He was born at Lyon, and began his career as an advocate. From the time of the revolution of 1830, he openly declared himself a republican, and in political trials he took the opportunity to express this opinion. After the revolution of 1848 he was elected deputy for Lyon to the Constituent Assembly, where he sat among the moderate republicans, voting against the socialists. When Louis Napoleon was elected President of France, Favre openly opposed him, and on December 2 1851 he tried with Victor Hugo and others to organize armed resistance in the streets of Paris. After the coup d'état, he withdrew from politics, returned to the legal profession, and distinguished himself by his defence of Felice Orsini, the perpetrator of the attack against the life of Napoleon III.
In 1858 he was elected deputy for Paris, and was one of the "Five" who gave the signal for the republican opposition to the Empire. In 1863 he became the head of his party, and delivered a number of addresses denouncing the Mexican expedition and the occupation of Rome. These addresses, eloquent, clear and incisive, won him a seat in the Académie française in 1867.
With Adolphe Thiers he opposed the war against Prussia in 1870, and at the news of the defeat of Napoleon III at Sedan he demanded the deposition of the emperor. In the government of National Defence he became vice-president under General Trochu, and minister of foreign affairs, with the onerous task of negotiating peace with victorious Germany. He proved to be less adroit as a diplomat than he had been as an orator, and committed several irreparable blunders. His famous statement on September 6, 1870, that he "would not yield to Germany an inch of territory nor a single stone of the fortresses" was a piece of oratory which Bismarck met on the 19th by his declaration to Favre that Alsace and Lorraine had to be ceded as a condition of peace.
Favre also made the mistake of not having an assembly elected which would have more regular powers than the government of National Defence, and of opposing the removal of the government from Paris during the siege. In the peace negotiations, Bismarck got the better of him. He arranged for the armistice of June 28 1871 without knowing the situation of the armies, and without consulting the government at Bordeaux. By a grave oversight he neglected to inform Léon Gambetta that the army of the East (80,000 men) was not included in the armistice, and it was thus obliged to retreat to neutral territory. He showed no diplomatic skill in the negotiations for the treaty of Frankfurt, and it was Bismarck who imposed all the conditions. He withdrew from the ministry, discredited, on August 2 1871, but remained in the chamber of deputies. Elected senator on January 30 1876, he continued to support the government of the republic against the reactionary opposition, until his death on the 20th of January 1880.
His works include many speeches and addresses, notably La Liberté de la Presse (1849), Defense de F. Orsini (1866), Discours de réception a l?Académie francaise (1868), Discours sur Ia liberté intirieure (1869). In Le Gouvernement de Ia Defense Nationale, 3 vols., 1871-1875, he explained his role in 1870-1871.
After his death his family published his speeches in 8 volumes.
See G Hanotaux, Histoire de la France contemporaine (1903, etc.); also E Benoit-Lévy, Jules Favre (1884).