Second empire

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Empire français
French Empire
Flag of France (1794–1815, 1830–1958) .svg Coat of Arms Second French Empire (1852–1870) -2.svg
flag coat of arms
Constitution Constitution of the Second Empire
Official language French
Capital Paris
Form of government Dictatorial Empire
Form of government Absolute monarchy with a hereditary monarch at the head of the state on an autocratic basis
Head of State
- 1852 to 1870
Emperor of the French
Napoleon III.
Head of Government
- 1852 to 1869

- 1869 to 1870
- 1870
Emperor of the French
Napoleon III.
Prime Minister
Émile Ollivier
Charles Cousin-Montauban
currency French Franc
Beginning 1852
end 1870
National anthem Partant pour la Syrie ( French for "leaving for Syria")
The second colonial empire 1870

The expression Second Empire ( French Second Empire ) stands for the period from 1852 to 1870 in the history of France . The official name of the state was French Empire ( French Empire français ). During this time Napoleon III was. the Emperor of the French . In the first years up to around 1860 Napoleon ruled authoritarian. As a result of the growing opposition, he was forced to undertake step-by-step reforms, which resulted in a parliamentary system of government in 1870 . In terms of foreign policy, it initially succeeded in strengthening France's international reputation before it largely failed to achieve success in the 1860s. In economic and social terms, industrial development and with it new population groups such as industrialists and workers played an important role. France rose to become one of the strongest economic powers. The splendor of the Empire was reflected, among other things, in the conversion of Paris into a modern metropolis. The end came with the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71. After the emperor was captured after the Battle of Sedan , the Third Republic was proclaimed in Paris .

The way to empire

The kingship of the July Monarchy was overthrown in 1848 by the February Revolution of 1848 and replaced by the Second Republic . Louis Napoleon Bonaparte took advantage of the fame of his uncle Napoleon I in the presidential elections of 1848 and won the election. The revolutionary forces were pushed back and in the elections to the legislative assembly the more conservative forces prevailed. Louis Napoleon subsequently expanded his position. In October 1849 the previous cabinet under Odilon Barrot was dismissed. The newly formed cabinet was under its own direction. One aspect of the change of government was that the old cabinet with the help of the French military, the power of the Pope in the Papal States had supported what Louis Napoleon because of the extremely anti-liberal policy of Pius IX. disapproved.

Parliament followed an even more right-wing course than the President. The universities were placed under the supervision of a body made up of representatives from the state and the church. Primary school teachers were controlled more closely and the right to vote was restricted in 1850. The universal suffrage was abolished, only taxpayers who had lived in a place three years were allowed to vote. The number of voters fell by about a third. This restriction of the right to vote was an initiative of Parliament. The president signed the law, but was able to call for universal suffrage to be reinstated at a later date. This enabled him to put parliament on the defensive and recommend himself to the left as a partner.

The problem for Louis Napoleon was that after his term in office he could not be re-elected according to the constitution. So he was trying to change the constitution. He traveled through the province and thereby increased his following. The Bonapartists petitioned the National Assembly to that effect . This approved on July 19, 1851 with a large majority. However, due to the rejection of the legitimists and the left-wing Republicans, the motion missed the necessary two-thirds majority. Louis Napoleon therefore only had the option of a coup with the support of the army. Previously, he moved in parliament to return to universal suffrage. The application was rejected with a narrow majority. Napoleon was able to take advantage of the popular demand for universal suffrage.

His half-brother Charles de Morny played an important role in organizing the coup . Louis Napoleon appointed him the new Minister of the Interior. On the anniversary of the victory of Austerlitz and the coronation of Napoleon I , he carried out the coup d'état of December 2, 1851 . Large groups of troops were concentrated around Paris and strategically important points in the city were occupied by reliable police forces. The National Assembly was dissolved, the old electoral law was introduced and a new constitution was announced. Known political opponents Louis Napoleon arrested. Unexpectedly, there was sometimes violent resistance in Paris and the province against the procedure. The military acted violently against this. Tens of thousands of those arrested waited for a trial, sometimes for months. A total of 30,000 people were arrested. Of these, 3,000 were sentenced to prison terms and a further 10,000 were deported.

Louis Napoleon had the coup legitimized by a plebiscite carried out on December 21 and 22, 1851 . Almost 7.5 million voters voted and only 650,000 refused to vote Louis Napoleon. Another 1.5 million abstained. After that, the president's term of office was extended to ten years and his powers expanded to such an extent that the republic was only on paper. From then on Louis Napoleon called himself "Prince-President". This announced the claim to the imperial title.

On November 7, 1852, he was awarded the title of imperial by a resolution of the Senate . Since then he has called himself Napoleon III. This step was legitimized by another referendum. 7.8 million voted in favor and only 200,000 against. 65,000 votes were invalid. The emperor's dignity was hereditary, the emperor had the right to adopt a successor from the family if he was childless. With regard to the state symbols , the Second Empire fell back on the First Empire . The function of a national anthem was fulfilled by a song that the Egyptian expedition of 1798 sang: Partant pour la Syrie .

The 1852 Constitution

Allegory of the Second Empire

After the plebiscite of 21./22. December 1851, in the last days of December 1851 and the first days of January 1852, Louis Napoleon had his advisers Eugène Rouher and Raymond-Théodore Troplong drawn up a new constitution. It came into force on January 14, 1852.

According to the new constitution, power was concentrated with the president (or later with the emperor). Parliament has been severely weakened and its powers limited. Its lower house, the Chamber of Deputies , was deliberately called the “Corps législatif” (legislative body). The term “National Assembly”, which has been used since the French Revolution , was dropped. Because no longer a parliament, but the president should embody the nation. The President was solely responsible to the people and not to Parliament. The ministers were subordinate to the head of state only; they were no longer dependent on parliament's confidence. There was no prime minister and no cabinet, instead all specialist ministers dealt directly with the head of state. The State Council was also subordinate to the President.

The Corps législatif lost the right of initiative for laws. It could only either approve or reject the government's proposals. It was no longer allowed to meet by its own resolution, but was convened by the head of state. It was also subordinate to the State Council. The Corps législatif was elected for six years by universal male suffrage. The influence of the parties should be broken by the fact that instead of the list vote , the electoral system was introduced. The rural regions were also favored by the constituency division and the big cities were disadvantaged.

In addition to the Corps législatif, there was another chamber of parliament, the Senate , as an upper house . Its 150 senators were high military officials, clergymen and, above all, persons appointed by the head of state. Since the head of state put together “his” Senate, it was his tool. In addition, the head of state was empowered by the constitution to pay the senators generously, with up to 30,000 francs annually. This chamber had the task of stopping any unacceptable initiatives by the Corps législatif . It was able to amend the constitution through a so-called "sénatus-consulte" (Senate consulte).

Overall, it was a system with strong authoritarian elements. The sovereignty of the people was not called into question. Rather, the people were consulted on various occasions in referendums, thereby legitimizing the actions of the head of state or the government. The direct connection to the First Empire and the Napoleonic myth was also important.

"Empire autoritaire"

Victor Hugo criticized the regime from his exile in the Channel Islands .

In a first phase up to the end of the 1850s, Napoleon was able to rule largely authoritarian ("Empire autoritaire"). There was no longer any significant opposition. Most of the leading Republicans and Socialists were in exile. These included Louis Blanc , Victor Hugo , Edgar Quinet and others. Others went into “inner emigration” and withdrew from political life. The Orleanist elites were still disoriented.

The government also massively promoted the election of their acceptable MPs. There were downright official government candidates who received massive support from the local authorities. In the first elections in February 1852, only eight members of the opposition came into parliament who waived their mandate.

Napoleon was able to rely on a large part of the rural population, on a part of the upper middle class, on the clergy and on ultra - Montane -minded Catholic circles. The army and the state apparatus also supported the regime. The church and other religious communities also played an important role. Since the clergy and civil servants were paid by the state, they could also be instrumentalized in the interests of the regime.

Although the 1789 constitution guaranteed civil liberties, public expression was markedly restricted by a tightening of the press law in 1852 and other measures. The political police force was also expanded.

In the long run, the system came under increasing pressure. Not only did workers' opposition grow, other more conservative or ultramontane sections of society increasingly turned their backs on it. The policy of the emperor in the Italian unification with a view to the papal state was rejected by convinced Catholics . Considerable parts of the entrepreneurs vehemently rejected the free trade policy . Especially since the memory of the at times chaotic conditions during the second republic gradually fell into oblivion.

In the elections of 1857, despite repression and the support of the official candidates, the opposition succeeded in achieving electoral successes, particularly in some of the larger cities. On the whole, the regime could of course still rely on 90% of the MPs. At first, the emperor reacted to the growing opposition with repression. A failed assassination attempt, committed by Felice Orsini , took Napoleon III. 1858 as an occasion to take action against Republicans.

economy and society

The regime profited to a large extent from the economic upturn. In the time of Napoleon III. the modern industrial economy prevailed. The government strongly encouraged this development. Napoleon's economic policy was largely liberal. State interventionist measures, for example in favor of the workers, played only a subordinate role. However, the regime appeared with a socio-political claim. But it was believed that the economic upturn would also lead to an improvement in the social situation.

The strong expansion of the railway was of lasting importance . With Paris as the center, a total network of 18,000 km was created. The alignment of the rail system with Paris also had disadvantages. There were almost no connections between the other cities of France such as Caen , Marseille , Bordeaux or Lyon . To get from one city to the next, you had to go through Paris. This was to prove particularly detrimental in the war of 1870/71 when troops could not be moved quickly enough.

Édouard Manet , Vue de l'exposition de 1867

Railway construction also promoted the development of industry, especially of course mining and heavy industry. Numerous new banks sprang up to help build capital. The number of reindeer increased sharply. The ports of Bordeaux and Marseille were expanded to promote trade.

France rose to become the second strongest economy at times after Great Britain. However, economic change also had its limits. Big industry made up only a small part of the manufacturing industry. The small business still dominated. Agriculture remained the largest sector and the bulk of the population lived in the countryside or in small communities. However, industrialization opened up economic advantages for the rural population. Agriculture as a whole, but above all the owners of larger farms and the notables, benefited from the good economic situation. The labor peasants, whose income consisted of agricultural and industrial labor, became a common phenomenon.

The modernization of cities also took place during this period. Paris in particular was transformed into a modern metropolis under the direction of Georges-Eugène Haussmann by demolishing the old slums, building boulevards and ring roads. Magnificent buildings such as the Paris Opera were built in the city .

Admittedly, this did not solve the social problems in the capital. Rather, the rising rents put a heavy burden on the income of the poorer classes. While the social situation improved in the countryside, the situation in the cities remained problematic. After all, wages rose and structural unemployment was a thing of the past. In two world exhibitions in 1855 and 1867 , France confidently presented itself as a leading industrial nation. At the same time, the exhibitions were intended to strengthen the emperor's prestige.

The growth in political opposition in the 1860s also had to do with social discontent. Prices and rents rose and, at times, there was also cyclical unemployment. Older republicanism still dominated among the opposition workers, but there was also demand for a social republic and there were also beginnings of socialist ideas. The traditional rural notables were largely able to retain their influence. But urban growth threatened their position. The regime tried to protect this group so that it would not go into the opposition camp. Among other things, attempts were made to integrate them into the public service. Similar attempts were made with other sections of the traditional elite. This was at the expense of the public sector's performance.

Foreign policy

Foreign policy successes were also of great importance for the continued existence of the system. Like his uncle Napoleon I, Napoleon III tried. To make France the dominant power in Europe. In the 1850s he was quite successful in foreign policy. The starting position of France around 1852 was still that of a country that had not had full equality since the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and was considered a revolutionary source of unrest for all European powers. The first goal of Napoleonic politics had to be to overcome this foreign policy isolation.

Envoy to the Paris Congress of 1856

A first step was participation in the Crimean War : Russia had demanded areas from the Ottoman Empire that are in what is now Romania and Bulgaria ( Dobruja ) and declared war on the Ottomans. France entered the war on the side of the anti-Russian coalition and, on Napoleon's initiative, was able to end it with the Peace of Paris (1856). This conference helped France to regain its great power status by the European powers. Napoleon III was able to increase his reputation by leading the peace negotiations. For France it was advantageous that Russia and Austria emerged from the conflict weakened.

In addition, the freedom movements in Poland and the Balkans were supported. He also supported the Christians in Lebanon. The Empire played a very important role in supporting national unification in Italy. Napoleon III wanted. but out of consideration for his ultramontane followers, the Papal State was preserved. As the protector of the national idea, France entered the Sardinian War of 1859 on the side of the Kingdom of Sardinia against the Empire of Austria . As a result of Austria's defeat in the battles of Magenta and Solferino , a unified Italian nation-state was created. The price that Sardinia-Piedmont had to pay for the support of France was the cession of the county of Nice on the Côte d'Azur and Savoy (the area south of Lake Geneva ). In order to legitimize the Anschluss, Napoleon had (sham) votes carried out in the partly Italian-speaking areas, which, as expected, turned out to be positive. After the new Italy had occupied a large part of the Papal States, Napoleon III. Occupy Rome and its environs to protect the rest of the Papal States. This lasted until the end of the empire.

Napoleon at the Battle of Solferino

The construction of the Suez Canal from 1859 by a strongly French-oriented society was directed against English interests. The break with Great Britain could only be avoided with great difficulty. The free trade agreement ( Cobden Agreement ) also played an important role in this.

In the 1860s, there were largely no external successes. In the German War of 1866 between Austria and Prussia and their respective allies, France remained neutral and offered to mediate. In vain demanded Napoleon III. after the Prussian victory Luxemburg and Belgium in order to get some compensation for the Prussian increase in power in northern Germany. His attempt to buy Luxembourg in 1867 triggered the Luxembourg crisis, which led to sharp protests from the German side. In the Treaty of London in May 1867, the neutrality of Luxembourg was committed.

In the conflict over the non-repayment of national debts, French troops occupied the Mexican capital in 1862 (→ French intervention in Mexico ). France could assume that the US was bound in the American Civil War and would not enforce the Monroe Doctrine . The Mexican Republic was dissolved and the Austrian Archduke Maximilian made emperor. The defeat of Maximilian in the Mexican Civil War and the withdrawal of French troops in 1866 was seen as a defeat in France.

Colonial policy

Reception of the Siamese ambassador in 1861

France needed sales markets and raw material suppliers for its economy . In addition, at least since the French Revolution of 1789, the claim was made to proselytize the world in terms of civilization. The colonial empire was in 1850 almost entirely of islands such as Guadeloupe , Martinique , Saint Pierre and Miquelon , Reunion Island and Pacific areas such as New Caledonia . The conquest of Algeria had already begun in 1830 and was carried out by the Foreign Legion .

The phase of the new colonial policy began in 1855 under Foreign Minister Alexandre Colonna-Walewski , an illegitimate son of Napoleon I. The conquest of Senegal had already started in 1854 and was successfully completed in 1865. The city of Dakar , the administrative seat of the Colonial Ministry, was founded in 1857. From this area of West Africa , French West Africa was to emerge later .

The Compagnie des Indes had already expressed interests in Southeast Asia (cf. Indochina ). In 1858 a joint French-Spanish contingent was sent there to end the persecution of Western missionaries and to limit the urge to expand through Thailand ( Siam ), as it was officially called. The next 15 years were filled with heavy fighting, which only ended with the Third Republic . In 1860 the Mekong Delta and Saigon ( Cochinchina ) were conquered, only two years later Cambodia became a French protectorate . This was the beginning of French Indochina .

1864–1871 there were heavy uprisings against the colonial power in French North Africa , which were only ended in the course of the Franco-Prussian War . In 1871 there were already 300,000 European settlers living in the coastal strip of Algeria.

In Madagascar , Napoleon III persecuted. a more subtle policy and relied on slow infiltration. However, this ended in 1863 with the murder of the Francophile King Radama II. It was not until the 1890s that the island could be placed under French sovereignty.

Gradual liberalization

Adolphe Thiers was one of the leaders of the opposition.
Emile Ollivier was the first head of government with parliamentary responsibility during the empire in 1870.

Napoleon III saw itself under increasing domestic political pressure from different quarters and tried to find new support through gradual liberalization. Since 1860, the hitherto strongly authoritarian system has gradually been converted in the direction of a parliamentary government. Parliament's rights have been strengthened, censorship and the ban on forming coalitions have been relaxed. The parliamentary debates have also been published since 1860. Yet the regime was on the defensive.

In the elections of 1863, the votes in favor of the opposition had already multiplied. The pro-government candidates received 5.3 million votes, those of the opposition nearly 2 million. There were also 2.7 million abstentions. All political shades were represented, from the Legitimists to the Orleanists to the Republicans. The unofficial leader of the opposition was Adolphe Thiers . In addition to the older generation, younger people like Léon Gambetta also played an increasingly important role. There were also the so-called independents, who were basically on the soil of the empire, but called for far-reaching reforms. There were also those among the official candidates who no longer supported the regime on all points.

The emperor's course remained unclear and hesitant. Although the position of a state minister was created, who had to represent government policy in parliament, further political reforms initially failed to materialize. In contrast, the opposition became more and more self-confident and Thiers demanded the reintroduction of the parliamentary system of government in parliament. Léon Gambetta became even clearer. The workers also began to organize themselves more and more. This found expression in the manifesto of the sixty-nine .

There were numerous well-organized strikes in 1864, 1865, 1867, 1868 and 1870. Demands were made about the ten-hour day. After a delegation of French workers returned from a trip to England, they called for freedom of association. They also began to see themselves as a special social group and put up their own candidates in the elections. The government came to meet the demands when she 1864, the right of association conceded. However, this right was associated with restrictions. However, the worsening economic situation from 1867 onwards prevented the workers from being integrated into the Bonapartist system. Especially after the dissolution of the French section of the First International , many workers went over to the opposition camp and, together with the radical petty bourgeoisie around Gambetta, formed its core.

As a result of the foreign policy setback after the victory of Prussia in 1866, the opposition began to use the nationalist resentment against the Germans for their own purposes. The regime tried to defuse the situation through renewed liberal reforms. In 1867 the parliament was given the right to interpellate . However, a loosening of the censorship resulted in the emergence of opposition press organs. Reforms in education and the military failed.

In the elections of 1869, the pro-government candidates received 4.4 million votes. Over 3.3 million voters voted for the opposition. The centers of opposition were the industrial areas and larger cities. In 1869 Parliament was given the right to initiate legislation. The peak of the liberalization policy (empire liberal) was reached in 1870 when Napoleon III. Émile Ollivier , the leader of the "Third Party", charged with the formation of a government supported by parliament. A referendum on a new constitution resulted in a large majority.

Franco-German War (1870/71)

Napoleon III at Sedan by Wilhelm Camphausen

An heir to the throne had been sought in Spain since 1868 and after lengthy research the choice finally fell on a Hohenzollern from the Catholic branch of the family, whose candidacy was supported by the Protestant Prussian branch. France now saw again the danger that had already existed under Emperor Charles V , namely the encirclement of France by an opposing power. There was also the possibility that Napoleon's son, whose mother was a born Spanish princess, could also take over this throne.

Following diplomatic pressure from France, the Catholic prince of Hohenzollern refused. Napoleon wanted to savor this diplomatic victory and turn it into a triumph in foreign policy or a humiliation for Prussia: An envoy delivered a message to the Prussian King Wilhelm I , who was in Bad Ems for a cure in July 1870 , stating the eternal renunciation demanded the Spanish throne. Wilhelm informed his Prime Minister Bismarck by dispatch.

Bismarck shortened this text and changed it minimally, but sent copies of it to the governments of the other European powers. Bismarck's text, the so-called Emser Depesche , was written in such a way that no one could accept this request. Napoleon was dishonored in the eyes of the public at the time and felt compelled to declare war on Prussia (July 19, 1870). So Napoleon was the aggressor to save France's honor. The protective and defensive alliances between Prussia and the southern German states led to this war against France becoming a national war of unity.

The Franco-Prussian War was unfavorable for Napoleon : The French armies lost at Sedan on September 2, 1870, and the Kaiser himself was taken prisoner of war. When this news arrived in Paris, the Third Republic was proclaimed on September 4, 1870. The Napoleonic Empire was over.

Culture and spiritual life

Significant people were:



  • Antoine Olivesi, André Nouschi: La France de 1848 à 1914. L'évolution politique et sociale de la Deuxième République à la Première Guerre Mondiale . New edition Nathan, Paris 2005, ISBN 2-200-34259-4 (EA 1997).
  • Choisel, Francis: La Deuxième République et le Second Empire au jour le jour. chronology érudite détaillée. CNRS Editions, Paris 2015.
  • Tulard, Jean (Ed.): Dictionnaire du Second Empire. Fayard, Paris 1995.
  • William H. Smith: Napoléon III. Hachette, Paris 1984, ISBN 2-501-00526-0 .
  • Louis Girard: Napoléon III. Fayard, Paris 1986.
  • Eric Anceau: Napoléon III, un Saint-Simon à cheval. Tallandier, Paris 2008.
  • Manfred Wüstemeyer: Democratic dictatorship. On the political system of Bonapartism in the Second Empire. Böhlau, Cologne 1986, ISBN 3-412-08385-2 (also dissertation, University of Cologne 1983).
  • Heinz Rieder: Napoleon III. Adventurer and Emperor. Casimir Katz, Gernsbach 2006, ISBN 3-938047-16-X .
  • Federico Trocini: Tra Realpolitik e German freedom. Il bonapartismo francese nelle riflessioni di August Ludwig von Rochau e di Heinrich von Treitschke . In: Rivista Storica Italiana , Vol. 121 (2009), Issue 1, pp. 338-387, ISSN  0035-7073 .
  • Gilbert Ziebura : France from the Great Revolution to the fall of Napoleon III. 1789-1870. In: Walter Bussmann (ed.): Handbook of European history. Vol. 5, 2nd edition, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1998, pp. 296-316.
  • Peter C. Hartmann : History of France. 4th edition, CH Beck, Munich 2007, pp. 67-70.
  • Regina-Bianca Kubitscheck:  NAPOLÉON III., Charles-Louis-Napoleón Bonaparte. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 22, Bautz, Nordhausen 2003, ISBN 3-88309-133-2 , Sp. 869-886.
  • Guy Cogeval, Yves Badetz, Paul Perrin, Marie-Paule Vial: Spectaculaire Second Empire . Catalog for the exhibition of the same name, Musée d'Orsay and Skira, Paris 2016, ISBN 978-237-074-04-27 .

Web links

Commons : Second Empire  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. ^ Oskar Höcker: The national war against France in the years 1870 and 1871: Ehrentage , p. 16
  2. Charlotte Tacke: From the Second Republic to the First World War (1848-1914) . In: Ernst Hinrichs (Ed.): Small history of France . Reclam, Stuttgart, updated and supplemented edition 2006, ISBN 3-15-010596-X , pp. 311-360, here p. 321.
  3. Le Sénat sous le Second Empire et Napoléon III on the website of the French Senate, accessed on July 21, 2017.
  4. Charlotte Tacke: From the Second Republic to the First World War (1848-1914) . In: Ernst Hinrichs (Ed.): Small history of France . Reclam, Stuttgart, updated and supplemented edition 2006, ISBN 3-15-010596-X , pp. 311–360, here p. 322.
  5. ^ Robert W. Reichert: Anti-Bonapartist Elections to the Academie Francaise during the Second Empire . In: The Journal of Modern History . tape 35 , no. 1 . University of Chicago Press, Chicago March 1963, pp. 33-45 (English).