Moderate Republicans (France)

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The Moderate Republicans were a large political group active from the birth of the French Second Republic (1848) to the consolidation of a party system during the French Third Republic (1900s).


During the Second Republic[edit]

Moderate Republicans
Républicains modérés
Leaders François Arago,
Louis-Eugène Cavaignac
Founded 1848 (1848)
Dissolved 1852 (1852)
Newspaper Le National
L'Avenir national
Ideology Republicanism
Political position Centre-left
International affiliation None

Originally, the Moderate Republicans was a group of politicians, writers and journalists close to the newspaper Le National. After the February Revolution of 1848, they became the official majority group in the Provisional Government,[1] led by Louis-Eugène Cavaignac, François Arago and Dupont de l'Eure, that became the official head of the government. Reputed the probably winners of the 1848 Constituent Assembly election, the Moderate Republicans were strategically allied to The Mountain, the left-wing group, against the monarchists.[2]

During this time, the Moderate Republicans were also divided in two groups: the "Sleeping Republicans", actives until the February Revolution, and the "Morning after Republicans", that opportunistically endorsed the new regime. These last were the legitimists who hated the Orléanist "July Monarchy", and the Catholics who suffered until the Louis Philippe I's restrictions.[1] After the 1848 election, the Moderate Republicans became the majority in the National Assembly, but this group was composed mainly of "Morning-after Republicans", with a temporary union.[3]

The formation of the Executive Commission was de facto dominated by the Moderate Republicans, with few concessions to the socialists.[2] However, after the "June Days Uprising", the opportunist group led by Adolphe Thiers started a hard politics against the socialists. The problems convinced the General Louis-Eugène Cavaignac, strong republican, to take over the Moderate Republicans, who was also the favourite candidate for the incumbent presidential election.[2]

However, the internal conflict in the Moderate Republicans caused a division on the official candidate between Cavaignac and Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte. However, at the end chose to support Cavaignac. The election of 1848 signed the end of the Moderate Republicans government for the Party of Order led by Bonaparte.[4] The elections of 1849 breng at the Moderate Republicans' isolation: they obtained only 75 seats. The disown was massive.[1]

Under the Second Empire[edit]

After 1849, the main opponents of the now commonly named Republicans was the Catholic Church, for his counter-revolutionary and reactionary ideas. However, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was a strong supporter of clericalism and the Concordat of 1801. In this time, the Republicans and the Bonapartists started a hard rivalry, and after the coup d'état of 1851 and the proclamation of the Second French Empire, Napoleon III (the official title of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte) repressed the Republicans: 239 was imprisoned to Cayenne, 6,000 of 10,000 people were interned in military camps in Algeria, some were guillotined or sentenced to house arrest in France. At the end, around 1,500 republicans, like Victor Hugo, were exiled from France. Despite the amnesty of 15 August 1859, some exiled Republicans never returned to France (like Hugo, former Montagnard Ledru-Rollin, Louis Blanc and Armand Barbès). Hugo coined the expression "When the liberty return, I return".

With the weakening of the Empire, the Republicans returned in the political scene, and took advantage of the liberal laws of 1868 and some diplomatic difficulties, became the official opposition group with the Léon Gambetta's Belleville Agenda of 1869, based on radical, progressive, laicist and reformist goals. In the final years of the Empire, the Republicans were divided in three factions:

  • The "Moderates", like Émile Ollivier, that accepted the Napoleon III's rule and the Empire's ideas.
  • The "Pragmatics", de jure aligned with the Empire but de facto its enemies.
  • The "Close Left", the rejected to vowed loyalty to the Empire and took out from the political scene.

The Republicans officially ended with the Paris Commune of 1871 and the consolidation of the French Third Republic, when its leaders started three different groups: the Opportunist Republicans (commonly named "Moderates", the official heirs of the Moderate Republicans), the Progressive Republicans and the Republican Union.

During the Third Republic[edit]

Republican Left
Gauche républicaine
Leaders Jules Ferry,
Jules Grévy,
Jules Simon,
Jules Favre,
Charles de Freycinet,
Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau
Founded 1871 (1871)
Dissolved 1901 (1901)
Merged into Democratic Republican Alliance
Headquarters Paris
Ideology Social liberalism
Political position Centre-left

Following the defeat of France against Prussia in 1871, the new republic's Government of National Defense held legislative elections on February 8, 1871. Those elections were won by the monarchist Orléanists and Legitimists, however, and not until the 1876 elections did the Republicans win a majority in the Chamber of Deputies.

Henceforth, the "Opportunists" thought that the balance of the new regime, threatened by the risk of another Bourbon Restoration, could only be insured by an implicit alliance between the rural peasants and the urban petty bourgeoisie, who represented the majority of the population.

Its primary figures, who sometimes opposed each other, included Léon Gambetta, leader of the Republican Union, Jules Ferry, leader of the Republican Left, Charles de Freycinet, who directed several governments in this period, Jules Favre, Jules Grévy, and Jules Simon — because of their names, this period has also been called the "République des Jules" (Republic of the Juleses). While Gambetta opposed colonialism as he considered it a diversion from the possibility of a revenge against the newly founded German Empire, Ferry was part of the "colonial lobby" who took part in the Scramble for Africa. In the 1885, the Republican Union and the Republican Left merged in the Union of the Lefts.

The Union broke away with the Radicals who supported deep transformations of society, leading to strong disagreements in the Chamber of Deputies, in particular with Georges Clemenceau.

Their successors, qualified as "progressists", slowly transformed their elders' tactics into social conservatism. At the end of the 19th century, the Opportunists were replaced by the Radicals as the primary force in French politics. Despite this, they insisted in considering themselves as members of the French Left, a phenomenon known as sinistrisme.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Philippe Vigier (1967). La Seconde République. PUF, coll. « « Que sais-je ? » ». p. 127. 
  2. ^ a b c Maurice Agulhon (1973). 1848 ou l'apprentissage de la République. Éditions du Seuil. p. 249. 
  3. ^ Quentin Deluermoz (2012). Le crépuscule des révolutions. Éditions du Seuil. p. 409. 
  4. ^ Francis Démier (2000). La France du XIXe siècle. Éditions du Seuil. p. 602.