This French Protestant intellectual and statesman was born in 1787; he was an infant when the revolutionaries guillotined his father during The Great Terror (q.v.). When the Revolution was over and the Bourbon dynasty restored, François served Louis XVII in 1814, thinking that the Allied powers would deal effectively with Bonaparte. When the ex-Emperor of the French left house arrest on the island of Elba and returned to France to start the Napoleonic Wars over again, the French King ran away, and Guizot had to wait for Wellington and Blucher to finish Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo (1815) before resuming normal service.
After the ultra-royalist reaction following the murder of the Duc de Berry (son of the future Charles X) Guizot joined the Liberals. Then he had to wait for the July Revolution (q.v.) of 1830 and subsequent installation of Louis-Philippe as King to take up his political duties again. He was made Minister of Public Instruction (Education) in 1832 and stayed as minister until 1837. During this period he greatly increased the number of primary and secondary schools, and of something new called the teachers’ training colleges. Numbers of pupils doubled, despite education being neither compulsory or free.
1840 was a crucial year for him because he became Foreign Minister, treated by public and press as the most important member of the government. But this did not mean popularity with either; the people thought Guizot too pro-British, which will never do in France. In fact Guizot was never really pro-perfidious Albion and showed it by arranging for one of Louis-Philippe’s sons to marry the heiress to the throne of Spain, another European state where the name of Britain stank. Guizot then moved closer to Metternich and the conservative powers, and this was disliked too. It seemed he could do nothing right.
Normally peaceful Switzerland erupted in civil war in 1847, a basically parliamentary struggle between the Liberal majority in the Diet and the conservative and Catholic cantons, known as the Sonderbund. This came as a surprise as Guizot was supposedly a liberal himself. But was he? Throughout the 1840s he refused to extend the voting franchise to a large portion of the middle class. For this he was accused of immobilism and chronic conservatism. There was a great deal of corruption in French politics, though Guizot himself was not considered corrupt. As Victor Hugo dryly commented, “He is personally incorruptible, yet he governs by corruption”. While most Frenchmen were trying to undersand this apparent non-sequitur, general public dissatisfaction led to a series of ‘banquets’ (q.v.) as mass meetings were banned. Troops were ordered to fire into crowds, and Louis-Philippe dismissed Guizot but it was too late to save his throne. He was forced to abdicate and took François Guizot with him into exile.
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