On Sunday September 4, 1870, Leon Gambetta – then members of the National Defense Government – announces the Third Republic on the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville as a response to the fall of the Second Empire caused by the defeat of Sedan and the capture of Napoleon III, and faced with the growing insistence from the Parisian people and the Republicans.
Two days earlier, on September 2, 1870, the Battle of Sedan turned into a heavy loss for the French armies, led by Marshal MacMahon who capitulate to the Prussian armies. From Sedan, Napoleon III sends a telegram to his wife, Emperess Eugénie at the Tuileries Palace saying: “The army is defeated and imprisoned, and I myself am a prisoner”.
Learning the news, Charles Cousin-Montauban – leading the Ministry of War – gathers the deputies from the legislative body, in the night from September 3 to 4, 1870, to decide about what to do next; deputies not wishing to give the Empire regency to the Empress. But groups of workers – given an update during the ongoing summit reunion – force their way through to the Palais Bourbon, headquarters of the National Assembly, and invite themselves to the debate while the crowd outside the palace is growing.
While a few months earlier a plebiscite confirmed the empire’s liberal orientation and Napoleon III’s role with 7,336,000 “yes” and 1,560,000 “no”. As a matter of fact, Paris stands out from the province thanks to a republican majority ruling for a change of regime.
As they forced they way through the Palace, Parisians demand the deputies to announce the Republic. Faced with the popular insurrection, a group of Republican deputies – including the 4 Jules of the upcoming “Jules’s Republic”, Jules Favre, Jules Grévy, Jules Simon, Jules Ferry as well as Adolphe Crémieux and especially Leon Gambetta – suggest to announce it at the City Hall, like for the 1789 and 1848 French Revolutions.
On September 4, 1870, the Third Republic is announced on the place de l'Hôtel de Ville by Leon Gambetta to the people’s name: “The people have forestalled the Chamber that was hesitating. To save the country in danger, they claimed for the Republic: it is announced, and this revolution is led to the public law’s and public safety’s names. Citizens, watch over the city that is given to you; tomorrow, you will be with the army of the country’s avengers”.
The jubilant crowd attends the event reminding of the announcement of the 2nd Republic on February 24, 1848 by Lamartine. A situation somehow surrealistic, that goes against the country’s military situation, the political stakes and the breakthrough of the Prussian armies on the national territory.
Furthermore, in order to reassure the people as it comes to the Prussian invasion, Jules Ferry has an idea: gathering a temporary government by law and not by right and including Paris Republican deputies, while the Emperess packs up and goes to England.
Placed under the presidency of the capital city’s military governor and conservative general Louis Trochu, this National Defense Government – supported by the Parisians – comprises Jules Favre, Leon Gambetta, Emmanuel Arago, Adolphe Crémieux, Henri Rochefort, Ernest Picard, Alexandre Glais-Bizoin, Jules Simon, Louis-Antoine Garnier-Pagès, Jules Ferry and Eugène Pelletan.
The National Defense Government’s will is crystal clear: they must keep on fighting. But the situation seriously deteriorates. On September 19, 1870, the city is surrounded by the enemies, the Siege of Paris is only beginning.
Yet, despite the elections, on February 8, 1871, for a mostly conservative, monarchist and Bonapartist National Assembly slowing the establishment of a Republican regime down, and regardless of it, in May 1871, the bloody crushing of the Paris Commune – started as a response to the armistice signed with Bismarck by executive chief Adolphe Thiers and the Versailles army, the attempts to restore the Monarchy fail and the 3rd Republic is established until July 10, 1940, making of this Republican regime the longest in the history of France.
The National Assembly very rarely opens to visitors, excluding on European Heritage Days. This year, they do it again on September 18 and 19. Go and discover what happens backstage of the power and the national heritage kept in this high place of politics in France.
Place de l'Hôtel de Ville
Place de l'Hôtel de Ville
75004 Paris 4
En-tête : Députés de la Seine. Membres de la défense nationale, 4 septembre 1870, Musée Carnavalet
Le Palais du Corps législatif après la séance du 4 septembre, Guiaud & Didier, Musée Carnavalet
L'Hôtel de Ville au 4 septembre, anonyme, Musée Carnavalet
Membres du Gouvernement de la Défense Nationale, anonyme, Musée Carnavalet
Les adieux de l'Impératrice Eugénie, lors de son départ des Tuileries, anonyme, Musée Carnavalet