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.
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.
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.
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.