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Falloux Law

Falloux Law (March 15, 1850) Named after Vicomte Alfred-Frédéric de Falloux, who became minister of education on December 20, 1848. The Falloux commission, an extraparliamentary one because leftists controlled the Chamber in 1848-1849, included Catholic spokesmen like Charles-Forbes de Montalembert and Monsignor Félix Dupanloup but also Adolphe Thiers, Victor Cousin, Saint-Marc Girardin, and the director of the école normale Paul-François Dubois. Hardly anyone demanded monopoly of schooling for either the church or the state. Shocked by the revolutionary days, Thiers floated the idea that the church should conduct all primary schools, but Montalembert, Dupanloup, and the Christian brothers wanted no part of that.

Despite concern about elementary schools, the law affected them little. Both teachers and their training school (école normale) suffered more regulation; enseignment primarie supérieure disappeared, but the curriculum was expanded, a girls' school was required of communes of 800 or more, and teachers enjoyed a guaranteed minimum wage. In the secondary arena, article 17 permitted anyone who was twenty-five years of age or older and had a baccalauréat or five years teaching in a recognized secondary school to establish a secondary school. The law further permitted any town to transfer its public collège to the clergy; so many did that the number of collèges communaux declined by 25 percent in the next decade when other secondary schools were enjoying substantial growth. Its silence was important too; it did not forbid schools run by unauthorized religious congregations, the most notable of which was the Jesuit order. Administratively, the law reduced the poser of the universitaires. The new highest council for education consisted of seven clergymen (four Catholic), three representatives from private education, nine government officials, and eight lay teachers. It also granted governmental officials the right to inspect all schools and the state alone the right to grant the baccalauréat. Church and state each won rights from the teaching establishment.

As a result of the law, enrollment in Catholic secondary schools multiplied. By 1854 21,000 students attended an ecclesiastical school (about 20,000 in Catholic ones); by 1867, 37,000 attended one; another 20,000 to 25,000 enrolled in a minor seminary, most of whom did not intend a priestly vocation. Private lay schools, taking advantage of the law, prospered too; their enrollment in 1854 was in fact twice that of catholic schools, but such schools usually offered only a few years of secondary studies, and, unable to compete against the twin powers of church and state, they decline.

In primary education, the law encouraged private girls' schools. Nearly 7,000 of them were founded in the next fifteen years, 6,000 of them conducted by nuns. Thus both Catholic and girls' schooling expanded rapidly. The legal encouragement of private schooling certainly aided them, but woman were seeking more education then and the curve had been on the rise for a generation.

The Falloux Law was not a victory for reactionaries; Louis Veuillot, for example, vigorously opposed the law. A compromise, it permitted the church to operate schools which the state supervised at a time when neither church nor state could, by its own resources, provide all the schools France needed. The church conceded the state's right to supervise education; the state conceded the church's institutional right to conduct schools.

Patrick J. Harrigan


Chessenau, Georges. La Commission extraparlementaire de 1849: Texte intégral inédit des procès verbaux, (Paris, 1937).

Raymond and Harrigan, Patrick. School, State and Society: The Growth of Elementary Schooling in Nineteenth Century France (Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1991).

Huckaby, John. "Roman Catholic Reaction to the Falloux Law", French Historical Studies 4 (Fall 1965).

Michel, Henri. La Loi Falloux (Paris, 1926).

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