After four years of uncertainty over the leadership of the country, the Third Republic was firmly instituted in Versailles in 1875. The proclamation quenched the monarchist quarrels.
The Third Republic was proclaimed in France on 4 September 1870 after the defeat at Sedan, but it struggled to win universal acceptance. The times were hardly favourable to it, as the country had been invaded by Germany and was being buffeted by social and political unrest.
Since September 1870 the French Government of National Defence had been striving to establish peace. Bismarck would agree to negotiate only with a government formed by an assembly of elected members. Elections were duly held in February 1871 and were won by the monarchist right-wing (legitimists, Orléanists and Bonapartists). The new assembly met in Bordeaux and elected Thiers as “Chief of the Executive”, as the title of “President” still seemed too audacious. Thiers signed the peace treaty in Frankfurt in May.
After the German invasion of Paris the rebellion known as the Commune broke out in March 1871, and the Assembly decided to move to Versailles, where it remained until January 1879, meeting and debating in the Royal Opera House. The deputies slept in the chilly Hall of Mirrors; to warm the building they resorted to burning the wood panels kept in the storehouse. In May Thiers put down the Parisian rebellion using troops that had remained faithful to the new government, known as the “Versailles” troops. The quelling of the insurrectionists strengthened the position of the Republic, and with the restoration of peace and greater social harmony the pervasive public fears ebbed, which was confirmed by the elections. In July 1871 the Count of Chambord, the leader of the legitimists, undermined the return of the monarchy by pursuing a trifling debate over the national flag, which he preferred to see in white, and certainly not the tricolour. Given the internal squabbling among the monarchists, the Republic was clearly the option that caused the least division.
It was definitively established in January 1875. Following an initial attempt on the 28th, Henri Wallon, a moderate Catholic, presented on the 29th an amendment proposing that the President of the Republic be elected for a period of seven years by the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate in the National Assembly, and be allowed to stand for re-election.
The amendment was adopted on the 30th by 353 votes to 352: the establishment of the Third Republic came down to a single deciding vote. Three additional amendments followed, later composing the 1875 Constitution, which remained in force until 1940.
In 1876 a hall was built in the central courtyard of the South Wing by Edmond de Joly. Known as the “National Assembly” during the Third Republic, it was later called the “Congress Chamber”. Up until 1958, every President of the republic was elected in this room.
The 19th century
From the 4th of May to the 3rd of August 2019, the Upper Stone Gallery of the Palace of Versailles will be presenting a unique collection of architectural projects, which were developed for the Palace and its gardens between the 17th and 19th centuries.
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