Jules François Simon

views updated Jun 27 2018

Jules François Simon

The French philosopher, writer, and statesman Jules François Simon (1814-1896) was a leader of the moderate republican faction in the early years of the Third Republic.

Jules Simon was born François Jules Simon Suisse at Lorient on Dec. 27, 1814, but he later dropped the family name. Graduating from the École Normale, he taught philosophy at Caen in 1836 and at Versailles in 1837. Victor Cousin employed him to make translations of Plato and Aristotle, for which Cousin took credit, and Simon soon became Cousin's deputy in the chair of philosophy at the Sorbonne. He also lectured at the École Normale and began his literary career—editing the works of Nicolas Malbranche, René Descartes, Jacques Bossuet, and Antoine Arnauld; writing the Histoire de l'école d'Alexandrie (2 vols., 1844-1845); contributing to the Revue des deux mondes; and helping to found the journal Liberté de penser in 1847.

In 1848 Simon was elected to the Constituent Assembly from the Côtes-du-Nord, and in April 1849 he became a member of the Council of State. However, he was not reelected to the council or elected to the Legislative Assembly. After the coup d'etat of Dec. 2, 1851, he condemned the new regime and was dismissed from the Sorbonne and the École Normale. He then spent his time in writing and produced Le Devoirin 1854, which achieved great popularity. This was followed by La Religion naturelle (1856), La Liberté (1857), and a number of other works.

In 1863 Simon was elected deputy from the eighth district of Paris and won fame as a member of the republican opposition. He opposed the Franco-Prussian War in the legislature and became minister of instruction in the provisional government of 1870. After the fall of Paris, Simon was sent to Bordeaux to oblige Léon Gambetta to accept the government's electoral provisions. Eventually Gambetta resigned, but his enmity for Simon endured.

Simon was elected to the National Assembly from the Marne, and Adolphe Thiers entrusted him with the Ministry of Instruction until 1873. In 1875 he was elected permanent senator and member of the French Academy. Simon became premier and minister of interior under President MacMahon on Dec. 13, 1876. He retained these positions until, after the Chamber adopted a motion urging the Cabinet to repress clerical agitation, MacMahon demanded Simon's resignation in the "Sixteenth of May" incident of 1877. This began a series of crises which eventually gave the republicans control of the whole government and discouraged later presidents from using their full constitutional powers.

Simon was largely responsible for rejection of Article 7 of Jules Ferry's Education Act, which would have forbidden members of nonauthorized congregations to teach. In his later years Simon exercised influence chiefly through his writings. He died in Paris on June 8, 1896.

Further Reading

There are no biographies of Simon in English. His career is recounted in Denis W. Brogan, The Development of Modern France, 1870-1939 (1 vol., 1947; rev. ed., 2 vols., 1966), and Guy Chapman, The Third Republic of France: The First Phase, 1871-1894 (1962). □