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Napoleon III of France
Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was the son of King Louis Bonaparte and Queen Hortense de Beauharnais; both monarchs of the French puppet state, the Kingdom of Holland. He was the nephew of the Emperor Napoléon I of France. During his youth, he was a member of the Carbonari, a resistance organization fighting Austrian domination of Northern Italy. This would later have an effect on his foreign policy.
Imprisoned after the second of two abortive coup attempts (October 1836 and August 1840), he escaped to the United Kingdom in May 1846, returning after the revolution of February 1848 to win the presidential election December 10 that year on a platform of strong government, social consolidation and national greatness. President Bonaparte then on December 2, 1851 overthrew the Second Republic and seized dictatorial powers, becoming Napoléon III. In a situation that resembles the case of Louis XVIII of France, the numbering of Napoléon's reign assumes the existence of a legitimate Napoléon II of France who never actually ruled, but was briefly recognized as emperor from June 22, 1815 to July 7, 1815. He became Emperor exactly one year after overthrowing the Second Republic and established the Second French Empire. That same year, he began shipping political prisoners and criminals to penal colonies such as Devil's Island (in French Guyana) or (in milder cases) New Caledonia. On April, 28th, 1855 he survived an attempted assassination.
Napoléon III's challenge to Russia's claims to influence in the Ottoman Empire led to France's successful participation in the Crimean War (March 1854-March 1856). He approved the launching of a naval expedition in 1858 to punish the Vietnamese and force the court to accept a French presence in the country. On January 14, 1858 Napoléon escaped another assassination attempt. In May-July 1859 French intervention secured the defeat of Austria in Italy, and the result of this was the unification of Italy, and the acquisition of Savoy and the region of Nice (the so-called French Riviera) by France in 1860, the last time France extended its territory in Europe. France took part in the Second Opium War along with Great Britain, and in 1860 the French troops entered Beijing. In the beginning of the 1860s, the objectives of the emperor in foreign policy had been met: France had scored several military victories in Europe and abroad, the humiliation of Waterloo had been exorcised, and France was regarded again as the largest military power in Europe.
However, the intervention in Mexico (January 1862-March 1867) ended in defeat and in the execution of the French-backed Emperor Maximilian. More importantly, France saw her influence eroded by Prussia's crushing victory over Austria in June-August 1866. Due to his Carbonari past, Napoléon was unable to bring himself to ally himself with Austria, despite the obvious threat that a victorious Prussia would present to France.
He would pay the price for this blunder in 1870 when, forced by the diplomacy of the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck, Napoléon began the Franco-Prussian War. This war proved disastrous, and was instrumental in giving birth to the German Empire. In battle against Prussia in July 1870 the Emperor was captured at the Battle of Sedan (September 2) and was deposed by the forces of the Third Republic in Paris two days later. He died in exile in England on January 9, 1873.
An important change during his reign was the rebuilding of Paris. Part of the design decisions were taken in order to reduce the ability of future revolutionaries to challenge the government. Large sections of the city were razed and the old convoluted streets were replaced with many broad avenues, with the intent of allowing cannon to be used easily within the city. The rebuilding of Paris was directed by Baron Haussmann (1809-1891; Prefect of the Seine département 1853-1870).
He also directed the building of the French railway network, which greatly contributed to the development of the coal mining and steel industry in France, radically changing the nature of the French economy, which entered the modern age of large-scale capitalism. The French economy, the second largest in the world at the time (behind Great Britain), experienced a very strong growth during the reign of Napoléon III. Names such as steel tycoon Eugène Schneider or banking mogul James de Rothschild are symbols of the period. The two largest French banks, Société Générale and Crédit Lyonnais, still in existence today, were founded during that period. The French stock market also expanded prodigiously, with many coal mining and steel companies issuing stocks. Although largely forgotten by later Republican generations, which only remembered the non-democratic nature of the regime, the economic successes of the Second Empire are today recognized as impressive by historians. The emperor himself, who had spent his youth in Victorian England, was largely influenced by the ideas of the Industrial Revolution in England, and he took particular care of the economic development of the country.
Napoleon III, to this day, has not enjoyed the prestige that Napoleon I enjoyed. Victor Hugo called him "Napoleon the small", as opposed to Napoleon I "The Great". He has often been described as an ineffectual and authoritarian leader who brought France into dubious foreign military adventures.
|- style="text-align: center;" | width="30%" |Preceded by:
himself as President | width="40%" style="text-align: center;" |Emperor of the French
1852–1870 | width="30%" |Succeeded by:
(President of the Government of National Defence)
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