Story of Modern France - Helene Guerber

The Italian War

After the Crimean War it looked for a while as if the government might turn all its attention to the many improvements which were taking place in different parts of the country. Many railroads were being built, not only in France, but also in other countries, and in 1857 skillful engineers began the piercing of a railroad tunnel through Mont Cenis, to facilitate travel and commerce between France and Italy.

The next year, however, all Europe was shocked by the tidings of an attempt to assassinate the French emperor and empress. While they were on their way to the opera one evening, an infernal machine exploded so near them that their carriage horses and several of their guards were instantly killed. To avert a panic, Napoleon and Eugenie bravely hastened on, so as to be in their box, in view of every one, when the accident became known. As they showed the greatest courage and presence of mind, they received a tremendous ovation both at the opera and on their way home, for by that time all the Parisians were out on the boulevards—fine avenues built on the site of former bulwarks—reading the bulletins and eagerly discussing the startling news.

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


At the trial it was discovered that the attempt had been made by some Italians, who claimed that Napoleon III. deserved death because he was not keeping the oath he had made as a young man to help Italy become free. Although severe laws were now made against such miscreants, the emperor knew that attempts on his life would be repeated, as one of the Italians plainly declared. Shortly after this the great Italian statesman, Cavour, the prime minister of the King of Sardinia, came to visit the emperor, and proved that the time had come to make war against Austria, so Napoleon again promised to help the Italians. The first sign of this alliance was a marriage between the Sardinian king's daughter and Prince Napoleon, son of Jerome Bonaparte,—which gave occasion for many popular festivities. Then, early in May, 1859, when war began between Sardinia and Austria, France sent her troops to join the Sardinian army in northern Italy. Here the battles of Montebello and Magenta were won by the allied forces, General MacMahon of the French army distinguishing himself so greatly in the last encounter, that the emperor named him "Duke of Magenta" on the battlefield. The French were now able to enter Milan in triumph, where they were warmly greeted as deliverers, for the Austrian rule, imposed by the Congress of Vienna, had proved most irksome.

The Austrians having retreated, the allied Franco-Sardinian army followed them to Solferino, where another great battle was fought, with Emperor Napoleon, King Victor Emmanuel of Sardinia, and Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria all present in person. As the allies were again victorious here, Francis Joseph accepted an invitation to treat, and met Napoleon to settle the terms later embodied in the treaty of Zurich. The result of the war, then, was that Austria ceded Lombardy, which was promptly annexed by the Sardinians, while Venice remained under Austrian rule as before.

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


The Sardinian king, Victor Emmanuel, now ruled over a much enlarged kingdom, yet felt dissatisfied because Napoleon III. had not continued the war, as he had agreed to do, until Venice also had thrown off the Austrian yoke. The Sardinians taunted Napoleon with not keeping his promise, "Italy shall be free from the Alps to the Adriatic!" but although many blamed him at the time, it has since become known that Prussia was threatening to join Austria after the battle of Solferino, and that peace was necessary to avoid the great danger of an attack on the northern frontier of France while her main forces were busy in Italy.

Next year, however, by an overwhelming vote of the people, the various other states of northern Italy, except Venice, were added to Sardinia; and it was then that Napoleon claimed and received his reward for the help that had been given by the French army. Sardinia ceded to France the provinces of Nice and Savoy, which had been taken from the French at the time of the fall of Napoleon I.; and thus the boundaries of France were again extended to the Alps.

The active operations of the Italian War had lasted but two months and a half, and as the French army won every battle, you may imagine how proud the nation was, and what cheers greeted Napoleon III. when he reviewed the returning troops at the foot of the famous Vendome Column. Even the little three-year-old Prince Imperial was present on this festive occasion and was exhibited to the admiring soldiers and Parisians in a tiny military costume.

The emperor and empress soon made a state tour through Savoy and Nice, going from there to Corsica, to unveil a statue of Napoleon I., and then to Algeria, which, in spite of sundry risings among scattered tribes, had meanwhile been progressing with marvelous rapidity. During this imperial visit the first railway was begun there, but for many years transportation and travel continued to be carried on chiefly by means of horses, mules, and camels, along the ordinary roads which the French were building and improving as fast as possible.

Two imperial wars were not enough for France, so troops were sent to Syria to protect the Christians there against the Turks, and to China to compel the Chinese to respect Christian missionaries, and to open certain ports to European commerce. In the latter war French and English again fought bravely side by side. After defeating the foe they retaliated for the murder of the missionaries by burning down the famous Summer Palace, a museum of Chinese treasures of all kinds; only a few precious objects being saved from the flames by looting soldiers. After entering Peking, which had hitherto been closed to foreigners, the victorious Franco-English army dictated a treaty (Tientsin, 1858) by which sixteen ports were opened for trade, an advantage long sought, but until then impossible to obtain from the exclusive Chinese. Besides, a special territory was set aside for European colonists, while Christian missionaries of all denominations were henceforth allowed to go anywhere in China.

In another expedition to Cochin China,—where missionaries had also been molested and trade sorely hampered,—not only were similar privileges secured, but France also obtained her first foothold in what is now one of her thriving colonies. But such privileges were acquired only after many lives had been sacrificed and much suffering had been endured by the French soldiers.