Ferry, Jules

views updated May 21 2018


the government of national defense and the national assembly
architect of the secular republic
jules ferry speech on secularism, 1876
the new imperialism

FERRY, JULES (1832–1893), prime minister of France and principal founder of the French secular school system.

Jules Ferry was the son of a prosperous bourgeois family of Lorraine, the grandson of a textile manufacturer, son of a lawyer, and brother of a banker. He practiced law in Paris, but his wealth allowed Ferry to devote himself to politics, and he became a public figure as a journalist critical of the Second Empire.

Ferry worked for the republican opposition during the parliamentary elections of 1863, resulting in his arrest and conviction in the notorious "trial of the thirteen" (republicans). He received a hefty fine, but he continued to criticize the imperial government in the Parisian press. His most important work appeared in Le Temps, whose editor, Auguste Nefftzer (1820–1876), introduced Ferry to another part of the republican opposition, drawn from the Protestant elite.

Ferry became an acknowledged leader of French republicanism with the publication in Le Temps of a series of articles entitled Les comptes fantastiques d'Haussmann (Haussmann's fantastic account books), an exposé of the expenses, profits, and corruption of the rebuilding of Paris under the prefect, Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann (1809–1891). The fame of these articles, republished as a pamphlet, earned Ferry his own editorship at L'Electeur (The voter), where another series of hard-hitting articles, attacking the system of official electoral candidates, led to his second conviction and a larger fine. This made Ferry a prominent figure at the republican Congress of Nancy in 1865, which drafted a program of democratic opposition to the empire. His celebrity then led to his being elected in 1869 to join the opposition in the Corps Législatif. In his short term in the imperial parliament, Ferry distinguished himself by calling for reforms that the "liberal empire" of the 1860s had overlooked: municipal self-government, freedom of the press, freedom of association and assembly, freedom of education from church control, separation of church and state, and the democratic election of the legislature.

the government of national defense and the national assembly

Despite his long opposition to the Second Empire, Ferry supported the imperial government by voting for war credits in July 1870, during the crisis leading to the Franco-Prussian War. When Parisian republicans reacted to news of the defeat of France at the Battle of Sedan (2 September 1870) by occupying the town hall and proclaiming a republic (4 September 1870), Ferry led one of the columns that converged on the town hall. He was immediately named to membership in the republican provisional government, the Government of National Defense.

Ferry's outspokenness about the administration of the city of Paris resulted in his being named prefect of the Seine, the post that Haussmann had held. Ferry consequently served as mayor of Paris during the Prussian siege of the city, staying behind when Leon-Michel Gambetta (1838–1882) and other members of the National Defense escaped by hot air balloon. Ferry distinguished himself by organizing the National Guard of Paris, by work on the fortifications of Paris, and by the strict but fair system of bread rationing that he established. (Nonetheless, the nickname "famine Ferry" stuck with him in some circles.)

Ferry resigned as mayor of Paris in early 1871 to return to Lorraine as a candidate for the National Assembly, the body that would decide upon peace with Germany, and later upon the Constitution of the Third Republic. He was thus absent when the Commune of 1871 was proclaimed, sitting in Versailles as deputy from the Vosges. His presence there was an embarrassment to the monarchist majority at Versailles, due to his long association with the idea of self-government for Paris. Conservatives solved this problem by naming Ferry ambassador to Greece, thus removing him from domestic politics.

architect of the secular republic

Ferry was elected to the first Chamber of Deputies of the Third Republic in 1876, representing his hometown, Saint-Dié (Vosges), and he immediately assumed one of the most important roles in shaping the democratic and secular institutions of the republic. In that same year he married Eugénie Risler, a Protestant heiress whose family shared Ferry's background in textiles and republicanism (her grandfather was a member of the Constituent Assembly of 1848). By this alliance, Ferry became the in-law of five other members of parliament, including both Charles-Thomas Floquet (1828–1896, a leading voice of radical republicanism) and Auguste Scheurer-Kestner (1833–1899, a leading voice of Alsatian émigrés).

Ferry's long-time advocacy of universal, secular education resulted in his first appointment to the cabinet, as minister of education in 1879. He retained this position under three consecutive cabinets and chose to keep the portfolio for public instruction when he became prime minister himself in 1880. He later returned for two more terms as minister of education and one long term as prime minister. This exceptional tenure in office allowed him to achieve a long series of laws (often collectively called the Ferry Laws) between 1879 and 1885, and in an equally long and important series of administrative decisions, legislation that created the French public school system. These laws (chiefly the Ferry Law of 1882) made education universal, mandatory (for ages six through thirteen), free, and secular. They included significant progress at creating equal education for girls (especially the Camille Sée Law of 1880 for the secondary education of girls) but did not remove all barriers (especially in matters of curriculum and in higher education). They also included steps to create a national educational infrastructure, such as the Paul Bert Law of 1879 that required a teacher training school (École normale) for men, and another for women, to serve every department in France.

jules ferry speech on secularism, 1876

"I pronounce the words secular state without any trepidation, even though, for some of our honorable colleagues they would seem to have a certain radical, anarchist, or revolutionary flavor. Yet I am not saying anything new, revolutionary or anarchist when I maintain that the state must be secular, that the totality of society is necessarily represented by secular organizations.

"What, exactly, is this principle? It is a doctrine that [the church] prides itself on having introduced to the world: the doctrine of the separation of temporal and spiritual power. Yes, Christianity introduced the doctrine of the separation of these two domains…. However, there is one reproach we could make against the church in this matter. After taking four or five centuries to introduce this doctrine, the church has then spent seven or eight centuries attacking it. (Applause on the left.)

"Gentlemen, what was the key accomplishment, the major concern, the great passion and service of the French Revolution? To have built this secular state, to have succeeded in making the social organisms of society exclusively secular, to have taken away from the clergy its political organization and role as a cadre within the state—that, precisely, is the French Revolution in its full reality. Well, now, we do not presume to convert the honorable members seated on this side of the Chamber [the monarchists, seated on the right] to the doctrines of the revolution. We only wish it to be understood that we do not deviate from these doctrines. Convinced that the first concern, the first duty of a democratic government is to maintain incessant, powerful, vigilant and efficient control over public education, we insist that this control belong to no other authority than the state. We cannot admit, we will never admit, and this country of France will never admit that the State can be anything but a secular one." ("Very Good!" shouts from left and center.)

Source: Journal official de la République française, 3 June 1876, as translated in Jan Goldstein and John W. Boyer, eds., Nineteenth-Century Europe: Liberalism and Its Critics (Chicago, 1988), p. 358.

The first fully republican government of the Third Republic (the William Henry Waddington [1826–1894] ministry of 1879) had been in office barely one month when Ferry deposited two bills that began this process. The first dramatically changed the Conseil supérieure de l'instruction publique (the council of educational experts that over-saw school questions) by removing it from control of the Catholic clergy and permitting the minister to name the experts who sat on the council. The second established state regulation of private schools of higher education (Écoles libres) and closed them to members of any nonauthorized religious order.

Through his power of appointment, Ferry drew into government service a team of educational experts who were dedicated to his vision of secular (the French often prefer to say "laic") public education, a group who joined him in founding the public school system. Many of these administrators were drawn from the Protestant minority in France, a subculture that had long protested against sending their children to schools run by Catholic clerics and backed the idea of secular public schools. This group of Protestant educational administrators included Ferdinand-Edouard Buisson (1841–1932, later to win the Nobel Peace Prize) as the national director of primary education and Pauline Kergomard (1838–1925), the first woman appointed to Conseil supérieure. Ferry himself had been born Catholic, left the faith, and joined the Freemasons in 1875.

The role of Protestants in creating the public school system did not mean a new theology. Instead, the laic school removed all religious teaching from the classroom, leaving it to church and family. Instead of religion, the schools taught a "civic morality" (morale laïque) developed by Buisson and others. When conservatives, led by Jules Simon (1814–1896), proposed that the schools should teach "duties toward God and the fatherland," the Chamber rejected the motion.

Catholic protests against losing control of the school system led to redoubled anticlericalism, and many of the laic laws of the period from 1879 to 1885 were shaped by this as much as by educational philosophy. A noteworthy example occurred in 1879, when the Senate blocked Ferry's plan for state regulation of Écoles libres. The Chamber responded by vigorous action against nonauthorized religious orders, which led to the expulsion of the Jesuits from France in June and July 1880, who were sometimes removed from their houses by force.

Although Ferry in the 1880s advocated a more moderate republicanism ("opportunism") than the radical republicanism he had supported in his early career, Ferry's governments achieved many of the fundamental legislative goals that defined republicanism: laws granted freedom of the press (1881), the right to form trade unions (the Waldeck-Rousseau Law of 1884), and the right of divorce (the Naquet Law of 1884).

the new imperialism

Ferry was detested in many conservative and Catholic circles for his laic laws, but the controversy that drove him from office and ended his career was entirely different: the "new imperialism" under which France rapidly expanded its colonial empire in the late nineteenth century. As prime minister in 1880, Ferry chose to be minister of foreign affairs, and this led him to the conclusion that France should rebuild its colonial empire, recovering some of the prestige lost in the Franco-Prussian War, and expanding both French culture and the French economy on a global basis.

Ferry launched his program of imperial expansion in 1881 by sending an expeditionary force to Tunisia, and the success of French arms there led him to colonial ventures in Africa and Asia. Ferry's new imperialism included the French occupation of Senegal, Guinea, Dahomey, the Ivory Coast, and Gabon in sub-Saharan Africa; expanded roles in many islands, especially Madagascar and Tahiti; and the consolidation of the French protectorate in Indochina in the years 1883 to 1885.

The diplomacy of imperialism made Ferry as many enemies as his secularism had. French expansion benefited from the encouragement of Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898) of Germany, who generally opposed German imperialism and who reasoned that a reawakened French imperialism would lead to Anglo-French confrontations over empire. At international congresses of 1878 and 1884, Bismarck encouraged French ventures, and his support made the conquest of Tunisia possible. Ferry, who already faced the anger of anti-imperialist radicals, now faced the anger of anti-German nationalists who denounced his détente with Germany as treasonous and branded him "Bismarck's valet."

Opposition to Ferry's imperialism produced a strange coalition of the left (led by Georges Clemenceau [1841–1929]) and the right that drove Ferry from office in 1885, following the news of a military reverse outside Hanoi. The nadir came in 1887 when Ferry was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt. The man who had perhaps been the most important single founder of the Third Republic's institutions remained in politics until his death in 1893, but he was rejected for the presidency of France and never returned to high office.

See alsoClemenceau, Georges; Education; France; Imperialism; Separation of Church and State (France, 1905).


Acomb, Evelyn Martha. The French Laic Laws, 1879–1889. New York, 1941. Reprint, New York, 1967.

Gaillard, Jean-Michel. Jules Ferry. Paris, 1989.

Guilhaume, Philippe. Jules Ferry. Paris, 1980.

Pisani-Ferry, Fresnette. Jules Ferry et le partage du monde. Paris, 1962.

Power, Thomas Francis, Jr. Jules Ferry and the Renaissance of French Imperialism. New York, 1944. Reprint, New York, 1966.

Steven C. Hause

Jules François Camille Ferry

views updated May 21 2018

Jules François Camille Ferry

The French statesman Jules François Camille Ferry (1832-1893) was a major political leader during the first 2 decades of the Third Republic. He played a key role in expanding public education and in developing France's colonial empire.

Jules Ferry was born at Saint-Dié, Vosges Department, on April 5, 1832. On receiving his law degree in 1851, he was admitted to the Paris bar, but he first made his name in journalism as one of the most vigorous critics of the Second Empire. His successes led him into more active politics, and in 1869 he was elected to the legislature from Paris.

Entering the Government of National Defense after the fall of the Empire, Ferry became the top civil administrator for Paris and had to struggle with the difficult problems caused by the siege. His stringent but necessary measures earned him an unpopularity in the capital that lasted throughout his career.

Ferry became minister of public instruction in 1879 and initiated a number of reforms, the most controversial being those aimed at reducing the influence of the Church on education. The state recovered its monopoly in the awarding of degrees, but his proposal to prohibit teaching by members of religious orders (the famous Article 7) was defeated in the Senate. In 1880 he took administrative measures to dissolve unauthorized religious orders. More important was his introduction of legislation to make elementary education compulsory, free, and laic. In September 1880 he became premier and was able to further his program by decrees, but lack of funds and personnel prevented his ambitious plans from being implemented at once.

An ardent colonial expansionist when most republican politicians saw foreign questions only in terms of Alsace-Lorraine and the German menace, Ferry was charged with diverting attention—and troops—away from the Continent. His first ministry ended in November 1881 as a result of criticism of the Tunisian expedition which led to the French protectorate.

Ferry returned to the Ministry of Public Instruction in January 1882. In February 1883 he was again premier and carried out a purge of antirepublican elements in the judiciary. Although his power and prestige seemed as great as ever, this time the opposition to his foreign policy proved fatal to Ferry's career. He supported French involvement in Indochina, but news of a minor defeat there, much exaggerated in the first report, compelled his resignation on March 30, 1885. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the presidency in 1887 and never again played a leading role in government. Shot by an Alsatian fanatic on Dec. 10, 1892, Ferry died in Paris on March 17, 1893.

Further Reading

For an important aspect of Ferry's career see Thomas F. Power, Jr., Jules Ferry and the Renaissance of French Imperialism (1944).

Additional Sources

Guilhaume, Philippe, Jules Ferry, Paris: Encre, 1980. □