16 May 1877 crisis

Last updated

A contemporary caricature on the crisis: President Patrice de Mac Mahon (under a fleur-de-lys, a monarchist symbol) confronted by republican leader Leon Gambetta (under a Phrygian cap, a republican symbol) shouting "Submit or resign!". Crise du 16 mai 1877 - caricature de Mac-Mahon et Gambetta.jpg
A contemporary caricature on the crisis: President Patrice de Mac Mahon (under a fleur-de-lys , a monarchist symbol) confronted by republican leader Léon Gambetta (under a Phrygian cap, a republican symbol) shouting “Submit or resign!”.

The 16 May 1877 crisis (French: Crise du seize mai) was a constitutional crisis in the French Third Republic concerning the distribution of power between the president and the legislature. When the royalist president Patrice MacMahon dismissed the Opportunist Republican prime minister Jules Simon, the parliament on 16 May 1877 refused to support the new government and was dissolved by the president. New elections resulted in the royalists increasing their seat totals, but nonetheless resulted in a majority for the Republicans. Thus, the interpretation of the 1875 Constitution as a parliamentary system prevailed over a presidential system. The crisis ultimately sealed the defeat of the royalist movement, and was instrumental in creating the conditions of the longevity of the Third Republic. [1]



Following the Franco-Prussian War, the elections for the National Assembly had brought about a monarchist majority, divided into Legitimists and Orleanists, which conceived the republican institutions created by the fall of Napoleon III in 1870 as a transitory state while they negotiated who would be king. Until the 1876 elections, the royalist movement dominated the legislature, thus creating the paradox of a Republic led by anti-republicans. The royalist deputies supported Marshal MacMahon, a declared monarchist of the legitimist party, as president of the Republic. His term was set to seven years – the time to find a compromise between the two rival royalist factions.

In 1873, a plan to place Henri, comte de Chambord, the head of the Bourbon branch supported by Legitimists, back on the throne had failed over the comte's intransigence. President MacMahon was supposed to lead him to the National Assembly and have him acclaimed as king. However, the Comte de Chambord rejected this plan in the white flag manifesto of 5 July 1871, reiterated by a 23 October 1873 letter, in which he explained that in no case would he abandon the white flag, symbol of the monarchy (with its fleur-de-lis), in exchange for the republican tricolor. Chambord believed the restored monarchy had to eliminate all traces of the Revolution, especially the Tricolor flag, in order to restore the unity between the monarchy and the nation, which the revolution had sundered. Compromise on this was impossible if the nation were to be made whole again. The general population, however, was unwilling to abandon the Tricolor flag. Chambord's decision thus ruined the hopes of a quick restoration of the monarchy. Monarchists therefore resigned themselves to wait for the death of the ageing, childless Chambord, when the throne could be offered to his more liberal heir, the Comte de Paris. A "temporary" republican government was therefore established. Chambord lived on until 1883, but by that time, enthusiasm for a monarchy had faded, and the Comte de Paris was never offered the French throne. [2]

In 1875, Adolphe Thiers joined with the initiative of moderate Republicans Jules Ferry and Léon Gambetta to vote for the constitutional laws of the Republic. The next year, the elections were won by the Republicans, although the end result was contradictory:

Political crisis was thus inevitable. It involved a struggle for supremacy between the monarchist President of the Republic and the republican Chamber of Deputies.

The crisis

The crisis was triggered by President MacMahon, who dismissed the moderate republican Jules Simon, head of the government, and substituted him with a new "Ordre moral" government led by the Orleanist Albert, duc de Broglie. MacMahon favoured a presidential government, while the Republicans in the chamber considered the parliament as the predominant political organ, which decided the policies of the nation.

The Chamber refused to accord its trust to the new government. On 16 May 1877, 363 French deputies – among them Georges Clemenceau, Jean Casimir-Perier and Émile Loubet – passed a vote of no confidence (Manifeste des 363).

MacMahon dissolved the parliament and called for new elections, which brought 323 Republicans and 209 royalists to the Chamber, marking a clear rejection of the President's move. MacMahon had either to submit himself or to resign, as had Léon Gambetta famously called for: "When France will have let its sovereign voice heard, then one will have to submit himself or resign" (se soumettre ou se démettre [3] ) MacMahon thus appointed a moderate republican, Jules Armand Dufaure as president of the Council, and accepted Dufaure's interpretation of the constitution:


The crisis sealed the defeat of the royalists. President MacMahon accepted his defeat and resigned in January 1879. The Comte de Chambord, whose intransigence had resulted in the breakdown of the alliance between Legitimists and Orleanists, died in 1883, after which several Orleanists rallied to the Republic, quoting Adolphe Thiers' words that "the Republic is the form of government which divides [the French] the least". These newly rallied became the first right-wing republicans of France. After World War I (1914–18), some of the independent radicals and members of the right-wing of the late Radical-Socialist Party allied themselves with these pragmatic republicans, although anticlericalism remained a gap between these long-time rivals (and indeed continues, to be a main criterion of distinction between the French left-wing and its right-wing).

In the constitutional field, the presidential system was definitely rejected in favor of a parliamentary system, and the right of dissolution of parliament severely restricted, so much that it was never used again under the Third Republic. After the Vichy regime, the Fourth Republic (1946–1958) was again founded on this parliamentary system, something which Charles de Gaulle despised and rejected (le régime des partis). Thus, when de Gaulle had the opportunity to come back to power in the crisis of May 1958, he designed a constitution that strengthened the President. His 1962 reform to have the president elected by direct universal suffrage (instead of being elected by deputies and senators) further increased his authority. The constitution designed by de Gaulle for the Fifth Republic (since 1958) specifically tailored his needs, but this specificity was also rested on the President's personal charisma.

Even with de Gaulle's disappearance from the political scene a year after the May 1968 crisis, little changed until the 1980s, when the various cohabitations under President François Mitterrand renewed the conflict between the presidency and the prime minister. Subsequently President Jacques Chirac proposed to reduce the term of the presidency from seven to five years (the quinquennat ) to avoid any further "cohabitation" and thus conflict between the executive and legislative branches. This change was accepted by referendum in 2000.

See also

Related Research Articles

Count of Paris

Count of Paris was a title for the local magnate of the district around Paris in Carolingian times. After Hugh Capet was elected King of France in 987, the title merged into the crown and fell into disuse. However, it was later revived by the Orléanist pretenders to the French throne in an attempt to evoke the legacy of Capet and his dynasty.

Henri, Count of Chambord Count of Chambord, Duke of Bordeaux

Prince Henri, Count of Chambord and Duke of Bordeaux was disputedly King of France from 2 to 9 August 1830 as Henry V, although he was never officially proclaimed as such. Afterwards, he was the Legitimist pretender to the throne of France from 1844 until his death in 1883.

Jules Simon

Jules François Simon was a French statesman and philosopher, and one of the leaders of the Moderate Republicans in the Third French Republic.

Adolphe Thiers President of the French Republic (1797–1877)

Marie Joseph Louis Adolphe Thiers was a French statesman and historian. He was the second elected President of France, and the first President of the French Third Republic.

Patrice de MacMahon Third President of the French Republic (1808-1893)

Marie Edme Patrice Maurice de MacMahon, marquis de MacMahon, duc de Magenta was a French general and politician, with the distinction of Marshal of France. He served as Chief of State of France from 1873 to 1875 and as President of France, from 1875 to 1879.


Orléanist was a 19th-century French political label originally used by those who supported a constitutional monarchy expressed by the House of Orléans. Due to the radical political changes that occurred during that century in France, three different phases of Orléanism can be identified:

French Third Republic Nation of France from 1870 to 1940

The French Third Republic was the system of government adopted in France from 4 September 1870, when the Second French Empire collapsed during the Franco-Prussian War, until 10 July 1940 after France's defeat by Nazi Germany in World War II led to the formation of the Vichy government in France.

French Second Republic France under Napoleon III and the Second French Empire, 1848–1852

The French Second Republic was a short-lived republican government of France between 1848 and 1851. It began in February 1848, with the Revolution that overthrew the July Monarchy, and ended in December 1852, after the 1851 coup d'état and when president Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte made himself Emperor Napoleon III and initiated the Second Empire. It officially adopted the motto of the First Republic, Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. The Second Republic witnessed the tension between the "Social and Democratic Republic" and a liberal form of republicanism, which exploded during the June Days uprising of 1848.

Legitimists French royalist faction

The Legitimists are royalists who adhere to the rights of dynastic succession to the French crown of the descendants of the eldest branch of the Bourbon dynasty, which was overthrown in the 1830 July Revolution. They reject the claim of the July Monarchy of 1830–1848 which placed Louis Philippe, Duke of Orléans, head of the Orléans cadet branch of the Bourbon dynasty, on the throne until he too was dethroned and driven with his family into exile.

July Monarchy Kingdom governing France, 1830–1848

The July Monarchy was a liberal constitutional monarchy in France under Louis Philippe I, starting on 26 July 1830, with the July Revolution of 1830, and ending 23 February 1848, with the Revolution of 1848. It marks the end of the Bourbon Restoration (1814–1830). It began with the overthrow of the conservative government of Charles X, the last king of the House of Bourbon.

Pretender Someone who claims to be rightful holder of a throne that is vacant or held by another

A pretender is someone who claims to be the rightful ruler of a country although not recognized as such by the current ruler. The term is often used to suggest that a claim is not legitimate. The word may refer to a former monarch or a descendant of a deposed monarchy, although this type of claimant is also referred to as a head of a house.

The Ultra-royalists were a French political faction from 1815 to 1830 under the Bourbon Restoration. An Ultra was usually a member of the nobility of high society who strongly supported Roman Catholicism as the state and only legal religion of France, the Bourbon monarchy, traditional hierarchy between classes and census suffrage against popular will and the interests of the bourgeoisie and their liberal and democratic tendencies.

Prince Philippe, Count of Paris Count of Paris

Prince Philippe of Orléans, Count of Paris, was disputedly King of the French from 24 to 26 February 1848 as Philippe VII, although he was never officially proclaimed as such. He was the grandson of Louis Philippe I, King of the French. He was the Count of Paris as Orléanist claimant to the French throne from 1848 until his death.

Charter of 1830

The Charter of 1830 instigated the July Monarchy in France. It was considered a compromise between constitutional monarchists and republicans.

1877 French legislative election

The 1877 general election to the Chamber of Deputies of the Third Republic was held on 14 and 28 October 1877, during the Seize Mai crisis.

The Moderates or Moderate Republicans, pejoratively labeled Opportunist Republicans, were a French political group active in the late 19th century during the Third French Republic. The leaders of the group included Adolphe Thiers, Jules Ferry, Jules Grévy, Henri Wallon and René Waldeck-Rousseau.

The Progressive Republicans were a parliamentary group in France active during the late 19th century during the French Third Republic.

Monarchism in France is the advocacy of restoring the monarchy in France, which was abolished after the 1870 defeat by Prussia, arguably before that in 1848 with the establishment of the French Second Republic. The French monarchist movements are roughly divided today in three groups: the Legitimists for the royal House of Bourbon, the Orléanists for the cadet branch of the House of Orléans and the Bonapartists for the imperial House of Bonaparte.

French Left

The Left in France was represented at the beginning of the 20th century by two main political parties, namely the Republican, Radical and Radical-Socialist Party and the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO), created in 1905 as a merger of various Marxist parties.

The Second Cabinet of Jules Dufaure is the 55th cabinet of France and the third of the Third Republic, seating from 18 May 1873 to 25 May 1873, headed by Jules Dufaure as Vice-President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Justice, under the presidency of Adolphe Thiers.


  1. D.W. Brogan, France Under the Republic: The Development of Modern France (1870–1939) (1940) pp. 127–43.
  2. Steven D. Kale, "The Monarchy According to the King: The Ideological Content of the 'Drapeau Blanc,' 1871–1873." French History (1988) 2#4 pp. 399–426.
  3. Quand la France aura fait entendre sa voix souveraine, il faudra se soumettre ou se démettre. This famous sentence – se soumettre ou se démettre, "to submit oneself or to resign" – is still often used in the modern French political debate.

Further reading