The decision to retain universal manhood suffrage clearly distinguished the Second Empire from previous monarchical regimes. It owed its legitimacy not to divine right but to the popular will. The constitution required plebiscites to sanction major constitutional change, together with regular elections to the Corps législatif, each of them, in effect, a quasi-plebiscite on the regime itself. The Prince-President had promised to respect the will of the people, a dangerous promise for someone intending to found a dynasty. Widespread concern was also aroused by the threat posed to social order by allowing the ‘ignorant masses’ to vote. The essential problem was that of recognizing popular sovereignty whilst retaining control. The electoral system, voting procedures and candidate selection were all designed to create a system of ‘managed democracy’ and to reinforce the government’s authority. The system of official candidature, together with pressure on voters, and bribery and corruption combined to ‘falsify’ the results of voting. The scrutin de liste system of the Second Republic which had provided for multi-member constituencies in the hope of diluting the influence of traditional notables was abandoned in favour of the scrutin d’arrondissement with its single-member constituencies giving more weight to personalities than programmes, and justified on the grounds that deputies would be better known to their constituency.
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