Workers enjoyed some benefits of economic growth. Napoleon legalized labor unions, extended public education to girls, and created a small public health program. Still, in France, as in other industrial nations, many people lived in great poverty.
Napoleon's worst failures were in warfare and foreign affairs. In the 1860s, he tried to place Maximilian, an Austrian Hapsburg prince, on the throne of Mexico. Through Maximilian, Napoleon hoped to turn Mexico into a French satellite. But after a large commitment of troops and money, the venture failed. Mexican patriots resisted fiercely, and the United States protested. After four years, France withdrew its troops. Maximilian was overthrown and shot by Mexican patriots.
Napoleon's successes were almost as costly as his failures. He helped Italian nationalists defeat Austria, and in return, the regions of Nice (nees) and Savoy were ceded to France. But this victory soon backfired when a united Italy emerged as a rival on France's border. And, though France and Britain won the Crimean War, France had little to show for its terrible losses except a small foothold in the Middle East.
During the Prussian siege of Paris, the French government established municipal canteens to provide low-cost food for the starving people of the city.
At this same time, France was growing increasingly concerned about the rise of a great European rival, Prussia. The Prussian leader Otto von Bismarck shrewdly manipulated the French and lured Napoleon into war in July 1870.
The Franco-Prussian War was a disaster for France. Napoleon III was forced to surrender to the Germans, ending the Second Empire. A brutal four-month siege of Paris by Prussian forces reduced residents to near starvation. People ate rats and killed circus animals for food. During the siege, Parisians used carrier pigeons and balloons to communicate with the outside world.
In 1871, a newly elected French Assembly accepted a harsh peace with Germany. France had to surrender the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine and pay a huge sum to Germany. The sting of defeat left the French burning to avenge their loss.
The Franco-Prussian War ended a long period of French domination of Europe that had begun under Louis XIV. Yet a Third Republic rose from the ashes of the Second Empire of Napoleon III. Economic growth, democratic reforms, and fierce nationalism all played a part in shaping modern France.
the government of France during the Second Empire.
At the end of the Franco-Prussian War, a new government, known as the Third Republic, was set up in France. Even as a new National Assembly took power and made peace with Germany, France was plunged into a new crisis. Once again, the crisis was centered in Paris.
In early 1871, an uprising broke out in Paris. Rebels set up the Paris Commune. Like the radical government during the French Revolution, its goal was to save the Republic from royalists. Communards, as the rebels were called, included workers and socialists as well as bourgeois republicans. As patriots, they rejected the harsh peace that the National Assembly had signed with Germany. Radicals dreamed of creating a new socialist order.
The National Assembly ordered the Paris Commune to disband. When the Communards refused, the government sent troops to retake Paris. For weeks, civil war raged. As government troops advanced, the rebels set fire to several government buildings, toppled Paris monuments, and slaughtered a number of hostages.