- Gambetta, Léon
- (1838–1882)A leading politician of the French Third Republic. Gambetta was called to the Bar in 1859 and as a lawyer exhibited strong political views, above all hostility to Napoleon III (see Bonaparte, Louis Napoleon ). He was elected as a Republican to the National Assembly in 1869, and in 1870, he voted against going to war against Prussia. On September 4, 1870, Gambetta proclaimed the Third Republic and, as a member of the Committee of National Defense, displayed immense energy and political skill to supplying the French Army. Gambetta opposed both the peace of 1871 and its terms, fighting with patriotic zeal against the cession of Alsace-Lorraine in particular. He was suspicious of Adolfe Thiers but contemptuous of the Paris Commune that Thiers destroyed. In these attitudes he was typical of the militant moderation of many Radicals, Georges Clemençeau among them: middle class republicans who hated the monarchy and the Church equally, who were dedicated to the prosperity of business, and who were absolutely devoted to France. Gambetta was among the most important republicans of his generation, playing a key role in the defeat of President MacMahon and the triumph in the elections of 1879 of a republican majority under Jules Grévy. In 1881, he supported the policy of Jules Ferry in sending a French expeditionary force across the Algerian border to seize the ailing Ottoman province of Tunis before Italy could do so and thereby reclaim France’s status as Great Power. Gambetta then served briefly as prime minister and died suddenly of an accident at age 42. He was mourned as a hero of the Third Republic. At his funeral Victor Hugo took his grandchildren to see the coffin and said “there lies a great citizen.”FURTHER READING:Brogan, Denis. The Development of Modern France, 1870-1939 . London: Hamish Hamilton, 1940;Deschanel, Paul. Gambetta. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1920;Zeldin, Theodore. France, 1848-1945. Oxford: Clarendon, 1977.CARL CAVANAGH HODGE
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.