Ancient history

The Fall of the Empire

Much of the confidence that the empire had capitalized on up to that point vanished. Thiers and Jules Favre, as representatives of the opposition, denounced the errors of 1866. Emile Ollivier divided the official majority by the amendment of article 45, and made it clear that a reconciliation with the Empire would be impossible until until the Emperor really liberalizes the regime. The recall of French troops from Rome, in accordance with the convention of 1864, gave rise to new attacks from the ultramontane party, which was supported by the papacy. Napoleon III felt the need to develop the great act of 1860 by the decree of January 19, 1867. Despite Rouher, by a secret agreement with Ollivier, the right of interpellation was returned to the Chambers. Reforms in the supervision of the press and the right of assembly were promised. In vain, Rouher tried to meet the liberal opposition by organizing a party for the defense of the Empire, the Dynastic Union. The rapid succession of international setbacks prevented him from doing anything.

The year 1867 was particularly disastrous for the Empire. In Mexico, the grand idea of ​​reign ended in a humiliating retreat before the ultimatum of the United States, while Italy, relying on its new alliance with Prussia and already forgetting its promises, mobilized revolutionary forces to complete its unity in conquering Rome. Mentana's "chassepots" were needed to hold the Garibaldians in check. And imperial diplomacy was ridiculed by its attempt to obtain from the victorious Bismarck territorial compensations on the Rhine, in Belgium and Luxembourg, which could have been obtained from him earlier at Biarritz, when Benedetti added the error of asking the wrong moment, he had the humiliation of not getting anything.

At the same time, France was pursuing a prestige policy that impressed all of Europe. In the Paris transformed by Baron Haussmann into a modern city, capital of arts and culture, the opening of the Universal Exhibition of 1867 welcomed ten million visitors and sovereigns from all over Europe. A success that was somewhat tarnished by Berezowski's assassination attempt on Tsar Alexander II of Russia, and by the tragic fate of the unfortunate Emperor Maximilian in Mexico. Thiers, a little excessive, exclaimed that there were no more mistakes to be made. The Emperor, however, committed one more. Old and infirm, the emperor nevertheless managed to set up a constitutional empire, finding in the danger involved in such an option, more energy than he had spent the previous 20 years. However, a great international success was necessary for him to definitively win back an opinion which appreciated (as shown by the plebiscite of 1870) the liberal turn of the regime. Rather badly advised, he thought he saw in the war against Prussia the opportunity not to be missed to stabilize the regime definitively.

Napoleon headed for war without making the necessary preparations. Count Beust tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate, with the support of the Austrian government, the project abandoned by Napoleon since 1866 of a resolution on the basis of a status quo with reciprocal disarmament. Napoleon refused, on the advice of Colonel Stoffel, his military attaché in Berlin, who indicated that Prussia would not accept disarmament; but he was more worried than he wanted to show. An overhaul of the military organization seemed to him necessary. Marshal Niel was unable to obtain it either from the Bonapartist opposition or from the Republican opposition, which was reluctant to reinforce what it described as a "despot". Both sides were blinded to external dangers by political interests.

The emperor was abandoned by men and disappointed by events. He had vainly hoped that, even by granting freedom of the press and authorizing meetings, he would retain freedom of action; but he had played the game of his enemies. Les Châtiments de Victor Hugo, La Lanterne, Rochefort newspaper, the subscription to the monument to Baudin, the deputy killed in the barricades in 1851, followed by the speech of Léon Gambetta against the Empire on the occasion of the trial of Charles Delescluze, quickly showed that the Republican Party was not reconcilable.

On the other side, the Orléanist party had become discontented because the once protected industries were not satisfied by the free trade reform. The working class had abandoned its political neutrality, which had brought it nothing, and had gone over to the enemy. Unaware of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's dispassionate attack on the slavery of communism, it had been gradually won over by the collectivist theories of Karl Marx and the revolutionary theories of Bakunin, put forward at the congresses of the International Workers' Society. At these congresses, the fame of which had only been increased by their prohibition, it had been confirmed that the social emancipation of the worker was inseparable from his political emancipation. The union between the internationalists and the bourgeois republicans became a fait accompli.

The Empire, taken by surprise, tried to circumvent both the middle classes and the working classes, which drew them into revolutionary actions. There were many strikes. The elections of May 1869, which took place during these disturbances, inflicted on the Empire a major moral defeat (40% for the opposition) even if the empire retained the essential support of the peasantry. Despite the renewal of the government thanks to the red fear, Ollivier, the advocate of conciliation, was rejected by Paris, while 40 irreconcilables and 116 members of the Third Party were elected. Concessions had to be made to them, thus by the “senatus-consultum” of September 8, 1869, a parliamentary monarchy replaced personal government. On January 2, 1870 Ollivier was placed at the head of the first homogeneous, united and responsible ministry.

But the Republican Party, unlike the country which demanded the reconciliation of freedom and order, refused to be satisfied with the freedoms acquired; they refused any compromise, declaring themselves more determined than ever to overthrow the Empire. The murder of journalist Victor Noir by Pierre Bonaparte, a member of the imperial family, gave the revolutionaries the long-awaited opportunity (January 10). But the riot ended in failure and the Emperor was able to respond to personal threats with a resounding victory in the plebiscite of May 8, 1870.

This success, which should have consolidated the Empire, led to its downfall. It was assumed that diplomatic success could override freedom in favor of glory. It was in vain that after the parliamentary revolution of January 2, 1870, Count Daru revived, through Lord Clarendon, Count Beust's plan for disarmament after the battle of Sadowa (Königgratz). He met with a refusal from Prussia and the imperial entourage. Empress Eugenie is credited with the remark “If there is no war, my son will never be emperor. »