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The Wars of of Napoleon III

Napoleon III said when he ascended the throne: "The Empire means peace"; but he embroiled France in a disastrous war which ended in his own ruin. The disabled Empire, uselessly yielding to the Orleanists, and beset on every side by constantly augmenting Republicanism, sought through the fortunes of foreign war the last and only chance of reprieve, and recklessly lost France in the vain hope of saving a dynasty.

This Empire, which had declared itself for peace in 1852, was responsible for no less than seven expeditions since the Crimean war - that to Italy, the Chinese campaigns, the expedition to Indo-China, the war in Syria, the occupation of Rome, the wars in the Kabyle and south of Oran, and the long and costly expedition to Mexico. Most of these expeditions were unconnected and remote, and were entered into simultaneously, with no other object but to satisfy certain factions in France, whose demands grew with the pledges thus given them. Every year fresh efforts were required to repair the huge losses which these campaigns were bound to cause in the ranks and munitions of the French army and navy. The worst result of this policy was that it alienated all sympathy from France, leaving her isolated, without an alliance and without a friend.

In 1854 Napoleon formed an alliance with England against Russia, and engaged in that Crimean War which was undertaken to repel the advances of Russia in Turkey. The allies attacked the fortress and city of Sevastopol, on the Black Sea, and after nearly a year's siege succeeded in taking them. Peace was then made, and Turkey was accordingly secured, for the time, against Russian interference for either good or ill.

Five years later the emperor began a war against Austria, ostensibly in behalf of Italy. He declared that that country should be rescued from her cruel oppression. The Italians under Victor Emmanuel were endeavoring to establish their independence as a nation. Louis Napoleon, however, was not fighting merely for sentiment. He had made an agreement with Victor Emmanuel, by virtue of which the latter was to give him Savoy and Nice to annex to France as a recompense for his help. To the astonishment of all Europe, Napoleon met Francis Joseph, Emperor of Austria, at Villa Franca, and concluded a peace whereby the Italians felt themselves sacrificed to Austria and the Pope. The threatened interference of Prussia and other German states in behalf of Austria forced the French emperor to make peace.

At the end of the year 1859 the Emperor Napoleon III had reached the summit of his power. From that time the Second French Empire commenced to decline. In the following year the issue of the events of Italy was for the most part not in accordance with the wishes of Napoleon, and thenceforth he strove in all his undertakings rather to dazzle the imagination of the French people than to attain material objects.

Towards the close of 1861 he plunged into the Mexican war, an enterprise which was destined to be most fatal to himself and to the Empire. At the onset he acted in concert with England and with Spain; but when, early in 1862, these Powers, declaring themselves satisfied with the promises of the Mexican Republic, withdrew from the expedition, France remained alone in the quarrel, and by arbitrarily increasing her demands, showed her intention of entering at any cost into a combat with Mexico, and consequently with the United States of America, who were then themselves involved in civil war.

During the Civil War in the United States the French emperor was secretly hostile to the Union party, and took advantage of the situation position to endeavor to establish a Mexican empire under the rule of Maximilian of Austria. Undoubtedly any stable government would have been an advantage to that distracted country, but it was probably ambition, not love of Mexico, which animated the whole scheme. The project, however, failed. The United States refused to recognize Maximilian, and demanded that Napoleon should withdraw his troops. A year later (1867) Maximilian was shot, and thus ended Napoleon's much-boasted "Latin Empire in the West."

In the beginning of 1863, also, the Polish insurrection against Russia, which up to that time had only existed covertly, broke out openly and violently, and France, England, Austria, and Italy opened concerning it a war of despatches with Russia, which, however, could in no way lead to any result . Then, again, in the summer of the same year the Emperor of Austria attempted at Frankfort-on-the-Main to arrange with the small princes a plan for the unity of Germany, and his design was frustrated by the opposition of Prussia. Consequently on this and on the interchange of ideas between Prussia and Austria, the Schleswig-Holstein question, which had to all appearances been buried in 1850, came again prominently forward.

In short, in the year 1863 the very air teemed with European questions of great importance. Such being the case, Napoleon III., towards the close of the year, proposed a European congress, which was to sit in Paris. But his proposition was rejected, for England was not willing that in any case war should arise. Thus it came to pass that in the beginning of 1864 the war against Denmark broke out, in which Austria made common cause with Prussia; and the Danish dwarf, falling an easy prey to the military giants who had risen up against it, could not be rescued by diplomatic means.

It now became imperative for the Emperor of the French to resolve upon a course. Two ways were open to him by which he might maintain himself upon his throne. Either he must resolve to abandon the principle of Caesarism and give to France internal freedom, or he must dazzle her with brilliant victories abroad and thus rescue the principle of personal government. And looking to the manner in which his Empire was founded, Napoleon was forced to give the preference to the latter course; and thus his policy after 1864 was working mainly to two ends - to gain alliances abroad, and to concentrate the disseminated military force of France.

There had long been an ill-feeling smoldering between France and Germany, growing originally out of the old Napoleonic wars. In 1870 the throne of Spain having become vacant, it was offered to Prince Leopold, an officer in the Prussian army and a relative of the Prussian king. Napoleon demanded that the king of Prussia should bind himself never to support Prince Leopold as a candidate for the Spanish crown. King William indignantly refused to consider the matter. Napoleon affected to consider, this action of Prussia as an insult, and declared war (July 19, 1870).

France was utterly unprepared to begin the contest; but such was the ignorance of the people respecting the real condition of the army, and such the infatuation of the war party, that all Paris echoed with mad cries of "On to Berlin!" The emperor, at the head of a poorly equipped body of troops, purposed crossing the Rhine into Germany. But instead of waiting to be thus invaded, Germany pushed her troops forward.

At Sedan, in the northeast of France, on September 1st a great battle was fought, which resulted in the decisive defeat of the French. Napoleon III with eighty thousand prisoners of war, fell into the hands of the enemy. Three days later (September 4, 1870) Gambetta rose in the legislature and declared the emperor deposed and France a republic. After Napoleon's release he went to England, where he died in 1873. His son, Prince Napoleon, was killed in the Zulu War in 1879. The Empress Eugenie resided in England.




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Page last modified: 08-09-2017 18:19:02 ZULU