Ancient history

Napoleon III

Napoleon III

1st President of the Republic
Elected December 10, 1848
Presidency December 20, 1848
December 2, 1852
Predecessor Louis-Philippe I (King of the French)
Successor Adolphe Thiers, indirectly
Birth 20 April 1808
at Paris
Death 9 January 1873
in Chislehurst (United Kingdom)
Nature of death Natural death
Second Republic (France)

Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (April 20, 1808 - January 9, 1873) was the first President of the French Republic in 1848 then the second Emperor of the French in 1852 under the name of Napoleon III and the last monarch to reign over this country.

From the Bonaparte family, he is the son of Louis Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon I and King of Holland, and Hortense de Beauharnais, daughter of Empress Josephine. He became the eldest of the Napoleons after the successive deaths of his older brother and the Duke of Reichstadt (“the Eaglet”).

He made his political philosophy known in Idées napoleoniennes, a mixture of romanticism, authoritarian liberalism, and utopian socialism. His first coup attempts, ill-conceived and without popular bases, failed; it was the revolutionary wave of 1848 that brought him back to political preeminence.


The law of January 1, 1816, banishing all Bonaparte from French territory, Queen Hortense had to go into exile in Switzerland where she bought in 1817 the castle of Arenenberg (Switzerland), overlooking Lake Constance. She moved there with her two sons.

Without any material worries, Louis-Napoleon was brought up by his mother in the cult of his uncle and in the certainty of his dynastic vocation. The teachers of Constance complete his education. A former officer of Napoleon I teaches him the art of war.

In 1830, he volunteered in the Swiss army where he obtained the rank of artillery captain in 1834. He obtained Swiss nationality in the canton of Thurgau in 1832, which led some historians to say that Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte was "the only Swiss to reign over France".

His first feats of arms

After the death of the Duke of Reichstadt on July 22, 1832, and insofar as his older brother died in 1831, Louis-Napoleon considered himself the heir to the imperial crown. He organizes his networks in France, and prepares his takeover. His plan was to raise a garrison and march on Paris, gathering troops and people on his way, on the model of the return from the island of Elba in 1814. He tried his luck in Strasbourg on October 30, 1836 but it fails and is terminated.

Attempted Strasbourg uprising by Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte.

King Louis and the uncles of the young prince immediately condemn the operation. Queen Hortense writes to Louis-Philippe to suggest that he let her son leave France. The king convinced his government which, outside of any legal procedure, had the prince driven to Lorient where, provided with a sum of money, he embarked on the Andromeda on November 21, 1836 bound for the United States of America. America, where he will be landed on March 30, 1837. If the attempt was a complete failure, it made Prince Louis-Napoleon known in France and identified him with the Bonapartist cause.

The prince does not stay long in the United States. He soon returned to Europe and came back to settle in Switzerland. In June 1838, one of the Strasbourg conspirators, ex-lieutenant Armand Laity, distantly related to the Beauharnais family, published 10,000 copies of a brochure, no doubt financed by Louis-Napoleon, entitled Historical Relation of the Events of October 30, 1836, which is an apology for Bonapartism[1]. Following this incident, the French government asked Switzerland, at the beginning of August 1838, for the expulsion of Prince Louis-Napoleon and, sure of the support of Austria, threatened the confederation with a rupture of diplomatic relations and even of a war, going so far as to concentrate an army of 25,000 men in the Jura. The Swiss government, indignant, invokes the status of bourgeois of Thurgau of the prince. In the end, he announced on August 22 his intention to settle in England.

Inheriting from his mother in 1839, Louis-Napoleon had the means to print 500,000 copies of a brochure detailing his political program:Les Idées napoleoniennes, in which he made Napoleon I the precursor of freedom. At the beginning of 1840, his faithful Fialin in turn launched his Letters from London, which exalted this prince who "dared alone and without support, to undertake the great mission of continuing the work of his uncle".

From London, the prince is preparing a new coup attempt. Wanting to take advantage of the Bonapartist fervor aroused by the decision of the Thiers cabinet to bring back the Emperor's ashes from Saint Helena, he landed at Boulogne-sur-Mer on August 6, 1840, accompanied by a few of Napoleon I at Sainte-Hélène, General de Montholon, with the hope of joining the 42nd regiment of the line. The operation is a total failure:Louis-Napoleon and his accomplices are arrested and imprisoned at Fort Ham. Their trial is held before the Chamber of Peers from September 28 to October 6, in general indifference. The prince, defended by the famous legitimist lawyer Berryer, gives an eloquent speech:

“I represent before you a principle, a cause, a defeat. The principle is the sovereignty of the people, the cause that of the Empire, the defeat at Waterloo. The principle, you have recognized it; the cause, you have served it; the defeat, you want to avenge it. [...] Representative of a political cause, I cannot accept, as judge of my will and my actions, a political jurisdiction. [...] I have no justice to expect from you, and I do not want your generosity. »

He is nonetheless sentenced to life imprisonment.

At the fortress of Ham, he wrote his book De l'extinction du paupérisme (1844), a work influenced by Saint-Simonian ideas and developing a populist means of gaining power:"Today, the reign of castes is over, you can only govern with the masses”. He escaped from his prison six years later, borrowing the clothes and papers of a painter who, according to some, was called Badinguet. He settled in London before returning during the French Revolution of 1848 to stand for new elections.


On June 4, 1848, he was elected (in 4 departments) and sat in the Assembly in September. Following the promulgation, on November 4, 1848, of the Constitution of the Second Republic, he was a candidate for the presidential election, the first for universal male suffrage in France. He was elected for four years on December 10, 1848, with nearly 75% of the votes, notably from the party of Order, taking advantage of the division of the left and the low level of education, some peasants having thought they were voting for Napoleon I... December 20, 1848:he took the oath at the Constituent Assembly and moved to the Élysée the same evening.

The 1848 Constitution largely limits the powers of the President, who is subject either to the Assembly or to the Council of State. The presidency of Louis Napoleon was thus marked by his opposition to the conservative policy of the assembly elected in May 1849:sending troops to Rome to quell a rebellion against the Pope; vote of the Falloux law, favorable to religious education...

On May 31, 1850, the Assembly passed an electoral law which abolished universal male suffrage by imposing a three-year residency for voters, which eliminated 3 million people from the electorate, including craftsmen and seasonal workers. By opposing this reform, Louis Napoleon appeared as a hero for the people.

At the beginning of 1851, Louis-Napoleon lobbied to increase the length of his mandate while the National Assembly was opposed to any project of constitutional revision.

Coup of December 2, 1851.

On the night of December 1 to 2, 1851, 47 years to the day after the coronation of Napoleon I and 46 years after the Battle of Austerlitz, a decree dissolved the National Assembly and restored universal suffrage. Despite some uprisings, in certain departments such as Yonne, Basses-Alpes, Var and Lot-et-Garonne, which were vigorously repressed, the coup was approved by the people and the plebiscite of December 20 and 21, 1851 on the new institutions receives a majority of favorable opinions.

In January 1852, a new constitution extended the term of the president to 10 years.


* November 7, 1852:a senatus-consultum restores the imperial regime. It was approved by the people during a plebiscite on November 21 and 22, 1852.
* December 2, 1852:beginning of the Second Empire, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte became Napoleon III.
* January 29-30, 1853:he married Eugénie de Montijo, Countess of Teba, with whom he had a son, Eugène, born March 16, 1856.

Foreign policy

During the Crimean War, (1854-1856) Napoleon III confirmed the return of France to European political life with varying degrees of success. The emperor was initially successful, especially since he had to deal with a high administration and diplomats who were mainly monarchists and opposed to the Caesarism of Napoleon III. This reinforces the Emperor's isolation, while foreign and metropolitan personnel are not necessarily made aware of the political line of the government of Napoleon III.

The Arab policy of Napoleon III - He goes in person to Algiers to promote his model of colonial development. For Napoleon III the colonies must be attached to the person of the Emperor and not to France directly. He declares in Algiers:"I am the emperor of the French and the Arabs". Thus he foresees, almost a century in advance, the model of the community united by the person of the sovereign, such as the British Commonwealth will achieve.

The Emperor's Italian policy - in favor of unification and to the detriment of Austria - enabled France to annex, after a plebiscite, the County of Nice and Savoy (1860), the Emperor having "paid of his person" during the Italian campaign.

The failure of the Mexican Expedition (1861-1867) and the attitude of monetary neutrality (policy of "tips") in the face of the conflicts between Austria and Prussia weakened the regime and put an end to this voluntarist foreign policy of the Emperor as he began to be eaten away by illness and by the discords of those around him.

Domestic politics

Under the Empire, France experienced years of economic progress (creation of a banking system, development of railways, transformation of large cities).

Napoleon III was influenced by the Saint-Simonian ideas of his close adviser Michel Chevalier.

Influenced by his stay in London, Napoleon III decided to transform Paris and make it a great European capital, healthy and functional. He entrusts Baron Haussmann with the construction site in Paris. The Emperor watched very closely over the layout of the new boulevards, new buildings (including the Palais Garnier, which he never saw completed), the development of the sewer network and above all the construction of dozens of new squares and green spaces ( Montsouris, Buttes-Chaumont, Boucicaut, etc.). These Second Empire works shaped the face of 20th century Paris. At the same time, he encouraged this policy in other large and medium-sized cities in France, from Lyon to Biarritz via Dieppe (the many imperial streets then laid out were often later renamed "Rue de la République").

From the 1860s, the regime experienced its liberal turn.

Capital of Europe in the same way as Victorian London, Paris hosts major international meetings such as the Universal Exhibition of 1855 and that of 1867.

A member of the imperial government from 1863 to 1869 as Minister of Public Instruction, the historian Victor Duruy opened secondary education to young girls, and endeavored to develop primary education, despite the hostility of the Catholic Church which fears a loss of its influence. He teaches contemporary history, hitherto neglected in favor of the study of antiquity.

In 1869, Napoleon III called on a new de facto "prime minister", Emile Ollivier, from the benches of the Republican opposition in the National Assembly. It was the recognition of the parliamentary principle. Ollivier then constituted a government of new men by associating liberal Bonapartists (center right) and Orléanists rallied to the Liberal Empire (center left), but excluding the authoritarian Bonapartists (right). He himself took the Ministry of Justice and Worship, the first in the protocol order and appeared as the real head of the ministry. Seeking to reconcile order and freedom, he convinced the Emperor to carry out an overall constitutional revision to set up a semi-parliamentary system. A senatus-consultum proposing a more liberal regime was submitted for the approval of the people during a plebiscite (the third since 1851):on May 8, 1870, the reforms were approved with more than 7 million "yes" votes despite the opposition of the legitimist monarchists and the republicans who called to vote "no" or to abstain. This is how the constitution of May 21, 1870 was put in place.

The official candidacy process was abandoned and the prefect Haussmann, deemed too authoritarian, was dismissed.

However, let go by the Republicans and challenged by the authoritarian Bonapartists, Ollivier was increasingly isolated and only maintained himself thanks to the favor of Napoleon III.

War of 1870

Although both personally in favor of peace, Ollivier and Napoleon III allowed themselves to be overtaken by the partisans of war, including the Empress Eugénie. Ollivier and Napoleon III both rallied to the majority pro-war opinion expressed within the government and in parliament, including among the Republicans, the most determined to do battle with Prussia.

Following tensions with Prussia over the Spanish succession and abused by the famous Despatch from Ems - Bismarck's dismissive version of a polite announcement by William of Prussia - France declared war on Prussia . Begins the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

The first reverses are attributed to Napoleon III and Ollivier, providing the Chamber with the opportunity to overthrow Ollivier, by an overwhelming majority, on August 9, 1870, leaving the Emperor alone on the front line, whether political or military.

September 2, 1870, Surrender after the defeat of the Battle of Sedan. He tries to negotiate with Bismarck near the village of Donchery, he attends with King Guillaume of Prussia the act of surrender of the French army at the castle of Bellevue located in Frénois south of Sedan. The Emperor was taken prisoner and taken to be interned at Wilhelmshöhe Castle in Kassel, Germany.

On September 4, 1870, in Paris, deputies (including Léon Gambetta) proclaimed the Republic but the forfeiture of Napoleon III was not voted by the Chamber until March 1, 1871. In most French departments, the new republican regime was welcomed in indifference.

In March 1871, the deposed Emperor went into exile in England.

On January 9, 1873, Napoleon III died and was buried in Chislehurst (today:Bromley (London district). Subsequently Empress Eugénie built a mausoleum for him at the Abbaye St Michel (St Michael's Abbey) in Farnborough where he rests to this day alongside his wife (who died in 1920) and their only son, Prince Imperial Eugène-Louis, killed in South Africa in 1879 at the age of 23.

A flourishing kingdom

Little known today, the Second Empire nevertheless corresponds to one of the most formidable periods of development and prosperity that France has known.

At the economic level, the country was equipped with modern infrastructures of an innovative financial, banking and commercial system and in 1870 caught up its industrial delay with the United Kingdom, partly thanks to the voluntarist policy of the emperor and to his choice of free trade.

In terms of town planning, Napoleon III was the sponsor of Haussmann's work in Paris, which made this city renowned for its dirtiness in the middle of the 19th century one of the most beautiful capitals in the world.

This period was also very productive at the literary level, from Flaubert to Sand or the Goncourt brothers (Edmond and Jules). The Opéra Garnier illustrates the importance given to the world of entertainment, an element of the “imperial feast”. Passionate about history (we owe him a monumental "History of Julius Caesar"), the Emperor also played a key role in the establishment of a genuine national archaeology, with the creation of the Museum of National Antiquities in Saint -Germain-en-Laye and the development given to the excavations of Gergovie, Alésia and Bibracte.

Social progress was also undeniable:the right to strike and to organize employees (ancestors of unions) granted in 1864, a rise in the standard of living of workers and peasants, soup kitchens organized for the poor, the first pension and disability insurance for workers, development of mass education, especially for girls under the impetus of Empress Eugénie, who also strongly supported the work of Louis Pasteur and Ferdinand de Lesseps, which respectively led to the vaccine against rabies and the Suez Canal, inaugurated in 1869.


* “In politics it is necessary to cure the evils; never avenge them. (Source:Napoleonic Ideas)
* “Political faith, like religious faith, has had its martyrs; she will have her apostles like her, her empire like her! " (Source:Napoleonic Ideas)
* "The more the world improves, the more the barriers that divide men widen, the more countries there are that the same interests tend to unite. " (Source:Napoleonic Ideas)
* "Today the aim of any skilful government must be to tend by efforts so that one can soon say:"The triumph of Christianity has destroys slavery; the triumph of the French Revolution destroyed serfdom; the triumph of democratic ideas has destroyed pauperism! "
* "Poverty will no longer be seditious when opulence is no longer oppressive. (Source:The Extinction of Pauperism)
* "Above all, don't be afraid of the people, they are more conservative than you!" (Source:Mixtures)
* “The Empress is a Legitimist, Morny is an Orleanist, Prince Napoleon is a Republican and I myself am a Socialist. There is only one Bonapartist, it's Persigny, and he's mad”
* “Woe to sovereigns whose interests are not linked to those of the nation! (Source:Rêveries politiques)
* "I would like to be baptized with the water of universal suffrage, but I do not intend to have my feet in the water"


Napoleon III had many mistresses including:

* Elizabeth-Ann Haryett, (18??-1865) known as Miss Howard (financed her 1848 election campaign)
* Armance Depuille (1830-1913), wife of François Isidore Depuille, including Benoni Depuille
* Pascalie Corbière (1828-19??), who was the nurse of the imperial bastard children, wife of Auguste Corbière, second coachman to the Emperor, including Christian Corbière
* Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione (1837-1899) famous 19th century Italian courtesan who became Napoleon III's mistress in 1856-1857
* Melle Sauvez, a Picard girl, with whom he had a relationship during his imprisonment in Ham.