1 pages essay


French History

Section 4: Emperors, Kings, and Republics (1792-1870)


The end of the Terreur sounded the death knell for the revolutionary movement.  It was followed by a succession of governments and rulers from 1793 to 1870 that included two empires, two republics, and the restoration of the monarchy, making the 19th century a testing ground for democratic institutions and values across France. The Ancien Régime was gone forever. In its place evolved a new order marked by cosmopolitanism and a long period of social and intellectual fermentation that kept Paris at the center of innovation and creativity in scientific and artistic domains.

Key terms and concepts: The art of eloquence, end of the Ancien Régime (Old Regime), the First Republic, Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety, the Directory, reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleonic Code, the First Empire under Napoleon, Restoration of the Bourbon Monarchy, Louis Napoleon and the Second Empire, Napoleon III, Franco-Prussian War, the Third Republic

Table of Contents:

· Chapter 5: The Art of Eloquence  (Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong, pp. 47-59)

· The Reign of Terror and its Consequences (1792-1795)

· The Directory and Consulate, or First Republic (1795-1799)

· The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte and the First Empire (1799-1815)

· The Restoration of the Bourbon Monarchy: Louis XVIII, Charles X, and Louis Philippe (1815-1848)

· Louis Napoleon and the Second Empire  (1848-1870)

· Sources  

Objectives for this section :

After completing the following readings, see if you are able to do these things:

· Briefly describe the transition from Terror to the First Republic.

· List three ways in which Napoleon Bonaparte made lasting contributions to French culture and society.

· Explain briefly under what conditions the monarchy was restored in 1815.

· List three achievements of Napoleon III.

Chapter 5: The Art of Eloquence (Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong, pp. 61-73)

Study Questions:

· Define the art of rhetoric and say why its practice is an important part of the French cultural value of eloquence.

· Describe the dialectic or analytical model for argument taught in French schools.

· In what way does eloquence as a social value enhance democracy in France?

· The French have a saying from the 17th-century philosopher Nicolas Boileau: "What is well conceived is expressed clearly, and the words to say it come easily." (Ce qui se conçoit bien s'annonce clairement, et les mots pour le dire arrivent aisément). How does this statement represent a cultural value that is rooted in history?

· N-B note that French reporters feel much freer to give their opinions and impressions up front than do their North American counterparts because they consider them to be facts, on par with events, numbers, quotations, and physical descriptions (p.73). On the other hand, they dislike and are in fact mistrustful of the Anglo-Saxon rhetorical style of "understatement." What is your reaction to this preference?

In Chapter 5, N-B examine the art of eloquence in France, including written and spoken discourse. The importance of this element in French culture is fundamental, since the French place a high value on verbal expression in their schools as well as in their society as a whole. Learning to argue well, to state one's opinion or impression of a situation or event using clear language and verbal acuity known as esprit, or wit, is the mark of intellectual distinction that commands respect. Having an opinion and stating it is also something journalists and other intellectuals are expected to do in France. This practice is different from Anglo-Saxon notions of impartiality, where understatement is considered the norm.

The Reign of Terror and its Consequences (1793-1794)

The abolition of the monarchy and declaration of the République on September 21, 1792, renamed le Premier Vendémiaire, or first day  of Year I (l’An I), marked the beginning of what is known as The First Republic. However, this was also the inception of the Reign of Terror. The Convention was dominated by the ultra-right party known as the Jacobins whose leader, Maximilien Robespierre (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site., claimed: "Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible." The first victim of the ensuing dark and bloody episode in the French road to democracy know as La Terreur or Reign of Terror was  Marie Antoinette (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. , who followed her husband to the  guillotine (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.  after his death on January 21, 1793, at the hands of the extremists.



Mini-Bio of Marie Antoinette (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.


The fall of the monarchy had forced the government of France to remain in a state of emergency after the National Convention in order to confront enemies from abroad: England and Spain. Violence increased as people considered to be enemies of the revolution were rounded up, summarily tried, and sent to their death.  A governmental program of de-Christianization founded on the Cult of Reason was installed, and a Republican Calendar with seasonal names for the months replaced the Church calendar. By July 1794, the Revolutionary Tribunal had sent 2,400 people to the guillotine in Paris, the last of whom was the leader of the Committee of Public Safety--Robespierre himself. Over 30,000 people across France had fallen victim to the revolutionary purge.

The Committee on Public Safety


The Directory and Consulate, or First Republic (1795-1799)

Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul of the Directory

After Robespierre's death, a new assembly with a new constitution called  The Directory (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.  was established, led by a group of five men who held executive power in France according to the constitution of 1795. It was during this period that a 26-year-old Corsican who had rendered services to the Convention,Napoleon Bonaparte (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site., was able to win military victories against France's enemies. A patient man and supreme military strategist, Bonaparte knew how to wait until the time was right to make his move. Following elections in the spring of 1797, which were won mainly by Royalists who wanted peace at any cost, two of the directors were ousted and the elections annulled. The Directory turned to Bonaparte for help, who sent one of his generals to Paris to assist the Republicans in seizing power to prevent the return of the Old Regime under  Louis XVIII (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. whom the Royalists favored. In the aftermath of this coup d'état, the Directory grew increasingly weak and ineffectual, relying more and more on the army. By 1799, the time was right for a takeover. On November 9, Napoleon executed the Coup d'état of Brumaire to create a new republican form known as the  Consulate (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. , a triumvirate of three consuls with himself as the First Consul.

   Napoleon is in the center.

The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) and the First Empire (1799-1815)

With Napoleon Bonaparte as First Consul of the French Republic and effectively running the country, the French Revolution finally came to an end. In 1800, he defeated the Austrians at Marengo and in 1801 signed a peace treaty; in 1802 France made peace with England. Napoleon also signed a Concordatwith the Vatican in 1801, not out of religious orthodoxy but because he saw it as a means to an end, which was to improve order and to deliver France from the brink of moral as well as political anarchyHe introduced administrative reforms, established a civil code known as the  Napoleonic Code (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. , as well as codes of civil, penal, and commercial procedure. He reformed education to prepare France's elite to be its best servants. Finally, he brought order to France's finances and encouraged the creation of the Bank of France.

The French rewarded Napoleon in 1801 by asking him to remain First Consul for another 10 years. By 1804, he proclaimed himself hereditary emperor and was crowned Napoleon I in Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on December 2, 1804. Thus ended The First Republic and began The First Empire under Napoleon.

         Napoleon I Coronation in Notre Dame Cathedral                                    Emperor's Crown    

On May 26, 1805, he was crowned King of Italy with the Iron Crown of Lombardy in Milan's cathedral.

 Iron Crown of Lombardy 

Napoleon I Emperor of the French   Napoleon I's Grand Empire

Over the course of little more than a decade, Napoleon had gained control of most of western and central mainland Europe, either by conquest or alliance, until he was defeated at the  Battle of the Nations (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.  near Leipzig in October 1813 after the disastrous Russian campaign. On March 31, 1814, the Czar and his army entered Paris. Napoleon abdicated and was exiled to the island of Elba in the Mediterranean. The Bourbon Dynasty was restored with Louis XVIII. Napoleon staged a comeback known as the  Hundred Days (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.  (les Cent Jours), before being decisively defeated at the  Battle of Waterloo (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.  in Belgium on June 18, 1815. Shortly after that, he was captured by the British, who exiled him to the island of  Saint Helena (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.  off the west coast of Africa, where he died, probably the victim of prolonged arsenic poisoning.


 For more on this influential leader watch the 4-part PBS documentary "Napoleon Bonaparte." A link to Part 1 is posted here (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. https://ilearn.laccd.edu/images/play_overlay.png.


The Restoration of the Bourbon Monarchy: Louis XVIII, Charles X, and Louis Philippe (1814-1848)

 Louis XVIII. First Bourbon Restoration of the Monarchy. 1814

Louis XVIII's reign was a constitutional monarchy as opposed to the absolutist monarchies of the Ancien Régime. Louis died in 1824 and was succeeded by his brother  Charles X (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. , whose conservatism was a throwback to the Ancien Regime and led to the July Revolution of 1830. 


Charles X, Second Bourbon Restoration of the Monarchy and last Bourbon King, 1824


Louis-Philippe, The Citizen King, elected under the July Monarchy, 1830

On August 9, 1830, Louis-Philippe (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. , Duke of Orleans, was elected king at 57 years old. Under this "citizen king," as he was called, the monarch became "bourgeois", if not "petit bourgeois", due to its small-minded, short-sighted and timid ways of handling the affairs of state (Mermier, p. 71). Louis-Philippe ruled France for 18 years of stable prosperity. Radicals in the government convinced the king to launch a colonial war against Abd-el-Kader, which brought Algeria into France's empire during this time. By 1848, Louis Philippe's inability to bring about reforms in government demanded by the people forced him to abdicate and flee to England. The Republicans who had forced out Louis-Philippe were not to be satisfied by constitutional reform alone. They forced out the Chamber of Deputies and Louis Napoleon, nephew of Napoleon I, was elected the first president of the Second Republic.

Louis Napoleon and the Second Empire  (1848-1870)

 Louis Napoleon, a.k.a. Napoleon III

When Louis Napoleon was elected, Paris had just emerged from a three-day bloody civil war known as "Bloody June Days," and the fear of social upheaval ran high. The Second Republic lasted just four years. With popular support for his namesake and legacy as Bonaparte's nephew plus a looming economic crisis, Louis Napoleon executed a coup d'état on December 2, 1851, the anniversary of his uncle's great victory at the Battle of Austerlitz. At first there was resistance and hundreds were killed in Paris. By the end of December, the opposition had dwindled, and Louis Napoleon was elected president for ten years by national plebiscite.  A year later, in 1852, he  proclaimed himself Emperor of the French under the name of Napoleon III, following Napoleon's son. 

It was Napoleon III who commissioned Baron Haussmann to redesign and beautify Paris, widening its perspectives with grand avenues and boulevards like the Champs-Élysées and creating large public parks.

Baron von Haussmann, being commissioned by Napoleon III  

He undertook many building projects both at home and abroad--roads, railroads and train stations, tunnels, harbors, sewers, and canals--including the Suez Canal. He catered to the people's love for pageantry, organizing parades and public expositions. Likewise he tended to France's finances, encouraged investment banking and the opening of financial institutions. He is also credited for having started the French industrial revolution. Under Napoleon III, hospitals were built, trade unions were started and strikes were legalized.

The area in which Napoleon III was least successful was in his foreign policy. He led France into wars in Mexico and the Crimea that established France as the preeminent power on the European continent.  But French dominance was to be short-lived when, on July 19, 1870, France declared war on Prussians under German minister Otto von Bismarck and lost.

Paris Commune                Otto von Bismarck

In this war the Germans took Alsace and Lorraine and surrounded the French in Sedan, and capturing the emperor. On September 2, 1870, Napoleon III surrendered, the Second Empire collapsed, and the emperor left for England where he died on January 9, 1873. Shortly after Napoleon's exile, the Third Republic was proclaimed. 

Below are two short videos on the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune to be discussed in the next section.


Sauvigny, Bertier de and David H. Pinkney. History of France. Forum Press, 1983  Mermier, Guy R.  France: Past and Present.  Peter Lang, 2000.