Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Late Modern European -- Interpreting American Democracy in France: The Career of Edouard Laboulaye, 1811-1883 by Walter D. Gray

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Late Modern European -- Interpreting American Democracy in France: The Career of Edouard Laboulaye, 1811-1883 by Walter D. Gray

Article excerpt

Interpreting American Democracy in France: The Career of Edouard Laboulaye: 1811-1883. By Walter D. Gray. (Newark: University of Delaware Press. 1994. Pp. 178. $33.50.)

In this clear and compact book, Walt D. Gray looks at one of the forgotten luminaries of nineteenth-century France. In the 1850's, 1860's, and 1870's, Edouard Laboulaye was the successor to Tocqueville--the uncontested authority on American history and politics in France. He was also, like Tocqueville, an ardent defender of the American constitution. During the Second Empire, he was a prominent symbol of opposition, lecturing on the virtues of a broad suffrage, a bicameral legislature, decentralized government, and property rights as Professor of Comparative Law at the College de France. A newspaper article from 1869 reported on Laboulaye's course on American politics: "So great was the demand of seats that many would wait through the hour of the lecture before him....Young and eager faces were seen beside those who wore the shrewder expression of years. Rough, uncultured men mingled their hearty applause with the more cultivated and high-bred" (p. 30). As a liberal who was more concerned with establishing checks on power than on transferring power absolutely to the people, Laboulaye was an outsider not only to the Empire but also to the French republican tradition. Though he became a senator for life during the Third Republic, his views were out of step again with the times, particularly on religious matters. For Laboulaye was a devout Catholic in a country in which Catholicism and republicanism were considered inherently antithetical. He condemned French Catholics for their opposition to democracy and French democrats for their anticlericalism. He underscored the fact that Catholic culture flourished in the American republic; indeed, he believed that America showed that democracy and the true spirit of Christianity were naturally compatible. But his efforts were futile. A polarization was inevitable. French Catholics were shocked by the Paris Commune in 1871 when the archbishop of Paris and fifty priests were held hostage and later shot. …

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