French Third Republic

From Citizendium
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This article is developing and not approved.
Main Article
Definition [?]
Related Articles  [?]
Bibliography  [?]
External Links  [?]
Citable Version  [?]
This editable Main Article is under development and subject to a disclaimer.

The Third Republic was created following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. In the aftermath of the war it was deemed necessary to hold elections to a national assembly which could authorize a formal, legitimate peace. Although the elections returned a largely monarchist Assembly, a Republican, Jules Grévy became its first President. Adolphe Thiers, elected by twenty six departements led the government. The Treaty of Frankfurt concluded the conflict; France ceded Alsace/Lorraine to Germany, and had to pay five million francs in war indemnities to the Germans, who partially occupied the country until the debt was paid. The Germans eventually left in September 1873. The emotional and psychological cost of the resolution may have hurt more than the financial. Migrants from Alsace Lorraine who refused to live under German rule kept the issue alive in the French national consciousness.

The Paris Commune

Just after the treaty was signed, France was faced with a crisis that threatened to blow into a Civil War. There are three principal reasons why Parisians revolted in 1871; Paris had endured a four month siege and Parisians were humiliated at the acceptance of the National Assembly of the peace terms which included a triumphant German march through the city; Thiers was hated by Parisians for his role in putting down the 1834 revolt of Paris; The National Assembly, which seemed to under-represent the Parisians in seats (only 43 out of 768 seats) began to antagonize the Parisians. Populist newspapers were banned, all debts built up during the siege were to repaid in 48 hours and the National Guard (the Parisian defense force) were no longer to be paid one and a half francs a day. These rulings seriously affected the livelihoods of ordinary Parisians. Anger and frustration was building up rapidly within the city.

On 18th March, 1871, Thiers ordered that two hundred big guns belonging to the National Guard be recaptured from the Parisians. A fight erupted, during which two generals were killed and the mob seized all the major barracks and forts in the city. Marx wrote in his Civil War in France that if the mob had of marched on Thiers army at Versailles they might well have defeated them. Discussions ensued and the opportunity was lost. Paris was once again under siege.

The Commune was declared on 28th March, 1871 by a disorganized, disparate body of organizations - Jacobin's, First Internationalists and Anarchists all claimed to be the guiding lights of the Paris Commune. Decisive action was rare as much time was spent debating.

Nevertheless, the Communaurds did improve the conditions of the Parisian working class; the length of the working week, the position of women and improved education opportunities were all considered. Workers were allowed to take over abandoned workshops.

The Commune passed the Law of the Hostages, which stated that any execution of a communaurd was to lead to the deaths of three anti-communaurd citizens. Raoul Rigault, in charge of security ensured this policy was carried through. Amongst his victims was the Archbishop of Paris.

Meanwhile Thiers was building up his forces. He used propaganda to portray the communaurds as international conspirators against French values - he depicted them as agents of anarchy, rape and lootery. He recruited soldiers from the countryside who had no love for what they perceived as being their decadent capital, and were by and large traditional minded catholic men. After some fighting on the outskirts of the city, MacMahon and Gallifet's forces entered Paris on 21st May. The following week has been remembered in Parisian history as the 'bloody week'. Large areas of Paris were destroyed by shellfire and a scorched earth policy was followed by some revolters. Around 25,000 Parisians died and a thousand soldiers. Almost 40,000 prisoners were taken of which 25,000 or so were given terms of forced labour. As a result of this conflict, the age old and prestigious office of Mayor of Paris[1] was abolished, and not reintroduced until 1977 when Jacques Chirac was elected mayor.

Attempted coup d'état

The President at this time was the arch conservative and monarchist Marshall MacMahon (who had strong Irish roots). After the 1876 elections, he was faced with a chamber of overwhelmingly republican deputies, yet he chose the Orleanist Duc de Broglie as Prime Minister. The Chamber refused to ratify the choice and MacMahon dissolved the Assembly and called for new elections. The event is known by its French name, de seize mai as it marked an attempted royalist takeover.

In the subsequent election campaign, pressure was brought on government employees to vote monarchist, opposition journals were closed down and the Church urged its faithful to vote monarchist. However, a Republican chamber was still elected, despite the oppositions dirty tactics. MacMahon accepted the will of the people and picked a Republican as Premier. As monarchist influences continued to decline in this period, he resigned and was replaced by Grévy. The new Republic had survived yet another crisis.

The Boulanger Affair

Boulanger was a veteran of French wars in Algeria, Crimea, Italy and the Franco-Prussian War. As one of the few committed Republicans in the army, he was appointed Minister of War in 1886 by Georges Clemenceau.

One of his first actions in government was the retiring of royalist officers from the army. The improving living conditions and modernised training and weapons improved morale throughout the armed forces. When Otto Van Bismarck complained that he was damaging Franco-German relations this only improved his popularity in the country. He soon became a symbol of French military glory, a reflection of the rising nationalism of the time.

The government, becoming increasingly worried by his increased popularity dismissed him as Minister of War and posted him to a provincial command. Nonetheless, various groups flocked to support him. Royalists hoped they could manipulate him to roll back the reforms of the Third Republic. Workers were attracted by his promise to protect the weak and vulnerable. Popular discontent with the Republic increased with the unearthing of a fresh scandal in 1887; the son in law of President Grévy - Daniel Wilson - was found selling decorations and honours from the Elysée Palace. Such corrupt behaviour weakened the moral stance of the Republic and provided Boulangism as an attractive alternative.

Momentum was growing throughout the country in support of Boulanger. On 22nd January 1889, and despite strenuous opposition of Republicans he easily won a by-election in Paris. Excited supporters wanted him to stage an immediate coup d'état. The Cabinet called an emergency meeting which exposed their position. However, Boulanger allowed the opportunity to pass, perhaps because of last minute restraint but also because of the mixed nature of his grassroots support - a sustainable policy with such a various group of supporters would have been very difficult to achieve. He fled to Belgium in 1889 when the government began legal proceedings against him for plotting to overthrow the state - his supporters quickly drifted apart. Two years later he committed suicide by the grave of his mistress. Despite ending in such a farcical manner, Boulangism had been a force in the Third Republic which threatened its very existence.

The Panama Scandal

Ferdinand de Lesseps had achieved worldwide acclaim for the construction of the Suez Canal and when he decided to build a canal through the harsh terrain of Panama many small savers eagerly invested their money. However, the real power of the company was not in the hands of the famous engineer, but in a diverse band of financiers with disparate aims and objectives. When extra finance was needed they successfully bribed many deputies to sign the necessary parliamentary authorisation.

Despite the extra cash the project made little headway and the company soon went bankrupt. Gross mismanagement, difficulty with the terrain and tropical diseases (22,000 workers died over the space of eight years) caused the collapse of the project in 1889. Newspaper articles uncovered the names of 150 deputies who had been bribed, including the Minister for Finance and veteran Republican Georges Clemenceau. This scandal continued the lack of public confidence evident by other events. Radical Republicans were discredited (as many were guilty of taking bribes) and anti-Semitism became a force in politics, as Jews were made a scapegoat for the disaster and lost savings. This anti-Semitism was to play a role in the Dreyfus Affair.

The Dreyfus Affair

In september 1894 a list of French military documents called the bordereau was found by a French agent working in the German embassy. It became evident that a German spy had infiltrated the French officer corps. The head of the counter-intelligence agency, Major Henry, began a search for the culprit and came up with the name of captain Alfred Dreyfus. Dreyfus was a member of a wealthy Jewish family and thus was a figure of hate in the largely Catholic and Monarchial officer corps.

Henry was determined to convict Dreyfus and forged the necessary evidence for his court-martial. He was found guilty, cashiered and deported to the penal colony of Devil's Island. Here the tropical heat and fevers slowly wasted him away.

Although it had seemed like the French had got their spy, staff papers continued to disappear and investigation by the new head of counter-intelligence, Colonel Picquart, discovered that the real spy was a French officer called Esterhazy. When Picquart pointed this out to his superiors they removed him from his position and sent him to Tunisia where it was hoped he would be killed in the fighting. Dreyfus's brother, Mathieu had independently came to the same decision and publicly denounced Esterhazy as a traitor. Esterhazy was tried on 11th January 1898 and after a farcical trial was declared innocent by the judges.

Two days later, Emile Zola published an open letter to the President in Clemenceau's newspaper l'Aurore. The letter was entitled "J'accuse" and in separate paragraphs each beginning with 'I accuse', Zola named the generals who ordered the acquittal of Esterhazy.

France had become increasingly polarized between those who supported Dreyfus and those who opposed him. Dreyfusards included among their number republicans, radicals, Zola, Jaurès and Clemenceau. The latter wrote eight hundred newspaper articles on the subject. A League for the Defence of the Rights of Man was founded, which attracted Protestants, Freemasons, anti-clericals and Jews.

Anti-Dreyfusards included the Catholic Church, especially the Assumptionist Order, the army and most of the ordinary people, who tended to have anti-Semitic positions (a reflection of the growing anti-Semitism of the time) Edmund Drumonts 'La Libre Parole' was their most important publication. To them the individual of Dreyfus was unimportant but if he were released it would damage the honour of France and one of her most respected institutions; the army.

In July 1898, the new Minister of War, Cavaignac, decided to end the Dreyfus controversy once and for all. He produced what he felt was documentary proof that Dreyfus was guilty. The documents were later proved to be forgeries. Major Henry was arrested and almost immediately committed suicide. Esterhazy fled to England and the Minister of War resigned.

A new trial was ordered and Dreyfus, who had been unaware of the developments all this time, arrived back at Rennes in September 1899. This court-martial again found him guilty with 'extenuating circumstances'. It was obvious that no military court would find him innocent and admit the prior error. A Presidential pardon was issued and the original verdict was quashed in 1906.

Economy between 1870-1914

The French economy grew at a snails pace between 1870-1914 (at an average of about 1% [2]). This was because France lacked sufficient coal supplies necessary for prolonged and speedy economic growth. France also lost the valuable iron ore deposits in Lorraine and the textile factories of Alsace. In addition, France remained a largely peasant society and the economy centred on agricultural production and distribution.

What heavy industry existed was based largely in areas of the north, parts of the East and the Rhône Valley. Some new industries emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, notably in automobile, aircraft and chemical production. Those, however, did not seriously affect the general trend of French economic life.

Foreign Policy and the Alliance System pre World War One

In the immediate aftermath of the Franco-Prussian wars the principal aims of French foreign policy were to regain Alsace-Lorraine and to re-establish herself as a great power. French politicians were also realistic enough to realise that they could only re-establish themselves and challenge Germany with the aid of some of the great world powers, such as the United Kingdom and Russia.

In the early 1880s the main direction of foreign policy was the establishment of a large colonial empire (see The Scramble for Africa). Bismarck welcomed this strategy and hoped that interests outside Europe would take French attention away from Alsace-Lorraine. The French Empire expanded to include Algeria, Tunisia, Cochin China, Madagascar, Senegal and a number of other areas in North Africa. Much of the conquered lands were economically worthless, such as the large sand mass of the Sahara Desert. France competed with Italy, and to a greater extent the UK in Africa. There was constant friction between the UK and France over demarcation lines between their frontiers (see the Fashoda Incident). The foreign Minister Théophile Delcassé was aware that France could not progress if she was in conflict with Germany in Europe and the UK in Africa and so recalled Captain Marchand's expeditionary force from Fashoda despite popular protests. This paved the way for the UK joining France in World War I.

By the mid-1880s the Bismarckian system of alliances was in disarray. William II had refused to renew the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia and Bismarck, in hope of making the Tsar more amenable to his wished had forbidden German banks to loan money to Russia. French bankers quickly took the Germans position and helped speed the process of Russian industrialisation. The Russians had borrowed around five hundred million francs by 1888.

The advantage of a Franco-Russian alliance was clear to all Frenchmen - it promised a two-front war if France was to go to war against Germany again. Formal visits were exchanged between the two powers in 1890 and 1891 were the Russian Tsar saluted the French anthem, le Marseillaise. The Franco-Russian alliance was announced in 1894. This diplomatic coup was followed by a secret agreement with Italy. Allowing the Italians a free hand in Tripoli, Italy promised she would remain non-belligerent against France in any future war. Meanwhile, as the UK became increasingly anxious over the German naval buildup and industrial rivalry, agreement with France became increasingly attractive.

Edward VII's visit to Paris in 1903 stilled anti-British feeling in France and prepared the way for the signing of the Entente Cordiale. Initially however, a colonial agreement against the Kaiser's aggressive foreign policy deepened rather than destroyed the bond between the two countries. The Moroccan Crises of 1905 and 1911 encouraged both countries to embark on a series of secret military negotiations in the case of war with Germany.

Mounting international tensions and the arms race ensured the need for the increase of conscription levels from two to three years. Socialists and Pacifists led by Jaurés strongly disagreed with such legislation.

World War 1914-1918

It was essential that the United Kingdom join with France and Russia to stop Germany. There was no binding treaty between the UK and France, but the UK guaranteed Belgium's neutrality and had a strong policy of no allowing any one power to dominate Europe. When Germany invaded Belgium, the United Kingdom declared war and cooperated closely with France in defending the Western Front. * See World War I

The Effects of World War One

With the end of the war in November 1918, many Frenchmen regarded it as one of the greatest moments of French history. National unity during the war against a common enemy had put the old squabbles of the early and mid third Republic to a distant memory. Revenge for the 1870 Franco Prussian war had been achieved and Alsace Lorraine was retaken. However, the losses sustained in the war were so great that it made their victory a Pyrrhic Victory. One and a quarter million French people died, around 16.6% of all mobilised and the highest number of casualties among the Allied powers. The French youth were hit particularly hard; with 30% of all aged 18-28 dying. In addition, around three million were wounded and one million were permanent. Shellshock and other psychological disorders as a result of the trench warfare haunted many more. [3] As a result, there was only half the normal number of 19-21 year olds in 1938. The shortage of manpower was reaching its peak just as the French were preparing to face the Nazi threat.

7% of French territory had been destroyed in the war, including the rich industrial areas on North east France. Around 13,000 square miles of fertile agricultural land was devastated. Roads, railways and mines were ruined. The country was in debt to the tune of 175 billion francs. When the new Soviet regime refused to pay old loans given to the Tsar her financial position worsened. [4] By 1918 the State had become involved in many of the French industries. Although this involvement declined in the 1920s, it remained important. A number of mixed companies was formed in the electricity and mining sectors. The war also stimulated growth in the motor industry, chemicals and metals.

Many Frenchmen were disenchanted with with they took to be a far too lenient peace. The demilitarised zone which was achieved was regarded as an insufficient barrier against German aggression. Moreover, the works of André Gide, Louis Aragon and Henri Barbusse kept the horrors of war open to the French public.

The Twenties; Political and Financial instability

Bloc National (1919-1924)

With the ending of the war French politicians reverted to the disputes that characterised the earlier history of the Third Republic. France voted in November 1919. The parties of the centre and the right joined in a coalition, known as the Bloc National. The left was split between pro and anti-Bolsheviks and were unable to mount a serious, unified challenge. In addition Georges Clemenceau was popular as the 'father of victory'. The Right were backed by a powerful coalition of bankers and industrialists. The Bloc National won a convincing victory. Clémencau was not elected President of the Republic. The deputies who selected the President were unhappy with the Treaty of Versailles.

A major problem for the Bloc National was that of finance. The reconstruction of the devastated north east cost more money than was spent on the war. It was expected that German reparations would cover the cost. However, the Germans were unable to pay much to the French due to massive problems of their own.

In 1922 Raymond Poincaré took office determined to collect German reparations. This deeply conservative nationalist sent a Franco-Belgian force to the Ruhr region of Germany when its government said it could not repay the French the amount they wanted. International condemnation followed and passive resistance from German workers hampered the French efforts. Although some goods were seized, it wasn't nearly enough to compensate for the expedition. Poincaré realised the French would have to evacuate, but wanted to do so from a position of strength. An international commission of experts under the US director of budget Charles G. Dawes came up with the Dawes Plan which was considered a temporary solution to the reparations question.

Nationalists were angered at the withdrawal from the Ruhr, and the middle class was disillusioned by the financial crisis of 1923-24 caused by the occupation. The right wing parties were unable to form a decent coalition for the upcoming elections. Readicals and socialists saw their opportunity and joined in a coalition, the Cartel des Gauches which won the election in May 1924.

Cartel Des Gauches (1924-1926)

Edouard Herriot became the new Prime Minister in the radical cabinet. The Socialists supported but did not join the new government. The Radicals forced President Millerand to resign and then initiated a ream of anti-clerical legislation that Herriot hoped would bring socialists and radicals together. There was a threat at the Vatican and an attempt to introduce the controversial 1905 Law of Separation in the very catholic Alsace region. This provoked large demonstrations and it seemed that Alsace would demand some level of autonomy. The Government retreated and dropped the proposal.

Financial difficulties proved to be the downfall of the Cartel Des Gauches. They borrowed instead of raising taxes to pay for increased expenditure which led to inflation. In May 1924 the pound sterling was worth 76 francs, two years later the pound could buy 243 francs.[5] Real wages declined and savings disappeared. Herriots cabinet broke up and the President called on Poincaré to form a government of National Union and save France from bankruptcy.

The Government of National Union (1926-1932)

Poincaré dealt with the financial problems by issuing many decree laws. Taxes were raised, state expenditure cut and the business community rallied to the upholder of financial orthodoxy. Capital returned to the country as the franc stabilised at one fifth of its former level. A grateful public gave the parties a majority in the 1928 election. Poincaré remained in power until July 1929, when illness forced the widely admired statesman to resign.

The Thirties; Polarisation and the threat of fascism

The Depression

The Great Depression began in October 1929 but only began to affect France in late 1931. the United Kingdom and USA suffered more than the less industrialised France, where unemployment never exceeded one and a half million. France didn't devalue her currency like the UK and the US however and this had a dramatic effect on her exports which dropped 50% between 1929 and 1938.[6] Unemployment reached a million and a half by the mid thirties. Agriculture was hit by a drop in world prices and by the overproduction of wine and grain on the world scale.

André Tardieu succeeded Poincaré in 1929 but had no solution to the problems his country faced, and thus fell to the Cartel des Gauches in the 1932 election. As in 1924 the Prime Minister, Herriot, had no answer to the financial problems brought on by the depression. Ministeries changed rapidly so that in 1934 there had been six governments in less than two years. Parliamentary politics in the Third Republic became discredited in the eyes of the people. More and more joined the French Right Wing Leagues, whose objective was to overthrow democracy.

The Leagues

The early thirties saw a growth in strength and numbers of the anti-parliamentary Leagues. Middle and upper class youths joined them and participated in the constant street demonstrations against the Third Republic and the way in which its government had handled the challenge of the Great Depression. The model was Benito Mussolini's fascist movement. The Action Française was the oldest of the anti parliament groups. It was found in 1899 by the poet and journalist, Charles Maurras. Strongly roayalist, nationalist and anti-semitic, it attracted the support of the newspaper of the same name. The Jeunesses Patriotes were founded by Pierre Tattinger during the financial crisis in 1924. It had a large membership and its mobile squads dressed in blue raincoats and berets. It borrowed some of Mussolini's political platform. The Solidarité Française was founded in 1933 by the perfumer François Coty. His blue shirted, jack booted storm troopers shouted the slogan 'France for the French'. At their peak in 1934 they numbered around 15,000. The Croix de Feu was the largest of the right wing groups. It was founded in 1927 as a non political organisation of veterans. Its leader François de la Rocque quickly turned it into a paramilitary, anti-democratic and anti-communist league. In the early thirties it numbered around 450,000.[7]

In addition to all of the above there was a host of smaller and more extreme groups. They were boosted by an array of anti-Republican, right wing papers like Le Matin and Candide. In 1934 the Stavisky Affair seemed to confirm to the Leagues that French democracy was irredeemably corrupt and that the time was right to overthrow it.

The Stavisky Affair

The Stavisky Affair was a public scandal which weakened the moral authority of the French Third Republic in the eyes of the nation and caused huge public outcry. Serge Stavisky floated a loan of a million francs worth of bonds to finance a small pawnshop in Bayonne. Stavisky was a shady character and this was but one of many questionable business deals he had been involved in. However, with the aid of many powerful acquaintances he was able to stay out of trouble; one of his trials was postponed nineteen times.[8] When the press learnt of his latest deal and the public reacted with anger, Stavisky fled to the Alp where he committed suicide. Rumours abounded that he was killed by the police to protect the names of important politicians. Later, when an official in the public prosecutors office was found murdered, the public were convinced there was an organised cover up by the government.

Riots and demonstrations ensued. Action Française called for a revolt. The Leagues felt that the time was right for a fascist overthrow of the government. Ferocious rioting occurred on the 6th and 7th of February as the Leagues stormed the lower house of parliament. Édouard Daladier, who had succeeded Chautemps on 27th January, now resigned. The Republic was only saved by the formation of a National Union of the right, under the much respected former President, Gaston Doumergue. It lasted from 1934-1936.

Popular Front: (1936/1937)

In July 1934 the leader of the French Communists, Maurice Thorez requested Socialist leader Léon Blum to join in a united front against fascism. This surprised Blum since the communists had hitherto regarded the socialists as 'social fascists'. Thorez's change of opinion may owe to directions from Moscow, where Stalin ordered a new policy among international communist groups to co-operate with anti-fascist parties. Soon the Radicals joined in what was to become known as the Popular Front. Its May 1936 programme called for a dissolution of the Leagues, socio economic reform and collective security against German aggression. Blum was unable to participate as he was badly beaten up by the Action Française, a right wing group. This caused a swell in support from moderates throughout the country, and Blums coalition won handily with a majority of 143 seats.[9]

The French working class celebrated the victory by factory sit ins and celebratory rallies and strikes. Many on the right feared it was the beginning of a communist revolution. The governments first task was to restore industrial peace and get production moving again. A conference was held between government, unions and employee's at the hotel Matignon, that arrived at the so named Matignon agreement which stated that there was to be a 12% rise in wages, armament works were to be nationalised, a 40 hour week to be introduced and holidays with pay were to be legalised.

The fascist leagues were dissolved on 18th June 1936. The biggest, Croix de Feu, reformed as a legitimate political party (The Parti Social Française (PSF) which had 800,000 members at its peak.)

In order to pay for the social reforms the left wing government wanted and increased military spending necessitated by German rearmament, the government borrowed heavily. French businessmen, already worried by the Popular Front victory, took their investments abroad. Once again the franc had to be devalued. By March 1937 Blum was forced to pause his reforms in order to restore confidence in the economy and attract the deserted French capital. The Communists who had supported him but had not participated in the government, virulently attacked Blum. Similarly, the Right who loathed him as Jew and a socialist called on the people to get rid of 'this naturalised Jew'. A popular slogan at the time was 'Better Hitler than Blum'.[10]

In summer of 1937 Blum requested special powers to deal with the financial crisis. Although the Chamber of Deputies agreed, the Senate vetoed the plan. Not wishing to cause a constitutional crisis and thus weaken the country, leaving it open to fascist onslaughts, Blum resigned. Although the Popular Front remained in power, it ceased the reforms once so actively pursued by Blum.

Blum returned as Prime Minister for a few weeks later in 1938. The Vichy authorities imprisoned hum in 1940 and he was blamed by them for Frances lack of military preparations, but successfully defended his actions in court in 1942. When the Germans occupied Vichy he was sent to a concentration camp. He was released in May 1945 and was Premier for a brief period between 1946/1947.

Chautempts succeeded Blum and was in turn replaced by Daladier who formed the government of national defence. He saw the forty hour week as an obstacle to production. Accordingly, by a series of measures they lengthened the working week and cut back state spending. This caused strikes, but the General Strike of 30th November was a failure. Wealthy financers believed the left wing threat to France was over and returned; by 1939 the economy had stabilised.

Foreign Policy Between the Wars

Clémencau agreed to relinquish French claims on the Rhine if the UK and America promised to protect French security from German aggression. The United Kingdom agreed on the condition the Americans would follow suit. When the US Senate refused to ratify the Treaty of Guarantee and Versailles, France's safeguards disappeared. Disagreement with the United Kingdom continued when the UK backed the Greeks during the Chanak Crisis. France had sided with the Turks in the dispute.

The possibility of bringing back the prewar alliance with Russia following World War One - and hence, restore the old Alliance system - crumbled with the Russian Revolution and the hostility of that communist system to the intentions of the European powers. Relations worsened when Lenin refused to pay back pre-war debts to France. An Eastern ally was found in 1924 in the shape of Czechoslovakia, and bringing with it the formation of the Little Entente. France was determined to apply the Treaty of Versailles strictly in order to gain reparations and gain security against future German aggression. This lended some legitimacy to the Ruhr invasion and the Dawes Plan. It also proved France was not strong enough on her own to enforce the Treaty.

France did not immediately regard Adolf Hitler as a threat. Hitler had some parallel support on the French right; opposition to democracy and communism and the looming threat of anti-semitism had all mobilised the Far Right Wing in French politics. In July 1933 France joined the UK, Italy and Germany in the Four Power Pact to guarantee peace. Its ambiguity led to its downfall, and had little effect other than to paint Hitler as a reasonable and peaceful statesman. When Louis Barthou became Foreign Minister in 1934 he instituted a new policy - he realised that if German expansion was to be halted a military alliance with Russia was necessary. However, he was assassinated before he could seriously begin working on this policy.

Barthou's successor, Pierre Laval distrusted the Soviets and delayed ratification of the Treaty until April 1936. During Laval's tenure in office appeasement became a national policy. Laval was more interested in coming to an agreement with Mussolini and Stalin. He signed the Rome Agreement in 1935 putting many Franco-Italian disagreements to an end. Mussolini also worried about German rearmament and joined France and the UK in the Stressa Front. Indeed, as Hitler's decision to increase his army to 500,000 in 1935 broke the Versailles Treaty, the French were within their rights to occupy Germany. They did not do this and complied with the League of Nations and its criticism of such an action as a 'violation of international law'. The Stressa Front collapsed with Mussolini's invasion of Abyssinia in 1935. Laval, against his wishes was forced to go along with the League of Nations sanctions against Italy. However, his influence insured that oil, an important commodity for the Italian army was not included in the sanctions which in turn ensured little damage was done to the Italian war effort. Behind closed doors he worked together with Sir Samuel Hoare to create the Hoare-Laval Pact. This agreed that Mussolini would get two thirds of Abyssinia immediately and without conditions. Public opinion in the United Kingdom was angered and it forced Hoare's resignation. Laval followed suit six months later.

Conflict Between Church and State

Throughout the lifetime of the Third Republic, there seemed to be a clear political schism between the Republicans, the Monarchists and the Authoritarians (such as the Napoleonists). The French Church was closely associated with the Monarchists and many of its hierarchy were from noble families. Republicans tended to be middle class and a personification of the revolution towards Plutocracy in the Third Republic. The Republicans detested the church for its political and class affiliations; for them, the church represented the Ancien Regime, a time in French history most Republicans hoped was long behind them.

Republicans feared that since religious orders controlled the schools anti-Republicanism was been indoctrinated to children. Determined to root this out, Republicans insisted they needed control of the schools, if economic and militaristic progress was to be achieved (Republicans felt one of the primary reasons for the German victory in 1870 was because of their superior education system)

The early anti-catholic laws were largely the work of veteran republican Jules Ferry. 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.

With the accession of Leo XIII to the papacy in 1878 a period of détente occurred in Church-State relations. In 1884 he requested French bishops not to act in a hostile manner to the State. In 1892 he issued an encyclical advising French Catholics to rally to the Republic and defend the Church by participating in Republican politics. This attempt at improving the relationship failed. Deep-rooted suspicions remained on both sides and were inflamed by the Dreyfus Affair. Catholics were for the most party 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.

Emile Combes, when elected Prime Minister in 1902, was determined to thoroughly defeat Catholicism. 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 were dissolved. Up to 20,000 religious French people immediately left France as a result.[11] In 1904 the French President, Loubet, visited the King of Italy in Rome. The Pope, who had never recognised the Italian occupation of Rome, protested at this apparent recognition of the Italian State. Combes reacted strongly and recalled his ambassador. Then in 1905 a law was introduced abrogating Napoleon's 1801 Concordat. Church and State were finally separated. The religious no longer were paid by the State. Public worship was given over to associations of Catholic lay-men.

Culture in the Third Republic

In arts and literature, France was the foremost country in the world. France (and in particular, Paris) had been the epicentre of European culture since before the French Enlightenment. French was spoken by the educated classes all over Europe, and quickly became a symbol of sophistication. The French public lauded works of art and literature, perhaps more so than other nations. Original and stylish works appeared in a variety of areas.


Gustave Flaubert's most famous novel was Madame Bovary which meticulously analysed both the drab lifestyle of a provincial town and the French notion of romantic love. L'Education sentimentale and Bouvard et Pecuchet also portrayed French life and society in a realistic manner. Anatole France was a very popular author. He was moved by the Dreyfus Affair to write politically committed literature. L'Ile des pingouins, for instance was a satirical picture of life in the Third Republic. Emile Zola was the most popular French author of the age and perhaps the most remembered. His series of twenty novels La Rougon-Macquart following the fortunes of a particular family achieved wide critical acclaim.

Victor Hugo, an internationally renowned author and mastermind behind the epic Les Misérables (written in 1862), was a passionate atheistic Republican, who escaped the turmoil of the Paris Commune in an heroic manner (in a hot air balloon) Hugo was an elected member of the Assembly and Senate, and his writings and drawings (perhaps lesser known) helped mould the early years of the Third Republic.


The most distinguished school of nineteenth century painters were the Impressionists. This method was initiated by Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas, to name a few. They aimed to paint the momentary appearance of things, and especially the effects of light and atmosphere, rather than the actual form. Monet's 'Summer' is a good example of a French impressionist work.


Famous French composers included Georges Bizet, whose Carmen brought him fame and popularity. Claude Debussy's Pellas et Mélisande influenced later twentieth century composers.


Frances tradition of great scientists continued during the Third Republic. Henri Becquerel discovered radioactivity in uranium salts and thus ushered in the atomic age. Pierre and Marie Curie discovered Radium. Louis Pasteur made significant breakthroughs in Microbiology.


The most influential French philosopher of his time was Henri Bergson. He contended that instinct was of far greater importance than intellect in apprehending reality. His anti-intellectual feelings were at one with his age, and poets and writers were quick to imitate it.

Further reading

Third Republic: 1871-1940

  • Bernard, Philippe, and Henri Dubief. The Decline of the Third Republic, 1914 - 1938 (The Cambridge History of Modern France) (1988) excerpt and text search
  • Lehning, James R.; To Be a Citizen: The Political Culture of the Early French Third Republic (2001) online edition
  • Mayeur, Jean-Marie, and Madeleine Rebirioux. The Third Republic from its Origins to the Great War, 1871-1914 (The Cambridge History of Modern France) (1988) excerpt and text search
  • Price, Roger. A Social History of Nineteenth-Century France (1987) 403pp. 403 pgs. complete text online at Questia
  • Robb, Graham. The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography, from the Revolution to the First World War (2007)
  • Tucker, Spencer, ed. European Powers in the First World War: An Encyclopedia (1999)
  • Weber, Eugen. Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914 (1976) excerpt and text search
  • Winter, J. M. Capital Cities at War: Paris, London, Berlin, 1914-1919 (1999)
  • Zeldin, Theodore. France, 1848-1945: vol 1: Politics and Anger; vol 2: Intellect & Pride; vol 3: Anxiety and Hypocrisy (1979-81)


  1. The office could trace its roots back to the thirteenth century.
  2. Ibid, p. 40
  3. Frank L. Klingberg, Predicting the Termination of War: Battle Casualties and Population Losses, The Journal of Conflict Resolution JSTOR
  4. Ibid
  5. Fynes, p. 203
  6. Ibid, p. 204
  7. Robert Soucy, French Fascism: The Second Wave, 1933-1939 (Yale, 1997)
  8. Paul F. Jankowski, Stavisky, A Confidence man in the Republic of virtue. (Cornell, 2002)
  9. Fynes, p. 207
  10. Ibid
  11. Edward Fynes; European History 1870-1966 (Dublin, 1999) p. 39