Napoleon III

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Mayer & Pierson: Napoléon III.

Napoleon III (Charles-Louis Napoléon Bonaparte; 20 April 1808 – 9 January 1873), the nephew of Napoleon I, was the first president of France, from 1848 to 1852, and the last French monarch, from 1852 to 1870. First elected president of the French Second Republic in 1848, he seized power by force in 1851, when he could not constitutionally be re-elected, and became the emperor of the French. He founded the Second French Empire and was its only emperor until the defeat of the French Army and his capture by Prussia and its allies in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. He worked to modernize the French economy, rebuilt the center of Paris, expanded the French overseas empire, and engaged in the Crimean War and the Second Italian War of Independence.

Napoleon III commissioned a grand reconstruction of Paris carried out by his prefect of the Seine, Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, and launched similar public works projects in Marseille, Lyon and other French cities. Napoleon III modernized the French banking system, expanded and consolidated the French railway system, and made the French merchant marine the second largest in the world. He promoted the building of the Suez Canal and established modern agriculture, which ended famines in France and made France an agricultural exporter. Napoleon III negotiated the 1860 Cobden–Chevalier free trade agreement with Britain and similar agreements with France's other European trading partners. Social reforms included giving French workers the right to strike and the right to organize. The first women students were admitted at the Sorbonne and educational opportunities for women were increased, as did the list of required subjects in public schools.

In foreign policy, Napoleon III aimed to reassert French influence in Europe and around the world. In Europe, he allied with Britain and defeated Russia in the Crimean War (1853–56). His regime assisted Italian unification by defeating the Austrian Empire in the Franco-Austrian War and later annexed Savoy and the County of Nice as its deferred reward. At the same time, his forces defended the Papal States against annexation by Italy. He was also favorable towards the union of the Danubian Principalities (24 January 1859), which resulted in the establishment of the modern state of Romania. Napoleon III doubled the area of the French overseas empire in Asia, the Pacific and Africa. On the other hand, the French intervention in Mexico, which aimed to create a Second Mexican Empire under French protection, ended in total failure.

From 1866, Napoleon had to face the mounting power of Prussia as its Chancellor Otto von Bismarck sought German unification under Prussian leadership. In July 1870, Napoleon declared war on Prussia without allies and with inferior military forces. The French Army was rapidly defeated and Napoleon III was captured at the Battle of Sedan. He was swiftly dethroned and the French Third Republic was proclaimed in Paris. He went into exile in England, where he died in 1873.

Napoleon III: The Failed Emperor

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Published in 9/09/2020

Updated in 19/02/2021

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