Capturing public opinion during the Paris Commune of 1871

Historian article

By Jason Jacques Willems, published 11th November 2021

Do you really think that France is you! Capturing public opinion during the Paris Commune of 1871

In the year of its 150th anniversary, Jason Jacques Willems offers his thoughts on the importance of centrist opinion to our understanding of the Paris Commune.

2021 is the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune, when a revolutionary Parisian movement was pitted against the French government. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 had seen Napoleon III’s French empire defeated, and the Germans were still encamped outside Paris when French divisions over the future of France led to bloody conflict. Nationwide elections in February 1871, following the French surrender, returned a National Assembly that appeared to lean towards restoring the monarchy, and this was bitterly opposed by many Parisians, whose sympathies tended towards republicanism. Paris itself had not fallen to the German siege and retained many of its armaments, so when French soldiers attempted to seize cannons from Montmartre on 18 March 1871, many Parisian civilians and National Guardsmen rose up and prevented them. The French government then abandoned Paris, relocating to Versailles, and the revolutionary Parisian government, the Commune, formed in this vacuum. The Versailles army eventually seized Paris, culminating in la semaine sanglante (‘bloody week’) of 21 to 28 May 1871, in which many thousands died in the fighting and in extrajudicial executions...

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