Gambetta, Léon(lāôN` gäNbĕtä`), 1838–82, French republican leader. A lawyer who achieved some note as an opponent of the Second Empire of Napoleon IIINapoleon III
(Louis Napoleon Bonaparte), 1808–73, emperor of the French (1852–70), son of Louis Bonaparte (see under Bonaparte, family), king of Holland. Early Life
..... Click the link for more information. , he was elected deputy in 1869 and joined the parliamentary opposition. After the Franco-Prussian WarFranco-Prussian War
or Franco-German War,
1870–71, conflict between France and Prussia that signaled the rise of German military power and imperialism. It was provoked by Otto von Bismarck (the Prussian chancellor) as part of his plan to create a unified German
..... Click the link for more information. precipitated the downfall of the empire (1870), he became prominent in the provisional government. His organization of a government of national defense to drive out the Germans, his spectacular escape from Paris in a balloon, and his gallant opposition to the Prussian forces won worldwide sympathy. Gambetta bitterly fought French capitulation and briefly retired from politics, but after 1871 he devoted himself to the creation of the Third Republic. After the resignation of Adolphe ThiersThiers, Adolphe
, 1797–1877, French statesman, journalist, and historian.
After studying law at Aix-en-Provence, Thiers went (1821) to Paris and joined the group of writers that attacked the reactionary government of King Charles X.
..... Click the link for more information. as president, Gambetta pursued a policy of moderation and compromise and opposed both the radical republicans with whom he had been identified earlier in his career, and the monarchists and conservatives. He was influential in shaping the republican constitution of 1875, and as the real leader of the republican forces, he strove for unity against President MacMahonMacMahon, Marie Edmé Patrice de
, 1808–93, president of the French republic (1873–79), marshal of France. MacMahon, of Irish descent, fought in the Algerian campaign, in the Crimean War, and in the Italian war of 1859.
..... Click the link for more information. . Under President GrévyGrévy, Jules
, 1807–91, French statesman, president of France (1879–87). As a republican deputy after the February Revolution (1848), he sought to eliminate the danger of a single strong executive. He opposed the Second Empire of Napoleon III.
..... Click the link for more information. , Gambetta was briefly premier (1881–82), but his attempt to strengthen the executive power and to reconcile French political and social factions was unsuccessful, and his suggested electoral reform was widely denounced. He died soon after. A vigorous republican and patriot and a strong anticlerical, Gambetta was later highly revered.
See studies by P. Deschanel (1920), H. Stannard (1921), and J. P. T. Bury (1936, repr. 1970).