The French Third Republic, at times, denoted as La III Republique was France’s Republican-led government that ruled from 1870 to 1940. This was the period after the collapse of the Second French Empire. The Vichy France government substituted the collapsed government after the defeat by the German Nazi in WWII (World War Two). It is of paramount importance to note that the early weeks after forming the Third Republic ware largely characterised by the Franco-Prussian War (Andersen 2015). The French Republic sustained its attacks after the fall of the Emperor. The Punitive compensations demanded by the Prussians after the war saw the French Republic institute the Paris Commune. There was also social upheaval, as well as the loss of Alsace-Lorraine. The Third Republic’s early governments contemplated of the re-establishment of the monarchy (Hazareesingh 2014). Nevertheless, the mix-up of the true nature of that intended monarchy, and the challenges of identifying who among the many different royal families would take the leadership mandate stalled the negotiating process. Concisely, the vice caused the Third Republic, which had been primarily meant to be a temporary government, to become the mainstay government of the Republic of France.
The constitutional laws that were introduced in France in 1875 provided the Third Republic its form and shape, comprising of a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies effectively forming the legislature, and a President, who served as the Head of State. The subject of whether France should re-establish the monarchy dominated the terms of the first two Heads of State, Patrice de Mac-Mahon, and Adolphe Thiers, although successive Republican-led governments extinguished any hopes of a monarchy (Vincent 2015). The Third Republic instituted numerous French colonial possessions as France took hold of French Polynesia, Madagascar, French Indochina, and huge territories in the West African region in the course of the scramble and partitioning of Africa. All these new territories were acquired in the course of the last twenty years of the 19th century.
Conversely, the first years of the 1900s were largely dominated by the DRA (Democratic-Republican Alliance). The DRA had initially been instituted as a centre-left political formation, although as time passed, it matured and became the main centre-right political party in France. The time from the commencement of WWI (World War One) to the end of the 1930s decade was characterised by sharply split political and divisive politics featuring the more radical socialists and the DRA (Democratic-Republican Alliance) (Irvine 2014). During the first years of WWII, the French government fell as the German forces occupied French territories. Philippe Petain, the leader of the Vichy government, deposed and replaced the then serving French government.
The 1870 war appeared to be a stroke of good fortune for contestants who were afraid in far areas the triumphant competitiveness of the French. What chances were there that a land thus impoverished, dismembered, and heavily defeated would survive in its external growth? Who would ever think that even by 1875, France would have instituted a colonial policy in which, despite the numerous vicissitudes and hesitations, it was still faithful? Newly acquired territories would assist in offsetting French decadence after the Paris Commune, and Sedan, as well as help, compensate for losing Alsace-Lorraine (Locke 2015). These factors would help to enable the Third Republic to participate in a politics of sumptuousness.
The colonial expansion movement signified that France, whereas preceding the immediate hope of taking back the lost area, had become once more an aggressive and self-confident country. Within just 20 years, France had managed to add a huge empire to the small internationally placed dominions of the Republic. In 1898, France acquired a large area of the Congo Basin. Similarly, in previous years, France had acquired Dahomey and the Ivory Coast in 1887 and 1895 respectively, Madagascar in 1885, Tonquin in 1885, and Tunis in 1881. France also managed to extend the old colony of Senegal to as far as Niger (Duignan and Gann 2013). The enigmatic city of Timbuktu was also kept under the French protection, together with the expansive Sahara Desert. The French had acquired big portions of different countries in West Africa, and together, they formed a solid whole.
Towards the end of the 1860s decade, the financial and human costs of winning tropical territories had reduced by a large extent, thanks to technological advancements in medicine, for instance, the discovery of quinine, and improved weaponry. Consequently, interest in new colonial extension started to come around among the elites in France. For the parsimonious and commonplace conquests of the Monarchy Second Empire and of July the Republic largely switched the annexation system; and in about 19 years, it took Madagascar to protect the waterways in the Indian Ocean, Tonking to maintain Cochin China, and Tunis to defend Algeria.
The classical petition by Paul Leroy-Beaulieu for the annexation of new colonies in his 1874 De la Colonisation Chez Les Peuples Modernes publication was widely accepted by the rather receptive French audience. Some scholars have argued that the French colonial policy came by chance (Lewis 2013); however, contrary to that opinion, it was meticulously crafted by Gambetta and heavily supported by Jules Ferry. To the people who examined it more closely, it appeared that the French policy was somewhat methodical and continuous, and was consistent with the general scheme that intricate interruptions and events for the moment have at times hidden, but which occurred nevertheless.
Jules Ferry, addressing the French Parliament in the early 1880s, defended the war with China and the seizure of Tonkin by France. France intelligently instituted a special French mission to these different regions. In his address, he claimed that the people of France must believe that Prudence condescended to confer upon them a mission through making the French rulers of the earth. The mission, thus comprised not of struggling to achieve an impossibility by merging the races, but of just awakening or spreading among the other races the greater notions upon which the French are the keepers (Denton 2014). Twenty-four months later, Jules further added that the races considered to be superior have a right over the inferior races. He argued that they have an inherent right to civilize them (Passmore 2013).
Both political and economic reasons took France to Africa and Asia simultaneously. With regards to Africa, France aimed at joining together the Congo basin, the different possessions of Northern Africa and the different regions extending to the shores of Lake Chad to develop a huge French protectorate that extends devoid of any interruptions from Cape Blanco to the Congo Colony. In Asia, France aimed at reaching the heart of the mysterious and the rich provinces of Central China through mounting the two extensive rivers of the Indo-China Peninsula (Dwyer 2016). The changeover from the Second Empire to the Third Republic never slowed down the French progressions in Indo-China. Francis Garnier, a French naval officer, led the French forces and stormed the citadel of Hanoi in 1873. This incursion had the anticipated effect of impelling Tu Duc to enter into a deal with France in mid-1874 that acknowledged France’s entire and full dominance over Cochinchina and unlocked the Red River to business (Blanchard et al. 2013).
The Third Republic colonial policy was inducted in 1881 by Jules Ferry. Jules, the then serving head of public instruction, was recognised with the emergence of fresh imperialistic motivations in France. Jules further strongly believed in colonial enlargement as a way of reinstating national pride; and even though this policy often put France at loggerheads with other countries, it provided her ultimately with an international empire that was only rivalled by that of Great Britain. France’s Colonial enlargement, even though promoted by a French patriot was promoted and encouraged by Bismarck. Bismarck saw in it a deviation from Revanche’s thoughts and wished that France’s ambition for Africa would isolate Italy from her. The French Republicans only went to Madagascar, the Tonkin, and Tunis, and later on to Morocco (Wyrtzen 2017), Congo, and Sudan, to prevent itself from going back to Strasbourg.
Despite their military quarters, French colonies were further reinforced, in some cases, by naval fleets. These flotillas did not comprise part of the marines planned with the intention of demonstrating the French flag at sea, and if there’s any need, of deploying them for offensive strikes. Similar to Britain, France had deployed her naval fleets in the Pacific, in China, in the East Indies, in the Mediterranean, and in other places. Instead, these were the fleets available to Colonial Governors for Colonial reasons. To this end, the French had deployed approximately 49 craft of different forms and sizes and had about 4,000 men (Agbor 2015).
Off Miquelon, and St. Pierre, naval vessels were required for the protection and superintendence of the fishing interests. The leader at Tunis demanded coasting craft, to caution the seamen from Barbary that they were no longer going to bull them at sea. The rivers of Cochin-China, of Tonkin, of Gabon, and of Senegal required constant patrolling. Tahiti, Obock, and Reunion desired to have a direct communication channel with neighbouring countries. New Caledonia and Guiana, needed continuous blockading, to patrol the area to prevent convicts who constantly look for ways of escaping (Marshall 2017; Schloss 2013).
According to Thomas (2013), the colonial expansion fever brought the recollections of what the colonies did for the country during the great wars that took place between England and France; how France converted these countries into temporary bases for military operations in the multiple military expeditions against colonies controlled by Britain, and how their harbors provided a landing place and shelter to naval fleets that opposed the French, as well as the corsairs that introduced France to business through the seas. The idea of bringing back the structures of Colonial France very much came attached with the dreams of the ruin of trade that was conducted by the Englishmen (Roberts 2015).
The question about France retaining the colonies as they were before was second to no other. While deliberating about the possibility of retaining the former structure, there was strong opposition to huge expenditure of money and men, which the country had incurred in its attempt to foster and establish its Colonies. Political scholars argued that a nation that did not have a stronghold of her territorial boundaries will be bested in influence and wealth by the states whose population and commerce find opportunities in important foreign dependencies and colonies (Wucherpfennig, Hunzike, and Cedermaz 2016). Germany’s position in Europe was rather strong, yet the government of the day in Germany tried to install the German flag past the limits of its mainland.
Whereas Garnier’s defeat had resulted in a partial withdrawal by the French forces from Tonkin, the loss by Riviere reinforced the French government’s resolve to institute a protectorate through military incursions. Consequently, extra funds were disbursed by France’s Parliament to give additional support to operations by the military. This added funding led to the victory by French forces against Hue in 1883, August, after the death of Tuc Duc in July. Subsequently, the French signed a Protectorate Treaty in 1883 at the Harmand Convention. This treaty facilitated the establishment of a French protectorate over Central and North Vietnam (Chapman 2016). This formally terminated Vietnam’s independence. Later on, in June 1884, scholar-officials from Vietnam were compelled to pen the Treaty of Hue, which further rubber stamped the agreement made at the Harmand Convention. As at 1884 December, Vietnam was hosting about 17,000 French troops (Lawrence 2013). Irrespective of the enormous numbers of French troops, resistance to the French colonial rule persisted. France’s advancement in Indo-China resulted in a war with China. This war led to the establishment of a French protectorate over Tonkin and Annam.
- Excellent quality
- 100% Turnitin-safe
- Affordable prices
However, this abrupt development was momentarily checked in 1885 by the French reverse at Langston in Indo-China. Ferry was forcefully removed from office. A renowned French explorer, M. de Braza, also fell into disgrace, as well as the short-lived failure of France’s forward policy amplified the discontent that had helped facilitate the alliance with Russia, popularised the hostility to England and which enabled Boulangism. From 1893-1896, scholars note this as a period that France expanded its territory. During this period, Dahomey was considered and proclaimed a French Protectorate. 1895 and 1896 were two years that saw China cede Hiang-Hung and Madagascar significantly reduced in rank to just being another French possession.
Was the French colonial project compatible with the values of the Third Republic? Regarding this issue, historians are still debating extensively on the enabling similarities and restrictive differences of the two government projects. Historians are yet to agree on the importance of the French Republic for the Third Republic. Economically, historians have contended that the Colonial French Empire costs were more than what the French Government was able to generate from taxes. Nevertheless, other analysts have contended that whereas the French state ended by losing a lot of resources, personal business interests made a significant amount of money from colonial business interests and investments. Therefore, whereas the end-result was an undesired outcome for France as a country, certain particular groups of investors or persons created wealth from the French Empire. The Third Republic was highly susceptible to intense lobbying and thanks to this element; these economic interests influenced the French government to act in their favour to safeguard their interests (White and Heath 2017). Therefore, whereas the Empire might not have been beneficial to France in general, the individuals that had economic and political power many times discovered ways to influence the empire pay for them.
Regarding national prestige, the French Empire was indeed a huge source of pride. The French public was fond of publishing books and newspapers regarding national exploits, adventures, and colonial conquests. Possessing an empire, therefore, gave France huge power, although it had a rather uncelebrated track record in Europe. Its military track record was also not great. Therefore, in this manner, having an empire was pivotal to the national status of France. Regrettably, the empire generated a serious dilemma for the French Third Republic (Chafer 2015). To one end, France was considered the most progressive country in the whole of Europe, and the French government, which at that time was the only legitimately instituted government in Europe, exemplified the deep-seated values of the French Revolution; respect for political freedom, respect for Republican values, and the Universal Rights of Man. Conversely, The French Empire was seen as a product of aggressive and brutal conquest wars and therefore was maintained through military action and the use of force; as well as the denial of basic human and political rights to the colonised individuals. These two perspectives, therefore, were seen to create a particular French paradox: repression overseas and freedom at home.
The Third Republic promoted the French Empire in numerous ways. The French press was at the forefront in promoting the ideals of the Empire. After the war, the French government was committed to encouraging the emigration of qualified personnel to serve in the colonies. Administrators and engineers were often hired to implement the policy of valeur and mise. Whereas these government developments were created to enhance and promote French material interests, the state tried to justify them as being part of the French missions that were sent to civilise and educate the colonies. Administrators sent to these colonies were told that their work was directly contributing to civilising the locals. This was the French version of what was widely renowned as the “Englishmen burden” or “the white man’s burden.”
We can do it today.
- Agbor, J.A., 2015. 13 How does colonial origin matter for economic performance in Sub-Saharan Africa?. Growth and institutions in African development, 117, p.309.
- Andersen, M.C., 2015. Regeneration through empire: French pronatalists and colonial settlement in the Third Republic. U of Nebraska Press.
- Blanchard, P., Lemaire, S., Bancel, N., Thomas, D. and Pernsteiner, A., 2013. Colonial culture in France since the Revolution. Indiana University Press.
- Chafer, T., 2015. Imperial Rule and the Politics of Nationalism. Anti-Colonial Protest in the French Empire.
- Chapman, E., 2016. Decolonising the intellectual: Politics, culture, and humanism at the end of the French Empire.
- Denton, C.B., 2014. Book Review: In God’s Empire: French Missionaries and the Modern World. Church History, 83(1), p.227.
- Duignan, P. and Gann, L.H., 2013. Burden of empire: an appraisal of Western colonialism in Africa south of the Sahara. Hoover Press.
- Dwyer, P., 2016. French Empire: 2. First or Napoleonic Empire. The Encyclopedia of Empire.
- Hazareesingh, S., 2014. From subject to citizen: The Second Empire and the emergence of modern French democracy. Princeton University Press.
- Irvine, W.D., 2014. The Right in France: From the Third Republic to Vichy, by Kevin Passmore.
- Lawrence, A., 2013. Imperial rule and the politics of nationalism: Anti-colonial protest in the French empire. Cambridge University Press.
- Lewis, M.D., 2013. Divided Rule. University of California Press.
- Locke, R.R., 2015. French legitimists and the politics of moral order in the early Third Republic. Princeton University Press.
- Marshall, B., 2017. Imagining the first French empire: Bande dessinée and the Atlantic. Yale French Studies, 131, pp.151-167.
- Passmore, K., 2013. The right in France from the third republic to Vichy. Oxford University Press.
- Roberts, J.R., 2015. French vs France: Vichy Government Attempts to Save the Empire.
- Schloss, R.H., 2013. Empire and Underworld: Captivity in French Guiana by Miranda Frances Spieler. Journal of World History, 24(4), pp.893-895.
- Thomas, M., 2013. 20th-Century French Empire. Oxford University Press.
- Vincent, K.S., 2015. Elie Halevy, French liberalism, and the politics of the third republic introduction. Modern Intellectual History, 12(1), pp.121-126.
- White, O. and Heath, E., 2017. The French Empire and the History of Economic Life. French Politics, Culture & Society, 35(2), pp.76-88.
- Wucherpfennig, J., Hunziker, P. and Cederman, L.E., 2016. Who inherits the state? Colonial rule and postcolonial conflict. American Journal of Political Science, 60(4), pp.882-898.
- Wyrtzen, J., 2017. Colonial Legitimization-Legibility Linkages and the Politics of Identity in Algeria and Morocco. European Journal of Sociology/Archives Européennes de Sociologie, 58(2), pp.205-235.