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Archive for the ‘Third Republic’ Category

commune

 

When you take a guided tour in France—whether it is a Loire château, or any other building erected before 1789—inevitably, there comes the time when the guide says: “Unfortunately, during the Revolution…,” and there follows a list of damaged or destroyed artifacts. The French were fond of revolutions – when they were happening. Afterward, seeing what they had done in moments of passion, they wept.

The 1789 revolution, the very first one, is well known. The guillotine, the years of terror, the king Louis XVI and the queen Marie-Antoinette executed. Having gotten the taste of it, the French people became serial revolutionaries. March 18 marks the anniversary of the Commune of Paris, one of the three revolutions that shook the city in the 19th century and, decidedly, the bloodiest of all. The sixty-two days of its duration caused up to thirty thousand deaths (the number varies according to different sources).

What led to this bloodbath? Why did the prosperous France of the Second Empire wake up as an impoverished Third Republic? Why was Paris in ruins?

In July 1870, the French declare war on Prussia, or, rather, are tricked to do it. The crafty Chancellor Bismarck needs the conflict to unify a collection of small German-speaking countries into one powerful nation. Ill-prepared, the French army is defeated by the Prussians in the battle of Sedan and the emperor Napoleon III made prisoner. Riots in Paris follow the bad news and the next day, September 4th, the empire is overthrown. A Republican government moves into the City Hall, while the Prussians close in on Paris.

 

rats

During the siege, dogs, cats, and rats were sold at high prices. The rich dined on exotic meat provided by the zoo animals

 

Paris is besieged during the winter months. The weather is cruel and the city suffers from a severe famine. Hunger and typhoid fever ravage Paris from within, while the Prussians shell it from the outside. Starved and ill, the Parisians learn that a new humiliation had visited the country: the German Empire was proclaimed in Versailles and an armistice has been signed.

 

bismarck

The Empire of Germany, a new European power, is proclaimed in the Versailles palace

 

This does not sit well with the Parisians, who do not consider themselves defeated. The German boots desecrating the exquisite beauty of the Hall of Mirrors? Ce n’est pas acceptable! Anger is rising when they learn the terms of peace.  The Germans demand a two-day entry to Paris, the surrender of two provinces (Alsace and Lorraine) and war reparations amounting to one billion gold coins. Their army would occupy the country until the debt is paid off.

 

victory parade

The German victory parade in the streets of Paris

 

Aware that a revolt is brewing, the government moves its headquarters from Paris to Versailles.  The spark ignites when the government tries to disarm Paris by confiscating 248 cannons from Montmartre and other working-class neighborhoods on the periphery. The cannons belong to the city; they were paid for by war subscription. The people rise to defend their property and the soldiers’ loyalty shifts. Two generals are seized and shot. There is no way back. The insurgents erect barricades and the Commune of Paris is proclaimed.

 

debut

800 barricades went up in the city

 

Elected on March 26th, the Commune is in direct opposition to the conservative national government. The core, like in all revolutions, are intellectuals, students, writers, artists, and artisans with egalitarian ideas and the vision of justice for all. Outraged as they are by the government’s betrayal, many Parisians of the middle class join in the insurrection. The main muscle of the revolution is the impressionable working class which, when excited, easily turns into a mob.

 

women

Women were heavily engaged in the insurrection, both as nurses and combatants. The 1789 revolution had its tricoteuses (women who took their knitting to the guillotine to keep their hands busy during the executions). The Commune of Paris gives birth to the pétroleuses. “The women behaved like tigresses, throwing petroleum everywhere and distinguishing themselves by the fury with which they fought”. (Edwin Child, a young Londoner working in Paris.)

 

The basic ideas of the revolution are modern and positive: reform of the working conditions, good children education, separation of the church and the state, women’s equality. Their application is awkward, to say the least. “Property is theft,” the revolutionaries declare as they seize the Bank of France. All religious institutions are invaded, their material goods confiscated, the churches turned into social clubs for the people. On April 23, George Sand, the famous novelist and, herself a Republican, writes to Gustav Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary:  “The horrible adventure continues. They ransom, they threaten, they arrest, they judge. They have taken over all the city halls, all the public establishments, they’re pillaging the munitions and the food supplies.” 

 

church

Churches became social clubs for the people

 

Without a clear program and with no political experience, the feeling of brotherhood, with which the Commune started, changes into quarrel and resentment. Valuable time is lost in endless debates and little is achieved. Like George Sand, Parisians become tired of this bizarre social experiment. They long for peace and quiet; the poorer ones want to return to their familiar misery with its own reassuring habits. Others, the ardent supporters, are determined to fight. “The Commune or death!” they chant.

 

army

The Versailles troops approach the walls of Paris

 

Meanwhile, in Versailles, the government has reconstituted the army with war prisoners released by the Germans. The Germans hold their position northwest of the city while the Versailles troops approach from the southeast. Paris is surrounded again. The insurgents attempt several attacks outside the city walls, each time with no success. They send emissaries to Versailles, who are killed. The Commune, in turn, captures hostages, chiefly among the clergy.  On May 21st, the Versailles troops break in and the infamous Bloody Week begins.

 

combat

Barricades are reinforced and new ones added as the combat rages street by street. The soldiers break into houses and pierce the walls to avoid confrontation with the barricades

 

The army takes no prisoners. Every adversary is shot dead. Unarmed civilians caught with gunpowder traces on their hands are executed as well. The Communards take revenge by killing the hostages. The Archbishop of Paris is among the victims.

 

commune massacre haxo

The massacre of hostages

 

massacre rue puebla

The execution of the Archbishop of Paris

 

Paris-burning

Paris burning. In the foreground is the imperial palace

Paris is shelled again, this time by the French army. The Ministry of Finance is destroyed in the process. Fires break out in many prestigious locations. These are later explained by the partisans of the Commune as the result of the shelling. However, most of the gutted buildings bore no traces of shelling. They were deliberately set on fire. The legend of the pétroleuses, if it is a legend, started here. As a result, working-class women caught carrying a suspicious container were summarily executed.

 

petroleuse

 

radnice hori

The City Hall on fire

 

tuileries

The imperial palace after the fire

 

Government and police offices are consumed by the fire, their archives destroyed. The air, already unbreathable, is filled with whirling charred paper remains that settle on the roofs and sidewalks. The Tuileries palace is a total loss. The stones will be sold, piece by piece, as construction material. A wing of the Louvre also suffered fire damage.

The novelist Emile Zola, was one of the first reporters to enter the city during the Bloody Week. He wrote: “Never in civilized times has such a terrible crime-ravaged a great city […] The men of the Hotel de Ville could not be other than assassins and arsonists. They were beaten and fled like robbers from the regular army, and took vengeance upon the monuments and houses […] The fires of Paris have pushed over the limit the exasperation of the army. […] Those who burn and who massacre merit no other justice than the gunshot of a soldier.”

 

defeat

The end of the Commune

 

The revenge is atrocious and out of proportion. The Commune killed 64 hostages yet the insurgents are now butchered by the thousands. Nobody is spared, even the injured patients in an ambulance along with the doctors and nurses. Women are shot with children in their arms.

 

summary executions

Many innocents were shot along with the rebels

 

Four days after the battle is over, Emile Zola reports in a softened tone: “The court martials are still meeting and the summary executions continue, less numerous, it’s true. The sound of firing squads, which one still hears in the mournful city, atrociously prolongs the nightmare […] Paris is sick of executions. It seems to Paris that they’re shooting everyone. Paris is not complaining about the shooting of the members of the Commune, but of innocent people. It believes that, among the pile, there are innocent people, and that it’s time that each execution is preceded by at least an attempt at a serious inquiry […] When the echoes of the last shots have ceased, it will take a great deal of gentleness to heal the million people suffering nightmares, those who have emerged, shivering from the fire and massacre.”

sand

G. Sand

Emerging, shivering from the fire, is also George Sand. She writes:” I come from Paris, and I do not know whom to speak to. I am suffocated. I am quite upset, or rather out of heart. The sight of the ruins is nothing compared to the great Parisian insanity. With very rare exceptions, everybody seemed to me only fit for the strait-jacket. One-half of the population longs to hang the other half, which returns the compliment. That is clearly to be read in the eyes of the passers-by.”

 

march

Prisoners being taken to Versailles

 

The surviving rebels are marched twenty miles to Versailles. They suffer insults along the way. One of the gossipy Goncourt brothers later recalled that he saw society ladies, who had never raised their voice, vomit their hatred using invectives that would make a sailor blush.

 

prisoners versailles

Female prisoners awaiting interrogations

 

condamnation

The trials were of short duration, with the execution soon after

 

The prisoners, who were not condemned to death, were shipped to New Caledonia, an island in the Pacific Ocean.  Forty-three thousand were sent there in crowded conditions and with little food. A handful came back after the amnesty twenty years later.

In all, with thirty thousand dead, not counting the injured, and another forty thousand deported, it took over ten years to restore the Paris working force. Those people were not only the manual laborers. They were also highly skilled workers and artisans of superior training. Even today, 146 years after the event, there are fresh flowers laid at the wall where the last Communards were executed. The working class keeps paying respect to the victims of this Parisian calamity.

Related posts:

How Germany was Born in France (The Shah of Persia, on his 1873 visit to Europe, comments on the post-Commune Paris)

Paris of the 1870s: Risen from the Ashes

12 Events That Influenced 19th Century Paris

 

 

 

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As terror stalks the streets of Paris, one is forced to remember the 1890’s when the situation was similar; when men and women infected with extreme ideas and with no regard for human life carried out deadly attacks on innocent people. While the Islamists work for the ideal of the Caliphate—a worldwide state where everyone will be either Muslim or dead—the anarchists of the 19th century advocated a government-free, self-managed society. 

 

aniche bomb au cafe terminus arrestation dynamite a la chambre dynamite au commissariat ravachol

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 Place de l’Opéra

Place de l’Opéra

Charles C. Fulton was one of the incomprehensibly rich American tourists who invaded Paris two years after the twin calamities of the Franco-Prussian War and the fall of the Second Empire. In 1871, the city was ruined by Prussian bombardment and the Commune of Paris revolution, both responsible for destroying and damaging many public buildings. It is therefore surprising that Fulton never mentions the wounds Paris had sustained. In the two years that followed, Paris seems to have risen from the ashes to dazzle the foreigners as it did under the reign of Napoleon III.

Excerpt from Europe Viewed Through American Spectacles by Charles C. Fulton.

Paris, August 18, 1873

It is not an easy matter at this late day to write letters from Paris that will interest and instruct. It is a city which everybody is familiar with, it having been so often described, and its attractions and beauties so vividly spread before the general reader that it would almost seem like undertaking to write something new about Baltimore. We have visited it so often, and ridden and walked through its multifarious thoroughfares until all its crooks and turns are as familiar to us as those of any of our leading American cities. Still there is something about Paris that makes it always appear bright, gay, and sparkling to the visitor.

The Parisian does not worship the “dust of ages” or take pride in smoked and begrimed walls as the Londoner does. If he has anything that is handsome he tries to make it handsomer. He is always rubbing, scrubbing, and polishing old things, or tearing them down to make room for something new and more beautiful. The four handsome clusters of gas-lamps in the centre of the Place de l’Opéra are not only kept as bright and elegant as the day they were put up, but the elaborate bronze lamp-posts are polished with as much regularity as the glasses of the lamps. If the slightest defect is observed in one stone in the street, it is relaid or replaced by a new one; and if a flaw in the asphaltum as large as a man’s hand is discovered, a repairing party is at work in a few hours, and the defect removed. Every tenant is held responsible for the cleanliness of the street before his door, and neither dirt nor rubbish of any kind is permitted. As in public matters, so also is those of private concern. They never allow their houses or store fronts to become dull or dingy. They are always arranging and rearranging the goods in their windows and striving to make them more attractive. All these scores of miles of boulevards are planted with sycamore trees. When they plant trees they take good care that they shall have a fair chance to grow, and they are all flourishing beautifully. Around each tree an iron grating, extending three feet each way, is inserted in the pavement, in order that its roots may have breathing-room and water. There are hundreds of thousands of these trees all thus planted, and all tended and watered by the city authorities. If one should happen to die, a tree of similar size is brought to take its place, that the uniformity may be unbroken. These trees are the pride of Paris, and are yearly becoming more serviceable as a shade to the broad sidewalks as well as a grand ornament to the boulevards.

Thus it is that the attractions of Paris are always increasing. No rust or decay is permitted , and old things are swept away as having served their day and generation. Antiquity has no worshipers, and is made to yield to the spirit of improvement. New squares, gardens, and fountains are following the march of improvement in the suburbs, and even in those quarters of the city where the poorer classes mostly reside, these pleasure-grounds are being fitted up as elegantly as in the wealthiest sections. Paris is not beautiful in spots, but every portion of it abounds in attractions.

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Anton von Werner, The Proclamation of the German Empire (January 18, 1871)

King of Prussia`s proclamation as Emperor of Germany in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles; Bismarck can be seen in the center wearing white.

When declaring war on Prussia in July 1870, Frenchmen did not expect that within months the prosperous Second Empire would be no more. It all happened so fast: the war, the fall of the Empire and its replacement by the Third Republic, followed by the Prussian occupation and the horrors of the Commune uprising yet to come. For Prussia, however, it was a time of glory and the time for unification of all the small German-speaking kingdoms and duchies into a new European power – the German Empire. To France’s chagrin and humiliation, the ceremony was held in the famous Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. For Otto von Bismarck, architect of the unification project, the day marked the culmination of his political career.

Nasir al-Din Shah, ruler of Persia 1848-96, photo by Nadar

Two years later, on a visit to Paris, the Shah of Persia captured in his diary  the prevailing French mood and the political confusion that reigned at the time:

To-day we noticed a singular frame of mind in the French. First of all, they still keep up the state of mourning that followed the German War, and they are all, young or old, sorrowful and melancholy. The dresses of the women, ladies and men, are all dresses used for mourning; with little ornamentation and very plain. Now and then some people shouted: “Vive le Maréchal” , “Vive le Shah de Perse!”, from another one I heard , as I strolled about by night, a loud voice saying: “May his reign and rule be firm and enduring.”

From the whole of these circumstances it becomes evident that there are at present in France numerous parties who desire a monarchy; but they are in three sections, one desiring the son of Napoleon, another the dynasty of Louis-Phillipe, and the third Henry the Fifth, who is then Bourbon family; and although this and the family of Louis Phillipe are really one race, they have distinctions.

The wishers for a republic, on the other hand, have great power; but they are not all of one mind. Some are for a Red Republic, which is a fundamental commonweal. Others are for a moderate republic in which monarchical institutions shall be found, without a monarch’s existing. Others again wish otherwise. Among all these diversities of opinion it is now a very difficult matter to govern, and the consequences of these incidents will surely eventuate in many difficulties, unless that all combine on one plan and establish either a pure monarchy or a pure republic. Then, France is the most powerful of States, and all must take her into their calculations; whereas, with all these dissidences it is a difficult matter for her to preserve her institutions.

Excerpt from the Diary of H.M. Shah of Persia During his Tour Through Europe in A.D. 1873

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facteurFrom the book Paris from the Earliest Period to the Present Day by William Walton, Philadelphia, 1899:

The arrangements for mailing and receiving letters in Paris are, in general, very satisfactory,—the branch post-offices are over a hundred in number, and they will receive not only letters and mailable packages, but telegrams. They do a very large business, and are generally thronged all day in the popular quarters,—the registry department being greatly in favor. At night, they are recognizable by their blue lanterns, and there are also, since 1894, auxiliary offices in certain shops designated by blue signs. The letter-boxes, set in the wall of the building, so that letters and packages may be mailed from the street, are usually four in number, one each for Paris, the departments, foreign mail, and for printed matter. Stamps may be bought and letters mailed also in very many of the small tobacco-shops, in public buildings, and in the dépôts of the railways and the tramways of the suburbs. There are eight collections and distributions a day, on work-days, and five on Sundays and fête-days; the facteur, or carrier, has discharged his duty when he has left the mail with the concierge of the building, and its final delivery rests entirely with the latter functionary. These facteurs, who are generally intelligent and conscientious, wear the inevitable uniform of all French officials, and carry their mail in an absurd stiff little leathern box, suspended in front of their stomachs by a strap around their necks. Their distributing matter never seems to exceed the capacity of this box,—ranging in quantity from a third to a tenth of the ordinary burden of a New York letter-carrier.

A more rapid method of distribution, for which a higher rate is charged, is by means of the pneumatic tubes which traverse the city, mostly through the égouts, and which have their termini in the branch post-offices. Envelopes or enclosures sent by this medium must contain neither valuable objects nor hard and resisting bodies. The service of colis postaux, so called although there is no necessary connection with the post, and which corresponds nearly with the American express system, is, for Paris, in the hands of a director to whom it is a concession by the Administration des Postes, and for the departments and the colonies in those of the railway companies and the subsidized maritime companies. The inevitable conflict with the workings of the octroi interferes very seriously with the promptness and efficacy of this service, and in the summer of 1898 the complaints of the despoiled patrons were unusually loud and deep. In their search for contraband articles, the octroi inspectors open a large number of these packages received from the departments and containing in very many cases consignments of wine, game, patés, and other delicacies,—the closing up of these numerous cases is left to the employees of the railways, and the result has been a perfect pillage. In vain do the consignees protest—the companies interpose the interminable delays of corporations, and justice is not to be had.

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The two terms are often confused. In the 19th century Paris, especially during the Second Empire, cocottes were high-ranking prostitutes; their rank was determined by the number of ruined men they left in their wake. They were mostly of low origin and socially unacceptable outside their circle. Even La Païva, the richest cocotte in France and wife of a Portuguese aristocrat, was turned out when she attempted to appear at Court.

Cocodettes, on the other hand, were well-born spirited women in the entourage of Empress Eugénie. Duchesses, countesses, and wives of foreign ambassadors aspired to be members of the club. However, as far as virtue was concerned, cocottes and cocodettes often stood on the same moral level. In fact, the imperial court was an upscale brothel where sex was exchanged for favors. Napoleon III, a notorious sex-addict, cruised the in-crowd for easy conquests. To an experienced courtier, a twirl of the emperor’s moustache was a sure sign that the object of his interest would soon find herself in a horizontal position. To be tumbled by the emperor was considered a badge of honor. During a ball given at the court, “Madame de X.,” recalled Baron Haussmann, “was loudly enthusiastic after what had just happened to her. I had to snatch her away for a waltz to prevent her from bragging about it to her husband.”

Cocottes and cocodettes – two faces of the moral decadence that characterized the exuberant Second Empire. It all came to an end in 1870 when France provoked a war with Prussia and suffered a defeat. The Third Republic, built on the Second Empire’s ruins, proclaimed the return to middle-class morality.

Franz Winterhalter: The Empress Eugenie Surrounded by her Ladies in Waiting, 1855

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