République Française
French Republic
Flag of France.svg
1870–1940 Flag of France.svg
Flag of France.svg Francecoatofarms1898-2.png
Flag Coat of arms
"Liberté, égalité, fraternité"
"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity"
La Marseillaise
3rd French Republic 1914.png
Capital Paris
Official language French
Religion Catholicism, disestablished 1905
Government Parliamentary republic
 - 1871–1873 Adolphe Thiers
 - 1932–1940 Albert Lebrun
President of the Council of Ministers
 - 1870–1871 Louis Jules Trochu
 - 1940 Philippe Pétain
Legislature Parliament
 - Upper house Senate
 - Lower house Chamber of Deputies
Historical era New Imperialism, World War I, Interwar period, World War II
 - Proclamation by Léon Gambetta 4 September 1870
 - Vichy France established 22 June 1940
Currency Franc (F)
Today part of Flag of France France

The French Third Republic (French:La Troisième République, sometimes written as French:La IIIe République) was the republican government of France from 1870, when the Second French Empire collapsed, to 1940, when it was replaced by the Vichy France government after defeat by Germany in World War II.

The early days of the Third Republic were dominated by the Franco-Prussian War, which the Republic continued to wage after the fall of the Emperor. Harsh reparations exacted by the Prussians after the war resulted in the loss of Alsace-Lorraine, social upheaval and the establishment of the Paris Commune. Early governments of the Third Republic considered re-establishing the monarchy, but confusion of the nature of that monarchy, and who among the various deposed royal families would be awarded the throne caused those talks to stall and made the Third Republic, originally intended to be a transitional government, to become the permanent government of France.

The French Constitutional Laws of 1875 gave the Third Republic its shape and form, consisting of a Chamber of Deputies and a Senate forming the legislature, and a President serving as the head of state. Issues over the re-establishment of the monarchy dominated the Presidency of the first two Presidents, Adolphe Thiers and Patrice de Mac-Mahon, though a series of republican presidents during the 1880s ended any hope of a monarchy. The Third Republic established many French colonial possessions as France acquired French Indochina, Madagascar, French Polynesia, and large territories in West Africa during the Scramble, all acquired during the last two decades of the 19th century. The early years of the 20th century were dominated by the Democratic Republican Alliance, which was originally conceived as a centre-left political alliance, but which came to become the main centre-right party over time. The period from the start of World War I to the late 1930s featured sharply polarized politics, between the Democratic Republican Alliance and the more Radical socialists. The government fell during the early years of World War II, as the Germans occupied France and was replaced by the Vichy government of Philippe Pétain.


The Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871 resulted in the defeat of France, and the overthrow of Emperor Napoleon III and his Second French Empire. After Napoleon's capture by the Prussians in the Battle of Sedan, Parisian Deputies established the Government of National Defence as a provisional government on September 4, 1870. This first Government of the Third Republic, headed by the President, General Louis Jules Trochu, ruled during the Siege of Paris (September 19, 1870 - January 28, 1871). As Paris was cut off from the rest of unoccupied France, the Minister of the Interior, Léon Gambetta, governed the provinces from the city of Tours.

After the French surrender in January 1871, the Government of National Defence disbanded and national elections (excepting the territories occupied by Prussia) to create a new French government took place. The resulting conservative National Assembly elected Adolphe Thiers as head of a provisional government, nominally "chef du pouvoir exécutif de la République en attendant qu'il soit statué sur les institutions de la France" (head of the executive power of the Republic until the institutions of France are decided). Due to the political climate in Paris, the conservative government was based at Versailles.

The new government negotiated the peace settlements with the newly proclaimed German Empire, resulting in the Treaty of Frankfurt, signed on May 10, 1871. To oblige the Prussians to leave France, the government passed a variety of financial laws, such as the controversial Law of Maturities, to pay reparations. In Paris, resentment against the government arose and from April – May 1871 Paris workers and National Guards revolted and established the Paris Commune, which maintained a radical left-wing regime for two months until its bloody suppression by Thiers' government in May 1871. The following repression of the communards would have disastrous consequences for the labor movement.

Prospects of a parliamentary monarchy

France Chambre des deputes 1871

Composition of the national Assembly – 1871

The French legislative election, held in the aftermath of the collapse of the regime of Napoleon III, resulted in a monarchist majority in the French National Assembly, favourable to peace with Prussia. The Legitimists supported the heirs to Charles X, recognising as king his grandson, Henri, Comte de Chambord, alias Henry V. The Orléanist supported the heirs to Louis Philippe I, recognising as king his grandson, Louis-Philippe, Comte de Paris. The Bonapartists were marginalized due to the defeat of Napoléon III. Legitimists and Orléanists came to a compromise, eventually, whereby the childless Comte de Chambord would be recognised as king, with the Comte de Paris recognised as his heir. Consequently, in 1871 the throne was offered to the Comte de Chambord. In 1830, Charles X had abdicated in favour of Chambord, then a child (his father having agreed to Charles X's request to also abdicate to help save the Bourbon dynasty), and Louis-Philippe had been recognised as king instead.

In 1871, Chambord had no wish to be a constitutional monarch, but a semi-absolutist one like his grandfather Charles X, or like the contemporary rulers of Prussia/Germany. Moreover, he refused to reign over a state that used the Tricolore that was associated with the Revolution of 1789 and the July Monarchy of the man who seized the throne from him in 1830, the citizen-king, Louis Philippe I, King of the French. This became the ultimate reason the restoration never occurred. As much as France wanted a restored monarchy, the nation was unwilling to abandon the popular Tricolore. Instead a "temporary" republic was established, to await the death of the aging, childless Chambord, when the throne could be offered to his more liberal heir, the Comte de Paris. However, Chambord lived on until 1883, by which time enthusiasm for monarchy had faded.

File:Sonnet Nouvelle carte complete illustree 06301312.jpg

The Ordre Moral Government

In February 1875, a series of parliamentary Acts established the organic or constitutional laws of the new republic. At its apex was a President of the Republic. A two-chamber parliament (featuring a directly elected Chamber of Deputies and an indirectly elected Senate) was created, along with a ministry under the "President of the Council", who was nominally answerable to both the President of the Republic and parliament. Throughout the 1870s, the issue of monarchy versus republic dominated public debate.

On May 16, 1877, with public opinion swinging heavily in favour of a republic, the President of the Republic, Patrice de Mac-Mahon, himself a monarchist, made one last desperate attempt to salvage the monarchical cause by dismissing the republican prime minister Jules Simon and appointing the monarchist leader the Duc de Broglie to office. He then dissolved parliament and called a general election for that October. If his hope had been to halt the move towards republicanism, it backfired spectacularly, with the President being accused of having staged a constitutional coup d'état, known as le seize Mai after the date on which it happened.

Republicans returned triumphant during the October elections for the Chamber of Deputies. The prospect of a monarchical restoration died definitively after the republicans gained control of the Senate on January 5, 1879. Mac-Mahon himself resigned on January 30, 1879, leaving a seriously weakened presidency in the shape of Jules Grévy.

The Opportunist Republicans

Following the 16 May crisis in 1877, Legitimists were pushed out of power, and the Republic was finally governed by republicans, called Opportunist Republicans as they were in favor of moderate changes in order to firmly establish the new regime. The Jules Ferry laws on free, mandatory and secular (laїque) public education, voted in 1881 and 1882, were one of the first signs of this republican control of the Republic, as public education was no longer the exclusive control of the Catholic congregations.

To discourage French monarchism as a serious political force, in 1885 the French Crown Jewels were broken up and sold. Only a few crowns, their precious gems replaced by coloured glass, were kept.

In 1889, the Republic was rocked by the sudden but short-lived Boulanger crisis, while the Dreyfus Affair was another important event, spawning the rise of the modern intellectual (Émile Zola) and the separation of Church and State. Later, the Panama scandal also were quickly criticized by the press.

In 1893, following anarchist Auguste Vaillant's bombing at the National Assembly, killing nobody but injuring one, deputies voted the lois scélérates which limited the 1881 freedom of the press laws. The following year, president Sadi Carnot was stabbed to death by the Italian anarchist Sante Geronimo Caserio. Also in 1894, 30 alleged anarchists were judged during the Trial of the thirty.

Modernization of the peasants

In his seminal book Peasants Into Frenchmen (1976), historian Eugen Weber traced the modernization of French villages and argued that rural France went from backward and isolated to modern and possessing a sense of French nationhood during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He emphasized the roles of railroads, republican schools, and universal military conscription. He based his findings on school records, migration patterns, military service documents and economic trends. Weber argued that until 1900 or so a sense of French nationhood was weak in the provinces. Weber then looked at how the policies of the Third Republic created a sense of French nationality in rural areas. The book was widely praised, but was criticized by some who argued that a sense of Frenchness existed in the provinces before 1870.

French Empire

The Third Republic, in line with the imperialistic ethos of the day sweeping Europe, developed a worldwide network of colonies. The largest and most important were in North Africa and Vietnam. French administrators, soldiers, and missionaries were dedicated to bringing French civilization to the peoples of the colonies. Some French businessmen went overseas, but there were few permanent settlements. The Catholic Church became deeply involved. Its missionaries were unattached men committed to staying permanently, learning local languages and customs, and converting the natives to Christianity.

France successfully integrated the colonies into its economic system. By 1939 one third of its exports went to its colonies; Paris businessmen invested heavily in agriculture, mining, and shipping. In Indochina new plantations were opened for rubber and rice. In Algeria land held by rich settlers rose from 1.6 million hectares in 1890 to 2.7 million hectares in 1940; combined with similar operations in Morocco and Tunisia, the result was that North African agriculture became one of the most efficient in the world. Metropolitan France was a captive market, so large landowners could borrow large sums in Paris to modernize agricultural techniques with tractors and mechanized equipment. The result was a dramatic increase in the export of wheat, corn, peaches, and olive oil. Algeria became the fourth most important wine producer in the world.

Opposition to colonial rule led to rebellions in Morocco in 1925, and in Indochina in 1930, both of which were quickly suppressed by the army.

The Radicals' republic

The Radical-Socialist Party, founded in 1901 (four years before the socialist French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO) which unified the various socialist currents), remained the most important party of the Third Republic starting at the end of the 19th century. The same year, followers of Léon Gambetta, such as Raymond Poincaré, who would become President of the Council in the 1920s, created the Democratic Republican Alliance (ARD), which became the main center-right party after World War I and the parliamentary disappearance of monarchists and Bonapartists.

Governments during the Third Republic collapsed with regularity, rarely lasting more than a couple of months, as radicals, socialists, liberals, conservatives, republicans and monarchists all fought for control. However others argue that the collapse of governments were a minor side effect of the Republic lacking strong political parties, resulting in coalitions of many parties that routinely lost and gained a few allies. Consequently the change of governments could be seen as little more than a series of ministerial reshuffles, with many individuals carrying forward from one government to the next, often in the same posts.

Church and state

Throughout the lifetime of the Third Republic (1870-1940), there were battles over the status of the Catholic Church among the Republicans, the Monarchists and the Authoritarians (such as the Napoleonists). The French clergy and bishops were closely associated with the Monarchists and many of its hierarchy were from noble families. Republicans were based in the anticlerical middle class who saw the Church's alliance with the monarchists as a political threat to republicanism, and a threat to the modern spirit of progress. The Republicans detested the church for its political and class affiliations; for them, the church represented the Ancien Regime, a time in French history most Republicans hoped was long behind them. The Republicans were strengthened by Protestant and Jewish support. Numerous laws were passed to weaken the Catholic Church. In 1879, priests were excluded from the administrative committees of hospitals and of boards of charity; in 1880, new measures were directed against the religious congregations; from 1880 to 1890 came the substitution of lay women for nuns in many hospitals; and, in 1882 and Ferry school laws were passed. Napoleon's Concordat continued in operation but in 1881, the government cut off salaries to priests it disliked.

Republicans feared that since religious orders, especially the Jesuits and Assumptionists, controlled the schools then anti-Republicanism was indoctrinated to children. Determined to root this out, Republicans insisted they needed control of the schools, if economic and militaristic progress was to be achieved (Republicans felt one of the primary reasons for the German victory in 1870 was because of their superior education system). The early anti-Catholic laws were largely the work of republican Jules Ferry in 1882. Religious instruction in all schools was forbidden and religious orders were forbidden to teach in them. Funds were appropriated from religious schools in order to build more state schools. Later in the century other laws passed by Ferry's successors further weakened the Church's position in French society. Civil marriage became compulsory, divorce was introduced and chaplains were removed from the army.

When Leo XIII became pope in 1878 he tried to calm Church-State relations. In 1884 he told French bishops not to act in a hostile manner to the State. In 1892 he issued an encyclical advising French Catholics to rally to the Republic and defend the Church by participating in Republican politics. This attempt at improving the relationship failed. Deep-rooted suspicions remained on both sides and were inflamed by the Dreyfus Affair. Catholics were for the most party anti-dreyfusard. The Assumptionists published anti-Semitic and anti-republican articles in their journal La Croix. This infuriated Republican politicians, who were eager to take revenge. Often they worked in alliance with Masonic lodges. The Waldeck-Rousseau Ministry (1899–1902) and the Combes Ministry (1902–05) fought with the Vatican over the appointment of bishops. Chaplains were removed from naval and military hospitals (1903–04), and soldiers were ordered not to frequent Catholic clubs (1904).

Emile Combes, when elected Prime Minister in 1902, was determined to thoroughly defeat Catholicism. After only a short while in office he closed down all parochial schools in France. Then he had parliament reject authorisation of all religious orders. This meant that all fifty four orders were dissolved and about 20,000 members immediately left France, many for Spain. In 1904 French President, Loubet, visited the King of Italy in Rome and the Pope protested at this recognition of the Italian State. Combes reacted strongly and recalled his ambassador to the Vatican. Then in 1905 a law was introduced abrogating Napoleon's 1801 Concordat. Church and State were finally separated. All Church property was confiscated. The religious no longer were paid by the State. Public worship was given over to associations of Catholic lay-men who controlled access to churches. In practise, Masses and rituals continued.

The Combes government worked with Masonic lodges to create a secret surveillance of all army officers to make sure that devout Catholics would not be promoted. Exposed as the Affaire Des Fiches, the scandal undermined support for the Combes government and he resigned It also undermined morale in the army, as officers realized that hostile spies examining their private lives were more important to their careers than their own professional accomplishments.


The first page of the bill, as brought before the Chambre des Députés in 1905

In 1905, the Rouvier government introduced the law on the separation of Church and State, heavily supported by Emile Combes, who had been strictly enforcing the 1901 voluntary association law and the 1904 law on religious congregations' freedom of teaching (more than 2,500 private teaching establishments were by then closed by the State, causing bitter opposition from the Catholic and conservative population). On February 10, 1905 the Chamber declared that "the attitude of the Vatican" had rendered the separation of Church and State inevitable and the law of the separation of church and state was passed in December, 1905. The Church was badly hurt and lost half its priests. In the long run, however, it gained autonomy--for the State no longer had a voice in choosing bishops and Gallicanism was dead.

Panama and Dreyfus scandals

There were two major scandals that rocked the Third Republic during the 1890s. One entailed the Panama scandals in 1892. Due to disease, inefficiency, widespread corruption, the Panama Canal Company handling the massive project went bankrupt, with millions in losses.

The Dreyfus Affair had a much more profound impact on France, arousing intense antagonisms over religion and culture. In 1894, a Jewish artillery officer, Alfred Dreyfus, was arrested on charges of conspiracy and espionage. Allegedly, Dreyfus had handed over important military documents discussing the designs of a new French artillery piece to a German military attaché; he was convicted and sentenced to Devil's Island, a Penal Colony in French Guiana. In 1898, writer Émile Zola published an article entitled J'Accuse...! (I accuse...!). The article alleged an anti-Semitic conspiracy in the highest ranks of the military to scapegoat Dreyfus, tacitly supported by the government and the Catholic Church. The real culprit was found two years later to be a high-ranking military officer and aristocrat, Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, but only in 1906 was Dreyfus given a formal pardon and freed after serving twelve years in prison.

Foreign policy

French foreign policy in the years leading up to the First World War was based largely on hostility to and fear of German power. France secured an alliance with the Russian Empire in 1894 after diplomatic talks between Germany and Russia had failed to produce any working agreement. The alliance with Russia was to serve as the cornerstone of French foreign policy until 1917. A further link with Russia was provided by vast French investments in and loans to that country before 1914. In 1904, French foreign minister Théophile Delcassé negotiated with Lord Lansdowne, the British Foreign Secretary, the Entente Cordiale, which ended a long period of Anglo-French tensions and hostility. The entente cordiale, which functioned as an informal Anglo-French alliance, was further strengthened by the First and Second Moroccan crises of 1905 and 1911, and by secret military and naval staff talks. Delcassé's rapprochement with Britain was controversial in France as Anglophobia was prominent at the turn of the century, sentiments that had been much reinforced by the Fashoda Incident of 1898, where Britain and France had almost gone to war, and by the Boer War where French public opinion was very much on the side of Albion’s enemies. Ultimately, the fear of German power proved to be the link that bound Britain and France together.

First World War

France entered World War I in alliance with Russia to defend against German invasion. Germany declared war on France because it feared encirclement and sought to avoid fighting a long war on two fronts, given that France and Russia were bound by a defensive military alliance. Germany sought to win a quick war in the west before Russia fully mobilized its armed forces. The French victory at the Battle of the Marne in September 1914 ensured the failure of Germany's strategy to avoid a protracted war on two fronts.

Some French intellectuals welcomed the war to avenge the humiliation of defeat and loss of territory to Germany following the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 (revanchisme). Paul Déroulède's anti-semitic Ligue des Patriotes (Patriots League), created in 1882, advocated this revenge, for example. This nationalism was also one of the causes of the low popularity of the "colonial lobby", gathering a few politicians, businessmen and geographers favorable to colonialism, until 1918. Thus, Georges Clemenceau (a Radical), declared that colonialism diverted France from the "blue line of the Vosges", referring to the disputed Alsace-Lorraine region. Other opponents of the colonialist lobby included socialist leader Jean Jaurès and the nationalist writer Maurice Barrès, while supporters included Eugène Étienne the president of the parliamentary colonial group.

After SFIO and pacifist leader Jean Jaurès's assassination, a few days before the German invasion of Belgium which marked the beginning France's participation in World War I, the French socialist movement, as the whole of the Second International, abandoned its antimilitarist positions and joined the national war effort. Georges Clemenceau, nicknamed "the Tiger", would lead the government after 1917, obtaining the SFIO socialist party's support in the Union sacrée, or "Sacred Union". As in other countries, a state of emergency was proclaimed and censorship imposed, leading to the creation in 1915 of the satirical newspaper Le Canard enchaîné to bypass the censorship. Furthermore, a war economy began to be implemented. This war economy would have important consequences after the war, as it would be a first breach against liberal theories of non-interventionism.

The French army defended Paris in 1914 and stopped the German offensive; the war became one of trench warfare along the Western Front, with very high casualty rates and (until spring 1918), almost no gains or losses one way or the other. The morale of the Army weakened year by year, until defeatism and mutiny became a factor in 1917. Germany occupied rich industrial areas along the Belgium border; otherwise the economy went into high gear, as women and colonials replaced the civilian roles of many of the 3 million soldiers, and food and industrial materials poured in from the United States.

In order to uplift the French national spirit, many intellectuals began to fashion numerous pieces of wartime propaganda. The Union sacrée sought to draw the French people closer to the actual front and thus garner social, political, and economic support for the French Armed Forces. However, the Sacred Union had all but disappeared by 1917 as the French Army was dealt a series of catastrophic blows when its offensives were cut down by German machine gun barrages. These successive defeats gave rise after the Second Battle of the Aisne to mutinies along the Front. According to American historian Leonard V. Smith, as many as thirty thousand French soldiers engaged in mutinous activities during 1917 alone. Still, the French government, led by Clemenceau, insisted on victory at all costs and therefore the French persisted in their efforts to defeat the Germans.

When Russia exited the war in 1917 due to revolution, the Central Powers controlled all of the Balkans and could now shift military efforts to the Western Front. The United States had also entered the war in 1917, so the Central Powers hoped this could be achieved mostly prior to America's delivery of military support. In March 1918 Germany launched the last major offensive on the Western Front. By May Germany had reached the Marne again, as in September 1914, and was again close to Paris. In Second Battle of the Marne the Germans were able to win due in part to the fatigue of the French and the delay of more Americans from its war with Mexico. The British pulled out of the war in April 1918 leaving France mostly fighting alone. Other Allied strongholds in Europe had fallen, and on July 21, 1918 France asked for an armistice.

Peace terms

Peace terms were agreed upon in the Treaty of Luxembourg on June 28, 1919, largely negotiated by Prince Maximilian of Baden for German matters. France was required to pay war reparations; and the French colonies of Equatorial Africa and Guiana, were given to Germany. France reduced the size of its military and was allowed a limited air force. Ferdinand Foch wanted to pursue the war until Germany was exhausted, but France had no more resources or ways of making that happen. After the peace was signed he said, "This is not a peace. It is an armistice for 20 years". The war brought great losses of troops and resources. Fought in large part on French soil, the war led to approximately 1.4 million French dead including civilians and four times as many casualties. Following his signing of the treaty Clemenceau returned to Paris, after battling depression in the later months of the war, he committed suicide.


From 1919 to 1940, France was governed by two main groupings. The right-center Bloc national was led by Raymond Poincaré (1850–1934) and Aristide Briand (1862–1932). The Bloc was supported by business and finance, and was friendly toward the Army and the church. Its main goals were revenge against Germany, economic prosperity for French business, and stability in domestic affairs. The left-center Cartel des gauches, dominated by Édouard Herriot of the Radical Socialist party, was neither radical nor socialist but represented the interests of small business and the lower middle class. It was intensely anti-clerical, and resisted the Catholic Church. The Cartel was occasionally willing to form a coalition with the Socialist Party. Anti-democratic groups, such as the Communists on the left and royalists on the right, played relatively minor roles.

The flow of reparation to Germany played a central role in French finances. The government had intended a reconstruction program to repair wartime damages, and but a large public debt. Taxation policies were inefficient, with widespread evasion, and when the financial crisis grew worse in 1926, Poincaré levied new taxes, reformed the system of tax collection, and drastically reduced government spending in order to balance the budget and stabilize the franc. Holders of the national debt lost 80% of the face value of their bonds, but runaway inflation did not happen. From 1926 to 1929, the French economy prospered and manufacturing flourished. The Great Depression hit France later than other countries, and in milder form. Nevertheless, in 1935, 750,000 workers were unemployed, and many others were working part-time. Industrial production grew by 40% between 1913 and 1930, then in 1932 fell back to 1913 levels.

Foreign policy

Foreign policy was of central interest to France in the 1920s and 1930s. The horrible devastation of the war, including 1.5 million dead French soldiers, the devastation of much of the steel and coal regions, and the long-term costs for veterans, were always kept in view. The main goal of French foreign policy was to preserve remaining French power, and neutralize the threat posed by Germany. When France fell behind in reparations payments, Germany threatened to seize the industrialized regions of France. That proved a fiasco, and Germany did not again attempt unilateral action against France. Paris created a paper wall of defensive treaties against Germany with Italy, Serbia, Romania, and the Soviet Union. In the end, these all proved worthless. It also constructed a powerful defensive wall—a network of fortresses—along the German border called the Maginot Line, which it trusted as a perfect defense. In 1940, however, the German army simply went around it.

The Left and the Popular Front

In 1920, the socialist movement split with the majority forming the French Communist party. The minority, led by Léon Blum, kept the name Socialist, and by 1932 greatly outnumbered the disorganized Communists. In 1936, the Socialists and the Radicals formed a coalition, with Communist support, called the Popular Front. Its victory in the elections of the spring of 1936 brought to power a left-wing government headed by Blum. In two years in office it focused on labor law changes sought by the trade unions, especially the mandatory 40-hour work week, down from 48 hours. All workers were given a two-week paid vacation. A collective bargaining law facilitated union growth; membership soared from 1,000,000 to 5,000,000 in one year, and workers' political strength was enhanced when the Communist and non-Communist unions joined together. The government nationalized the armaments industry, and tried to seize control of the Bank of France, in an effort to break the power of the richest 200 families. Farmers received higher prices, and the government purchased surplus wheat, but farmers had to pay higher taxes. Wave after wave of strikes hit French industry in 1936. Wage rates went up 48%, but the work week was cut back by 17%, and the cost of living rose 46%, so there was little real gain to the average worker. The higher prices for French products resulted in a decline in sales overseas, which the government tried to neutralize by devaluing the franc and thus reducing the value of bonds and savings accounts. The overall result was significant damage to the French economy, and a lower rate of growth. Most historians judge the Popular Front a failure, although some call it a partial success. There is general agreement that it failed to live up to the expectations of the left.


Conservative supporters of the old order were linked with the "haute bourgeoisie" (upper middle class), as well as nationalism, "gloire," military power, the maintenance of the empire, and national security. The favorite enemy was the Left, especially as represented by Socialists. The conservatives were divided on foreign affairs. An extreme, Fascist group had already left the conservatives, although there were few real differences between the two groups. Several important conservative politicians sustained the journal Gringoire, foremost among them André Tardieu. The Revue des deux Mondes, with its prestigious past and sharp articles, was a major conservative organ. The Catholic Church played a very important role throughout the period, especially by forming youth movements. For example, the largest organization of young working women was the Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne/Féminine (JOC/F). It encouraged young working women to adopt Catholic approaches to morality and to prepare for future roles as mothers at the same time as it promoted notions of spiritual equality and encouraged young women to take active, independent, and public roles in the present.

On the far right were several shrill, but small, groupings that preached doctrines similar to Fascism. The most influential was Action Française, founded in 1905 by the vitriolic author Charles Maurras (1868–1952). It was intensely nationalistic, anti-Semitic and reactionary, calling for a return to the monarchy and domination of the state by the Catholic Church. However, the Vatican repudiated the Action Française in 1926, and it lost its popular influence, only to be revived during the Vichy government in 1940.

Downfall of the Third Republic

Historians have debated two themes regarding the unexpected, sudden collapse of France in 1940. The first emphasizes the long run, highlighting failures, internal dissension, and a sense of malaise. The second theme blames the poor military planning by the French High Command. According to the British historian Julian Jackson, the Dyle Plan conceived by French General Maurice Gamelin was destined for failure since it drastically miscalculated the ensuing attack by German Army Group B into central Belgium. The Dyle Plan embodied the primary war plan of the French Army to stave off German Army Groups A, B, and C with their much revered Panzer divisions in Belgium. However, because of the over-stretched positions of the French 1st, 7th and 9th armies in Belgium at the time of the invasion, the Germans simply outflanked the French by coming through the Ardennes. As a result of this poor military strategy, France was once again forced to come to terms with Germany in an armistice signed on June 22, 1940.

The Third Republic officially ended on July 10, 1940 when the parliament gave full powers to Philippe Pétain, who proclaimed in the following days the État Français (the "French State"), which replaced the Republic.

Throughout its seventy-year history, the Third Republic stumbled from crisis to crisis, from dissolved parliaments to the appointment of a mentally ill president. It was defeated in World War I by the German Empire and the inter-war years saw much political strife with a growing rift between the right and the left. When the French State collapsed 1990, few called for a restoration of the Third Republic, and a Constituent Assembly was established in 1991 to draft a constitution for a successor, established as the Fourth Republic that December, a parliamentary system not unlike the Third Republic.

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