Review of Theodore Zeldin's The Political System of Napoleon III. Theodore Zeldin. New York: St. Martin's Press. 1958.

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The Political System of Napoleon III. Theodore Zeldin. New York: St. Martin's Press. 1958.

In Theodore Zeldin's The Political System of Napoleon III, the author asks two questions crucial in the search for an explanation of Napoleon III's perplexing Second Empire. The first question asks what was the real basis of Louis Napoleon power? And secondly, why did this authoritarian ruler allow his empire to evolve into a liberal empire? Historians have for a long time been frustrated by Louis' notorious silence and for the lack of an explanation his puzzling empire. In his pursuit for answers to the mystery of Louis' reign, the author depends almost solely on unpublished documents. What is quite commendable on the author's part is the fact that he, rather than relying solely on old reserves for new information, hit the streets of Paris in search of new clues. He located and then dug through old, private family papers belonging to imperial officials and legislatures.

He also managed to find new letters from Louis himself.

The chapters on the government's procedures in the selection and support the of the "official candidates" and on the political actions of the prefects offer quite a bit of insight into Napoleon's system. Zeldin explains Napoleon's need to build a new ruling class for his own support and the vital role of the prefects in the selection of his official candidates. According to Zeldin, it was very clear that Louis lacked and therefore needed help and allies to govern his masses. And from here, describes the author, he built his own following, Bonapartism. Zeldin contends that the 1852 elections with the "official candidates" being picked by the prelates was actually more significant than popular opinion suggests. He also, in chapter three explains that from these elections (in...