”
- Napoleon I
Part 2: Napoleon III, the Diplomat
The foreign policy of Napoleon III always followed three main goals: the first, to bring France back to the rank of a great power by the abolition of the treaties of 1815 ; the second, to have coincide as well as possible territories with nationalities (unification of Italy) ; the third, to put an end to great wars by favoring conflict resolution through negotiation in a congress system which would regularly meet. Napoleon III succeeded in the first of these, the second turned itself against him (unification of Germany), and he was shown to be a visionary concerning the third objective, considering the later installation of the League of Nations.
I - The Europe of Napoleon III
|The Congress of Vienna|
After the fall of the First Empire, the Allies erected at the Congress of Vienna a new European balance of power dressed against France, and maintained by the Holy Alliance (Russian Empire, Austrian Empire, Kingdom of Prussia). This new European order was intolerable to the French and Napoleon III owed a good portion of his popularity to his will to call it in question. The treaties of 1815 were effectively abolished by the emperor's intervention in Italy to chase away Austria, and by the attachment of Nice and Savoie.
Napoleon III wanted to therefore ensure a role for France in Europe by taking the head of a movement to revise the borders of 1815. The emperor doesn't forget France: the whole process is a manner to remodel Europe in order to spread French influence. In essence, France would obtain compensations justified by the principle of nationalities: Nice, Savoie, Belgium, Luxembourg, and eventually the left bank of the Rhine. In Italy, Louis-Napoleon supported Piedmont-Sardinia but preferred a confederation consisting of Piedmont in the North, Naples in the South, and the Pope (as president of the confederation) in the center, to outright unification. For Germany, the emperor's ideal was a three-headed confederation, with Austria, the Southern German states headed by Bavaria, and Prussia to the North. France could then control the German confederation as a result of the francophilic Southern states, and penetrate Italy through Piedmont-Sardinia. Cavour and Bismarck would evidently not accept any solution other than unification pure and simple.
However, Napoleon III did not commit to revoking the “European Concert” instituted in 1815. An “entente cordiale” was to form between European nations by the mechanism of regular congresses. The Congress of Paris in 1856 marked the triumph of France: the question of nationalism was clearly asked, Russia was pushed to the margins, the Balkans were discussed (Serbia, Moldovia, and Wallachia received the protection of Europe). In 1862, Romania was formed and would owe a large part of its existence to Napoleon III.
The end of European fragmentation and the application of the principles of nationality were also seen as a manner to pacify Europe, to counter the rising force of the United States (of America) and Russia. “A more strongly constituted Europe, rendered more homogenous by precise territorial divisions, is a guarantee for peace on the continent and is neither a peril nor a pain for our nation... While the ancient populations of the continent, in their restrained territories, grow only with a certain slowness, Russia and the United States of America could, in under a century, each hold 100 million men... It is in the interest of the European center to not remain fragmented as states without force and without public spirit.” (La Vallette circulation, September 1856).
II - Napoleon III and Great Britain
The emperor knew England well since he had spent a part of his exile there: five stays between 1831 and 1848 that represented a total stay of four years and eleven months. He was impressed by the industrial development and its political system (which he nevertheless did not think could be imported to France). While in power, he understood he could not abolish the clauses of the 1815 treaties relating to France without British support. The alliance with Great Britain would remain throughout his reign as a pillar of his foreign policy.
Russia gave Napoleon III the opportunity to get closer to London. The Tsar's great ambition was to dismantle the Ottoman Empire, “sick man of Europe”, with an expansionary push to Constantinople. Neither Paris nor London could accept the Tsar taking control of the Balkans. The two countries allied themselves to each other in the Crimean War (1854-1856), and won, though at the cost of many lives.
Napoleon III and Eugenie visited Great Britian in April of 1855, and Victoria and Prince Albert came to France in August. The two voyages were great popular successes. During the second one, Victoria went to Les Invalides and bowed before the tomb of Napoleon I. Napoleon III and Victoria would remain good friends until the death of the former.
Relations with Great Britain did degrade after the Italian Wars (Victoria and Albert were relatively favorable towards Austria) and especially after the annexation of Nice and Savoie. The English, remembering the wars of the Revolution and Empire (Savoie had been a French departement in 1792 and Nice in 1793, until the end of the Empire), were wary of any future annexations. Napoleon III was becoming imperialist like his uncle. A good relationship was nevertheless reignited in the following years, especially from 1866 onwards, as Queen Victoria was becoming a ferocious opponent of Bismarck. But Great Britain, with its small army mainly stationed in India (revolt of the Cipayes in 1857) and in Canada (with the threat of the U.S. Civil War), and it's outdated fleet could not intervene to help the emperor in the Franco-Prussian War, and the Prime Minister Gladstone was since 1868 resolutely isolationist.
During his exile, the English showed sympathy towards the fallen emperor. On the night of Napoleon III's death (1873), Victoria wrote in her journal: “[he was] the most faithful ally of England...”
III – Napoleon III and Italy
|The Battle of Solferino|
In his youth, Louis-Napoleon, unable too fight for his country (affected by exile), fought in Italy with his brother Napoleon-Louis and the Carbonari in favor of Italian unity. In 1848, the peninsula was the theater for a revolutionary outburst and a revolt against Austria, which at the time occupied the North-East. Cavour, one of the ministers of Victor-Emmanuel II, king of Piedmont-Sardinia, began a policy of getting closer to France. Napoleon III remained sensitive to his youthful adventures and the French were profoundly Austrophobic.
Napoleon III saw in intervention the opportunity to restore dynastic prestige, and to make himself the champion of nationalist causes, getting closer to Italy. In his entourage, few opposed the notion, except the Empress and especially Charles de Morny, his half-brother, the “number two” of the Empire, who feared the movement to unite Italy would bleed over into Germany. The future would give him reason.
Napoleon III remained hesitant, and it was the Orsini incident (1858) that placed him in the Piedmontese camp. The Imperial couple were victim of an assassination attempt in front of the Opera, and survived miraculously intact. Orsini, an Italian patriot, wanted to overthrow the Empire, thinking a republic would be more favorable to the Italian cause. Before moving in, he shouted “Long live Italy!”. Cavour and the emperor had a secret interview at Plombieres (Vosges), on the 21st and 22nd of July 1858. They came to an agreement on the creation of a kingdom of Upper-Italy uniting, outside of Piedmont and Sardinia, Lombardy and Venice (taken from Austria), and the Duchies of Parma and Modena.
Before entering the war, France ensured the neutrality of Prussia and Russia. Franz-Joseph, pressured by his ministers, declared war first on the 27th of April of 1859. Austria aligned 150,000 men, Piedmont 60,000, and France 100,000. The beginning of the campaign began with total improvisation by the Allies (lack of ammunition, tents, and supplies). The first victory was won with difficulty at Palestro on the 30th of May. It is at Magenta, the 4th of June, that the first large battle was fought, though it was for a while quite confused, ending in the victory of the Franco-Piedmont forces. Victor-Emmanuel and Napoleon III entered in triumph at Milan on the 8th of June.
Franz-Joseph then decided to take direct command of the army, and increased the number of troops at his disposal to 250,000. On the 24th of June, a second great battle took place at Solferino. The Franco-Piedmont forces took the day with heavy losses: 40,000 dead, including 17,500 Frenchmen. The emperor was shocked by the battlefield, according to general Bourbaki. Prussia began to threaten by mobilizing its troops on the Rhine. Not willing to weaken Austria excessively, Napoleon III signed an armistice with Franz-Joseph on the 8th of July 1859.
But the Italian campaign was not satisfactory for many. Numerous patriotic insurrections exploded in central Italy, which menaced the temporal power of the Papacy. Italians would have preferred continuing the war (as Venice still remained Austrian). For French republicans and Italian patriots, Napoleon III did not go far enough. For Catholics who blamed the emperor for the agitations in the pontifical territories (which resulted in massacre), he went too far. The Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia returned to France the provinces of Nice and Savoie, ratified by two plebiscite (1860).
IV – Responsible for the War of 1870?
|Otto von Bismarck|
Since 1866 and the defeat of Austria by Prussia, Bismarck sees the Second Empire as the main obstacle to German unity. The chancellor nevertheless needed a valid reason to declare war, and to take the mantle of a victim, if possible: the Bavarians and Rhinelanders were francophilic and genuinely liked the Emperor of the French. The defensive pact between the North German Confederation and the Southern states only applied in cases of foreign aggression.
Spain allowed Bismarck to reach his goals. In 1868, Spain chased Queen Isabella II and her son Alphonse from the throne, and the new junta in Madrid began searching for a new sovereign. Bismarck put forward the candidature of Leopold von Hohenzollern, a colonel in the Prussian army. Napoleon III could not accept this candidate, which if successful would surround France, an unpopular concept. The king of Prussia, William I, was reticent to Bismarck's wishes and Leopold refused to be a part of the affair.
Bismarck however could not end it there. He reiterate Leopold's candidature without informing the king of Prussia. This news was delivered on the 2nd of July 1870 by a communique of France-Presse. In the days that followed, the press – opposition or bonapartist – was envenomed, demanding war to save France's honor. However, the 12th of July, Leopold's candidature was withdrawn. “I am happy this will end like this. A war is always a big adventure,” said the emperor. In Berlin, that very day, Roon and Interior Minister Eulenbourg convinced Bismarck to declare a war of aggression. Moltke and Roon wanted war to be declared immediately, but the chancellor judged it prudent to wait a little before doing so, to be on the safe side.
It is therefore important to know that the war was decided in Berlin, before even being decided in Paris. The emperor was weakened physically and mentally ; he suffered from kidney stones, fainted on occasion, contracted fevers, and had blood in his urine. Treatment against the pain had him sleeping almost all day.
In Paris, the emperor was moved by the manifestations in the street, more or less spontaneous and hostile to Prussia, and by the fervent patriotism evident in the Parisians. Paris is not the rest of the country, which ardently desired peace, but prefects only expedited their reports every fifteen days. 36 years later, Eugenie affirmed: “to back down, to give way, we could not, we would had the whole country against us! … Already we were accused of weakness ; a terrible phrase arrived to our ears: “the Hohenzollern candidature, it will be a second Sadowa!”.” Then, pushed to war by the bellicose members of the court (Foreign Affairs minister Gramont, Marechal Leboeuf, General Boubakir, and Eugenie), the emperor accepted it. The empress in particular, through her influence, had a large role in the initiation of the conflict: “this victory which cost neither tears nor blood would be for us the worst humiliation! If Prussia refuses to fight us, we will force it, by beating its back with the butt of rifles, to pass back over the Rhine, and clear out the left bank! This peace we have been discussing for twenty-four hours is very sinister.”
General Boubakir, known as an expert on Prussia, affirmed that “out of ten chances, we have eight!”. Leboeuf said as well: “war with Prussia is inevitable, sooner or later. We are ready, are enemy is not. We have a superb army, admirably disciplined ; we will never again have such an opportunity. From Paris to Berlin, it will be a promenade, cane in hand.” Napoleon III and Gramont drafted a statement to be dispatched by telegraph to Ems. Bismarck then had what he wanted: if the king of Prussia confirmed at the reception of the news that Leopold renounced the Spanish throne, Bismarck could write his famous dispatch, a work of disinformation diffused throughout Europe, which rang as an insult to France.
The false dispatch arrived the 15th of July 1870 in Paris, and the Legislative Corps voted for war at near-unanimity (245 votes – including republican ones – against 10 ; amongst the ten, that of Adolphe Thiers), a decision which Napoleon III had to go along with. Republicans had however rejected an 1867 military reform to prolong the length of military service, allowing for more troops. Even Gambetta, who in his “profession of faith” to voters stated that he desired to eliminate the professional army, voted for war... On the 19th of July, war was officially declared. Napoleon III said on the 22nd: “There are in the life of peoples, solemn moments where national honor, violently excited, imposes itself as an irresistible force […] It is the entirety of the nation that, in its irresistible elan, dictated our resolutions.”
---Translation of an article on FdeSouche Histoire.
“Napoleon III and Europe (part 2)”
Published on the 2nd of December 2012 at
"Napoléon III et l'Europe (partie 2)"