In Nov., 1852, a new plebiscite overwhelmingly approved the establishment of the Second Empire, and Louis Napoleon became Emperor Napoleon III. For eight years he continued to exercise dictatorial rule, tempered by rapid material progress. Railway building was encouraged; the rebuilding of Paris and other cities brought a construction boom; and the first French investment banks were authorized. Napoleon's foreign ventures were successful at first. The Crimean War (1854–56) and the Congress of Paris (see Paris, Congress of) restored French leadership on the Continent.
Napoleon then turned toward Italy. A long-time supporter of Italian nationalism, he met the Sardinian premier Camillo Cavour at Plombières and secretly agreed on a joint campaign by France and Sardinia to expel Austria from Italy and to establish an Italian federation of four states under the presidency of the pope; France was to be compensated with Nice and Savoy. War broke out in 1859 (see Risorgimento). However, after the costly victory of the French and Sardinians at Solferino, Napoleon suddenly deserted his Italian ally and made a separate peace with Austria at Villafranca di Verona. His act was partly motivated by the opposition of the French clerical party to a policy threatening the independence of the papacy at Rome.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.