French statesman and historian, b. April 16, 1797; d. Sept. 3, 1877
Thiers, LOUIS-ADOLPHE, French statesman and historian, first president of the Third French Republic, b. at Marseilles, April 16, 1797; d. at Paris, September 3, 1877. Established at Paris in 1821 he at once took an important place in the Liberal Opposition Press as editor of the "Constitutionnel", and in the literary world through his "Histoire de la revolution francaise" (10 vols., 1823-27). The foundation in 1829 of "Le National" by Thiers, Mignet, and Armand Carrel provided the Liberals with a powerful weapon against the Polignac ministry, and furthered the movement which resulted in 1830 in the fall of the Bourbons. A proclamation drawn up by Thiers July 29, 1830, directed the attention of the people to the Due d'Orleans who became King Louis-Philippe. Thiers became a member of the French Academy in 1834 and between 1830 and 1840 was several times minister under the July Monarchy. When the long Guizot ministry freed him from political occupations he undertook the "Histoire du consulat et de l'empire" (20 vols., 1845-62). It was he who caused the adoption by the Chamber of Deputies, May 3, 1845, of an order of the day aimed at the Jesuits and stipulating that the Chamber should rely on the Government to enforce the laws of the State. The result of this vote was the negotiation undertaken at Rome by the ambassador Rossi in behalf of the Government of Louis-Philippe to secure the suppression of the Jesuits in France. In 1846 Thiers accused the Guizot ministry of making concessions to the Catholic party at the expense of the university. But after the advent of the Second Republic, having taken fright at the rise of certain Revolutionary ideas, he served the interests of the Church, and as early as March, 1848, he acknowledged in a letter to Madier de Montjan that his ideas had changed with regard to liberty of instruction. In the committee which prepared the vote for the loi Falloux Thiers was influenced by Dupanloup and declared to Cousin: "The abbe is right. In fighting against the congregations we have fought against justice and virtue and we owe them reparation." He voted also for the Roman expedition.
Under the Second Empire Thiers was elected (1863) deputy of the Opposition, but on several occasions he criticised in the Chamber the Italian revolution and besought the Government of Napoleon not to permit the downfall of the temporal power. After having eloquently opposed the policy of the Second Empire with regard to Prussia he was sent to various European courts by the Bureau of National Defense, which was seeking assistance for defeated France. On February 8, 1871, he was elected deputy by twenty-six departments, and nine days later the National Assembly almost unanimously elected him chief executive. He negotiated the Treaty of Frankfort and induced the Assembly of Bordeaux (March 1, 1871) to ratify the peace preliminaries. The rigorous measures by which he overcame the Commune of Paris made many enemies for him. It is still a debated question whether he might have saved the life of Msgr. Darboy by consenting to release the revolutionist Blanquil. Several episcopal nominations made under Thiers by the philosopher Jules Simon, minister of public worship, redounded to the glory of the French episcopate. After the treaty with Germany (March 15, 1873) for the evacuation of French territory the National Assembly declared that Thiers deserved well of his country. But the defeat at Paris of his friend Remusat by the Radical Barodet and the subsequent disturbances among the Monarchists in the Assembly induced Thiers to resign his office May 24, 1873. He was succeeded by MacMahon. Having thus given up power Thiers took his seat in the Left center of the Assembly amid the applause of the Left; and although the advanced members of the Left, because of his severity during the Commune, deliberately treated him as "a sinister old man", he upheld with all his strength and prestige during his last years a policy designed to bring about the defeat of the Right and of MacMahon. His long career sometimes seems inconsistent. After having contributed by his historical works to the prestige of Napoleon I and by his vote to the election of the future Napoleon III to the presidency of the Republic, he became the adversary of the Empire. After having supported anti-religious Liberalism under the Restoration and the monarchy of July, he supported the Catholic claims under the Second Republic, and during his old age under the Third Republic he assisted the anti-clerical parties. But the unity of his life consisted in his always being the defender of a certain category of ideas, aspirations, and interests proper to a social class—the bourgeoisie; and his book on the right of ownership (1848), besides being very interesting as a document, is the expression of an individualistic conception, more pagan than Christian, of the right of ownership, one which is the very antithesis of social Christianity. He was buried with the rites of the church.