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The Bonapartiste was a conservative, monarchist and imperial french faction in the nineteenth century. The Bonapartistes desired an Empire under the House of Bonaparte, the Corsican family of Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon I of France) and his nephew Louis (Napoleon III of France), in French political history.
Bonapartism had its followers, from 1815 forward, among those who never accepted the defeat at Waterloo or the Congress of Vienna. Napoleon I's death in exile on Saint Helena, in 1821, only transferred the allegiance of many of these persons to other members of his family; however, particularly after the death of Napoleon's son, the Duke of Reichstadt (known to Bonapartists as Napoleon II), there were several different members of the family in which the Bonapartist hopes rested.
The disturbances of 1848 gave this group hope. Bonapartists were essential in the election of Napoleon I's nephew, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, as President of the Second Republic, and gave him the political support necessary for his 1852 discarding of the constitution and proclaiming the Second Empire. Louis Napoleon Bonaparte assumed the title Napoleon III to acknowledge the brief reign of Napoleon's son Napoleon II at the end of the Hundred Days in 1815.
In 1870, Napoleon III led France to a disastrous defeat at the hands of Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War, and he subsequently abdicated. Afterwards, Bonapartists continued to aspire and to agitate for another member of the family to be placed on the throne. However, from 1871 forward, they competed with monarchist groups that favoured the restoration of the family of Louis-Philippe, King of the French (1830–1848) (the Orléanists), and with those who favoured the restoration of the House of Bourbon, the traditional French royal family (Legitimists). The strength of these three monarchist factions combined was almost undoubtedly greater than that of the Republicans of the era, but as the three proved to be irreconcilable on the choice of who should be the new French monarch, monarchist fervor eventually waned and the French Republic became more or less a permanent facet of French life; Bonapartism was slowly relegated to being the civic faith of a few romantics as more of a hobby than a practical political philosophy. The death knell for Bonapartism was probably sounded when Eugene Bonaparte, the only son of Napoleon III, was killed in action while serving as a British Army officer in Zululand in 1879. Thereafter Bonapartism ceased to be a political force.
The current head of the family is the Prince Napoleon (Charles Marie Jérôme Victor Napoléon Bonaparte, born 1950), great-great-grandson of Napoleon I's brother Jérôme Bonaparte by his second marriage; he has a son Jean (born 1986) and a brother, Jérôme Bonaparte (born 1957), unmarried. There are no remaining descendants in the male line from any other of Napoleon's brothers, and no serious political movement that aims to restore any of these men to the imperial throne of France.
The "Law of Succession" Napoleon I established on becoming Emperor in 1804, provided that the Bonapartist claim to the throne should pass firstly to Napoleon's own legitimate male descendants through the male line. At that time, he had no legitimate sons and it seemed unlikely he would have any, due to the age of his wife Joséphine. Through the Catholic eyes, his eventual response was the unacceptable one, since he engineered a dubious annulment, without papal approval, of his marriage to Josephine, undertaking a second marriage to the younger Marie Louise, with whom he had one son. The law of succession provided that, if Napoleon's own direct line died out, the claim passed first to his older brother Joseph and his legitimate male descendants, through the male line, then to his younger brother Louis and his legitimate male descendants through the male line. His other brothers, Lucien and Jerome, and their descendants, were omitted from the succession (even though Lucien was older than Louis) because they had either politically opposed the Emperor or made marriages of which he disapproved. Napoleon had one son with Marie Louise, in whose favour he abdicated after his final defeat in 1815. Although the Bonapartes were now deposed and the old Bourbon monarchy restored, Bonapartists recognized this child as Napoleon II. However, he was sickly, virtually imprisoned in Austria, and died young and unmarried, without leaving any further direct descendants of Napoleon I. When the Bonaparte Empire was restored to power in France in 1852, the Emperor was Napoleon III, Louis Bonaparte's only living legitimate son (Joseph having died in 1844 without ever having had a legitimate son, only daughters).
In 1852, Napoleon III, having restored the Bonapartes to power in France, enacted a new decree on the succession. The claim first went to his own male legitimate descendants in the male line (though at that time he had none; he would later have one legitimate son, Eugene Bonaparte, who would be recognized by Bonapartists as "Napoleon IV" before dying young and unmarried). If his own line died out, the new decree allowed the claim to pass to Jerome, Napoleon's youngest brother who had previously been excluded, and his male descendants by Princess Catharina of Württemberg in the male line (but not his descendants by his original marriage to the American commoner Elizabeth Patterson, which Napoleon I had greatly disapproved). The only remaining Bonapartist claimants since 1879, and today, have been the descendants of Jerome and Catherine of Württemberg in the male line.
In their willingness to ignore primogeniture (the exclusion of Lucien Bonaparte and his descendants) and their cavalier approach to the Catholic belief in the indissolubility of marriage and to the Pope's rights as final arbiter on the validity of marriages, the Bonapartist laws of succession were far from traditional; but then, the whole claim of the Bonaparte family to rule France was far from traditional.
The following are the list of Bonapartist claimants to the Imperial throne. Those who actually ruled are in bold:
- Napoleon I of France ruled 1804-15, abdicated 1815, died 1821.
- Napoleon, Duke of Reichstadt, son of Napoleon I, styled Napoleon II by Bonapartists. Briefly reigned as Emperor in France for a fortnight in June–July 1815, after his father's abdication following the defeat at Waterloo. After the deposition and exile of the Bonaparte family in July 1815, or at least from Napoleon I's death in 1821, he was Bonapartist claimant to the throne until 1832. Died 1832, unmarried, no children.
- Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon I's oldest brother, former King of Spain, claimant 1832-44. Died 1844, two daughters but no legitimate male children.
- Louis Bonaparte, Napoleon I's second youngest brother, former King of Holland, claimant 1844-46. Died 1846.
- Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, the only living legitimate child of Louis Bonaparte (though some have questioned whether he was Louis' biological son – his mother Hortense was notorious for her infidelity). Claimant 1846-73. He was President of France 1849-52, and under the name Napoleon III actually ruled as Emperor 1852-70.
- Napoléon Eugène, Prince Imperial, the only legitimate child of Napoleon III. Claimant 1873-79. Styled "Napoleon IV" by his supporters. Died 1879, unmarried, no children.
- Napoléon Joseph Charles Paul Bonaparte, nicknamed 'Plon-plon', the only male child of Jerome Bonaparte, Napoleon I's youngest brother, with Catharina of Württemberg (though Jerome had had another son earlier with Elizabeth Patterson). Claimant 1879-91; however, Eugene Bonaparte's will excluded him from the succession in favour of his son Napoleron Victor, leading to fierce disputes among the increasingly irrelevant Bonapartist circle. Died 1891.
- Napoléon Victor Jérôme Frédéric Bonaparte, eldest son of 'Plon-plon', claimant 1879-1926 (though many Bonapartists preferred his younger brother Louis). Until his father's death in 1891, he and his father both put themselves as rightful claimant. Died 1926.
- Louis Jerome Victor Emmanuel Leopold Marie Bonaparte, son of Napoleon Victor, claimant 1926-97. Died 1997.
- Charles Marie Jérôme Victor Napoléon Bonaparte, the son of Napoleon Louis, claimant since 1997.
'Bonapartist' as a Marxist epithet
Karl Marx was a student of Jacobinism and the French Revolution, as well as a contemporary critic of the Second Republic and Second Empire. He used the term Bonapartism to refer to a situation in which counterrevolutionary military officers seize power from revolutionaries, and then use selective reformism to co-opt the radicalism of the popular classes. In the process, Marx argued, Bonapartists preserve and mask the power of a narrower ruling class. He saw Napoleon I and Napoleon III as having both corrupted revolutions in France in this way. Marx offered this definition of and analysis of Bonapartism in "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte," written in 1852. In this document, he drew attention to what he calls the phenomenon's repetitive history with one of his most quoted lines: "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce."
A Bonapartist regime for Marx appears to have great power, but only because there is no class with enough confidence or power to firmly establish its authority in its own name, so a leader who appears to stand above the struggle can take the mantle of power. It is an inherently unstable situation, where the apparently all-powerful leader is swept aside once the struggle is resolved one way or the other.
The term was used by Trotsky to refer to Stalin's regime, which Trotsky believed was balanced between the proletariat, victorious but shattered by war, and the bourgeoisie, broken by the revolution but struggling to re-emerge. However, the failure of Stalin's regime to disintegrate under the shock of the Second World War, and indeed its expansion into Eastern Europe, challenged this analysis. Many Trotskyists thus rejected the idea that Stalin's regime was Bonapartist, and some went further - notably Tony Cliff who described such regimes as State Capitalist and not workers' states at all.
Bonapartism as one of the three French right-wing families
According to historian René Rémond's famous 1954 book, Les Droites en France, Bonapartism constitutes one of the three French right-wing families, the latest one, created after Legitimism and Orleanism. Both Boulangisme and Gaullism would be forms of Bonapartism.
In 1976, when dictator Jean-Bédel Bokassa, a great admirer of Napoleon, made himself Emperor Bokassa I of Central Africa, he declared the ideology of his regime was "Bonapartism" and added golden bees to his imperial standard.
- Hanotaux, Gabriel (1907). Contemporary France. Books for Libraries Press. p. 460.
Bluche, Frédéric (1980). Le bonapartisme: aux origines de la droite autoritaire (1800-1850). Nouvelles Editions Latines. ISBN 978-2-7233-0104-6.