The regime that Louis Napoleon had established, recalling the orders of Napoleon I to life, was to last until September 1870, although it changed in the last period in the sense of the progressive loosening of the brakes and the progressive attenuation of authoritarianism, up to approaching liberal forms. Like that of the first Napoleon, the regime of Napoleon III, very strong in the first phase, had to weaken due to the removal and wear of some of the forces that had helped it to rise and had supported it, and had to eventually fall due to the backlash of military disasters.
According to Philosophynearby, the second empire had with it and for itself at its rise the army and the bureaucracy – that is, the two fundamental pillars of a highly centralized state order such as that of France – the peasant masses, the clerical forces and a large part of those of the bourgeoisie producer and trader, to whom it ensured favorable conditions for the development of economic activities. And he benefited above all from that sense of nausea of parliamentarism, of the need for peace and order, of fear of the social upheavals that the excesses and convulsions of the second republic had spread widely in the French countryside and cities, making the love of political freedoms. The working classes, which previously had given so much nourishment to subversivism, they were enticed and cornered with a paternalistic policy of providence, aid and social laws. The legitimist and Orleanist aristocracy, which remained aloof, suspicious and hostile, was replaced with the imperial aristocracy, whose ranks were made up of the families of the nobility of the first empire and those raised by Napoleon III, and provided the elements for the sumptuous and festive court organized by the new emperor, especially after his marriage (1853). If a part of the intellectuals did not yield to the new order of things, having at their head none other than Victor Hugo, fulminating from the oceanic exile loud invectives against “Napoleon the little”, there were those who had accepted it in full and they made assertors.
The second empire really seemed to impart a new and more powerful rhythm of life to the French nation; and this with an impressive public works policy, including the development of the railways at the forefront; with an intensified business activity, of which the foundations of large stock companies and credit institutions were documented; with the transformation of Paris into a magnificent modern metropolis, carried out through demolitions and guttings and constructions that replaced the mazes of winding and narrow streets with old huts, the spacious boulevards, the straights flanked by majestic palaces; which also served to make it very difficult and almost impossible to repeat the insurrectional blows such as those of 1830 and 1848. This intensified pace of activity was accompanied by an increase in productive energies, an increase in the standard of living and general well-being. All this was already in embryo during the period of the census monarchy, when the bourgeoisie had advanced in political and economic life; but the three years of convulsions and unrest between 1848 and 1851 had, as it were, arrested the movement of ascent, which resumed and intensified with the advent of the second empire, and which presented itself imposing in front of Europe with the Exposition universal held in Paris in 1855.
The study of the history of the second empire must nevertheless play a predominant part in foreign policy, since the search for possibilities for action and great successes in the international field constituted the absorbing concern, and we would say almost characteristic, of the new emperor, who had behind him, and almost at the basis and justification of his own sovereignty and his own dynasty, the glorious traditions of the first empire, and which he felt as a regime such as the one he established – and which had taken the place of dynasties linked to the history of development and rise of France – could not really consolidate and be definitively accepted by the nation except through international successes and advantages. “Empire is peace”, he solemnly affirmed, in a tone of promise, the new ruler in the time when the way to the throne was being prepared. But the statement was intended to eliminate the distrust and fears of those who might fear a resumption of the warlike and adventurous politics of the first empire from the way to the throne; and the promise could only dissolve in the warrior and adventurous spirit that the return of the Empire fatally revived in France.
The spring and the directives of the foreign policy of the second empire are to be found in the Napoleonic intention to break the system of the three continental allies, which in 1814-15 had overthrown Napoleon I, and to beat them separately, reopening the ways for France to reach the traditional destinations of natural borders and European hegemony. This policy responding to the old traditions of France would have found a new and powerful instrument in the movement of nationalities across the Rhine and beyond the Alps of which Napoleon III would have made himself an advocate, while containing it within limits and directives conforming to French interests.