France Under Napoleon III

Nation Building in Italy


Nationalism, the dedication to an identification with a nation state, became a new organizing principle in the late nineteenth century, the results of which were not altogether positive. Early nationalism was a combination of liberal, idealistic, democratic, and sometimes radical thinking. Nationalism had been a positive element in European history since 1789, but it had repeatedly failed to realize its goals. Nationalism had been an element in the Revolutions of 1848, all of which had failed. Now, nationalism was rejuvenated and changed the map of Europe.

France under Napoleon III: Louis Napoleon had played no part in French politics before 1848; however he received three times as many votes as the four other presidential candidates combined in the French Presidential election of 1848, partially due to universal male suffrage. Several factors led to this result:

Louis Napoleon believed that the government should represent the people and should try to help them economically. The problem as he saw it was that parliaments and political parties represented special interests, particularly the middle classes. Their form of parliamentary government stirred up class hatred because they were not interested in helping the poor. The answer was a strong national leader like his famous uncle, who would serve all the people, both rich and poor. Such a leader should be linked to the people by direct democracy and uncorrupted by politicians and political parties. His ideas appealed to the poor, who saw in him a strong man and a champion of their interests.

Louis Napoleon was elected to a four year term as President but had to share power with a conservative National Assembly. He signed a bill to allow the Catholic church to have a greater role in education, as many saw the church as a buffer against radicalism. One leader of the church commented that "There is only one recipe for making those who own nothing believe in property rights: that is to make them believe in God, who dictated the Ten Commandments, and who promises eternal punishment for those who steal." He also reluctantly signed a law depriving many poor of the right to vote, primarily because he needed the Assembly to vote funds to pay his personal debts and he wanted to change the constitution so that he could run for a second term. To his great chagrin, the Assembly did neither.

In 1851, Louis Napoleon conspired with key army officers and on December 2, illegally dismissed the assembly and seized power in a coup d’etat. Resistance to the coup was crushed, and Louis Napoleon restored universal male suffrage; he then called on the French people to legalize his actions, which they did: 92 percent voted to make him president for ten years; 97 per cent voted a year later to make him hereditary emperor. He was proclaimed Emperor Napoleon III.

Napoleon III had his greatest success in improving the French economy. He encouraged investment banking and railroad construction and started a massive public works program, including the rebuilding of Paris to improve the urban environment. As a result of his efforts, business improved dramatically, wages were increased, and jobs were easy to find. In an attempt to pacify the urban workers (France’s most dissatisfied group) he regulated pawn shops, supported better housing, and granted workers the right to form unions as well as the right to strike.

Napoleon III greatly restricted but did not abolish the National Assembly. He chose his own ministers who were very powerful, but he did provide for the Assembly to be elected by universal male suffrage every six years. He did manipulate the elections somewhat, however. He tried to get notable people to run for election, and used appointed officials and mayors to spread the word that the defeat of any opposition candidates was the key to roads, tax rebates and other local concerns. His system worked brilliantly in 1857 and 1863; but began to fall apart thereafter. Napoleon III was a nationalist, and wanted to reorganize Europe along Nationalist lines and thereby gain influence for France and himself. To the contrary, problems at home led to criticism of his government by those who had supported him previously. Always sensitive to public opinion, he progressively liberalized his government. He gave the Assembly greater power and opposition candidates greater freedom which they used to good advantage. IN the 1869 elections, the opposition, mostly republicans, monarchists, and liberals, polled almost 45 per cent of the vote. The following year, Napoleon granted France a new Constitution which established a parliamentary regime with a hereditary emperor as chief of state. France was slowly moving towards democracy on the eve of the Franco-Prussian War.

Nation Building in Italy: Prior to 1850, Italy had never been a united country. It had been divided in the Middle Ages into competing city-states, which had led the way in the Renaissance. It had been reorganized in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna: Lombardy and Venetia became part of Austria; Sardinia and Piedmont were ruled by an Italian monarch; central Italy and Rome were part of the Papal states ruled by the Pope. Naples and Sicily were ruled by a branch of the Bourbon family.

From 1815 until 1848, three approaches developed to unite Italy into a unified nation> The first was the program of Giuseppe Mazzini, who called for a unified democratic republic based on universal male suffrage and the will of the people. The second was the vision of Vincenzo Gioberti, a Catholic priest, who called for a federation of existing states under the presidency of the Pope. The third looked to the leadership of the kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont. Austria ultimately crushed Mazzini’s movement, and the other plans also failed. The Pope, who some had hoped would support unification had backed down after he was temporarily driven from Rome during the revolutions of 1848. In 1864, Pop3 Pius IX issued his Syllabus of Errors in which he denounced rationalism, socialism, and separation of church and state as well as religious liberty. He denied that "the roman pontiff can and ought to reconcile and align himself with progress, liberalism and modern civilization."

The movement towards consolidation got its greatest boost from Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, the dominant figure in the government of Sardinia, which was ruled by Victor Emmanuel. Cavour wanted to consolidate Sardinia as a liberal constitutional state and unite it with northern and possibly central Italy; he did not wish to incorporate the Papal States or the kingdom of the two Sicilies. He knew he could not drive Austria from northern Italy without the help of a powerful ally, whom he thought would be Napoleon III.

In a complicated series of negotiations and events, Cavour secured a treaty with Napoleon III which provided for an alliance against Austria. He then provoked Austria into attacking Sardinia in 1858, at which point Napoleon III was obligated to attack Austria. The combined Franco-Sardinian alliance was successful, but Napoleon, not interested in having a strong Italian state at his back door, and criticized by many French Catholics for having come to the aid of the Pope’s avowed enemy, did a sudden about face and abandoned Cavour. He made a compromise peace with Austria at Villafranca in July, 1859 which gave Sardinia only the area of Lombardy around Milan. The rest of the map was unchanged. Cavour resigned in a rage.

Even so, Cavour’s movement had stirred nationalist sentiments to the North. Large crowds had marched chanting "Foreigners, get out of Italy," and chanting "Victor Emmanuel." Relying on this popular sentiment, middle class nationalist leaders ignored the compromise of Villafranca and called for unity with Sardinia. This was completely contrary to what Napoleon III and the other Great Powers wanted, but the nationalists refused to budge. Cavour returned to office to work out a deal with Napoleon III, under the terms of which, Sardinia had to surrender Savoy and Nice; however in exchange Napoleon dropped his objection to unification and the people of central Italy then voted overwhelmingly to join an enlarged kingdom of Sardinia under King Victor Emmanuel.

Some were not satisfied, among them Giuseppe Garibaldi, a superpatriot who long personified the romantic notion of revolutionary nationalism. In the 1860’s he cooked up a scheme to "liberate" the kingdom of the two Sicilies with a private army. Cavour opposed his plan, but did not dare intervene, because of Garibaldi’s immense popular appeal. In May, 1860, leading a group of guerilla fighters whom he called "red shirts" he landed on Sicily and easily outwitted the twenty thousand man royal army. He won battles and gained volunteers, and, not unimportantly, gained huge support from the peasantry. He captured Palermo, and then crossed over to the mainland where he marched towards Naples and prepared to attack Rome and the Pope. In the conquered areas where he was temporary ruler, he introduced free public education, disbanded the Jesuits, and nationalized their property. Cavour then moved to profit from what Garibaldi had done. He feared Garibaldi’s radical ideas, and sent Sardinian forces to occupy most of the Papal States but not Rome, as he feared an attack on Rome would result in a war with France. Cavour then organized a plebiscite in the conquered territories, which Garibaldi did not oppose. The people of the South voted to join Sardinia under King Victor Emmanuel. Garibaldi and Victor Emmanuel rode through Naples to cheering crowds, sealing the union of North and South.

The new Kingdom of Italy under Victor Emmanuel was expanded to include Venice in 1866 and Rome in 1870, largely because of Prussian victories over Austria and later France. It was neither radical nor democratic. It was a parliamentary monarchy but in accordance with the liberal Sardinian Constitution of 1848, by the terms of which only a small minority of Italian males could vote. The landed gentry and commoners were divided. Also, there was a gap between the industrialized progressive North and the agrarian (and somewhat stagnant) South. Administrators from Sardinia immediately cancelled the wartime reforms of Garibaldi and ruled Sicily and Naples like conquered territories. Poverty increased dramatically, and millions of people left the country for a new beginning elsewhere, many in America. Although politically and on paper, Italy was a united Kingdom, profound divisions between classes remained.