Facts and Events
Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (20 April 1808 – 9 January 1873) was the first President of the French Republic and, as Napoleon III, the ruler 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, in 1852, 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 persons were imprisoned or sent to penal colonies Cayenne or Algeria until they were amnestied in 1859. Thousands more, including Victor Hugo, went into voluntary exile abroad. Beginning in 1862, Napoleon loosened the censorship and lifted many of the repressive measures, and gave the legislature more power, 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 reconstruction of Paris, carried out by his prefect of the Seine Baron Haussmann. He created the grand boulevards and squares of central Paris, made the Bois de Boulogne, Bois de Vincennes and other famous Paris parks, and built the Palais Garnier for the Paris Opera. He launched similar public works projects in Marseille, Lyon and other French cities.
Napoleon III modernized the French banking system, encouraged the creation of savings and investment banks, 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 agricultural schools and experimental farms, which ended famines in France and made France an agricultural exporter. He negotiated the first free trade agreement with England, which was followed by similar agreements with France's other European trading partners.
Napoleon III also accomplished important social reforms, including giving French workers the right to strike and the right to organize. Under Napoleon III, women were allowed to take the baccalauréat examination, the first women were admitted to the Sorbonne, and public schools for girls were opened in all the communes of France with more than five hundred inhabitants. He also made history and geography required subjects in public schools, and introduced the first public school courses in modern languages, art, music, and gymnastics.
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). In Italy, he assisted the cause of Italian nationalism and unification by allying with the Kingdom of Piedmont and defeating the Austrian army at the Battle of Magenta and the Battle of Solferino (1859). In return, in 1860 France received Savoy and Nice, restoring France to its pre-1815 borders. Later, however, to please French Catholics, he sent soldiers to Rome to defend the Papal States against annexation by Italy, and at the Battle of Mentana (1867) French troops defeated a small force of volunteers led by Giuseppe Garibaldi which was trying the capture Rome.
Napoleon III doubled the area of the French overseas Empire; he established French rule in New Caledonia, and Cochinchina, established a protectorate in Cambodia (1863); colonized the interior of Senegal, and added Kabylie to French Algeria (1857).
He joined Britain sending an army to China during Second Opium War and the Taiping Rebellion (1860), opening China to trade with France, but French ventures to establish influence in Japan (1867) and Korea (1866) were less successful. His attempt to impose a European monarch, Maximilian I of Mexico on the Mexicans ended in a spectacular failure, costing the lives of thousands of Mexican and French soldiers and ending with the execution of Maximilian by the Mexicans 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.