Europe 1852: Second French Empire
While the King of Prussia was backing down in Germany, the ambitious French President Louis-Napoleon was consolidating power in France. By 1852 he was ready to restore the French Empire with himself as Emperor Napoleon III. Although this alarmed the nations of Europe, where memories of the Napoleonic Wars were still strong, its importance was soon overshadowed by events further east.
23 Dec 1850–16 May 1851 Dresden Conference▲
From December 1850 to May 1851 the German states met in Dresden, in the Kingdom of Saxony, to settle the constitutional problems of the restored German Confederation. This conference was largely unsuccessful, with Austria refusing to accept equality with Prussia, but did lead to Prussia rejoining the Confederation. On 16 May 1851, immediately after the conference, Austria and Prussia agreed to a secret defensive alliance to protect Germany from other states, but this would lapse six years later when Prussia concluded that there was no value in continuing it.
Apr 1851 Russian withdrawal from Moldavia▲
In April 1851 the Russian Empire withdrew its troops from the Principality of Moldavia. At the same time, the Russians and Ottomans ended their joint occupation of the Principality of Wallachia. In accordance with the Convention of Balta Liman (1849), the two principalities were then restored as Ottoman vassal states under Russian protection.
2 Dec 1851 Louis-Napoleon’s coup d’état▲
In 1851 the French National Assembly rejected President Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte’s attempts to change the constitution to allow him to run for a second term in 1852 then revoked universal male suffrage in an effort to break his popular support. In response Louis-Napoleon and his supporters staged a coup d’état on 2 December—the anniversary of both Napoleon I’s coronation and the Battle of Austerlitz—in which they arrested opposition leaders, granted Louis-Napoleon dictatorial powers, dissolved the National Assembly, and restored universal male suffrage. Resistance to the coup continued in Paris and the provinces for several days, but was soon suppressed by the army.
8 May 1852 London Protocol▲
In May 1852 Austria, Britain, France, Prussia, Russia, Denmark, and Sweden signed the London Protocol, guaranteeing the territorial integrity of the Kingdom of Denmark and its federation as a “European necessity and standing principle”. In particular, the protocol attempted to ensure that the strategic port of Kiel would not fall into Prussian hands by modifying the lines of succession to the duchies of Schleswig, Holstein, and Lauenburg so that they would not end their personal union with Denmark on the death of the childless Frederick VII of Denmark.
21–22 Nov 1852 French Second Empire Referendum▲
Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte’s actions in the wake of his coup in December 1851 were supported by a referendum later that month, which approved a constitution making him President of France for ten years with no restrictions on re-election. In November 1852, in response to officially inspired requests, a second referendum was held over the re-establishment of the French Empire under Bonaparte and his family. Some eight million people turned out—79.8% of eligible voters—with 96.9% of them voting in favor of Louis-Napoleon and the restoration of the Empire.
2 Dec 1852 Second French Empire▲
Supported by the referendum of November 1852, the French Empire was formally re-established on 2 December, with Prince-President Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte proclaimed as Napoleon III, Emperor of the French. This was largely a ceremonial move as the constitution pushed through earlier that year had already concentrated much power in Napoleon’s hands. The restored, or Second, French Empire would last for eighteen years, during which it would promote a degree of liberalization in France, the development of a grand railway network, and the reconstruction of Paris, before ultimately succumbing to its disastrous foreign policy.