Louis Napoleon Bonaparte

Topics: Europe, French Revolution, Liberalism Pages: 5 (1732 words) Published: May 8, 2008
Essay Title: - ‘The politics of Louis Napolèon Bonaparte were both authoritarian and liberal.’ Discuss with reference to the period 1848-1870.

Louis Napolèon Bonaparte was definitely both authoritarian and liberal in his politics. It must be said that Napolèon was extremely authoritarian, anti-parliamentary and above all else Bonapartist at the beginning of his reign as President of France in 1848. He maintained press censorship, was on good terms with the clergy, he supported unofficial politicians in the elections for the Legislative Corps and deprived the Parliament the right to debate freely on issues. However the ‘Authoritarian Empire’ did not last forever. In the 1860’s Napolèon III relaxed on press censorship, he allowed open debates in Parliament, he promoted economic growth and urban rebuilding projects, he constructed more railways which benefited the poor. He expanded credit, authorized a liberal trade treaty with Britain in 1860 and permitted the legalization of strikes in 1864. So therefore “It went slowly to begin with, giving the appearance that it was driven more by the need to conciliate opposition out of weakness rather than being from principle and out of strength” (Robert Gildea, Barricades and Borders: Europe 1800-1914,pg 163)

After the revolution of 1848 Napolèon returned from exile in Great Britain, “Louis Napolèon had great confidence that it was his destiny to rule France and carry on where his uncle had left off” (Robert Gildea, Barricades and Borders: Europe 1800-1914, pg 162) Firstly he won a seat in the assembly which was established to draw up a new constitution; however he did not make a big impression and failed to impress other members. However when the Presidential elections took place on the 10th of December 1848 Louis Napolèon won in a landslide. He owed this honour to his name which stood out as recognisable to the non-politicized rural masses who voted. Louis Napolèon used his authority as president to appoint his own men to positions in the Legislative Assembly. In doing so he dismissed men who were much more qualified and able to perform the jobs however they may not have supported his political ideas.

After his four years in reign Louis Napolèon did not want to hand over power and he intended on amending the Constitution of 1848 so that he could be re-elected. The Assembly however rejected his proposal and a military coup was inevitable. It went ahead on the 2nd December 1851. A large number of people were killed. After the coup a direct vote was called and Louis Napolèon won with a huge majority in favour of him continuing in office for another ten years. However it was down to careful monitoring of the ballot which ensured that only 647,000 out of 7.2 million voted against Napolèon. “The system of government set up by the constitution of January 1852 was for the personal and authoritarian rule of Louis Napolèon” (Robert Gildea, Barricades and Borders: Europe 1800-1914, pg 165). Napolèon converted the Second Republic into the Second Empire despite opposition from others. He took the title of Napolèon III and continued to rule in a dictatorship manner. He closed political clubs and maintained a strict system of press control involving newspapers who published critical articles or political debates. One writer, Victor Hugo who was not a supporter of Napolèon once wrote “Thought he has committed enormous crimes, he will remain paltry. He will never be other than the nocturnal strangler of liberty, he will never be other than the man who has intoxicated his soldiers, not with glory, like the first Napolèon, but with wine, he will never be other than the pigmy tyrant of a great people. Grandeur, even in infamy, is utterly inconsistent with the character and calibre of the man. As Dictator, he is a buffoon”.(V. Hugo, Napoleon the Little, cited in K. Randell, France: Monarchy, Republic and Empire, 1814-70, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1986, pg 123, cited William Simpson and...
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