The French Second Empire has often been considered an authoritarian regime based on the plebiscitary use of mass suffrage. However, by examining the lawmaking process one discovers a far more complex and surprising regime. Due to the workings of the institutional machinery, and above all to the role played by parliamentary commissions, the law-making process remains semi-liberal in nature throughout the 1850's. The same can also be said of the regime's general effort to build civil harmony, above all as far as electoral practice is concerned. The Second Empire is no constructivist dictatorship. Napoleon's power is based neither on an ideological programme nor on a political party. As a matter of fact, the Emperor finds himself prisoner of the liberal constraints which are in place as early as 1852, and which evolve in spectacular contradictions during the 1860's until the regime's fall in 1870.