Falloux Laws

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Alfred de Falloux, ca.1860

The Falloux Laws were voted during the French Second Republic and promulgated on 15 March 1850 and in 1851, following the presidential election of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte in December 1848 and the May 1849 legislative elections that gave a majority to the conservative Parti de l'Ordre. Named for the Minister of Education Alfred de Falloux, they mainly aimed at promoting Catholic teaching. The Falloux Law of 15 March 1850 also extended the requirements of the Guizot Law of 1833, which had mandated a boys' school in each commune of more than 500 inhabitants, to require a girls' school in those communes. The 1851 law created a mixed system, in which some primary education establishments were public and controlled by the state and others were under the supervision of Catholic congregations.

The new law opened an era of cooperation between Church and state that lasted until the Ferry laws reversed course in 1879. The Falloux laws provided universal primary schooling in France and expanded opportunities for secondary schooling. In practice, the curricula in Catholic and state schools were similar. Catholic schools were especially useful in schooling for girls, which had long been neglected.[1]

Main dispositions

The main objectives of the Falloux Laws was to replace the revolutionary and imperial system, which had placed the whole of the education system under the supervision of the University and of state-formed teachers, accused of spreading Republicans and anti-clerical ideas, by a system giving back to the clergy the responsibility of education. This aim was largely achieved, the Falloux Law creating a mixed system, public (and mostly secular) on one hand, and private and Catholic on the other hand.

This law provided that the clergy and members of ecclesiastical orders, male and female, might exercise the profession of teaching without producing any further qualification. This exemption was extended even to priests who taught in secondary schools, where a university degree was demanded from lay teachers. The primary schools were put under the management of the curés.

The Falloux Law created one academy by department, decentralizing University and thus strengthening the notables' local influence. It reorganized the Superior Council of Education and academical councils, specifically by giving a large place to representants of various religions, above all of Roman Catholicism. Eight University members sieged at the Superior Council of Public Instruction, alongside seven religious representants (including four Catholics), three state counsellors, three members of the Institute, and three members representing "free" (i.e. private) teaching establishments. Similarly, bishops were included in the academical councils.

Primary and secondary education were divided between state establishments, and private establishments, headed by non-profit organizations or religious congregations. Supervision of schools was placed between the double authority of the mayor and the priest.

Historical and political background

The Falloux Law was promulgated in a context in which French Catholics were worried about the increasing role of the state in education since the Revolution of 1789 and the reorganization of the imperial University. They thought that the imperial education system, inherited from the First Empire's reforms, diffused too much the Enlightenment's ideas, as well as republican and socialist ideas.[2] Thus, they wanted the education system to return to the Ancien Régime's bases.

The Bourbon Restoration had in part satisfied these wants, by tolerating teaching by religious congregations, although it still theoretically remained prohibited, and had also granted more weight to bishops in the education system, enabling schooling programs to give more attention to Catholicism.

However, the July Monarchy was much less friendly to this reactionary trend. Although the Guizot Law of 1833 partially satisfied Catholics by authorizing private teaching in primary education, it kept secondary and superior education under the University's supervision. Guizot also generalized the écoles normales primaires, charged of forming teachers. First created by the National Convention in 1794, these schools, twin sisters of the écoles normales supérieures, were organized on the basis of the 1808 decree organizing the University, and were accused by conservatives of promoting Republicanism, Socialism and anti-clericalism.

First debates during 1848-1849

After the 1848 Revolution, Lazare Hippolyte Carnot was named Minister of Public Instruction and prepared a draft reform. He named the Republican Jules Barthélemy-Saint-Hilaire president of the parliamentary commission who would write the draft.[3] The latter would have made education mandatory for children of both sexes, as well as a three-years' formation of teachers, subsided by the state. Although it favoured public school, it still allowed private teaching establishments.[4] Carnot's draft was however set aside after his resignation on 5 July 1848.[5]

Thus, parliamentary debates were resumed. Newly elected President Louis Napoléon Bonaparte replaced Carnot by Alfred de Falloux as Minister of Public Instruction in December 1848, the latter remaining in Odilon Barrot's government until May 1849. The decree of 11 December 1848 made the upcoming law on education an organic law, which should thus be reserved to the Constituent Assembly's initiative.[3]

A Legitimist (conservative Royalists), Falloux officially withdrew Carnot's draft project on 4 January 1849 and dissolved the Scientific and Literary Study Commission named by Carnot. Falloux clearly aimed at restoring Roman Catholicism at the head of French school and society, thus resuming his program in his Memoirs: "God in education. Pope at the head of the Church. The Church at the head of civilization."

Having dissolved Carnot's commission, Falloux created two new ministerial commissions, dedicated to preparing the draft laws for primary and secondary education, which quickly merged. Both were composed by a majority of conservative Catholics. Presided by the Minister Falloux himself, it had as vice-president Adolphe Thiers,[3] and included Catholics such as the archbishop of Paris Mgr Sibour, the abbot Dupanloup (who later became bishop of Orléans), etc. Surprisingly, Thiers was one of those who most supported Catholics' influence in the education system, being ready to hand over to the clergy the whole of the primary education establishments, whilst bishop Dupanloup and others strong Catholics calmed his excessive claims.[3]

Upset by this measure, in part because the December 1848 decree had given the initiative of the legislative process, concerning organic laws, to the Assembly, the latter nominated a new parliamentary Commission to re-establish its prerogatives following a proposition by the moderate Republican Pascal Duprat.[3] This parallel Commission was presided by the Minister of Public Instruction de Vaulabelle and had as secretary the Republican Jules Simon.[3]

Parliamentary debates focalized on the article 9 of the new Constitution concerning education. Catholic deputy Charles de Montalembert then described the University's monopoly in the education system as "intellectual communism" and claimed the system was "inferior to the Ancien Régime's one".[6] Article 9 finally proclaimed "teaching is free" while adding that this "freedom of teaching" was determined by legislation and exercised "under state surveillance." While authorizing private establishments, this article thus insured that education in general was placed under state supervision. The extent of the latter would be determined by incoming laws.

On 5 February 1849, Jules Simon presented to the Assembly the draft law, composed of 23 articles.[3] However, Odilon Barrot's government claimed that the Constituent Assembly's mandate was coming to an end, and that further law projects would have to be examined by the succeeding National Assembly. Pressed by time, the Constituent Assembly thus decided to examine the most pressing laws. Deputy Boubée, a scientific and teacher at University, proposed to include the education draft law into these ones, but his motion was rejected by 458 voices against 307.[3]

New debates following the May 1849 elections

Discussion of the new law would thus have to wait the May 1849 legislative election. But these ones gave an absolute majority to the conservative Parti de l'Ordre, mainly composed of Catholic monarchists, whether Orleanists or Legitimists, such as Falloux who was elected deputy.[3]

Despite having been dissolved, the Commission presided by Barthélémy Saint-Hilaire and named by Carnot deposed its draft and report to the Assembly on 10 April 1849.[3] This work was ignored during further discussions.[3] On 18 June 1849, Falloux deposed to the Assembly the draft project elaborated by the ministerial commission which he had himself named. Falloux thus resumed his project: "Instruction has remained too much isolated from education; education has remained too much isolated from religion." [3]

The Assembly hereby named another parliamentary commission, where Catholics had again the upper-hand. It included Salomon (from the Meuse), the Protestant theologian Coquerel, Baze, the theologian Armand de Melun (who had been a collaborator of late Denys Affre, former archbishop of Paris), de l'Espinay, Sauvaire-Barthélemy (a grandnephew of the marquis de Barthélémy), Dufougeray, Barthélémy Saint-Hilaire, de Montalembert, Rouher, Thiers, Beugnot, Fresneau, Janvier, Parisis (bishop of Langres).[3] The Commission chose Thiers as president and Beugnot as "rapporteur" (in charge of presenting the draft project to the Assembly). Falloux also managed to bypass the Conseil d'Etat's examination of the law, the latter being composed of several Republicans.[3]

In September 1849, Falloux fell sick, and was replaced in October as Minister of Public Instruction by Félix Esquirou de Parieu.[3] On 11 January 1850, a minor law (named Parieu Law) was voted, simplifying procedures of suspension and revocation of teachers. The draft was discussed again starting on 14 January 1850. During these debates, Victor Hugo, although member of the Parti de l'Ordre, criticized the renewed influence of the clergy. The law was finally adopted on 15 March 1850, by 399 votes against 237.[7]

Reforms of the Third Republic and latter posterity

The Third Republic abrogated or reformed most dispositions of the Falloux Laws. The 27 February 1880 law reduced the clergy's representation in educational councils. The Ferry Laws established mandatory, free and laic education. The Goblet Law abrogated the first and second section of the Falloux Law. In 1904, among increasing voices to repeal entirely the Falloux Law, the Minister Emile Combes prohibited religious congregations from teaching, including in private schools.

However, Catholics responded by creating "lay private schools", where religious education was maintained, although teaching was done by lay people, and not clergy.

The Vichy Regime allowed again religious congregations to teach and strongly subsided private Catholic schools. Although these subsides were interrupted following the Liberation, the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF) did not repeal the teaching authorization given to congregations. The Debré Law of 1959 went further, by having private schools' teachers paid by the state.

Although the Falloux Laws have formally been repealed since the promulgation of the Education Code in 2000, several of their dispositions have been retained in the Code, and form the main legislative frame for private schools.


  1. Patrick J. Harrigan, "Church, State, and Education in France From the Falloux to the Ferry Laws: A Reassessment," Canadian Journal of History, (2001) 36#1 pp 51-83
  2. Pierre Albertini, L'École en France., p. 47-48
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 James Guillaume, Falloux entry in the Nouveau dictionnaire de pédagogie (dir. Ferdinand Buisson), 1911.
  4. Inès Murat, La IIe République, Paris, Fayard, 1987, p.198-200
  5. Inès Murat, La IIe République, Paris, Fayard, 1987, p.290
  6. Les constitutions de la France présentées par Jacques Godechot, p. 259-260.
  7. I. Murat, La Deuxième République, op.cit. p. 423-424.

Further reading

  • Harrigan, Patrick J. "Church, State, and Education in France From the Falloux to the Ferry Laws: A Reassessment," Canadian Journal of History, (2001) 36#1 pp 51–83
  • Harrigan, Patrick J. "French Catholics and Classical Education after the Falloux Law," French Historical Studies (1973) 8#2 pp. 255–278 in JSTOR
  • May, Anita Rasi. "The Falloux Law, the Catholic Press, and the Bishops: Crisis of Authority in the French Church," French Historical Studies, (1973) 8#1 pp 77–84 in JSTOR

Additional sources

  • (French) Pierre Albertini, L'École en France. XIXe-XXe siècles. De la maternelle à l'université., Carré Histoire, Hachette Supérieur, Paris, 1992.
  • (French) Carlos Mario Molina Betancur, La Loi Falloux : abrogation ou réforme ?, LGDJ, coll. « Bibliothèque constitutionnelle et de science politique », numéro 104, Paris, 2001, 543 p.