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The Prussian War And The Paris Commune
by [?]

There have been two critical periods in the story of France in which history was made at a rate of rapidity rarely equalled in the history of the world. The first of these was the era of the Revolution and the Napoleonic regime, which has no parallel among human events in the rapidity and momentous gravity of its changes. The second was the period from August, 1870, to the summer of 1871, less than a year in length, yet crowded with important events to an unprecedented degree.

Within that year was fought a great war between France and Germany, in which the military power of France, in an incredibly brief period, was utterly overthrown, and that nation left at the mercy of its opponent. Within the same period the second empire of France came to a sudden and disastrous end, and a republic, the third in French history, was built upon its ruins. Simultaneously a new and powerful empire was founded, that of Germany, the palace at Versailles being the scene of this highly important change in the political conditions of Europe. During this period also a political revolution took place in Italy, in consequence of the French war, and Paris sustained two sieges; the first by the German army; the second and most bitter by the French themselves, fighting against a mob of fanatical revolutionists and ending in a frightful saturnalia of murder, ruin and revenge.

Has there ever been a year in the world’s history more crowded with momentous events? Within that year the political status of France, Germany, and Italy was transformed, the late emperor of France suddenly found himself a throneless fugitive, and the people of Paris passed through an experience unparalleled in the diversified history of that ancient city. Of all the sieges to which Paris has been subjected, far the strangest was that in which the scum of the city, miscalled the commune, fought with tiger-like ferocity against the forces of the newly-formed republic, filled with the revengeful and murderous spirit which had inspired the masses in the first revolution.

It is the story of this tragic interlude which we propose here to tell, premising with a brief resume of the events which led up to it.

Louis Napoleon, posing as Emperor Napoleon III. of France, a position which he had been enabled to gain through the glamour of the name of his famous uncle, was infected throughout his reign with the desire to emulate the deeds of the great Napoleon. He hoped to shine as one of the military stars of Europe, and was encouraged by the success of the war which he fomented in Italy. His second effort in this direction was the invasion of Mexico and the attempt to establish an empire, under his tutelage, upon American soil. In this he ran counter to the Monroe Doctrine and the power of the United States and was forced to retire with his feathers scorched and his prestige sadly diminished.

But what he probably proposed to make the great military triumph of his reign came in 1870, when, on a flimsy pretence, a misunderstanding which called only for diplomatic adjustment, he suddenly declared war against Germany and rashly put his armies into the field to cope with that powerful rival. Never had there been a more unwise or suicidal proceeding. In shameful ignorance of the real condition of the army, which he was made to believe was “five times ready,” “ready to the last gaiter button,” he marshalled against the thoroughly prepared military power of Germany an army ill-organized, ill-supplied, without proper reserves, and led by commanders of appalling incapacity. Maps and plans were bad; strategy was an unknown quantity; no study had been made of the use of the railway in war; almost everything except courage was lacking, and courage without leadership was hopeless against the thoroughly drilled and supplied German army and the science of Yon Moltke, the great German strategist.