9 – Second Republic and Second Empire

Forward to Franco-Prussian War– Back to Napoleon’s 100 days…
Back to 1789 and all that!
© Bob Denton 2014

9   Second Republic (1848 – 1852) and Second Empire (1852 – 1870)

An attempt to agitate for liberal reforms, coupled with growing dissatisfaction in the monarchy, led to an outbreak of demonstrations against the king in 1848. Faced with the choice of deploying troops or fleeing, he abdicated and fled. A republic was declared and Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, relative of Napoleon I, was elected president.

1849, during the brief Second French Republic, Baron Haussmann was named Prefect of the Var. During his year as prefect, he began a major reconstruction of the city, similar to what he would later do in Paris. He tore down large parts of the old fortifications and built new boulevards and squares. The new Toulon Opera House, the second-largest in France, opened in 1862.

Only four years later Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte was proclaimed emperor of a “Second Empire” in a further revolution. However, a humiliating loss in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, when Napoleon was captured, shattered confidence in the regime; a Third Republic was declared in a bloodless revolution in 1870.

North America during the 1860s was a complete mess. Mexico, like the US, fought a costly (but less conclusive) civil war. A victorious liberal government under Benito Juarez inherited Mexico and its bankrupt treasury. Juarez then stopped paying his European lenders, opening the door for a most unusual invasion.

In 1862, France, Britain, and Spain invaded to force Mexico to pay its debts. When the Anglo-Spanish coalition realized Mexico could not make money magically appear, they abandoned the intervention. The French stayed and took over Mexico City. Napoleon III had designs on a North American empire.

Juarez was “out” and whatever Napoleon III said was “in.” The French emperor installed his new Austrian pal Maximilian Von Hapsburg on the Mexican throne. Mexico’s previously defeated conservative elite welcomed the European prince. Unfortunately, Maximilian enjoyed a conflicted popularity. He and his wife were glamorous, an early version of JFK and Jackie. But Maximilian’s progressive politics, which benefited Indians and the poor at the expense of Mexico’s wealthy conservatives, failed to win Maximilian support on either side.

Throughout Maximilian’s tumultuous reign, French troops policing the countryside provided the only assurance of order. Napoleon III had guaranteed Maximilian these troops under the Treaty of Miramar—a document he had used to convince his “friend” to take the throne. But around this time, Napoleon III lost interest in his Mexico adventure and decided to withdraw the tens of thousands of men.

Without the promised French support, nothing stood between the republican Mexican army and the erstwhile monarch. Maximilian was captured and executed. Benito Juarez regained his position and likely rejoiced that his earlier plan of making Mexico a US protectorate had fallen through.

In 1867, on the orders of Napoleon III General François Achille Bazaine arrived in Toulon without an official welcome after abandoning the Mexican military campaign and Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico.

Forward to Franco-Prussian War– Back to Napoleon’s 100 days…
Back to 1789 and all that!
© Bob Denton 2014