President of the Republic
In the preface to The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, Karl Marx described his purpose as being to 'demonstrate how the class struggle in France created circumstances and relationships that made it possible for a grotesque mediocrity to play a hero's part'. Alexis de Tocqueville similarly insisted that à dwarf on the summit of a great wave is able to scale a high cliff which a giant placed on dry ground at the base would not be able to climb'. The 'great wave' was the intense mid-century crisis — economic, social, and political — lasting from 1845 until 1852, and marked by widespread popular protest, revolution, civil war, and the prospect (or threat) of a démocrate-socialiste electoral victory in 1852. These were the circumstances — widespread deprivation and misery combined with disappointed expectations and social fear — that made it possible for the nephew of Napoleon I to exploit the potency of the Bonapartist legend — 'this deplorable prestige of a name' which, according to the exiled republican Victor Schoelcher, 'entirely made the incredible fortune of M. Bonaparte'1 — by ensuring that large sections of the population were tempted to look for a 'saviour'.
At the middle point of the nineteenth century France might be defined as a transition society. Substantial continuities with the past survived. The economy remained predominantly agrarian. Within the manufacturing sector most workers were employed, using hand tools, in small-scale enterprise. However, there were clear signs of structural change, most notably with the development of growth 'poles' characterised by advanced, large-scale industrialisation and, from the 1830sto 1840s, the broader development of an industrial economy as coal and steam power came____________________