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From Belle Époque to Great Depression

Europe before 1914: An Interactive Map

France - Craig Bever

The third republic came into existence because of two shocks; a defeat by the Prussians and a short civil war.

Economic and Social Situation:


-French industrial progress slower than Germanys

-Loss of Alsace Lorraine a severe blow

-Population growth slow

-Proletariat/working class increasingly militant



-French enjoyed relative prosperity between 1897 and 1914 (la belle époque)

-Stable ‘working class’ based society

-Diverse Economy including luxury items, food and wine.

French Government

A President governed France with a national assembly made up of the chamber of deputies and the Senate.

The president, however, only had limited powers and was more of a public figure.


The Left Wing Threat

General Boulanger; the minister for war in 1886 wanted a war of revenge against the Germans (former Prussia). The French public saw him as being above the corrupt politicians. Boulanger lost his post in 1887 and his increasing support seemed to put the Republic in danger. He came close to overthrowing the government but his nerve failed him and he fled to Belgium. His support soon dwindled after this. This affair showed up the vulnerability of the republic and the mixed forces that rejected the republic


The Panama Scandal

In 1879,an attempt was made to build a Panama Canal by Ferdinand Lesseps. The project ran into financial difficulties and was eventually helped by the government with a large public loan, however not enough investors were found and the company went into liquidation. Three years later it emerged that dishonest politicians and bribery had promoted the company’s interests. It also increased anti-Semitism in France because two Jews had carried out most of the bribery.

The Dreyfus Affair

In 1894 Dreyfus, the first Jew in the French general staff, was tried and convicted of passing secrets to Germany. He was sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island. In 1897 it was revealed that he had been convicted on flimsy evidence. Eventually a new government led by Waldeck-Rousseau gave Dreyfus a full pardon. Because of this affair the right became more anti-Semitic and the left became more anti-clerical.

The Left Wing Threat

The French Proletariat

By 1900 socialism had spread and there were several small parties that eventually joined together to form a united party. The party worked in Parliament and had some success. The trade union organisation (CGT) supported revolutionary syndicalism with the belief that complete strikes were the best way to get rid of the capitalistic system.


It can be said that the third republic did well to survive; the French public did not seem to be very impressed by it. The right-wingers wanted an improve version of the system yet the left winged socialists wanted to remove the system altogether. The majority of the French public preferred the Republic to a more extremist form of government.