Third French Republic The Commune The Germans in Paris Reconstruction from Thiers to Loubet Affaire Dreyfus Law of Associations Separation of Church and State Conference at Algeciras Election of M. Fallieres Conclusion


Immediately after the deposition of the emperor a third Republic of France was proclaimed. A temporary government was set up under the direction of MM. Favre, Gambetta, Simon, Ferry, Rochefort, and others of pronounced republican tendencies.

This was speedily superseded by a National Assembly elected by the people, with M. Thiers acting as its executive head.

During the siege of Paris an internal enemy had appeared, more dangerous, and proving in the end far more destructive to the city than the German army which occupied it.

What is known as the Paris Commune was a mob of desperate men led by Socialistic and Anarchistic agitators of the kind which at intervals try to terrorize civilization to-day.

The ideas at the basis of this insurrection were the same as those which converted a patriotic revolution into a "Reign of Terror" in 1789, and Paris into a slaughter-house in 1792-93.

Twice during the siege had there been violent and alarming outbreaks from this vicious element; and now it was in desperate struggle with the government of M. Thiers for control of that city, which they succeeded in obtaining. M. Thiers, his government, and his troops were established at Versailles; while Paris, for two months, was in the hands of these desperadoes, who were sending out their orders from the Hotel de Ville.

When finally routed by Marshal MacMahon's troops, after drenching some of the principal buildings with petroleum they set them on fire. The Tuileries and the Hotel de Ville were consumed, as were also portions of the Louvre, the Palais Royal, and the Palais de Luxembourg, and the city in many places defaced and devastated.

The insurrection was not subdued without a savage conflict, ten thousand insurgents, it is said, being killed during the last week; this being followed by severe military executions. Then, with some of her most dearly prized historic treasures in ashes, and monuments gone, Paris, scarred and defaced, had quiet at last; and the organization of the third republic proceeded.

The uncertain nature of the republican sentiment existing throughout France at this critical moment is indicated by the character of the Assembly elected by the people. More than two-thirds of the members chosen by France to organize her new republic were monarchists!

The name monarchist at that time comprehended three distinct parties, each with a powerful following, namely:

The LEGITIMISTS, acting in the interest of the direct Bourbon line, represented by the Count of Chambord, the grandson of Charles X., called by his party Henry V.

The ORLEANISTS, the party desiring the restoration of a limited monarchy, in the person of the Count of Paris, grandson of Louis Philippe.

The BONAPARTISTS, whose candidate, after the death of the Emperor Louis Napoleon in 1873, was the young Prince Imperial, son of Napoleon III. [Napoleon II., the Duke of Reichstadt, had died in 1832.]

M. Thiers had not an easy task in harmonizing these various despotic types with each other, nor in harmonizing them all collectively with the republic of which he was chief. He abandoned the attempt in 1873, and Marshal MacMahon, a more pronounced monarchist than he, succeeded to the office of president, with the Duc de Broglie at the head of a reactionary ministry. It began to look as if there might be a restoration under some one of the three types mentioned. The Count of Paris generously offered to relinquish his claim in favor of the Count of Chambord (Henry V.), if he would accept the principles of a constitutional monarchy, which that uncompromising Bourbon absolutely refused to do.

In the meantime republican sentiment in France was not dead, nor sleeping. Calamitous experiences had made it cautious. Freedom and anarchy had so often been mistaken for each other, it was learning to move slowly, not by leaps and bounds as heretofore.

Gambetta, the republican leader, once so fiery, had also grown cautious. A patriot and a statesman, he was the one man who seemed to possess the genius required by the conditions and the time, and also the kind of magnetism which would draw together and crystallize the scattered elements of his party.

It was the stimulus imparted by Gambetta which made the government at last republican in fact as well as in name; and as reactionary sentiment increased on the surface, a republican sentiment was all the time gathering in volume and strength below.

The death of the prince imperial, in 1879, in South Africa, was a severe blow to the imperialists, as the Bonapartists were also called, who were now represented by Prince Victor, the son of Prince Napoleon.

Although these rival princes occupied a large place upon the stage, other matters had the attention of the government of France, which moved calmly on. The establishing of a formal protectorate over Algeria belongs to this period.

Ever since the reign of Louis XIV. the hand of France had held Algeria with more or less success. The Grand Monarch determined to rid the Mediterranean of the "Barbary pirates," with which it was infested, and so they were pursued and traced to their lairs in Algiers and Tunis. From this time on attempts were made at intervals to establish a French control over this African colony. During the reign of Louis Philippe the French occupation became more assured, and under the Republic a formal protectorate was declared.

In 1881 Tunis also became a dependency of France; a treaty to that effect being signed bestowing authority upon a resident-general throughout the so-called dominions of the bey.

The fact that in 1878 France participated in the negotiations of the Congress at Berlin, shows how quickly national wounds heal at the top! And further proof that normal conditions were restored, is given by the Universal Exposition, to which Paris bravely invited the world in that same year.

In 1879 M. Grevy succeeded Marshal MacMahon. It was during M. Grevy's administration that England and France combined in a dual financial control over Egypt, in behalf of the interests of the citizens of those two countries who were holders of Egyptian bonds.

But the event of profoundest effect at this period was the death of Gambetta in 1882. The removal of the only man in France whom they feared, was the signal for renewed activity among the monarchists, which found expression in a violent manifesto, immediately issued by Prince Napoleon. This awoke the apparently dormant republican sentiment. After agitated scenes in the Chamber, Prince Napoleon was arrested; and finally, after a prolonged struggle, a decree was issued suspending all the Orleans princes from their military functions.

Almost immediately after this crisis the Count of Chambord (Henry V.) died at Frohsdorf, August, 1883, by which event the Bourbon branch became extinct; and the Legitimists, with their leader gone, united with the Orleanists in supporting the Count of Paris.

A small war with Cochin-China was developed in 1884 out of a diplomatic difficulty, which left France with virtual control over an area of territory, including Annam and Tonquin, in the far East.

In 1885 M. Grevy was re-elected. This was, of course, construed as a vote of approval of the anti-monarchistic tone of the administration. So republicanism grew bolder.

There had been an increased activity among the agents of the monarchist party, which found expression in demonstrations of a very significant character at the time of the marriage of the daughter of the Count of Paris to the Crown Prince of Portugal. The republicans were determined to rid France of this unceasing source of agitation, and their power to carry out so drastic a measure as the one intended is proof of the growth which had been silently going on in their party.

The government was given discretionary power to expel from the country all actual claimants to the throne of France, with their direct heirs.

The Count of Paris and his son, the Duke of Orleans, Prince Napoleon and his son, Prince Victor, were accordingly banished by presidential decree, in June, 1886. And when the Duke of Aumale violently protested, he too was sent into banishment.

In 1887 M. Grevy was compelled to resign, on account of an attempt to shield his son-in-law, who was accused of selling decorations, lucrative appointments, and contracts. M. Sadi-Carnot, the grandson of the Minister of War of the same name, who organized the armies at the revolutionary period, was a republican of integrity and distinction, and was elected by the combined votes of radicals and conservatives.

Another crisis was at hand--a crisis difficult to explain because of the difficulty in understanding it.

The extraordinary popularity of General Boulanger, Minister of War, a military hero who had never held an important command, nor been the hero of a single military exploit, seems to present a subject for students of psychological problems; but his name became the rallying-point for all the malcontents in both parties. A talent for political intrigue in this popular hero made it appear at one time as if he might really be moving on a path leading to a military dictatorship.

The firmness of the government in dealing with what seemed a serious crisis, was followed by the swift collapse of the whole movement, and when Boulanger was summoned before the High Court of Justice upon the charge of inciting a revolution, he fled from the country, and the incident was closed.

In one important respect the Third Republic differs from the two preceding it. A constitution had hitherto been supposed to be the indispensable starting-point in the formation of a government. No country had been so prolific in constitutions as France, which, since 1790, is said to have had no less than seventeen; while England, since her Magna Charta made her free in 1215, had had none at all.

An eloquent and definite statement of the rights of a people once seemed as indispensable to a form of government as a creed to a religious faith. Perhaps the world, as it grows wiser, is less inclined to definite statements upon many subjects! Our own Constitution, probably the most elastic and wisest instrument of the kind ever created, has in a century required sixteen amendments to adapt it to changing conditions.

What is known in France as the Constitution of 1875, is, in fact, a series of legislative enactments passed within certain periods of time; these, as in England, serving as a substitute for a Constitution framed like our own.

The French may have done wisely in trying the English method of substituting a body of laws, the growth of necessity, for a written constitution. But this system, reached in England through the slowly moving centuries, was adopted in France, not with deliberate purpose at first, but in order to avoid the clashing of opposing views among the group of men in charge of the republic in its inception; men who, while ruling under the name of a republic, really at heart disliked it, and were, in fact, only enduring it as a temporary expedient on the road to something better. And so the republic drifted. There are times when it is well to drift; and in this case it has proved most satisfactory.

Not alone the rulers, but the nation itself, was in doubt as to the sort of government it wanted, or how to attain it after it knew. It was experimenting with that most difficult of arts, the art of governing. An art which England had been centuries in learning, how could France be expected to master in a decade? And when we consider the conditions and the elements with which this inexperience was dealing, the dangerous element at the top and the other dangerous element beneath the surface, the ambitions of the princes, and the volcanic fires in the lowest class; and when we think of the waiting nation, hoping, fearing, expecting so much, with a tremendous war indemnity to be paid, while their hearts were heavy over the loss of two provinces; when we recall all this, we wonder, not that they made mistakes and accomplished so little, but that the government moved on, day by day, step by step, calmly meeting crises from reactionaries or from radicals, until the confidence of the world was won, and the stability of republican France assured.

From 1893 to 1896 was a period of colonial expansion for France. The Kingdom of Dahomey in Africa was proclaimed a French protectorate. Madagascar was subjugated, and in 1895 the Province of Hiang-Hung was ceded by China.

In the year 1894 Sadi-Carnot was assassinated in the streets of Lyons by an anarchist, and M. Faure succeeded to the presidency.

A political alliance between France and Russia was formed at this time. It was also during the presidency of M. Faure that the agitation commenced in consequence of what is known as the Affaire Dreyfus.

Captain Alfred Dreyfus, an Alsatian and an artillery officer upon the general staff, was accused of betraying military secrets to a foreign power (Germany). He was tried by court-martial, convicted, sentenced to be publicly degraded, having all the insignia of rank torn from him, then to suffer perpetual solitary imprisonment on the Isle du Diable, off the coast of French Guiana.

The life of the French Republic was threatened by the profound agitation following this sentence, in which the entire civilized world joined; the impression prevailing that a punishment of almost unparalleled severity was being inflicted upon a man whose guilt had not been proven.

It was the general belief that the bitter enmity of the French army staff was on account of the Semitic origin of the accused officer, and that his being an Alsatian opened an easy path to the accusation of treasonable acts with Germany.

The trial of Captain Dreyfus was conducted with closed doors, and the sentence was rigorously carried out.

As time passed, the agitation became so profound, and the public demand for a revision of the case so imperative, that the French court of appeal finally took the matter under consideration.

The ground upon which this revision was claimed related to an alleged confession and to the authorship of the bordereau, the document which had been instrumental in procuring a conviction. Upon these grounds it was claimed that the judgment pronounced in December, 1894, should be annulled.

The court was compelled to yield, and an order was issued for a second trial--a trial which resulted in revelations so damaging to the heads of the French army that a revolution seemed imminent.

The accused man, wrecked by the five years on the Isle du Diable, again appeared before his accusers in the military court at Rennes. His leading counsel, Labori, was shot while conducting his case, but, as it proved, not fatally. The conduct of the trial was such that the dark secrets of this sinister affair were never brought from their murky depths. And with neither the guilt nor the innocence of the victim proven, the amazing verdict was rendered, "Guilty, with extenuating circumstances."

Such was the verdict of the French military court. That of public opinion was different. It was the unanimous belief among other nations that the case against this unfortunate man had completely collapsed. But in order to protect the French army from the disgrace which was inseparable from a vindication of Dreyfus, he must be sacrificed.

The sentence pronounced at the conclusion of the second trial was imprisonment in a French fortress for ten years.

This sentence was remitted by President Loubet; and, with the brand of two convictions and the memory of his "degradation" and of Devil's Island burned deep into his soul, a broken man was sent forth free.

Not the least dramatic incident in this affair was the impassioned championship of M. Zola, the great novelist, who hurled defamatory charges at the court, in the hope of being placed under arrest for libel, and thus be given opportunity to establish facts repressed by the military court. By the French law, the accused must justify his defamatory words, and this was the opportunity sought.

The heroic effort was not in vain. Zola was found guilty and sentenced to a year's imprisonment, which he avoided by going into exile. But light had been thrown upon the "_Affaire._" And he was content.

Upon the sudden death of M. Faure in 1899, Emile Loubet, a lawyer of national reputation, was chosen to succeed him, and his administration commenced while this storm was reaching its final culmination.

With the release of Captain Dreyfus the agitation subsided. But before very long another storm-cloud appeared.

A conflict between clericalism and the Government of France is not a new thing. Indeed, it was at its height as long ago as the thirteenth century, when Philip IV. and Pope Boniface had their little unpleasantness, resulting in Philip's taking the popes into his own keeping at Avignon, and in the issuance of a "Pragmatic Sanction," which defended France from papal encroachments.

The old conflict is still going on, and will continue until the last frail thread uniting Church and State is severed.

The particular contention which agitates France to-day, inaugurated by the late Minister Waldeck-Rousseau, and continued by his successor, M. Combes, had its origin in an act called the "Law of Associations," the purpose of which was to restrict the political power of the Church by means of the suppression of religious orders of men and women upon the soil of France.

This was considered an act of extreme oppression and tyranny on the one side, and as a measure essential to the safety of the republic on the other.

In support of their contention the republican party claimed that the French clergy had always been in alliance with every reactionary movement, and that every agitation and intrigue against the life of the Third Republic had had clericalism as its origin and disturbing cause. Hence, the expulsion of the religious orders was declared to be essential to the safety of the republic.

But the Law of Associations was only preliminary to the real end in view, which was accomplished in December, 1905, when a bill providing for the actual separation of Church and State was passed by the French Senate. There was a time when a measure so revolutionary would have opened the flood-gates of passion, and let loose torrents of invective; and the calmness with which it was debated in the French Parliament makes it manifest that the highest intelligence of the nation had become convinced of its necessity. The bill provides for the transfer to the government of all church properties. This change of ownership necessitated the taking of inventories in the churches, which many simple and devout people, incapable of understanding its political meaning, believed was a religious persecution, and resisted by force. The bill recently passed is aimed not at the Church, but at "Clericalism," a powerful element within the Church, which has been determined to make it a political as well as a spiritual power. With the passage of this bill there no longer exists the opportunity for political and ecclesiastical intrigues, which have made the Church a hatching-ground for aristocratic conspiracies. The severance now accomplished is not complete as with us. Money will still be appropriated from the public treasury for the maintenance of churches in France. But the power derived from the ownership of valuable estates is no longer in the hands of men in sympathy with the enemies of the existing form of government.

Another matter which for a time seemed to threaten the peace of France has been happily adjusted. At an international conference held at Algeciras, for the purpose of considering the demoralized conditions existing in the State of Morocco, France and Germany came so sharply in collision that serious consequences seemed imminent, consequences which might even involve all of Europe.

France, with her territory adjoining the disturbed state, and her long Algerian coast-line to protect, naturally felt that she was entitled to special recognition; while Germany, having invited the conference, claimed a position of leadership. It was over the special privileges desired by each that the tension between these two states became so acute; and finally the one question before the conference was whether France or Germany should be the custodian of Morocco, insure the safety of its foreign population, have charge of its finances, and be responsible for the policing of its coast. Of course the nation assigned to this duty would hold the predominant influence in North African affairs, and it was this large stake which gave such intensity to the game. The final award was given to France, and Germany, deeply aggrieved but with commendable self-control, has accepted the decision.

The elections recently held in France have afforded an opportunity to discover the sentiment of the nation concerning the policies, radical and almost revolutionary, which have made the concluding days of M. Loubet's incumbency an epoch in the life of France. The result has been an overwhelming vote of approval. In M. Fallieres, who has been elected to the presidency, there is found a man even more representative of a new France than was his predecessor. A man of the people, the grandson of a blacksmith, a lawyer by profession, M. Fallieres has been identified with every important movement since he was first elected Deputy in 1876; has been eight times Minister; was President of the Senate during the seven years of President Loubet's term of office; and January 17, 1906, was elected to the highest position in the state. The appointment of M. Sarrien, with his well-known sympathies, to the office of Prime Minister, sets at rest any doubt as to the policy initiated by M. Waldeck-Rousseau, and consummated by M. Combes.

With each succeeding administration France has gained in strength and stability, and in the self-control and calmness which make for both. The government and the people have learned that the spasmodic way is not a wise and effectual way.

The monarchist party has disappeared as a serious political factor. There is peace, external and internal. And there is prosperity--that surest guarantee of a continued peace.

One source of the phenomenal prosperity of France in this trying period since 1871 has been her mastery in the art of beauty. Leading the world as she does in this, her art products are sought by every land and every people. The nations must and will have them; and so, with an assured market, her industries prosper, and there is content in the cottage and wealth in the country at large.

What a change from the time less than four decades ago, when, with military pride humbled in the dust, with national pride wounded by the loss of two provinces, and loaded down with an immense war indemnity, the people set about the task of rehabilitation! And in what an incredibly short time the galling debt had been paid, financial prosperity and political strength restored.

For thirty-four years the republic has existed. Communistic fires, always smouldering, have again and again burst forth--demagogues, fanatics, and those creatures for whom there is no place in organized society, whose element is chaos, standing ready to fan the flames of revolt: with Orleanist, Bonapartist, Bourbon, ever on the alert, watching for opportunity to slip in through the open door of revolution.

Phlegmatic Teutons and slow-moving Anglo-Saxons look in bewilderment at a nation which has had seven political revolutions in a hundred years!

But France, complex, mobile, changeful as the sea, in riotous enjoyment of her new-found liberties, casts off a form of government as she would an ill-fitting garment. She knows the value of tranquillity--she had it for one thousand years! The people, who have only breathed the upper air for a century--the people, who were stifled under feudalism, stamped upon by Valois kings, riveted down by Richelieu, then prodded, outraged, and starved by Bourbons, have become a great nation. Many-sided, resourceful, gifted, it matters not whether they have called the head of their government consul, emperor, king, or president. They are a race of freemen, who can never again be enslaved by tyrannous system.

There may be in store for France new revolutions and fresh overturnings. Not anchored, as is England, in an historic past which she reveres, and with a singularly gifted and emotional people who are the sport of the current of the hour, who can predict her future! But whatever that future may be, no American can be indifferent to the fate of a nation to whom we owe so much. Nor can we ever forget that in the hour of our direst extremity, and regardless of cost to herself, she helped us to establish our liberties, and to take our place among the great nations of the earth.