Royalists and Wretches : Political Polarization and the Paris Commune
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The author traces the political turmoil in the wake of France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. The defeat laid bare the political divide between Paris and the rest of the country. The newly elected assembly placed their confidence in Adolphe Thiers, a liberal historian and politician who had been involved in public life for decades. When the Paris Commune seized power in 1871, Thiers initiated semaine sanglante or bloody week. Paris was severely damaged by fire and shelling, while the government's negotiating position with the Prussians was weakened even further. Thousands, if not tens of thousands, died, including many non-combatants. Was this violent culmination inevitable? Could anyone, through any means, have done something to stop it? The author uses both English-language scholarship on the Commune and French-language newspapers and posters to answer these questions. Most recent scholarship on the Commune assumes that the semaine sanglante was essentially an intentional effort by the Versailles government to wipe out as much of the French left as possible in a great act of revenge for their crimes, real and perceived. This certainly was the case insofar as the conservatives in the assembly were concerned; they made it clear that they were out for blood. The author’s research is less focused on the extremists on the right and left, as their motivations have been extensively studied. Instead, He attempts to understand the motives of Thiers, other liberals, and moderate republicans in Paris and around the nation. Why did Thiers settle on violent suppression? Was he convinced of that outcome from the start, and did moderates foresee the invasion of Paris by the assembly? If so, why were they unable to combat it? To explain this, the author focuses on the strategy that both the Commune and the Versailles government used to convince the French people of their cause, as well as its effects among those who struggled to decide which side deserved their support.