The great political crisis that began with the Plombières agreements in the summer of 1858 and ended in the spring of 1861 with the proclamation of the kingdom of Italy, allowed Napoleon to agitate in front of public opinion, at the end of the first decade of his personal regime, the result of reaching the natural borders on the Alps, that is, an increase in territory and power and at the same time the achievement of one of the traditional aims of the nation’s politics. This increase was accompanied by remarkable expansions in the colonial field: Algeria, Senegal, Madagascar, China, Cochinchina, the Obock region were fields of important French actions and occupations, which prepared from the Mediterranean to the Red and Yellow Seas, from the Atlantic to the ‘Indian, the foundations of the great colonial policy of the third republic.
According to Politicsezine, the positive results of territorial enlargements and increases in power, achieved by the second empire in the first decade of its existence, were not, however, immune to shadows and dangers. The formation of the Italian unitary state above all created new difficult unknowns, not only for what concerned Mediterranean and international politics, in which the new state would inevitably aim to have its own part and action, independent and perhaps in contrast with France, but also because he had set up and made the problem of Rome more heated every day, a real insidious obstacle on the way to further developments in imperial politics. Hence the emergence of an opposition to imperial politics on the part of the nationalist and clerical elements; which as he pushed the
We are at the time of the first significant attenuations of the iron authoritarian regime established in 1851-52: the general amnesty of 1859, which reopened France to exiles and deportees at the time of the coup; the increase in the prerogatives of the Legislative Body in 1860-61, which restored the possibility of parliamentary discussions; a slowdown in the constraints of the press, resulting in new newspapers, even with opposing and democratic tendencies. Thus there was a resumption of political life in France, to which, however, was added a revival of the currents of opposition, both for the return of the old leaders who gave themselves to reviving and directing them, and for the new possibilities of organization and discussion: ‘effect of all this was seen in the elections of 1863 for the Legislative Body, which resulted in 35 opposition deputies, coming from republicanism, liberalism, legitimism, orleanism. Among the latter Adolfo Thiers, who resumed political life with the fervent tenacity of an opponent, making his favorite field that of foreign policy.
The second empire was entering its decline. While its strength diminished internally, three sensational failures followed one another abroad from 1863 to 1867. The Napoleonic attempt to intervene in favor of the insurgent Russian Poland failed in 1863, resulting in the breaking of the agreement with the Tsar. The ambitious plan of intervention in Mexico to create an irradiation of French influence and power across the Atlantic resulted in a sad drama, also stained by the blood of a noble victim, Maximilian of Austria. And finally in 1866 Napoleon III, after having contributed to provoking the warlike collision between Austria on the one hand and Prussia-Italy on the other with the aim of completing the removal of the Habsburgs in Italy and creating in Germany, through the Prussian wear and tear and the Austrian victory, a situation favorable to the French ambitions of Rhine expansionism, he had to watch helplessly and bewildered the collapse of his own plan which broke down at Sadowa (3 July 1866) and the threatening strengthening and Germanic dominance of Prussia; from which he then tried in vain to obtain consensus and support for his desire to achieve some increase either on the Rhine or in Luxembourg or in Belgium, which might appear to the eyes of French nationalism, excited and suspicious, the compensation for the enlargement of the Prussia, as well as Nice and Savoy, had been the reward for the enlargement of Italy in 1860. In this situation, Thiers from the parliamentary platform could proclaim, amid broad consensus, that the Impero no longer had a single mistake to make in foreign policy. The position of continental dominance enjoyed between 1856 and 1861 had collapsed. And the international decadence corresponded to the progressive wear and tear of the legal systems of 1851-52, against which old and new opponents moved in struggle: nationalists irritated by the chess of foreign policy, Catholics dissatisfied with Rome, liberals insisted on a transformation of the regime in a parliamentary sense, republicans breaching the empire, above all by the work of young and daring leaders (Gambetta), socialists reorganizing themselves according to the principles of the International, which arose in London in 1864. Faced with the pressure and the motive attacks from all sides, the Emperor aged and sick did not oppose the energy of the past, nor did he know how to make his own directive triumph, suffering from time to time opposing influences, such as that of E. Rouher, a supporter of authoritarian politics, and that of E. Ollivier, an advocate of liberal transformations.