Louis Napoleon ruled France as Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, for nearly eighteen years, from December, 1852, to September, 1870. It was a maxim of the Emperor that liberty never helped to make a durable political edifice; it could only crown a political edifice which time had consolidated. The Constitution which he bestowed upon submissive France was based upon this estimate of liberty. His government was a despotism founded on universal suffrage. The lower chamber was appointed by the people, but could originate nothing; it could only discuss measures submitted to it by the Emperor, and the amendments which it suggested could be adopted or rejected by the Council of State a body nominated by the Emperor.
The character of Napoleon III is perplexing from the vagueness of some parts of its outline, and the inconsistent, and sometimes contradictory, manifestations which appear in the actions and demeanor of this favorite of fortune. He possessed high intelligence, much insight into men, boundless faith in his “star.” He had little of real political, military, or administrative genius. He had a dreamy, contemplative, hesitating mind, a soul full of tranquil and patient fatalism, a cool personal courage, a political morality without scruple and without remorse, because he was sincerely persuaded that whatever he did, or allowed to be done for him, was the work of his Fate. In his rise to power he was accepted first by Paris that city of people who are at once “artistic, childish, sublime, and foolish, admirable today, absurd tomorrow”and then by France, in despair of a stable government in any other shape or kind. The crimes which raised Louis Napoleon to eminence, the corruptions which debased his administration and sapped the country’s strength, leaving her army and her rulers helpless under the strain of contest with a really formidable power these were the work of a legion of adventurers who surrounded him, creatures of prey, plotters of reaction, all that was impure in the French Nation. His rule in France proves that, save in the case of men of the highest capacity, “to intrust the destinies of all to the keeping of one,” in the words of George Sand, “is the most culpable and most senseless act that a civilized Nation can commit.”
Under him the French Nation submitted to despotic rule for the sake of order at home, commercial prosperity, and the gratification of national self-love in the assumption and retention by France of a leading place in Europe which she held until the war with Prussia. “The Empire,” he said, “menaces no one; it desires to develop in peace and full independence the vast resources it has received from heaven.” It is but one of the inevitable results of a bad tradition that he, like his predecessors, hoped to succeed in securing prosperity to France by constant interference, and .by making the Nation feel the presence at the head of an irresponsible but beneficent master. At the same time he gave employment to the restless artisans of the great cities; towns were half rebuilt, Paris especially felt this benign benevolence, which, while it fed the workman made him destroy his own means of resistance to the government for the rebuilding of Paris by Haussman was planned so as to drive great and straight military roads, through all the disaffected quarters of the North and East. Railways, canals, harbors, public buildings, above all, churches new and old, showed the Imperial hand. Great progress was made in commerce, mining, manufactures, agriculture, and the fine arts. On the surface France was never so prosperous.
“The Empire is peace,” Napeoleon III said, in 1852, at Bordeaux. Yet the Empire was seldom at peace. The Emperor liked too well to play the role of adjuster of the wrongs of other nations, a rôle which flattered the vanity of the French as well as that of himself. The French government was mainly responsible for the Crimean war. France had long been regarded as the protector of the rights of Latin Christians in the East, and when troubles broke out in 1853 between Russia and the Sultan, and the Czar decided to occupy Turkey and seize Constantinople, France came forward and formed ,an alliance with England to protect the Turk. The alliance with England pleased the French people. The Emperor and Empress went to London to visit Queen Victoria; and England and France together declared war against Russia in 1854, while Prussia and Austria announced that the latter power should evacuate the Balkans principalities. The war was costly and prolonged, but it yielded glory, and Sebastopol was accepted as, in some measure, expiation for Moscow. When peace was restored the Empire presented the aspect of a stable government resting solidly upon the support of a contented and thriving people.
No sooner had peace been gained than the Imperial mind busied itself to devise some other new and dazzling scheme. The deliverance of Italy was the task which he undertook, and that it had been begun by his uncle made it all the more attractive to him. It is true that all the strength of France had been exerted in 1849 to crush the heroic defense of Garibaldi, but at that time Napoleon was merely President and he afterward asserted that the expedition had been urged upon him by a force of public opinion which he could not resist.
To Cavour was due the enlisting of Louis Napoleon’s aid for Italy. Even in 1849 when all hope seemed gone and Italy had measured her strength with that of her oppressors and had been beaten to the ground Cavour did not despair. In the gloomy years that followed 1849, the Kingdom of Sardinia stood out in bright relief as a State which, though crushed upon the battlefield, had remained true to the cause of liberty while all around it the force of reaction gained triumph after triumph. It was the only free and independent and constitutional State in Italy. Cavour, one of the greatest statesmen of the world, was its prime minister.* King Victor Emmanuel, its ruler, recognized his ability and allowed him full sway for his diplomatic powers. It was by the advice of Cavour that Sardinia interfered in the Crimean war; not so much because Sardinia had just causes of complaint against the Czar, but that Victor Emmanuel’s soldiers, under Lamarmora, might fight bravely side by side with those of France and England, and that the Sardinian premier might take his place by the side of the representatives of the great powers. Thus when the main business of the conference was concluded, Count Buoi, the Austrian Minister, was forced to listen to a vigorous denunciation by Cavour of the misgovernment that reigned in Central and Southern Italy and of the Austrian occupation which rendered this possible. Although Cavour returned to Italy without any territorial reward for the services that Piedmont had rendered to the allies, his object was gained. He had exhibited Austria isolated and discredited before Europe; he had given to his country a voice that it had never held before in the councils of the powers; and he had produced a deep conviction throughout Italy that Piedmont not only could and would act with vigor against the national enemy, but that in its action it would have the help of allies. The Austrians immediately realized this and Franz Joseph showed less violence toward the Italians. Cavour now endeavored to win an ally for the quarrel with Austria, which was inevitable. Sardinia ruled a population of only 4,000,000, while 20,000,000 owned the sway of Austria, Naples, the Pope, and the Dukes, who stood for the reactionary forces. The brave little Kingdom, which alone upheld liberty in the peninsula, was surrounded by despotic powers of overwhelming strength. Cavour would have preferred an alliance with Great Britain, which had no objects of its own to seek in Italy, but when he found that the government of Lon-don would not assist him he drew closer to the Emperor Napoleon. It was to France’s advantage to strengthen Sardinia as it would create a troublesome neighbor for Austria. An agreement was made between France and Sardinia. France was to drive the Austrians out of Italy and procure the union of Lombardy and Venetia with Sardinia. In the event of success France was to be recompensed by the cession of Savoy and Nice.
On New Year’s Day, 1859, the foreign ambassadors went, according to their custom, to make a visit of compliment to the Emperor at the Tuileries. When his majesty approached the Austrian Ambassador, he said to him, in a tone of well-assumed anger, that although the relations of the two countries were not such as he could desire, his personal feelings toward the Emperor of Austria were unchanged. This was justly regarded as an intimation of hostile purposes. And so it proved. The three powers had been arming as for an inevitable conflict and they were now ready. After some fruitless attempts at mediation by England, the Austrians entered Sardinian territory and a French army hastened to the rescue. The Emperor ‘himself took command in chief and Victor Emmanuel placed himself under his orders.
The war was disastrous for Austria. In some engagements of inferior importance, her troops were unable to keep the field and in the battles of Magenta, June 4, and Solferino, June 25, she suffered crushing defeat. At Solferino her losses in killed, wounded, and prisoners were nearly 30,000. The troops were much demoralized by continued defeat and it was not doubted that decisive success was now within easy grasp of the allies. But during a period of two weeks France lay inexplicably idle. Then it became known that the Emperor Napoleon had separately offered an armistice to Austria and that peace would follow. The Italians were indignant and, forgetting the service that France had rendered them, denounced the desertion of their cause. Peace was quickly concluded. Austria acknowledged defeat by yielding Lombardy, with a population of nearly 3,000,000; but she was allowed to retain Venetia, with a population of 3,500,000. The Duchies of Tuscany, Parma, and Modena had driven out their rulers and a portion of the subjects of the Pope had rejected the temporal authority of his Holiness. The treaty provided that the people of these States should return to their allegiance; but it was found that this restoration could not be accomplished otherwise than by military force, which neither France nor Sardinia would apply. The wise resolution was adopted to leave the people themselves to fix their destiny. Almost unanimously (March, 1860,) the people elected to join themselves to Sardinia.
By a war which lasted not quite three months, Sardinia had just been able to add 9,000,000 to the population over which she ruled. She owed this great accession wholly to the help of France. But the Italians thought less of the advantages which they had gained than of those in regard to which they suffered disappointment. General Garibaldi told them it was foolish to have put their trust in the man who had overthrown liberty in France. Especially was the Emperor hated when it was known that Savoy and Nice, the earliest possessions of the royal house of Sardinia, were now to be surrendered to France. Garibaldi, himself a native of Nice, indignantly denounced an arrangement which made him a foreigner in his own country.
The great events which had come to pass in Northern and Central Italy sent their thrilling influences among the people in the South. At the close of the war Naples, containing a population of 9,000,000, was still ruled by a Bourbon who maintained over the unhappy people a shameful despotism. The Neapolitans were quick, intelligent and good natured a people capable of high civilization but cruelly debased by centuries of wicked government. They were ignorant, idle, superstitious, and without just ideas of right and wrong. The town swarmed with beggars. Ferdinand II was then King, the last of a line of bigoted tyrants. His government was regarded with abhorrence by his subjects and with strong disapproval by Europe. Remonstrances from foreign powers had no effect upon the man who had won the nick-name of King Bomba and who had caused his own people to be shot down in the streets and had denied them any liberty. An insurrection broke out in Sicily, May 5, 1860. With 2,000 men, old soldiers of liberty, Garibaldi sailed from Genoa and landed at Marsala to direct the movement. His battle cry was “Italy and Victor Emmanuel.” This invasion, in the King’s name, of the territory of a friendly power embarrassed Sardinia not a little especially since without the sanction of France encouragement could hardly be given to the conquest of Naples. And so Cavour officially disapproved of Garibaldi’s expedition, but stood ready to accept the advantages which its success offered. Victor Emmanuel wrote to Garibaldi and asked him to desist; but Garibaldi, with many loyal and dutiful assurances, declared that he was called for and urged on by the people of Naples and said that he must disobey as he dared not endanger the cause of Italy. Ferdinand fled and Garibaldi defeated the Neapolitan troops at Reggio and San Giovanni and entered Naples September 8, where he was hailed as a deliverer. The people received him with enthusiasm and, with Italian demonstrativeness, embraced the rugged and travel-stained soldiers. For a time Garibaldi became dictator and governed Naples. The people were asked to elect their political future. They voted by vast majorities in favor of union with Sardinia, and in 1861 the first Italian Parliament met at Turin, when Victor Emmanuel became King of a united Italy united by the genius and daring of Garibaldi as well as by the statesmanship of Count Cavour. For a time there was a good deal of friction between the various incorporated States, just as a good deal of suspicion existed between Cavour and Garibaldi, but at last all differences were dispelled by vigorous and wise policy. Garibaldi retired to his mountain isle of Caprera and Italy lost Cavour (1861) who was not destined to see the completion of the work to which he had devoted his life.
The foundations of Italian unity had been laid by the judicious interference of Sardinia in the strife of great European powers. A judicious repetition of the same strategy won Venetia for Italy. When, in 1866, war broke out between Prussia and Austria, Italy made an alliance with Prussia and Garibaldi came from Caprera once more. In June war began, but the royal troops were defeated at Custozza and the Garibaldian volunteers at Monte Suello. The victories of Prussia, however, were so overwhelming that Austria could no longer hold Venice, and that city, with the great Northern fortresses, passed over to Italy. During the war the Italian fleet was badly defeated in an engagement off Lissa. Two days after Sadowa Austria ceded Venetia to France, and Emperor Napoleon gracefully handed his acquisition to the Italian government.
Now Italy was free from the Alps to the Adriatic the sole remaining obstacle being the Papal States, a considerable territory surrounding Rome, which the Church claimed to possess as the patrimony of St. Peter. The rest of Italy coveted it, for Rome was the natural capital of Italy. The tottering throne of the Pope was upheld by French bayonets and the King of Italy was firmly bound by a convention not only to abstain from making any attack upon the territory of the Holy Father, but also to resist such attack by others. But the impatience of the Italian people became irrepressible. Insurrections broke out in Rome. Garibaldi gathered around him a band of unlicensed liberators, most of whom fell into the hands of the French and Papal troops. The King declared against him as his attempt had failed. But the opportunity came to Italy three years later when war broke out between France and Prussia. When the French armies had been shamefully defeated, undutiful Italy forced an entrance into Rome, and the unification of Italy was achieved. Rome became the capital of Italy. Victor Emmanuel made it his capital and lived there until his death in 1878. He was succeeded by his son Humbert. The most important internal measure since was the wide extension of franchise in 1882. But there have been constant troubles with France, and Italy’s rise to a great power has led to an enormous increase in taxation which has borne heavily on the people and led to serious riots in the chief cities in 1898. Jealousy of France induced Italy to join the triple alliance with Germany and Austria and the increased armament necessary has been a great burden for the people. Italy lost some prestige by her defeat in the wars with Emperor Menelek of Abyssinia (1896) when she was compelled to relinquish the protectorate which she had claimed over that African region.