Gambetta, Léon Michel

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Gambetta, Léon Michel

 

Born Apr. 2, 1838, in Cahors; died Dec. 31, 1882, in Ville-d’Avray, near Paris. French politician and statesman. A lawyer by profession.

During the Second Empire, Gambetta became a prominent leader of the left-wing bourgeois republicans. He earned a wide reputation by his speech denouncing the Second Empire in 1868 at the trial of the republican L. C. Delescluze. In 1869, because of the program of radical democratic reforms that he proposed (the so-called Belleville Program), Gambetta was elected to the Legislative Corps from the Parisian workers’ district of Belleville and from Marseille. From September 1870 to February 1871 he was minister of internal affairs in the government of national defense. He advocated continuing the war against Prussia. However, at the same time, he was afraid of unleashing a revolutionary war, and he hindered the development of a partisan movement against the Prussian occupation troops. He tried unsuccessfully to organize the forces of the regular army alone to repulse the Prussians. In an attempt to evade responsibility for the surrender at the end of the war, Gambetta emigrated to Spain in early March 1871. After the suppression of the Paris Commune he returned to France in May 1871 and advocated amnesty for the communards.

In the first ten years of the Third Republic, Gambetta led the fight against clericalism and against attempts to restore the monarchy. At the same time, he moved closer and closer to the right-wing grouping of the bourgeois republicans. He openly abandoned his previous program of democratic and social reforms, advocating and pursuing, by his own definition, a policy of opportunism. Gambetta was chairman of the Chamber of Deputies from 1879 to 1881 and prime minister and minister of foreign affairs from 1881 to 1882.

REFERENCES

Neucastel, E. Gambetta: Sa vie, ses idées politiques. Paris, 1885.
Matter, P. Gambetta. Paris, 1923.
Dutrait-Crozon, H. Gambetta et la défense nationale 1870-1871. Paris, 1934.
Wormser, G. Gambetta dans les tempêtes (1870-1877). Paris, 1964.