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France Since 1870

France Since 1870

Condition of France after Sedan

  • The condition of France after the disaster of Sedan was truly deplorable. She had received a shattering blow which greatly undermined her prestige in Europe. Two provinces had been wrenched from her; armed forces and economic life had been thoroughly disorganised and she had been saddled with the liability of paying a huge war indemnity. The political future was equally dark. With the fall of the Second Empire the hopes of the older dynasties revived, and the country was through all these difficulties.
  • As soon as the news of Sedan reached Paris a provisional Republic was proclaimed and a Government of National Defence set up to carry on the war. But this Government came to an end when Paris capitulated in 1871 and a National Assembly was elected to ratify the terms of the treaty with Germany. The Assembly chose Thiers as Chief of the Executive, pending the decision of the nation as to the definitive form of government. Thiers made peace with Germany (Treaty of Frankfurt) on the basis of the cession of Alsace and a large part of Lorraine, and payment of a large indemnity. Until the indemnity was paid in full a German army, fed and housed by the French Government, was to occupy the North East of France.

The Commune, 1871

  • To add to the troubles of France a terrible civil war followed hard upon defeat. Between the Government as represented by the National Assembly and the people of Paris, serious disagreements arose which led quickly to the war of the Commune. The National Assembly had a majority of crypto-royalists notoriously hostile to the Republic. The Parisians were, on the other hand, strongly republican and communistic in their views, and they naturally feared that the Assembly would effect a monarchical restoration. Besides, the Assembly gave offence to, and showed its distrust of Paris by removing from Bordeaux to Versailles and not to Paris. The Parisians felt that the Capital had been insulted. They became furious at the idea that Paris which, had recently borne the brunt of the war-suffering and had by its self-sacrifice held high the honour of France, should be decapitalised and governed, like any provisional town, from outside by an Assembly representing the provinces rather than the capital. This sense of grievance was aggravated by the indifference of the Government to the financial troubles of the Parisians. Paris was then full of explosive elements such as demobilized soldiers, unemployed workmen, socialists, anarchists. A spark was needed to produce an explosion and this was supplied by the Government when it sought to remove the guns from the capital. Paris rose in revolt and the insurgents set up the Commune, demanding complete self-government for Paris and the establishment of similar communes in the provinces. The whole of France was to be organised on a communistic basis. Thiers took up a strong line and proceeded to the forcible reduction of the city. For six week the amazing sight was seen of Frenchmen besieging Frenchmen in their own capital under the eyes of victorious Germans who remained encamped on the neighbouring hills. At last the Government troops from Versailles forced their entrance into Paris, and fought their way street by street until they gained control of the city. The struggle was bloody and savage, leading to fearful destruction of life and property. The Government took terrible revenge on the communards. Many were shot on the spot and many condemned to imprisonment or sent to penal settlements. Paris was defeated and socialism was knocked on the head til! the end of the century.

Work of Reconstruction

  • Having suppressed the Commune, Thiers set himself to the work of national reconstruction. The most imperative task was to pay off the huge indemnity and thereby to get the Germans out of the country. This Thiers did with great energy and speed. To the surprise of all he raised a large loan and paid off the whole indemnity in two years. France was liberated from the German army of occupation much earlier than the stipulated time, and for this service Thiers was acclaimed as the “Liberator of the Territory”. His next achievement was to reform the army by reorganising it on the Prussian model. A law was passed in 1872 instituting compulsory military service. The question of the form of constitution next occupied his attention. The National Assembly had a monarchist majority, and monarchical feeling was strong in the country. Thiers himself was also a monarchist, being a supporter of the Orleanist dynasty. But the monarchists were a party divided against itself. There were, as Thiers said three heads and only one crown. The Compte de Chambord, grandson of Charles X, represented the Bourbon dynasty. The Compte de Paris, grandson of Louis Philippe, was the Orleanist candidate, while Prince Imperial, son of Napoleon III, represented the line of Bonaparte. Thus each wing of the monarchists the Monarchists wanted a different monarch. In view of this dissension among the monarchists, Thiers boldly declared for a Republic on the practical ground that “it divides us least.” Thereupon the monarchists combined and forced him to resign. They elected Marshal MacMohan president to prepare the way for the restoration of monarchy.
  • To Thiers France owes a deep debt of gratitude. It was he who did more than anybody else to put France on her feet again after the disaster of Sedan. He suppressed the Commune, paid off the war indemnity, reorganised the army and boldly declared for a republic at a time when monarchist feeling was strong in the country. His public life thus ended in a blaze of patriotic service.

Victory of Republicanism

  • Marshal MacMahon who succeeded Thiers was a supporter of monarchy and so the Monarchists in the Assembly made a determined effort to combine their forces to effect a royalist restoration. The Bourbons and Orleanists came to a compromise and it was decided that Compte de Chambord who was childless, should become king of France with the title of Henry V, and his rival claimant, the Count of Paris, should be recognised as his successor. The restoration of monarchy thus seemed imminent but was foiled by the uncompromising Bourbonism of Chambord. He refused to accept the tricolour of the revolution as the national emblem and insisted upon the while flag of the Bourbons being restored. “Henry V”, he declared, “could never abandon the white flag of Henry IV.” This attitude sounded the death-knell of the monarchical cause, for France would never abandon the tricolour which to her had become the symbol of imperishable memories and indisputable benefits. Thus the obstinacy of Chambord wrecked the cause of monarchy not merely in Paris, but also in the country where the fiery Gambetta was making tours to educate the rural population in the principles of republicanism. His efforts were successful and the result was that under a monarchist President and by a monarchist Assembly a Republic was established in France in 1875 by a majority of one vote.
  • The formal constitution as drawn up in 1875 provided for a President of the Republic to be elected for a term of seven years by the legislature. The latter was to consist of two houses, the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, and these were to sit together to elect the president. The ministers were declared responsible to the Legislature. The Chamber was to be elected by universal suffrage while the Senate was to be chosen by indirect election. Thus was the republic established in France for the third time, and this time to stay. The royalists sought to restore monarchy by a Coup d’etat. The attempt failed and MacMahon resigned in 1879. He was succeeded by Gambetta’s nominee, Jules Grevy, with a thoroughly republican ministry and legislature. By the date of Gambetta’s death in 1882 the Republic of which he was the chief architect, gave fair promise of stability.
  • Gambetta is rightly regarded as the creator and the great hero of the Third Republic. It was he who during the dark days of the siege of Paris (1870-71) kept the honour of France bright by waging a heroic war in the provinces. It was he who by his fiery and eloquence ensured the triumph of the Republic at a time when the people were undecided and were swaying between a choice of monarchy and republicanism.

Dangers to the Third Republic | France Since 1870

  • The Republic was now an accomplished fact in France, but it had to weather many a crisis before it could feel safe. Party passions were still high and there were many who hated republicanism and firmly believed that the Third Republic would go the way of its predecessors. These disaffected elements found a leader or a tool in General Boulanger, an able army officer who became Minister of war in 1886. He ingratiated himself with the soldiers by increasing their comforts and caught the fancy of the people by his jingoistic utterances about a war of revenge against Germany. The Monarchists, the Bonapartists, and the Clericals rallied round Boulanger and sought to utilise his influence and popularity to overthrow the parliamentary regime and to establish a Boulangist dictatorship. The danger of the situation was increased by a political scandal connected with the sale of honours by President Grevy’s son-in-law, a scandal which greatly damaged the prestige of the Republic. The movement however, ended in failure as Boulanger was a mere swaggerer and failed to strike at the right moment. He was ordered to be arrested, but he fled to Belgium where he committed suicide. The Boulangist episode strengthened the Republic by discrediting its opponents, viz., the Monarchists and Clericals who had openly supported one who turned out to be a worthless adventurer.  France Since 1870
  • Another scandal connected with the fraudulent transaction of the Directors of the Panama Canal Company, did much to increase the unpopularity of the Republic. As some of the ministers and members of the legislature were found guilty of corruption, the opponents of the Republic pointed their fingers of scorn at a system of government whose champions were delinquents.
  • A remorseless fatality seemed to dog the step of the Republic. It was receiving blow after blow, and in 1894 occurred an incident which seriously imperilled its position. In that year Alfred Dreyfus, a man of Jewish birth and a captain in the army, was arrested on the charge of betraying military secrets to a foreign power, presumably Germany. He was tried by a court-martial, found guilty, publicly degraded, sentenced to imprisonment for Hfe and transported to the Devil’s Island, an unhealthy French possession off French Guiana in South America. Several people, however, doubted the justice of the trial. In 1896, Colonel Picquart who was appointed chief of the Intelligence department, discovered that the incriminating document on which Dreyfus’s conviction was based, was a forgery, and that it was forged by Major Esterhazy, a dissolute army officer. The Government and the War Office wanted to hush up the affair in order to maintain the prestige of the army and so sent Picquart on foreign service and appointed Colonel Henry in his place. Thereupon, followed a tremendous agitation which convulsed France and divided the French people into hostile camps. On the side of Dreyfus were such doughty champions as Emile Zola, Anatole France and Clemenceau, while against him were arrayed the mob, the army, the Church and the royalists. The case became the pivot of social, political and constitutional conflict. The question at issue was much deeper than whether an innocent man had been wrongly punished. It became a struggle between conservatism and progress, between the spirit of authority and liberty, between the civil and military control of the state.
  • The supporters of Dreyfus carried on a strong agitation, demanding a re-trial while his enemies opposed it with equal vehemence. But when in 1898 Colonel Henry, who had replaced Picquart, confessed that one of the documents had been forged by himself, and committed suicide, the Government was forced to re-open the case. In the retrial that followed, Dreyfus was found guilty but “under extenuating circumstances”. So the sentence of imprisonment was reduced to ten years. But the verdict carried no weight as President Loubet exercised his right of pardon in favour of Dreyfus. The defenders of Dreyfus were, however, determined to secure an assertion of his innocence. So in 1906 another revision of trial took place. This time Dreyfus was completely exonerated and by way of amends, was promoted to higher rank in the army. The significance of the case lies in the fact that Dreyfus became the symbol of rival principles which were supported or attacked without much his guilt or innocence. The supporters of Dreyfus were mostly Protestants, Jews, Radicals and Socialists, while his opponents were the military and clerical cliques distinctly anti-republican in spirit. Hence the struggle developed into a fight for the Republic. The vindication of Dreyfus meant the defeat of the forces which were antagonistic to the Republic. It also meant the triumph of the civil authority over the military. Militarism and clericalism thus received a stout blow.

The Republic and the Church | France Since 1870

  • One of the most important questions which the Third Republic had to deal with was the relation between the Church and the State. The question was not a purely religious one; political considerations largely entered into it, for the clericals were largely royalists. Hence Gambetta had declared in 1877 that clericalism was the enemy of the Republic. The remark was not unfounded as subsequent events showed. The clericals were associated with the Boulangist movement and had flung themselves with great vehemence into the campaign against Dreyfus, violently traducing the supporters of the Republic. Besides there was another weighty consideration. The cause of education was very dear to the Republicans and education was largely in the hands of the Church. The Republicans did not like that youth should be brought up in an atmosphere where monarchist feeling was strong.
  • The tactful and conciliatory attitude of Pope Leo XIII for a time prevented any friction between Church and State. But the Dreyfus affair rudely disturbed this good understanding. The clericals had strongly attacked Dreyfus and had sought to discredit the Republic. As soon as the attack was repulsed the Republicans proceeded to retaliate. In 1901 the Ministry of Waldeck-Rousseau passed the Law of Associations which declared that all associations, whether religious or political, must receive the authorisation of the Government.
  • As most of the religious orders of France had not received such authorisation, the effect of the law was to close some three thousand religious houses. The members of an unauthorised order were forbidden to teach in any school and so the result was that education was largely taken out of the hands of the Catholic clergy. In 1904 came another law which secularised education by forbidding even members of authorised orders to teach. Education was thus free from ecclesiastical control.
  • Lastly, in 1905 came the decisive Act of Separation which ended the Concordat of Napoleon and separated the Church from the State. “The Republic” ran the words of the law, “neither recognises nor subsidises any religion. Henceforth the state was not to pay the salaries of the clergy nor to make any grant to any religion. The property of all religious bodies was to be transferred to new “Associations of Worship” which were to be set up in each district, and which were to vary in size according to population of the community. A formal “inventory” was to be taken in Church to decide to whom its property really belonged.”

Colonial Expansion | France Since 1870

  • Under the Third Republic France embarked upon a vigorous colonial policy. Jules Ferry who was Prime Minister in 1881, and then from 1883 to 1885, was the chief exponent of this policy of overseas expansion, and it was chiefly owing to his masterful influence that Republic built, up a colonial empire which was second only to that Great Britain. France had already established herself in Algeria during the reign of Louis Philippe, and desired to extend her influence over the neighbouring states of North-Western Africa, In 1881 the Ministry of Ferry sent an expedition to Tunis and compelled its ruler to accept a French protectorate over his state. But Italy also had her eyes upon Tunis and she bitterly resented the establishment of a French protectorate there. She showed her irritation by joining Austria and Germany in the Triple Alliance. France had under Napoleon Ml carved out territories in Indo-China; she had occupied Cambodia and annexed Cochinchina (A region of southern Indochina including the rich delta area of the Mekong River). Under Ferry the process of absorbing Indo-China was completed by the conquest of Tonkin and the establishment of a protectorate over Annam. Ferry founded the French Congo and sent an expedition to Madagascar. The work begun by him was continued. Madagascar was annexed in 1896 and Morocco made a sphere of French influence in 1904. In Western Africa France had made extensive annexations in the Senegal, Guinea, Dahomey, Ivory Coast and the region of the Niger. Despite the opposition of Germany, Morocco was practically incorporated in the colonial empire of France in 1912. Thus at the opening of the twentieth century France was in possession of a big colonial empire. But by far the greater portion of it comprised the region of North-West Africa. This territory included some extremely unpromising stretches of country, such as part of the desert of Sahara, which were ill adapted to the settlement of Europeans. Algeria and Tunis constitute the most valuable French possessions. Algeria however, was not considered a colony, but an integral part of France, sending members to the Chambers of the French Parliament. France Since 1870

Foreign Relations: Franco-Russian Alliance | France Since 1870

  • The position of France after 1870 was very critical. Bismarck’s policy had left her in a position of complete isolation and she had no friends in the world. On her long eastern land frontier was the powerful military Empire of Germany, suspicious and almost openly antagonistic. At any moment, on the least sign of reviving strength, French might be pounced upon and crushed. Besides, her relations with Great Britain were far from cordial. In Egypt and West Africa the interests of both often clashed. Russia was the only great Power likely to give France a secure alliance. France’s opportunity came in 1890 when after Bismarck’s fall, the young Kaiser William II allowed the “Reinsurance” treaty between Germany and Russia to lapse. This left Russia’s hands free. Russia, powerful as she was, could not stand alone. Her interests conflicted with those of Austria in the Balkans, and the danger of the situation lay in the fact that Germany had, by the Triple Alliance, committed herself to an unqualified support of Austria. Besides; Russia wanted to borrow money to develop her internal resources, and this money France was willing to lend whilst Germany was unwilling to do so. Hence lor reasons both political and financial French support was worth having. Thus Russia gravteled towards France, and Czar Alexander III swallowed his dislike of French repubfecanism and entered into friendly negotiations with France. These resulted in a defnte aSance in 1894. By the terms of the treaty it was declared that if France was attacked by Germany, or by Italy supported by Germany, Russia was to come to her aid wih al available forces. France undertook a similar obligation to aid Russia if the latter was attacked by Germany or by Austria supported by Germany. Thus was formed the famous Dual Alliance which was a replay to Bismarck’s Triple Alliance and served as a counter-weight to it. France was no longer isolated. France Since 1870

Anglo-French Convention | France Since 1870

  • Having strengthened her position by the Dual Alliance, France sought to improve her relations with Great Britain. There were many sources of irritation between these two Powers. England had occupied Egypt in 1882 and this France regarded with undisguised dislike. British and French interests likewise clashed in Central Africa. In 1898 the two Powers stood upon the very brink of war over what is known as the Fashoda incident. In that year a French expedition under Marchand coming from West Africa occupied Fashoda on the Upper Nile in the British sphere of influence. England took up a resolute attitude and the French withdraw. But this caused intense irritation in France. Both countries, however, sought a reconciliation, as both of them had a common dread of the aggressive imperialism of Germany. The French minister Delcasse was eager for a good understanding with Great Britain and his efforts were aided by the good sense and tact of the British king, Edward VII. The result was the Entente Cordiale between England and France (1904). By it a series of long-stranding disputes over such matters as the Newfoundland fisheries, Siam, Madagascar, West Africa, and above all Egypt, were settled. France recognised Great Britain’s paramount position in Egypt, while England recognised France’s paramount position in Morocco. This entente was extended to Russia in 1907 when England made up all her differences with Russia and signed conventions with regard to non-competition in Persia, Afghanistan and Tibet. Thus was formed a new diplomatic group known as the Triple Entente. It was not an alliance, still it was a potent force with which the Triple Alliance of (Austria, Germany and Italy) had to reckon. France Since 1870

The Morocco Crisis, 1905 | France Since 1870

  • The special position which France had secured in Morocco by the Entente Cordiale of 1904 was challenged by Germany. Kaiser William II visited Tangier in 1905 and declared that he would do all in his power to safeguard German commercial interests in Morocco. His peremptory attitude precipitated an international crisis and led to the international Conference of Algeciras in 1906. An Act was signed adjusting the interests of Germany and other Powers in Morocco and providing for its policing by France and Spain. On the whole France maintained her position and proceeded to strengthen it. So in 1911 Germany issued another challenge, by sending a gun-boat to Agadir which was meant to show that France was not the undisputed mistress of Morocco. But as England stood by the Entente, Germany came to terms with France. She recognised the special position of France in Morocco while France ceded to Germany a considerable portion of the French Congo. The crisis was averted. France Since 1870


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