Liberté, égalité, fraternité (Liberty, equality, brotherhood)
|France in September 1939|
Dark blue: French Republic
Light blue: Colonies, mandates, and protectorates of France
|Religion||Catholicism, disestablished 1905|
|- 1871–1873||Adolphe Thiers|
|- 1932–1940||Albert Lebrun|
|President of the Council of Ministers|
|- 1870–1871||Louis Jules Trochu|
|- 1940||Philippe Pétain|
|- Upper house||Senate|
|- Lower house||Chamber of Deputies|
|Today part of||Algeria Benin Cambodia Cameroon Central African Republic Chad Djibouti China Côte d'Ivoire Ethiopia France Guinea India Laos Lebanon Mali Mauritania Morocco Niger Senegal Syria Togo Tunisia Vietnam|
The French Third Republic (French: La Troisième République, sometimes written as La IIIe République) was the republican government of France between the end of the Second French Empire (following the defeat of Napoleon III in the Franco-Prussian War) in 1870 and the Vichy Regime after the invasion of France by the German Third Reich in 1940.
Larkin (2002) argued that political France of the Third Republic was sharply polarized. On the left marched democratic France, heir to the French Revolution and fully assured of the power of reason and knowledge to create a better future for all Frenchmen and all mankind. On the right stood conservative France, rooted in the peasantry, the Church and the army, and skeptical about "progress" unless guided by traditional elites. Adolphe Thiers called republicanism in the 1870s "the form of government that divides France least". The Third Republic endured seventy years, making it the longest lasting regime in France since the collapse of the Ancien Régime in the French Revolution of 1789.
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 4 September 1870. This first Government of the Third Republic, headed by the President, General Louis Jules Trochu, ruled during the Siege of Paris (19 September 1870 – 28 January 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 new 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. The final peace treaty was the Treaty of Frankfurt. 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's government in May 1871. The following repression of the communards would have disastrous consequences for the labor movement.
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 Orléanists 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 died already), 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.
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 16 May 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 5 January 1879. Mac-Mahon himself resigned on January 30, 1879, leaving a seriously weakened presidency in the shape of Jules Grévy. Indeed it was not until Charles de Gaulle, 80 years later, that a President of France next unilaterally dissolved parliament.