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For a period of time between the fall of the French Empire and the rise of Boulangisme, the French Third Republic (République Francaise) was the legitimate governing body of France. Originally a provisional body while the Crown of France was restored, no significant attempt at monarchism existed during this period of French politics. The Republic was important in the period leading up to the Great War, as it was to be the main body of revanchism and anti-Germanism until its collapse by extremist elements after the Dreyfus Affair in 1899.
for history previous to the 1880s, see French Third Republic
The development of the French Third Republic is commonly told as the story of a people who modernised despite large amounts of political instability. While France was a world-level power with extremely large influence throughout this period, internally, little agreement was done between the extremely polorised political parties of the nation.
Coalitions were the rule in the French Parliament, but few times did they result in proper government; instead, decisions were generally agreed upon the leftist, Republican sectors or the rightist Monarchist ones, depending on whoever the main party of the nineteenth century, the Opportunist Republicans, supported. The Republic, however, increasingly drifted towards the left, with the Legitimists being ousted from power in 1881, and the Jesuits being disbanded and free public education being instated that same year by Republican legislature.
The following years showed mild economic prosperity for the French. French companies began expanding their global reach; in 1881, the French started a proposal for a canal cutting through the Colombian province of Panama. Colonial expansion resumed in Africa. While Tunisian interests were ceded to the Italians, who established the Tunisian Protectorate, the French were able to seize Annam in Vietnam, as well as most of French Africa, during this period, after the Berlin Conference in 1885. This allowed for increased international prestige to the French, despite the internal situation.
The Rise of BoulangismeDespite increased economic and international success, French society and politics remained deeply marked by the defeat to the Germans in 1871. Many French considered it an insult that they had been defeated by a "rag-tag band of barbarians", and hoped for restitution of the annexed areas of Alsace and Lorraine to France. This group of people, generally in the political extremes, started to be known as Revanchistes and Non-delivristes. They sought the restitution of "French land and French glory to our glorious Marianne", and seemed to increasingly despise democracy.
One of the foremost groups on the extreme (in this case, the right) was located in the French military. As in many other states, the military was a hotbed for far-right sentiment. The military created general opposition to the republican and socialist movements of the civilian left; in fact, much of the military remained Bonapartist and deeply monarchist. Anti-Semitism, discrimination and classism were common in the area.
The far-right, however, was disorganised and scattered, even within the army, for the first decades of the French Third Republic. Indeed, there was a general lack of unity in the political side of the military. This was, however, stopped with the rise of the French General Georges Boulanger. Boulanger was an extremely charismatic leader, who established a compromise between the extreme in both sides; he combined populist rhetoric of the left Socialists, with the monarchism and the military support of the far-right. This made Boulanger and his supporters, for once, approved upon in civilian society as well as military one. The opposition to the republican government soon united beneath the banner of Boulagnisme.
Boulanger was extremely influential. Throughout the 1880s, the French people began admiring the ideals of Boulagnisme ever more; in 1885, although Boulanger was not a legitimate candidate, he was elected with the Bonapartists as a representative in French legislature for the depártment of Nord. Under the logos of "Révanche, Révison et Restoration" (Revenge against the Germans for their loss in Alsace-Lorraine, revision of the French constitution and restoration of the Monarchy) and "C'es Boulanger qu'il nous faut" (It is Boulanger who we need). Support was higher amongst the aristocratic figures of the départments like Count Dillon, whilst the main opposition were centred around the illustrated Republicans, most notably the famous writer Victor Hugo in his very last public appearance and his descendants soon afterwards. However, not all the cries of the affluent Republicans could stop the inevitable land of the troix R's.
The fight between the extremes of the spectrum and the Republican centre only became stronger in 1889, after the new election. The troix R's formed their own political groups, des Boulangistes; however, they remained allied with the Napoleonistes and the Legitimistes. Whilst a small victory was also granted to the centre, as the Orléanistes once again reclaimed independence as a political group opposed to the increasingly Boulagniste tendencies of the other rightist parties. The Orléanistes, furthermore, sided once again with the Republicans, as a more moderate faction of the monarchists.
Political violence broke out in the Riots of Lille in 1890, with violence between Boulangists and Republicans. The police of Lille put down the Republican men, while the Boulagnistes were able to take over the city. Socialists established a barricade in Marseille in October, which was crushed by the government; soon afterwards, outbreaks stopped. However, political problems continued with the opposition of the military to the Republican government, and support of the intermittent Boulangiste and Napoleonic revolts against the government. A short balance was allowed because of the alliance between the Republicans and the Orléanistes, which barely outweighed the extremes in Parliament.
Dreyfus Scandal and Fall of the Republic
1894, the year after the legislative elections, brought the beginning of the end to the Third Republic. A German-Jewish officer of artillery, Alfred Dreyfus, was convicted of treason by the military, who claimed that because of his origin, he was the obvious source for the selling of some military secrets to the Germans. In 1895, Dreyfus was condemned to the penal colony of Devil's Island in Guiana.
However, this sat quite badly in the heart of many Republicans and some Orléanistes. They argued that the military had no conclusive proof, and that there was no right for Dreyfus to be exiled for a mere assumption based on his birthright. Arguments on the judicial and legislative branches became increasingly more heated as time went on. Prince Philippe, Comte de Paris called for peace from his Surrey home, but the Orléanists paid little if any heed, even to their leader.
The judiciary, controlled by Opportunist Republicans, had enough with the fighting by 1896. They pardoned Dreyfus and returned him to France. However, things soon turned sour, as Dreyfus was violently lynched by a Napoleonic mob in June 14. Soon afterwards, many Boulangistes resigned in protest of the government, and soon enough the army rose up against the government in Brest and Lille.
Historians think today that, had revaunchisme not been present in every facet of French political thinking, the Germans and British might have intervened and crushed this revolt, but bad relationships prevented the intervention. Instead, the French government was helpless, and except for a few Orléanist and Socialist guerrillas fighting against onslaught, nothing stopped them on their march to Paris. Toulon fell to a mutiny on June 16; most of Corsica did the night afterwards, to a coordinated Napoleonist revolt; and by July 14, Bastille day, only the Arrondisment of the Pantheon and the city of Marseilles remained in Republican hands. The day afterwards, Jean Boulanger appeared in front of crowds in the Louvre Arrondisment, near to the frontlines of the Paris Barricade, proclaiming the death of the "decadent Republic of France", and proclaiming the État Français, with a vacancy in the Kingship and declaring himself Dictator.