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When the news reached Paris the next day, shocked and angry crowds came out into the streets. Though the Emperor and the French Army had been defeated at Sedan, the war continued. The German army marched swiftly toward Paris. Demographics[ edit ] In France was deeply divided between the large rural, Catholic and conservative population of the French countryside and the more republican and radical cities of Paris, Marseille, Lyon and a few others.
In the first round of the parliamentary elections held under the French Empire, 4,, had voted for the Bonapartist candidates supporting Napoleon III, while 3,, had voted for the republican opposition. In Paris, however, the republican candidates dominated, winning , votes against 77, for the Bonapartists. Only about 40, were employed in factories and large enterprises; most were employed in small industries in textiles, furniture and construction.
There were also , servants and 45, concierges. In addition to the native French population, there were about , immigrant workers and political refugees, the largest number being from Italy and Poland. Many Parisians, especially workers and the lower-middle classes, supported a democratic republic.
In early , Parisian employers of bronze-workers attempted to de-unionize their workers. This was defeated by a strike organized by the International. Later in , an illegal public demonstration in Paris was answered by the legal dissolution of its executive committee and the leadership being fined.
The International had considerable influence even among unaffiliated French workers, particularly in Paris and the big towns. A coup was attempted in early , but tensions eased significantly after the plebiscite in May. Paris is the traditional home of French radical movements. Revolutionaries had gone into the streets to oppose their governments during the French Revolution , the popular uprisings of July and June ; all were violently repressed by the government.
Of the radical and revolutionary groups in Paris at the time of the Commune, the most conservative were the "radical republicans". This group included the young doctor and future Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau , who was a member of the National Assembly and Mayor of the 18th arrondissement.
Clemenceau tried to negotiate a compromise between the Commune and the government, but neither side trusted him; he was considered extremely radical by the provincial deputies of rural France, but too moderate by the leaders of the Commune. The most extreme revolutionaries in Paris were the followers of Louis Auguste Blanqui , a charismatic professional revolutionary who had spent most of his adult life in prison.
He had about a thousand followers, many of them armed and organized into cells of ten persons each. Each cell operated independently and was unaware of the members of the other groups, communicating only with their leaders by code.
Blanqui had written a manual on revolution, Instructions for an Armed Uprising , to give guidance to his followers. Though their numbers were small, the Blanquists provided many of the most disciplined soldiers and several of the senior leaders of the Commune. The regulars were thus supported by around 5, firemen, 3, gendarmes, and 15, sailors.
These included twenty battalions of men from Brittany , who spoke little French. They also had very little training or experience. They were organized by neighborhoods; those from the upper- and middle-class arrondissements tended to support the national government, while those from the working-class neighborhoods were far more radical and politicized.
Guardsmen from many units were known for their lack of discipline; some units refused to wear uniforms, often refused to obey orders without discussing them, and demanded the right to elect their own officers. The members of the National Guard from working-class neighborhoods became the main armed force of the Commune. As the Germans surrounded the city, radical groups saw that the Government of National Defense had few soldiers to defend itself, and launched the first demonstrations against it.
On 19 September, National Guard units from the main working-class neighborhoods—Belleville, Menilmontant, La Villette, Montrouge, the Faubourg Saint-Antoine , and the Faubourg du Temple—marched to the centre of the city and demanded that a new government, a Commune, be elected. They were met by regular army units loyal to the Government of National Defense, and the demonstrators eventually dispersed peacefully. On 5 October, 5, protesters marched from Belleville to the Hotel de Ville, demanding immediate municipal elections and rifles.
Later in October, General Louis Jules Trochu launched a series of armed attacks to break the German siege, with heavy losses and no success.
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The telegraph line connecting Paris with the rest of France had been cut by the Germans on 27 September. On 28 October, the news arrived in Paris that the , soldiers of the French army at Metz, which had been surrounded by the Germans since August, had surrendered.
The news arrived the same day of the failure of another attempt by the French army to break the siege of Paris at Bourget, with heavy losses. Two days later, municipal councils in each of the twenty arrondissements of Paris voted to elect mayors; five councils elected radical opposition candidates, including Delescluze and a young Montmartrean doctor, Georges Clemenceau.
He reported to the Government that there was no alternative to negotiating an armistice. He travelled to German-occupied Tours and met with Bismarck on 1 November. The Chancellor demanded the cession of all of Alsace, parts of Lorraine, and enormous reparations. The Government of National Defense decided to continue the war and raise a new army to fight the Germans.
The newly organized French armies won a single victory at Coulmiers on 10 November, but an attempt by General Auguste-Alexandre Ducrot on 29 November at Villiers to break out of Paris was defeated with a loss of 4, soldiers, compared with 1, German casualties.
Everyday life for Parisians became increasingly difficult during the siege. Parisians suffered shortages of food, firewood, coal and medicine. The city was almost completely dark at night.
The only communication with the outside world was by balloon, carrier pigeon, or letters packed in iron balls floated down the Seine. Rumors and conspiracy theories abounded. By early January , Bismarck and the Germans themselves were tired of the prolonged siege. They installed seventy-two and mm artillery pieces in the forts around Paris and on 5 January began to bombard the city day and night.
Between and shells hit the center of the city every day. Armistice of Versailles Between 11 and 19 January , the French armies had been defeated on four fronts and Paris was facing a famine. General Trochu received reports from the prefect of Paris that agitation against the government and military leaders was increasing in the political clubs and in the National Guard of the working-class neighborhoods of Belleville, La Chapelle, Montmartre , and Gros-Caillou.
A battalion of Gardes Mobiles from Brittany was inside the building to defend it in case of an assault. The demonstrators presented their demands that the military be placed under civil control, and that there be an immediate election of a commune.
The atmosphere was tense, and in the middle of the afternoon, gunfire broke out between the two sides; each side blamed the other for firing first. Six demonstrators were killed, and the army cleared the square.
The government quickly banned two publications, Le Reveil of Delescluze and Le Combat of Pyat, and arrested 83 revolutionaries. On 26 January, they signed a ceasefire and armistice, with special conditions for Paris.
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The city would not be occupied by the Germans. Regular soldiers would give up their arms, but would not be taken into captivity. Paris would pay an indemnity of million francs.
French legislative election, February Adolphe Thiers , the chief executive of the French Government during the Commune The national government in Bordeaux called for national elections at the end of January, held just ten days later on 8 February. Most electors in France were rural, Catholic and conservative, and this was reflected in the results; of the deputies assembled in Bordeaux on February, about favoured a constitutional monarchy under either Henri, Count of Chambord grandson of Charles X or Prince Philippe, Count of Paris grandson of Louis Philippe.
They were led by Adolphe Thiers, who was elected in 26 departments, the most of any candidate. There were an equal number of more radical republicans, including Jules Favre and Jules Ferry , who wanted a republic without a monarch, and who felt that signing the peace treaty was unavoidable. This group was dominant in Paris, where they won 37 of the 42 seats. He was considered to be the candidate most likely to bring peace and to restore order. Long an opponent of the Prussian war, Thiers persuaded Parliament that peace was necessary.
He travelled to Versailles, where Bismarck and the German King were waiting, and on 24 February the armistice was signed. Dispute over cannons of Paris[ edit ] A contemporary sketch of women and children helping take two National Guard cannons to Montmartre At the end of the war obsolete muzzle-loading bronze cannons, partly paid for by the Paris public via a subscription, remained in the city. The new Central Committee of the National Guard, now dominated by radicals, decided to put the cannons in parks in the working-class neighborhoods of Belleville , Buttes-Chaumont and Montmartre, to keep them away from the regular army and to defend the city against any attack by the national government.
Thiers was equally determined to bring the cannons under national-government control. Clemenceau, a friend of several revolutionaries, tried to negotiate a compromise; some cannons would remain in Paris and the rest go to the army.
However, Thiers and the National Assembly did not accept his proposals. The chief executive wanted to restore order and national authority in Paris as quickly as possible, and the cannons became a symbol of that authority. Thiers also decided to move the National Assembly and government from Bordeaux to Versailles, rather than to Paris, to be farther away from the pressure of demonstrations, which further enraged the National Guard and the radical political clubs.
Thiers announced a plan to send the army the next day to take charge of the cannons. Vinoy urged that they wait until Germany had released the French prisoners of war, and the army returned to full strength. Thiers insisted that the planned operation must go ahead as quickly as possible, to have the element of surprise. If the seizure of the cannon was not successful, the government would withdraw from the center of Paris, build up its forces, and then attack with overwhelming force, as they had done during the uprising of June The Council accepted his decision, and Vinoy gave orders for the operation to begin the next day.
Early in the morning of 18 March, two brigades of soldiers climbed the butte of Montmartre , where the largest collection of cannons, in number, were located. A small group of revolutionary national guardsmen were already there, and there was a brief confrontation between the brigade led by General Claude Lecomte , and the National Guard; one guardsman, named Turpin, was shot dead.
Word of the shooting spread quickly, and members of the National Guard from all over the neighborhood, including Clemenceau, hurried to the site to confront the soldiers. Elsewhere in Paris, the Army had succeeded in securing the cannons at Belleville and Buttes-Chaumont and other strategic points; but a crowd gathered and continued to grow, and the situation grew increasingly tense at Montmartre.
The horses that were needed to move the cannon away did not arrive, and the army units were immobilized. As the soldiers were surrounded, they began to break ranks and join the crowd. General Lecomte tried to withdraw, and then ordered his soldiers to load their weapons and fix bayonets. He thrice ordered them to fire, but the soldiers refused. Some of the officers were disarmed and taken to the city hall of Montmartre, under the protection of Clemenceau. General Lecomte and the officers of his staff were seized by the guardsmen and his mutinous soldiers and taken to the local headquarters of the National Guard at the ballroom of the Chateau-Rouge.
The officers were pelted with rocks, struck, threatened, and insulted by the crowd. In the middle of the afternoon Lecomte and the other officers were taken to 6 Rue des Rosiers by members of a group calling themselves The Committee of Vigilance of the 18th arrondissement, who demanded that they be tried and executed.
An ardent republican and fierce disciplinarian, he had helped suppress the armed uprising of June against the Second Republic. Because of his republican beliefs, he had been arrested by Napoleon III and exiled, and had only returned to France after the downfall of the Empire.
He was particularly hated by the national guardsmen of Montmartre and Belleville because of the severe discipline he imposed during the siege of Paris.