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The Third French Republic 1871-1914

Alan Farmer shows how the Republic survived the threat from the Right before the First World War.

The Right

There is not enough space to get bogged down in a definition of 'right'. In general, in the 1870-1914 period, it favoured strong government, from a monarch or popular president. It tended to support, and had the support of, the Catholic Church. It was also nationalistic. Many of its adherents were men of wealth and social position but its support extended to all levels of society. It had been in power almost continuously between 1815 and 1870.

Democratic Weakness

Democracy was far from securely based in 1870. For the previous two decades most Frenchmen, particularly the peasantry who comprised over 60 per cent of the population, had seemingly approved of Napoleon III's authoritarian government. Napoleon's popularity perished in the military disaster of the Franco-Prussian War. After his surrender at Sedan in September 1870, the mob took to the streets of Paris and a Republic, the third in French history, was proclaimed. A Government of National Defence was established, led by Republicans who had been opposed to Napoleon. The new government hoped to inspire the same national effort which had liberated France from her enemies in 1792. It failed. The German siege of Paris tightened and on 28 January 1871 France agreed armistice terms.

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