Napoleon III, the last French emperor

Napoleon III, the last French emperor

The II French Republic had a single protagonist in its entire short history: Napoleon III. He was a figure who came to power widely supported by French society and who, with its backing, proclaimed the Second French Empire. Under his rule, France expanded widely abroad and enforced several liberal laws. However, his failure in the face of Bismarck sponsored his downfall.

Louis Napoleon Bonaparte He was born on April 20, 1808 in Paris, being the third son of Luis Bonaparte, King of Holland, and Hortensia de Beauharnais, daughter of the Empress Josefina. It was nephew of Emperor Napoleon I and, when he was deposed in 1815, he had to flee to Switzerland with his family.

Later, Louis Napoleon attended the Lyceum in Augsburg, where he learned basic military concepts from a former officer of the French Emperor. However, it was not until 1830 when he began his military career in the Swiss army, obtaining the rank of captain of artillery in 1834. Before achieving this position, he moved with his brother, Napoleon Louis, to Italy. There they were involved in the protests of the Carbonari to expel the Austrians and participated in a liberal insurrection in the Papal States. At first they were successful campaigns, but Napoleon Louis died in Romagna.

The death of his older brother, coupled with the death of Napoleon II, placed Louis Napoleon as the dynastic head of the Bonaparte. With this title, he tried to conquer power through a coup in Strasbourg in 1836 and an uprising with soldiers in Boulogne-sur-Mer in 1840. However, his attempts were in vain and he was imprisoned. He was in jail from 1840 to 1846 and took advantage of that time to write several essays that showed his romantic ideology, his authoritarian liberalism and his utopian socialism. In 1846, he escaped from captivity and moved to Southport.

The outbreak of the February 1848 revolution made Louis Napoleon returned to France. In June, he was elected to a seat in the Assembly that would be formed in September. After the establishment of the Constitution of the II French Republic in November, he ran for president. Thanks to the support of the Poitiers street committee and the attachment of the masses to the Napoleonic myth, he was voted by more than five and a half million people, which raised him to the head of the French state on December 10, 1848.

With the support of Order Party, came into conflict with the National Assembly, with a monarchical majority. Conservative MPs voted to send troops to Rome to quell revolts against the pope and supported the Falloux law, which favored religious teaching. Louis Napoleon faced these reactionary policies that had their greatest exponent in the elimination of universal suffrage.

This tense situation made the president see that he had the support of the people to rise up. This is how the coup d'etat of December 2, 1851 took place, in which Louis Napoleon presented himself as a defender of democracy. His coup was ratified by a plebiscite that granted him special and authoritarian powers. With them he eliminated all opposition, whether republican, socialist or monarchical, and established an authoritarian and centralized regime.

The new system was governed by the Constitution of January 14, 1852, in which the executive power held greater power and in which the state was transformed into a hereditary monarchy. On December 2, 1852, Louis Napoleon was proclaimed Emperor of the French under the name of Napoleon III. In 1853, he married Eugenia de Montijo, who gave him an heir, who would be known as Napoleon IV.

By a series of measures voluntarily adopted, the emperor, after 1860 and despite the consequences of the Orsine attack in 1858, made his regime evolve towards what was called "Liberal Empire”. It went from being an authoritarian state in which it ruled without opposition, to a system in which parliament had greater power.

The “Parliament's right of initiative”And the control of budgets by the chambers. In addition, in 1864 the right of association and strike was introduced, at the same time that press laws were relaxed and previous censorship was abolished. At the beginning of 1870, with the designation of Emile Ollivier as prime minister, the Empire took on parliamentary characteristics.

In the economic field, Napoleon III In 1860 it imposed the transition from protectionism to free trade, which would end up subtracting certain support in the future. The emperor also multiplied the irrigation and drying works in the provinces, while personally supporting the policy practiced in Paris by Haussmann.

In foreign policy, the French president exponentially strengthened imperialism. Instead of focusing on Africa, he opted for Asia and managed to expand into Indochina, which became a colony between 1862 and 1867. In Europe, the emperor intervened in the Crimean War between 1854 and 1856. He also participated actively in the unification processes Italians in 1860, who ended up providing the annexation of Savoy and Nice.

However, from that moment on, Napoleon III's particular foreign policy showed its deficiencies as a result of the Mexican adventure between 1862 and 1867, as well as its lack of personality from 1866, at which time it was used by Bismarck.

His Italian strategy deprived him of the support of French Catholics and his free trade behavior, that of the industrialists. Due to the rapid industrialization of the country, Napoleon III was favorable to financial and mercantile Saint-Simonism, doctrine by which society should be organized on an industrial basis and the government should be handed over to merchants and industrialists. This tendency of the emperor made the pauperization of the growing working class more sensitive, since his “socialism"Paternalistic was overwhelmed by the progress of the republican idea and by the revolutionary ideas of Proudhon and Marx.

Although the plebiscite of May 8, 1870 was favorable to Napoleon III, the Franco-German war July 1870 had fatal consequences for him. The Prussians defeated him and took him prisoner at Segán on September 2, so the republicans took advantage of it to dismiss him and proclaim the Third French Republic on September 4 in Paris.

Meanwhile, the Germans imprisoned the former emperor. However, in 1871 he was allowed into exile in Great Britain, where he reunited with his wife. There he remained the rest of his days until his death on January 9, 1873.

Passionate about History, he has a degree in Journalism and Audiovisual Communication. Since he was little he loved history and ended up exploring the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries above all.

Video: Napoléon III et la France épanouie