The regime’s situation was seriously weakened by the pronounced loss of confidence resulting from the ‘Roman Question’, and subsequently due to the 1860 commercial treaty with Britain. Moreover, these confidence-shaking developments were followed by the incomprehensible military expedition to Mexico, and by continued ‘wasteful’ expenditure on the embellishment of Paris, financed by Haussmann’s questionable financial practices. During the debate on the speech from the throne in 1861, 91 (of 158) deputies delivered an unprecedented warning by voting against the government. Three Catholic deputies, Cuverville, Keller and Lemercier, elected as official candidates, wrote a joint letter warning the Emperor that his Italian policy would ‘separate you from all sincere Catholics’. The government’s response was to suppress two newspapers — L’Univers and La Bretagne — which had previously been amongst the most enthusiastic advocates of an authoritarian Bonapartism. Legitimists and the clergy, united in support of an embattled Papacy, demanded greater political ‘liberty’ in order to control the Emperor’s initiatives and protect the vital interests of the Church. They enjoyed the support of liberals like Adolphe Thiers, convinced since 1848 that anything which weakened Catholicism threatened social order, and of the network of charitable associations patronized by the Catholic laity. Membership of groups like the Société de Saint Vincent de Paul was an important feature of elite male sociability and included many senior government officials.
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