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Louis Adolphe Thiers
Louis Adolphe Thiers, French historian, politician, and patriot, was born at Marseilles on April 16, 1797. His father, who seems to have belonged to a family in decayed circumstances, was a locksmith. Through the influence of his mother, who was a Chenier, he received a good education, first at the Lycee in his native city, and subsequently (1815) at Aix, whither he was sent to study law. At Aix he made the acquaintance of Mignet, cultivated literature rather than the law, and won a prize for a dissertation on Vauvenargues. Called to the bar at the age of twenty-three, he set off for Paris in the company of Mignet. His prospects did not seem brilliant, and his almost ludicrously squat figure and plain face were not recommendations to Parisian society. His industry and belief in himself were, however, unbounded, and an introduction to Lafitte, of the Constitutionnel, then the leading organ of the French liberals, gave him the chance of showing his capacity as a public writer. His articles in the Constitutionnel, chiefly on political and literary subjects, gained him the entry into the most influential salons of the opposition. At this time he made the acquaintance of Talleyrand, Casimir Perier, the Comte de Flahault, and Baron Louis, the financier. Meanwhile he was rapidly--indeed too rapidly--preparing his "Histoire de la Revolution Francaise." The first two volumes--there were ten in all--appeared in 1823. This work, although it has been demonstrated to be very untrustworthy and inaccurate, more especially in its estimates of persons, gave its author a prominent place among French politicians and men of letters. About this time, too, the gift by his admirer, Cotta, the German publisher, of a share in the Constitutionnel raised him to comparative affluence. In January, 1830, he, along with Armand Carrel, Mignet, and other friends, started the National, and in its columns waged relentless war on the Polignac administration. The ministry met the opposition it had provoked by the Ordonnances of July. Among the other repressive measures that were taken was the sending of a commissary of police to the office of the National, interdicting its publication. Its conductors, with Thiers at their head, defied the ministry, and the result was the revolution which drove Charles X. into exile.
The collapse of the Second Empire, however, enabled Thiers to play the greatest of all his parts, that of "liberator of the territory." He declined, after Sedan, to become a member of the Government of National Defence; but he voluntarily undertook diplomatic journeys to Great Britain, Russia, Austria, and Italy, on behalf of France--a self-imposed mission in which he was unsuccessful, but by which he obtained the gratitude of his countrymen. He was largely instrumental in securing for his country that armistice which permitted the holding of a national assembly with a view to the negotiation of a peace. Twenty constituencies chose him as their deputy. Electing to sit for Paris, he was made head of the provisional government. He had great difficulty in persuading the colleagues of the Assembly, and his countrymen generally, to agree to peace on terms that were practically dictated by Germany. But he succeeded; peace was voted March 1, 1871. No sooner had he accomplished this task than he was face to face with the sanguinary madness of the Commune. But this difficulty also he set himself to surmount with characteristic energy, and succeeded. When the seat of government was once more removed from Versailles to Paris, Thiers was formally elected (August 30) President of the French Republic. He held office only till 1873, but during this brief period he was probably of greater service to his country than at any previous time in his life. He was mainly instrumental in securing the withdrawal of the Germans from France and the payment of the war indemnity, and in placing both the army and the civil service on a more satisfactory footing.
But in course of time the gratitude of the country exhausted itself, and Thiers, who was old-fashioned in many of his opinions, and as opinionative as he was old-fashioned, did not make any new friends. He was specially detested by the Extreme Left, whose chief, Gambetta, he styled a fou furieux. As a result, a coalition of Reactionaries and Radicals was formed expressly, as it seemed, to harass him, and even in the beginning of 1872 he tendered his resignation. It was not accepted; and his opponents for a time suspended their intrigues. They were revived, however, in 1873, and resolved themselves into a resolute effort to limit the powers of the president. This Thiers stoutly resisted. He made an appeal to the country, but this course did not increase the strength of his following. Finally, what he interpreted as a vote of no confidence was carried (May 24) by a majority of sixteen. He resigned, and his place was taken by Marshal MacMahon. He lived four years longer, and never ceased to take an interest in politics. In 1877 he took an active part in bringing about the fall of the ministry presided over by the Duc de Broglie. He now leaned to the side of the Left, and was reconciled to Gambetta, and he might once again have played a prominent part in politics had he not died of apoplexy on September 3, 1877, at St. Germain en Laye. He has not left behind him the memory either of a very great statesman, or of a very great historian. But he was a man of indomitable courage, and his patriotism, if narrow and marred with Chauvinism, was deep and genuine. He was, perhaps, the most successful of the large class of journalist-politicians that France has produced, and that he was at least a personal power in literature was evidenced by the great influence which he wielded in the Academy, of which he became a member in 1834.
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