Gambetta, Leon


1870 ALS while Minister of the Interior in the French Government of National Defense, written from Tours during the height of the disastrous Franco-Prussian War



Autograph ID: 6923
Condition: Very good, teeny tear at top left, light dusting and scant toning
Description: “(1838-1882) French statesman during and after the Franco-Prussian War. He rendered France 3 great services: preserving her self-respect through the gallant resistance he organized during the Franco-Prussian War; his tactful persuasion of extreme partisans to accept a moderate Republic; and his energy in overcoming the attempted usurpation by advisers of Marshal MacMahon. At 15, he lost sight in his right eye, later removed. In 1857 he studied law in Paris, becoming an inveterate enemy of the imperial government. He was called to the bar in 1859, admitted to the lawyers’ political club, Conférence Molé, where he learned public speaking. In May 1869, he was elected to the Assembly by a district in Paris and one in Marseille, defeating Hippolyte Carnot for Paris and Adolph Thiers & Ferdinand de Lesseps for Marseille. He sat for Marseille and soon attacked the Empire in the Assembly, becoming the lower classes’ leading defender in the Assembly under Napoleon III. At first he opposed war with Prussia but then accepted that war was forced on France. When news of the Sedan disaster reached Paris, Gambetta called for the Emperor’s deposition and establishment of a republic, becoming Minister of the Interior in the new Government of National Defense. His advice to his colleagues to leave Paris to run the government was rejected because of fear of another revolution in Paris. Gambetta left Paris Oct. 7 in a hydrogen-filled gas balloon, the “Armand-Barbes”. On arriving at Tours he took control as Minister of the Interior and War. He organized an army which might have relieved Paris if Metz had held out. After the December French defeat near Orleans, the seat of government went to Bordeaux. In the Feb. 8 1871 elections, conservatives & monarchists won 2/3 of the Assembly seats. When Thiers’s March 1871 peace treaty ended the conflict, Gambetta resigned and went to Spain. When the Paris Commune took control of the city, he voiced his opposition. On 5 Nov. 1871 he established a journal, “La Republique Francaise”, soon the most influential in France, and became a moderate republican. When Thiers resigned in May 1873 and monarchist Marshal MacMahon became head of the government, Gambetta urged his friends to moderation. He was instrumental in voting in the French Constitutional Laws and became a leader of the “Opportunist Republicans.” During the 16 May 1877 crisis, he campaigned to rouse French republicans. MacMahon had to form a moderate republican ministry under Dufaure and his downfall soon led to MacMahon’s resignation. Gambetta supported Jules Grevy and accepted the office of President of the Chamber of Deputies in Jan. 1879. At the next election, his supporters won a large majority, and he was unwillingly asked by Grévy on 24 Nov. 1881 to form a ministry which fell 26 Jan. 1882 after 66 days.

ALS in French on 8 ¼ x 5 ¼ printed letterhead of the Minister of the interior, Office of the Minster, Tours, September 9 1870, to an unnamed man acknowledging receipt of his letter whom he thanks from the bottom of his heart in the name of the country and the Republic. Whenever a man offers his services, one must accept them with appreciation. Gambetta asks him to suggest a strategic camp where he desires assume the functions of chief doctor.

Five days before this letter, the French Army was defeated at Le Mans. The Germans began bombarding Paris on Jan. 6 and on the 24th Jules Favre went to Versailles to discuss peace terms with Bismarck; President Trochu resigned the next day and on the 28th, President Favre signed an armistice with Prussia. On Feb. 6, Gambetta stepped down and surrendered control of the provincial armies to the Government of National Defense which promptly ordered a cease-fire throughout France. On February 17, the Prussians held a victory parade in Paris.”
Type: Letter

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