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Louis Napoleon Bonaparte

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Essay Title: - вЂ?The politics of Louis NapolÐ"Ёon Bonaparte were both authoritarian and liberal.’ Discuss with reference to the period 1848-1870.

Louis NapolÐ"Ёon Bonaparte was definitely both authoritarian and liberal in his politics. It must be said that NapolÐ"Ёon 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 вЂ?Authoritarian Empire’ did not last forever. In the 1860’s NapolÐ"Ёon 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 NapolÐ"Ёon returned from exile in Great Britain, “Louis NapolÐ"Ёon 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 NapolÐ"Ёon 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 NapolÐ"Ёon 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 NapolÐ"Ёon 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 NapolÐ"Ёon 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 NapolÐ"Ёon. “The system of government set up by the constitution of January 1852 was for the personal and authoritarian rule of Louis NapolÐ"Ёon” (Robert Gildea, Barricades and Borders: Europe 1800-1914, pg 165). NapolÐ"Ёon converted the Second Republic into the Second Empire despite opposition from others. He took the title of NapolÐ"Ёon 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 NapolÐ"Ёon 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 NapolÐ"Ёon, 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 Martin Jones, Europe 1783-1914, pg165) Victor Hugo was one of NapolÐ"Ёons harshest critics and he went into exile after the coup of 1851.

NapolÐ"Ёon III also manipulated elections, another sign of his authoritarianism. The election of the Legislative Body in 1852 produced 5.2 million votes for government candidates through local incentives and bribes. Also a clever use of different coloured ballot papers was used- white paper was supplied to the semi-literate as it was easier to read and the more rarely available and obvious coloured paper was used for the opposition.

Finally NapolÐ"Ёon showed his authoritarianism by appealing to Catholic people. The clergy remained grateful to him for the Falloux Law of 1850 which returned control of education to them. NapolÐ"Ёon was a supporter of the Pope which led to complications for him against Austria later on.

However NapolÐ"Ёon was not completely authoritarian and he began to change his views to liberal from 1860 onwards. He changed his views on press censorship by becoming more relaxed, allowing parliamentary debates to be published in the Legislative Body. These parliamentary debates were held in a freer and more relaxed style than before. Social reforms also took place, strikes were legalized in 1864 and trade unions were permitted in 1868. NapolÐ"Ёon III also expanded credit for French entrepreneurs, he encouraged urban rebuilding projects such as the rebuilding of Paris and he also constructed more railways which benefited the poorer classes. However converting the ideas and attitudes of traditionalists and Catholics and so many senior ministers and officials to a more liberal way of thinking would prove difficult. “Had NapolÐ"Ёon III left choosing his policy too late to control the events which now began to control him” (William Simpson and Martin Jones, Europe 1763-1914 (2000) pg169).

In 1860 France and Britain signed a liberal trade agreement lowering restrictions on taxes between the two nations. The Cobden-Chevalier Treaty was signed. It provided a sliding scale on import duties and it also helped French economic interest such as Bordeaux wine producers. NapolÐ"Ёon III also tried to liberalize the empire by expanding credit to outsiders wishing to set up investment possibilities in France. Before this most companies remained family run and were hesitant to open their markets up to outsiders. He provided government guarantees to credit companies which therefore encouraged them

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