Louis Napoleon’s reign was successful at home to a degree, with many improvements to France’s infrastructure, and a relatively booming economy. His foreign policy was a different matter altogether though; at best it could be seen as an overplayed hand; with escapades in Mexico, and a dreadfully under-planned war with Prussia. Napoleon III’s rule in France was successful to a point; he had significantly modernised France’s infrastructure since the days of Louis Phillippe; new railways were laid throughout France, opening up entire regions to rapid and efficient transport that was previously entirely unavailable. Agriculture grew considerably for this reason, as goods could be sold further from their origin, meaning that more goods could be sold in total, thus expanding the potential market for even the smallest of farmers. Bulk transportation of fertilisers also meant that crops could be grown in areas that had nutrient deficient soil; this increased the area of land farmed hugely, as it also meant that fields no longer had to be left fallow to replenish their nutrients. This all led to an increase in rural prosperity, which lead to great support of Louis Napoleon from rural France.
The re-building of Paris, (directed by Baron Haussman) marked not only an ambitious decision, which proposed the re-designing of an entire city, but also a political statement; part of the design decisions were taken in order to inhibit future revolutions. Large sections of the city were razed and the old convoluted streets were replaced with many broad avenues, with the intent of allowing cannons to be used easily within the city, as well as making blockades impossible in the future. The French economy, the second largest in the world at the time (behind the UK), experienced a very strong growth during the reign of Napolon III. The two largest French banks, Lyonnais, still in existence today, were founded during that period, and made their services available to everybody and anybody with money to invest at the time.
The French stock market also expanded vastly, with many coal mining and steel companies issuing stocks. Napoleon’s domestic rule was very successful in keeping the economy growing rapidly. He was probably the first ruler in French history who took particular care of the economic development of the country, he strove for free trade. His domestic policy, was not however, immaculate. Napoleon limited the freedom of the press and the freedom of intellectual thought; he censored newspapers and exiled many writers, including Victor Hugo, banning their works. During this period, opposition began to mount and Napoleon was forced to limit his powers. After 1860, Louis Napoleon began a series of liberal reforms that resulted in a limited monarchy, the Liberal Empire replacing his dictatorship in 1870. Labor legislation, a movement toward free trade, and a revival of opposition parties marked this liberalization. By 1863 opposition votes had tripled from the 1857 results. In 1868 however, he granted freedom of assembly and loosened restrictions on the press.
But in the time before this he had gained many enemies and much opposition that carried on through his more liberal years. Although his foreign policy is seen to be nothing but overplayed hands, naivety, and blind attempts for glory, Napoleon III did have the odd successful escapade abroad. The Crimean War of 1854-1860 saw France at war against the Russians with Britain, the Ottoman Empire, and the kingdom of Sardinia. This was a resounding success, with an early victory for the alliance, and Napoleon III acting as the middleman in the Treaty of Paris. Their success was not limited to the one occasion however. A brief but decidedly positive result in Vietnam showed the French as the dominant ruling power.
In 1859 France went to war again with the kingdom of Sardinia in order to eject Austria from Italy. Although France received Nice and Savoy in 1860 in return for her efforts, the French intervention created other problems. The war was a costly one, and Napoleon had not foreseen the possibility that Italy would unite; creating another European power with which France must contend. Louis Napoleon’s foreign policy was, nonetheless, overplayed, naive, and blind when it mattered most. In 1863 Napoleon persuaded the Austrian archduke Maximilian to take power in Mexico in what became one of the most bizarre expeditions of the time. By 1866 40,000 French troops were losing ground to Mexican guerrillas, and after 1865 the Americans made it clear that any Mexican resistance had their full support. The entire ordeal was a humiliation that served little purpose than to destroy Napoleon’s reputation. The final blow nevertheless was saved until after the French withdrawal, when Archduke Maximilian was captured and executed by the Mexican government. The worst of Louis Napoleon’s foreign policy was yet to come.
The predictable Austrian-Prussian War offered Napoleon a chance to take the role of arbiter once again. Napoleon sold himself to both sides before the war, setting up agreements that promised Venice to Italy if either side won. Prussia came out as the winning underdog however after a bloody defeat for Austria in Konnigratz, and Napoleon faced a very important decision- to either stay neutral, or join forces with Austria to defeat Prussia and keep the balance of power. Napoleon stayed neutral, but before he could help with the diplomacy and mediate the discussions, Bismarck had already signed a generous peace settlement with Austria. Napoleon had missed his chance and felt excluded. This may have been a factor to the decisions that lead to his downfall in the Franco-Prussian War. The Franco-Prussian War followed a series of trivial leadership matters in Spain involving an Austrian aristocrat; Hohenzollern being placed in power of Spain.
This outraged Napoleon, and he demanded that the Hohenzollern Candidacy be withdrawn. Bismarck obliged, but Napoleon was so outraged by this belligerence, (and caught up in his apparent political victory over Bismarck) that he demanded that Hohenzollern’s candidacy would never be renewed. When Benedetti (the French ambassador) met with the King of Prussia, the King sent Bismarck the infamous `Ems Telegram’ which was originally innocent, but with Bismarck’s deliberate alterations was insulting to the French ambassador. Bismarck ensured this telegram was released in French newspapers. The French were outraged, and Napoleon fell into Bismarck’s trap and declared war. France was horrifically under-prepared, and the geriatric Napoleon III led the out-dated French army into battle on his horse, whilst suffering from gallstones and piles.
They were defeated swiftly, Napoleon was captured, and Paris was too after a long and hard siege. The French were forced to pay enormous reparations, and Napoleon was forced into exile. All in all, Napoleon’s domestic policy was very effective; he modernised France industrially, and built an infrastructure that competed with other European nations. The expansion of railways helped modernise farming methods and increase rural prosperity greatly. Although not a model example of a liberal leader (his censorship, and political imprisonments rule out any such title), his domestic policy was very effective. His foreign policy was what lead to his demise; although he was successful in Crimea, his escapades in Mexico were utterly humiliating, and his downfall in the Franco-Prussian war was caused by a catalogue of horrendously arrogant, blind, and predictable mistakes, all planned by the more politically adept Bismarck. Napoleon was out-witted, out-gunned and out-schemed, and no degree domestic success could redeem him from it.