The French Second Empire: An Anatomy of Political Power

By Roger Price | Go to book overview

Conclusion to Part II

The Second Empire was established and endured in part due to the political skills of its leading personalities. If the range of options open to politicians was inevitably constricted and the problems of a society undergoing industrialisation and urbanisation particularly complicated, Napoleon III and his ministers worked hard to enlarge the possibilities open to them. With a considerable degree of success, they had developed a policy of economic and social modernisation. Large sections of the community benefited from greater prosperity. However, the effect of this adventurous politics was to alienate powerful groups, which felt that their vital interests were under threat. As opposition increased, the regime had adapted, whether of the Emperor's free will or, increasingly, under pressure. It had gone down the extremely tortuous path of liberalisation and, as the May 1870 plebiscite suggested, again with considerable success. Napoleon III himself can be allowed to sum up the regime's achievements. In a sketch for a novel found amongst his papers,1 a M. Benoit, who had emigrated to America in 1847, returned to France in April 1868. In America, political refugees had warned him that

France is groaning under despotism and he could expect to find it debased and impoverished … Imagine his surprise!

Amazed by universal suffrage Amazed by the railways, which criss-cross France; by the electric telegraph.

Arrives in Paris: embellishment … He wants to purchase various objects, which are much cheaper, due to the commercial treaty.

No riots; no political prisoners; no exiles.

____________________
1
Papiers et correspondance, I, pp. 387–8.

-250-

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