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1873-1879 Maurice de MacMahon

In May 1873 a majority vote in the Assembly condemned Thiers's policy, and he thereupon resigned, leaving the government in the hands of the monarchists, who chose Marshal MacMahon as president and formed a coalition ministry representing Orleanists, legitimists, and Bonapartists under the leadership of the Duke of Broglie, a member of the Orleanist group. By family traditions which carried his descent back to Stuarts and Bourbons, and by the influence of his marriage with a fervently Catholic lady, the Marshal who governed France for the next six years was a Legitimist.

The various monarchist parties now agreed to combine for the purpose of overthrowing the republic. The large cities, especially Paris, were placed under martial law, republicans were dismissed from government positions, and the clergy exhorted to use their influence in the cause of monarchy. In spite of these measures, when elections were held to fill vacancies in the Assembly, republican candidates were chosen for the most part, and the monarchists saw that they must arrange a compromise if they wished to restore the monarchy. Accordingly the Orleanists and legitimists agreed that the count of Chambord should be recognized as Henry V, and that since he had no children he should be succeeded by the count of Paris, the candidate of the Orleanists. But the Orleanists, turned to the Bonapartists and republicans with a proposition to prolong the term of Marshal MacMahon as president of the republic until 1880.

Having declared, when elected "President of the Republic, that "existing institutions were outside criticism," MacMahon had not the slightest intention of making himself the tool of a Monarchist coalition and of a conspiracy. What he did accept on the other hand was the task, compatible (as he thought) with the form of a Republic, of ensuring the success of the Ultramontane party which formed the majority in the National Assembly. Supported by Orleanists like M. de Broglie, the head designate of his first Ministry, by Bonapartists such as Magne, by Legitimists like Ernoul and du Barail, all united by one common desire, to deliver the future of French social life, bound hand and foot, to the interests and prescriptive rights of the Roman Church. Under his rule the religious question took the leading place for several years among the problems of the Government which the Assembly had put in the place of M. Thiers to prevent him from organising a Republic.

The head of the Church, Pius IX, in a solemn statement called the Syllabus of 1864, had denounced in no uncertain terms what he regarded as the great dangers and errors of the age. Among these were religious toleration, liberty of conscience, freedom of the press and of speech, separation of Church and State, and secular education. The republicans were pledged to just those things which the Pope condemned. It was inevitable, therefore, that the clerical party should do all in its power to discredit the republic and bring about a restoration of the monarchy. The religious newspapers represented the republic as an unfortunate accident which had put ungodly men in power but which would doubtless speedily give way to a more legitimate form of government.

The deputies of the Left Center in the Assembly, the men of a cnservative Republic, reasserted the authority which in the fall of Thiers they had all but lost. Between an Assembly as conservative and as Catholic as themselves, and a republican nation as desirous as themselves of education, tolerance and freedom of thought, these men, alike religious and liberal, represented the only force left that could make for conciliation. Furthermore, when in the summer of 1874 the menace of Caesarism began to take definite shape, the Liberal Monarchists, who had combined with the Republicans under the Empire and in the Coalition of 1863, began to desert the Right Center and return to their former allies; and with them came even some Legitimists.

On January 30, 1875, victory crowned the men of the Left Centre by a majority of one. It was to all appearance a very modest victory, an indirect affirmation of the fact that the chief of the executive power, being President of the Republic, was to hold office for seven years and be elected by two Chambers. At last the constitution was adopted, and early in 1876 the first Senate and Chamber of Deputies were elected; the former being still controlled by the Right, while in the latter the majority was Republican by more than two to one. The strength and character of the various Republican groups in the Chamber of Deputies was, however, very different from what it had been in the Assembly, for the Extreme Left, which had controlled only a few seats there, had grown very much in size, and took the name of "Republican Union" to distinguish it from a new group that had been formed still farther to the Left. To the Republicans belonged the Radical Extreme Left of Gambetta, the Left of Grevy, Freyclnet, and Loubet, and the Center Left of Thiers and Jules Simon.

Gambetta had formerly passed for an extremist, but was now accused by the theoretical Radicals of adapting his policy to circumstances, and striving for what was attainable rather than for the ideal principles of the Republic. For this reason they styled him an "Opportunist," a name that was soon applied to the party of which he was the chief. During the period that now began, the most important of the Republican groups in the Chamber of Deputies were the Left Center, the Republican Left, the Republican Union, the Radical Left, and the Extreme Left.

President MacMahon, as the head of a parliamentary government, felt obliged to select his ministers from the Republican majority in the Chamber, and shortly after the election he appointed a new cabinet drawn entirely from the Left Center. This ministry was certainly homogeneous, but as its immediate followers in the Left Center were a small fraction of the Deputies, it could not count on the support of a majority and finding itself beaten by the Left in the Chamber and by the Right in the Senate, it resigned in less than a year.

The cabinet was reconstructed on the same lines under Jules Simon, who might have stood a better chance had not MacMahon himself become alarmed at the spread of radical opinions. The President reproached his minister with lack of firmness about the proposed laws on the press, and on his resignation appointed a new cabinet, composed largely of Monarchists, with the Duc de Broglie at their head. This was clearly a violation of the parliamentary principle, and the members of the Republican groups at once rose in a protest. By his course the President had opened a wide gulf between the Monarchists and the Republicans. He had made it impossible for the men of moderate views in the two parties to unite. the Republicans were firmly convinced that the President intended to restore the monarchy, and he on his part believed equally strongly that the success of his opponents meant the triumph of radicalism and the ruin of the country.

Marshal MacMahon, found himself unable to work in harmony with the deputies, and in 1879, MacMahon resigned and was succeeded by an unmistakable republican, Jules Grevy, who enjoyed the entire confidence of the Chamber.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:58:38 ZULU