The Info List - French Coup Of 1851

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The FRENCH COUP D\'éTAT of 2 December 1851 was a self-coup staged by Prince Louis- Napoléon Bonaparte
Napoléon Bonaparte
(at the time President of the French Second Republic ). It ended in the successful dissolution of the French National Assembly
French National Assembly
and the subsequent re-establishment of the French Empire the next year. When he faced the prospect of having to leave office in 1852, Louis-Napoléon (nephew of Napoléon Bonaparte
Napoléon Bonaparte
) staged the coup in order to stay in office and implement his reform programs; these included the restoration of universal suffrage (previously abolished by the legislature). His political measures, and the extension of his mandate for 10 years, were popularly endorsed by constitutional referendum . A mere year later, the Prince-President reclaimed his uncle's throne as Emperor of the French under the regnal name Napoleon


* 1 Causes * 2 Preparations for the coup * 3 The coup of 2 December 1851 * 4 Revolt in other places * 5 Peace returns * 6 Consequences * 7 Further reading * 8 External links


In 1848 , Louis-Napoleon
Bonaparte was elected President of France through universal male suffrage, taking 74% of the vote. He did this with the support of the Parti de l\'Ordre after running against Louis Eugène Cavaignac . Subsequently, he was in constant conflict with the members (députés) of the Assemblée Nationale .

Contrary to the Party's expectations that Louis-Napoleon
would be easy to manipulate ( Adolphe Thiers
Adolphe Thiers
had called him a "cretin whom we will lead "), he proved himself an agile and cunning politician. He succeeded in imposing his choices and decisions on the Assemblée, which had once again become conservative in the aftermath of the June Days Uprising in 1848. He broke away from the control of the Parti de l'Ordre and created the Ministère des Commis, appointing General Hautpoul as its head, in 1849. On 3 January 1850, he dismissed Changarnier , a dissident in the Parti de l'Ordre, thereby provoking an open conflict within the party. He also actively encouraged the creation of numerous anti-parliament newspapers and acquired the support of 150 members of Parliament, the "Parti de l\'Elysée ".

The provisions of the constitution that prohibited an incumbent president from seeking re-election appeared to force the end of Louis-Napoleon's rule in December 1852. Not one to admit defeat, Louis-Napoleon
spent the first half of 1851 trying to force changes to the constitution through Parliament so he could be re-elected. Bonaparte travelled through the provinces and organised petitions to rally popular support. Two-thirds of the General Council supported Louis-Napoleon's cause, but in the Assembly, supporters of the Duke of Orléans , led by Thiers, concluded an alliance with the far left to oppose Louis-Napoleon's plans. In January 1851, the Parliament voted no confidence in the Ministère des Commis. On 19 July, it refused the constitutional reform proposed by Louis-Napoleon, also scrapping universal male suffrage in an effort to break popular support for Bonaparte.


The coup d'état was meticulously planned from 20 August 1851. Preparations and planning for this coup took place at Saint-Cloud
. Among the conspirators were Persigny , a loyal companion of Louis-Napoleon, the Duke of Morny , and General Jacques Leroy de Saint Arnaud . On 14 October, Louis-Napoleon
asked the Parliament to restore universal male suffrage but the request was turned down. His request for a reconsideration of the constitutional reform proposal was also turned down on 13 November. Prepared to strike, Louis-Napoleon appointed General Saint-Arnaud as the Minister of War and a circular was issued reminding soldiers of their pledge of "passive obedience". Followers of the President were appointed to various important positions: General Magnan as the Commander of the Troops of Paris, and Maupas, Prefect of Haute-Garonne
as Prefect of Police of Paris
. Convinced that the coup was now inevitable after the latest refusal, Louis-Napoleon
fixed the anniversary of the coronation of Napoleon
in 1804, and the victory of Austerlitz in 1805, as the day for the coup. The operation was christened Rubicon
, alluding to Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar


D\'Allonville 's cavalry in the street of Paris
during Napoleon III's coup.

On the morning of 2 December, troops led by Saint-Arnaud occupied strategic points in Paris, from the Champs-Élysées to the Tuileries . Top opposition leaders were arrested and six edicts promulgated to establish the rule of Louis-Napoleon. The Assemblée Nationale was dissolved, and universal male suffrage restored. Louis-Napoleon declared that a new constitution was being framed and said he intended to restore a "system established by the First Consul".

Reacting to this coup, parliamentarians took refuge in the mayor's office of the 20th arrondissement of Paris
and 220 of them voted to oust Louis-Napoleon
from power. Most prominent among these were liberals like Remusat and moderates like Pascal Duprat, who were arrested soon after. A Parisian insurrection led by the likes of Victor Hugo
Victor Hugo
and Victor Schoelcher erupted despite tight control by the Army. The insurgents were soon defeated. On 3 December, parliamentarian Alphonse Baudin was killed and on 4 December, 200 more people fell victim to the revolt. The Italian journalist Ferdinando Petruccelli della Gattina was among the rebels and was expelled from France. By evening, the revolt of Paris
was suppressed and the city returned to normal.


The coup triggered revolts in other places across France. On 5 December, rebellions were reported in big cities, small towns and rural areas in the south-west of France. The department of Basses-Alpes even declared itself administered by a "Committee of Resistance" but the army, still loyal to the President, succeeded in quelling the rebellion. A total of 32 departments were put under a state of alert from 8 December and the rebellious areas were controlled in a few days. Opponents were arrested and some were forced to flee. Victor Hugo
Victor Hugo
fled to Brussels, then Jersey, and finally settled with his family on the Channel Island of Guernsey at Hauteville House, where he would live in exile until 1870 when Louis-Napoleon
fled after his defeat in the Franco-Prussian War
Franco-Prussian War
. By the end of the rebellion, 26,000 people were arrested, 9,530 were sent to Algeria and 250 to the prison of Cayenne


The Bonapartists were finally assured of a victory. Generals Vaillant and Harispe became Marshal of France
Marshal of France
on 11 December. A new constitution was being drafted. A referendum was organised to ratify the new order and the coup was portrayed as a security operation.

On 20 and 21 December, the French population were recorded as having voted for acceptance of the new regime by an overwhelming majority of 7,145,000 to 600,000, although the official tally and free nature of the vote were questioned by dissidents like Victor Hugo
Victor Hugo
. Louis-Napoléon now had the power to draft a new constitution.


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Following a referendum in December 1851, a new constitution was adopted in January 1852 . It dramatically expanded the powers of the president, who was elected for a period of 10 years with no term limits. He not only possessed executive power, but was vested with the power of legislative initiative, thereby reducing the scope of the Parliament. Louis-Napoleon
was automatically reelected to a fresh term as president. For all intents and purposes, he now held all governing power in the nation.

The authoritarian republic proved to be only a stopgap, as Louis-Napoleon
immediately set about restoring the empire. In less than a year, following another referendum on 7 November 1852, the Second French Empire
Second French Empire
was proclaimed. On the symbolic and historic date of 2 December 1852 (the anniversary of the Coronation of Napoleon I
Coronation of Napoleon I
in 1804), President Louis-Napoleon
Bonaparte became Napoleon III
Napoleon III
, Emperor of the French.


* Margadant, Ted (1979). French Peasants in Revolt: The Insurrection of 1851. * John Burt Halsted, ed. (1972). December 2, 1851: contemporary writings on the coup d'etat of Louis Napoleon. Anchor Books. * Hugo, Victor (1852). Napoléon le Petit . * Marx, Karl (1852). The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon