Opportunist Republicans

The Moderates or Moderate Republicans (French: Républicains modérés), pejoratively labeled Opportunist Republicans (French: Républicains opportunistes), 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.

Opportunist Republicans

Républicains opportunistes
Leader(s)Jules Dufaure
Jules Grévy
Jules Ferry
Jean Casimir-Perier
Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau
Founded1871; 149 years ago (1871)
Dissolved1901; 119 years ago (1901)
Preceded byModerate Republicans
Succeeded byDemocratic Republican Alliance
Civic nationalism[3]
Radicalism (1870s–1880s)
Political positionLeft-wing (historical)[6][7]
Centre (modern)[8][9]
Colours     Red

Although they were considered leftist at the time, the Opportunists progressively evolved into a centre-right, law and order and vaguely anti-labour political party. During their existence, the Moderate Republicans were present in the French Parliament first under the name of Republican Left (French: Gauche républicaine) and after a fusion with radical republicans as the Democratic Union (French: Union démocratique).

They were further divided into the National Republican Association (French: Association nationale républicaine) and the Liberal Republican Union (French: Union libérale républicaine) in 1888 and 1889, respectively.



The Moderate Republicans were a large and heterogenous group started after the French Revolution of 1848.[10] However, the group lost the legislative elections of 1849, finishing as the minority group in the National Assembly.[11] After the Louis-Napoléon's coup d'état in 1851 and the birth of the Second French Empire in 1852, the Republicans took part in the parliamentary opposition along with the monarchists against the Bonapartist majority.


After the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871) and the consequential fall of the French Empire, the Third French Republic was born. However, its politics was divided in two groups, namely the right-wing monarchists (Orléanists and Legitimists) and the left-wing republicans (radicals and moderates). If both republicans were combined by anti-clericalism and social reformism, the radicals were mostly nationalist and anti-German, refusing the Treaty of Versailles with Prussia.[12] The moderates instead supported the Treaty and were more pragmatic on international politics.[13] After the legislative elections of 1871, the republicans inside the Chamber of Deputies split in two groups, namely the moderate Republican Left led by Jules Favre and the radical Republican Union led by Léon Gambetta. The two parliamentary groups were non-influential during the early years of the Republic, dominated by the monarchist Moral Order coalition of Patrice MacMahon, but after the failure of a return to the monarchy and after the legislative elections of 1876 the moderate and radical republicans gained 193 and 98 seats in the Chamber, respectively. From this time, the republicans maintained strong majorities in the French Parliament and were pejoratively called Opportunists by their detractors for their aptitude to gain the popular consensus in spite of any ideology.[14]

Moving to the rightEdit

Prime Minister Jules Ferry, who resigned in 1885 after a political scandal called the Tonkin Affair

In January 1879, the republican Jules Grévy was elected as President of the Republic, succeeding the monarchist MacMahon. From this time, with the progressive disappearance of the monarchists the moderates began to move toward the parliamentary centre between the old rights (Bonapartist and reunited monarchists) and the new lefts (radical-socialists, Marxists and Blanquists). To prevent a return to a monarchy-like creation of a socialist state, the two radical and moderate republicans spirits decided to cooperate and form common governments despite the personal antagonism between Grévy and Gambetta, who died in 1882.

During the late 1870s and 1880s, the Republican majority launched an education reform with the Bert Law, creating the normal schools; and the Ferry Laws, that secularize public education. However, Grévy also signed the so-called Lois scélérates ("villainous laws") that restricted the freedom of the press and France started a colonial expansion in Africa, creating protectorates in Madagascar and Tunisia.[15] Despite this semi-authoritarian policies, the republicans refused to be charged with conservatism and continued to proclaim themselves of the left, republicanism in France being historically associated with the left-wing. This paradox was later identified as sinistrisme ("leftism").

In the legislative elections of 1885, the republican consolidation was confirmed. Even if popularly won by the Conservative Union of Armand de Mackau, the elections guaranteed a solid republican majority in the Chamber. In fact, until the election the two republican groups had been reunited in a new political party guided by President Grévy and his close ally Jules Ferry, namely the Democratic Union, born of the fusion of the Republican Left and the Republican Union. However, the republican Prime Minister Ferry was forced to resign in 1885 after a political scandal known as the Tonkin Affair and President Grévy also resigned his office in 1887 after a corruption scandal involving his son-in-law. The Moderate Republicans, seriously challenged, survived only thanks to the support of the Radical Republicans of René Goblet and worries about the rise of a new political phenomenon called revanchism, the desire for revenge against the German Empire after the defeat of 1871.

Final divisions and declineEdit

National Republican Association

Association nationale républicaine
Chairman(s)Maurice Rouvier
Jules Ferry
Eugène Spuller
Honoré Audiffred
FounderJules Ferry
Founded19 February 1888; 131 years ago (1888-02-19)
Dissolved1 November 1903; 116 years ago (1903-11-01)
Preceded byOpportunist Republicans
Merged intoRepublican Federation
Headquarters51, rue Vivienne, Paris
Membership (1889)5,000–10,000[16][17]
Political positionCentre-right
Colours     Blue

Staff (1888) ca. 110

The revanchist ideas were strong in the France of the Belle Époque and with the scandals involving the republican governments there was a rise of the nationalist party led by General Georges Boulanger. Boulanger was Minister of War from 1886 to 1887. His appointment was a strategy of Prime Minister Goblet to pledge the nationalists, but after the fall of his cabinet he was replaced by Maurice Rouvier and the General was not reconfirmed. This political error started the political phase called Boulangisme (1887–1891). Around the General was forming a heterogeneous group of supporters, including radical reformers like Georges Clemenceau and Charles de Freycinet; Bonapartists and monarchists who wanted to overthrow the Republic; socialists like Édouard Vaillant, who admired the General's views on workers' rights; and nationalists who desired revenge against Germany. Finally, Boulanger personally led the League of Patriots, a far-right revanchist and militarist league and benefitted from popular and financial support by workers and aristocrats, respectively.

In the face of the rise of Boulanger, the republican leaders were divided. From one side, the old republican moderate wing, composed by prominent personalities like Jules Ferry, Maurice Rouvier and Eugène Spuller, representing the middle bourgeoisie, industrialists and scholars, formed the National Republican Association (ANR) in 1888.[18] To the other side, the republican right-wing of Henri Barboux and Léon Say, who represented the interests of the rich bourgeoisie and Catholics, formed the Liberal Republican Union in 1889. Continuing to depict itself as leftist, the ANR was a conservative group opposing the income tax and strikes[19] that tried to defend the Republic from its reputed enemy Boulanger and used many banquets to finance his activities. Finally, there was a rupture inside the Boulangist party, namely the Radicals of Clemenceau, who disenchanted by the militarism of Boulanger launched the Society of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and the socialists became disappointed by Boulanger's frequentation of monarchists like the Duchess of Uzès and Prince Napoléon Bonaparte, also themselves disappointed by Boulanger's republican ideas. The coup de grâce to Boulangisme arrived when he was accused of preparing a coup d'état, causing his flight to Bruxelles and a republican landslide in the 1889.

In the 1890s, the Opportunist republican parable ended as the Panama scandals of 1892 involved prominent Radical politicians like Clemenceau, Alfred Naquet and Léon Bourgeois,[20][21] granting a large victory to the ANR in the legislative elections the following year. However, the Dreyfus affair broke out in 1893, causing the formation of two factions, namely the Dreyfusards like Émile Zola, Anatole France and Clemenceau who supported the innocence of the Jewish Colonel and the Anti-Dreyfusard like Édouard Drumont, Jules Méline and Raymond Poincaré who accused Dreyfus of betrayal, partially due to rampant antisemitism. The ANR, which Méline and Poincaré were members of, refused the antisemitic thesis, but took side with the Anti-Dreyfus field.[22] This decision was fatal for the ANR's destiny. In 1899, the re-conviction of the Colonel Dreyfus, with a partial pardon favored by the republican Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau, caused divisions inside the ANR, aggravated by the rehabilitation of Dreyfus in 1900. To remove the mole of antisemitism, Waldeck-Rousseau founded the Democratic Republican Alliance (ADR) in 1901, claiming the heritage of Ferry and Gambetta.[23] Many Moderate Republicans joined the ADR, including Yves Guyot, Ferdinand Dreyfus (not linked with the Colonel), Narcisse Leven and David Raynal. The Moderate Republicans who had remained in the ANR finally adhered along with Progressive Republicans to the Republican Federation, a right-wing party very distant from the original ANR's beliefs.[24]

Prominent membersEdit

Electoral resultsEdit

Presidential electionsEdit

Election year Candidate No. of first round votes % of first round vote No. of second round votes % of second round vote Won/Loss
1873 Jules Grévy 1 0.3% Loss
1879 Jules Grévy 563 84.0% Won
1885 Jules Grévy 457 79.4% Won
1887 François Sadi Carnot 303 35.7% 616 75.0% Won
1894 Jean Casimir-Perier 451 53.4% Won
1895 Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau 184 23.8% Loss
1899 Émile Loubet 483 59.5% Won

Legislative electionsEdit

Chamber of Deputies
Election year No. of
overall votes
% of
overall vote
No. of
overall seats won
+/– Leader
1871 Unknown (3rd) 17.5%
112 / 638
Jules Grévy
1876 2,674,540 (1st) 36.2%
193 / 533
Jules Dufaure
1877[a] 4,860,481 (1st) 60.0%
313 / 521
Jules Dufaure
1881 2,226,247 (2nd) 31.0%
168 / 545
Jules Ferry
1885[b] 2,711,890 (1st) 34.2%
200 / 584
Jules Ferry
1889 2,974,565 (1st) 37.4%
216 / 578
Jean Casimir-Perier
1893 3,608,722 (1st) 48.6%
279 / 574
Jean Casimir-Perier
1898[c] 3,518,057 (1st) 43.4%
254 / 585
Jules Méline
  • ^ a: Presented as coalition of Republican Left and Republican Union
  • ^ b: Under the label of Democratic Union
  • ^ c: Under the label of Progressives

See alsoEdit


  • Abel Bonnard (1936). Les Modérés. Grasset. 330 p.
  • Francois Roth (dir.) (2003). Les modérés dans la vie politique française (1870-1965). Nancy: University of Nancy Press. 562 p. ISBN 2-86480-726-2.
  • Gilles Dumont, Bernard Dumont and Christophe Réveillard (dir.) (2007). La culture du refus de l’ennemi. Modérantisme et religion au seuil du XXIe siècle. University of Limoges Press. Bibliothèque européenne des idées. 150 p.


  1. ^ a b Nicolas Roussellier (1991). Editions Complexe (ed.). L'Europe des libéraux. pp. 25–28. ISBN 9782870274019.
  2. ^ Murat Akan (2017). Columbia University Press (ed.). The Politics of Secularism: Religion, Diversity, and Institutional Change in France and Turkey. ISBN 9780231543804.
  3. ^ Jean Leduc (1991). "2". In Hachette Éducation (ed.). L'Enracinement de la République - Edition 1991: 1879 - 1918.
  4. ^ Serge Berstein (1998). PUF (ed.). La démocratie libérale. p. 298. ISBN 9782130493884.
  5. ^ Léo Hamon (1991). MSH (ed.). Les Opportunistes: Les débuts de la République aux républicains. p. 24. ISBN 9782735104246.
  6. ^ Dominique Lejeune (2016). Armand Colin (ed.). La France des débuts de la IIIe République - 6e éd.: 1870-1896. ISBN 9782200615451.
  7. ^ Jean-Pierre Chevènement (2004). Fayard (ed.). Défis républicains. ISBN 9782213656601.
  8. ^ Jean Garrigues (2006). Peter Lang (ed.). Centre et centrisme en Europe aux XIXe et XXe siècles. pp. 23–25. ISBN 9789052013176.
  9. ^ Jean-Pierre Rioux (2011). Fayard (ed.). Les Centristes: De Mirabeau à Bayrou. ISBN 9782213664378.
  10. ^ Philippe Vigier (1967). La Seconde République. PUF, coll. Que sais-je ?. p. 127.
  11. ^ Francis Démier (2000). La France du XIXe siècle. Éditions du Seuil. p. 602.
  12. ^ Dominique Lejeune (2011). La France des débuts de la IIIe République, 1870-1896. Armand Colin. p. 9.
  13. ^ Michel Winock (2007). Clemenceau. Éditions Perrin. p. 21.
  14. ^ François Caron (1985). La France des patriotes (de 1851 à 1918). Fayar. p. 384.
  15. ^ Georges-Léonard Hémeret; Janine Hémeret (1981). Les présidents : République française. Filipacchi. p. 237.
  16. ^ Spuller, p. 10.
  17. ^ G. Davenay (30 August 1894). "L'Association nationale républicaine". Le Figaro.
  18. ^ "L'Association républicaine du Centenaire de 1789". Le Temps. 9–19 February 1888.
  19. ^ Stephen Pichon (24 June 1888). "Un Parti". La Justice.
  20. ^ THE PANAMA SCANDALS; An Exciting Scene in the French Chamber of Deputies. March 30, 1897
  21. ^ Charles Morice; Henry Jarzuel (11 August 1894). "La Constitution". Le Figaro.
  22. ^ Le Figaro, 27 February 1899
  23. ^ Le Figaro, 9 February 1902
  24. ^ Auguste Avril (19 November 1903). "Les Progressistes". Le Figaro.