French Constitution of 1852
The French Constitution of 1852 was enacted on January 14, 1852 by Charles Louis Napoléon Bonaparte
Napoleon III of France
Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was the President of the French Second Republic and as Napoleon III, the ruler of the Second French Empire. He was the nephew and heir of Napoleon I, christened as Charles Louis Napoléon Bonaparte...

 (Napoleon III). Slightly modified later that year, on December 25, 1852 the constitution became the basis for the creation of the French Second Empire.


Louis Napoléon brought an end to the Second French Republic by the coup d'état of December 2, 1851
French coup of 1851
The French coup d'état on 2 December 1851, staged by Prince Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte , ended in the successful dissolution of the French National Assembly, as well as the subsequent re-establishment of the French Empire the next year...

. The same day, he had posters issued that proclaimed to the French people (Appel au peuple) his desire to restore the "system created by the First Consul" — his uncle and inspiration Napoleon Bonaparte.

His coup was ratified by plebiscite on December 22 and 23, 1851. Backed by this strong success, he encouraged counsellors Rouher
Eugène Rouher
Eugène Rouher was a French statesman of the Second Empire.He was born at Riom , where he practised law after taking his degree in Paris in 1835. In 1846 he sought election to the Chamber of Deputies as an official candidate of the Guizot ministry...

, Baroche and Troplong to quickly write the new constitution which was enacted on January 14, 1852.

The constitution was modified by the French Senate (by a "senatus-consulte") on November 7, 1852 to permit the re-establishing of the title of "Emperor" which was granted to Louis Napoléon. The Second Empire was proclaimed on December 2, 1852 and the Imperial Constitution was enacted on December 25, 1852, without any significant change to the January 14th constitution.

The Prince-President

The constitution rejected the Ancien Régime and the post-revolutionary restoration monarchies with census suffrage. It referred directly to the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

 – saying that it "recognizes, confirms and guarantees the principles proclaimed in 1789" – and especially to the First French Empire
First French Empire
The First French Empire , also known as the Greater French Empire or Napoleonic Empire, was the empire of Napoleon I of France...


Louis Napoléon was persuaded that democracy needed to be incarnated in a man, and the Constitution of 1851 was a return to the democratic Caesarism of his uncle Napoléon Bonaparte. The regime was characterized by a strong personal power backed by universal suffrage
Universal suffrage
Universal suffrage consists of the extension of the right to vote to adult citizens as a whole, though it may also mean extending said right to minors and non-citizens...

; the French people remained "sovereign", and in this way the Second Empire was different from the earlier constitutional monarchies.

Personal government

The Government of the Republic was given over to Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte for 10 years, and executive and legislative powers were concentrated in his hands.

The Emperor held the classic powers of a chief of state: commander of the army, clemency, amnesty, the ability to enact and sign treaties. He also maintained the powers of a head of government including appointing and revoking governmental ministers and dissolving the Legislative Body.

He was assisted by the Counsel of State (Conseil d'État) which he controlled and presided, and whose job it was to write and support legislation.

Under Article 4 of the constitution, he also had extended legislative powers, including the ability to sign or to veto any legislation or senate decree ("senatus-consulte").

Weakened assemblies

The two French parliamentary assemblies were highly controlled and had limited powers.

The Corps législatif
Corps législatif
The Corps législatif was a part of the French legislature during the French Revolution and beyond. It is also the generic French term used to refer to any legislative body.-History:The Constitution of the Year I foresaw the need for a corps législatif...

, or Legislative Body (the same name had been used for the lower house
Lower house
A lower house is one of two chambers of a bicameral legislature, the other chamber being the upper house.Despite its official position "below" the upper house, in many legislatures worldwide the lower house has come to wield more power...

 of the French legislature during the French Consulate
French Consulate
The Consulate was the government of France between the fall of the Directory in the coup of 18 Brumaire in 1799 until the start of the Napoleonic Empire in 1804...

 from 1799–1814), comprised 260 deputies (representatives) elected for 6 years by direct universal suffrage
Universal suffrage
Universal suffrage consists of the extension of the right to vote to adult citizens as a whole, though it may also mean extending said right to minors and non-citizens...

, but gerrymandering
In the process of setting electoral districts, gerrymandering is a practice that attempts to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating geographic boundaries to create partisan, incumbent-protected districts...

 of the election districts ("circonscriptions") and the system of "official candidates" favored partisans of the Empire. The Legislative Body could neither amend laws nor censure the actions of the ministers, and had no legislative autonomy, as its president and its rules were designated by the government.

The French Senate
French Senate
The Senate is the upper house of the Parliament of France, presided over by a president.The Senate enjoys less prominence than the lower house, the directly elected National Assembly; debates in the Senate tend to be less tense and generally enjoy less media coverage.-History:France's first...

 was composed of from 80 to 150 members appointed for life by the Emperor. It had the right to issue decrees, the senatus-consulte, to modify institutions and to verify the constitutionality of laws.

Evolution towards a parliamentary regime

Over time, various decrees and the "senatus-consulte" modified the constitution and progressively increased the power of the assemblies. In 1860, Napoleon III permitted the Senate and Legislative Body to once again have the right air their opinions and grievances on the acts of the government. In 1861, the Legislative Body began to publish its debates; in 1867 it gained the power to direct questions to the government; in 1869, it gained the power to initiate and amend legislation.

See also

  • French constitution
  • French Parliament
  • Government of France
    Government of France
    The government of the French Republic is a semi-presidential system determined by the French Constitution of the fifth Republic. The nation declares itself to be an "indivisible, secular, democratic, and social Republic"...

  • History of France
    History of France
    The history of France goes back to the arrival of the earliest human being in what is now France. Members of the genus Homo entered the area hundreds of thousands years ago, while the first modern Homo sapiens, the Cro-Magnons, arrived around 40,000 years ago...

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