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The Jules Ferry laws are a set of French laws, which established first free education (1881) then mandatory and laic education (1882). Proposed by the (Republican) Minister of Public Instruction Jules Ferry, they were a crucial step in the grounding of the Third Republic (1871-1940), dominated until the 16 May 1877 crisis by the Catholic Legitimists who dreamed of a return to the Ancien Régime. These laws on public education are in part a consequence of the defeat of the 1870 war with Prussia: the German soldiers were considered to be better educated than Frenchmen, and this its existence, the Third Republic, dominated by the Radical-Socialist Party, would rest in a large part on those middle-class civil servants, which included teachers.

(In a striking manner, Gustave Le Bon claimed in The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1895) that public instruction and the large amount of teachers created for this mission was one of the causes of anarchism, socialism and other "subversive ideologies".)

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