Sue Young Histories

Olivier Emile Ollivier 1825 – 1913

August 17, 2009

Olivier Emile Ollivier 1825 – 1913Olivier Emile Ollivier 1825 – 1913 was a French statesman and the 30th Prime Minister of France.

Although a republican, he served as a cabinet minister under Napoleon III and led the process of turning his regime into a “liberal Empire”.

Emilie Ollivier was a staunch defender of homeopathy, and he publically promoted his defence (Anon, Harper’s Magazine, Volume 18, (Harper’s Magazine Company, 1859). Page 416), when he is reported as representing the Central Homeopathic Association of Paris in a libel case, which was brought against a Dr. Gallard for defaming homeopathy. Ollivier acted for the defense, and he delivered an impassioned presentation of the benefits of homeopathy, including a full history, ranking Samuel Hahnemann alongside Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz,

Ollivier was the son in law of Marie, Comtesse d’Agoult, and he was also her son, reputedly the son of Marie, Comtesse d’Agoult and Franz Liszt.

Ollivier was also a friend of Emile de Girardin,

Emile Ollivier was born in Marseille. His father, Demosthènes Ollivier (1799-1884), was a vehement opponent of the July Monarchy, and was returned by Marseille to the Constituent Assembly in 1848 which established a republic.

His opposition to  Louis Napoleon led to his banishment after the coup d’etat of December 1851, and he returned to France only in 1860.

With the establishment of the Second Republic, his father’s influence with Alexandre Auguste Ledru Rollin secured for Emile Ollivier the position of commissary general of the Department of Bouches du Rhone. Ollivier, then twenty three, had just been called to the Parisian bar.

Less radical in his political opinions than his father, he suppressed a socialist uprising at Marseille, commending himself to Louis Eugene Cavaignac, who made him prefect of the department.

He was shortly afterwards removed to the comparatively unimportant prefecture of Chaumont la Ville (Haute-Marne), a demotion perhaps brought about by his father’s enemies. He resigned from the civil service to take up a practice at the bar, where his abilities assured his success.

He re-entered political life in 1857 as deputy for the 3rd circumscription of the Seine département. His candidacy had been supported by the Siècle, and he joined the constitutional opposition. With Alfred Darimon, Jules Favre, JL Henon and Ernest Picard he formed a group known as Les Cinq (the Five), which wrung from Napoleon III some concessions in the direction of constitutional government.

Although still a republican, Ollivier was a moderate who was prepared to accept the Empire in return for civil liberties even if it was a step by step process.

The imperial decree of 24 November, permitting the insertion of parliamentary reports in the Moniteur, and an address from the Corps Législatif in reply to the speech from the throne, were welcomed by him as an initial piece of reform.

This marked a considerable change of attitude, for only a year previously he attacked the imperial government, in the course of a defence of Etienne Vacherot, brought to trial for the publication of La Démocratie. This resulted in his suspension from the bar for three months.

He gradually separated from his old associates, who grouped themselves around Jules Favre, and during the session of 1866-1867, Ollivier formed a third party, which supported the principle of a Liberal Empire.

On the last day of December 1866, Alexandre Florian Joseph, Duke Colonna Walewski, continuing negotiations begun by the duc de Morny, offered to make Ollivier the Minister of Education, representing the general policy of the government in the Chamber.

The imperial decree of 19 January 1867, together with the promise inserted in the Moniteur of a relaxation of the stringency of the press laws and of concessions in respect of the right of public meeting, failed to satisfy Ollivier’s demands, and he refused the office.

On the eve of the general election of 1869, he published a manifesto, Le 19 janvier, on his policy. The sénatus-consulte of 8 September 1869 gave the two chambers ordinary parliamentary rights, and was followed by the dismissal of Eugene Rouher and the formation in the last week of that year of a ministry of which Ollivier was really premier, although that office was not nominally recognized by the constitution.

The new cabinet, known as the ministry of 2 January, had a hard task before it, complicated a week after its formation by the shooting of Victor Noir, a Republican journalist, by Pierre Napoleon Bonaparte, the Emperor’s cousin. Ollivier immediately summoned the high court of justice for the judgment of Pierre Napoleon Bonaparte and Joachim Murat.

The riots following the murder were suppressed without bloodshed; circulars were sent round to the prefects forbidding them to put pressure on the electors in favour of official candidates; Baron Georges Eugene Haussmann was dismissed from the prefecture of the Seine département.

The violent press campaign against the emperor, to whom he had promised a happy old age, was broken by the prosecution of Henri Rochefort; and on 20 April a sénatus consulte was issued which accomplished the transformation of the Empire into a constitutional monarchy.

Neither concessions nor firmness sufficed to appease the “Irreconcilables” of the opposition, who since the relaxation of the press laws were able to influence the electorate.

On 8 May, however, the amended constitution was submitted, on Rouher’s advice, to a plebiscite, which resulted in a vote of nearly seven to one in favour of the government. This appeared to confirm that Napoleon III’ son would succeed him and was a bitter blow to the Republicans.

The most distinguished members of the Left in the cabinet — L J Buffet, Napoleon Daru and Talhouet Roy — resigned in April over the plebiscite. Ollivier himself held the ministry of foreign affairs for a month, until Napoleon Daru was replaced by the Antoine Alfred Agenor, duc de Gramont, Ollivier’s evil genius.

The other vacancies were filled by J P Mege and C I Plichon, both of them of Conservative tendencies.

The revival of the candidature of Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern Sigmaringen for the Spanish throne early in 1870 disconcerted Ollivier’s plans. The French government, following Antoine Alfred Agenor, duc de Gramont’s advice, instructed their ambassador to Prussia, Benedetti to demand from the Prussian king a formal disavowal of the Hohenzollern candidature.

Ollivier allowed himself to be won over by the war party. It is unlikely that he could have prevented the eventual outbreak of war, but he might have postponed it if he had heard Benedetti’s account of the incident.

He was outmanoeuvered by Otto von Bismarck, and on 15 July he made a hasty declaration in the Chamber that the Prussian government had issued to the powers a note announcing the rebuff received by Benedetti, the Ems Dispatch. He obtained a war vote of 500,000,000 francs, and used the fatal words that he accepted the responsibility of the war “with a light heart,” saying that the war had been forced on France.

On 9 August, with the news of the first disaster of the war, the Ollivier cabinet was driven from office, and its chief sought refuge from the general rage in Italy. He returned to France in 1873, but although he carried on an active campaign in the Bonapartist Estafette his political power was gone, and even in his own party he came into collision in 1880 with Paul de Cassagnac.

Of interest:

Auguste Ollivier was a French orthodox physician, who nonetheless experimented with isopathy, attempting to innoculate patients with a remedy made from hospital gangrene.


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