Napoleon III and the rebuild of Paris John Renehan June 3, 2007 AP European History; Mandelman period 2


Napoleon III ruled the Second Empire of France from 1852 to 1870. After the coup installing 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 Crimean War. (Kagan 792) Around 1860, he began changing his policies. He made free trade agreements with England and allowed the legislature more power, seeing himself as “Emperor of the French,” a socially conscious 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 city for centuries to come. Prefect Baron Haussmann led the project that modernized the health systems, architecture, and design of the city. (Bowditch 314) A loyal Bonapartist, Napoleon could trust Hausmann to carry out the emperor’s plans. Napoleon III’s rebuild of Paris reflected his goals as Emperor of France. His reconstruction represented the power of France and the efficiency of his administration. It represented his desire 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, the actual construction created jobs which created unemployment, strengthening his government. The rebuild of Paris represented the power of France and the efficiency of Napoleon III’s administration. Haussmann directed the razing of entire neighborhoods to the ground, and the re-erection of these areas according to the Emperor’s wishes. He transformed these slums with winding, medieval passages into elegant boulevards lined with neat housing, from one corner of


Paris to the other (Earls). The volume of the renovation was astonishing, impressing Parisians and 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 Paris throughout its two-decade rebuilding. Previous administrations had made attempts to revitalize Paris, 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). The Second Empire was not marked by desire to dominate Europe, as its predecessor had been, but was 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 in apartments 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 to over one million people. Narrow, bending passages between buildings worked their way through the city, and were so complex that not a single map of Paris existed in 1849. These alleys were heavily 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 most influential 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 a triangulation of Paris to create a map. Additionally, the Emperor created a prototype depicting his 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.


The two maps of the current and future Paris were given to Haussmann, who over two decades organized raising capital for construction from loans, credit arrangements, investment banking, and local construction (Baguley 198). The emperor met with Haussmann almost daily, who, arranging the small things, made the “grandiose monument to [Napoleon III’s] rule” successful (Baguley 197). Furthermore, the rebuild of Paris reflected Napoleon III’s desire for stability. Louis Napoleon was elected president of the Second Republic of France in the aftermath of the 1848 revolution, which originated in Paris. He wanted to eliminate the conditions which made a revolution possible (Earls). Discontent in Paris often came from disease, overcrowding, health problems, and a low standard of living, most of which Napoleon III planned to solve with better organization, administration, and layout of the city. The people of Paris had a great influence on the rest of France . The citizens of Paris had overthrown two governments in the sixty years before the reign of Napoleon III (Earls). Controlling and satisfying them was probably the most important factor in maintaining stability in France. The rebuild of Paris contributed to stability in two ways. First, the improvements made to the city resulted in increased organization and comfort for Parisians. Happy citizens do not rebel. Green tree-lined parks were places for recreation and leisure time, away from crowded homes. The working class frequented pubs on their day off work, Sunday, something that Napoleon III believed to hurt Parisians (Baguley 199). The parks were designed to bring people together for activities, sport, and amusement that would help maintain a stable and content population. Even more important than the parks was the housing problem. During the Industrial Revolution, millions of people in every country of Europe moved toward cities to work in


factories, Paris included. These cities, limited in their area, could not meet the increased demand for housing. This newly enlarged working class ended up living in apartments and houses crowded beyond belief. In Paris, there was no sewer system, so these apartments were unhealthy. The problems of housing shortages were not solved in any large European cities in the 19th century, and Napoleon III’s new Paris could only minimally address this problem (Earls). However, the location of mass housing was much more functional after the rebuild of Paris. As many cities that underwent renovation in the 19th century did, Paris’ central area became the industrial and business center, instead of being a mass of various forms of housing. The new apartments, though they could not sustain more people, were on the outskirts of the city. Public transit brought the workers to their jobs in the downtown business and industrial hub (Bowditch 315). Second, in a more practical light, Napoleon III designed Paris in such a way that the streets could not be barricaded (Baguley 197). The streets of Paris had been barricaded eight times between 1827 and 1849, and three of those times had led to Revolution (Earls). The narrow streets were easy to barricade, and military forces were essentially useless in penetrating them. Hidden up narrow streets, military units had a hard time getting there. As I have discussed, these narrow streets were cleared and replaced by a smaller number of broad boulevards running straight for miles. Napoleon III’s army could easily mobilize on these streets to put down a rebellion, but the likelihood of barricades was in itself already lower because of the change (Earls). At the same time, though, the importance of this consideration in the design of Paris is debated However, the use of military force in calming rebellion was much more practical after the redesign of Paris. Napoleon III would not have hesitated to keep order in Paris with force.


Clearly, Napoleon III likened himself to his grandfather and uncle Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the First Empire. When Napoleon I was beginning to make a name for himself in the aftermath of the 1789 French Revolution, he put down a rebellion with a whiff of grapeshot (Napoleon). Napoleon III would have had no problem with carrying out a measure like this in his Second Empire. Consequently, Napoleon III was certain that the upgrading of the city and the employment that it, along with other programs of public works, necessitated, would resolve the very problems that gave rise to his uprising. And if he failed to eliminate unrest, he could put down a rebellion with his army in the new streets of Paris. Moreover, the rebuild of Paris reflected his desire to be seen as “Emperor of the French,” in which his authoritarian state benefited the people. The sewage systems of Paris were limited at best. Napoleon III created a water system that greatly improved the health conditions of Paris, as part of his utopian vision for the city. Napoleon III envisioned Paris as a utopia. His goals for Paris were foreshadowed on a much smaller scale in the international art exhibitions that he organized. The layout of these exhibitions was “spectacularly utopian” (Baguley 194). They looked like model villages designed by utopian socialists: seven concentric ovular galleries were organized around a central garden, so that a visitor could follow themes within a gallery, or cross galleries to view art from different nations. (Baguley 194) The reconstruction program, which could only have been accomplished under a regime as authoritarian as the Second Empire, allowed Napoleon III to reconcile his Caesarean authoritarianism and dictatorship with humanitarianism. The rebuild was a monument to his


socialism more convincing than any speech he could give or pamphlet he could write. (Baguley 196). The best example of the utopian reforms in Paris is the development of water systems. In 1851, there were about eighty miles of sewer pipes. Streams in gutters were depended on to carry rain, dirty water, sewage, and various forms of waste to sewers, which dumped into the Seine River. One of every four streets had no water pipes whatsoever, and only one in five houses had iron pipes with running water. Rain overflowed the gutters into ground level buildings and courtyards, helping Paris maintain the highest death rate in the country. Dirty streets fed rats and fleas, which carried deadly diseases such as cholera. In 1849, nearly twenty thousand Parisians died of cholera, and the tremendously fast growth of Paris indicated that these problems were not just going to disappear (Earls). By the time of 1869, though, there were over four hundred miles of sewer pipes underneath Paris, which dumped much farther downstream in the Seine than previously (Earls). Haussmann worked on putting a sewer underneath every street; even today these sewers constitute most of the existing system. Until the rebuilding, all the water in Paris was drawn from the Seine River, but Haussmann, with the help of the civil engineer Eugene Belgrand, constructed aqueducts that brought fresh water from distant streams to reservoirs in Paris. An important part of improving health in Paris was cleaning the streets. Some of the water brought in from streams on the aqueducts was allotted for cleaning and upkeep of the streets, which no doubt boosted appearances of Paris as well (Paris). Finally, the rebuilding of Paris, being the massive project that it was, created jobs for Parisians. Unemployment had been a hot issue in Paris since the stirring of the 1789 French Revolution, and was a driving factor in the 1848 Revolution (Campbell 110). Perhaps the most important motive of Napoleon III to rebuild Paris, it employed thousands of Parisians.


Involved in the transformation of their city, the people of Paris were also more likely to support Napoleon III in his other policies. Employment opportunities were created in construction, management of projects, engineering, and government programs for those displaced by the projects, keeping thousands of Parisians busy (Baguley 196). Citizens with jobs were content, and too busy to cause unrest in Paris. In conclusion, although the rebuild of Paris was just another step in the history of the city, it was an important part of Napoleon III’s actions as Emperor, and nicely summarized his ideals for the Second Empire. The reconstruction proved the power of his administration, and showed how he planned to maintain stability in France. The socialist aspect of the redesign appealed to his subjects, which extended to Frenchmen everywhere in the country, whose backing supported Napoleon III’s successful Second Empire.


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