The Boulangist Movement 1888

The Boulanger Balance Sheet

First published: 1888;
Translated: from the original broadsheet by Mitchell Abidor.

To Republican Voters
Publication of the Society of the Rights of man and the Citizen
M. Lissagaray, General Secretary, 1888


Belonging to diverse fractions of the great republican family, we believe that an accord among all those who have remained faithful to the republic is necessary in order to put an end to the Boulangist adventure, so humiliating for our country. The accord will last as long as the peril.

To the leap into the void they want to drag France into, we oppose the normal development of the republic.

We support the policy of revisionism, but we want the sincere application of this policy, and not the exploitation of it by a general who poses as a pretender and recruits his followers from all those parties.

Sons of the French Revolution, admirers not of a single period of this Revolution, but of that whole forward march of a free people, one that posed all problems and which would have solved them if it hadn’t been halted, we are determined to use all means in order to prevent Caesarite reaction from taking our country backwards for the third time.

Revision is necessary: republican revision and not the Bonapartist revision called for as an expedient by the initiators of the new plebiscite so as to arrive at the installation of personal power.

But revision alone cannot suffice. We must take up the national movement of the French Revolution and become its continuators. We must safeguard individual and public freedoms, the freedoms of propaganda, of the press, of gathering, of association, guaranteed by the republican form. We must pursue the integral development of the Republic, that is the progressive realization of all the constitutional, political, and social reforms it contains. Against the attempts at dictatorship that threaten us, we must oppose the demand the Rights of Man and the Citizen, proclaimed by the Revolution.

This is our goal.

We will find the instrument for reaching it in our republican traditions, in the rebirth of the great political associations which, in bringing together all the democratic forces of Paris and the departments, were the stimulant for the assemblies of the Revolution.

We are founding the Society of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.

It has as its object the defense of the republic, for the struggle without mercy against any dictatorial undertaking on the part of reaction.

The action Committee, elected at the constitutive assembly of May 23 [there follow the names, include those of Lissagaray and Georges Clemenceau].


What constitutes the fleeting strength of what is called the Boulangist party, and which in reality is nothing but a coalition of raving malcontents and the hypocritical ambitious, is that the voter to whom the new sect addresses itself doesn’t have before its eyes all the evidence before it in the movement’s trial of the republic. In its newspaper articles, as in the speeches of its advocates, the plebiscitary faction it gathers together everything that can harm the regularly constituted public powers but it willfully omits anything that could serve to defend them.

If bad faith was banished from the rest of the world, it would find asylum in the heart of the Caesarite conspirators.

In these conditions it seemed necessary to us to reproduce all the documents attesting to the unanimous reprobation that General Boulanger and his friends have received from all sides, at all ranks and all levels of the republican party.

All the documents we will reproduce are in one way or another official, either emanating from different groups in the Chamber of Deputies, or extracted them from the transcripts in extenso of parliamentary sessions, or they were written by regular associations, or finally, they are borrowed from the authentic and signed correspondence of General Boulanger himself.

We intentionally leave out everything that could be contested, like the interviews by journalists of the deputy from the Nord or his friends, as well as the speeches, obviously incorrect but without any appreciable authority, of a few of his friends.

It will suffice for us to show that the protégé of the Bonapartists and royalists was from the first moment publicly unmasked and condemned by all faithful servants, by all the disinterested partisans of the republic.

The Groups of the Chamber

In the first place, at the moment when General Boulanger allowed his candidacy to be proposed in the Dordogne and the Aisne, the extreme left published the following manifesto:

The undersigned deputies, members of the extreme left, protest against the electoral demonstration proposed on the name of General Boulanger.

Dedicated to two ideas: remaking the fatherland and basing the republic on democratic reforms;

Determined to continue without faltering the struggles against the resistances that stir spirits and irritate opinion;

We urge voters to correct their work; we demand precise mandates, more resolute men.

We conform in this way to the fundamental principle of the republic: obedience to the will of the nation, ensured by its delegates.

Votes cast for a general who refuses to put down his sword would constitute a veritable plebiscite. And like all republicans of all times, we detest plebiscites: it is the abdication of a free people.

The Revolution founded our freedoms and saved our territory by obliging the most glorious soldiers, the day after immortal victories, to bow before the law. In those days, generals held their tongues.

The intrusion of military chiefs in politics is not only a menace to the institutions of a free country, but it also disarms our forces in the face of the foreigner by dividing them. It has always had the suppression of our rights as its result, and defeat as punishment.

Consequently, we call on all good citizens to refuse, in the name of the traditions and principles of democracy, in the interests of the republic and the fatherland, to refuse to participate in a dangerous demonstration.

A great number of independent deputies also adhered to this manifesto.

In turn, the socialist group in the Chamber took position in these terms:


The undersigned deputies, members of the socialist group, declare that they find it profoundly regrettable that the noise around the name of a soldier should come and increase the divisions in the republican party.

Convinced that the triumph of a man would be the retreat of the socialist idea, they protest against any plebiscitary maneuver from whatever side it might come, and affirm that a reformist government alone can put an end to this agitation.

In addition, a great number of deputies belonging to all groups publicly declared that, without believing that it is necessary to attest to their sentiments by the publication of a special document, they completely shared their colleague’s way of seeing.

And finally, the deputies of the Seine, without distinction as to tendency, understood that they had to affirm the opinion of the representatives of the capital, and they signed the following proclamation:

In the presence of the plebiscitary tentative boldly made in the name of General Boulanger, the deputies of the Seine cannot remain silent. It is their duty to honestly and publicly express the way they think.

Not a single patriot has the right to remain neutral in political struggles. This is why the undersigned, republican representatives from Paris and the department of the Seine, firm defenders of public liberties, declare that they are determined to combat all Caesarite whims, whoever’s name they might serve.

What we want is the maintenance of the republic. which alone will make enter into laws, institutions, and morals the principles of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, that great democratic charter of the French Revolution, which admits neither savior, protector, not dictator.

[29 deputies] signed, and [four] refused to sign, two of whom belong as we know to the Boulangist Committee.

At the Municipal Council of Paris

At the session of April 23, the Municipal Council of Paris voted the following order of the day by a majority of 57 to three of sixty voting:

The Municipal Council energetically condemns the plebiscitary and Boulangist campaign and passes to the order of the day.

The Parti Ouvrier

The representatives of the Federation of Socialist Workers of France, the members of the Parti Ouvirer, published an eloquent appeal, whose tenor is demonstrated by the following extract:

M. Boulanger mimics Bonaparte. But when Bonaparte did his 18 Brumaire his epaulettes had at least been blackened in successful combats for the fatherland. M. Boulanger for his part won his epaulettes and Cross exercising his bravery and military talents against the wounded in a hospital and against the imprisoned defeated.

The republic has liberty as its foundation. All power belongs to the people; every law must express its will

The constitution of the army, on the contrary, rests on absolute authority.

How than can a general aspire to the leadership of republican policy with there being no danger?

Like Hoche, if he was republican, M. Boulanger would leave to time, intelligence, and the consciousness, and the energy of citizens the solid founding of the republic on free and egalitarian institutions.

Like Hoche, if he was an honest and brave soldier, he would never compromise the security and the integrality of our country by spreading division in the face of external dangers.

Journalists and representatives of the people can abdicate their fragile republican convictions. They can, with no shame, soil their pages, tear up their mandates and prepare a military dictatorship. We workers, we the representatives of the Parti Ouvrier, are ready, with our party, to forget for the moment the sixteen years during which the bourgeoisie betrayed the interests of the people.

We are ready to defend and preserve, by any means, the fragile seed of our republican institutions against any saber that threatens it.

Long live the social republic!

The Young people of the Schools

It is the eternal honor of our country that among us freedom has always found among its defenders, alongside the humblest and poorest citizens, in the studious and educated young people of our great schools and universities. In 1888, as in 1830 and 1851, young people have done their duty and fraternally tied themselves to the robust manual workers of the city to combat reaction and Caesarism.

On April 22 the Parisian newspapers published the following two protests:

First protest

Certain Boulangist newspapers insinuate in this morning’s issue that the anti-Boulangist demonstration that set out from the Latin Quarter yesterday was organized by the Catholic school and that the young people who participated were all supporters of the priesthood.

The republican youth of the schools, who all took part in the demonstration, protest with energy and indignation against such allegations.

The watchword of the movement came not from the Catholic faculties, but from the state schools, and the vast majority of the demonstrators were republican students whose goal was to protest against the dictatorial and plebiscitary ideas that for some time have invaded the country, and particularly against the man who is their champion.

Vive la France! Vive la République!

Second Protest

The republican youth of the schools, who all took part in yesterday evening’s anti-Boulangist demonstration, strongly protest against the allegations of the “Lanterne” and the “Intransigeant,” which lead people to believe that yesterday’s demonstration was the work of the Catholic faculties.

Vive la France! Vive la République!

These two protests are followed by more than three hundred signatures of students from the schools of Medicine, Pharmacy, Mines, Letters, and Sciences, etc..

In order to respond to the brutality of the Boulangist demonstrators, and to be ready for any eventuality, the students soon afterwards named an organization committee, and they quickly received the congratulations and formal membership requests from the students of the École normale supérieure and their comrades from the faculties of Toulouse, Nancy, Lyon, Aix, Lille, Bordeaux, Rennes, Algiers, etc.

Anatole de la Forge’s Challenge

Nevertheless, proud of the electoral successes they had surprisingly had in two departments to the benefit of their leader, the Boulangists thought that Paris, too, would give them a majority if it was consulted. Informed of this fanfaronade, Citizen Anatole de la Forge, deputy from the Seine and vice-president of the Chamber, immediately sent the following letter to the editor of the “Intransigeant”:

Paris, April 25, 1888

My Dear Rochefort:

You challenge the deputies of the Seine to present themselves before the voters so tat the latter can choose between the policy of their representatives and that of general Boulanger.

I accept your challenge on the following conditions:

  1. General Boulanger himself will be the candidate against me.
  2. He will come himself to public meetings to make known and develop his programs in opposition to mine.
  3. General Boulanger will commit to clearly respond to all questions of a political, economic and social order that will be addressed to he and I throughout the length of the electoral period
  4. Finally, as you committed the “Intransigeant” this morning, you and your political friends will pay the electoral costs which my modest financial position doesn’t allow me to meet.

Under these conditions I am ready to submit my resignation as deputy from the Seine and to appeal to the decisions of our greatest judge, universal suffrage.


Anatole de la Forge

The Boulangists responded with a pitiful silence to this forthright blow delivered by one of the most respected and popular members of the republican party. It seems that having plenty of anonymous and suspect money for inundating the provinces with grotesque images and songs, they don’t feel themselves to be sufficiently wealthy to win Paris’ heart.

The League of Patriots

M. Paul Déroulède having wanted to turn the League of Patriots over to General Boulanger as a completely organized electoral force, but which had only been founded to prepare the new generations for the great moral and physical efforts of the struggles to come, an important split immediately occurred in the leadership committee. All the sincere republicans and all the independents withdrew from the league to found, with the unanimous support of the Alsacians and Lorrainers who were members, a new group called the Patriotic Union of France. Their initiative was saluted in the country by a long acclamation, which was joined in with by the local committees in Paris and the provinces.

The League of Patriots, killed by Boulangism, is now replaced by the Patriotic Union, which will never have anything in common with it.

Oratorical Demonstrations

Among all the speeches pronounced over the last three months by a number of important politicians, and who all condemned the plebiscitary enterprise, we will only point out two, due to lack of space.

First, that of M. Henri Brisson in Lyon:

“Outside of parliament the Right sends all of its troops to the assistance of General Boulanger’s enterprise. How, in the Chambers, can we count on doing with it anything at all that is useful to the republic? (Applause)

“An alliance at once both noble and fertile is that which was recently sealed in a Parisian hall between the workers and the young. This is what we should aim for.

“A courageous republican, my old friend Floquet, has just assumed a great task. We have nothing else to do but assist him, we republicans, in his efforts to give the spirit of progress all possible satisfaction and to combat the dictatorship.” (“Very Good!” Applause)

M. Brisson then took hold of the speech given by General Boulanger at the Café Riche to show that the idea that animates him is indeed the plebiscitary idea. (“Yes, Yes!” Applause)

“The general wrote somewhere, ‘France will not perish in my hands.’ This phrase has never been denied. On the contrary, one of the plebiscitary newspapers published it with praise.

“We well know this language. We know what catastrophes it bears in its womb. Let us give France to no one!” (Bravos and prolonged applause.

And now the beautiful peroration of the speech of M. Floquet in Laon:

“What should we fear? The republic has for it the nation, the law. It is strong enough not only to protect its existence, but its development, the peaceful and legal development of long-awaited reforms against the coalition of the agitated. (Prolonged applause)

“Look over at the army, one of whose most justly honored chiefs I salute at my side, and around whom I see so many distinguished officers, and take an example from them. It believes, and it is correct, that it sufficiently demonstrates its patriotism by working silently and with perseverance at making itself capable and worthy of defending the country if it were attacked. It is content to shrug its shoulders when publishing house speculators in odious brochures dangle before its eyes the role of the praetorians of the decadence. Faithful to the laws, having never allowed indiscipline to penetrate or remain in its severe ranks (Repeated Bravos), it is ready to support public freedom against any adventurer, in the way that it is to defend the national soil against any invader. We can have confidence in the republic.” (Repeated salvoes of applause).

The Freemasons

Following a number of isolated demonstrations by the lodges of Paris and the departments, among which the most important was that of the Great Symbolic Scottish Lodge, a Masonic conference was held on June 3 at the Cirque d’Hiver. After a violent discussion raised by a few Boulangists, the following order of the day was voted by an immense majority (five hands alone were raised for the nays.)

The Freemasons of the Orient of Paris gathered in congress in Paris at the Cirque d’Hiver June 3, 1888):

Considering that Freemasonry cannot, without failing its democratic traditions, remain indifferent before the plebiscitary and Caesarite agitation in the name of one man;

We cast a cry of alarm and appeal to all the Masons of France to protest against Boulangist propaganda and to defend Liberty and the republic against its attacks.

Previously, the Grand Council of the Order of the Grand-Orient of France, having been told by some Boulangist Freemasons, in conformity with the letter of Masonic rules, that they disapproved the anti-plebiscitary and anti-Caesarite orders of the day voted by the near unanimity of the lodges of Paris and the departments, had convoked an extraordinary session of all the members of Paris and the provinces.

The discussion was very thorough: every delegate gave an account of the political state of his department, and every one of them remarked that the Boulangist party only had any strength at all thanks to the open support of the reactionaries.

Following this discussion, an order of the day was voted by 17 votes against 5. Here is the text.

The Council of the Order:

Reminding Masons that in their acts as citizens they should always be inspired by the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity, that have been and are the strength of our institution, and to remain the faithful and energetic defenders of the republic and the resolute adversaries of the plebiscitary and Casearite policies that now threaten true democracy, expressly recommends to Masons, in conformity with article 15 of the Constitution, to avoid debates in purely Masonic meetings that might raise political questions, and particularly the questions of persons.

The Association of the Rights of Man and the Citizen

A practical conclusion was required for these diverse manifestations of republican indignation provoked by the beginnings of Boulangism; this was understood on all sides.

First, republican youth organized itself in the Ligue Antiplébiscitaire, which all the republicans of the press and parliament quickly joined.

Another society was soon founded, amidst great enthusiasm, among the most diverse currents and previously most divided currents of public opinion.

At the appeal of Messrs Clémenceau, Joffrin ,and Ranc, The Society of the Rights of Man and the Citizen was organized.