The Second Empire

By Octave Aubry; Arthur Livingston | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
France and the Dictatorship

THE PERIOD THAT BEGAN IN 1852 AND WAS TO END IN 1860 HAS BEEN called the period of the "authoritarian Empire." During that period Napoleon III enjoyed a virtually unlimited power in France. His sovereign authority governed the nation absolutely, subject to no supervision or restraint. With a Senate named by the ruler and a Chamber issuing from official candidatures, all political activity in the domestic field necessarily lapsed. The Emperor counted on that development, for in opening the session of 1853 he remarked unostentatiously and in a language that curiously parallels Renan's:

"Freedom has never made any contribution to the establishment of an abiding political structure. Freedom crowns the edifice when time has firmly settled it on its foundations."

"Freedom crowns the edifice." The words contained a promise that was vague, but perhaps sincerely intended. Certainly they were to force themselves upon Napoleon's mind in after days. In the dawn of his reign they were hardly more than a gracious turn of phrase. That was an era of unmitigated, uncompromising dictatorship. Bills of prospective laws were prepared by the Council of State under the guidance of Baroche. They were moved before the Legislative Body during its three months' session in such numbers that the deputies had to pass them wholesale without ever knowing what. they were about.

All the same the Assembly sometimes balked. Budgets grew heavier year by year. They were often the subject of fairly sharp debates, echoes of which reached the public, three days stale, in the faint murmur of an inspired summary that the newspapers printed on the page of official advertisements. That semblance of an opposition, nevertheless, was enough to compel the government to withdraw its bill for reductions in the tariff, which the Emperor was

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