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Third Republic 1879-1893 - Republican Ascendancy

The "Great Depression" of 1873-96 proved that economies could grow despite deflation. It is important to note that during this period the global industrial production greatly increased. In the US for example, industrial output increased 4 times. Unlike the 1930s' global depression, growth in the late 19th century "Long Depression" was maintained. The Long Depression began with the collapse of the Vienna Stock Exchange and spreads throughout the world. These economic problems in Europe prompt the Panic of 1873 and the failure of Jay Cooke & Company, the largest bank in the US, bursting the post-Civil War speculative bubble.

Some historians do not believe it was actually one large recession.The combination in 1873-96 of rapid technological change, huge productivity gains and an increasingly globalised market sustained the 19th-century Great Depression. Causitive factors included the general fall of customs duties (1860s), territorial unifications (1834-52, 1861), lowering transportation costs, such as the Suez Canal opening (1867), Russian railways from Ukraine to the Black Sea, Americam Transcontinental railways, Steamship Mediterranean, Atlantic and Indian regular routes. The result was a collapse in primary-goods prices, producing a general crisis in 1873. Cheap wheat imports (from Russia and US) pushed European peasants [whose costs were higher] out of the market, and the emigration of European peasants to America produced a further decline in landlords' rents.

Instead of controversies about political freedom, the fight for economic security became the focus of public discord. The consequences were the advance of the Leviathan state, the growing dependence of economic agencies on state aid. and the intensification of nationalism. The inversion in prices ended only in 1896, due largely to monetary causes (Alaska gold and Nevada silver).

An unmistakable republican, Jules Grevy, enjoyed the entire confidence of the Chamber as President. Still further strengthened by the elections of 1881, the republicans undertook a number of reforms. Among these, the government undertook a series of measures with a view of freeing the schools from the influence of the clergy, who were accused of undermining the loyalty of the children to the republic.

After the fall of MacMahon, the Opportunists remained for many years the dominant fraction in the Republican party, but as they did not comprise a majority of the Chamber, the ministers were drawn from more than one group. The combinations were, of course, constantly changing, and as a matter of fact, the successive cabinets became less and less conservative, and yielded more and more to the demands of the Extreme Left. In France by far the most determined and energetic parties were the Clericals, or ardent supporters of the church, on the Right, and the Radicals on the Left ; the people of less extreme views not having the same passionate convictions.

George Benjamin Eugene Clemenceau was born September 28th, 1841, at Mouilleron-en-Pareds (Vendee). At an early age he commenced the study of his chosen profession (medicine) at Kantes, continuing it subsequently at Paris, where he developed strong political tendencies, and soon became well known among the young Republicans of the Capital. At this period he also contributed to a number of ephemeral journals, published in the "Latin Quarter." Pursued by the Imperial police, he quitted Paris and came to the United States, where he remained for several years, marrying and making his home at Hartford, Conn.

Clemenceau returned to France in 1870. Clemenceau's natural inclinations led him into politics. During the Franco-Prussian War and the siege of Paris, Clemenceau was Mayor of Montmartre. On the 8th of February 1871 Clemenceau was elected as a Radical to the National Assembly for the department of the Seine, and voted against the peace preliminaries. From 1871 to 1875 he was a member of the Paris Municipal Council, of which he became President. In 1876 Clemenceau was elected member from Montmartre in the Chamber of Deputies, where he became leader of the Radicals. He joined the Extreme Left, and his energy and mordant eloquence speedily made him the leader of the Radical section. Clemenceau soon became known for eloquence and independence of action. Clemenceau followed no leader but himself.

Some men called him "an undisciplined vandal" who was making a reputation as an upsetter of other men's careers. His political power was increased by his journalistic activities. In 1880 he founded La Justice, a daily paper with which he destroyed the Broglie administration, overthrew Boulanger, caused the fall of Jules Grevy and Jules Ferry and wrecked the position of M. de Freycinet at least three times.

Clémenceau's great distinction was his unwavering opposition to a policy of imperialism. It was he who more than any man deterred France from joining England in her Egyptian campaign. He was the inveterate enemy of M. Ferry, whom he relentlessly pursued and ultimately overthrew for his policy of Asiatic expansion. His antipathy to foreign expeditions was usually attributed quite as much to his distrust of Germany as to any humanitarian objections to making war on colored races. With him the memory of the Terrible Year was still vivid. From the outset of his career in the French Parliament he was the bitter opponent of the Royalists.

The death of the son of Napolean III in 1879 was a fatal blow to the already declining hopes of the Bonapartists, and the death of the childless count of Chambord in 1883 left the legitimist faction without a head. The Count of Paris was grandson of Louis Philippe, "King of the French," 1830-1848. He was a claimant to the French crown, but was driven into exile by the Revolution of 1848. In 1861 he came to the United States and served a campaign under McClellan in the Civil War. Later he wrote an able history of that great struggle. In 1873 he acknowledged the Comte de Chambord as the representative of the royal house of France, but on the death of that person in 1883 he united in himself the claims of both branches of the Bourbon claimants. By act of June 16, 1885, members of families that have reigned in France were debarred from becoming President, and this remains the only formal disqualification for that office. The Count of Paris was forced to leave France in 1886 by reason of the Expulsion Act. A few Orleanists clung to their candidate, the Count of Paris, until his death in 1894, but the elections of the preceding year, which resulted in the choice of only seventy-three royalist deputies - legitimists, Orleanists, and Bonapartists - had shown that France was at last irrevocably committed to the republic.

The death of Gambetta in 1881 left the republicans, who naturally split up into several factions, without any distinguished leader. Politics followed the old course, and there passed across the stage a series of short-lived ministries, none of which lasted more than a year, except one formed by Ferry in February, 1883.

During the early eighties there sprang up a flourishing group which, reviving the original program of Gambetta, assumed the name Radical, and in the elections of 1885 this group acquired such a quota of seats in the Chamber (150) as to render it impossible for the Republicans alone to retain control. Thereafter there were three principal party groups-the Conservatives and the two republican groups, the Republicans proper and the Radicals. No one of the three being sufficiently strong to obtain a majority which would enable it to rule alone, the politics of a long succession of years turned upon the adoption of one or the other of two lines of tactics-the coalition of the two republican divisions to the end that they might rule as against a Conservative minority (the so- called policy of "republican concentration"), and the allying of one of these groups with the Right against the other Republican group (spoken of commonly as a "pacification"). The first "concentration" ministry was that of Brisson, formed in March, 1885; the first "pacification" ministry was that of Rouvier, formed in 1887.

For ten years, from 1883 to 1893, Clémenceau was regarded as the master and maker of ministries in France. As a Deputy in the French Chamber, he was prominent during the administrations of Gambetta (1882), Ferry (1885), and Brisson (1886); active against Boulanger in 1885. Clemenceau's policy was a consistent but radical Republicanism; he stood for a realization of what the Revolution had hoped for and dreamed of. He was opposed to the alliance with Russia, determined that his country should not be joined in. close friendship with a despotic power, unceasingly upheld the complete separation of Church and State, and urged the development of French resources.

Party discipline had never been strict, for although the of personal various groups were in the habit of holding caucuses to decide upon their attitude in regard to questions pending in the Chambers, such determinations had not been absolutely binding, and the members of a group rarely voted as a unit. But the lack of discipline had been increasing. Moreover, the groups themselves had been subdividing and multiplying until they ceased so thoroughly to represent intelligible principles that personal interest became the real basis of union. At the same time a feeling began to arise that the groups were responsible for the bad working of parliamentary government, and after the elections of 1885 many deputies refused to join any organization at all. The breaking up of the groups was followed, not by the formation of great parties, but by the growth of innumerable personal cliques whose political opinions were often ill-defined. The result was that the cabinets had no policy.

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