Thursday, December 1, 2011

January 14, 1858 – Napoleon III Assassinated in Bombing

In an organized attack by Italian independence radicals led by Felice Orsini, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, nephew of the famous Napoleon I and reigning emperor of France since 1852, was killed in a firestorm of bombs. The emperor and his consort, Eugénie de Montijo, were on their way to the opera when Orsini and his fellow assassins hurled bombs that exploded on impact, following a design created by Orsini the year before. The first two bombs struck at the front of their carriage, the second wounding animals and breaking the protective glass, while the third and final landed inside the carriage itself. A policeman was the first to reach the wreckage and cried out, "l'Empereur est mort!"

It was a tragic end to what had seemed an epic life. Louis-Napoléon was born in 1808 as the third son of Napoleon's brother Louis, puppet-ruler of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Holland. After the fall of the French Empire, Louis-Napoléon grew up in Switzerland comfortably while his cousin Napoleon II was held under royal trappings under the Austrian court. Following the deaths of Napoleon II and the earlier generation, Louis-Napoléon became the head of the Bonapartist movement and dedicated his life to reestablishing the glory days under Napoleon I. In 1836, he attempted to begin a coup at Strasbourg much like the Hundred Days, but, rather than join him, the garrison arrested him and sent him back into exile. Another failed coup came in 1840, and Louis-Napoléon was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment in the fortress at Ham.

There, Louis-Napoléon began formulating his ideals of the liberal emperor. He wrote L'extinction du paupérisme, defining Bonapartism as autocracy for the good of the masses and outlining economic policies bordering on socialism. Following six years of imprisonment, he escaped after trading clothes with a mason and came to England, where he remained until the Revolutions of 1848 toppled King Louis-Philippe and established a new republic. Louis-Napoléon returned to Paris after the June Days uprising proved the reforming efforts of the Republic were ineffective, and he won the new presidential election with more than 75% of the total vote. He was wildly popular, "all things to all men" with progressive economic policies for the poor, being dubbed "least bad" by the Monarchists, and holding the historic Napoleon name. His term proved beneficial, but problems began as Louis-Napoléon requested an amendment to the 1848 Constitution so that he might run again after his term ended in 1852. The National Assembly refused and instead amended voting laws with a three-year residency requirement, which would cut out many traveling workers of the lower class who would have voted for him. Calling for maintenance of universal male suffrage, Louis-Napoléon secured the support of the army and at last had his successful coup in 1851.

Now ruler of the Second French Empire, Napoleon III worked to create anew what his uncle once held. A new constitution kept universal male suffrage and the Parliament, but all real power lay with Louis-Napoléon. He exiled political rivals to Devil's Island and other penal colonies and married the Spanish Eugénie de Montijo (after being turned down by higher nobles from the houses of Sweden and Britain) to produce his heir, Louis Napoléon the Prince Impérial, born in 1856. Louis-Napoléon also worked to overcome the colonial restrictions placed on France by aiding European powers in the Crimean War (using Russia as an excuse for the return of French influence) and the Anglo-Persian War. More notably, he also gave influence in the militaristic attempts at Italian unification, such as his providing troops to restore Pope Pius IX and defeat the short-lived Roman Republic of Garibaldi and Mazzini in 1849.

This action had caused an uproar in France (which had been calmed by Louis-Napoléon's popularity), but it had also instilled in the minds of Orsini and others that Louis-Napoléon was a stumbling block to an Italian nation, leading to his assassination. The assassins were caught and executed with Orsini notably going to the guillotine quietly and with a sense of satisfaction. Meanwhile, France became a political vacuum as Napoleon IV was only two years old. Bids for an advisor turned into factionalism, and power gradually fell back to the Parliament, making the young emperor a figurehead. Anti-Italian sentiment led to the French assistance of the Austrians (a large reversal from the old Napoleonic enemy) in the Second Italian War of Independence in 1859, which formed the alliance that narrowly defeated the Prussians in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, giving Emperor Franz Josef political clout to build his Southern German Confederation opposing Prussia and its northern German allies.

Prussia would eventually have its victory in the Great War (spawned from another assassination in 1914 of Austria's archduke) when it joined with Russia and Britain against France, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire, leading to the dissolution of the latter two and the formation of South Germany and, finally, an independent unified Italy. With its humiliating defeat, France gave up its empire as the aging Napoleon V abdicated. The new republic lasted only briefly before the fascist Third French Empire arose in the 1930s. The resulting imperialism with its Japanese allies would be opposed by a congress of nations, including the century-old Republic of Mexico and the liberated Vietnamese who suffered under years of Japanese colonialism before becoming a republic under American encouragement.


In reality, the third bomb landed underneath the carriage, injuring the police officer but leaving the imperial couple unscathed. Napoleon III survived to put into action many of his foreign policies including military intervention in Mexico, the conquest of Indochina, and aiding Sardinia in victory over Austria and the unification of Italy. In 1870, he would go to war against Prussia after being pressured by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, and the resulting loss would give way to the German Empire while the French collapsed. Napoleon III died from complications in surgery in 1873 while in exile in England.

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