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Third Republic 1871-1873 Adolphe Thiers

The Third French Republic was instituted under circumstances which gave promise of even less stability than had been exhibited by its predecessors of 1793 and 1848. Proclaimed in the dismal days following the disaster at Sedan, it owed its existence, at the outset, to the fact that, with the capture of Napoleon III by the Prussians and the utter collapse of the Empire, there had arisen, as Thiers put it, "a vacancy of power."

A preliminary treaty of peace between France and Germany was made on 26 February 1871. By the terms of that treaty the provisional government acting for France agreed to give up all of German-speaking Lorraine - about half of the province - together with the important fortress of Metz, and the whole of Alsace. Furthermore, France bound herself to pay war damages to the amount of five billion of francs ($1,000,000,000), and in addition a part of the German army was to hold possession of French soil until the debt was discharged.

After the evacuation of Versailles by the Germans the provisional government under Louis-Adolphe Thiers established itself there. Now was to begin the second siege of Paris; Frenchmen fighting against Frenchmen for the possession of the city. The Paris Commune, a revolutionary organization, united with the National Guard. They believed that Thiers and his associates had betrayed their country in making peace with Germany. They closed the gates of Paris, and from that time for more than two months (March 18 to May 21, 1871) an armed force of two hundred thousand men had complete control of the metropolis, which they wished to make practically independent of the provisional government and of the rest of France. On the 21st of May 1871 the government forces under Marshal MacMahon succeeded in entering Paris. The number of killed was estimated at twenty thousand.

There would have been little difficulty in reestablishing the monarchy if the monarchists had not been hopelessly divided among themselves. Some of them, known as the "Legitimists" because they regarded the older Bourbon line as the lawful one, were in favor of bestowing the crown on the count of Chambord, a grandson of Charles X who had been deposed by the Orleanist revolution in 1830. The "Orleanists," who wished to see a restoration of the House of Orleans which had been overthrown in 1848, had a strong candidate in the person of the Count of Paris, a grandson of Louis Philippe. These two groups of monarchists had nothing in common but their opposition to a republic; their hatred of each other was bitter and uncompromising.

When order was finally restored, the organization of the Third Republic was completed by the election of Thiers to the presidency (August 31, 1871). Thiers, who had been an Orleanist, declared himself for the republic. The constitution vested the legislative power in two houses - the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The President of the Republic is elected by the Deputies and Senators. The term of office, originally four, was later changed to seven years. Of the first seven Presidents - Thiers, MacMahon, Grevy (elected twice), Carnot, Casimir-P£rier, and Faure, only the third completed a full term of office.

In the National Assembly, parties elected at the close of the war with Germany, the Right, consisting of Monarchists and a few Bonapartists, had at first a majority, although the subsequent course of events proved that it had no chance of carrying out its own opinions. The members openly in favor of a Republic were in the minority, and were, moreover, divided into three groups: the Extreme Left, with few seats in the Assembly, but many active and enthusiastic partisans outside ; the Left proper, at first the largest of the three groups; and the Left Center, which was not strong at the outset,

The Germans were disappointed in their hope that the indemnity would seriously cripple France, for the first loan of two billion francs was secured in 1871 with ease, and the next year the second loan of three billions was subscribed twelve times over, - thus demonstrating both the patriotism and the credit of the French people. In the autumn of 1873 the amount was paid in full and the last German soldier left the soil of France.

Smarting under the humiliation of their defeat by the Germans, the Assembly passed a new army law modeled upon that of Prussia, which bound every Frenchman to military service for five years in the active service and fifteen years in the reserve force. The frontier defenses were strengthened, the army equipped with the most improved instruments of war, and the war department completely reorganized.

In May 1873 a majority vote in the Assembly condemned Thiers's policy, and he thereupon resigned.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:58:37 ZULU