French Legitimists and the Politics of Moral Order in the Early Third Republic

French Legitimists and the Politics of Moral Order in the Early Third Republic

by Robert R. Locke


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Traditionally, the legitimists of early Third Republican Prance have been dismissed as historical anachronisms. To arrive at a fuller understanding of these men, Robert R. Locke has used French public archives, libraries, and previously ignored private sources to investigate the divine right monarchists and the nature of their protest.

Professor Locke concentrates on two hundred legitimists in the National Assembly of 1871. He identifies the legitimists socially and occupationally, and evaluates their response to such problems of modernization as industrialization, urbanization, bureaucratization. and democratization. The author analyzes legitimist ideas within the context of the immediate historical situation, and contrasts the social-economic background and mentality of the legitimists with that of other French and European monarchists.

Far from being anachronisms, the legitimists of Professor Locke's study emerge as men of diverse social-economic origins who frequently accepted economic change and innovation—men who wanted to restore the old monarchy, but not necessarily the old regime. Their characteristics, the author shows, have an affinity with those of all groups who try to uphold traditional beliefs in a changing world.

Originally published in 1974.

The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback and hardcover editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691618654
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 03/08/2015
Series: Princeton Legacy Library , #1509
Pages: 334
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.60(d)

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French Legitimists and the Politics of Moral Order in the Early Third Republic

By Robert R. Locke


Copyright © 1974 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-05215-1



The history of the election of February 8, 1871, which chose the deputies on whom this study is based, begins with the reanimation of French political life during the last few years of the Second Empire. After antagonizing much of the Right by his Italian and his trade policies, Napoleon III sought to rebuild the foundation of his dynasty on a popular basis by progressively liberalizing his regime. The powers of the Legislative Corps were increased vis-à-vis the executive. The Legislative Corps was authorized to elect its own officers, to debate the "discourse from the throne," to initiate laws, to vote the budget by chapter; and each member was permitted to question the government in the Chamber. At the same time, elections to the Legislative Corps were gradually freed from some of the worst abuses of Napoleonic authoritarianism. The radical republican exiles were allowed to return to France (1862); the government's close surveillance over the press was relaxed (1868); and the electorate was granted much freer rights of public assembly (1868). In addition, the imperial government sought the support of the industrial workers whose ranks had been rapidly augmented as a result of the unprecedented industrial expansion after 1851. Before 1864 disgruntled workers had been fairly well silenced by the heavy penalties that they incurred if they attempted to organize "a concerted cessation of work." In that year, however, the Emperor signed a law that granted the worker the right to strike. Although its terms were menacingly ambiguous (a strike could only be legal if it did not "infringe upon the free exercise of industry and the right to work,"), the working classes seemed, for the first time, to have a government that would not invariably take the position of the employer in a labor dispute.

If Louis Napoleon sincerely hoped to induce liberals to rally to his Empire and to pacify the workers he was to be profoundly disappointed. A few liberal republicans accepted the Empire, but radicals of Gambetta's stripe and the nineteenth century equivalent of the sans culottes — Blanquists, Proudhonists, and Marxists — remained irreconcilably republican. As for the workers, they seized on their new found freedoms to express their dissatisfaction. The liberalization of the regime, therefore, unleashed forces of popular discontent that had been pent up for more than a decade. During the years that preceded the Empire's collapse, strikes and radical political agitation became a normal part of the national scene, and the tempo of these disturbances augmented as the regime neared its unsuspected end. The year 1868 brought the great strikes at Roubaix and Decazeville, the summer and fall of 1869 the strikes of the miners in Rive-de-Gier and Carmaux, of the textile workers at Pellusin, Elboeuf, and Rouen, and of the carpenters in Vienne. In January 1870 a strike began in Le Creusot that dragged on intermittently into spring, spread to the neighboring ironworks in Fourchambault, and had repercussions in the industrial basin of St-Etienne. In March of the same year the textile workers in Le Havre, Sotteville, and Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray went out on strike. In effect, just three weeks before the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War the industrial world was in full ferment. As one anxious journalist wrote, "it was a tidal wave: for the single day June 24 there were strikes of various trades in Marseilles, Rouen, Fourchambault, Vienne, Lyons, Givors, Saint-Etienne, Rive-de-Gier [not to mention the most seriously affected area of all, Haut-Rhin]." Concurrently, in the legislative elections of May 1869, the nation experienced the impact of a democratic electoral campaign, replete with the broad dissemination of electoral literature and the holding of mass electoral meetings. César Berthelon in St-Etienne and Raspail in Paris, both of whom had been exiled in 1852, made their reentry into political life. The young radical journalist Rochefort announced his candidacy in the capital. At Belleville Gambetta stated his famous manifesto that stood as a byword for French radicalism for more than a quarter of a century: complete freedom of assembly and the press; separation of Church and state; free, obligatory, lay, primary education; the election of all public officials; and "economic reforms which touch on the social problem, whose solution ... must be constantly studied and sought after in the name of the principles of justice and social equality." The feverish excitement which the radical campaign generated in the popular quarters of Paris and other big cities, the election of Adolphe Cremieux, Raspail, and Gambetta, and Rochefort's narrow loss in the Latin Quarter (to a republican) demonstrated conclusively that the revolutionary Left had reemerged as a major factor in French politics. Leftist political activities, moreover, did not stop after the legislative elections of 1869. Success at the polls and the realization that the industrial world was in turmoil spurred social democrats and radical republicans into a relentless campaign against the regime. The months that followed the May elections were trying ones for the Empire's supporters. The political agitation in the big cities and the industrial strikes reached such an intensity in the winter of 1869–1870 that they produced what one prominent historian has called a "climate of revolution" in the country.

Thus France went to war in July 1870 against this background of political agitation and social unrest. This might have been of little immediate importance had the imperial armies won but they suffered irremediable reverses which, in turn, brought the Revolution of September 4 and the proclamation of the Republic. The heroic but tragic history of the period of national defense will not be recounted, but it is important to stress the connection between war and domestic politics. Although most Frenchmen responded to the call to national defense with patriotic enthusiasm, their patriotism was too often interpreted in terms of narrow partisanship. Most of the militant urban Left, the social democrats, would have seconded the opinion of a prominent member of the International who said, on September 4, that the "two great duties" of the revolutionaries were "the surveillance of the forces of reaction, within, and the defense of Paris against the enemy, without." And radical republicans, if not interested in the social ideas of Blanquists, Proudhonists, Bakuninites, or Marxists, were no less partisan about the war. In the best Jacobin tradition, they believed that the conflict could be won only if it were waged "revolutionarily," that is, by a levée en masse carried out under their leadership. They would not have admitted that they subordinated the interests of national defense to their own political goals, yet they never separated the national from the political question. Partisanship and national interests merged in their minds.

As a result, the radical republican minority in the new government sought to impose its solution on the problems raised by national defense. Gambetta, as minister of the interior in the provisional government, installed "proven republicans" in his administration and dissolved, as centers "of every Bonapartist conspiracy," the monarchist-dominated general and municipal councils that had been chosen during the Second Empire. The radicals consistently opposed armistice negotiations and general elections, for they feared that the ballots of the conservative peasantry would swamp the urban republican vote (as they had in 1849, 1869, and 1870) and undo the Revolution of September 4. In most large cities, moreover, social democratic clubs met on a regular basis to debate the conduct of the war, and in some they managed, during the confusion that accompanied the fall of the Empire, to gain control of the municipal government. This was true in Lyons, where the local social democrats established a committee of public safety and declared a commune (symbolically the red flag flew over the Lyonnais Hôtel de ville from September 4 until the end of the war); in Marseilles, where a civic guard "composed primarily of workers who were members of the International" had chased imperial civil and departmental authorities from office on September 5; and in Toulouse, where Jacobin extremists took over the municipal government as well as the government of the department of Haute-Garonne. In Paris, as early as September 4, the Federal Council of the International decided to establish "a committee with members in every district [of the capital] whose function would be to supervise, or at least investigate, the actions of government officials." The International's organizational efforts were by no means exceptional, for other groups, professing a similar distrust of the "reactionaries," established watchdog committees of their own in various districts in the city. Indeed they soon amalgamated so that by September 11 the social democrats, like their counterparts in Russia in 1917, had created executive committees representing the various districts of Paris that constituted a rudimentary government within the capital independent of the regular communal administration.

In the chaos of revolution and invasion, radical republicans and social democrats served notice that they intended to combine patriotism with partisan politics. The period of national defense was punctuated by a number of revolutionary "days" that take their place in the rhetoric of French revolutionary history. Most of the disturbances occurred after news of military defeat aroused the suspicion that the "reactionaries" were selling out the nation in order to crush the revolution at home. After Bazaine's surrender at Metz (October 30), for example, units of the revolutionary National Guard in Paris, whose leaders demanded a radicalization of the government's policies, besieged Hôtel de ville, and almost toppled the shaky provisional government. Similar disturbances occurred in St-Etienne, where a "mob" succeeded in temporarily raising the red flag over city hall, and in Marseilles, where the revolutionary-minded civic guard, after deposing the government's officials, proclaimed a commune that reigned for three days over France's second city before Gambetta's talented commissure extraordinaire Alphonse Gent could reestablish the government's control over the situation. These revolutionary "days" were only the more spectacular manifestation of the persistent discontent that emanated from the working class quarters of the bigger cities between September 1870 and February 1871. Throughout the war, as one of Gambetta's men in Lyons anxiously noted, "we lived in constant alarm. We were on the brink of a disturbance everyday." The war therefore did not bring a respite in the left-wing political and social agitation that emerged at the end of the Second Empire. Radical republicans and social democrats, who had fought the Empire, continued to struggle after September 4, to make sure that the Republic assumed the political and social form they desired. Their efforts also continued after the armistice. In effect, the Commune was the denouement of the revolutionary drama that had begun months before the outbreak of the conflict. It, not the war, was the real dividing point in the domestic history of France.

If democratic discontent was a dominant theme in domestic French history during these turbulent months, anxiety about this discontent was its counterpart. Perhaps the intensity of the fear was best expressed by a legitimist deputy at Versailles who wrote at the height of the Commune, "there are those who totally fail to see that social war is declared that the antagonism between those who possess and those who have nothing is ever growing, that it is our lives, our families, our possessions which are menaced as they have never been before." But if fear of social revolution had been most pronounced during this civil war, it was not a feeling that was born with the outbreak of the insurrection. Radical political agitation and labor strife had convinced a large number of social conservatives of all political nuances at the end of the Empire that, in the words of the ultramontane Catholic deputy Charles Chesnelong, they should try "to regroup a nexus of social energies, of conservative forces, around the Empire in order to combat, by this league of public good, the coalitions of passions, hates, and revolutionary designs [in the country]." The Empire's demise, therefore, was hardly greeted with enthusiasm by men of order. The Revolution of September 4, Gambetta's appointment as minister of the interior, his installation of "proven" republicans in his administration, and, above all, the popular disturbances in the cities throughout the conflict deepened their concern with the threat of social revolution. Many believed that the radical republican plan to wage a popular war threatened to destroy society more than the invading Germans, for they felt that an indiscriminate arming of the restless urban "mobs" would lead, as one anxious conservative put it, to the "moral" disintegration of the army and to "civil war." However, this emphasis on counterrevolution was more concealed during the war than in other periods of domestic turmoil (as in 1848–1849 for example), for the war itself became the overriding issue in the fall and winter of 1870–1871. Yet the concern with anarchy and revolution that gripped conservatives determined to a very large extent their attitudes toward the war. They were outraged at the prospect of a dismemberment of the nation, and, in addition, many were reluctant to yield in what they considered a life and death struggle between Protestant Prussia and Catholic France. But as the war ground hopelessly on toward defeat, and as the country, in their eyes, seemed increasingly subject to revolutionary anarchy, more and more conservatives began to identify peace with their cause. "Peace will be hard," one monarchist noted in a typical statement, "but as an alternative there exists what has been called the red specter which for me is not a spectre de théâtre but a very real enemy, well armed, a great deal better organized than is supposed, and which is preparing for a veritable jacquerie." Thus the Commune confirmed the darkest foreboding that social conservatives had felt in France since 1869. Their hysterical reaction to events in Paris formed a set piece with their uneasiness about labor strife and political discord at the end of the Empire and their alarm about domestic events during the war.

It was against this background of fairly rigid polarized revolutionary and counterrevolutionary opinion that Frenchmen engaged in electoral affairs in 1871. Elections were crucial contests because many Frenchmen believed that this elemental struggle would be decided on their outcome. The electoral confrontation, moreover, did not reflect the "normal" political divisions in France, for conservatives of all nuances tended to form a "party of order" against radical republicans and social democrats. There was nothing unprecedented about such electoral behavior. After the June Days of 1848, the apparition of the red specter had led to a suspension of political antagonisms among conservatives, as, in the words of the manifesto issued by the central conservative committee, men of all parties "united in a common defense of a menaced society." Moreover, the reawakening of fears of the revolutionary Left prevented anti-Bonapartist conservatives from pressing their attacks against the government's candidates in the legislative elections of 1869. There had been a plan for republicans, liberal monarchists, and legitimists to cooperate in the event of runoff elections but the success of the radicals on the first balloting, "carried out in the glittering arena of Paris and the other big cities," so frightened the monarchists that they quickly forgot any ideas they might have entertained about allying with republicans, even moderate ones. When forced to choose between a republican or a Bonapartist "the liberal conservatives and above all the legitimists voted for the official candidate [the Bonapartist] or abstained." This tendency to subordinate dynastic convictions to a common fear of revolution was reinforced during the May plebiscite. The presence of active and noisy revolutionaries and the prevalence of industrial strikes contributed once again to the consolidation of a counterrevolutionary party. Republicans stayed in opposition, but legitimists, liberal monarchists, and nondynastic Catholics voted overwhelmingly in the Empire's favor, because its preservation was, in their opinion, the best bulwark against the revolution. Before the Empire had disappeared, therefore, concern about the red specter had pushed social conservatives toward electoral union, and after its fall the desire for peace and order prompted them to form the broad conservative coalition which emerged in the election of February 8, 1871.


Excerpted from French Legitimists and the Politics of Moral Order in the Early Third Republic by Robert R. Locke. Copyright © 1974 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents

  • Frontmatter, pg. i
  • CONTENTS, pg. vii
  • Chapter Four. THE SOCIOLOGY OF MORAL ORDER, pg. 140
  • Chapter Five. AGAINST THE GRAIN, pg. 181
  • Chapter Six. THE ELECTORAL DEFEAT OF 1876, pg. 224
  • Chapter Seven. CONCLUSION, pg. 262
  • APPENDIX, pg. 271
  • BIBLIOGRAPHY, pg. 278
  • INDEX, pg. 309

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