Duc de Magenta, Marshal of France, President of the French Republic; born at Sully, Saône-et-Loire, 13 July, 1808; died at Montcresson, Loiret, 16 October, 1893. His ancestors were Irish, and had been settled in France since the time of James II, having applied for naturalization in 1749. MacMahon took part in the expedition to Algiers in 1830 as aide-de-camp to General Achard. His military career in Algeria lasted twenty years (1834 to 1854), and he there gained exceptional distinction in the assault on Constantine. In the Crimean War he led the attack on The Malakoff (8 Sept., 1855); in the Italian War he effected the decisive movement of the victory of Magenta (4 June, 1859), and was created a marshal and Duc de Magenta on the field of battle. On 1 September, 1864, he was appointed Governor-General of Algeria, and in that position became involved in a controversy with Archbishop (afterwards Cardinal ) Lavigerie which attracted much attention at the time. Mgr Lavigerie, then Archbishop of Algiers, having just founded the Société des Missionnaires d'Algers, had collected more than a thousand Arab children in his orphanages, to save them from typhus fever and starvation. MacMahon protested publicly against a letter dated 6 April, 1868, in which the archbishop, announcing his intention of founding a nursery of Arab Christians, concluded with the declaration: "France must either let the Gospel be given to this people or drive them into the desert, away from the civilized world." In a letter dated 26 April, 1868, MacMahon accused Lavigerie of wishing to push the Arabs back into the desert. Lavigerie explained that his meaning had been misunderstood, and refused the coadjutorship of Lyons, which the emperor, to satisfy MacMahon, offered him. The incident was closed by a letter from Marshal Niel, the minister of war (28 May, 1868).
At the beginning of the Franco-German War MacMahon's advance guard was beaten at Wissembourg (4 August, 1870), and his own corps was outnumbered at Reischoffen (6 August, 1870); he commanded the retreat on Châlons, and then, obeying the orders of Palikas, the minister of war, led the army to Sedan, where he was wounded, and where Napoleon III was obliged to capitulate (1 September). On 28 May, 1871, MacMahon completed the victory of the Versailles Army over the Paris Commune, and effected the entry of the regular troops into Paris. His splendid military career won general admiration. "A perfect military officer" ( offcier de guerre complet ), Saint-Arnaud called him; and Thiers, the "chevalier sans peur et sans reproche" (the fearless, blameless knight ). Upon the fall of Thiers in the session of 24 May, 1873, the National Assembly elected MacMahon president by a majority of 390 to 2, the Left abstaining from voting. In his message of 26 May he promised to be "energetically and resolutely Conservative" ( énergiquement et résolûment conservateur ), and to be "the sentinel on guard over the integrity of the sovereign power of the Assembly". These expressions define the spirit in which he exercised his office as president. Being determined to devote himself loyally to "the integrity of the sovereign power of the Assembly", he refused to associate himself with any projects looking to the restoration of the Comte de Chambord and the White Flag.
The Assembly having (9 November, 1873) fixed his term of office at seven years, he declared in a speech delivered 4 February, 1874, that he would know how to make the legally established order of things respected for seven years. Preferring to remain above party, he rather assisted at than took part in the proceedings which, in January and February, 1875, led up to the passage of the fundamental laws finally establishing the Republic as the legal government of France. And yet MacMahon writes in his still unpublished memoirs: "By family tradition, and by the sentiments towards the royal house which were instilled in me by my early education, I could not be anything but a Legitimist." He felt some repugnance, too, in forming, in 1876 the Dufaure and the Jules Simon cabinets, in which the Republican element was represented. When the episcopal charges of the Bishops of Poitiers, Nîmes, and Nevers, recommending the case of the captive Pope Pius IX to the sympathy of the French Government, were met by a resolution in the Chamber, proposed by the Left, that the Government be requested "to repress Ultramontane manifestations" (4 May, 1877), MacMahon, twelve days later, asked Jules Simon to resign, summoned to power a Conservative ministry under the Duc de Broglie, persuaded the Senate to dissolve the Chamber, and travelled through the country to assure the success of the Conservatives in the elections, protesting at the same time that he did not wish to overturn the Republic. However, the elections of 14 October resulted in a majority of 120 for the Left; the de Broglie ministry resigned 19 November, and the president formed a Left cabinet under Dufaure. He retained his office until 1878, so as to allow the Exposition Universelle to take place in political peace, and then, the senatorial elections of 5 January, 1879, having brought another victory to the Left, MacMahon found a pretext to resign (30 January, 1879), and Jules Grévy succeeded him.
This soldier was not made for politics. "I have remained a soldier", he says in his memoirs, "and I can conscientiously say that I have not only served one government after another loyally, but, when they fell, have regretted all of them with the single exception of my own." In his voluntary retirement he carried with him the esteem of all parties: Jules Simon, who did not love him, and whom he did not love, afterwards called him "a great captain, a great citizen, and a righteous man " (un grand capitaine, un grand citoyen et un homme de bien). His presidency may be summed up in two words: on the one hand, he allowed the Republic to establish itself; on the other hand, so far as his lawful prerogatives permitted, he retarded the political advance of parties hostile to the Church, convinced that the triumph of Radicalism would be to the detriment of France. The last fourteen years of his life were passed in retirement, quite removed from political interests. In 1893 he was buried, with national honours, in the crypt of the Invalides.
Biography Of St Brendan
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