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Marie-Joseph-Louis-Adolphe Thiers (1797-1877)

Marie-Joseph-Louis-Adolphe Thiers (1797-1877) had already had a long and distinguished political career before the outbreak of the February revolution. An early liberal advocate of English-style parliamentary government, Thiers had been instrumental in the ouster of the Bourbons in 1830. Under the July Monarchy, he served in the cabinet and as prime minister and occupied the center of the French political spectrum. Although one of the founders of the regime, Thiers helped undermine the July Monarchy by supporting the repressive September laws as minister of the interior in 1835, by voicing opposition to Guizot's tepid foreign policy and by the inflexibility of his domestic policy in the 1840s. Even though he sought to create a new center-left majority in conjunction with Barrot's dynastic left to promote parliamentary reform, he opposed electoral reform and disapproved of the banquet campaign, often organized by republicans, as a threat to the monarchy and the juste milieu. On February 24, Thiers tried to quell the insurrection by creating a reformist coalition with Barrot, but his unpopularity and republican determination nullified this last attempt to save the regime he had helped to create. Alternatively cautious and belligerent, Thiers had helped frighten the notables into rigid conservatism while sustaining hopes for changes for which he offered no resolute support.

Reportedly disconsolate after the flight of Louis-Philippe, Thiers regained his composure and gave his grudging support to the new republic in the hope of moderating the regime as much as possible. After being rejected by voters in the Bouches-du-Rhône on April 23, he was sent to the national assembly in a June 4 by-election to sit for Seine-Inférieure. Preoccupied with the financial crisis and with protecting the assembly from future insurrection, Thiers had no direct influence on the structure of the new constitution but soon emerged as one of the leaders of the party of order, which held its meetings on the Rue de Poitiers. He won conservative acclaim for a pamphlet entitled Du droit de propriété in which he defended the interests of property owners and forcefully voiced the anti-socialistfears which had gripped the notables in the wake of the June Days. An exemplar of the self-made French bourgeois, he denounced radical social measures as utopian but did not advocate extreme laissez-faire. As president of the assembly's commission on public assistance, he lent his name to mildly interventionist social programs such as state aid to housinghe favored French military intervention against the Roman Republic in 1849 and helped cement a conservative coalition by promoting concession to Catholics in education. Despite his growing acceptance of a conservative republic and his opposition to Louis Napoleon's efforts to restore the empire, Thiers assisted in the general conservative reaction against democracy which allowed Louis Napoleon to appear as a friend to the common people and to undermine the popularity and political resources of the monarchist-dominated assembly.

Thiers is best remembered for the political role he played years after the fall of the Second Republic. Arrested along with other prominent Orleanists and republicans on the night of December 2, 1851, Thiers was "temporarily removed" from France in January and spent eight months in England where he worked on his yet uncompleted Histoire du Consulate et de l'Empire. Although studies dominated much of his time in the 1850s, he was never reconciled to the regime of Napoleon III and returned to political life in the 1860s as one of the leaders of the liberal opposition. By promoting the liberalization of the empire andastutely criticizing the emperor's foreign policy, Thiers rebuilt a national reputation that allowed him to play a crucial role during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. At the request of Jules Favre, the foreign minister of the Government of National Defense, he toured Europe to obtain diplomatic support for France and sought to convince Bismarck to soften the terms of the armistice which France was eventually forced to sign in January 1871.

After being returned by voters in twenty-six departments on February 8, 1871, Thiers was elected as "Chief of the Executive Power of the French Republic" on February 13, becoming the first president of what became known as the Third Republic. Between 1871 and his resignation in 1873, Thiers worked to forge a coalition between liberals and moderate republicans in support of a conservative republican regime. The new republic, he hoped, would insure social stability and representative government by preventing either a Bourbon restoration or more radical republican experiment. Divisions on the right, the intransigence of the Bourbon pretender, the Paris Commune's brutal suppression (which Thiers planned and organized), and a rapprochement with Gambetta contributed to the electoral success of the republic, as did Thiers' work in rebuilding French finances by quickly retiring the huge indemnity demanded by the Germans in the Treaty of Frankfurt.

Forced from power in May 1873 by the royalist majority in the national assembly, Thiers remained in parliament until 1876 as the leader of the center-left and voted in favor of the republican constitution of 1875. His death in September 1877 was followed by a lavish state funeral.

Steven Kale


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Thiers, Adolphe. Correspondences de 1841 à 1865. M. Thiers à Mme Thiers et à Mme Dosne: Mme Dosme à M. Thiers. Paris: Calmann Lévy, 1900.

______. De l'Assistance et de la prévoyances publiques. Bruxelles: Gand et Leipzig, 1850.

_______. . Paris: Paulin, Lheureux et Cie, 1848.

_______. La Révolution de 1848 d'après un récit de M.Thiers. Paris, 1896.

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