The 1848 Revolution welcomed in the majority of cases
For the major part of French Protestants, the July Monarchy represented the best of possible political regimes. Protestants reacted in various ways to the 1848 Revolution, all the more so since the initiators of the Second Republic were not anti-religious, and had called upon pastors and Catholic priests to participate in ceremonies of planting the trees of liberty.
The event was joyfully welcomed by many, such as the young E. de Pressensé, an active parishioner of the Chapelle Taitbout, deeply moved by the extreme poverty of the people, or Madame André-Walther, a well-known Parisian socialite who was convinced of the need for social reforms.
But to others, the event had negative connotations. Social unrest frightened many, with the exception of Guizot, who showed great dignity. Socialism and communism were considered as « rival religions » and Léon de Maleville, Interior Minister for a while in 1849, belonged to the Committee of the Association pour la propagande antisocialiste et l’amélioration des classes laborieuses. The most prominent pastors, influenced by Vinet’s thought, were opposed to the « pantheism » of Fourier, Louis Blanc and Proudhon. Leon Pilatte advocated Christianity as the only solution to the social problem. Athanase Coquerel, elected deputy for Paris with the backing of the very “bourgeois” « Comité démocratique protestant », sided with the conservative sectors opposed to all « subversive propaganda ».
Alexandre Vinet (1797-1847)
For almost a century, the writings of Swiss theologian Alexandre Vinet had a major influence on French-speaking Protestantism.
Henriette André-Walther (1807-1886)
She was the daughter of Major General Count Frédéric-Henri Walther. She married Jean André, was the mother of Alfred André, and one of the prominent figures in French high society.
The July monarchy (1830-1848)
Generally speaking, Protestants had no difficulty accepting the July Monarchy ; it began to consider them as ordinary citizens, since Roman Catholicism had once more become the « religion of the majority of French people » and was no longer the « State religion ». The Protestant François Guizot was to be the most prominent political personality of the time.
Edmond Dehault de Pressensé (1824-1891)
The Third Republic (1871-1940)
Most Protestants were favourable to the Third Republic and strongly influenced its beginnings. Several intellectuals were attracted by Protestantism and for some, the “protestantisation” of France was, they felt, the best and most lasting way of establishing the Republic. The Protestants had a decisive influence over one of the great achievements of the Third Republic : a non-denominational, free and compulsory school system. This influence decreased at the end of the century, when the reinstatement of the Protestant community may be considered as complete.
The Second Empire
The Protestant attitude towards Louis-Napoléon and the Second Empire was ambiguous. Generally speaking, the regime seemed too authoritarian and clerical, at least in its early years. Nevertheless it relaxed the consistorial pressure on the administration of Protestant communities.
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.