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The Paris Commune

The Paris Commune of 1871, which ended with the most ferocious outbreak of civil violence in 19th century Europe, is still a subject of intense historical interest and controversy.

Barricades during the Paris Commune, near the Place de la Concorde.Before daybreak on March 18th 1871, several thousand cold and miserable French troops trudged up the steep streets of Montmartre, the hill overlooking northern Paris, to capture by surprise hundreds of cannon parked on the summit by dissident units of the Paris National Guard, the citizen militia. Seizing these heavy weapons was to be the first step towards reimposing the national government's authority on the unruly capital. Since the beginning of the war with Germany the previous July, which had led to a four-month siege of the city, Parisians had become increasingly disaffected from their rulers. The end of the war had left Paris ungovernable, as most of the regular army was demobilised while the National Guard kept its guns. The newly elected National Assembly, which had a royalist majority, was far away in Bordeaux. The government it appointed, led by Adolphe Thiers, intended to assert its authority over Paris. The Montmartre expedition was the outcome.

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