History of the French Senate. Volume 1- The Third Republic 1870-1940

Author: Smith, Paul
The tale of the Senate is the untold story of French political and parliamentary history. If it is mentioned at all, it is usually only at the moments when it proved to be an obstacle to 'progressive' reform or a frustration to ambitious governments. Its ways and its traditions, its ever-developing and changing role under three republics and its place at the heart of a particular and peculiar political culture, have remained little known or explored. This two-part study uncovers the French Senate and examines its evolution from keystone of the compromise that created the Republic in 1875 to its consecration as the chambre de la décentralisation in 2003. Volume One examines the place of the Senate in the Third Republic, from its uncertain beginnings to its presence at the forefront of political life in the 1930s, a prominence that would cost the Senate dear after the Liberation. Volume Two traces the unlikely recovery of the upper chamber in 1946, its 'restoration' in 1958 and its rollercoaster relationship with government and the lower house since then. Both volumes explore not only the place of the Senate in the constitutional game, but examine its political evolution and the part played by the men and (after 1946) women who have shaped its fortunes. Both volumes contain tables, maps and appendices intended to provide the both the academic and the student of French politics not only with an analytical narrative but also with clear points of reference with which to tackle the subject.


“Paul Smith now provides - in this volume a study of the Senate under the Third Republic and shortly to come, a second volume on the Senate, after its brief abolition by Vichy, under the Fourth and Fifth Republics. The present work falls broadly into two parts. The first part is a sociological study of the pattern of senatorial politics, exploring how individuals became senators and how they functioned institutionally within the plush surroundings of the Luxembourg Palace. It deals with such matters as the corruption of senatorial elections, all-day events in which wheeling and dealing was fuelled by heavy eating and drinking, networking and the promise of favours. It also explores the pattern of political careers under the Third Republic, in particular the transition from the hurly-burly of being a deputy to the more sedate existence of a senator. We are ushered into the world of local notables, wielding influence as a result of family connection, property or liberal profession, who acted as a counterbalance to the mass politics of the Republic, as exemplified by the socialist and communist parties. The second part is more chronological, and deals with the changing composition of the assembly, the emergence of party politics, and the challenge of successive crises. We are introduced to an array of colourful characters, such as Edouard de Laboulaye, one of the architects of the compromise of 1875, who was, perhaps predictably, an expert on Tocqueville and Montesquieu, le petit père Emile Combes, founder of the Radical party’s mirror-image in the Senate, the Gauche Démocratique, anticlerical prime minister in 1902-4, and Joseph Caillaux, who went from defendant in his trial of 1920 for his overfamilar dealings with German bankers to uncrowned king of the Senate in the 1930s and grave-digger of the Popular Front. Paul Smith traces the slow development of the Senate from a crucial makeweight during the fragile beginning of the regime to an interwar profile which was perhaps a little too conservative for the good of French democracy. The whole is underpinned by an array of statistics and maps, in the tradition of the electoral geography pioneered by André Siegfried and François Goguel, which supplies the hard data to which any serious student of the Third Republic will be able confidently to turn. Historians of France are much indebted to Paul Smith for this labour of love. It is a tribute to his flair and resilience that he has delivered a work which French historians and jurists have not managed and which would be proclaimed as definitive if the term did not generally denote a tome of unrelieved boredom. Paul Smith amply demonstrates that the French Third Republic can not be understood without an understanding of the Senate, a body that did so much in its unassuming but peculiarly French way to put an end to the Franco-French civil war that had raged since 1789.” – (from the Commendatory Preface) Professor Robert Gildea, University of Oxford

“I strongly recommend this book for publication. It will be the standard reference on the French Senate between 1870 and 1940 for decades; it is written with an accessible, lively style; it casts fresh light on many aspects of French political history, thus appealing to scholars and students whatever their interest in the Third Republic; and it represents a considerable scholarly achievement on the part of the author. French political history has been stagnant for many years, until a fresh wave of scholarship in France and England in particular began, in the 1990s, to re-examine the political mainstream. The fashionable interests of the 1960s and 70s (the left and the far right) have begun to be overturned, and historians have turned their interest on the moderate and centrist forces that were after all the bedrock of the Third Republic. This work should be placed in that context. It demonstrates the coherence of personalities between centre left parties of the 1880s and the centre right of the interwar period. It shows how important it is to get away from the obsession with Marxist politics when studying French political discourse in this period. Above all, perhaps, it offers a personalized, familiar view of the French political class, abounding with vignettes and the sort of lively detail that can make political history really come alive. Paul Smith, one feels, has a ready and fluent understanding of his period and his material that makes the text really transparent and easy to follow. He has had to follow up innumerable leads and his examination of the source material has been exhaustive. There is thus an authoritative air about the volume that if anything supersedes that of older political histories. It is this quality in particular that makes it outstanding: there is a tremendous amount of information here that has been turned into a coherent vision of the Third Republic, and scholars and students will simply have to engage with that vision in order to move on in their own research. The work is thus likely to be a reference point for many years to come.” – Dr Julian Wright, Lecturer in Modern European History, Durham University

“I have no hesitation in recommending publication of this study, which is a major work of historical scholarship. Dr. Smith writes with great authority on the place of the Senate in the political life of the Third Republic, a subject which up to now has attracted surprisingly little attention from historians and political scientists, although there has been some recent work in French. The author explains that this work, although valuable in itself, has been either aridly juridical, or prosopographical, ignoring historical evolution. His aim was to fill the gap by providing a historical study which deals with the role played by the Senate and senators in the political history of France over the period … This is a major and innovative work of scholarship, whose publication is greatly to be desired.” – D. R. Watson, Former Senior Lecturer, University of Dundee

Table of Contents

Part One – LeGrand Conseil des Communes
1. ‘La constitution est un Sénat’
2. Departments, seats and colleges
3. Becoming a Senator
4. Being a Senator
Part Two – La Raison de la République
5. Installation
6. Reform
7. Citadel of the Republic
8. The Triumph of the Gauche Démocratique
9. Une chamber de contrôle
10. Absolute Bicameralism
Selected Bibliography