NAPOLEON III. was now to be the chopping-block on which a stronger man than he or even Cavour hacked out a united Germany. Detested by his Liberal contemporaries as an unscrupulous plotter, which he certainly was, though an unsuccessful one, Napoleon was at the same time a man of much culture and kindliness, who was the victim of the military tradition which Napoleon I. had associated with the family name. Having been elected President of the French Republic, he broke all his pledges and forcibly made himself first President for ten years (1851) and then Emperor (1852). Each coup d'etat was ratified by plebiscite, but there was always a party which detested him, and it grew. He tried to give the French what he believed they most wanted-military glory abroad and good government at home. His attack on Russia in the Crimea was successful, and his war in Italy produced victories. Meanwhile, he rebuilt Paris, encouraged commerce and industry and enacted social reforms, while keeping up a parliamentary system which was partially representative but did not include responsible government, its powers corresponding roughly to those of the House of Commons under James I.
During the 'sixties France remained to all appearance the leading state of Europe, but the despot, the vital spark of the whole organism, was losing his hold on events. He suffered from stone in the kidney, and pain incapacitated him from work and decision. In these circumstances the influence of the Empress Eugenie increased, an influence as disastrous in its effects as that of Marie Antoinette or of Charles I.'s queen, Henrietta Maria.