Fance After 1871 Essay, Research Paper
In the following paragraphs I will be discussing France after it’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian war; the constitution, divisions in government, threats to the people’s faith in their rulers, and the economy. France began this era at considerable disadvantage because of the war and Bismarck’s policy of isolation, which greatly hindered it’s attempts to regain it’s prosperity and it’s influence in European affairs.
France after the Franco-Prussian war was in both economic and political crises. In the treaty of Frankfurt she had agreed to pay 5 billion francs in reparations to Germany to allow a German army of occupation to remain there until the debts were paid. She had surrendered the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine to Germany, and had agreed to allow a triumphant German army to march through the streets of Paris in return for allowing France to keep the town of Belfort, in Alsace. The people of France were poor, humiliated and disillusioned with the government that had allowed the demise of their country.
Furthermore, Bismarck’s policy of isolation made it almost impossible for France to form alliances within Europe which would help her to regain some of her former power.
The people of France were resentful towards Germany and the government was more inclined to focus on a war of revenge than the rebuilding of the country.
These were the terms under which the third French republic began so it is not surprising that it’s reign was to be short-lived.
Adolphe Thiers, a liberal monarchist, was head of the national assembly. Communes were established all over the country to represent each of the towns in the assembly , and the first real threat to the 3rd French republic came about as a result of this. The Parisians believed that the new bourgeois government was failing to recognise the special position of the people of Paris, who had just undergone a four-month siege. Revolution broke out in march 1871, supported by workers and lesser bourgeoisie. In may of that year the revolution ended, a failure because of lack of support outside Paris. As a result, Paris was placed under martial law and restrictions were enforced in the larger cities of France. This reaction to the Paris commune showed how most people in France felt at that time – they were determined to preserve the old conservative way of life and did not seem interested in creating a new France.
Since the revolution eighty years earlier France had been a republic twice, a kingdom, and an empire. in 1871 the monarchists were still predominant in the national assembly. However, they were divided into three separate factions – which was to be their downfall.
In the elections of 1871 the republicans succeeded in gaining a majority, yet it was not until the 1875 that a number of constitutional laws were agreed upon, which provided for a chamber of deputies – a senate – whilst the president still held executive power.
The new constitution did not provide stability in the French government however. Political parties were not strictly organised, voting was not on party lines, and the chamber could only be dissolved every four years, regardless of the number of governments overthrown within that time. The average life of a government was ten months.
The reign of the third French republic was
Threatened by incidents such as the Boulanger crisis in 1889. General Georges Boulanger, minister for war, attracted a huge following of French people from the army and right wing groups due to his political skills and his policy of revenge against Germany. The senate were alarmed by the level of support he had attracted and were afraid that he would instigate a war with the German empire, which would devastate France – he was dismissed from his position. This caused outrage amongst his followers and Boulanger could have taken this opportunity to seize power and establish a totalitarian state in France. Due to his cowardice, however, the opportunity passed and Boulangerism fizzled out with his suicide, on his lover’s grave, in 1891. The incident showed the tenuous hold that the Government had in France. The right had used the incident as an opportunity to unnerve the government and the left had hoped that Boulanger would improve their economic and social conditions.
The Panama scandal rocked the third French republic in 1892 and proved that even cabinet ministers can be corrupt; a plan to establish a canal, passing through all of Europe was put into action. However it eventually surfaced that the leader of the project, a prominent government official, had been accepting bribes. The work was discontinued (it had been a losing battle against mountains and hard rock from the beginning) and the faith of the French people in their new government was shaken. Because the project’s leader was Jewish it also created anti-Jewish feelings in the country which helped to create the climate for the next scandal, the Dreyfus affair.
Alfred Dreyfus was a member of the army – he was the subject of a lot of distrust because of his taciturn personality and his Jewish-alsatian background. When it was discovered that someone had been delivering secret information to the Germans he fell under immediate suspicion . He was tried and found guilty, on the strength of the handwriting on a note, and sentenced to spend 20 years on Devil’s island. The incident divided the people of France into Dreyfusards and Anti-Dreyfusards and when he was eventually cleared of all charges this split amongst the people was deepened. The Dreyfus affair which dragged on for more than twelve years further revealed the precarious position of the republic, and the deep divisions in French society. Whether Dreyfus was guilty or not was forgotten and the affair became a battleground. The military claimed that the prestige of the army was more important than justice for the individual. The crisis was of profound importance in French politics and nearly caused a civil war – which would have been welcomed in Berlin.
The third French republic was to face a continual threat from the left. This meant a series of industrial strikes and considerable social unrest in the late 1870s. French agriculture also suffered and the years 1875 – 1885 were especially disastrous for the French wine industry. Yet the fact that the French were able to pay off the 5 billion francs war indemnity to Germany by 1873 proves how healthy the French economy was in reality. It has been suggested that one of the factors for this was the high financial investment abroad. While such financial commitments DID lead France into serious difficulties such as happened in the Panama scandal, in many ways the interest in foreign affairs helped to distract Frenchmen from the humiliation of their defeat in 1870 and the instability at home.
In conclusion, France after 1871 was at a huge disadvantage in the face of the challenge of rebuilding the country. Unstable government, fluctuating support from the people, corruption, and the consequences of the Franco-Prussian war were all obstacles in the path of the country’s progression, however they came out of the post-war years relatively financially unshaken, with the reparations paid off, and the economy almost healthy.