Part Six: The French Century
When Napoleon was defeated at Leipzig in 1813 the Allies felt magnanimous. They decided to restore the Bourbon monarchy in France. Prince Talleyrand was there to help convince them. The new king would be Louis XVIII, a peaceable enough fellow. He certainly had no Napoleonic ambitions. Besides, he was a legitimate monarch and would be supported by many in France. Therefore, there would be no need for a costly occupation.
Louis accepted the job and accepted a constitutional charter which he made sure to “grant” to the people. Thus he would be a constitutional monarch by his own will, not as a condition on his rule.
The charter was reasonable enough. It called for the legal equality of all citizens and that all public offices could be opened to any citizen, regardless of class. Most of the Code Napoleon, the legal system of the empire, was left intact. A bicameral legislature was established and the Concordat of 1801 was recognized. Finally, a promise was made that any land seized after 1789 would not be not be returned to the previous owner. The Revolution was not to be totally reversed.
This happy start was interrupted when the exiled emperor surprised everyone and returned to France on March 1, 1815. In the famous One Hundred Days, Napoleon overthrew the royal government, won the masses over to him again, gained the confidence of the army and marched off to defeat at Waterloo. For three months of glory he traded in a beautiful Mediterranean Island, Elba, and got a steamy, dreary forsaken exile at West Africa’s St. Helena. And France got a good taking to the woodshed.
The Allies restored Louis XVIII once again, but this time they placed an indemnity of seven hundred million francs on the country. And they occupied it. Monarchists were enraged, not at their national disgrace, but at the willingness of so many of their countrymen to follow Bonaparte. A “White Terror” reigned briefly in France. Bonapartists, republicans and even Protestants were hunted down, beaten and some were killed. But the violence did not abate the anger of the reactionaries. Instead, it emboldened them and by 1820 even the king could not control the Chamber of Deputies. They voted a perpetual indemnity to all royalist émigrés of the Revolution. They turned over all schools in France to the Catholic Church and even issued the death penalty to anyone caught effacing a church.
It was in 1820 that the king’s nephew, the Duke de Berry, was murdered by a day laborer. Was this the beginning of a socialist plot? Oppressive measures were introduced and when Louis XVIII died in 1824 he was succeeded by his brother, Charles X, the father of the slain Duke de Berry. The way seemed clear for a restoration of absolutism and Charles dressed the part. His coronation at the cathedral of Rheims was medieval in its splendor. But would the world stand for such an about-face?
Monarchies had been overthrown in Spain and in Naples in 1820. In 1822 Simon Bolivar helped to free many of the countries of Latin America even as Mexico had gained its independence under the banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the leadership of Father Miguel Hidalgo just years earlier. Greeks revolted against their Ottoman masters and called on all Christian Europe to defend them. In 1823 President James Monroe promulgated his doctrine that the United States would not permit any European power from returning to conquer former holdings in the Western Hemisphere. In 1825 an army plot in Russia called the “Decembrist revolt” was squashed with great brutality. The world seemed in foment.
When elections in 1830 went badly for the king, Charles announced his Four Ordinances. These would nullify the elections and set up an absolutist state in France. Instead he got a riot in Paris. From July 27 to July 29 barricades mushroomed throughout the neighborhoods of the capital. Troops refused to fire on the rioters and often joined them. Recognizing the danger, King Charles X fled to England.
Six days earlier a young novice for the Daughters of Charity had told her spiritual director of an extraordinary vision she had the night before. It involved the Blessed Virgin Mary and it predicted that Charles would be overthrown. The priest dismissed the whole thing – until July 29th .
With the king gone, what kind of government should the French have? Since the overthrow of Louis XVI they had a constitutional monarchy, a radical republic, a conservative directory, a Napoleonic consulate, a Napoleonic empire, and a restored monarchy. France was divided. Students, workers and the urban masses wanted a republic. The upper bourgeoisie wanted another constitutional monarchy. The reactionaries wanted a restored Bourbon.
It was the elderly Marquis de Lafayette who found a compromise in the Duke of Orleans, Louis-Philippe. His resume had something for everyone. He was of the royal house, though an Orleanist, not a Bourbon. And he had fought in the Republican army back in 1792.
The monarchists held their noses and acquiesced. The mob had made him king. He called himself King of the French, not King of France. He refused to use the white fleur-de-lis flag of the French kingdom and used the Revolution’s Tri-color flag. And just as galling, Louis-Philippe wore a business suit and carried an umbrella. He was referred to as “the bourgeois king.”
“When Paris sneezes, all Europe catches a cold,” Prince Clement von Metternich once said. How true the saying proved correct time after time. And 1830 was no exception. In the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the southern, Catholic half revolted and formed modern Belgium. A similar revolt broke out in Poland, only to be put down brutally by the Russians. But for France, business ruled for eighteen years.
But business rules only as long as business is good. And by 1848 things were not so good. A potato blight had come on Europe in 1845, 1846, and 1847. Worst hit was Ireland which lost nearly a million people in those years while another million migrated to the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia, a loss of twenty-five percent of the population in less than four years.
But France was the breadbasket of Europe. The potato blight of 1846 was joined by a failure of wheat crops, walnuts and even grapes. When bad grain was fed to the cattle they bloated and died by the thousands. Three months before all these bad events, on September 19, 1846 two little children near La Salette saw a strange stranger who told them of the upcoming tragedies and many other things. It was Our Lady of La Salette.
With the downturn of the economy came charges of corruption in business and government. Paris became restive. Louis-Philippe forbad political assemblies and the opposition staged great “banquets” instead. When the king forbad banquets too a defiant mob staged a great banquet on February 22,1848. Barricades went up. The king called out the National Guard. The troops refused to fire on the rioters and often joined them. Recognizing the danger, King Louis-Philippe fled to England.
Again, Paris returned to the perennial question of the kind of government it should have. The poet Lamartine championed the tri-colors, a republic. The radical Louis Blanc waved a red flag for socialism, but he was outnumbered. So he settled for some socialist programs instead. The Second Republic was declared. Full employment and universal suffrage was proclaimed. But bad blood remained between Lamartine and Louis Blanc, between Paris and the rest of the country. For many taxes were too high and spending too liberal. For others the central government did not go far enough.
When Lamartine tried to effect conservative changes in the government, the socialists rose. Twenty thousand workers armed themselves and thousands more joined them. Lamartine appealed to the army and this time they fought. A three day battle raged in Paris pitting socialists against General Cavaignac’s troops. Cavaignac was hailed as The Man on the White Horse until the true picture of carnage was revealed. Fifteen hundred had died in the fighting and another three thousand were executed. This truly had been class warfare: the workers, the proletariat, struggling against the agents of the bourgeois, the army and the police. Paris had sneezed and Europe caught the cold, in Austria, the German states, in the Italian peninsula, in Hungary.
But in France the question was who would pick up the pieces. General Cavaignac seemed a butcher. Lamartine was out of favor. Into this political vacuum came Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, the nephew of the Great Man himself. The Arc de Triumph had been completed in 1836; the emperor’s body had been carried from St. Helena and interned in a place of honor in Les Invalides in 1840.
With such a name and such a legend behind him, Louis Napoleon easily won the election of 1848. The Chamber of Deputies held elections in 1849 and the conservatives scored a solid majority. Indeed, of the five hundred delegates, three hundred were actually monarchists. Yet they were powerless because the Orleanists and Bourbonists cancelled each other out. The other two large blocks were made up of seventy Republicans and eighty socialists. Thus the Chamber of Deputies of the Second Republic was firmly in the hands of anti-republican representatives.
In the next few years the Chamber of Deputies took such action as to delight part of France and to alienate another part. It withdrew the credentials from thirty-three socialists Deputies and shut them out. It withdrew universal suffrage from the urban masses. Its Falloux Laws put the Catholic Church in charge of education in France. And it authorized the use of French military forces to protect the Pope after a violent revolution had overtaken Rome.
But President Louis Napoleon Bonaparte had his own ideas and his own timetable. As all France was getting ready to celebrate the anniversary of his uncle’s victory at Austerlitz, on December 2, 1851 he dissolved the National Assembly and called for a national plebiscite on the question of his presidency to be extended to ten years. Eighteen days later the vote was taken and he received a ninety percent positive vote. In 1852, the Ten Year President felt secure enough to overthrow his own government and declare the Second Empire. He chose the title Napoleon III.
Nothing succeeds like success. The Second Empire was an epoch of opulence, grandeur, glory. There was great growth in industry, transportation. The stock markets stored.
The emperor took time for a vacation and packed up the imperial household for sun and fun at Biarritz in southern France. There his little son, Lou Lou, suffered sunstroke. There were fears of meningitis. A governess was dispatched to a pool of curative waters some ninety miles away. She fetched a jug of the waters and sprinkled the little boy each day. He recovered. The emperor ordered that the barriers to the pool be removed so that all might take advantage of the spring. The year was 1858. The place was Lourdes.
While Emperor Napoleon III was relieved on the personal level he had much to be concerned about on the political level. The depression of 1856 had tarnished his economic reputation. The Crimean War of 1854-56 had put him at odds with Russia and Austria. Italy was coming to unity under the guidance of Count Camillo Cavour and the German states were coming to unity under the Iron and Blood Prussian chancellor, Prince Otto von Bismarck. And to his south Spain had just revolted, sending Queen Isabella II into exile in France.
It was this last event which worried the French emperor the most. The Spanish had asked a German prince to become their king. He had accepted, but the arrangement was unacceptable to Napoleon III. For centuries the French were hemmed in by the Hapsburgs in Germany and Spain. Napoleon would not allow a similar situation with the Hohenzollern family.
The King of Prussia, Wilhelm, was most accommodating and persuaded the young Leopold von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen to decline the Spanish offer. But the French government pressed for assurances that would be embarrassing for the Prussian king. War fever was whipped up in Berlin and Paris and hostilities were declared in July 1870.
The war did not go well for France. An army was lost at Sedan on September 2, 1870 and Emperor Napoleon III was captured. Two days later the Paris Commune rose. The army disintegrated. The Prussians and their German allies surrounded Paris. Versailles became the German headquarters and there the Second Reich was declared with Wilhelm now as Kaiser. It was Bismarck’s finest achievement.
While Paris held out, elements of the German army roamed freely, ravaging the countryside. In January 1871 Prussian troops marched into Brittany, a hundred and fifty miles west of Paris. Their objective that night was the city of Laval. A tiny village, Pontmain stood in their way. Great fear gripped the villagers that January 17th. Only the children seem undisturbed. They had seen a reassuring vision of the Blessed Mother. All would be safe.
Several miles away, at 5:30 PM General Schmidt halted the troops telling a lieutenant, “We cannot go further. Over there, toward Brittany, there is an invisible Madonna barring the way.”
The Franco-Prussian War ended on May 10, 1871. Pope Pius IX had lost his French protection and thus lost the city of Rome. The archbishop of Paris was murdered during the days of the Commune, as prophesied at La Salette twenty-five years earlier.
The political rubble was reassembled into the Third Republic, but France was deeply divided. The Paris Commune had revived the Jacobin ghost of 1793. It was anti-clerical, anti-Catholic. It favored wage and price controls, labor laws and protections. It received support from a sprinkle of international radicals, including Karl Marx, cheerleading from the safety of his apartment in London.
But the reaction against the Commune was swift and massive. Three hundred thousand reports were filed against the radicals. Thirty-eight thousand were arrested and thousands executed or exiled. The president was stymied, the premier and his cabinet were subservient to the legislature which was deeply divided between Bourbon monarchists and Orleanist monarchists. For years France functioned because the bureaucrats and technocrats functioned. The ministries, the prefectures, the courts, the various police departments, the army all functioned on automatic.
But the spirit of late nineteenth century France was of hate and cries for revenge. Revenge to the Germans for what they did in 1870, revenge to the Commune for its uprising, revenge to the bourgeoisie for the suppression of 1848, revenge to Catholics for their pro-monarchist stand and support in the countryside, revenge to free masons and syndicists for wanting to destroy the Church, and revenge to the Jews just because they are Jews. This last was illustrated so perfectly in the sham trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus.
With all this hate and all these calls for revenge, who could save France?