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Another Napoleon

When Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte won the national election in France in 1848, he became President Bonaparte. When he moved from president to emperor, he took the name Emperor Napoleon III of France. When was there a Napoleon II? Both times the original Napoleon abdicated, in 1814 and in 1815 (see Chapter 15), Napoleon’s son by his second wife, Marie Louise, took over as emperor ... sort of. Just three and four years old each time respectively, Napoleon II (1811-1832) never technically ruled France, but he did hold the title of emperor from June 22 to July 7, 1815.

How to Get Elected Using a Famous Name

Louis Napoleon, the nephew of the original Napoleon Bonaparte, tried twice to overthrow the government of Louis-Philippe, in 1836 and 1840. His second attempt landed him in jail, where he wrote a pamphlet promoting his political ideas titled Napoleonic Ideas and the Elimination of Poverty. He escaped in 1846 and went to Britain, returning to France after the revolution in 1848.

Would You Believe?

Napoleon II died in Austria of tuberculosis at the age of 21. In 1940, Adolf Hitler sent his remains back to France so Napoleon II could be buried alongside his father at Les Invalides in France. King LouisPhilippe had Napoleon's remains brought to France from St. Helena in 1840.

Though he had no political experience, Louis Napoleon decided to run for president. He established a platform that appealed to the masses and campaigned wisely. Louis Napoleon took advantage of the universal male suffrage and took his plan to the middle class and rural property owners, most of whom had never voted before. Napoleon knew that most rural voters had no interest in the radical socialist ideas spreading through the cities. Louis Napoleon vowed to provide a government tough on socialism. Louis Napoleon believed that the government should help the people improve their economic conditions, but not through socialism.

France, he declared, needed a strong leader who answered to no one so that he could effectively serve the interests of all classes—a page he took directly out of his uncle’s book.

One of the deciding factors in Louis Napoleon’s election was simply the use of his uncle’s name. Napoleon had left a bad taste in the mouths of most Europeans, but the Romantics idolized him, and by 1848 the French people remembered him as a hero. Napoleon symbolized a proud, strong France, a pillar of strength among other European nations. The French longed for such a time again. For the majority of the French voting public, Louis Napoleon appeared to be the strong leader they needed to restore order, even if it meant sacrificing some liberal ideas. Louis Napoleon won the election in a landslide.

First a Republic, Then an Empire

Louis Napoleon began his four-year term as president in 1849, facing a very conservative National Assembly. He was willing to work with the Assembly, though, because he would need concessions from it—namely a constitutional change allowing him to run for a second term in a few years. As a show of good faith, Louis Napoleon signed two laws, one that allowed the Catholic Church to control education and another that stripped some of the poorest voters of their rights.

To his chagrin, the Assembly didn’t scratch his back as he had scratched theirs, so Louis Napoleon spent 1851 conspiring and planning against the Assembly. In December of 1851, Louis Napoleon dismissed the Assembly and staged a coup. Despite some minor uprisings, Louis Napoleon, with the help of the army, maintained control easily. He returned universal male suffrage to the French voters and held a plebiscite to give the voters a chance to legitimize his actions. They did just that by electing him to a 10-year term as president. Still not satisfied, the following year Louis Napoleon held another plebiscite and the French agreed to make him their emperor.

Napoleon’s government, though authoritarian, proved successful for France. His public works projects and improvements boosted the French economy and his railroads helped France catch up with the rest of the industrialized world. He eventually gave back some power to the Assembly. He allowed members of the Assembly to be elected every six years by universal male suffrage. To keep control, Napoleon and his ministers often encouraged strategic members of French society to run for Assembly seats.

Toward the end of his rule, Napoleon allowed more and more liberal reforms. He granted labor the right to form unions and the right to strike, and he granted a new constitution. His foreign policy, though, proved less beneficial to France than his domestic policies.

Cleaning Up the Mess

Industrialization had hit Paris hard. The overcrowding put such pressure on the city that it was a disaster when Louis Napoleon took over. He made major improvements to the city (see Chapter 16), doing more than just improving the aesthetics. His reclamation project, headed by Georges Haussmann, and his public works projects served as a major shot in the arm for the unemployed. He also improved security by rebuilding the streets so that revolting Parisians couldn’t barricade them; the streets were so wide that it was practically impossible for people to construct barricades from one side to the other. In a controversial move that paid off, Napoleon and Haussmann tore down much of the medieval part of Paris that lay behind walls, and in their place built offices, stores, theaters, and other buildings that greatly enhanced city life. City planners from elsewhere in Europe frequently visited Paris for inspiration.

As a Matter of Fact

While Georges Haussmann is remembered as the mastermind of the restructuring and rebuilding of Paris during the rule of Napoleon III, he hardly was celebrated during his day. The people of Paris greatly resented the destruction of the old, historic city even though much of Paris was dirty, run-down, and poverty-stricken. Many Parisians also objected to the extremely high cost of the project. Even Napoleon III eventually turned on the man he had hired; Napoleon fired Haussmann, largely as a result of outcries of negative public opinion. The very things Haussmann fell under fire for during his lifetime—wide streets filled with trees, shops and cultural centers—are the things modern Parisians and visitors love most about the city.

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