Louis Napoleon's Coup d'Etat
ending the 2nd Republic he was mostly secure. France had hardly
offered any resistance. However, by 1852, the rest of Europe had
crushed their revolutions, and though somewhat weakened, they could
still move against France if Louis Napoleon was about to embark on any
military adventures. The Russians especially were a threat. They had
helped Austria restore the conservative order with great brutality.
They could be counted on to cross the Rhine if need be. However, he
knew that the key to any anti-French coalition would be Britain. As a
result he continued his policy of reassuring the British. He also
used his oft-repeated phrase, "the Empire means peace." He wished to
avoid the international coalitions which had doomed his uncle in 1815.
After consolidating his empire, Louis Napoleon soon gained a title, Napoleon III. During his Second Empire Napoleon III promised order, reform, prosperity and "la gloire." In fact, Napoleon III knew fully well that he only stayed in power as long as he delivered the goods. Since he was not a legitimate ruler of France (only the Bourbons could claim that) he could not afford much unhappiness in his country. Otherwise he would meet the same fate as befell Louis Philippe in 1848.
When it came to gaining "la gloire," Napoleon III did quite well for the first several years of his Empire. France emerged victorious in the Crimean War, he built the Suez Canal, hosted the glittering World's Fair which saw the construction of the "ugly" Eiffel Tower, and he modernized Paris to the beautiful city we recognize today. As two final touches he occupied Mexico while the US was engaged in an awful Civil War, and he nearly got Luxemburg added to France as a result of the Austro-Prussian War. By 1866, Louis Napoleon was looking pretty good. However, it was not to last and it would come crashing down in a sudden avalanche.
The Mexican Adventure soon became a disaster. After the US Civil War ended the Americans were becoming bellicose. During the war Lincoln had made some nasty threats as the Union forces began to be the clear winners. Soon after the end of the war, the anti-French Mexicans (Juaristas) began to get arms and officers from the United States. The Americans were clearly aiding the Juaristas and it seemed the Americans with a gigantic pool of soldiers with the most modern weapons and years of training might directly get involved. Though the French viewed themselves as the greatest army in the world Napoleon III knew France would suffer a terrible defeat if the US openly joined the Juaristas to drive out the French. Rather than fight the US, Louis began to pull out his troops after the Juaristas began to show they might just drive out the French without US help.
This badly hurt Napoleon III. A man who promises glory does not lose to Mexican peasants and does not run from American "radical" Republicans.
Following on the heels of this humiliation came a huge crisis with Prussia and its brilliant Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck had tried to get a Prussian on the throne of Spain in hopes of uniting both thrones. The French protested vigorously and soon force the Prussians to back down. It was a rare defeat for Bismarck. However, Napoleon, following some very bad advice pushed the issue to far and ended up apparently insulting the Prussian King. The rest of Germany switched from an anti-Prussian mood to a very pro-Prussian (and anti-French) mood. Faced with this diplomatic disaster, Napoleon had to declare war on Prussia to save face.
Expecting an easy victory and amid shouts of "a Berlin!" the French army marched off to a disaster. In only a few weeks, the French armies were surrounded and surrendering, Napoleon III was captured and Paris was encircled. On this news, Paris rose up and overthrew the Second Empire and declared a Third Republic who then had to surrender to the Prussians who had plans on taking control of the rest of the small German states and creating the greatest French nightmare: A United Germany. Napoleon was later released by the victorious Prussians who had now united all the German states into the new German Empire under Prussian dominance. The Germans even crowned their new King ("Kaiser") at Versailles. The humiliation was complete and Napoleon III is still blamed to this day for the disaster of what was known as the Franco-Prussian War.