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France: Third Republic (1870-1940)

Last modified: 2003-10-04 by ivan sache
Keywords: third republic | count of chambord | tricolore | henri v |
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[France]by Zeljko Heimer

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The birth of the Third Republic (1871)

After the disaster of Sedan (2 September 1870) and the capitulation of the Emperor and the whole French army, the Republic was proclaimed in Paris without violence on 4 September 1870. Gambetta proclaimed the deposition of the Empire in the Assembly and Favre proclaimed the Republic in the city hall. A government of National Defence (11 members) was immediatly constituted. The Legislative Corps and the Senate were abolished.
The new government decided to carry one the war against Prussia. On 8 February 1871, a new National Assembly (c. 400 Monarchists, 200 Republicans and 30 Bonapartists) was elected and the government was dissolved. On 12 February 1871, the Deputies met in Bordeaux and gave to Thiers the title of chef du pouvoir exécutif de la République en attendant qu'il soit statué sur les institutions de la France ('head of the executive power of the Republic until the institutions of France are prescribed"). Most Deputees considered the Republic as provisory and expected a rapid monarchic restoration. The Assembly ratified peace with Germany on 1st March. In March, the insurrection known as La Commune started in Paris and lasted until the 'Bloody Week' of May 1871.

On 31 August 1871, a law proposed by Rivet, a friend of Thiers, appointed Thiers as President of the French Republic until l'établissement des institutions définitives du pays (the establishment of the definitive institutions of the country.)

Source: C. Salles. La IIIe République, à ses débuts : 1870-1893. Histoire de France Illustrée (Larousse, 1988)

Ivan Sache, 16 December 2001

The flag affair and Count of Chambord's renunciation (1873)

Henri Dieudonné, Count of Chambord, was the posthumous son of the Duke of Berry, and grandson of King of France Charles X. Therefore, Henri was a direct descendant of the great Kings of France Hugues Capet, Philippe Auguste, Louis IX (Saint-Louis), Louis XIV et Louis XV. He was also the descendant of the Valois and François I by way of his paternal grandmother. The French historian Pierre Miquel wrote about Henri that he was "the most titled kid in Europe" and that "his genealogic tree was a huge forest inhabited by Kings, Queens and Emperors".

Henri was borne on 29 September 1820, at 2 AM, in the Pavilion of Marsan, part of the Royal palace of the Tuileries in Paris. Louis XVIII, then King of France and Henri's granduncle, ordered to fire the cannon to celebrate his birth. Thousands of inhabitants of Paris filed past the princely cradle and were offered fireworks. Short after his birth, Henri, then Duke of Bordeaux, was appointed Count of Chambord through a public subscription used to purchase the former royal domain of Chambord. The polemist Paul-Louis Courier (1772-1825) was sentenced to two months of jail after having published a pamphlet against this subscription, in which he required the destruction of the castle. Four years later, young Henri, wearing the uniform of a cuirassier colonel, reviewed the troops on the Champ-de-Mars with his grand-father Charles X, who had succeded his brother Louis XVIII in 1824. In July 1830, the king and his family abdicated and Henri, then aged 10, was proclaimed king of France. A Constitutional monarchy was eventually proclaimed and the throne was granted to Louis-Philippe, King of the French, from the younger royal branch of Orléans. Henri left Cherbourg on 10 August 1830 for a 41-year exile.

During his exile years, Henri traveled a lot with his overthrown grand-father and was already nicknamed "King Henri" in most European courts. Still a child, he said to Legitimist (as opposed to Orleanist) delegates: "I am working very hard to be worthy of the important duties imposed by my birth." His education was carried out by friars sent from Rome. The Pope personnally supervised them and received Henri two times in the Vatican in 1838.
In 1843, Henri received in London 200 Legitimists led by the great writer and diplomat Châteaubriand (1768-1848), who acknowledged in him " the kingship of intelligence". Being more and more convinced he would reign, Henri said: "I consider the rights I have been granted by my birth as belonging to France, and [...] I shall not come back to France except when my return is useful to the French happiness and glory". In 1844, Henri settled in the palace of Frohsdorf, near Vienna (Austria), which had been bought for him by one of his numerous supporters.

The riots of February 1848 in Paris appeared to Henri as a sign of the fate. From Venice, Henri sent to his supporters a government program, which included: a limited opening of the voting system, the decentralization to the benefit of the municipalities, cities and provinces, the support to the Catholic education, and the union of all royalists (Legitimists and Orleanists). In June 1848, the bourgeois of Paris ordered the troops to shoot the mob, and Henri's supporters asked him to come back. Henri hesitated and thought the support of General Bugeaud, very popular after his Algerian campaigns, would be required for a coup. Nothing was done and Bugeaud died the next year.
However, some progress towards the royalist unity was achieved. The branch of Orléans was prepared to recognize Henri as the king, provided he accepted a monarchy à la Louis-Philippe, i.e. parliamentary and tricolor. That was too much for Henri, who answered: "Kingship is an attribute which belongs both to the prince and the people. There is an indissoluble union between them. To question it would destroy the strength of the principle that makes the power of the king". Henri also required the restoration of the white flag with the fleur-de-lys as the symbol of the monarchy. Several attempts to sway him caused even more intransigenace: " My reign could not be either the resource or the result of a scheme or the exclusive domination of a party" (1850); "Napoléon's glory and genius were not enough to found anything stable. His name and memory could be even less useful. Monarchy in France is the royal house, indissolubly tied to the people" (1852).

The Orleanists insisted on the flag question, but Henri did not bat an eyelid. His position seemed so weak that Napoléon III allowed the opening of a Legitimist office in Paris. Henri precized his ideas and explicitly refered to the return to the Ancient Regime (pre 1789), close to the clergy and the papacy. "To ban the Christian right from the society would yield disappointment. [...] This would cause the idea of God to disappear from our laws and courts. [...] In order to save France, God shall came back as the Lord, so that I can reign as the King." At that time, Henri was described as a very convincing orator but a mediocre politician. Having been exiled for so many years, he did not realize the change in the minds which prevailed any hope of return to the Ancient Regime.

In 1873, the circumstances were extremely favourable to a monarchic restoration. Everybody knew that Henri had no heir and would not have any, thus explaining why the Orléans were prepared to recognize him as the king. There was a royalist majority at the Chamber of Deputees, the President of the Republic was the old royalist Marshal Mac Mahon, and the government was led by the monarchist Duke of Broglie. All monarchists tried to forget what Henri had said on 5 July 1871: " I can come back to France only with my principle and my flag", that white flag which "I have received as a sacred trust from the old king, my grandfather dying in exile." And he added what has remained his most famous sentence: "Henri V cannot abandon Henri IV's white flag". This manifesto was written in the Castle of Chambord, in a room which can still be visited. Henri came back to Austria after a defeat of the monarchists in partial elections mostly caused by his manifesto.
On 5 August 1873, the Count of Paris, Louis-Philippe's grandson, went to Frohsdorf in an attempt of reconciliation. He knew he had to pay that price to be officialy recognized as the crown prince, and thought he would just have to wait for the death of his narrow-minded cousin. The Orleanists reacted very mildly to the meeting, but the Legitimist newspapers were enthousiastic. Pilgrimages and processions for the return of the king grew in number. The writer Ernest Renan (1823-1892), who had lost his Catholic faith, admitted that "if the Count of Chambord accepts the least concession, the Chamber shall proclam him." In the begining of the fall, George Sand (1804-1876) sarcastically wrote to Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) "I smell like a spreading sacristy fragrance."

The monarchic restoration was therefore impending, but the question of the flag remained unsolved. There were a few proposals of compromise solutions, such as a tricolor flag with a semy of fleur-de-lys and a white flag with a tricolor cravate. On 4 October, a commission of nine members was appointed by the united monarchists to negociate with Chambord. The commission was presided by General Changarnier, who said: "[he] would let his head being broken for the Count [...] but would never sacrifice the tricolor flag."
The Deputy from the Basses-Pyrénées Chesnelong was sent by the commission to Frohsdorf. The Count did not promise anything concerning the flag but Chesnelong, desperate, did not give the commission an account of his mission. Newspapers promoting the restoration believed an agreement had been obtained, and published that: "since the Tricolor flag will be the legal flag when the count comes back to France, he shall salute him with joy." Chambord was upset by those news and ruined any hope of restoration. He wrote a manifesto to Chesnelong, which was published by the Legitimist newspaper L'Union. Concerning the flag, the manifesto said: "Today, I am asked to sacrifice my honour. What can I answer? Nothing but I don't withdraw any of my previous declarations. Yesterday's claims give me an idea of tomorrow's requirements, and I cannot accept to inaugurate a restoring reign by an act of weakness [...] My person is nothing, my principle is everything. France shall see the end of its ordeals when it understands that I am the required pilot, the only one able to bring back the ship to the port because I have mission and authority for that."

However, Henri did not understand he had shot his bolt. On 8 November, he came back incognito to Paris by railway and was housed by one of his supporters in Versailles until the result of the votation at the Chamber. The monarchists understood that they would have to wait for Chambord's death to restore the monarchy with the Orléans and decided to vote the renewal of the President of the Republic, biding their time. De Broglie proposed 10 years but the Deputees decided of seven years, which was the origin of the President's seven-year tenure (septennat), recently shortened to five years (quinquennat) On 20 November, Chambord went back to Frohsdorf, where he died 10 years later. There was no restoration seven years later, since the majority had become Republican.

Source: L'Alsace (newspaper), 29 September 1999

Ivan Sache, 25 December 2002

As a consequence of Chambord's last will (though not expressly stated in it), the Legitimist support went over to the nearest senior line by primogeniture -- not the Orléans but the descendants of Louis XIV grandson, Philip, Duke of Anjou, i.e. King Philip V of Spain -- the elder member of which was John, Count of Montizon, who had abdicated his claim as Carlist King to his elder son, Charles, Duke of Madrid. The current claimant of this line is HRH Louis-Alphonse, Duke of Anjou and Cadiz.

Santiago Dotor, 26 December 2002

The 'Constitution of 1875'

In 1875, discussions on a draft of Constitution started. On 29 January 1875, Deputy Laboulaye (center-right) proposed an amendment introducing the word République, which had been carefully omitted from the first draft. The amendment was rejected. On 30 January 1875, Deputy Wallon (center-right) proposed an additional article stating that Le président de la République est élu par le Sénat et par la Chambre. (The President of the Republic shall be elected by the Senate and the Chamber.) The Wallon amendment was adopted by one vote of majority (353/352).
The law on Senate (24 February 1875) was completed by the laws on the authorities (25 February & 16 July), and the organic laws on the election of Deputees (2 August 1875) and senators (30 November 1875). The 1875 laws were eventually put together and improperly labelled 'Constitution de 1875'.

The executive power should be exercised by the President of the Republic, irresponsible, elected for seven years by the Congress (Deputies and Senators). The President should appoint the Ministers, propose the laws, and could dissolve the Chamber. He should be the Head of the Army, receive the Ambassadors, and ratify the treaties. He could exercise the presidential pardon.

The legislative power should be exercised by the Senate and the Chamber (of Deputees). There should be 300 Senators, over 40-year old, 225 of them being elected for nine years by specific colleges constituted of General Councillors and Municipal Delegates. Senate elctions should take place every three years for one-third of the seats. The 75 remaining Senators, the inamovibles (irremovables), should be elected for life first by the Assembly, then by the Senate itself. The Deputees, over 25-year old, should be elected for four years by universal suffrage.
The two Chambers should vote the laws and the budget. The Senate could be upgraded into a High Court of Justice to try the President or Ministers on behalf of the Chamber if necessary.

In June 1879, the Constitution was amended in a more Republican direction. The Chambers were brought back from Versailles to Paris, the Chamber of Deputees being relocated in Palais-Bourbon and the Senate in Palace of Luxembourg. The 14 July was officially established as National Day and celebrated for the first time in 1880.

The 'Constitution of 1875' established a parliamentary system dominated by the political parties, and the effective powers of the President of the Republic were very limited.

Source: C. Salles. La IIIe République, à ses débuts : 1870-1893. Histoire de France Illustrée (Larousse, 1988)

Ivan Sache, 16 December 2001

The end of the Third Republic

In spite of its weakness and shortcomings, the 'Constitution of 1875' lasted until 1940. Following the disastrous defeat of 1940 against Germany, the two Chambers met in Vichy on 10 July 2001. Marshal Pétain received the full powers and was asked to propose a new Constitution by 569 of the 666 voters (80 voted no and 17 did not vote).

Source: P. Masson. La France en guerre, du Front populaire à la victoire : 1936-1945. Histoire de France Illustrée (Larousse, 1988).

Ivan Sache, 25 December 2002

The last Tricolor flag in Paris in 1940

On 14 June 1940, the German flag was hoisted in Paris over the Arc de Triomphe, but the French Tricolore flag was still hoisted over the siege of PFG (Pompes Funèbres Générales), located boulevard Richard-Lenoir (close to Bastille square). It seems it was the last Tricolor flag which flew in Paris in 1940.
The flag was first half-staffed, then quickly removed. PFG supply director, M. Lafont, a former cavalry officer, preserved the flag and placed it in his office. A group of German officers entered once Lafont's office for an order, and left without any comment. The Tricolor flag remained in Lafont's office until the end of the war.
On 19 August 1944, during the last fights for the liberation of Paris, Lafont hoisted again the flag in spite of the danger.

Source: PFG website (in French)

Ivan Sache, 16 December 2001