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Napoleon III and the Rebuild of Paris

Napoleon III and the Rebuild of Paris

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Published by John M. Renehan
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Published by: John M. Renehan on Jun 04, 2007
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 Napoleon III and the rebuild of ParisJohn RenehanJune 3, 2007AP European History; Mandelman period 2
 
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 Napoleon III ruled the Second Empire of France from 1852 to 1870. After the coupinstalling him as emperor in December 1852, the revolution of 1848 was fresh on his mind. His policy for the first half of his reign was authoritarian and conservative, controlling the press,legislature, and politics while obtaining support by securing property and winning the CrimeanWar. (Kagan 792)Around 1860, he began changing his policies. He made free trade agreements with Englandand allowed the legislature more power, seeing himself as “Emperor of the French,” a sociallyconscious dictator. By the late 1860’s he drew back press and labor union limitations.Eventually, though, his foreign policy became less successful. He was captured during the war with Germany and sent to England. (Kagan 792)In the mid-1850’s, Napoleon commissioned a major reconstruction of Paris, changing the cityfor centuries to come. Prefect Baron Haussmann led the project that modernized the healthsystems, architecture, and design of the city. (Bowditch 314) A loyal Bonapartist, Napoleoncould trust Hausmann to carry out the emperor’s plans. Napoleon III’s rebuild of Paris reflected his goals as Emperor of France. His reconstructionrepresented the power of France and the efficiency of his administration. It represented hisdesire for stability, partially helping him achieve that goal. The rebuild represented his desire of  being “Emperor of the French,” in which his authoritarian state benefited the people. Finally, theactual construction created jobs which created unemployment, strengthening his government.The rebuild of Paris represented the power of France and the efficiency of Napoleon III’sadministration. Haussmann directed the razing of entire neighborhoods to the ground, and there-erection of these areas according to the Emperor’s wishes. He transformed these slums withwinding, medieval passages into elegant boulevards lined with neat housing, from one corner of 
 
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Paris to the other (Earls). The volume of the renovation was astonishing, impressing Parisiansand tourists alike, and helping Paris secure its claim to the world’s most famous city.The more money Napoleon III could spend on Paris, the more powerful France would appear.To illustrate, he spent over 2.5 billion francs (about 22 billion current US dollars) on Paristhroughout its two-decade rebuilding. Previous administrations had made attempts to revitalizeParis, but could do little but patchwork. Napoleon III gave the entire city a new look,demonstrating the power of France and the efficiency of his government (Bowditch 313). TheSecond Empire was not marked by desire to dominate Europe, as its predecessor had been, butwas rather an Empire “secure in its illusions of grandeur and lasting prosperity.” (Baguley 195) Napoleon rebuilt Paris with a utopian vision of the city, which he imagined to extend to all of France. Paris was designed to emulate utopian communities: much of the working class lived inapartments around the outside of the city, near the factories in which they worked.Paris had grown with no plan since medieval times, and by 1850 its population had grown toover one million people. Narrow, bending passages between buildings worked their way throughthe city, and were so complex that not a single map of Paris existed in 1849. These alleys wereheavily polluted and crowded with wagons and people, and made filthy by cesspools (Earls). If  Napoleon III could delight most of the one million people in France’s biggest and mostinfluential city, his administration could prove to be efficient at satisfying the interests of their subjects.So, Napoleon III began organizing his reconstruction in 1849, when he ordered atriangulation of Paris to create a map. Additionally, the Emperor created a prototype depictinghis vision of the city. However, Napoleon III’s lines for new streets went straight through some buildings, slums, and houses, making the rebuild of Paris a massive endeavor.

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