Facts and Events
Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (20 April 1808 – 9 January 1873) was the first President of the French Second Republic and, as Napoleon III, the Emperor of the Second French Empire. He was the nephew and heir of Napoleon I. He was the first President of France to be elected by a direct popular vote. However, when he was blocked by the Constitution and Parliament from running for a second term, he organized a coup d'état in 1851, and then took the throne as Napoleon III on 2 December 1852, the forty-eighth anniversary of Napoleon I's coronation.
During the first years of the Empire, his government imposed censorship and harsh repressive measures against his opponents. Some six thousand were imprisoned or sent to penal colonies until 1859. Thousands more, including Victor Hugo, went into voluntary exile abroad. Beginning in 1862, Napoleon loosened the reins, in what was known as the "Liberal Empire." Many of his opponents returned to France and became members of the National Assembly.
Napoleon III is best known today for his grand reconstruction of Paris, carried out by his prefect of the Seine Baron Haussmann. He launched similar public works projects in Marseille, Lyon and other French cities.
Napoleon III modernized the French banking system, greatly expanded and consolidated the French railroad 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. He 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. Women's education greatly expanded, 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. He was a supporter of popular sovereignty, and of nationalism. In Europe, he allied with Britain and defeated Russia in the Crimean War (1854–56). French troops both assisted Italian unification, and defended the Papal States against annexation by Italy. Napoleon doubled the area of the French overseas empire in Asia, the Pacific and Africa. His attempt to control Mexico ended in a spectacular failure in 1867.
Beginning in 1866 Napoleon had to face the mounting power of Prussia, as Chancellor Otto von Bismarck sought German unification under Prussian leadership. In July 1870 Napoleon entered the Franco-Prussian War without allies and with inferior military forces. The French army was rapidly defeated and Napoleon III was captured at the Battle of Sedan. The French Third Republic was proclaimed in Paris, and Napoleon went into exile in England, where he died in 1873.