Guizot, François

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GUIZOT, FRANÇOIS (1787–1874), French politician and historian. François Guizot was a leading politician during the July Monarchy (1830–1848). His father was an influential Protestant lawyer in Nímes, guillotined for his federalist sympathies during the Terror. The family moved to Geneva where Guizot was educated. In Paris from 1805 he inserted himself into intellectual circles around the philosopher and academic Pierre-Paul Royer-Collard. He became professor of modern history at the University of Paris (1812). In 1814 he supported the Bourbon Restoration, secured a post in the ministry of the interior, and followed Louis XVIII (r. 1814–1815; 1815–1824) into exile during the Hundred Days. He was rewarded with a ministerial post at the Second Restoration and made a councillor of state. Along with a tiny number of liberals dubbed doctrinaire because of the limited nature of their liberalism, he had some impact in moderating the royalist reaction after the Hundred Days.

In the ultra-royalist backlash that followed the murder of the heir to the throne in 1820, Guizot lost all but his university chair, and between 1822 and 1828 his university course was suspended. He survived by turning his university lectures into books at a time when history was very popular, publishing Histoire de la révolution de l'Angleterre (1826–1827), Histoire de la civilisation en Europe (1828), and Histoire de la civilisation en France (1830–1832). His history is still a pleasure to read. He also wrote for Le Globe, a leading liberal journal, and in 1827 was a founder (later chairman) of Aide-toi, le ciel t'aidera (Help yourself and Heaven will help you), which promoted the creation of liberal electoral committees to combat official electoral corruption. Like other liberals, Guizot revered the constitutional Charter of 1814 because it balanced royal and parliamentary authority. The latter, modeled on the British parliament, he admired, being a lifelong Anglophile (although British foreign ministers must have found it hard to believe). He was convinced that the old monarchy could be harmonized with aspects of 1789, including both new centralized institutions of government and the electoral principle, producing his ideal, a juste milieu, or middle way. Like other liberals, he became critical of the Restored Bourbons only when legislation such as the law of the double vote ate away at the Charter. He was no revolutionary.

In 1830 Guizot was elected to the Chamber of Deputies and voted with the majority of 221 deputies who protested at Charles X's speech opening the parliamentary session. He took a leading role in organizing the appointment of Louis-Philippe (r. 1830–1848) as king in August 1830 and became his first minister of the interior. He was a minister for all but five years for the July Monarchy. As minister of public instruction from 1832 to 1835 he introduced legislation in 1833 that directed all communes of more than five hundred inhabitants to set up a primary school for boys. Every town of six thousand inhabitants was to run a higher primary school, while every department had to create an école normale, a college to train young men to teach. The new teachers earned two hundred francs annually. The law also created a body of school inspectors. In 1836, following protests, communes were encouraged to admit girls if there was enough space. These laws did not make primary schooling free, secular, or obligatory. Places were only free for the children of poor parents, and each religious group had a say in the running of the school, but Guizot's legislation was a first step. By 1845 the schools had three million pupils.

In 1840, a few months after his appointment as ambassador to London, Guizot became minister of foreign affairs in a government headed by Marshal Soult, which Guizot effectively ran until 1848. His surprisingly disputatious foreign policy with Britain brought the two close to war over trifling rivalries and jealousies. Guizot resisted all proposals for extending the suffrage and became a much-criticized symbol for bourgeois indifference to social problems. In successive elections, 1842 and 1846, his government increased its majority.

Dismissed by Louis Philippe during the 1848 revolution, he followed the king into exile in England, returning a year later to stand unsuccessfully for the Legislative Assembly. His subsequent total retirement to his Norman home, Val Richer, to a quarter century of private life is in sharp contrast to contemporaries such as Louis-Adolphe Thiers. He completed Mémoires pour server à l'histoire de mon temps (1858–1867; Memoirs to serve as a history of my time) and Histoire parlementaire de la France (1863–1864).

In his lectures at the Sorbonne and in his writing, much of which was translated into English, Guizot applauded the early, more moderate period of the 1789 Revolution, defining it as a successful takeover of power by the bourgeoisie. Like many, he presented the 1789 Revolution as the climax of a long struggle for liberty, democracy, and national sovereignty, but his definitions of the last two of these differed from those in customary use by 1848. By democracy he did not mean the attempt to create political democracy in 1792 and 1793, which he saw as leading inexorably to the Terror of 1793–1794. Instead he praised the quest for social democracy, by which he meant personal freedom and equality. Guizot also applauded national sovereignty, which he always asserted the July monarchy represented. What he cherished was what he called the sovereignty of reason, not popular sovereignty. He remained convinced, even after the adoption of male suffrage in 1848, that representative government should be in the hands of those with capacité, the financial as well as the intellectual clout to make independent judgments in the name of the whole community. He was happy with the July monarchy electorate of 250,000, arguing that this tiny minority (in a population of thirty-six million) would grow slowly as vital education programs civilized the whole population. After 1848 such elitist arguments were unsustainable, although disappointment with the results of universal male suffrage was widespread, even among radicals. Alexis de Tocqueville, who attended Guizot's Sorbonne lectures, acknowledged him as a formative influence on his own thinking.

See alsoCharles X; France; Napoleon III; Restoration; Revolutions of 1830; Revolutions of 1848; Thiers, Louis-Adolphe.


Alexander, Robert. Re-writing the French Revolutionary Tradition: Liberal Opposition and the Fall of the Bourbon Monarchy. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 2003.

Craiutu, Aurelian. Liberalism under Siege: The Political Thought of the French Doctrinaires. Lanham, Md., 2003.

Johnson, Douglas. Guizot: Aspects of French History, 1787–1874. London and Toronto, 1963.

Pilbeam, Pamela. The Constitutional Monarchy in France, 1814–48. Harlow, U.K., 2000.

Pamela Pilbeam

François Pierre Guillaume Guizot

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François Pierre Guillaume Guizot

The French statesman and historian François Pierre Guillaume Guizot (1787-1874) was a cold and clever politician whose refusal to grant electoral reforms precipitated the February Revolution of 1848. His scholarly publications, however, have been widely praised.

Though born at Nîmes on Oct. 4, 1787, François Guizot was educated in Geneva, where his mother had emigrated after his father's execution in 1794. Returning to Paris in 1805, Guizot studied law but soon forsook it for a literary career. The publication of a critical edition of Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire established his reputation as a historian and secured his appointment (1812) to the chair of modern history in the University of Paris. There he became a disciple of the moderate royalist philosopher Pierre Paul Royer-Collard.

Guizot took no active part in politics under the Empire, but during the first Bourbon restoration he held the post of secretary general of the Ministry of the Interior. After the Hundred Days he twice held office:secretary general of the Ministry of Justice (1815-1816) and director in the Ministry of the Interior (1819-1820). But the assassination of the Duke of Berry in February 1820 produced a reactionary backlash that swept Guizot and the moderates from office.

Out of office for most of the next decade, Guizot concentrated on historical research and writing. From his productive pen came the History of the Origin of Representative Government (2 vols., 1821-1822); History of the English Revolution from Charles I to Charles II (2 vols., 1826-1827); General History of Civilization in Europe (3 vols., 1828); and Histoire de la civilisation en France (4 vols., 1830). Guizot's histories have been justly praised for their excellent scholarship, lucid and succinct style, judicious analysis, and impartiality.

Returning to active politics in January 1830, Guizot entered the Chamber as a deputy for Lisieux and immediately joined the opposition to the Polignac ministry. Since 1815 Guizot had shared with Royer-Collard the leadership of the Doctrinaires, who considered the Charter of 1814 the epitome of political wisdom since it established a balance between the power of the Crown, the nobility, and the upper middle classes. As right-wing liberals, they supported the restoration monarchy so long as it governed according to the Charter, but when Charles X attempted to rule by decree, they turned from the Bourbon to the Orleanist dynasty. During the July Revolution of 1830, they helped to elevate Louis Philippe, Duke of Orléans, to the throne.

In August 1830 Guizot became minister of the interior. For the next 2 years he gradually became more conservative as a series of Paris disorders instilled in him a fear of anarchy. But his conservatism had deeper roots. A devout Calvinist, he identified the sanctified elect with the political elite, who, he believed, had a divine mission to govern the masses.

By October 1832, when he became minister of public instruction, Guizot had assumed leadership of the right-center. His one great legislative act was the law of June 28, 1833—the charter of France's elementary school system— which required every commune to maintain a public primary school. Always the champion of the academic community, he reestablished the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques, which Napoleon had suppressed, founded the Société de l'Histoire de France, and published at state expense huge collections of medieval documents and diplomatic dispatches.

In February 1840 Guizot went to London as ambassador, but in October he became foreign minister and the dominant personality in the Soult ministry. The tenets of his foreign policy were nonintervention, friendship with Britain, and cooperation with Austria. In 1847 Guizot became premier. But overthrown by the February Revolution of 1848, he went into exile in England. After a year in London, devoted primarily to research in the British archives, he retired to his estate at Val Richer near Lisieux in Normandy.

Though Guizot survived the Orleanist monarchy by 26 years, he never reentered the political arena but focused his energy on academic activities and writing historical works. Between 1854 and his death on Sept. 12, 1874, he published the Histoire de la république d'Angleterre et de Cromwell (2 vols., 1854); Histoire du protectorat de Cromwell et du rétablissement des Stuarts (2 vols., 1856); Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire de mon temps (9 vols., 1858-1868); and the Histoire parlementaire de la France (5 vols., 1863), which included his speeches.

Further Reading

The best biography of Guizot in English is Douglas Johnson, Guizot:Aspects of French History—1787-1874 (1963). Though mindful of the statesman's faults, Johnson attempts to rehabilitate him by emphasizing his "sound intellect" and "historical consciousness" and by showing that his foreign policy was "always reasonable and usually realistic." Elizabeth Parnham Brush, Guizot in the Early Years of the Orleanist Monarchy (1929), is an excellent special study. A good general account of Guizot's political career is J. Lucas-Dubreton, The Restoration and the July Monarchy (trans. 1929), which also analyzes the social and intellectual currents of the period. □

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