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Modern Europe

French Invent Seven Year Presidency

by Peter Kessler, 13 August 2007

Louis Bonaparte, nephew of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, founded the Second Empire in France in 1852.

The restored empire was never quite as successful as its predecessor, however, and by 1870 Louis Bonaparte had fallen for Otto von Bismark's bait and had declared war on Prussia.

Unfortunately for the French, while they were still living off the glory of victories gained over half a century before, Prussia had built itself the most modern and powerful army in Europe.

Louis Bonaparte was soundly defeated in the Franco-Prussian War. Paris was occupied and von Bismarck declared the establishment of Imperial Germany in the Versailles Palace. Moreover, the Paris Commune was formed in the aftermath of the humiliating defeat and the declaration of the Third Republic quickly followed.

The Paris Commune was quickly crushed and the republic was about to be turned into a kingdom again, in line with the wishes of the majority of deputies.

A compromise was required, so two opposing groups of pro-monarchy deputies first endorsed a constitution (in 1871) and then elected Adolphe Thiers, the defeater of the Paris Commune, to become the president of the republic.

Two years later, General Mac Mahon became the new president of France. The re-establishment of the kingdom, however, was always pushed to the background. In fact, pro-monarchy groups even agreed on the identity of the next king, Henri Dieudonné, the Count of Chambord.

When this gentleman refuted the blue-white-red flag of revolutionaries as the flag of French Kingdom, his kingship came to nothing. From then on, the assembly extended the duration of Mac Mahon's term of office to seven years, in order to gain sufficient time for the spoilsport count to pass away so that they could eventually find another adequate candidate.

The system, however, settled down in the meantime; there was no return to kingdom and the seven year formula lasted exactly 127 years. In fact the system proved so enduring that the Turkish Republic copied it.

While Turkey continues to use it today, former French President Jacques Chirac reduced it to five plus five years in 2000.



Text copyright © P L Kessler, based on work by Cengiz Aktar for Turkish Daily News. An original feature for the History Files.