Dreyfus Affair is a noteworthy incident, happened in 19th century France, a century where the fundamentals of Societies changed and the modern state was born. Started as an espionage Case, events quickly escalated into the national level and became an arena of reckoning between several factions of France Politics and literally splat France in half. By studying Dreyfus Affair, many aspects and fundamentals of modern Society can be revealed.

Political Environment in France Before the Dreyfus Affair:

To understand the context and read the event properly, it’s crucial to know and understand the Political background in France.

French Defeat and Paris Commune:

II. French Empire under Napoleon III was decisively defeated in Battle of Sedan during Franco – Prussian War in 1870-71. Their emperor was captured, armies scattered and Empire died in a bloodless coup. A provisional government of National Defence was formed in Paris in 1870. Their attempts on organising defence had failed. Paris was under siege and in 28 January 1871, an armstice was signed. According to the armstice, a National Assembly was to be formed to negotiate peace. Assembly was formed heavily by Monarchists which desired peace but there was also a sizeable Republicans – especially Parisians – who desired a fight to the end. Treaty of Frankfurt was ratified on 1st of March. France gave away regions of Alsace-Lorraine, paid a huge war indemnity and forced to allow Prussians to hold a victory parade in Paris.

Leon Gambetta Proclaiming the Republic on 1870

Head of the Provisional Government, Adolphe Thiers attempted to disarm the National Defence Militia in Paris. The Militia was formed mostly from working-class citizens of Paris. They were furious. The ongoing siege had widened the gap between rich people and the assembly, which was formed by the bourgeoisie, now ordered them to surrender. Militia in Paris had mutinied, killing the Garrison Commander. On March 26 in the municipal election, the Revolutionaries had triumphed and formed the Paris Commune. It consisted of mostly radical Republicans –Jacobins- and Socialists.

Barricades formed during the Commune

Important Figure: Adolphe Thiers

French historian and statesman. Born in 1797, served as a Prime Minister in Previous Republics. In the time of Third Republic he was seen as a stabilising force in French Politics thus held the Chief of Executive office in Provisional Government. Died shortly after his resignation in 1873.

Provisional Government, now stationed in Tours, were determined to take the city and in 21th of May French Army Stormed the city. The following week was called ‘’la Semaine Sangiente’’ bloody week. Soldiers killed 20.000 to 30.000 Communards, deported thousands to penal colonies in Africa and reestablished control in Paris.

Executed Communards
Rue de Rivoli after Bloody Week

The Third Republic:

 The Government when Dreyfus Affair took place was the Third Republic of France. Young republic faced threats from right Monarchists and left Socialists during its existence and were in an almost constant political turbulence, short-lived governments and scandals but regarding democratic values such as freedom of press, equality among citizens and human rights it is counted as one of the most liberal and progressive governments during its age and in time elimination of anti-republican factions led to solid integration of Republican values in society and led an example to all Liberals among the World. Republic was disbanded in 1940 during WWII.


 Work on forming a constitutional government began in 1873 and a framework of constitutional provisions were accepted in 1875 and the National Assembly dissolved itself.

 Constitution established a two-house legislature: Chamber of Deputies, which representatives were directly elected in universal male suffrage and the Senate, which was elected indirectly through local authorities. Together they formed the French Parliament. A Council of Ministers, headed by a President of Council of Ministers ( Prime Minister ) responsible towards chamber of Deputies, which meant the government could be ousted by Parliament and a President of the Republic, selected by two legislative houses held the executive power. President was elected indirectly, by an absolute majority of Chamber of Deputies and Senate. In the beginning, the President, with approval of Senate, could dissolve the Chamber of Deputies and call for an election but the experiences of coup d’etats against previous republics had alienated from the Office of Presidency, as a result, the President was more like a figurehead while the Prime Minister and the Cabinet held the real executive power. President was elected for 7 years.

Political Factions and Actors Shaping the Republic:

The young republic quickly became a clashing area between republican and anti-republican factions who were favouring a Constitutional Monarchy under a king. First years saw great danger to its existence, political scandals and rise of popular leaders threatened the republic and the Republicans, who were also disintegrated among themselves, trying to hold their most important achievement. Understanding the Dynamics of the Republic is crucial to understand the Dreyfus Affair, which itself became a showdown arena for struggling political camps.


 The republicans in first legislative election of 1876 were split into 2 groups: Republican Union, which was formed bu radical republicans and Republican Left, formed by moderate republicans, called ‘Oppurtunists’ by the radicals. These Unions were more like confederations than political parties, loosely united under some policies.

 The more radical Republican Union was formed by Radical Republicans and ex-Communards ( Paris Commune ). They were uncompromising about their republican values, and their attitude towards Monarchists and Clergy and reluctance for peace between Germany and France alienated them from more moderate Republicans. Notable figures of this party are, Leon Gambetta, a journalist who escaped from Siege of Paris by a hot air balloon to organise defences and Georges Clemenceau, ex-Communard, future President of the Republic.

Important Figure: Léon Gambetta

Born in 1838, he was one of the leading figures of Republicans during Third Republic. During the Siege of Paris, he left the city with a hot air balloon to organise further defence and proclaimed the new Republic in 1870. He remained in the Parliament until his death 1882.

Important Figure: Georges Clemenceau

Born in 1841, Clemenceau was a writer and Political Activist during the Empire he left France to avoid persecution. He returned to Paris after the defeat at Sedan and tried to mediate between Communards and Government. During the Republic, he was the one who shined General Boulanger, which later opposed him. His relationship with Cornelious Herz started rumors of corruption towards him. Nevertheless, he stayed an leading figure in French Politics and he served as the Prime Minister of France during WWI, which earned him the Nickname ”Father of Victory”. He passed away on 1920.

Moderate Republicans were formed under Republican Left ( Republicans were considered Left considering the Political Spectrum ) In case of ideology, they were not that different from Radicals. Their main distinction was on implementing those policies as Moderate were more politic, more leaned towards agreement and compromises with political rivals. This attitude created some disunity between Republicans but most of the time they held the majority in Parliament. Notable Figures of the time are Jules Gravy, creator of French Colonial Policies in Africa and Jules Ferry, creator of famous ”Ferry Laws”.

First legislative election of 1871 was a disaster for Republicans and Leon Gambetta, their leader as they couldn’t even get %30 of the seats. Reason for his is their attitude against a peace and their relentlessness towards a fight to the end.  Republicans combined, held majority in Parliament most of the time but their disunity caused a constant change of governments and overall weak Prime Ministers. As a young republic with monarchist sentiment was still alive and well, their disunity gave oppurtunities to the enemies of the Regime. But in case of crisis like in Boulanger, which we will cover, their sensitivity on republican values and maybe more important their unyieldeing policy of anti-Clericism created an unity, which held the republic together.

 Past persecutions of members of Clergy in previous republics created a bitter rivalry between Republicans and Church. Tensions rose particulary in cases of Education and Church Schools. This delayed the process of Church to accept the Republic and allied them with enemies of the Regime whenever a crisis occured but in contrast, their attitude enabled Republicans to close the ranks. 

 Republicans find their roots in mostly Liberal ideas of 18th Century, Jean Jacques Rousseau and Montesquieu. Nationalism, economic Liberalism, Laicism and Political freedoms such as free press, right to vote and superiority of law were fundamental in their ideas. Their views on Nationalism and equality alienated them towards he Catholicism and Papacy meanwhile made them sympathetic to minorities such as Protestants and Jews. Because of their ideas on economic Liberalism, Republicans were highly favoured in city Bourgoiese, especially Paris. They were less popular in the rural countryside and even less in Westers France because of past dramas with Clergy.


 The first legislative election of Provisional Government in 1871 resulted in a crushing Monarchist victory with getting more than %60 of the seats. Although all Monarchists were in favour of the restoration of a Monarch, the question of who, divided them among 2 main camps: Orléanists, who preferred a king from House of Orléans and a Constitutional Monarchy; Legitimists, who believed in ancién regime and considered a king from House Bourbon as a legitimate successor to the throne. There were also a small group of Bonapartists who wanted someone from House Bonaparte to the French Throne.

 Throughout the Republic, Monarchists used every crisis as an opportunity to undermine Republicans and install a Monarch. Their first attempt came in 1873 when Adolphe Thiers resigned from presidency during the Provisional government. Monarchists agreed on a King, Henri, Count of Chambord. Negotiations, however, failed as Henri insisted on old Royal White Flag instead of French Tricolor. This was something that even Monarchists couldn’t accept, as the tricolour flag was the Flag which the French shed blood under for almost 100 years. Instead, Prince de MacMahon, who was a conservative Monarchist, was elected as a president, which he also attempted a coup by disbanding Cabinet and Calling for an election, which backfired heavily.

Henri, Count of Chambord
Fleur-de-Lis, French Standart before 1789 and between 1815-1830

By the time progressed, support for Republic grew stronger in the expense of Monarchists. It was the time of Modernisation and France had already turned from a Feudal Agricultural Country to an Urbanised Industrious Nation-State. As a result of this and emergence of an educated middle-class, Civil Service and judiciary positions were increasingly filled by common people, Protestants and especially Jews. This situation was unfavourable, both for Aristocrats and Catholics, which resulted in them to ally in their efforts against the Republic and Republicans. It is worth noticing that the Catholic Aristocracy, who were expelled from civil services, took an increasing interest for the army and as a result, number of Officers who had a Noble origin increased and Army became a powerhouse for old classes.

Catholic Church:

 The position of Catholic Church was permenantly shattered during French Revolution of 1789. Many priests were persecuted, even ones that sided with new Republic and supported the popular elections of Priests and Bishops. During the Reign of Terror, hundreds of Catholic priests were sent to Colonies in New Caledonia, many perished on the way.

 Most notorious atrocities against Clergy had happened in Western France, Nantes. Fearing a royalist insurrection, mass detentions had conducted in the region and the Clergy were the usual suspects’’ in eyes of Republicans. In Nantes, more than 1800 Clergyman were forcibly drowned, tied man and woman naked in so-called ‘’Republican Marriages’’ This events eventually led the alienation of Clergy and led the tradition of Royalist support in western France. ‘’ For Catholics in the nineteenth century’, wrote Ralph Gibson, the Rights of Man meant not liberty, equality and fraternity . . . but the September massacres, the noyades of Nantes, the pontons de Rochefort, the dry and wet guillotines. Only by keeping these things in the front of our minds can we understand what sometimes seems the mindlessly reactionary politics of Catholics in nineteenth-century France’’

After the Reign of Terror had ended, Emperor Napoleon realised that a stable and loyal Church was necessary for the State, so he made Concordat of July 1801 with Pope Pius VIII. With the Concordat, Roman Catholic Church was recognised as the official state Religion with Protestants and Jews are also recognised. Rome lost his control over French Clergy as all appontmets were  bounded to Minister of Public Worship.

The main field of conflict between Republicans and the Church was the field of Education. Revolution and Napoleon established a Secular education system to spread republican ideas. All Primary, secondary and High education institutions were under state Control and Clergy was banned from opening and running schools. This, however, changed in 1850 with the enactment of Falloux Laws which created cooperation between State and Church. Church and Orders were allowed to open and run Primary and Secondary schools alongside with State Institutions, still higher education was exclusive to University ( the term university here does not represent a High Education Institution, it is the name given by Napoleon I to the organisation of education in all levels ).

Alfred de Falloux

Catholic education was mostly run by Orders, most famous are the Jesuits and Assumptionists, which both will become relevant during the Dreyfus Affair. Jesuits were established during the Reformation era to raise Soldiers for Counter-Revolution. They were implacable enemies of Protestants, Seculars and Jews. They mostly recruited and educated higher classes and those which ‘’Saracen or Hebrew’’ descent were banned from joining the Society. Assumptionists, on the other hand, were appealing to peasants and artisans of lower classes. They made pilgrimages to some holy sites in France and published a newspaper ‘’La Croix’’ which was widely read and stood out with its fierce anti-semitic attitude during the affair.

Important Faction: Jesuit Order

Jesuit Order was founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola and his 6 friends in the University of Paris in 1534. Their actions against Reformation earned them the blessing of Pope. Over time, Jesuits increased their influence enormously, ran the most prestigious Educational Institutions and undertook missionary activities in China. The Order was dissolved in 1773, later restored in 1814 and held important Schools in France until Secularization of Education. ( Picture is St.Ingantius of Loyola )

Important Faction: Assumptionist Order

Founded in 1845 by Emmanuel d’Arzon. Order was very popular among poorer citizens in France, providing charity and Education. To fight againts increasing secularization, they organised mass pilgermages to Lourdes and to Holy Land. Their newspaper, La Croix was the main organ of anti-Semitism during Dreyfus Affair.

Time of Third Republic saw the power of Church to decline, as Republicans gained power. They were also hand to hand with aristocrats in the process of being expelled from civil services, which they claimed unfair. In reality however, old ruling classes found their places taken by Protestants and Jews is caused by diligence of these people. As minoritites, these people found no privilage in life and instead had to work hard to gain, meanwhile Church and Aristocracy were confortable with their privilages. As a result, an appointment based on Meritocracy expelled them from Civil Positions. As politican Yves Guyot said:

’They don’t want to take the trouble to learn a foreign language; they don’t want to submit themselves to the tedium of hard work; they don’t want to strain themselves by mastering the complexities of high finance; they want jobs and positions to come to them without effort in the traditional way. They are thus very jealous of the Jews who demonstrate in these jobs and positions the qualities of perseverance and know-how that they lack; and, like good protectionists . . . they demand that their rivals be removed; they pretend that they are persecuted, while in fact, it is they who want to persecute those whom they blame for their own lack of success.

 This reality caused the Church, which already was, to take an anti-Semitic stance, and it is no surprise that the Church was a fierce supporter of anti-Dreyfusards during the Affair.

The Military:

As mentioned before, the Army became a refuge for Catholic Aristocracy who were excluded from civil services. As military service was seen as a Privilege for being a Noble citizen, Jews and Protestants were non-existent for some time in the army.  Admissions to the army was made from 2 different institutions, one was the Military Academy at Saint-Cyr, other was Ecole Polytechnique, former was occupied by students from Catholic schools, particularly Jesuit one while latter usually had students from Secular Schools, lyses.

The reasons for increasing Aristocratic presence in the army is not limited to political events. French defeat of 1871 rose suspicions about Army’s military capabilities and many Aristocrats rushed to servet o their countries for honor. Another reason is the decline of land prices in 1880’s due to the massive influx of American Crops in France. This caused an agricultural crisis and the Aristocracy, who were naturally big land-owners left their now profitless family estates to seek Profession elsewhere.

 During the Republic, governments tried to Proffesionalise the army by admitting all classes by their Merit. As a result, Jewish officers could serve in French Army, like Alfred Dreyfus. This was concerning for Aristocrats as their sole powerhouse was changing and their thoughts on traditional duty and honour of serving in army further disgusted the Nobles from Jews in the Army.

 French had learned their lessons from their defeat at Sedan and immediately after the Peace, they began modernising the army. Specialised sections for military innovations were established and the French Army quickly became one of the most powerful and advanced armies in the World. The overall strategy was to be prepared for a war against the German Empire and as a result, an event of selling top-secret Military Advancements to Germans infuriated most French.


Socialism in France was shattered after dissolution of Paris Commune. Their leaders were either killed, arrested or exiled and all worker movements were suspended. During Adolph Thiers’s presidency, strikes were banned, instead a concept of cooperatism was introduced to improve standards of working class citizens which was accepted throughout remaining socialists.

  The decisive victory of Republicans in legislative elections of 1876 sparked the rebirth of socialism as it was made possible by heavy support from the working class. As a result, the first Socialist Workers Congress was Rallied in Paris on October 1876. The number of delegates was low and speeches were discreet and shy, mostly supporting the idea of corporatism. However, French socialists cleared the dead soil over them and started debates over working-class citizens problems again. There were several fractions at first, all of them were moderate yet still, revolutionary ideas were about to spread.

 Jules Guesde returned from his 5 years of exile and started publishing first Marxist Newspaper L’Egalité in 1877. His ideas were the emancipation of the working class can only be achieved by the collectivisation of means of production. He was supporting a revolution against reformist approaches at the time and was also favouring a strong party committee in the administration of political party or the state contrary to the opinions of the anarchists. His newspaper became the centre for worker movements and also saw some repression from government, police raids and arrests. The idea of revolutionary socialism was spreading, however. In the international Workers Congress of Gent, anarchists were defeated in favour of anarchists and in France, another socialist paper Le Socialisme Progressif published ideas of the revolutionaries.

Important Figure: Jules Guesde

Jules Guesde was a Journalist and politician in the Republic and one of the most prominent figures in French Socialism. Born in 1845, he started to work as a clerk in Interior Ministry. During the Paris Commune, he had to flee to Geneva to avoid persecution. He returned to France in 1876 and played an important role in reorganisation of Socialists. He and Paul Refarge soon seperated and formed first Revolutionary Socialist Party in France. He was known as a rhetorician and debater, able to influence his enemies and crowds,. He died on 1922.

Second Workers Congress in Lyon was a defeat in favour of Reformists. But in the third Congress, Jules Guesde, who is a fierce and Charismatic debater, and collectivists defeated the cooperators and anarchists. In that Congress, first French Socialist Party, Federated Party of the French Socialist Workers was born.

The Federation didn’t last long however as the party Program, which was created by Paul Lafargue, Jules Guesde, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels was heavily opposed by other Socialists. The program aimed for a disciplined revolutionary party with a Strong Party Committee and saw support from Worker Unions in Industrial Areas. However, remaining Socialists such as Possibilists, Blanquists, Cooperatists were against such centralization, instead insisted on a municipal autonomy. These disputes resulted in separation of Jules Guerde and Collectivists formed the French Labor Party, the first Revolutionary Marxist Part in France.

Important Figure: Paul Lafargue

Lafargue was born in 1842 in Santiago de Cuba. In medicine school in Paris, he started his intellectual life. He had to flee to Spain after PAris commune and contacted members f the International. Alongside Guesde, he was the founder of France Labor Party, first Revolutionary Party in France. While Guesde was the debater, Lafargue was the intellectual mind behind the Party doctrine. He spent his life, defending revolutionary action against Reformism. He committed suicide in 1908.

The Labor Party held a small section in Parliament initially while Moderate Socialists were stronger and also were in terms with Radical Republicans. During the Republic, Moderates didn’t hesitate to take sides with Republicans to Preserve the Republic in crises while The Marxists were distanced toward those events claimed these were affairs of the bourgeoisie and therefore had little importance to the struggle of Working-Class. This attitude would also present itself in the Dreyfus Affair.

French Labor Party

The Press:

Dreyfus Affair was one of the first instances in history that the Media ( Journals in that time ) had a substantial effect on governing public opinon, a feature which is attributed to Modern Societies. All camps had their own newspapers and publication of Emile Zola’s famous letter in L’Aurora was a critical point in the affair so it’s essential to see the situation of the French Media during the Period.

 First Newspaper published in France was weekly La Gazzette in 1631. First Daily newspaper was Le Journal de Paris, 1777. The number of readers were limited as the literacy rate was low an even there were improvements in times of 1st and 2nd Republics, the French media was literally started and had it’s Golden Age during the Third Republic, with newspapers that selling more than million copies a day.

 In 1881, the Press Law of 1881 had enacted and lifted series of restriction imposed by state on Media. The most important regulations concerning printing press are:

  • Newspapers and Periodicals can be published without an authorization from government
  • No power was given to either the administrative or judicial authorities to suspend or suppress a newspaper or periodical
  • The concept of ‘thought crime’ was abolishes, insted a list of Press Offences was introduced restricting discriminatory or depreciative publications against state and institiutons.

  The Regulation was very Liberal for it’s time and is still used today in France ( with small changes ) As favourable for intellectual life, this amount of freedom caused some publishers to get away with lies and slanders, as seen most clearly in Dreyfus Affair.

 Most read Newspaper of the time was Le Petit Journal one of the first Mass published newspapers, aiming the news about not Politics but other topics such as events or fashion. More political newspapers were; Le Figaro, read by moderates, Le Petite Republique, first published by Radical Leon Gambetta later Millerand and Jules Guesde was socialists main organ, L’Intransigeant, right-wing and notorious La Croix, published bu Assumptionist Order, heavily anti-Semitic and anti-Dreyfusard.

Anti-Semitism in France During the Third Republic:

 Anti-Semitism finds it’s roots in some theological disputes between Catholics and Jews, as they are blamed for the crucifixion of the Christ. Through history, Jews were discriminated, banned from soldiery and civil jobs and as a result, they established themselves as artisans, traders and moneylanders in cities. They forced to live in small quarters in cities (ghettos) were blamed for black death ( thousands were killed in order to pacify angry populace )

 During the 19th century, after the conduct of linguistic and ethnical research, the Jewish Sentiments changed its form. Several racial theories were adopted. The distinction made between Aryan and Semitic People based on linguistic research resulted in Aryan being the superior race while Semites were inferior, therefore the religion based anti-Judaism converted to nationalist and racist anti-Semitism of Modern Age.

Ethnic Map Published in Germany-1885

This fact is even more consistent with the situation in France, where Republican tradition is strong enough to prevent enactment of discriminatory regulations against the Jewish population. This, however, didn’t mean that there weren’t any anti-Semitic parties. The Jewish situation is merged into all dynamics of Republic, they were considered French and had the increasing opportunities of Jobs in Civil Administration departments. As mentioned earlier, this situation also created an anti-Semitic league, mainly consisting of Monarchists and especially Catholics. Jews were declared scapegoats, responsible for all ill affairs happened to France, like German defeat or any economic crisis, all created all sorts of conspiracy theories regarding big Jewish Banks and families, especially Rothschilds.

Important Faction: Rotschild Family

Studying all history of Rotschilds and their affairs is too big for the scope of this article. They were a Jewish family with mainly on Banking Business, known for financing Napoleon. During 19th Century, they were an influential family in European Political arena, mainly due to their strong connections and vast wealth. They were also the main antagonist of anti-Semitic Press in France with several conspiracy theories related to them.

 In famous work of Sociologist Emile Durkheim, ‘’Anti-Semitism and Social Crisis’’ describes Anti-Semitism as a functional tool in Society. In Durkheim’s view, “anti-Semitism served a social function: designating the Jew as an adversary, it restored social solidarity uniting society around hatred of the Jew.

Emile Durkheim

Important Events Occurred During Third Republic Prior to the Dreyfus Affair:

The Crisis of May :

Adolphe Thiers, who made peace with Germans and suppressed the Paris Commune, was elected by National Assembly in 1871. He proved himself as a adept politician, already held important officec in the past. His election was a compromise between Monarchists and Republicans, mainly to pass the crisis that shook France. This was represented by Pact of Bordeaux which was proclaimed by Adolphe Thiers on 1871.

 Over time however, Thiers set his attitude towards a Republican Regime, opposed to the Monarchist majority of Assembly, which resulted in Resignation. Monarchists agreed on Patrice MacMahon, Duke of Magenta as the Chief of State. After proclamation of the New Constitution, he became the President.

Important Figure: Patrice de MacMahon, Duke of Magenta

Born in 1808, General MacMahon had a long and distinguished military Career before he got involved into Politics. He was known as a conservative catholic man, seeing Republic as a corrupt system but his sense of duty drew him away from any coup attempts. Upon his failure on elections, he retired and died in 1893.

 In the elections of 1876, Republicans gained the majority and as a result, governments were formed by Republicans. Jules Simon became President on 12th of December 1876. Being a moderate Republican, his compromising attitude towards clergy alienated him from Radicals, thus weakening his government. MacMahon and Simon were already in bad terms so seeing the weakness of his Republican rival, MacMahon dismissed the Simon and installed Duke Broglie, a Monarchist. This action was seen as intolerable for Republicans, who united in Parliament and gave the vote of no-confidence to the new government. In response, MacMahon dissolved the Chamber of Deputies and called for an election, triggering a Constitutional Crisis, Seize Mai.

Albert, 4th duc de Broglie

 The elections took place on December and resulted in a United Republican victory. The Legitimist party was shattered and driven away from Parliament. This attempt solidifed the Republic and raised suspicions towards the office of Presidency, reducing it’s effectivenes significantly to degree that the authority to dissolve the Chamber wasn’t used again until de Gaulle. The Legislation became the dominant power in French Politics now got rid of the risk of dissolution from Presidency. Growing sense of unity between Republicans against fundemental threats was established which would be further tested in the future events.

 Another result of this crisis was increased hostilities between Republicans and Monarchist&Catholic Party. Having the Majority in Lower Chamber and the Senate in 1879, Republicans began to shape the country to their ideals and also started filling the administrative and executive positions, in a way they couldn’t under MacMahon. This eventually made the conservative party (Monarchists and Catholics) more reluctant towards the regime and prevented the establishment of a Conservative Party which is not enemy to the Regime, instead, anti-Republicanism merged into conservative identity and with used every opportunity against the Republic. MacMahon’s office had ended in 1879 and succeeded by Jules Grévy.

Jules Ferry and Education Reforms:

 One of the important figures of the era was Jules Ferry. A lawyer and a Moderate Republican, he held several offices between 1879-1883 and he is known for his colonial policy and laicism.

 Ferry held the office of Ministry of Public Education and Fine Arts on three periods between 1879-1883 and also became Prime Minister on two governments. During his time, France established a colonial Empire mainly on Indo-China and completely expelled the Clergy from education, revoking Falloux Laws of 1850.

 Ferry considered the reason of defeat against Germans was the education. In Prussia, Primary education was ender State control and free. To remedy this, he enacted several educational laws between 1879 and 1886, today known as ‘’Ferry Laws’’

  Primary education became free and compulsory, secondary schools were opened for girls and educational structure was organised. Requirements were introduced in order to teach and religious education was not included in curriculum. The Educational language was French, teaching in other languages were forbidden.

Jules Ferry

Boulanger Crisis (Boulanger Affair):

The crisis regarding the rise of a Popular Leader, General Boulanger was one of the most important events on the way to Dreyfus Affair. The events during the crisis left strong impact on French Political life and today, General Boulanger and his movement is considered one of the first Popular faschist-right movements in history.  Georges Ernest Jean-Marie Boulanger was born in Saint-Cyr on 1837 and joined army on 1856. He was a proven military commander, took part in Austro-Sardinian War, China, Franco-Prussian War and dissolution of Paris Commune. He gained popularity with his anti-German rhetoric and actions during his period as a Minister of War in 1886-87 and gained enormous popularity for his anti-German attitude, earning him the name Général Revanche.

Important Event: Schnabele Incident

Guillaume Schnaebele was an Alsatian French Officer. On 21th of April 1887, he was captured and dragged to German border by 2 German officers, accused of being a French Spy. The situation quickly escalated and France sent an ultimatum to Germany requesting Schnabele and a formal apology. After 1 week, on 28th of April, Germany backed down, sent Schnabele and a letter of apology from Bismarck.

Today, the nature of the affair is debated. But unquestionable fact is that the affair made Boulanger the hero, the man whom Germans feared. It is not known if Boulanger set this up or not but after the event, he was dismissed from Ministry of War.

French Revanchism

The idea of ”revanche”, reacquirement of lost territories Alsace and Lorraine was a strong directive in French Political life between 1871-1919. The children were thought not to forget the losses, the military was glorified and any successful action against the Germans were highly approved by population. The fury directed towards Captain Dreyfus, for selling French military secrets can be explained by this fact. The trails of this policy can be traced to the Treaty of Versailles, where Germany was subjected to heavy sanctions.

Contrary to his popular image, Boulanger is also considered as an ignorant and a hotheaded man with a poor understanding of politics. His movement, from start to the end, never had an actual political stance, only combining parties which was against the government policies, Monarchists, Nationalist League of Patriots Party, Blanquist Socialists and even some Radical Republicans ( it was Georges Clemencau who ensured his position as the Minister of War in 1886 ). This inchoerent union, combined with incompetence of Boulanger made it impossible to create a real policy for Boulangism Movement and only base it stood on was Popularity and public image of General Boulanger and his Populist Rhetoric about Revanchism. His political campaign is mostly remembered by big demonstrations, mass publication of leaflets and Rallies, mainly organised by League of Patriots.

Important Faction: League of Patriots

League of Patriots was a French far-right movement formen in 1882 by Paul Dérouléde, Henri Martin and Félix Faure. Their doctrine was based on ultra-nationalism based on Révanchism. They were one of the biggest supporters of Boulanger. After their failure, the League was criminalised in 1889. It was reopened in 1898 and engaged in a fierce campaign against Captain Dreyfus. After a failed coup attempt 1899, the League was dissolved.

Even without being a candidate, Boulanger received 100.000 votes in a by-election in Region of Seine. Feeling the growing threat, Boulanger was appointed as a commander of a unit outside Paris. Around that time, a scandal regarding Daniel Wilson, son-in-law of the President Jules Grévy had erupted. He was accused of giving out decorations in exchange for money. He had put on trial, found guilty however his judgement was reversed by the appeal court. This event and Boulanger’s appointment outside Paris created a public opinion that while corrupt politicans are free, honorable soldiers are being punished, thus further increased his popularity. Jules Grévy had resigned from presidency and an oppurtunity for Monarchists to install a President was born. This didn’t happen however as Republicans successfully installed Marie François Sadi Carnot in 1887, a Moderate republican.

Boulanger started seeking support from Royalists and made contact with a Bonaparte Pretender in Switzerland. Initial strategy was to install Boulanger as Minister of War and force a plebisite, which will change the constitution and install a King, with Boulanger as a Consul. This plan was soon discarded as the Republican majority in Parliament made any Consitutional changes impossible. Boulanger’s affiliation with Royalist camps earned him funds and allies but at the same time, he was dismssed from the army by Republicans. His popularity was only growing though and he entered the Parliamen as a Deputy of Nord. Support for Boulangists didn’t only came from Royalists and Nationalists, elements of far-left, workers, journalists, every person who felt shunned in rule of Bourguasie.

Boulangists were slowly entering the Parliament with several elections and a vacancy of a position as Deputy of Paris set the stage for the most important clash between Boulanger and Republicans. The election date was 27th of January 1889. Candidate of Republicans was Eduard Jacques, Jules Guesde also ran his on candidate. Paris was crucial for Boulanger at that time, he was at the height of his popularity and Paris was known as the Metropolitan center of anti-clerican and republican France, a stronghold for the supporters of the regime. Boulanger was heavily funded from Royalists and overshadowed the republican campaign. Both sides were confident about their victory and when the voting was over, it was 245.000 for Boulanger and and 162.000 for Jacques. Victory was complete for General Boulanger.

 His attitude right after the victory, however, led to his downfall. Over 200.000 of his supporters were ready to march beside him to seize the Ministries and make a coup d’etat. Boulanger hesitated, he left the mob, who were ready to make him whatever he wanted to be. This hesitation and delay gave the panicked republicans to reorganize and strike back.

A new government with Pierre Tirard as Prime minister was formed and legislations regarding electoral system were passed in order to hinder Boulangists for upcoming general election. Minister of Interior Affairs, Ernest Constans, played an effective role in pacifiying the Boulangist supporters. A law that banned secret societies was enacted to shut down League of Patriots and it’s members were arrested. Soon, news of the issue of an arrest order for Boulanger reached and he escaped France in the end. This led to the end of Boulangism as many of his supporters were arrested and support for him in parliament dwindled. General Boulanger committed suicide near his Mistress’s grave on 30th of September 1891. Boulangist Party was utterly defeated in the elections of 1889, getting a mere %6 vote.

 Today, there is a debate on the political aspect of the Boulangist Movement. Some claimed the movement was a collaboration of nationalist and socialist practices, therefore a form of fascism, but modern socialists deny it’ socialist aspects. However, it is undeniable that the movement gained immense support from lower-class citizens. Boulangists themselves were part of socialist and Radical parties, after the affair, many claimed their ignorance about Boulanger and his affiliation with Royalists. Royalists themselves were mostly damaged from the affair. Bonapartists disappeared from political life and overall support for a Monarch had decreased significantly. The Monarchists themselves complies with the regime and followed their agendas in other political organizations, some joined Nationalistic parties. Republic emerged victorious from the event and solidified its rule. Never again, a threat as serious as Boulanger appeared.

‘’The Ralliment’’

 It is no surprise that Clergy and Pope was symphatethic to the Boulangist cause. Their defeat however, marked the beginning of a new chapter of Church-State relations in France.

 Pope Leo XIII heralded the change of attitude of Church against Republic. Being an intellectual man, he realized that feuding against the Republic was only hurting the Church and further increasing anti-clerical sentiment in France. And with the defeat of Boulanger and Royalists, Pope was ready to make peace with the regime. This undertaking gave it’s fruit by birth of Christian Democrats later on.

Pope Leo XIII

Panama Scandal:

The Scandal of Panama Canal and it’s contractor company was the biggest monatery Scandal of 19th Century, costing over half Billion Francs and leaving a black spot on Republican Parliamenterians and contributing to the rise of anti-Semitism which appeared on the Dreyfus Affair.

  Idea of Building a canal in Panama, opening a direct sea route between Atlantic and Pacific Oceans was a long dream and with the success of the Suez Canal that had opened in 1869, French Parliament agreed on establishment of Panama Canal Company and building the Canal on 1879. This task was given to Ferdinand de Lesseps, whose part in building the Suez Canal was undeniable.

Lesseps started raising funds on France and America. Especially small bonds and shares were sold in France. Work started in 1882, Lesseps calculated that the project would take 6 years and approximately 680.000 million Francs. From the start, however, difficulties hampered the construction project. Plagues and landslides were increasing the costs, combined with technical errors, the Panama Company failed to finance the project further and declared bankruptcy in 1889. Over 800.000 Frenchmen lost their investments in the Project.

Ferdinand de Lesseps

 In 1892, nationalist press had revealed all the bribes and corruption in order to fund the project. The lottery issue, which raised in 1888 in order to secure some funds to the continiuation of project was achieved by bribery. Press and several officer were also bribed in order to hide the real situation in Panama. Named politicians were Republicans, including Georges Clemenceau and majority of Ministers. The population was shocked and enraged. In the ensuing trials, Lesseps, his son and engineer Gustave Eiffel alongside with 2 Jewish Businessman Baron Jacques Reinach ( committed suicide ) and Cornelius Herz were sentenced to prison and a Parlamentary enquiry was conducted for the Parliamentarians whose names were involved. Process lasted until 1897.

This event shook the public trust towards the Republicans and planted the idea of ‘’corrupt and self-gaining Politician’’ image to the society. This was achieved mostly with Conservative Press who revealed the truth and possibly added some figures for their gain. For them, it was another Jewish Conspiracy, a conspiracy related to big Bankers like Rothschilds. The verdict of Cornelius Herz ( who was supposedly innocent ) and Baron Jacques supported this image and gave birth to a new wave of anti-Semitism, in a date close to the famous Dreyfus Affair.

A caricature on the scandal. It reads: “Few new toys this year: we’re liquidating everything that remains of the stock of marionnettes that say: Papa, -Nana, -Mama, -Panama.”


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