14.6 Divisions and Democracy in France

After the revolution of 1848, Napoleon III, nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, rose to power and set up the Second Empire. His appeal cut across lines of class and ideology. The bourgeoisie saw him as a strong leader who would restore order. His promise to end poverty gave hope to the lower classes. People of all classes were attracted by his name, a reminder of the days when France had towered over Europe. Unlike his famous uncle, however, Napoleon III would bring France neither glory nor an empire.

Painting of a man in military uniform on horseback pointing to his troops over slain enemies on the battlefield.

Napoleon III hoped to restore glory to France. Here he commands victorious French troops at the Battle of Solferino during the second Italian War of Independence in 1859.


  • List the domestic and foreign policies of Napoleon III.
  • Describe the challenges and political reforms of the Third Republic.
  • Explain how the Dreyfus affair divided France and contributed to the growth of the Zionist movement.

Key Terms

  • Napoleon III
  • Suez Canal
  • premier
  • coalition
  • Dreyfus Affair
  • libel
  • Zionism

Napoleon III and the Second Empire

Napoleon III Limits Liberties

On the surface, the Second Empire looked like a constitutional monarchy. In fact, Napoleon III ruled almost as a dictator, with the power to appoint his cabinet, the upper house of the legislature, and many officials. Although the assembly was elected by universal male suffrage, appointed officials “managed” elections so that supporters of the emperor would win. Debate was limited, and newspapers faced strict censorship.

In the 1860s, Napoleon III began to ease controls. He lifted some censorship and gave the legislature more power. He even issued a new constitution that extended democratic rights.

Economic Growth

Like much of Europe, France prospered at mid-century. Napoleon III promoted investment in industry and large-scale ventures such as railroad building and the urban renewal of Paris. During this period, a French entrepreneur, Ferdinand de Lesseps (LAY seps), organized the building of the Suez Canal in Egypt to link the Mediterranean with the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments