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The Mexican Expedition of 1862-1867 and the End of the French Second Empire

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)660-685
Number of pages26
Issue number3
Early online date12 Feb 2020
Accepted/In press20 Nov 2019
E-pub ahead of print12 Feb 2020
Published1 Jun 2020


King's Authors


The French expedition to Mexico from 1862 to 1867 rarely features in accounts of the origins of the Franco-Prussian War or of the liberalization of the French Second Empire in its final years. By contrast, this article uses a range of archival and published sources to argue that the failure of the Mexican expedition was an important factor in the crisis that convulsed French politics in the late 1860s. The legitimacy of the fiscal-military system was undermined, partly because of the burdens that the expedition imposed on the French people. There resulted difficulties over finance and the army, which hindered the Second Empire's ability to confront the Prussian threat and accelerated the emergence of the ‘Liberal Empire’ with the constitutional reforms of 1867–70. Liberalization, though, could not rescue the imperial regime, and the legitimacy crisis of the Second Empire was only resolved by a transition to a parliamentary democracy under the Third Republic.

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