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French Third Republic

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

French Republic

République française
Motto: "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" (French)
"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity"
French Republic on the eve of World War I *   France *   French protectorates
French Republic on the eve of World War I
  •   France
  •   French protectorates
territories and colonies of French Republic at the end of 1939 Dark blue: Metropolitan territory of French Republic Light blue: Colonies, mandates, and protectorates of French Republic
territories and colonies of French Republic at the end of 1939
Dark blue: Metropolitan territory of French Republic
Light blue: Colonies, mandates, and protectorates of French Republic
Common languagesFrench (official), several others
Roman Catholicism
(4 September 1870—9 December 1905; applied to Alsace-Lorraine from December 5, 1918 to 10 July 1940)
Secular state
(9 December 1905—10 July 1940; excluding Alsace-Lorraine)
GovernmentUnitary parliamentary republic
• 1871–1873
Adolphe Thiers (first)
• 1932–1940
Albert Lebrun (last)
President of the Council of Ministers 
• 1870–1871
Louis Jules Trochu
• 1940
Philippe Pétain
Chamber of Deputies
• Proclamation by Leon Gambetta
4 September 1870
• Vichy France established
10 July 1940
CurrencyFrench Franc
ISO 3166 codeFR
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Second French Empire
Vichy France
Free France
German military administration in occupied France during World War II
Today part of France
Part of a series on the
History of France
National Emblem
National Emblem
National Emblem
Flag of France.svg
France portal

The French Third Republic (French: La Troisième République, sometimes written as La IIIe République) was the system of government adopted in France from 1870, when the Second French Empire collapsed during the Franco-Prussian War, until 10 July 1940 after France's defeat by Nazi Germany in World War II led to the formation of the Vichy government in France.

The early days of the Third Republic were dominated by political disruptions caused by the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, which the Republic continued to wage after the fall of Emperor Napoleon III in 1870. Harsh reparations exacted by the Prussians after the war resulted in the loss of the French regions of Alsace (keeping the Territoire de Belfort) and Lorraine (the northeastern part, i.e. present-day department of Moselle), social upheaval, and the establishment of the Paris Commune. The early governments of the Third Republic considered re-establishing the monarchy, but confusion as to the nature of that monarchy and who should be awarded the throne caused those talks to stall. Thus, the Third Republic, which was originally intended as a provisional government, instead became the permanent government of France.

The French Constitutional Laws of 1875 defined the composition of the Third Republic. It consisted of a Chamber of Deputies and a Senate to form the legislative branch of government and a president to serve as head of state. Issues over the re-establishment of the monarchy dominated the tenures of the first two presidents, Adolphe Thiers and Patrice de MacMahon, but the growing support for the republican form of government in the French population and a series of republican presidents during the 1880s quashed all plans for a monarchical restoration.

The Third Republic established many French colonial possessions, including French Indochina, French Madagascar, French Polynesia, and large territories in West Africa during the Scramble for Africa, all of them acquired during the last two decades of the 19th century. The early years of the 20th century were dominated by the Democratic Republican Alliance, which was originally conceived as a centre-left political alliance, but over time became the main centre-right party. The period from the start of World War I to the late 1930s featured sharply polarized politics, between the Democratic Republican Alliance and the more Radical socialists. The government fell during the early years of World War II as the Germans occupied France and was replaced by the rival governments of Charles de Gaulle's Free France (La France libre) and Philippe Pétain's Vichy France (L'État français).

Adolphe Thiers called republicanism in the 1870s "the form of government that divides France least"; however, politics under the Third Republic were sharply polarized. On the left stood Reformist France, heir to the French Revolution. On the right stood conservative France, rooted in the peasantry, the Roman Catholic Church and the army.[1] In spite of France's sharply divided electorate and persistent attempts to overthrow it, the Third Republic endured for seventy years, which as of 2018 makes it the longest lasting system of government in France since the collapse of the Ancien Régime in 1789.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ Alumni College 2017: Sarah Horowitz's "The Rise of the Third Republic"
  • ✪ Period 3.5 - 3 Third French Republic 1871-1914 (2017)
  • ✪ 3.5 - 3 Third French Republic
  • ✪ Unit 8.2: 2 French Third Republic
  • ✪ French Third Republic


So this is gonna be a kind of lot of politics today. Other times, we'll talk about sort of street life, and urban culture, but today is a lot of revolutions and protests and high politics. And when I teach classes on French history, I always begin by asking students about what their stereotypes of France are, and sort of what their stereotypes of French politics are. And invariably, I get three things. So I get that the French are farther to left than the US politically. I get that France has a sort of much more unstable political system than the US, right. So they're on their fifth republic, many more constitutions, 'cause there're other things other than the republics that they've had since the First Republic. We're on our first. And I also get that the French are bad at war. (students laugh) And you know, (laughs) sort of, so I think that you know, there's truth, and you know, complications to sort of all of these, but I say this because we're gonna touch on all of these things. And how these differences really shape the period that we're gonna talk about which is the Third Republic. So in terms of kind of the overview, the general themes, the Third Republic is this period from 1870 to 1940. And we're really gonna talk about how it emerges from France's revolutionary heritage. This sort of long century of turmoil, of trying to figure out a stable political system. And then we'll talk about the Third Republic in a way as, not necessarily the culmination, but as a system that is actually, it's the most long lasting of France's republics and political systems since the revolution. It lasts for, if my math is right, 70 years, yes, 70 years, and as finding a some degree of stability, but I think we're gonna have to put that in questions marks, even though the republic begins in absolutely calamity, total military collapse, and civil war. And so we're gonna think about why it is that the Third Republic actually lasts as long as it does because a lot of people who began the regime, right, are sort of its founders, don't want it to last. And we're gonna think about this is a product of luck, and some, I would describe it as kind of comedic circumstances. We're also gonna talk about a new type of republicanism that emerges in the Third Republic that's very different from the sort of previous types of republicanism. And then we're gonna talk about the origins of really republican institutions in France, in particular schools, as right, the sort of the laboratory of the the republic. And I just wanna say, you know, 'cause I always have to say this to my students, that when we talk about republicanism in this class, we're not talking about in the American political context. So it's not a political party, it's not people who are different than democrats, it's instead, basically, the same as democrats, people who want democracy, people who want no king, and instead a regime built on democracy. So I just want to, in case anyone is getting a little confused because you know right, sort of, when we read the news, we read a lot, and this is just a different way of thinking about sort of, it's the French meaning of the term, or the original meaning of the term. All right, so, I'm gonna begin with where all modern French politics begins, and that's the revolution. And I should say that in winter, I had the great joy of teaching a class, a seminar on the revolution, so I get 12 weeks to cover essentially, five years. I'm gonna try and compress it down to as sort of, short as possible, but it's breaking my heart a little bit. (students laugh) So in 1789, the old regime, the right, the sort of, France's political system that has lasted for centuries ends, right, with the beginning of the revolution. And at this early stage, what most people want is they want a constitutional monarchy. And that would limit the powers of the monarch, right, so at the time, Louis XVI, with a representative system. So something a little bit like Britain. Right, with a sort of House of Parliament and then also a monarch. And the people who are writing the constitution, the people who are kind of in the kind of national assembly, also want a system based on resisted suffrage. Right, so not everyone would have the vote, only the wealthiest would have the vote, although the suffrage is actually pretty broad. That effort, as you know, fails because Louis the XVI head is separated from his body during the revolution. And it fails for a lot of reasons, but I'm gonna point out two reasons. So the first is war, which begins in 1792, and it really becomes a war with all of Europe that lasts until Napoleon's fall in 1815. So right, this sort of decades of really destabilizing warfare. And the war begins in part out of France's desire to spread revolutionary ideals. So sort of bring liberty and equality to the rest of Europe. And war, as you know, raises political stakes. It's hard remain neutral during a wartime. And it also puts power in the hands of what we would call the sort of urban working class. Right, because they're the people who are the backbone of the army. And so it means that they become incredibly important to the survival of the revolution, the survival also of France. The other reason that this effort to create a kind of moderate political system, constitutional monarchy, fails is because you have a king who isn't willing to go along with the revolution. He's an absolutist. You know, and he's maybe willing to share a little power, but he essentially is hostile to the revolution. And this is a problem that really plagues France, as you'll see, for a century, is they have this difficulty finding a king a sort of king like figure who is willing to keep some of gains of the revolution. So in August 1792, the king is overthrown, and the First Republic is proclaimed based on universal manhood suffrage, so all men get to vote. As you probably know, the revolution rapidly radicalizes, leading to the Terror, which is this period of about a year, 1793-1794, of really sort of fear, instability, violence. When anyone suspected of being counter revolutionary might be executed, even on no grounds at all. This is also this period, the Terror is also the period of really radical attacks on the Catholic Church. And attempts to sort of unroot the Catholic church which sort of had been sort of interwoven in the political system in people's lives for centuries from France. So I want to talk about the legacy of this of this period because it has this really profound legacy for France and for all of Europe. And so one is that in the 19th century, democracy all over Europe, and of course in France, is associated with violence, right. So it's associated with instability, it's associated with anarchy, it's associated with ideological violence, and it's also associated with war. Right so, they don't see democracy as a sort of a peaceful, you know a kind of a harmony of nations. Instead, the idea is if you start opening up a system to make it more democratic, you were going to have chaos and the guillotine. The other thing is that there is this deep hostility which lasts well into the 20th century between French republicanism and the Catholic Church. Right, so that these are enemies, and a lot of people are forced to choose between one or the other. And so people you know, they make these decisions based on their affiliation with the republic or their affiliation with the Catholic Church. So this is just, leads to this sort of long period of instability in the 19th century. And I'm not gonna talk much about these different regimes, so these are all the regimes from the end of the Revolution, which is really ended by Napoleon Cesar of power to the Third Republic which begins in 1870. And again it breaks my heart not to talk about these regimes in sort of a great deal of detail. You have obviously, sort of Napoleon, and the First Empire, this period of really kind of right again, just colossal warfare that engulfs all of Europe. What happens then is you know that doesn't work out so well. France is kind of tired of war. The rest of Europe is kind of tired of war. And so in 1815, the Bourbon Monarchy comes back with the Bourbon Restoration. And these are the brothers of Louis the XVI, that executed king. They don't fare so well because they're not really willing to be anything other than absolutist. And so they're overthrown in a revolution in 1830. Then, in the July Monarchy, which is known as the July Monarchy 'cause 1830 is a revolution that happens in July. The cousins of the king come back, Louis Philippe, it's the Orleans branch, so it's like a sort of different branch of the royal family, basically cousins. The hope is that he'd be a little more sort of open to a sort of, opening up the a political system, a little less authoritarian. He's not, and so he's overthrown in this really big revolution that again, engulfs all of Europe, 1848. You have this period, this very brief, extremely unstable period of the Second Republic. It doesn't last that long. Napoleon, so this Napoleon is actually Napoleon's nephew. He comes into power quite quickly and really takes over the Second Republic, and then just formally seizes power, and declares himself emperor. I think the way that you can really think about this is that in the 19th century, there's really this effort to put the genie of democracy back in the bottle. Right, it was unleashed during the revolution, and it's a little bit dangerous, and there's really this kind of desire to have, political leads really have this desire to have a political system that's more stable, that right is kind of doesn't need to violence. And so these regimes, the Restoration, the July Monarchy, the reign of Napoleon III, tend to be quite repressive. They tend to restrict free press, very restricted franchise in some of them, often using the the military to put down workers. And so you have political elites who wants to stability, who want peace. And I think that something that we could understand, but I think likewise, we could understand why many common people want democracy. And so these two desires are constantly coming into conflict with one another. And that's why you have this period of enormous instability. And you have these two revolutions in particular, 1830, 1848, which are these popular uprisings that begin in Paris and overthrow monarchies. And they arise out of a demand for democracy. Increasingly too, this demand for democracy is linked to socialism. So this era, sort of 1830s, 1840s is an era of industrialization, it's a sort of first wave of industrialization in France. So you have the cities, Paris, in particular, that have a larger and larger population of poor and disenfranchised workers who are increasingly kind of attracted to socialist ideals. And they have this feeling which is that they keep doing all this work to overthrow repressive of regimes, but they never get the benefits from it. Right, so what happens is they go out on the barricades, they fight to overthrow the Bourbon Monarchs, and then they just get another king who behaves exactly like the Bourbon Monarchs. So there's this sort of seething discontent with this political system. And I want to talk in particular about why there's such instability, and I want to point out two things. One, is that this is an incredibly divided nation, and you know just absolute polarization. And we talk in the American political context about polarization and sort of deep divisions over politics, it's nothing like France in the 19th century. (students laugh) Because basically we agree, I mean I don't think there are monarchists out there, right. We agree there should be a president, and a bicameral legislature, and a judiciary, and that we're gonna stick with the constitution, right? We have that sort of basic agreement. That is not true in France, where you have everything from people who see that the only legitimate political system is one that is based on absolute divine right monarchy to people who see that the only legitimate political system is a socialist utopia. And there's everything in between from people who want a constitutional monarchy to people who want, right, a sort of moderate democracy. So this is this really kind of dramatic inability to agree on what France should look like in a really fundamental way. And I think that one of the ways to understand this is that these divides are not just only ideological, but unsurprisingly class based, geographical, religious, and gendered ones. And so I'm gonna run through those categories. So unsurprisingly, you have a lot of elites who really don't want democracy or socialism, right. And again, unsurprisingly, you have a lot of workers in cities who really don't want absolute monarchy, and want sort of socialism or democracy. So that's class divides, that I think it kind of relatively obvious one. Geographical divides, that's also something which I think you could understand, relatively obvious. So there's a big divide in cities, they tend to be much, much more radical, right. Whereas many in the countryside, France is predominately peasantry, it's predominantly an agricultural society. They do not want socialism, they want a monarchy. Many are deeply attached to the church, as well. So there's this geographical divide, right, there's this sort of difference between cities and the countrysides. There's also a religious divides. Right, so if you were an ardent Catholic, it is very unlikely that you would also be attracted to, say socialism or democracy. There are a few out there. On the other hand, if you were a nonbeliever, if you are Jewish, if you are Protestant, you really see the revolution as guaranteeing your rights. So right, there's this kind of religious difference as well. What I think it's maybe most surprising is that there's a gender divide. And it's maybe not the sort of the same divide that we're used to in terms of own politics, which is that women tend to be deeply, deeply conservative, and deeply attached to the Catholic Church. And that's actually true for really kind of much of the 19th century, and it's also true in much of Europe. Sort of, we talk about really the feminization of religion in the 19th century. So you have a lot of households where the husband and wife don't agree. Where the husband maybe wants democracy, and maybe the wife wants monarchy. And this plays out in these really funny ways. Right so, you know, do you eat fish or not during lent right? Do you fast? Well, maybe the husband is going to go and have an enormous beefsteak instead, right, to sort of stick it to the Catholic Church. Where as this would be something that would be really important for the wife of the family. So you have all these sort of these divisions, right, some of which are kind of regional or class based, and some of which are really intimate, even within a household. I think one of the ways to think about this is through art. And I have to apologize because I'm gonna totally do a terrible job talking about art in my lectures. But you've probably seen this Delacroix painting, Liberty Leading the People. It's a representation of the Revolution of 1830. And right, produced just after. And here you see this figure of liberty, right, this sort of, Maryanne who's this sort of French National icon holding the tricolored flag, the symbol, the flag that's created in the revolution, and she surrounded by a variety of Parisian types. So you see this guy, and you see his top hat. He's a member of the bourgeoisie. Right, top hats were what members of the bourgeoisie wore. On the other hand, this guy right here, is a worker because he has cap, and that's what urban workers would wear. And then this kid here, is a kind of recognizable Parisian type of the street urchin, basically. And so here you see all of them united, men and women, rich and poor, united together to bring the revolution forward, right. And it's this dream of unity, right, a dream of a unified nation, and this is a lie because this is not how people were feeling, right. Maybe they were feeling it in sort of the immediate aftermath of the revolution, but a year or two later, this is not how they would be feeling, right. That you would have this class divide, you have workers really unhappy with the regime, wanting to push it forward, wanting to bring revolution back, and you would have a really, a sort of bourgeoisie that's deeply conservative and entrenched in maintaining order and preventing what they see as this kind of absolute anarchy of democracy. So I think that's one way to understand this deep instability. The other, which is really important to our class, is the role of Paris. So you know, Paris is the biggest city in France. It is also the political capital. It is the cultural capital, right. It's where sort of, you know, the great artists and writers hang out. It's an economic capital, so it's right, there's a lot of industrialization happening. And you can think it's sort of like if we took Los Angeles and Washington DC and New York, and combined them all into one, right. And so the centralization has a really dramatic effect on French politics. Because when you have a political capital that is the same as the largest center and an industrial center, and also the place where you have the kind of wildest ideas, right, the most radical thinkers, that means that the political system is, the masses can easily influence it, right. So that they have this ability to overthrow the regime because they are right there. Whereas if you think about why in the US do our largest cities tend not to be political capitals. Right so, you know, the capital of New York State is not New York City, it's instead Albany. There's a reason for that, and that is you wanna prevent this, because that means you can keep the political system separate from the pressure of the masses. And so this centralization, really is, I think, one of the reasons for this dramatic instability. If the capital had been based in, I don't know, like, you know, some lovely city, Rouen in Normandy, you would have a very different French history. But because it's, right sort of, in this big city, there really, Parisian politics becomes, in a way, the politics of the nation in a different way. You can think both 1830 and 1848 are revolutions that take place largely, although not exclusively in Paris, where the major fighting is in the city streets. And the major fighting is barricades, which is just, you know, the revolutionaries they just put a barricade up in the streets, start pulling up the paving stones, and start fighting off troops. And so you see here, right, what are they climbing over? They're climbing over a barricade. So it's this representation, as well, of the urban revolt. Okay, so I wanna talk about this period of Napoleon III and the Second Empire. So he comes to power, really, just because of his famous name. So, he has you know, he's Napoleon's nephew, he's sort of the pretender to the Napoleonic throne. You have in 1848, you have a revolution, and they decide to elect a president, and he's on the ballot. And no one's, you know, they've heard of his uncle, but he's not someone who's known in France. But a lot of people are like, oh, I know that guy, I'm gonna vote for him. And there's a whole lot of peasants who say, oh, he's back, okay. (students laugh) I'm going to vote for him. He was good, right, sounds great. So he becomes president because he has this name. And he, like the rulers that came before him, institutes a deeply authoritarian regime. There's an elected parliament, but the parliament has no real power. And there's also really dramatic press censorship. Interestingly though, in 1860s, so the second decade of his reign, he kind of does what the other authoritarian rulers of the 19th century had not done, which is he starts actually becoming less authoritarian. And so he starts opening up the regime. He lifts certain, although certainly not all, restrictions on press censorship. He gives parliament a lot more power. And in 1869, the government proposes a new constitution that would've given, would've established a real representative regime with a parliament that has real power. And people are in favor of this, and I think this might have actually worked. This might have created a kind of stable political system where there would be democratic and representative, but would also maintain order. But as you know, Napoleon is not so great at certain things. And unlike his uncle, he's really bad at war. And so he is overthrown, really in a context of military disaster. So the Franco-Prussian War, I'm not gonna go into detail about this sort of how it comes to happen. I'm just going to say it's just largely orchestrated by Prussia and by Otto von Bismarck the Prussian chancellor. And he is seeking to rally other German states against the French menace. You've got another Napoleon on the throne. What is he gonna do? He's gonna invade Germany like his uncle ddd. And he thinks, well, if he can freak these other German states out, then they will unify under Prussian authority which will be really great for Prussia. And so he essentially goes goads Napoleon III into starting a war, and this is the war that we call the Franco-Prussian War. The war, as you probably know, is an absolute disaster. The French army is badly commanded. The army, the sort of heads of the army, they believe that the French fighting spirit will win against the organized, disciplined, and very prepared Prussian army. This is a mistake to believe that. And so the war begins in July 1870, and in September there's a huge defeat at Sedan where Napoleon III is captured. You see, he goes out to sort of be there during the battle, right. He sort of like, I'm like my uncle, I'm gonna sort of bring warfare and victory on horseback. And soon after, news trickles back, of course, to Paris. And a few days after it does, a group of republican deputies and a Parisian crowd say, well, we're the Third Republic now, right. And you know, you can sort of think about this is more or less has the same real legal authority as if we in this classroom were to say, we are the second American republic, right, and we're going to write a new constitution. But as I say, it sticks. So this is a really, really inauspicious beginning for a governmental system, absolute military catastrophe. And very, very quickly the government has to think about what are they gonna do about the war. And there are two options. And like everything in France, this is politicized. So what the left wants to do is they want to rally the people of France, and fight Prussians. And the idea is let's do what we did in the First Revolution, let's fight back the rest of Europe with the enthusiasm and excitement of the French people. Moderates and conservatives don't want this. And they don't want this because a lot of them are a little afraid of putting arms in the hands of the people of France, and thinking that well, they might use the arms against the Prussians, but then they might use them against, you know, us. But they also are kind of right that they're going to lose the war anything, so capitulate early. And so meanwhile, Prussia is laying siege to Paris from September 20 to January 28, 1871. And as you can imagine, life in Paris is tough during this siege. Food runs low. Fuel runs low. You know, industry is basically closed, so people aren't aren't paid. And so people turn to kind of extraordinary expedience, the animals in the Paris zoo get eaten. So when I was practicing this lecture, yesterday, I had to hold my hands over my dogs ears. (students laugh) This is a butcher shop, and here you can see rats being sold, and then the image is a little pixelated so I apologize for that, but canine and feline meat, right, so yeah, yeah, yeah, right. So people have to like guard their dogs against getting, you know, poached by hungry people. Paris is also cut off from all communication. And so Paris relies to get messages out, use hot air balloons. And to get messages in, carrier pigeons. So there's all these kinds of really dramatic stories about, you know, people escaping in a hot air balloons, and sort of the carrier pigeons. And inside Paris, what happens is the workers they don't have anything to do, right, 'cause the industry has ground to a halt. They're hungry, but there's a lot of wine in the kind of basements of Paris, so they basically sit in cafes and talk about politics, and become increasingly radicalized. Really, the middle class and the elites of Paris they fled, they've left because they're like we're gonna get out of here, we're going to go to some country home, and wait out the, you know, the Prussian siege. And so these workers are increasingly determined to fight the Prussians back. And they're very concerned that this new government is gonna be too willing to give in to harsh Prussian demands, right. And I think it is that sort of question where you can say, they think, what is it that we're starving for? Are we just starving to, you know, be kind of have another authoritarian regime, right? Are we just starving to give a lot of money and some land to Prussia? And the answer, as we'll see is yes, kind of. So there's a series of elections, the first elections of this new republic in February 1871. Now 1/2 the country is under occupation, so you can't really have campaigns. And in these elections, the monarchists win. And they win primarily because they promise peace. And you could understand if you were living under military occupation, you're gonna just want to get those at guys out of there, and so you are gonna vote for the guys who will settle the peace quickly as possible. But you have this paradox, you have a republic with a national assembly of monarchists people who don't want a republic. And this new government, as you probably know, does quite rapidly sue for peace. So France pays huge war indemnity, they lose almost all of our Alsace, and about a third of the Lorraine to Germany. So this is a lot of land, right, it's a lot of places the French consider theirs. It's also very wealthy land, this is where a lot of industry is, this is where a lot of coal reserves are, as well. And so on the one hand we can understand this desire to get that war over as soon as possible, but you can also understand why people in Paris are not happy with this peace. And they feel deeply betrayed and very angry at the new government. What did they suffer for? What did they starve for? Had they starved to give a lot of land and money away to the Prussians? And wasn't this government just sent another conservative monarchist repressive government? And they're also really worried this government is based in Versailles, so right outside Paris, the capital of old monarchy, as opposed to Paris. And they see this as, right, a kind of effort to decrease their power, which in a way it kind of is. And so the Versailles government tries to disarm Paris. They try and seize cannons that had been in Paris to fight off the Prussians. And as these two generals are trying to do so with their troops, Parisian mobs lynch those two generals, and then drive the troops off. And so this is obviously the sort of, Parisians are not happy about this move. The Versailles government, they could have negotiated, they could've said, hey, let's think of a compromise, but they decide no, we want a confrontation, and we want to beat Paris. And that's essentially what they do. So they withdraw from Paris, and they start preparing for a full-scale confrontation. What this does is, once again, Paris is in the hands of radicals. Again, anyone who can is gonna leave, so what you get is a city of relatively poor people who tend to be very left wing and attracted to socialism. And these radicals call for all of France to organize a itself into a federation of municipalities. And they declare themselves the Commune, which was a term that have been used in the original French revolution. And the Commune begins on March 18, 1871. So when we think of the Commune, we often think of this as this period of radical social experimentation within Paris among these sort of Parisian radicals where for the first time, ordinary workers were in charge of Paris. And they have a really, really radical reputation, and a very radical language. So they say our flag, the French flag, is no longer the tricolored, it is instead, the red flag of socialism. We are going to spread socialism to the rest of France. There's also these kind of feminist demands, right so, all these kind of women start advocating for things like daycare and wage equality. And they do things like burn the houses of conservative politicians, they topple a monument to Napoleon I, 'cause they see it as too militaristic. They're sort of socialist, and so they want international peace. And they think that, you know, sort of as socialists, right, all worker should be united, so you don't want someone who's promoting international war, so you've got to get rid of Napoleon. They also, some of them talk about instituting a new terror. And Marx famously describes this as the dictatorship of the proletariat, as this, right, kind of effort to create a socialist republic in France. If you actually look at their policies that they institute, they're really quite moderate, and they're more or less things that the Third Republic did a little bit later, like separate church and state, like free secular public education, things like pensions to soldiers of families who died, right, or sort of these kind of more or less moderate measures. But the Versailles government sees this as a threat, and you have essentially two people, two groups, sorry to groups, who are claiming to be the kind of true government of France. So you have the Versailles government, and you have the Paris Commune. And the right socialism versus more or less kind of conservative of monarchism. And so the Versailles government lays siege to Paris. So that now we have another siege, this time though, it's civil war, not international war. And they unsurprisingly, win, right, the Paris Commune is just sort of absolutely outnumbered in terms of forces, in terms of, right, the sort of the material that they have. And in May 21 1871, they enter the city. and they finish their sort of conquest of the city on May 28, 1871. And this is a week of incredibly brutal street fighting. And they go from west to east, and this is important and we'll talk about this next time, but they start conquering the city in these lighter parts, and then the places where they end up are these darker purple parts. And the final confrontation happens at Pere Lachaise Cemetery, some of you may have been to if you've been to Paris, where they kind of, the Versailles army just kind of rounds up a lot of the kind of remaining Communers, and shoots them against the wall, yeah. In this period, about 20,000 people are shot in repression. And afterwards 40,000 are tried, many of them deported to penal colonies outside of metropolitan France, like New Caledonia, for instance, on both sides, but particularly on the side of the Versailles government, there's killing of innocent civilians. The Paris Commune, they kill some of their hostages, and they burn some buildings, they burn City Hall, but basically the Versailles troops, some of the generals and some of the politicians on the Versailles side, they see this as their chance to liquidate people who they didn't like. And the sort of word that they say, or the phrase that they say is (speaking in foreign language), which is to say, in Paris everyone was guilty. If you were in Paris during the Commune, you are a threat. Right, and so they use this as a way to sort of mow down a lot of the people that they saw as being in their opposition. So that's the beginning of the Third Republic. Now, this is not a great way to begin a new political system. And the government, right, is as I said again, quite conservative. Right, that you have this majority monarchists who are elected to the National Assembly. They restrict the free press. They're initially very close to the Catholic Church. And they think, we're going to have this republic for a few years and then we're gonna convert it back to a monarchy. And so their plan is you have this Bourbon pretender, he's the descendant of the Bourbon line, and this is that guy up there, the Conte de Chambord, and he's a little bit batty. He's actually much older than this, this is a picture of him when he was much younger. And he's a little bit batty, but the thought is that he's gonna die soon, he doesn't have any children, and then when he dies we'll give the throne to that Orleans branch, right, the cousins who are much more moderate. The problem really is, and this is for luck comes to play, the problem is that the Comte de Chambord is so batty, that he's unacceptable. And he basically says, I will be your king, I'm happy to rule over you. I'm happy to sort of come out of my exile, and rule over one of the wealthiest nations in Europe, but one of my demands is I don't want your tri-colored flag. I want the old Bourbon flag, so the fleur-de-lis. And there are a couple of monarchists that are okay with this, but there are a lot of monarchists who are like nope, this guy is too crazy. He doesn't recognize that like the 19th century happened. Right, he's not willing to keep any gains of the revolution. He's just another absolutist. We know how that ends. So we're just gonna keep the republic. And the quip is that for this, the Comte de Chambord is the George Washington of France. Right, so the solution then is that you're gonna put the head of the army, this guy Marshal MacMahon, who was the guy who led the Versailles troops into Paris. You're going to make him president, and he's monarchist, he's deeply conservative. And he'll be president until the Comte de Chambord dies. And then we'll basically have a royal descendant who comes back on the throne. The problem is that republicans start winning elections. People find out, even in the countryside, that they kind of like democracy. Right, they kind of like not having a king. And so in 1876, the first national elections, since those 1870 ones, you get a really overwhelming majority of the deputies to the National Assembly being republicans, as opposed to monarchists. so they're 155 monarchists, 340 republicans. So you have this deadlock, right, you have a president who is monarchist, and a chamber of deputies who are republicans. And what MacMahon does is he says, we're gonna have a whole new series of elections in 1877. And he more or less tries a kind of quasi-coup, like a legal coup, but a quasi-coup. Which is he calls for new elections, he starts barnstorming around the country, he suspends officials that don't support him, he enlists clergy members to preach at the pulpit to vote for him, but it doesn't work. And the republicans win. Their margin decreases, so there are 323 republicans, 209 moralists. So there are not as many republicans as there were in their earlier these elections. This is the defeat of the monarchists. And this is basically the monarchists to say, all right, we're stuck with the republic. So to think about why this republic stays in place, unlike the First Republic that begins in 1792, and the Second Republic that begins in 1848, we can think about sort of why this happens. So unlike previous republics, this is not a government that radicalizes. It does not move to the left. It proves that it can be real repressive during the Commune. The Commune also has the effect of getting rid of a lot of socialist leaders and activists, so there's actually not much pressure from the radical left, at least in the early years of the Republic. The other thing is that you have really a kind of rise of moderate republicanism. Which is to say republicanism increasingly in this period is not associated with socialism, but is backed by essentially middle-class men who want protection of property. And they're willing to compromise with the workers, but they fundamentally, right, sort of figure out we want a regime that is founded on respect for private property, kind of moderation. We can figure out the republicanism that isn't socialist. And so that becomes a sort of dominant strain of republicanism in this period. The other reason, that I think the republic is so successful, is that the republic beginning in the 1880s really, really takes efforts to establish themselves through education. In the 1880s, this guy, a politician named Jules Ferry, he's a minister of public instruction, so basically the minister of education. he establishes a series of laws called the Ferry laws, no kind of excitement about the name, that establish free compulsory and secular education. So you can send your kid to Catholic schools, or to religious school, or to a private school, but now in every village there are state-run primary and secondary schools. And those schools have an absolutely uniform standardized centralized curriculum. And this is actually still very much true today in France. It's sort of famously, you know kind of, if you're, right, if you had a grandchild in second grade in France, and they were, I don't know, learning like a sort of particular math lesson at sort of 9:48 on a Monday morning, that would be true for every single second grader in France. Right, it's a kind of quite in many ways, rigid curriculum. And it's really the teachers who are important. So the teachers, one of whom you have pictured here, they're the shock troops of the republic. And what this means is that in every town, there is a local authority who is absolutely dedicated to republican values. So you have the priest, who largely isn't. You have a mayor, and who knows with the mayor thinks. But you also have the teacher, and you know exactly what the teacher will think. And these, they really see themselves as missionaries for this political system. That their effort is to convert the peasants to the republic. And teaching is a really prestigious occupation, and they're really only second in status to the mayors in the villages. So that they are these people that come into these villages and they have this kind of connection to the political system. And are seen, they may also be one of the few people that is literate, and so they're seen as having this kind of really important authority. So these teachers, they teach reading and writing, but they also teach patriotism, absolute devotion to France and to the Republic. And what they do is they give their students a national identity. They give students, who are, you know, the kind of children of peasants, right, who primarily would have had a regional identity, as normal as (speaking in foreign language), as normal, as from Landudec. And would've spoken a regional language, as opposed to French. They give people a national identity as French. And this is part of this effort, that there's this great book on this. It's by Eugen Weber who wrote that France Fin-de-Siecle book, and he calls it, Peasants into Frenchman. Right, you take these people who really don't have much of an identification with France. They have a, right, they're sort of regionally rooted, the know the village, they know the village next next to them. Maybe, you know, they go to regional capital once in their life. How do you give them a national identity? And you give it through schools. And so what this does is this converts peasants to republicanism. Right, so you had a lot of peasants who, you know, maybe is a little problem because they have the vote but they don't know how to read. So if you don't know how to read, how do you know who to vote for? But you also had peasants who many of them were ardent monarchists. And so how do you convert them to the republic? This is also really important in converting women to the republic. So here you see these are just boys because the schools were not coeducational, but you would also have girl schools. And in those girls schools, you would teach those girls that they should be devoted to the Republic, to France's government. And so the idea is then you get the mothers on board, right, because those girls will grow up, they will produce a next generation of French citizens, and they're not gonna be so Catholic, right. They are gonna be really, really excited about the republic as opposed to the church. And so it's partly about this sort of generational transfer, as well, and this effort to convert both peasants and women to a different type of politics. And you see I put that what's inscribed on the blackboard, I translated it and put it on the PowerPoint. And this says, "The nation which has the best schools "is the best nation; if it is not true today, "it will be through tomorrow." And I think that's a really important phrase, 'cause you gotta think what other nations are there? Well, there's Germany. And we really want back Alsace, and we really want back Lorraine, and we really want revenge. And so how are we gonna get that? We're gonna raise our kids to be absolutely militantly devoted to the Republic, so that when the next war comes, they will go off and they will fight with pride and with enthusiasm. And that's exactly what they do. So that's it. (students applaud) In the United States we tend to view the Seneca Falls Convention as the start of women's rights. How does that movement start in France? It's a really interesting question. So there are in the French Revolution, so it's started in 1789, there are advocates for women's rights, both male and female. But it's really, it's more in the kind of later part of the 19th century that you start having more feminists, more feminist organizations, more feminist voices. But it's always a real minority position in France. It's a much kind of less prominent movement in France than it is in the US or the UK, for instance. And one of the reasons that women, so women actually don't get the vote until 1944, right after the war. And so one of the reasons is that you have all these republicans in the Third Republic, and they're like, we don't wanna give the women the vote, 'cause they're just gonna vote for whoever their priest tells them to. So there's really this kind of fear that if you give women the vote, you would have the return of the monarchy. And that's one of the things that kind of really inhibits the French, sort of, feminist movement and feminist demands. And it's not until after World War II when you had a lot of women who were in the Resistance. And the thought is you kind of, you know, they've shown that they are loyal, and they're loyal to the Republic, and so we'll give them the vote to sort of thank them. And because they've proved themselves to be loyal. Yeah, that's a great question, thank you. How did they find or train enough teachers to go to all the villages, and skew this party line. Yeah, that's a great question. They start schools, so they start basically teacher training schools. And which some of which are still, you know, in kind of in operation today. But it's an effort that really starts under Napoleon, and then kind of dramatically escalates in the Third Republic, is to have professional, highly prestigious schools to train civil servants of a variety of ways. So in France today, the most prestigious schools are really ones that are designed to train civil servants. So you have, if you know anything about the educational system (speaking in foreign language) which is really to train sort of high school teachers, and then above. And it's incredibly hard to get into, and it's very prestigious. Yeah, so you have to have this like actually sort of this huge administration, and this huge kind of effort to, right-- And were they paid, were the rural teachers paid through the central government. Yes, they are paid. So before you would have rural teachers who were, eh, maybe not paid so well, right. And there's a real effort to kind of ensure quality. So you have a lot of inspectors too, school inspectors to ensure quality. And this is actually to your point, this is where a lot of women start finding employment as, is as teachers or as these sort of in the school administration, and so it creates this kind of professional class of women. Yeah, great question. Mm hmm? Well, it looks like the church would've seen this as a direct attack. Suddenly, the you know, they had the only person in town who led, the priest. And now suddenly, there's lots of people who founded, the church try and fight back? That's a good question. So in general, yes, and we'll talk about that with the Dreyfus Affair. The church is very hostile to this republic, and, you know, really not happy about it. One of the things that happens as a result of the Dreyfus Affair in 1905 is that the church loses a lot of power and a lot of wealth, as well. I don't know sort of in individual villages, right, whether you'd have these kind of struggles, the degree to which you'd have a struggle between officials, right, between sort of church and secular officials. That's a really great question, but certainly on a kind of macro level, yes, absolutely, the church is not happy. Mm hmm. From the time Louis the XVI got beheaded through the Terror, and up until the time Napoleon took over, who was running the French government? And doing things governments do, like running the war against other countries in Europe? Yeah, it's a great question. So it's this period of the revolution that no one ever talks about because they feel it's really boring, although people have started to say, actually it's more interesting. Its called the Directory. And it's a this kind of basically, an executive of five, you have five executives, and then you also have a bicameral legislative. And it's corrupt, it's inefficient, it's not terribly popular, and really they have this one success which is war. But it's this sort of strange period in French history. They're really trying to think about like how do we create a republic that can be stable and they create this kind of bloated, corrupt a governmental system to do so. 'Cause the thought is just make things really slow and inefficient and you won't have radicalization. Oh, yeah. When church and state were separated in France, Alsace was not a part of France. That's right. My understanding is that the differences would lead to this present day. Could you comment on the schools and such. Yeah, so there's, right, the separation happens in 1905. And it removes a lot of funding from the Catholic Church because the French state had funded a lot the church. But of course, Alsace is part of Germany at the time. So when Alsace comes back, it has this, the church is sort of much more I think, integrated into the fabric of things like education. And that remains true to this day. It's actually this incredibly complicated system because technically in France today, there is separation of church and state, but in fact, a lot of funding for religious organizations comes from the state. And so, it's never, I think there's this thought that in theory, church and state are separate. In practice, they really never fully are. And Alsace is one of those cases where they're never, when Alsace comes back, they're never fully separated as, right, and there's not an effort to kind of alter that. In part, because Alsace is Protestant, and the thought is the Protestant Church isn't dangerous to the republic in the way that the Catholic Church is perceived to be dangerous. Yeah, yeah, great question. Yeah. To follow up on the previous question, when Napoleon became First Consul, I thought he only had two other people in that deal. Mm hmm, yes, so the Directory is in power from I think 1795 to 1799, and then Napoleon comes in 1799. And he's sort of, he says, we're gonna shift to the Consulate. And he's the First Consul, and there are two guys who were the other two Consuls, and he, you know, unsurprisingly engineers it so that he's the one who has all the power. Yeah, so there's two slightly different political systems. But it's basically this, in theory, you don't wanna have one man having all the power. In practice, of course, you do have one man having all the power. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. From 1930 on I guess was the first of the modern, how would you define the French economic system at that point? Yeah, so it's uh, we'll talk a little bit about this, I think, tomorrow, but you have industrialization in France, it tends not to be kind of large scale industrialization, so it's a little different than in Britain. You have a lot of small shops, basically, what we would call sort of sweated industry, which is not necessarily machine production, but a lot of hand production. You do, starting at the end of the 19th century, you start seeing a kind of, well, really kind of 18, mid 19th century, 1860s, you would start seeing for instance, a second wave of industrialization with much larger factories. Those are, a lot of them are in the northeast of France, so in the kind of Lille, and eastern France, more generally. And that tends to be kind of these much larger factories. But France has kind of traditionally, it's still true today, kind of a lot of hand-crafts, a lot of luxury production, and a lot of kind of small scale manufacturing. That being said, I think it's really important, the degree to which France is overwhelmingly agricultural. So it's over I think, it's kind of the vast majority of people are farmers. And that lasts, that's really true until the mid-20th century. So France has this kind of very slow, long industrialization which is different than sort of the UK or Britain which have these kind of much rapid surges. You said earlier to the students that the French are bad at war. Yes. That would've begun in Sedan? Yeah, yeah, yeah. And was that army, was it modernized at all? I mean not as much as the Prussians, I would understand. Yeah, I think so. I mean, there had certainly been kind of, right, there'd been Crimean War, right. This is not the first time during the Second Empire that they fight. I don't think they're as modernized as the Prussians, but really they, the Prussian military machine is just hard to come up against, right. And leadership problems. Yeah, there was also a real leadership problem. And really, you know, the French sort of ideas about war, I had a student do a great project on this, is basically, that the kind of partly this sort of revolutionary enthusiasm, and we're gonna count on the enthusiasm of the people, but also partly, cannon fodder. And that's more or less how Napoleon, the first Napoleon wins it. And it's more or less why France, you know, holds out as long as it does, and is on the winning side in World War I is just that kind of willingness to, you know, send your population to the war, yeah. Yeah, great question, mm hmm. Are the Ferry laws still in effect today? Yes, yes. And what effect has that had on education with the large influx of immigrants? So it's a really, the question of secularism in the schools is one of the major sources of debate in French politics, and it has been for the past, I would say 20 years. Particularly, the degree to which Muslim girls are allowed to wear head scarves, right. 'Cause the thought is that these are secular schools, and also, you know, people, French students don't bring their lunches to school. They eat right in the cafeterias, and there're also debates about whether you can have halal meals, as well. And right, and so these have been these kinds of real, it's really the schools that have been the place where this has been debated. And I think it's that kind of this centrality of the schools to the Republic, which begins in the Third Republic, helps us understand why schools are this place where these ideas are really sort of hashed out and debated in France in this kind of very unique way. Partly because the feeling is that these schools are the laboratory. They're where the republic is created, and you need to sort of ensure that, sort of process that's happening. All right, well, thank you very much. Thank you. Those were great question, thank you. (students applaud)



A French propaganda poster from 1917 is captioned with an 18th-century quote: "Even in 1788, Mirabeau was saying that War is the National Industry of Prussia."
A French propaganda poster from 1917 is captioned with an 18th-century quote: "Even in 1788, Mirabeau was saying that War is the National Industry of Prussia."

The Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871 resulted in the defeat of France and the overthrow of Emperor Napoleon III and his Second French Empire. After Napoleon's capture by the Prussians at the Battle of Sedan (1 September 1870), Parisian deputies led by Léon Gambetta established the Government of National Defence as a provisional government on 4 September 1870. The deputies then selected General Louis-Jules Trochu to serve as its president. This first government of the Third Republic ruled during the Siege of Paris (19 September 1870 – 28 January 1871). As Paris was cut off from the rest of unoccupied France, the Minister of War, Léon Gambetta, who succeeded in leaving Paris in a hot air balloon, established the headquarters of the provisional republican government in the city of Tours on the Loire river.

After the French surrender in January 1871, the provisional Government of National Defence disbanded, and national elections were called with the aim of creating a new French government. French territories occupied by Prussia at this time did not participate. The resulting conservative National Assembly elected Adolphe Thiers as head of a provisional government, nominally ("head of the executive branch of the Republic pending a decision on the institutions of France"). Due to the revolutionary and left-wing political climate that prevailed in the Parisian population, the right-wing government chose the royal palace of Versailles as its headquarters.

The new government negotiated a peace settlement with the newly proclaimed German Empire: the Treaty of Frankfurt signed on 10 May 1871. To prompt the Prussians to leave France, the government passed a variety of financial laws, such as the controversial Law of Maturities, to pay reparations. In Paris, resentment against the government built and from late March – May 1871, Paris workers and National Guards revolted and established the Paris Commune, which maintained a radical left-wing regime for two months until its bloody suppression by the Thiers government in May 1871. The following repression of the communards would have disastrous consequences for the labor movement.

Parliamentary monarchy

Composition of the national Assembly – 1871
Composition of the national Assembly – 1871

The French legislative election of 1871, held in the aftermath of the collapse of the regime of Napoleon III, resulted in a monarchist majority in the French National Assembly that was favourable to making a peace agreement with Prussia. The "Legitimists" in the National Assembly supported the candidacy of a descendant of King Charles X, the last monarch from the senior line of the Bourbon Dynasty, to assume the French throne: his grandson Henri, Comte de Chambord, alias "Henry V." The Orléanists supported a descendant of King Louis Philippe I, the cousin of Charles X who replaced him as the French monarch in 1830: his grandson Louis-Philippe, Comte de Paris. The Bonapartists were marginalized due to the defeat of Napoléon III and were unable to advance the candidacy of any member of his family, the Bonaparte family. Legitimists and Orléanists came to a compromise, eventually, whereby the childless Comte de Chambord would be recognised as king, with the Comte de Paris recognised as his heir. Consequently, in 1871 the throne was offered to the Comte de Chambord.[2]

Chambord believed the restored monarchy had to eliminate all traces of the Revolution (including most famously the Tricolor flag) in order to restore the unity between the monarchy and the nation, which the revolution had sundered apart. Compromise on this was impossible if the nation were to be made whole again. The general population, however, was unwilling to abandon the Tricolor flag. Monarchists therefore resigned themselves to wait for the death of the aging, childless Chambord, when the throne could be offered to his more liberal heir, the Comte de Paris. A "temporary" republican government was therefore established. Chambord lived on until 1883, but by that time, enthusiasm for a monarchy had faded, and as a result the Comte de Paris was never offered the French throne.[3]

The Ordre Moral government

The Sacré-Cœur Basilica was built as a symbol of the Ordre Moral.
The Sacré-Cœur Basilica was built as a symbol of the Ordre Moral.

The term ordre moral ("moral order") was applied to the policies of the early governments of the Third Republic in reference to the bloody suppression of the Paris Commune, whose political and social innovations were viewed as morally degenerate by large conservative segments of the French population.[4]

In February 1875, a series of parliamentary acts established the constitutional laws of the new republic. At its head was a President of the Republic. A two-chamber parliament consisting of a directly-elected Chamber of Deputies and an indirectly-elected Senate was created, along with a ministry under the President of the Council (prime minister), who was nominally answerable to both the President of the Republic and the legislature. Throughout the 1870s, the issue of whether a monarchy should replace the republic dominated public debate.

In France, children were taught in school not to forget the lost regions of Alsace-Lorraine, which were coloured in black on maps.
In France, children were taught in school not to forget the lost regions of Alsace-Lorraine, which were coloured in black on maps.

On 16 May 1877, with public opinion swinging heavily in favour of a republic, the monarchist President of the Republic, Patrice de MacMahon made one last desperate attempt to salvage the monarchical cause by dismissing the republican prime minister Jules Simon and appointing the monarchist leader Albert, duc de Broglie, to office. He then dissolved parliament and called a general election for the following October. If his hope had been to halt the move towards republicanism, it backfired spectacularly, with the president being accused of having staged a constitutional coup d'état known as le seize Mai ("the 16 May Crisis") after the date on which it happened. Indeed, it was not until Charles de Gaulle, 80 years later, that a President of France next unilaterally dissolved parliament.[5]

Republicans returned triumphantly after the October elections for the Chamber of Deputies. The prospect of a monarchical restoration died definitively after the republicans gained control of the Senate on 5 January 1879. MacMahon himself resigned on 30 January 1879, leaving a seriously weakened presidency in the hands of Jules Grévy.

The Opportunist Republicans

Following the 16 May crisis in 1877, Legitimists were pushed out of power, and the Republic was finally governed by republicans referred to as Opportunist Republicans for their support of moderate social and political changes in order to establish the new regime firmly. The Jules Ferry laws that made public education free, mandatory, and secular (laїque), were voted in 1881 and 1882, one of the first signs of the expanding civic powers of the Republic. From that time onward, public education was no longer under the exclusive control of the Catholic congregations.[6]

To discourage French monarchism as a serious political force, the French Crown Jewels were broken up and sold in 1885. Only a few crowns, their precious gems replaced by coloured glass, were kept.

Boulanger crisis

Georges Ernest Boulanger, nicknamed Général Revanche
Georges Ernest Boulanger, nicknamed Général Revanche

In 1889, the Republic was rocked by a sudden political crisis precipitated by General Georges Boulanger. An enormously popular general, he won a series of elections in which he would resign his seat in the Chamber of Deputies and run again in another district. At the apogee of his popularity in January 1889, he posed the threat of a coup d'état and the establishment of a dictatorship. With his base of support in the working districts of Paris and other cities, plus rural traditionalist Catholics and royalists, he promoted an aggressive nationalism aimed against Germany. The elections of September 1889 marked a decisive defeat for the Boulangists. They were defeated by the changes in the electoral laws that prevented Boulanger from running in multiple constituencies; by the government's aggressive opposition; and by the absence of the general himself, who placed himself in self-imposed exile to be with his mistress. The fall of Boulanger severely undermined the political strength of the conservative and royalist elements within France; they would not recover their strength until 1940.[7]

Revisionist scholars have argued that the Boulangist movement more often represented elements of the radical left rather than the extreme right. Their work is part of an emerging consensus that France's radical right was formed in part during the Dreyfus era by men who had been Boulangist partisans of the radical left a decade earlier.[8]

Panama scandal

The Panama scandals of 1892 involved the enormous cost of a failed attempt to build the Panama Canal. Due to disease, death, inefficiency, and widespread corruption, the Panama Canal Company handling the massive project went bankrupt, with millions in losses. It is regarded as the largest monetary corruption scandal of the 19th century. Close to a billion francs were lost when the French government took bribes to keep quiet about the Panama Canal Company's financial troubles.[9]

The welfare state and public health

The state had a smaller role in France than in Germany before the First World War. French income levels were higher than German income levels despite France having fewer natural resources, while taxation and government spending were lower in France than in Germany.

France lagged behind Bismarckian Germany, as well as Great Britain, in developing a welfare state with public health, unemployment insurance and national old age pension plans. There was an accident insurance law for workers in 1898, and in 1910, France created a national pension plan. Unlike Germany or Britain, the programs were much smaller – for example, pensions were a voluntary plan.[10] Historian Timothy Smith finds French fears of national public assistance programs were grounded in a widespread disdain for the English Poor Law.[11] Tuberculosis was the most dreaded disease of the day, especially striking young people in their 20s. Germany set up vigorous measures of public hygiene and public sanatoria, but France let private physicians handle the problem.[12] The French medical profession guarded its prerogatives, and public health activists were not as well organized or as influential as in Germany, Britain or the United States.[13][14] For example, there was a long battle over a public health law which began in the 1880s as a campaign to reorganize the nation's health services, to require the registration of infectious diseases, to mandate quarantines, and to improve the deficient health and housing legislation of 1850.

However, the reformers met opposition from bureaucrats, politicians, and physicians. Because it was so threatening to so many interests, the proposal was debated and postponed for 20 years before becoming law in 1902. Implementation finally came when the government realized that contagious diseases had a national security impact in weakening military recruits, and keeping the population growth rate well below Germany's.[15] Another theory put forth is that the low rate of French population growth, relative to Germany, was due to a lower French birth rate perhaps due to the provision under French Revolutionary law that land must be divided up among all the sons (or a large compensation paid) — this led peasants to not want more than one son. There is no evidence to suggest than French life expectancy was lower than that of Germany.[citation needed]

Dreyfus affair

The Dreyfus affair was a major political scandal that convulsed France from 1894 until its resolution in 1906, and then had reverberations for decades more. The conduct of the affair has become a modern and universal symbol of injustice. It remains one of the most striking examples of a complex miscarriage of justice in which a central role was played by the press and public opinion. At issue was blatant anti-Semitism as practiced by the French Army and defended by conservatives and catholic traditionalists against secular centre-left, left and republican forces, including most Jews. In the end, the latter triumphed.[16][17]

The affair began in November 1894 with the conviction for treason of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer of Alsatian Jewish descent. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for communicating French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris and sent to the penal colony at Devil's Island in French Guiana (nicknamed la guillotine sèche, the dry guillotine), where he spent almost five years.

Two years later, evidence came to light that identified a French Army major named Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy as the real spy. After high-ranking military officials suppressed the new evidence, a military court unanimously acquitted Esterhazy. In response, the Army brought up additional charges against Dreyfus based on false documents. Word of the military court's attempts to frame Dreyfus began to spread, chiefly owing to the polemic J'accuse, a vehement open letter published in a Paris newspaper in January 1898 by the notable writer Émile Zola. Activists put pressure on the government to re-open the case.

In 1899, Dreyfus was returned to France for another trial. The intense political and judicial scandal that ensued divided French society between those who supported Dreyfus (now called "Dreyfusards"), such as Anatole France, Henri Poincaré and Georges Clemenceau, and those who condemned him (the anti-Dreyfusards), such as Édouard Drumont, the director and publisher of the anti-Semitic newspaper La Libre Parole. The new trial resulted in another conviction and a 10-year sentence, but Dreyfus was given a pardon and set free. Eventually all the accusations against him were demonstrated to be baseless, and in 1906, Dreyfus was exonerated and re-instated as a major in the French Army.

From 1894 to 1906, the scandal divided France deeply and lastingly into two opposing camps: the pro-Army "anti-Dreyfusards" composed of conservatives, Catholic traditionalists and monarchists who generally lost the initiative to the anti-clerical, pro-republican "Dreyfusards", with strong support from intellectuals and teachers. It embittered French politics and facilitated the increasing influence of radical politicians on both sides of the political spectrum.

Social history


The democratic political structure was supported by the proliferation of politicized newspapers. The circulation of the daily press in Paris went from 1 million in 1870 to 5 million in 1910; it later reached 6 million in 1939. Advertising grew rapidly, providing a steady financial basis for publishing, but it did not cover all of the costs involved and had to be supplemented by secret subsidies from commercial interests that wanted favorable reporting. A new liberal press law of 1881 abandoned the restrictive practices that had been typical for a century. High-speed rotary Hoe presses, introduced in the 1860s, facilitated quick turnaround time and cheaper publication. New types of popular newspapers, especially Le Petit Journal, reached an audience more interested in diverse entertainment and gossip than hard news. It captured a quarter of the Parisian market and forced the rest to lower their prices. The main dailies employed their own journalists who competed for news flashes. All newspapers relied upon the Agence Havas (now Agence France-Presse), a telegraphic news service with a network of reporters and contracts with Reuters to provide world service. The staid old papers retained their loyal clientele because of their concentration on serious political issues.[18] While papers usually gave false circulation figures, Le Petit Provençal in 1913 probably had a daily circulation of about 100,000 and Le Petit Meridional had about 70,000. Advertising only filled 20% or so of the pages.[19]

The Roman Catholic Assumptionist order revolutionized pressure group media by its national newspaper La Croix. It vigorously advocated for traditional Catholicism while at the same time innovating with the most modern technology and distribution systems, with regional editions tailored to local taste. Secularists and Republicans recognized the newspaper as their greatest enemy, especially when it took the lead in attacking Dreyfus as a traitor and stirring up anti-Semitism. After Dreyfus was pardoned, the Radical government closed down the entire Assumptionist order and its newspaper in 1900.[20]

Banks secretly paid certain newspapers to promote particular financial interests and hide or cover up misbehavior. They also took payments for favorable notices in news articles of commercial products. Sometimes, a newspaper would blackmail a business by threatening to publish unfavorable information unless the business immediately started advertising in the paper. Foreign governments, especially Russia and Turkey, secretly paid the press hundreds of thousands of francs a year to guarantee favorable coverage of the bonds it was selling in Paris. When the real news was bad about Russia, as during its 1905 Revolution or during its war with Japan, it raised the ante to millions. During the World War, newspapers became more of a propaganda agency on behalf of the war effort and avoided critical commentary. They seldom reported the achievements of the Allies, crediting all the good news to the French army. In a sentence, the newspapers were not independent champions of the truth, but secretly paid advertisements for banking.[21]

The World War ended a golden era for the press. Their younger staff members were drafted, and male replacements could not be found (female journalists were not considered suitable.) Rail transportation was rationed and less paper and ink came in, and fewer copies could be shipped out. Inflation raised the price of newsprint, which was always in short supply. The cover price went up, circulation fell and many of the 242 dailies published outside Paris closed down. The government set up the Interministerial Press Commission to supervise the press closely. A separate agency imposed tight censorship that led to blank spaces where news reports or editorials were disallowed. The dailies sometimes were limited to only two pages instead of the usual four, leading one satirical paper to try to report the war news in the same spirit:

War News. A half-zeppelin threw half its bombs on half-time combatants, resulting in one-quarter damaged. The zeppelin, halfways-attacked by a portion of half-anti aircraft guns, was half destroyed."[19]

Regional newspapers flourished after 1900. However the Parisian newspapers were largely stagnant after the war. The major postwar success story was Paris Soir, which lacked any political agenda and was dedicated to providing a mix of sensational reporting to aid circulation and serious articles to build prestige. By 1939, its circulation was over 1.7 million, double that of its nearest rival the tabloid Le Petit Parisien. In addition to its daily paper. Paris Soir sponsored a highly successful women's magazine Marie-Claire. Another magazine, Match, was modeled after the photojournalism of the American magazine Life.[22]

Modernization of the peasants

France was a rural nation, and the peasant farmer was the typical French citizen. In his seminal book Peasants Into Frenchmen (1976), historian Eugen Weber traced the modernization of French villages and argued that rural France went from backward and isolated to modern with a sense of national identity during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[23] He emphasized the roles of railroads, republican schools, and universal military conscription. He based his findings on school records, migration patterns, military service documents and economic trends. Weber argued that until 1900 or so a sense of French nationhood was weak in the provinces. Weber then looked at how the policies of the Third Republic created a sense of French nationality in rural areas. Weber's scholarship was widely praised, but was criticized by some who argued that a sense of Frenchness existed in the provinces before 1870.[24]

The city department store

Au Bon Marché
Au Bon Marché

Aristide Boucicaut founded Le Bon Marché in Paris in 1838, and by 1852 it offered a wide variety of goods in "departments inside one building."[25] Goods were sold at fixed prices, with guarantees that allowed exchanges and refunds. By the end of the 19th century, Georges Dufayel, a French credit merchant, had served up to three million customers and was affiliated with La Samaritaine, a large French department store established in 1870 by a former Bon Marché executive.[26]

The French gloried in the national prestige brought by the great Parisian stores.[27] The great writer Émile Zola (1840–1902) set his novel Au Bonheur des Dames (1882–83) in the typical department store. Zola represented it as a symbol of the new technology that was both improving society and devouring it. The novel describes merchandising, management techniques, marketing, and consumerism.[28]

The Grands Magasins Dufayel was a huge department store with inexpensive prices built in 1890 in the northern part of Paris, where it reached a very large new customer base in the working class. In a neighbourhood with few public spaces, it provided a consumer version of the public square. It educated workers to approach shopping as an exciting social activity, not just a routine exercise in obtaining necessities, just as the bourgeoisie did at the famous department stores in the central city. Like the bourgeois stores, it helped transform consumption from a business transaction into a direct relationship between consumer and sought-after goods. Its advertisements promised the opportunity to participate in the newest, most fashionable consumerism at reasonable cost. The latest technology was featured, such as cinemas and exhibits of inventions like X-ray machines (that could be used to fit shoes) and the gramophone.[29]

Increasingly after 1870, the stores' work force became feminized, opening up prestigious job opportunities for young women. Despite the low pay and long hours, they enjoyed the exciting complex interactions with the newest and most fashionable merchandise and upscale customers.[30]

The Radicals' republic

The most important party of the early 20th century in France was the Radical Party, founded in 1901 as the "Republican, Radical and Radical-Socialist Party" ("Parti républicain, radical et radical-socialiste"). It was classically liberal in political orientation and opposed the monarchists and clerical elements on the one hand, and the Socialists on the other. Many members had been recruited by the Freemasons.[31] The Radicals were split between activists who called for state intervention to achieve economic and social equality and conservatives whose first priority was stability. The workers' demands for strikes threatened such stability and pushed many Radicals toward conservatism. It opposed women's suffrage for fear that women would vote for its opponents or for candidates endorsed by the Catholic Church.[32] It favored a progressive income tax, economic equality, expanded educational opportunities and cooperatives in domestic policy. In foreign policy, it favored a strong League of Nations after the war, and the maintenance of peace through compulsory arbitration, controlled disarmament, economic sanctions, and perhaps an international military force.[33]

Followers of Léon Gambetta, such as Raymond Poincaré, who would become President of the Council in the 1920s, created the Democratic Republican Alliance (ARD), which became the main center-right party after World War I.[34]

Governing coalitions collapsed with regularity, rarely lasting more than a few months, as radicals, socialists, liberals, conservatives, republicans and monarchists all fought for control. Some historians argue that the collapses were not important because they reflected minor changes in coalitions of many parties that routinely lost and gained a few allies. Consequently, the change of governments could be seen as little more than a series of ministerial reshuffles, with many individuals carrying forward from one government to the next, often in the same posts.

Church and state

Separation of the Church and the State in 1905
Separation of the Church and the State in 1905

Throughout the lifetime of the Third Republic (1870–1940), there were battles over the status of the Catholic Church in France among the republicans, monarchists and the authoritarians (such as the Napoleonists). The French clergy and bishops were closely associated with the monarchists and many of its hierarchy were from noble families. Republicans were based in the anti-clerical middle class, who saw the Church's alliance with the monarchists as a political threat to republicanism, and a threat to the modern spirit of progress. The republicans detested the Church for its political and class affiliations; for them, the Church represented the Ancien Régime, a time in French history most republicans hoped was long behind them. The republicans were strengthened by Protestant and Jewish support. Numerous laws were passed to weaken the Catholic Church. In 1879, priests were excluded from the administrative committees of hospitals and boards of charity; in 1880, new measures were directed against the religious congregations; from 1880 to 1890 came the substitution of lay women for nuns in many hospitals; in 1882, the Ferry school laws were passed. Napoleon's Concordat of 1801 continued in operation, but in 1881, the government cut off salaries to priests it disliked.[35]

The first page of the bill, as brought before the Chambre des Députés in 1905
The first page of the bill, as brought before the Chambre des Députés in 1905

Republicans feared that religious orders in control of schools—especially the Jesuits and Assumptionists—indoctrinated anti-republicanism into children. Determined to root this out, republicans insisted they needed control of the schools for France to achieve economic and militaristic progress. (Republicans felt one of the primary reasons for the German victory in 1870 was their superior education system.)

The early anti-Catholic laws were largely the work of republican Jules Ferry in 1882. Religious instruction in all schools was forbidden, and religious orders were forbidden to teach in them. Funds were appropriated from religious schools to build more state schools. Later in the century, other laws passed by Ferry's successors further weakened the Church's position in French society. Civil marriage became compulsory, divorce was introduced, and chaplains were removed from the army.[36]

When Leo XIII became pope in 1878, he tried to calm Church-State relations. In 1884, he told French bishops not to act in a hostile manner toward the State ('Nobilissima Gallorum Gens'[37]). In 1892, he issued an encyclical advising French Catholics to rally to the Republic and defend the Church by participating in republican politics ('Au milieu des sollicitudes'[38]). This attempt at improving the relationship failed. Deep-rooted suspicions remained on both sides and were inflamed by the Dreyfus Affair (1894–1906). Catholics were for the most part anti-Dreyfusard. The Assumptionists published anti-Semitic and anti-republican articles in their journal La Croix. This infuriated republican politicians, who were eager to take revenge. Often they worked in alliance with Masonic lodges. The Waldeck-Rousseau Ministry (1899–1902) and the Combes Ministry (1902–05) fought with the Vatican over the appointment of bishops. Chaplains were removed from naval and military hospitals in the years 1903 and 1904, and soldiers were ordered not to frequent Catholic clubs in 1904.

Emile Combes, when elected Prime Minister in 1902, was determined to defeat Catholicism thoroughly. After only a short while in office, he closed down all parochial schools in France. Then he had parliament reject authorisation of all religious orders. This meant that all fifty-four orders in France were dissolved and about 20,000 members immediately left France, many for Spain.[39] In 1904, Émile Loubet, the president of France from 1899 to 1906, visited King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy in Rome, and Pope Pius X protested at this recognition of the Italian State. Combes reacted strongly and recalled his ambassador to the Holy See. Then, in 1905, a law was introduced that abrogated Napoleon's 1801 Concordat. Church and State were finally separated. All Church property was confiscated. Religious personnel were no longer paid by the State. Public worship was given over to associations of Catholic laymen who controlled access to churches. However, in practice, masses and rituals continued to be performed.

The Combes government worked with Masonic lodges to create a secret surveillance of all army officers to make sure that devout Catholics would not be promoted. Exposed as the Affaire Des Fiches, the scandal undermined support for the Combes government, and he resigned. It also undermined morale in the army, as officers realized that hostile spies examining their private lives were more important to their careers than their own professional accomplishments.[40]

In December 1905, the government of Maurice Rouvier introduced the French law on the separation of Church and State. This law was heavily supported by Combes, who had been strictly enforcing the 1901 voluntary association law and the 1904 law on religious congregations' freedom of teaching. On 10 February 1905, the Chamber declared that "the attitude of the Vatican" had rendered the separation of Church and State inevitable and the law of the separation of church and state was passed in December 1905. The Church was badly hurt and lost half its priests. In the long run, however, it gained autonomy; ever after, the State no longer had a voice in choosing bishops, thus Gallicanism was dead.[41]

Foreign policy

Foreign-policy 1871-1914 was based on a slow rebuilding of alliances With Russia and Britain in order to counteract the threat from Germany. [42] Bismarck had made a mistake in taking Alsace and Lorraine in 1871, setting off decades of popular hatred of Germany and demand for revenge. Bismarck's decision came in response to popular demand, and the Army's demand for a strong frontier. It was not necessary since France was much weaker militarily than Germany, but it forced Bismarck to orient German foreign policy to block France from having any major allies. Alsace and Lorraine were a grievance for some years, but by 1890 had largely faded away with the French realization that nostalgia was not as useful as modernization. France rebuilt its Army, emphasizing modernization in such features as new artillery, and after 1905 invested heavily in military aircraft. Most important in restoring prestige was a strong emphasis on the growing French Empire, which brought prestige, despite large financial costs. Very few French families settled in the colonies,, and they were too poor in natural resources and trade to significantly benefit the overall economy. Nevertheless, they were second in size only to the British Empire, provided prestige in world affairs, and gave an opportunity for Catholics (under heavy attack by the Republicans in Parliament) to devote their energies to spread French culture and civilization worldwide. An extremely expensive investment in building the Panama Canal was a total failure, in terms of money, many deaths by disease, and political scandal.[43] Bismarck was fired in 1890, and after that German foreign policy was confused and misdirected. For example, Berlin broke its close ties with Moscow, allowing the French to enter through heavy financial investment, and a Paris-St Petersburg military alliance that proved essential and durable. Germany feuded with Britain, which encouraged London and Paris to drop of their grievances over Egypt and Africa, reaching a compromise whereby the French recognized British primacy in Egypt, while Britain recognized French primacy in Morocco. This enabled Britain and France to move closer together, finally achieving a informal military relationship after 1904.[44][45]


French diplomacy was largely independent of domestic affairs; economic, cultural and religious interest groups paid little attention to foreign affairs. Permanent professional diplomats and bureaucrats had developed their own traditions of how to operate at the Quai d'Orsay (where the Foreign Ministry was located), and their style changed little from generation to generation.[46] Most of the diplomats came from high status aristocratic families. Although France was one of the few republics in Europe, its diplomats mingled smoothly with the aristocratic representatives at the royal courts. Prime ministers and leading politicians generally paid little attention to foreign affairs, allowing a handful of senior men to control policy. In the decades before the First World War they dominated the embassies in the 10 major countries where France had an ambassador (elsewhere, they set lower-ranking ministers). They included Théophile Delcassé, the foreign minister from 1898 to 1905; Paul Cambon, in London, 1890-1920; Jules Jusserand, in Washington from 1902 to 1924; and Camille Barrère, in Rome from 1897 to 1924. In terms of foreign policy, there was general agreement about the need for high protective tariffs, which kept agricultural prices high. After the defeat by the Germans, there was a strong widespread anti-German sentiment focused on revanchism and regaining Alsace and Lorraine. The Empire was a matter of great pride, and service as administrators, soldiers and missionaries was a high status, occupation.[47] French foreign policy from 1871 to 1914 showed a dramatic transformation from a humiliated power with no friends and not much of an empire in 1871, to the centerpiece of the European alliance system in 1914, with a flourishing colonial empire that was second in size only to Great Britain. Although religion was a hotly contested matter and domestic politics, the Catholic Church made missionary work and church building a specialty in the colonies. Most Frenchman ignored foreign policy; its issues were a low priority in politics.[48][49]


French foreign policy was based on a fear of Germany—whose larger size and fast-growing economy could not be matched—combined with a revanchism that demanded the return of Alsace and Lorraine.[50] At the same time, imperialism was a factor.[51] In the midst of the Scramble for Africa, French and British interest in Africa came into conflict. The most dangerous episode was the Fashoda Incident of 1898 when French troops tried to claim an area in the Southern Sudan, and a British force purporting to be acting in the interests of the Khedive of Egypt arrived. Under heavy pressure the French withdrew, securing Anglo-Egyptian control over the area. The status quo was recognised by an agreement between the two states acknowledging British control over Egypt, while France became the dominant power in Morocco, but France suffered a humiliating defeat overall.[52]

The Suez Canal, initially built by the French, became a joint British-French project in 1875, as both saw it as vital to maintaining their influence and empires in Asia. In 1882, ongoing civil disturbances in Egypt prompted Britain to intervene, extending a hand to France. The government allowed Britain to take effective control of Egypt.[53]

France had colonies in Asia and looked for alliances and found in Japan a possible ally. At Japan's request Paris sent military missions in 1872–1880, in 1884–1889 and in 1918–1919 to help modernize the Japanese army. Conflicts with China over Indochina climaxed during the Sino-French War (1884–1885). Admiral Courbet destroyed the Chinese fleet anchored at Foochow. The treaty ending the war put France in a protectorate over northern and central Vietnam, which it divided into Tonkin and Annam.[54]

Under the leadership of expansionist Jules Ferry, the Third Republic greatly expanded the French colonial empire. France acquired Indochina, Madagascar, vast territories in West Africa and Central Africa, and much of Polynesia.[55]


Marianne (left), Mother Russia (centre) and Britannia (right) personifying the Triple Entente as opposed to the Triple Alliance.
Marianne (left), Mother Russia (centre) and Britannia (right) personifying the Triple Entente as opposed to the Triple Alliance.

In an effort to isolate Germany, France went to great pains to woo Russia and Great Britain, first by means of the Franco-Russian Alliance of 1894, then the 1904 Entente Cordiale with Great Britain, and finally the Anglo-Russian Entente in 1907 which became the Triple Entente. This alliance with Britain and Russia against Germany and Austria eventually led Russia and Britain to enter World War I as France's Allies.[56]

French foreign policy in the years leading up to the First World War was based largely on hostility to and fear of German power. France secured an alliance with the Russian Empire in 1894 after diplomatic talks between Germany and Russia had failed to produce any working agreement. The Franco-Russian Alliance served as the cornerstone of French foreign policy until 1917. A further link with Russia was provided by vast French investments and loans before 1914. In 1904, French foreign minister Théophile Delcassé negotiated the Entente Cordiale with Lord Lansdowne, the British Foreign Secretary, an agreement that ended a long period of Anglo-French tensions and hostility. The Entente Cordiale, which functioned as an informal Anglo-French alliance, was further strengthened by the First and Second Moroccan crises of 1905 and 1911, and by secret military and naval staff talks. Delcassé's rapprochement with Britain was controversial in France as Anglophobia was prominent around the start of the 20th century, sentiments that had been much reinforced by the Fashoda Incident of 1898, in which Britain and France had almost gone to war, and by the Boer War, in which French public opinion was very much on the side of Britain’s enemies.[57] Ultimately, the fear of German power was the link that bound Britain and France together.[58]

Preoccupied with internal problems, France paid little attention to foreign policy in the period between late 1912 and mid-1914, although it did extend military service to three years from two over strong Socialist objections in 1913.[59] The rapidly escalating Balkan crisis of July 1914 surprised France, and not much attention was given to conditions that led to the outbreak of World War I.[60]

Overseas colonies

Monument in Bonifacio commemorating the soldiers of the French Foreign Legion killed on duty for France during the South-oranais campaign (1897–1902).
Monument in Bonifacio commemorating the soldiers of the French Foreign Legion killed on duty for France during the South-oranais campaign (1897–1902).

The Third Republic, in line with the imperialistic ethos of the day sweeping Europe, developed a French colonial empire. The largest and most important were in French North Africa and French Indochina. French administrators, soldiers, and missionaries were dedicated to bringing French civilization to the local populations of these colonies (the mission civilisatrice). Some French businessmen went overseas, but there were few permanent settlements. The Catholic Church became deeply involved. Its missionaries were unattached men committed to staying permanently, learning local languages and customs, and converting the natives to Christianity.[61]

France successfully integrated the colonies into its economic system. By 1939, one third of its exports went to its colonies; Paris businessmen invested heavily in agriculture, mining, and shipping. In Indochina, new plantations were opened for rubber and rice. In Algeria, land held by rich settlers rose from 1,600,000 hectares in 1890 to 2,700,000 hectares in 1940; combined with similar operations in Morocco and Tunisia, the result was that North African agriculture became one of the most efficient in the world. Metropolitan France was a captive market, so large landowners could borrow large sums in Paris to modernize agricultural techniques with tractors and mechanized equipment. The result was a dramatic increase in the export of wheat, corn, peaches, and olive oil. French Algeria became the fourth most important wine producer in the world.[62][63]

Opposition to colonial rule led to rebellions in Morocco in 1925, Syria in 1926, and Indochina in 1930, all of which the colonial army quickly suppressed.

First World War

French poilus sustained the highest number of casualties among the Allies in World War I.
French poilus sustained the highest number of casualties among the Allies in World War I.


France entered World War I because Russia and Germany were going to war, and France honored its treaty obligations to Russia.[64] Decisions were all made by senior officials, especially president Raymond Poincaré, Premier and Foreign Minister René Viviani, and the ambassador to Russia Maurice Paléologue. Not involved in the decision-making were military leaders, arms manufacturers, the newspapers, pressure groups, party leaders, or spokesmen for French nationalism.[65]

Britain wanted to remain neutral but entered the war when the German army invaded Belgium on its way to Paris. The French victory at the Battle of the Marne in September 1914 ensured the failure of Germany's strategy to win quickly. It became a long and very bloody war of attrition, but France emerged on the winning side.

French intellectuals welcomed the war to avenge the humiliation of defeat and loss of territory in 1871. At the grass roots, Paul Déroulède's League of Patriots, a proto-fascist movement based in the lower middle class, had advocated a war of revenge since the 1880s.[66] The strong socialist movement had long opposed war and preparation for war. However, when its leader Jean Jaurès, a pacifist, was assassinated at the start of the war, the French socialist movement abandoned its anti-militarist positions and joined the national war effort. Prime Minister René Viviani called for unity in the form of a "Union sacrée" ("Sacred Union"), and in France there were few dissenters.[67]

The fighting

After the French army successfully defended Paris in 1914, the conflict became one of trench warfare along the Western Front, with very high casualty rates. It became a war of attrition. Until spring of 1918, amazing as it seems, there were almost no territorial gains or losses for either side. Georges Clemenceau, whose ferocious energy and determination earned him the nickname le Tigre ("the Tiger"), led a coalition government after 1917 that was determined to defeat Germany. Meanwhile, large swaths of northeastern France fell under the brutal control of German occupiers.[68] The bloodbath of the war of attrition reached its apogee in the Battles of Verdun and the Somme. By 1917 mutiny was in the air. A consensus among soldiers agreed to resist any German attacks, but to postpone French attacks until the Americans arrived.[69]

A state of emergency was proclaimed and censorship imposed, leading to the creation in 1915 of the satirical newspaper Le Canard enchaîné to bypass the censorship. The economy was hurt by the German invasion of major industrial areas in the northeast. Although the occupied area in 1914 contained only 14% of France's industrial workers, it produced 58% of the steel and 40% of the coal.[70]

War economy

In 1914, the government implemented a war economy with controls and rationing. By 1915, the war economy went into high gear, as millions of French women and colonial men replaced the civilian roles of many of the 3 million soldiers. Considerable assistance came with the influx of American food, money and raw materials in 1917. This war economy would have important reverberations after the war, as it would be a first breach of liberal theories of non-interventionism.[71]

The production of munitions proved a striking success, well ahead of Britain or the United States or even Germany. The challenges were monumental: the German seizure of the industrial heartland in the northeast, a shortage of manpower, and a mobilization plan that left France on the brink of defeat. Nevertheless, by 1918 France was producing more munitions and artillery than its allies, while supplying virtually all of the heavy equipment needed by the arriving American army. (The Americans left their heavy weapons at home in order to use the available transports to send as many soldiers as possible.) Building on foundations laid in the early months of the war, the Ministry of War matched production to the operational and tactical needs of the army, with an emphasis on meeting the insatiable demands for artillery. The elaborately designed link between industry and the army, and the compromises made to ensure that artillery and shells of the required quantity and quality were supplied, proved crucial to French success on the battlefield.[72]

In the end the damages caused by the war amounted to about 113% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 1913, chiefly the destruction of productive capital and housing. The national debt rose from 66% of GDP in 1913 to 170% in 1919, reflecting the heavy use of bond issues to pay for the war. Inflation was severe, with the franc losing over half its value against the British pound.[73]


To uplift the French national spirit, many intellectuals began to fashion patriotic propaganda. The Union sacrée sought to draw the French people closer to the actual front and thus garner social, political, and economic support for the soldiers.[74] Antiwar sentiment was very weak among the general population. However among intellectuals there was a pacifistic "Ligue des Droits de l'Homme" (League for the Rights of Mankind) (LDH). It kept a low profile in the first two years of war, holding its first congress in November 1916 against the background slaughters French soldiers on the Western Front. The theme was the "conditions for a lasting peace." Discussions focused on France's relationship with its autocratic, undemocratic ally, Russia, and in particular how to square support for all that the LDH stood for with Russia's bad treatment of its oppressed minorities, especially the Poles. Secondly, many delegates wanted to issue a demand for a negotiated peace. This was rejected only after a lengthy debate showed how the LDH was divided between a majority that believed that arbitration could be applied only in times of peace, and a minority that demanded an immediate end to the carnage.[75] In spring 1918 the desperate German offensive failed, and the Allies successfully pushed back. The French people of all classes rallied to Prime Minister George Clemenceau's demand for total victory and harsh peace terms.[76]

Peace and revenge

The Council of Four in Versailles, 1919: David Lloyd George of Britain, Vittorio Emanuele Orlando of Italy, Georges Clemenceau of France and Woodrow Wilson of the U.S.
The Council of Four in Versailles, 1919: David Lloyd George of Britain, Vittorio Emanuele Orlando of Italy, Georges Clemenceau of France and Woodrow Wilson of the U.S.

A change of fortunes in the late summer and autumn of 1918 led to the defeat of Germany in World War I. The most important factors that led to the surrender of Germany were its exhaustion after four years of fighting and the arrival of large numbers of troops from the United States beginning in the summer of 1918. Peace terms were imposed on Germany by the Big Four: Great Britain, France, the United States, and Italy. Clemenceau demanded the harshest terms and won most of them in the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Germany was largely disarmed and forced to take full responsibility for the war, meaning that it was expected to pay huge war reparations. France regained Alsace-Lorraine, and the German industrial Saar Basin, a coal and steel region, was occupied by France. The German African colonies, such as Kamerun, were partitioned between France and Britain. From the remains of the Ottoman Empire, Germany's ally during World War I that also collapsed at the end of the conflict, France acquired the Mandate of Syria and the Mandate of Lebanon.[77]

Interwar period

French soldiers observing the Rhine at Deutsches Eck, Koblenz, during the Occupation of the Rhineland.
French soldiers observing the Rhine at Deutsches Eck, Koblenz, during the Occupation of the Rhineland.

From 1919 to 1940, France was governed by two main groupings of political alliances. On the one hand, there was the right-center Bloc national led by Georges Clemenceau, Raymond Poincaré and Aristide Briand. The Bloc was supported by business and finance and was friendly toward the army and the Church. Its main goals were revenge against Germany, economic prosperity for French business and stability in domestic affairs. On the other hand, there was the left-center Cartel des gauches dominated by Édouard Herriot of the Radical Socialist party. Herriot's party was in fact neither radical nor socialist, rather it represented the interests of small business and the lower middle class. It was intensely anti-clerical and resisted the Catholic Church. The Cartel was occasionally willing to form a coalition with the Socialist Party. Anti-democratic groups, such as the Communists on the left and royalists on the right, played relatively minor roles.

The flow of reparations from Germany played a central role in strengthening French finances. The government began a large-scale reconstruction program to repair wartime damages, and was burdened with a very large public debt. Taxation policies were inefficient, with widespread evasion, and when the financial crisis grew worse in 1926, Poincaré levied new taxes, reformed the system of tax collection, and drastically reduced government spending to balance the budget and stabilize the franc. Holders of the national debt lost 80% of the face value of their bonds, but runaway inflation did not occur. From 1926 to 1929, the French economy prospered and manufacturing flourished.

Foreign observers in the 1920s noted the excesses of the French upper classes, but emphasized the rapid re-building of the regions of northeastern France that had seen warfare and occupation. They reported the improvement of financial markets, the brilliance of the post-war literature and the revival of public morale.[78]

Great Depression

The world economic crisis known as the Great Depression affected France a bit later than other countries, hitting around 1931.[79] While the GDP in the 1920s grew at the very strong rate of 4.43% per year, the 1930s rate fell to only 0.63%.[80] In comparison to countries such as the United States, Great Britain, and Germany, the depression was relatively mild: unemployment peaked under 5%, and the fall in production was at most 20% below the 1929 output. In addition, there was no banking crisis.[73][81]

In 1931 the well-organized veterans movement demanded and received pensions for their wartime service. This was funded by a lottery--the first one allowed in France since 1836. The lottery immediately became popular, and became a major foundation of the annual budget. Although the Great Depression was not yet severe, the lottery appealed to charitable impulses, greed, and respect for veterans. These contradictory impulses produced cash that make possible the French welfare state, at the crossroads of philanthropy, market and public sphere.[82]

Foreign policy

Foreign policy was of growing concern interest to France during the inter-war period, with fears of German militarism in the forefront. The horrible devastation of the war, including the death of 1.5 million French soldiers, the devastation of much of the steel and coal regions, and the long-term costs for veterans, were always remembered. France demanded that Germany assume many of the costs incurred from the war through annual reparation payments. French foreign and security policy used the balance of power and alliance politics to compel Germany to comply with its obligations under the Treaty of Versailles. the problem was that the United States and Britain rejected a defensive alliance. Potential allies in Eastern Europe, such as Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia were too weak to confront Germany. Russia have been the long term French ally in the East, but now it was controlled by deeply distrusted in Paris. Francis transition to a more conciliatory policy in 1924 was a response to pressure from Britain and the United States, as well as to French weakness.[83]

France enthusiastically joined the League of Nations in 1919, but felt betrayed by President Woodrow Wilson, when his promises that the United States would sign a defence treaty with France and join the League were rejected by the United States Congress. The main goal of French foreign policy was to preserve French power and neutralize the threat posed by Germany. When Germany fell behind in reparations payments in 1923, France seized the industrialized Ruhr region. The British Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, who viewed reparations as impossible to pay successfully, pressured French Premier Édouard Herriot into a series of concessions to Germany. In total, France received ₤1600 million from Germany before reparations ended in 1932, but France had to pay war debts to the United States, and thus the net gain was only about ₤600 million.[84]

France tried to create a web of defensive treaties against Germany with Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. There was little effort to build up the military strength or technological capabilities of these small allies, and they remained weak and divided among themselves. In the end, the alliances proved worthless. France also constructed a powerful defensive wall in the form of a network of fortresses along its German border. It was called the Maginot Line and was trusted to compensate for the heavy manpower losses of the First World War.[85]

The main goal of foreign policy was the diplomatic response to the demands of the French army in the 1920s and 1930s to form alliances against the German threat, especially with Britain and with smaller countries in central Europe.[86][87]

Appeasement was increasingly adopted as Germany grew stronger after 1933, for France suffered a stagnant economy, unrest in its colonies, and bitter internal political fighting. Appeasement, says historian Martin Thomas was not a coherent diplomatic strategy or a copying of the British.[88] France appeased Italy on the Ethiopia question because it could not afford to risk an alliance between Italy and Germany.[89] When Hitler sent troops into the Rhineland—the part of Germany where no troops were allowed—neither Paris nor London would risk war, and nothing was done.[90] The military alliance with Czechoslovakia was sacrificed at Hitler's demand when France and Britain agreed to his terms at Munich in 1938.[91][92]

The Popular Front

In 1920, the socialist movement split, with the majority forming the French Communist Party. The minority, led by Léon Blum, kept the name Socialist, and by 1932 greatly outnumbered the disorganized Communists. When Stalin told French Communists to collaborate with others on the left in 1934, a popular front was made possible with an emphasis on unity against fascism. In 1936, the Socialists and the Radicals formed a coalition, with Communist support, to complete it.[93]

The Popular Front's narrow victory in the elections of the spring of 1936 brought to power a government headed by the Socialists in alliance with the Radicals. The Communists supported its domestic policies, but did not take any seats in the cabinet. The prime minister was Léon Blum, a technocratic socialist who avoided making decisions. In two years in office, it focused on labor law changes sought by the trade unions, especially the mandatory 40-hour work week, down from 48 hours. All workers were given a two-week paid vacation. A collective bargaining law facilitated union growth; membership soared from 1,000,000 to 5,000,000 in one year, and workers' political strength was enhanced when the Communist and non-Communist unions joined together. The government nationalized the armaments industry and tried to seize control of the Bank of France in an effort to break the power of the richest 200 families in the country. Farmers received higher prices, and the government purchased surplus wheat, but farmers had to pay higher taxes. Wave after wave of strikes hit French industry in 1936. Wage rates went up 48%, but the work week was cut back by 17%, and the cost of living rose 46%, so there was little real gain to the average worker. The higher prices for French products resulted in a decline in overseas sales, which the government tried to neutralize by devaluing the franc, a measure that led to a reduction in the value of bonds and savings accounts. The overall result was significant damage to the French economy, and a lower rate of growth.[94]

Most historians judge the Popular Front a failure, although some call it a partial success. There is general agreement that it failed to live up to the expectations of the left.[95][96]

Politically, the Popular Front fell apart over Blum's refusal to intervene vigorously in the Spanish Civil War, as demanded by the Communists.[97] Culturally, the Popular Front forced the Communists to come to terms with elements of French society they had long ridiculed, such as patriotism, the veterans' sacrifice, the honor of being an army officer, the prestige of the bourgeois, and the leadership of the Socialist Party and the parliamentary Republic. Above all, the Communists portrayed themselves as French nationalists. Young Communists dressed in costumes from the revolutionary period and the scholars glorified the Jacobins as heroic predecessors.[98]


Historians have turned their attention to the right in the interwar period, looking at various categories of conservatives and Catholic groups as well as the far right fascist movement.[99] Conservative supporters of the old order were linked with the "haute bourgeoisie" (upper middle class), as well as nationalism, military power, the maintenance of the empire, and national security. The favorite enemy was the left, especially as represented by socialists. The conservatives were divided on foreign affairs. Several important conservative politicians sustained the journal Gringoire, foremost among them André Tardieu. The Revue des deux Mondes, with its prestigious past and sharp articles, was a major conservative organ.

Summer camps and youth groups were organized to promote conservative values in working-class families, and help them design a career path. The Croix de feu/Parti social français (CF/PSF) was especially active.[100]

Relations with Catholicism

France's republican government had long been strongly anti-clerical. The Law of Separation of Church and State in 1905 had expelled many religious orders, declared all Church buildings government property, and led to the closing of most Church schools. Since that time, Pope Benedict XV had sought a rapprochement, but it was not achieved until the reign of Pope Pius XI (1922–39). In the papal encyclical Maximam Gravissimamque (1924), many areas of dispute were tacitly settled and a bearable coexistence made possible.[101]

The Catholic Church expanded its social activities after 1920, especially by forming youth movements. For example, the largest organization of young working women was the Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne/Féminine (JOC/F), founded in 1928 by the progressive social activist priest Joseph Cardijn. It encouraged young working women to adopt Catholic approaches to morality and to prepare for future roles as mothers at the same time as it promoted notions of spiritual equality and encouraged young women to take active, independent, and public roles in the present. The model of youth groups was expanded to reach adults in the Ligue ouvrière chrétienne féminine ("League of Working Christian Women") and the Mouvement populaire des familles.[102][103]

Catholics on the far right supported several shrill, but small, groupings that preached doctrines similar to fascism. The most influential was Action Française, founded in 1905 by the vitriolic author Charles Maurras. It was intensely nationalistic, anti-Semitic and reactionary, calling for a return to the monarchy and domination of the state by the Catholic Church. In 1926, Pope Pius XI condemned Action Française because the pope decided that it was folly for the French Church to continue to tie its fortunes to the unlikely dream of a monarchist restoration and distrusted the movement's tendency to defend the Catholic religion in merely utilitarian and nationalistic terms. Action Française never fully recovered from the denunciation, but it was active in the Vichy era.[104][105]

Downfall of the Third Republic

French Char B1 tank destroyed in 1940
French Char B1 tank destroyed in 1940

The looming threat to France of Nazi Germany was delayed at the Munich Conference of 1938. France and Great Britain abandoned Czechoslovakia and appeased the Germans by giving in to their demands concerning the acquisition of the Sudetenland (the portions of Czechoslovakia with German-speaking majorities). Intensive rearmament programs began in 1936 and were re-doubled in 1938, but they would only bear fruit in 1939 and 1940.[106]

Historians have debated two themes regarding the sudden collapse of the French government in 1940. One emphasizes a broad cultural and political interpretation, pointing to failures, internal dissension, and a sense of malaise that ran through all French society.[107] A second one blames the poor military planning by the French High Command. According to the British historian Julian Jackson, the Dyle Plan conceived by French General Maurice Gamelin was destined for failure, since it drastically miscalculated the ensuing attack by German Army Group B into central Belgium.[108] The Dyle Plan embodied the primary war plan of the French Army to stave off Wehrmacht Army Groups A, B, and C with their much revered Panzer divisions in the Low Countries. As the French 1st, 7th, 9th armies and the British Expeditionary Force moved in Belgium to meet Army Group B, the German Army Group A outflanked the Allies at the Battle of Sedan of 1940 by coming through the Ardennes, a broken and heavily forested terrain that had been believed to be impassable to armoured units. The Germans also rushed along the Somme valley toward the English Channel coast to catch the Allies in a large pocket that forced them into the disastrous Battle of Dunkirk. As a result of this brilliant German strategy, embodied in the Manstein Plan, the Allies were defeated in stunning fashion. France had to accept the terms imposed by Adolf Hitler at the Second Armistice at Compiègne, which was signed on 22 June 1940 in the same railway carriage in which the Germans had signed the armistice that ended the First World War on 11 November 1918.[109]

The Third Republic officially ended on 10 July 1940, when the French parliament gave full powers to Marshal Philippe Pétain, who proclaimed in the following days the État Français (the "French State"), commonly known as the "Vichy Regime" or "Vichy France" following its re-location to the town of Vichy in central France. Charles de Gaulle had made the Appeal of 18 June earlier, exhorting all French not to accept defeat and to rally to Free France and continue the fight with the Allies.

Throughout its seventy-year history, the Third Republic stumbled from crisis to crisis, from dissolved parliaments to the appointment of a mentally ill president (Paul Deschanel). It fought bitterly through the First World War against the German Empire, and the inter-war years saw much political strife with a growing rift between the right and the left. When France was liberated in 1944, few called for a restoration of the Third Republic, and a Constituent Assembly was established by the government of a provisional French Republic to draft a constitution for a successor, established as the Fourth Republic (1946 to 1958) that December, a parliamentary system not unlike the Third Republic.

Interpreting the Third Republic

Adolphe Thiers, first president of the Third Republic, called republicanism in the 1870s "the form of government that divides France least."[110] France might have agreed about being a republic, but it never fully accepted the Third Republic. France's longest-lasting governmental system since before the 1789 Revolution, the Third Republic was consigned to the history books as being unloved and unwanted in the end. Yet, its longevity showed that it was capable of weathering many storms, particularly the First World War.

One of the most surprising aspects of the Third Republic was that it constituted the first stable republican government in French history and the first to win the support of the majority of the population, but it was intended as an interim, temporary government. Following Thiers's example, most of the Orleanist monarchists progressively rallied themselves to the Republican institutions, thus giving support of a large part of the elites to the Republican form of government. On the other hand, the Legitimists remained harshly anti-Republicans, while Charles Maurras founded the Action française in 1898. This far-right monarchist movement became influential in the Quartier Latin in the 1930s. It also became a model for various far right leagues that participated to the 6 February 1934 riots that toppled the Second Cartel des gauches government.

Historiography of decadence

The Representatives of Foreign Powers Coming to Greet the Republic as a Sign of Peace, 1907 painting by Henri Rousseau
The Representatives of Foreign Powers Coming to Greet the Republic as a Sign of Peace, 1907 painting by Henri Rousseau

A major historiographical debate about the latter years of the Third Republic concerns the concept of La décadence (the decadence). Proponents of the concept have argued that the French defeat of 1940 was caused by what they regard as the innate decadence and moral rot of France.[111] The notion of la décadence as an explanation for the defeat began almost as soon as the armistice was signed in June 1940. Marshal Philippe Pétain stated in one radio broadcast, "The regime led the country to ruin." In another, he said "Our defeat is punishment for our moral failures" that France had "rotted" under the Third Republic.[112] In 1942 the Riom Trial was held bringing several leaders of the Third Republic to trial for declaring war on Germany in 1939 and accusing them of not doing enough to prepare France for war.

John Gunther in 1940, before the defeat of France, reported that the Third Republic ("the reductio ad absurdum of democracy") had had 103 cabinets with an average length of eight months, and that 15 former prime ministers were living.[113] Marc Bloch in his book Strange Defeat (written in 1940, and published posthumously in 1946) argued that the French upper classes had ceased to believe in the greatness of France following the Popular Front victory of 1936, and so had allowed themselves to fall under the spell of fascism and defeatism. Bloch said that the Third Republic suffered from a deep internal "rot" that generated bitter social tensions, unstable governments, pessimism and defeatism, fearful and incoherent diplomacy, hesitant and shortsighted military strategy, and, finally, facilitated German victory in June 1940.[114] The French journalist André Géraud, who wrote under the pen name Pertinax in his 1943 book, The Gravediggers of France indicted the pre-war leadership for what he regarded as total incompetence.[114]

After 1945, the concept of la décadence was widely embraced by different French political fractions as a way of discrediting their rivals. The French Communist Party blamed the defeat on the "corrupt" and "decadent" capitalist Third Republic (conveniently hiding its own sabotaging of the French war effort during the Nazi-Soviet Pact and its opposition to the "imperialist war" against Germany in 1939–40).

From a different perspective, Gaullists called the Third Republic a "weak" regime and argued that if France had a regime headed by a strong-man president like Charles de Gaulle before 1940, the defeat could have been avoided.[115] In power, they did exactly that and started the Fifth Republic. Then was a group of French historians, centered around Pierre Renouvin and his protégés Jean-Baptiste Duroselle and Maurice Baumont, that started a new type of international history to take into what Renouvin called forces profondes (profound forces) such as the influence of domestic politics on foreign policy.[116] However, Renouvin and his followers still followed the concept of la décadence with Renouvin arguing that French society under the Third Republic was "sorely lacking in initiative and dynamism" and Baumont arguing that French politicians had allowed "personal interests" to override "...any sense of the general interest."[117]

In 1979, Duroselle published a well-known book entitled La Décadence that offered a total condemnation of the entire Third Republic as weak, cowardly and degenerate.[118] Even more so then in France, the concept of la décadence was accepted in the English-speaking world, where British historians such A. J. P. Taylor often described the Third Republic as a tottering regime on the verge of collapse.[119]

A notable example of the la décadence thesis was William L. Shirer's 1969 book The Collapse of the Third Republic, where the French defeat is explained as the result of the moral weakness and cowardice of the French leaders.[119] Shirer portrayed Édouard Daladier as a well-meaning, but weak willed; Georges Bonnet as a corrupt opportunist even willing to do a deal with the Nazis; Marshal Maxime Weygand as a reactionary soldier more interested in destroying the Third Republic than in defending it; General Maurice Gamelin as incompetent and defeatist, Pierre Laval as a crooked crypto-fascist; Charles Maurras (whom Shirer represented as France’s most influential intellectual) as the preacher of "drivel"; Marshal Philippe Pétain as the senile puppet of Laval and the French royalists, and Paul Reynaud as a petty politician controlled by his mistress, Countess Hélène de Portes. Modern historians who subscribe to la décadence argument or take a very critical view of France's pre-1940 leadership without necessarily subscribing to la décadence thesis include Talbot Imlay, Anthony Adamthwaite, Serge Berstein, Michael Carely, Nicole Jordan, Igor Lukes, and Richard Crane.[120]

The first historian to denounce la décadence concept explicitly was the Canadian historian Robert J. Young, who, in his 1978 book In Command of France argued that French society was not decadent, that the defeat of 1940 was due to only military factors, not moral failures, and that the Third Republic's leaders had done their best under the difficult conditions of the 1930s.[121] Young argued that the decadence, if it existed, did not impact French military planning and readiness to fight.[122][123] Young finds that American reporters in the late 1930s portrayed a calm, united, competent, and confident France. They praised French art, music, literature, theater, and fashion, and stressed French resilience and pluck in the face of growing Nazi aggression and brutality. Nothing in the tone or content of the articles foretold the crushing military defeat and collapse of June 1940.[124]

Young has been followed by other historians such as Robert Frankenstein, Jean-Pierre Azema, Jean-Louis Crémieux-Brilhac, Martin Alexander, Eugenia Kiesling, and Martin Thomas, who argued that French weakness on the international stage was due to structural factors as the impact of the Great Depression had on French rearmament and had nothing to do with French leaders being too "decadent" and cowardly to stand up to Nazi Germany.[125]

Timeline to 1914

  • September 1870: following the collapse of the Empire of Napoleon III in the Franco-Prussian War the Third Republic was created and the Government of National Defence ruled during the Siege of Paris (19 September 1870 – 28 January 1871).
  • May 1871: The Treaty of Frankfurt (1871), the peace treaty ending the Franco-Prussian War. France lost Alsace and most of Lorraine, and had to pay a cash indemnity to the new nation of Germany.
  • 1871: The Paris Commune. In a formal sense the Paris Commune of 1871 was simply the local authority that exercised power in Paris for two months in the spring of 1871. It was separate from that of the new government under Adolphe Thiers. The regime came to an end after a bloody suppression by Thiers's government in May 1871.
  • 1872–73: After the nation faced the immediate political problems, it needed to establish a permanent form of government. Thiers wanted to base it on the constitutional monarchy of Britain, however he realised France would have to remain republican. In expressing this belief, he violated the Pact of Bordeaux, angering the Monarchists in the Assembly. As a result, he was forced to resign in 1873.
  • 1873: Marshal MacMahon, a conservative Roman Catholic, was made President of the Republic. The Duc de Broglie, an Orleanist, as the prime minister. Unintentionally, the Monarchists had replaced an absolute monarchy by a parliamentary one.
  • Feb 1875: Series of parliamentary Acts established the organic or constitutional laws of the new republic. At its apex was a President of the Republic. A two-chamber parliament was created, along with a ministry under the President of the Council, who was nominally answerable to both the President of the Republic and Parliament.
  • May 1877: with public opinion swinging heavily in favour of a republic, the President of the Republic, Patrice MacMahon, himself a monarchist, made one last desperate attempt to salvage the monarchical cause by dismissing the republic-minded Prime Minister Jules Simon and reappointing the monarchist leader the Duc de Broglie to office. He then dissolved parliament and called a general election. If his hope had been to halt the move towards republicanism, it backfired spectacularly, with the President being accused of having staged a constitutional coup d'état, known as le seize Mai after the date when it happened.
  • 1879: Republicans returned triumphant, finally killing off the prospect of a restored French monarchy by gaining control of the Senate on 5 January 1879. MacMahon himself resigned on 30 January 1879, leaving a seriously weakened presidency in the shape of Jules Grévy.
  • 1880: The Jesuits and several other religious orders were dissolved, and their members were forbidden to teach in state schools.
  • 1881: Following the 16 May crisis in 1877, Legitimists were pushed out of power, and the Republic was finally governed by republicans, called Opportunist Republicans as they were in favor of moderate changes to firmly establish the new regime. The Jules Ferry laws on free, mandatory and secular public education, voted in 1881 and 1882, were one of the first sign of this republican control of the Republic, as public education was not anymore in the exclusive control of the Catholic congregations.
  • 1882: Religious instruction was removed from all state schools. The measures were accompanied by the abolition of chaplains in the armed forces and the removal of nuns from hospitals. Due to the fact that France was mainly Roman Catholic, this was greatly opposed.
  • 1889: The Republic was rocked by the sudden but short-timed Boulanger crisis spawning the rise of the modern intellectual Émile Zola. Later, the Panama scandals also were quickly criticized by the press.
  • 1893: Following anarchist Auguste Vaillant's bombing at the National Assembly, killing nobody but injuring one, deputies voted the lois scélérates which limited the 1881 freedom of the press laws. The following year, President Sadi Carnot was stabbed to death by Italian anarchist Caserio.
  • 1894: The Dreyfus Affair: a Jewish artillery officer, Alfred Dreyfus, was arrested on charges relating to conspiracy and espionage. Allegedly, Dreyfus had handed over important military documents discussing the designs of a new French artillery piece to a German military attaché named Max von Schwartzkoppen.
  • 1894: The Franco-Russian Alliance was formed.
  • 1898: Writer Émile Zola published an article entitled J'Accuse...! The article alleged an anti-Semitic conspiracy in the highest ranks of the military to scapegoat Dreyfus, tacitly supported by the government and the Catholic Church. The Fashoda Incident nearly causes an Anglo-French war.
  • 1901: The Radical-Socialist Party is founded and remained the most important party of the Third Republic starting at the end of the 19th century. The same year, followers of Léon Gambetta, such as Raymond Poincaré, who became President of the Council in the 1920s, created the Democratic Republican Alliance (ARD), which became the main center-right party after World War I and the parliamentary disappearance of monarchists and Bonapartists.
  • 1904: French foreign minister Théophile Delcassé negotiated with Lord Lansdowne, the British Foreign Secretary, the Entente Cordiale in 1904.
  • 1905: The government introduced the law on the separation of Church and State, heavily supported by Emile Combes, who had been strictly enforcing the 1901 voluntary association law and the 1904 law on religious congregations' freedom of teaching (more than 2,500 private teaching establishments were by then closed by the state, causing bitter opposition from the Catholic and conservative population).
  • 1906: It became apparent that the documents handed over to Schwartzkoppen by Dreyfus in 1894 were a forgery and thus Dreyfus was pardoned after serving 12 years in prison.
  • 1914: After SFIO (French Section of the Workers' International) leader Jean Jaurès's assassination a few days before the German invasion of Belgium, the French socialist movement, as the whole of the Second International, abandoned its antimilitarist positions and joined the national war effort. First World War begins.

See also


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  2. ^ D.W. Brogan, France Under the Republic: The Development of Modern France (1870-1939) (1940) pp 77-105.
  3. ^ Steven D. Kale, "The Monarchy According to the King: The Ideological Content of the 'Drapeau Blanc,' 1871-1873." French History (1988) 2#4 pp 399-426.
  4. ^ D.W. Brogan, France Under the Republic: The Development of Modern France (1870-1939) (1940) pp 106-13.
  5. ^ Brogan, France Under the Republic: The Development of Modern France (1870-1939) (1940) pp 127-43.
  6. ^ D.W. Brogan, France Under the Republic: The Development of Modern France (1870-1939) (1940) pp 144-79.
  7. ^ Brogan, France Under the Republic: The Development of Modern France (1870-1939) (1940) pp 183-213.
  8. ^ Mazgaj, Paul (1987). "The Origins of the French Radical Right: A Historiographical Essay". French Historical Studies. 15 (2): 287–315. JSTOR 286267.
  9. ^ David McCullough, The path between the seas: the creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 (2001) pp 45-242.
  10. ^ Philip Nord, "The welfare state in France, 1870-1914." French Historical Studies 18.3 (1994): 821-838. in JSTOR
  11. ^ Timothy B. Smith, "The ideology of charity, the image of the English poor law, and debates over the right to assistance in France, 1830–1905." Historical Journal 40.04 (1997): 997-1032.
  12. ^ Allan Mitchell, The Divided Path: The German Influence on Social Reform in France After 1870 (1991) pp 252-75 excerpt
  13. ^ Martha L. Hildreth, Doctors, Bureaucrats & Public Health in France, 1888-1902 (1987)
  14. ^ Alisa Klaus, Every Child a Lion: The Origins of Maternal & Infant Health Policy in the United States & France, 1890-1920 (1993).
  15. ^ Ann-Louise Shapiro, "Private Rights, Public Interest, and Professional Jurisdiction: The French Public Health Law of 1902." Bulletin of the History of Medicine 54.1 (1980): 4+
  16. ^ Read, Piers Paul (2012). The Dreyfus Affair. New York: Bloomsbury Press. ISBN 978-1-60819-432-2.
  17. ^ Wilson, Stephen (1976). "Antisemitism and Jewish Response in France during the Dreyfus Affair". European Studies Review. 6 (2): 225–248. doi:10.1177/026569147600600203.
  18. ^ Hutton, Patrick H., ed. (1986). Historical Dictionary of the Third French Republic, 1870–1940. 2. London: Aldwych Press. pp. 690–694. ISBN 978-0-86172-046-0.
  19. ^ a b Collins, Ross F. (2001). "The Business of Journalism in Provincial France during World War I". Journalism History. 27 (3): 112–121. ISSN 0094-7679.
  20. ^ Mather, Judson (1972). "The Assumptionist Response to Secularisation, 1870–1900". In Bezucha, Robert J. Modern European Social History. Lexington: D.C. Heath. pp. 59–89. ISBN 978-0-669-61143-4.
  21. ^ See Zeldin, Theodore (1977). "Newspapers and corruption". France: 1848–1945. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 492–573. ISBN 978-0-19-822125-8. Also, pp 522–24 on foreign subsidies.
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Foreign policy and colonies

  • Adamthwaite, Anthony. Grandeur and Misery: France's Bid for Power in Europe 1914–1940 (1995) excerpt and text search
  • Conklin, Alice L. A Mission to Civilize: The Republican Idea of Empire in France and West Africa, 1895–1930 (2000) excerpt and text search
  • Duroselle, Jean-Baptiste. France and the Nazi Threat: The Collapse of French Diplomacy 1932–1939 (2004); Translation of his highly influential La décadence, 1932–1939 (1979)
  • Gooch, G.P. Franco-German Relations 1871–1914 (1923)
  • MacMillan, Margaret. The War that Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 (2013).
  • MacMillan, Margaret. Paris 1919: six months that changed the world (2007).
  • Nere, J. Foreign Policy of France 1914–45 (2010)
  • Quinn, Frederick. The French Overseas Empire (2001)

Political ideas and practice

  • Hanson, Stephen E (2010). "The Founding of the French Third Republic". Comparative Political Studies. 43 (8–9): 1023–1058. doi:10.1177/0010414010370435.
  • Jackson, Julian. The Politics of Depression in France 1932–1936 (2002) excerpt and text search
  • Kennedy, Sean. Reconciling France Against Democracy: the Croix de feu and the Parti social français, 1927–1945 (McGill-Queen's Press-MQUP, 2007)
  • Kreuzer, Marcus. Institutions and Innovation: Voters, Parties, and Interest Groups in the Consolidation of Democracy—France and Germany, 1870–1939 (U. of Michigan Press, 2001)
  • Lehning, James R.; To Be a Citizen: The Political Culture of the Early French Third Republic (2001) online edition
  • Passmore, Kevin (1993). "The French Third Republic: Stalemate Society or Cradle of Fascism?". French History. 7 (4): 417–449. doi:10.1093/fh/7.4.417.

Culture and society

Women, sexuality, gender

  • Copley, A. R. H. Sexual Moralities in France, 1780–1980: New Ideas on the Family, Divorce and Homosexuality (1992)
  • Diamond, Hanna. Women and the Second World War in France, 1939–1948: choices and constraints (Harlow: Longman, 1999)
  • Moses, Claire. French Feminism in the 19th Century (1985) excerpt and text search
  • Pedersen, Jean. Legislating the French Family: Feminism, Theater, and Republican Politics: 1870–1920 (2003) excerpt and text search

World War I

  • Audoin-Rouzeau, Stephane, and Annette Becker. 14–18: Understanding the Great War (2003) ISBN 0-8090-4643-1
  • Becker, Jean Jacques. The Great War and the French People (1986)
  • Darrow, Margaret H. French Women and the First World War: War Stories of the Home Front (2000)
  • Doughty, Robert A. Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War (2008), 592pp; excerpt and text search, military history
  • Fridenson, Patrick, ed. The French Home Front, 1914–1918 (1993).
  • Gooch, G. P. Recent Revelations of European Diplomacy (1940), pp 269–30 summarizes published memoirs by main participants
  • Smith, Leonard V. et al. France and the Great War (2003)
  • Tucker, Spencer, ed. European Powers in the First World War: An Encyclopedia (1999)
  • Winter, Jay, and Jean-Louis Robert, eds. Capital Cities at War: Paris, London, Berlin 1914–1919 (2 vol. 1999, 2007), 30 chapters 1200pp; comprehensive coverage by scholars vol 1 excerpt; vol 2 excerpt and text search

Primary sources

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