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During Abraham Lincoln's lifetime, France continued to grapple with the collapse of the Bourbon dynasty and the French Revolution. Napoleon Bonaparte and the French Empire fell to allied forces (mainly British and Prussian) at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The Congress of Vienna reestablished the Bourbon monarchy, placing Louis XVIII on the throne, and maintained a foreign military presence in France that lasted until 1818. Representing the arch-monarchists (or Ultras), Louis attempted to reimpose royal authority and limit electoral power, which met with resistance from several quarters and a troubled relationship with the French Assembly. Charles X assumed the throne in 1824 and supported the Ultras even more than Louis XVIII. Economic decline and censorship marked his rule and led to increasing resistance from liberals and even some moderate royalists by the late 1820. Opposition candidates won election to the 1830 assembly and Charles responded by dissolving the legislature. As a result of this and other repressive policies, the French population revolted in the 1830 July Revolution, which overthrew the Bourbons and established a new constitutional monarchy under another branch of the Bourbons.

Louis-Phillippe, who was much more liberal than Charles, assumed the throne and attempted to maintain a strict balance between monarchical and electoral power. Although the new government expanded the franchise considerably, Louis-Phillippe's rule became increasingly oppressive, resulting in the 1848 Revolution and the establishment of the Second French Republic. The creation of the Second Republic was immediately fraught with conflict between moderates and socialists aiming to dissolve the aristocracy and institute universal suffrage. The result was a constitution that established an assembly and a president who divided power. However, Napoleon's nephew, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, won the first presidential election. After serving for a single term, he voiced his desire to run for a second term, which was prohibited by the constitution. When the assembly enforced the presidential term limit, Napoleon staged a coup d'etat and established a Second French Empire, declaring himself Emperor Napoleon III.

Although his rule was built on strict censorship and suppressing his opposition, Napoleon III attempted to foster the growing French Industrial Revolution, especially by investing heavily in railroad development and encouraging the proliferation of investment banks. Like his uncle, Napoleon III pursued an expansionist foreign policy but focused on colonial acquisitions, as opposed to continental conquest. Although France already had a presence in Africa through Algeria, Napoleon III acquired more territory there, as well as in southeast Asia. He also allied with the British in preventing Russian expansion in the Crimean War and in efforts to open China to European trade. Napoleon III was less successful in attempting to establish a French puppet regime in Mexico during the Civil War, which cost large amounts of French blood and treasure and damaged relations with the United States because the French government came closest to officially recognizing the Confederacy as a means of ensuring control over Mexico.

Roger Price, The French Second Empire: An Anatomy of Political Power (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Francois Furet, Revolutionary France, 1770-1880 (London, UK: Blackwell, 1995); J. P. T. Bury, France, 1814-1940 (London, UK: Methuen, 1949).