Louis Napoleon can be seen as both successful and unsuccessful when looking at his actions during his reign but to be able to evaluate how successful he was, we need to look at his aims and whether he achieved his aims. Louis Napoleon’s aims in politics were to achieve a stable regime, with power and a broad amount of support. His economic and social aims were to achieve greater wealth as well as helping the poor and his Foreign policy was to make France a great power again by revising the Vienna settlement and avoiding major wars, as well as this he also supported and wanted to help introduce nationalism. Overall as will be seen below Louis Napoleon though he was successful in many of his policies he ultimately failed through one huge foreign policy and military failure.
It can be seen that Louis Napoleon was successful because he managed to achieve a stable regime with a broad amount of support. Louis Napoleon managed to become president by winning the first presidential election in December 1848 with a staggering 75% of the vote. Louis Napoleon gained this support by exploiting the Napoleonic legend which had a very broad appeal as it promised to the elites (the Bourbon nobles and middle class pays legal) security and an effective government. It promised to the French people and especially the nationalists ‘gloire’ which was glorious military victories and provided them with overseas respect, Louis Napoleon had further exploited his uncles legend by writing a propaganda book called ‘des ide’s Napoleon.’
As well as this propaganda book he had also written ‘L’Extinction du Pauperisme’ which showed his concern for the poor and so in turn he gained support from the working class. In all Louis Napoleon was very popular as he had not be involved in the June days which meant that his image as a man of the people was still intact, he had managed to gain the support of the elites presenting himself as a man of property, law and order and he had achieved popularity with the poor by exploiting the Napoleonic legend which provided a promise of better times ahead and by publishing his propaganda book. This was a big success as he managed to appeal to a broad amount of people and so his regime to begin with was very stable with a great amount of support because of the consolidation of all the classes.
Another way in which Louis Napoleon was successful was because he was able to consolidate his power but still remain popular with the people. Louis Napoleon consolidated his power by touring the country and cultivating both the ordinary French people and the elites. He consolidated his power further by gaining support with the Catholics by sending an expedition to Rome to restore Pope Pius IX and by introducing ‘Loi Falloux’ which increased Catholic influence in schools. Having done all this in October 1849 he felt strong enough to dismiss his chief minister Barrot and replace him with one of his own men. Then in December 1851 he launched his coup where potential opponents were arrested, key buildings were occupied and the army was brought in as a precaution, Louis Napoleon then declared himself President for 10 more years which was then approved by a 90% vote in the subsequent plebiscite. In December 1852 he was confident and strong enough to declare the end of the Second Republic and the establishment of the Second Empire which again was overwhelmingly approved in another plebiscite and so subsequently Louis Napoleon became Napoleon III.
In 1851 Napoleon III had started setting up a new constitution which came into effect in January 1852; it consisted of two chambers, the Corps Legislatif and the senate but both had little power as they were only consultative and they were full of government placemen (who were people who had been given jobs in return for their support). Napoleon III also, like his uncle, abhorred political parties as he believed their arguments only made divisions and disagreements so instead of a political party he simply appointed the best men available which was very popular with the French notables.
However although he did all of this he also actively courted support by increasing the pay of prefects and army officers, distributing government contracts and promising to support the Catholic Church. Thus within a few months the ‘authoritarian Empire’ had been established and had a large amount of support. This was a big success as it seemed Napoleon III had finally found a stable regime for France as it had strong leadership which wanted to preserve property, law and order as well as looking after the underprivileged. It also allowed those with ability to advance and provided people with the ability to vote which in turn meant that Napoleon III had a very popular and stable regime with him in total control, therefore fulfilling his aim of wanting a stable regime, with power and support. However as will be seen below he did not remain in power.
A further way in which Napoleon III was successful in politics was because he managed to liberalise the empire. This began in 1860 when the Corps Legislatif was given the right to challenge the government’s intentions and receive a reply. Then in 1867 the Senate and the Corps Legislatif could were given the power to question a minister on government policy whenever they felt it necessary to, this was followed by the relaxation of laws against press censorship and public meetings. In 1869 changes were made which ultimately resulted in a ‘Liberal Empire.’ The changes made meant a return to the sort of parliamentary government that had existed under Louis Philippe, the senate became a proper upper house with the power to delay legislation, the Corps Legislatif became a lower chamber having the power to propose laws. Ministers were now made accountable to the Corps Legislatif and so they had to have a majority in it supporting them. Therefore because of all of this it seemed that Napoleon III had achieved the smooth transition from a dictatorship to a form of government which was very popular amongst the elites as it shared power with them. However although he had managed to gain support he had also reduced his power, so although this liberalisation was successful in getting Napoleon support it did not provide him with complete control, therefore Napoleon was successful in gaining support but unsuccessful in retaining complete power.
Napoleon III achieved some success in his economic and social policy by providing a supply of cheap credit. This was intended to motivate the economy, leading it to increase production and trade as it would provide the middle class pays legal (the businessmen) with money to finance their business and so therefore provide the working classes with jobs and wages. This supply of cheap credit was provided by three new banks, most well known of the three was the Credit Mobilier. This cheap credit was used in several different areas such as the construction of the Suez Canal and the setting up of railways. The setting up of railways meant that there was a high demand of iron and steel which boosted their industries as they were needed for building the tracks. Railways also helped all other industries and business as it meant that transport costs were kept low. As well as this Napoleon also set up huge urban renewal designs run by Baron Haussmann where order and grandeur were the main priorities especially in Paris, Lyon and Marseilles. Consequently because of these economic and social schemes Napoleon did partly manage to fulfil his aims of achieving greater wealth through his supply of cheap credit; however as will be seen he did not manage properly help the poor through his urban renewal schemes.
Again Napoleon III foreign policy in part was successful as through the Crimean war France’s national standing improved and through the unifying of Italy Austria was weakened and the Vienna settlement was broken. In 1854 Napoleon III disagreed with Russia by supporting France’s claim to be protector of Catholics in the Turkish Empire and claimed that the Catholics, not the Greek Orthodox Church (supported by the Russians), should control the Holy Places in Palestine. Napoleon however was out of control, thus when the Sultan provoked Russia into attacking France found herself at war with Russia. However Napoleon III knew that he would not lose as he was supported by the other major powers who did not want to see Russia strengthened further and especially by Britain who did not want Russia threatening India or having access to the Mediterranean.
When France won the victory was very popular amongst all French classes as it the treaty was signed in Paris. Russia’s defeat also meant that France was no longer the only revisionist power with Russia also wanting to change their peace settlement. This was when France was at the height of her national standing and was on the verge of becoming a great power again. In 1858 Napoleon because he genuinely supported nationalism, as can be seen in his previous involvement in the nationalist revolutions in the northern states in 1830, he planned to force Austria out of Italy and untie the Italian states under the Pope. In 1858 when Count Orsini tried to assassinate him Napoleon decided to take action and set about trying to force Austria out the Italian states.
After Austria was defeated at the battle of Magenta and Solferino France made the Peace of Villafranca where Austria agreed to leave the Italian states apart from Venetia. However again Napoleon found himself out of control as he had been deceived and Garibaldi, an Italian Nationalist, was threatening to move north and take Rome from the Pope, which in response Napoleon had to allow the Piedmontese army to move south to stop him at which point Garibaldi handed over all his conquests to the king of Piedmont instead of the Pope. This was a part success for Napoleon as he had improved France’s national standing and had successfully helped to nationalise Italy and though both of these acts had managed to weaken the Vienna settlement.
However as well as there being a large amount of successes there are also a few failures which need to be considered. Although Napoleon’s supply of cheap credit did help to increase output there was no structural change to the French economy. The supply of cheap credit did not go into improving agriculture of industry but went into the expansion of the industries in order to unlock unused wealth rather than trying to increase productivity through increasing efficiency. Napoleon had also hindered the French economy as he had introduced free trade, which in most cases was a failure as countries such as Britain could produce and sell goods quicker and cheaper than France, due to their advanced and more efficient economy.
The Urban renewal scheme was popular amongst the upper middle classes and the rich but was incredibly unpopular amongst the poor as the project was only one street deep which meant that the slums still remained and the previous houses of the poor were torn down in order to make these new houses. Through Napoleon’s economic and social policies he managed to alienate all the classes as the traditional upper class were overly taxed to help the poor and were tired of Napoleon’s favouritism of the ‘nouveaux riches.’ The middle classes had been alienated by the introduction free trade as it was bad for their trade and finally the poor were alienated as Napoleon’s promise had not really been fulfilled as their living standards had improved very little. These failures although they did damage Napoleon’s image and popularity they were not significant enough to make anyone revolutionary as the regime was still stable and France’s national standing was better than it had been since the fall of Napoleon I.
Along with there being failures in Napoleon’s economic and social policy there were also failures in Napoleon’s foreign policy as in every situation, even the Crimean war and the unification of the Italian states (which were successes), Napoleon managed to lose control. In the Crimean war he lost control and ended up being forced into a war, in Italy Napoleon lost control which meant that the king of Piedmont was able to seize power (infuriating the Catholics).
In 1864 Napoleon decided to remain in Mexico after Juarez, who had delayed debt re-payments to France, Britain and Spain, had been defeated in order to try to install Maximilian as king. This eventually led to Napoleon losing control and getting involved in a guerrilla war and resulted in the execution of Maximilian in 1867. In 1863 after threatening Russia if she suppressed a revolt in Poland he failed to act when Russia did suppress it, after this in 1864 Napoleon then failed to stop Prussia and Austria defeating Denmark. When in 1866 Prussia defeated Austria, France was easily stopped from taking action by the promise of getting Venetia and Luxembourg and when Luxembourg was not delivered to France Napoleon felt cheated and France was humiliated. This although they were big failures they merely weakened France, however it did show Napoleon in a very bad way as he had been guilty of hubris (which means an arrogant pride inviting disaster) because he had been over confident and so showed him up as an amateur who could not carry out his threats.
Napoleon’s biggest failure was with his foreign policy and the way he handled Prussia, this ultimately led to the collapse of him and his regime. This confrontation with Prussia was caused by Napoleon asking Prussia after it had promised that Leopold of Hohenzollern would not marry into the Spanish throne, to never re-apply Leopold for the Spanish marriage. Although initially the telegraph which was sent was polite it was altered by Bismark to be insulting and provoking. France having been through a stage of little success and having been urged on by the press and the people Napoleon declared war on Prussia. France’s armies mobilised slower than Prussia’s and so instead of marching on Berlin, France ended up defending herself. After a series of defeats Napoleon surrendered at Sedan and was taken prisoner. Thus because France had alienated the other powers such as Britain, Russia, Italy and Austria the Second Empire was ended and the Third Republic was formed to fill the void. This was the biggest and most significant failure which was the cause for the downfall of him and his regime, because he allowed himself to be provoked and defeated by a superior military power.
In conclusion the evidence suggests that Napoleon was sufficiently successful because he did manage to achieve his aims of setting up a stable regime, with power and support as there was no revolution at the time of his capture. Napoleon’s economic and social policies were partly successful as he did manage to obtain greater wealth, however through doing this one of the banks he set up went into bankruptcy and as well as this there ultimately was no structural change or increase in the efficiency of production. Napoleon’s foreign policy was mostly a failure because although he succeeded with the Crimean war and the nationalisation of Italy he had lost control in both situations which was the case in all of his other foreign policies. In the case of the Franco-Prussian war the loss of control was the most significant and only real cause for defeat which in perspective was Napoleon’s only real considerable failure which did cause his downfall.