After studying law at Aix-en-Provence, Thiers went (1821) to Paris and joined the group of writers that attacked the reactionary government of King Charles X . Thiers reflected the views of the upper bourgeoisie. Although immensely popular in their time, Thiers's historical works are today generally regarded as superficial and inaccurate eulogies of the French Revolution and of Napoleon, written from the bourgeois point of view. His History of the French Revolution (10 vol., 1823–27 tr., 5 vol., 1895) illustrated his moderate liberal views. With F. A. M. Mignet and others he started (1830) the journal National, which had an important part in bringing about the July Revolution of 1830.
Thiers held ministerial posts under Louis Philippe , whose candidacy as king of the French he had promoted. As minister of the interior, he brutally suppressed the workers' insurrection of Apr., 1834, in Paris and Lyons. Thiers was premier in 1836, but his projected intervention against the Carlists in Spain caused his dismissal. In 1840 he again headed a cabinet, but his aggressive foreign policy—this time he sought to intervene in favor of Muhammad Ali in Egypt, thus bringing France to the brink of war with Great Britain—once again lacked royal support and brought about his fall.
He then became a liberal opponent of the July Monarchy and again turned to writing, beginning his History of the Consulate and the Empire (20 vol., 1845–62 tr. 1845–62). In the midst of the February Revolution of 1848, Louis Philippe offered him the title of premier, but he refused, and both king and Thiers were soon swept aside by the revolutionary tide. Elected (1848) to the constituent assembly, Thiers was a leader of the right-wing liberals and bitterly opposed the socialists.
Thiers supported Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (later Emperor Napoleon III ) for president of the French republic, but his opposition to Bonaparte's coup in Dec., 1851, led to his arrest and exile. He was allowed to return not long afterward, but for ten years he remained out of government affairs. In 1863 he was elected to the legislature, where he opposed the emperor and helped to bring about reforms. Although he had previously favored an aggressive foreign policy, Thiers spoke out (1870) against involvement in the Franco-Prussian War . Vindicated by the disastrous defeat of France, he was chosen chief executive of the provisional government at Bordeaux in 1871. He negotiated the preliminary Peace of Versailles with Otto von Bismarck and ordered his troops to suppress the Commune of Paris of 1871—an order carried out with ferocious severity.
In Aug., 1871, his title became president of the republic. Credit for France's quick payment of its war indemnity to Germany and for the consequent evacuation (1873) of France by German troops belongs largely to Thiers's efficient economic policy. However, his insistence upon a conservative republic alienated both the monarchist majority and the left-wing minority in the national assembly, and in 1873 he was forced to resign. In the elections of 1877 he helped to restore republican unity and bring about the election of a republican legislature.
See his memoirs (1903, tr. 1915) J. M. S. Allison, Thiers and the French Monarchy (1926, repr. 1968) and Monsieur Thiers (1932).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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