Republican Protestants are the enemy of the nation as defined by Maurras
The last decade of the XIXth century was marked by an anti-Protestantism whose intensity has nowadays been forgotten but the most striking example of which was the publication of two books by the nationalist Ernest Renauld : Le Péril Protestant (1896) and La Conquête protestante (1900).
The Dreyfus case, which opposed Catholics and Protestants, was an essential component of anti-Protestantism ; it also explains the term of « Judaeo-Protestantism » which right wing Catholics and nationalists – such as Edouard Drumont, Maurice Barrès and Charles Maurras – used to qualify the Republic. This anti-republican right wing denounced not only alliances between Jewish and Protestant families, but also eventual conversions, such as Alphonse Daudet’s portrayed in his novel L’Évangéliste. The anti-Protestant lobby interpreted common attitudes and thinking of Protestants and Jews – who were often associated in the organization of this new Republic – as being a conspiracy. They denounced the « triple alliance » of Jews, Protestants and Freemasons.
The nationalist Press reminded its readers of the foreign origins of some families, such as the Waddington and the Monod families ; Maurras called them « a cosmopolitan tribe, allied to all the German and Anglo-Saxon races of the world ». Some authors even go further by stating that « religions are races » ; they described the struggle between « Celtic-Latin Catholic races » and « German and Anglo-Saxon Protestant races ».
The Huguenot oligarchy was also denounced as appointing Protestants – often former ministers or liberal theologians – to prominent positions in the senior civil service, while Roman Catholics were said to be excluded. The permanent presence of Protestants in various governments is was a consequence of the diversity in political opinions of influential Protestants. The lobby mostly attacked the prominent role played by Protestants in the field of education (the Protestants and the creation of the republican system of education). For Renauld this new school system was not really secular since it was imbued with the notions of a religious minority.
The « Protestant Party » would betray France. The colonial expansion of a Catholic France, thwarted by a Protestant England, made passions run high. The conflict in Madagascar was an example of this : the Protestants were accused of collaborating with Malagasy nationalism and with British missions from « perfidious Albion ».
Because of its principles of free examination, Protestantism was presented as anti-national and politically subversive. At the roots of the French Revolution, Protestantism could evolve towards anarchy with the added risk of a despotic reaction, such as Calvin’s in Geneva. Protestantism was at the roots of capitalism, which Pope Leo XIII had recently condemned, and likewise of socialism, as it abolishes all hierarchy among men.
With the separation of Church and State and the rehabilitation of Dreyfus, the anti-protestant attacks decrease. « The fates of Protestants and of Jews under the Republic begin to differ : the former complete their integration into the nation, their differences becoming less and less apparent, while the latter become the target of an increasingly aggressive anti-Semitism. In 1940, with the advent of a markedly clerical regime (…), the strong and active sympathy towards the Jewish community becomes apparent once more as a specific feature of French Protestantism are » (C’est alors que la communauté de destin dans la République se relâche entre les protestants et les Juifs : les premiers achèvent de réintégrer la communauté nationale, leur différence commençant à se banaliser, tandis que les seconds sont en but à un antisémitisme qui n’en finit plus de s’aigrir. En 1940, à l’avènement d’un régime aux fortes allures cléricales (…) ce philosémitisme, très particulier aux protestants français, se retrouvera, très agissants, P. Cabanel).
Protestants and Public Education
During the XIXth century, the July Monarchy and the Third Republic were the two significant periods of intense Protestant participation in the development of the public education system that had initially been established at the time of the Empire.
In 1833, Guizot promulgated the first major law on Public Elementary Education. Though all religious connotations had not yet been abolished, this law was to be extended, under the Third Republic, to making education free, compulsory and undenominational. Some outstanding Protestant personalities had a decisive role in both the conception and the implementing of this new system of education.
Towards the end of the XIXth century, Protestant influence decreased, and some Protestants regretted the excessive anti-clericalism of political leaders.
The Protestants and the Dreyfus Case
Many Protestants took sides in favour of Captain Dreyfus. Some will even take an active part in the movement that will allow the re-examination of the process, such as Scheurer-Kestner, Vice-President of the Senate in 1897, and Francis de Pressensé, one of the founders and first president of the Human Rights League (1898).
Gabriel Monod (1844-1912)
François Guizot (1787-1874)
The life of François Guizot spans practically the whole of the XIXth century. He was born into a Protestant family on October 4, 1787 – during the Ancien Régime – and he died on September 12, 1874, as Third Republic was being establishment. He marked his century as an intellectual and as a man of action. The great thinker of French political liberalism, Guizot was to be both the philosopher of representative government and the great organizer of the July Monarchy. His law on Primary Education established the bases of the French school system. A tireless worker, he left behind him a significant work in print and a considerable amount of letters.
Panorama of the Protestant press in the 19th century
The 19th century was a period of prolific press activity and Protestant publications were of a very varied nature : periodicals, national and regional newspapers and newsletters, alongside specific information concerning charities and associations created at the time. The “grey” literature made up of confidential correspondence between pastors played a major role in the conception and the development of their pastoral duties.
The Protestants and French political life in the 19th century
The French Revolution enabled the Protestants to be reinserted into political life and the administration.
The vitality of the Protestant community was evident throughout the19th century, especially with two highlights: the July Monarchy(1830-1848) with François Guizot, and the beginning of the Third Republic (years 1870 and 1880).
The Protestants played a key role in reforming primary education, and implementing free, obligatory and secular education.
With their theological and cultural implication, the Protestants were involved in modernising French society. At the time of the Dreyfuss case, many called for a review of the trial.
Throughout the century the often overestimated influence of the Protestants on French society caused a Catholic anti Protestantism reaction.