A modern emperor?
A ny final verdict on Napoleon III must take into account his relationship with what many historians would regard as the most significant feature of the Second Empire: namely, the creation of a modern dynamic and expanding economy. Napoleon himself wished to be thought of as the emperor who brought prosperity to his people. Around 1868 he began to sketch out the plot of a novel whose central character was a Monsieur Benoit, a grocer who had emigrated from France to the United States in 1847 and who returns in the spring of 1868, to be astounded at the transformations which the Empire had wrought. Not only is he amazed by the crowds who make their w ay to the Hotel de Ville to vote rather than to riot, but he also marvels at the ubiquitous evidence of material progress — the railways, the telegraph, the rebuilding of Paris. Benoit observes also that the cost of living has been lowered by the introduction o f free trade, and that working people benefit from new welfare measures in addition to the right to strike.1 Napoleon’s novel was never written, but its projected themes suggest a fairly clear picture of how the Emperor wished to be remembered by posterity.