1848 Revolution

1848 Revolution

The first five years of the reign of Louis Philippe were marked by revolts, strikes and demonstrations. These were largely due to the feeling among the Republicans that they had been cheated in 1830.At Lyons, wages were very low and there had been experiments in collective bargaining with the employers for minimum wage scales. In November 1831, the silk workers at Lyons broke out into open insurrection and the immediate cause for it was that 104 out of 1,400 manufacturers in the area refused to observe the agreements with their workers and threatened to close down.

The Government was afraid that the revolt may not spread and consequently had stepped in and not only crushed the rising but also declared collective bargaining illegal. The result was that the working class lost faith in the Government and began to look  to the secret Republican societies for help. There were a large number of such societies and they ranged from fairly open associations like the Society of the Rights of Man to the traditional type of conspiracy such as the “Families” or the “Seasons”.  Even the Rights of Man aimed at a Republic in which economic inequalities would be less. The societies influenced by Philippe Buonarroti or Auguste Blanqui  were more frankly and thoroughly socialistic or communistic in their aims.

Auguste Blanqui was one of the most outstanding of the professional revolutionaries who haunted Paris under the July Monarchy. He inherited the role and many of the ideas of Buonarroti who died 1837. Blanqui was the son of a Napoleonic official and was bornin1805. He joined the Carbonari as a student. He was awarded a medal by the new Government for his part in the rising of 1830. He spent nearly half of his long life in 15 different prisons and much of that time was spent in solitary confinement. In April 1834, the Government passed a law restricting the right of association. There were protests against the new law and there was bitter fighting for 6 days.

Another rising was planned by the Society of the Rights of Man in the eastern districts of Paris. The rising was suppressed by Adolphe Thiers. Thiers was hated by the Republicans for what came to be known as the “massacre of the Rue Transnonian.” Blanqui set up a new secret society which was powerful enough to secure political ends but  secret enough to evade police espionage. The result was the Society of Families which was modeled on the principles of the Carbonari.  Its immediate object was military action. A unit of 6 members was called a family. Five or six families under one chief, constituted a Section. Two or three Sections made up a quarter. It was so organized that its leaders would remain unknown until the moment came for action and orders were issued by a Central Committee of unknown membership. By 1836, it numbered some 1,200 people. It had infiltrated into regiments of the garrison for Paris. It owned dumps of arms and a factory for making gunpowder. It had to be dissolved to avoid the police. Immediately another organization called the Society of the Seasons was set up. Each group of six of this society was known as a week and was commanded by Sunday. Four weeks formed a month under the orders of July. Three months formed a seasons and were led by spring. Four seasons formed a year and were directed by a special agent of the Central committee.

This society was led by Blanqui, Martin Bernard and Armand Barbes. The spring of 1839 was fixed for the rising. The Society published secret newspapers and organized working class support in Paris. Lyons and Carcassonne. On account of economic distress, the membership of the society increased. On Sunday mornings, its members marched in formation but were not observed by the police because they mingled skillfully with the Sunday crowds. However, they were “reviewed” by Blanqui from some secluded spot. On 12 May 1839, they were summoned to action stations. It was hoped that the police would be busy in controlling the crowds at the races at the Champs de Mars. The forces of the conspirators concentrated themselves around the gunsmiths’ shops and stores in the Paris districts of Saint Denis and Saint Martin. The stores were raided and barricades were thrown up. The Palais de Justice and the Hotel de Ville were occupied and the republic was proclaimed. The mob shouted the Marseillaise. A few soldiers were killed. The National and Municipal Guards were called out.

The military garrisons stood to arms. The insurgents were driven back  behind the barricades in the working class districts. By nightfall, they were completely routed and most of their leaders were captured. Blanqui himself was caught after 5 months of living in cellars, attics and sewers and was sent to prison for the next eight and half years. It was the revolution of 1848 that made him free again. The conspirators failed because they had relied upon the readiness of the people of Paris to support them once the revolt was started. This discredited the men and methods of the secret societies. The result was that the Government became free from the standing threat of insurrections. This does not mean that the revolutionaries did nothing in their prisons. That was due to the fact all kinds of people were put in jails and prison life became one of the main breeding grounds for republican propaganda and socialist ideas. However, as the working classes were without leaders working with them for long periods, there was no touch between them and their leaders.

Towards Revolution:

By 1846, however, the middle-class monarchy of Louis Philippe became very unpopular with all sections of the people. The Legitimists regarded Louis Philippe as a usurper because in their eyes, the Count of Chambord, the grandson of Charles X, had a better title to the throne than he himself had. They also considered his government as revolutionary and bourgeois. The Republicans aimed at the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of a republican government in the country. They stood for universal manhood suffrage and were completely dissatisfied with the bourgeois monarchy of Louis Philippe.

Socialists Demands:

The socialists also condemned the bourgeois government of Louis Philippe. The lot of the working men was unsatisfactory and the government had done practically nothing to improve it.  As a matter of fact, it had used force to crush meetings of workers and passed laws to stop the formation of their organizations. The important French socialists were Saint-Simon, Fourier, Cabet, Louis Blanc and Proudhon. Saint- Simon stood for a co-operative State directed by scientists and engineers. His disciples established a socialist humanitarian cult near Paris and were a source of nuisance to the government during the 1830s.

Fourier was in favour of the establishment of co-operative communities called Phalanxes. He had some following in France during the 1830s and 1840s. Louis Blanc was a popular agitator who demanded that the State must guarantee a living wage to all workers. To quote him, “To the able- bodied citizens the State owes work; to the aged and infirm it owes aid and protection. This result cannot be obtained expect through a democratic power.  A democratic power is that which has the sovereignty of the people for its principle, universal suffrage for its origin and for its goal the realization of the formula: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.” Proudhon was a radical revolutionary. He stood for the destruction of private property and authoritarian government and the establishment of a new order on the basis of voluntary co-operation. The followers of Proudhon were small in number but they were determined to destroy rather than to construct anything. The socialist propaganda did a lot to add to the discontentment of the people.

The Catholics Dissatisfaction against July


The Catholics of France were not happy with the corrupt politics of Guizot who was a Huguenot. They also did not approve of the liberal policy of the government in matters of religion. They condemned the undemocratic nature of July monarchy and demanded legislation in the interests of the working class. The Patriots condemned the submissive foreign policy of Louis Philippe. They were not prepared to subordinate their foreign policy to that of England. They stood for national honour and national glory. They condemned the king for dismissing Thiers who stood for the honour of the country. Theirs became the leader of the Patriots against the Guizot administration.

Feelings of Patriots:

The patriots were helped by the growth of the Napoleonic Legend during the regime of Louis Philippe. While the shortcomings of Napoleon were forgotten, his achievements were glorified. He was considered to be the personification of national glory. He was regarded as a hero and regenerator of society. Louis Philippe completed the Napoleonic Arch of Triumph which commemorated the achievements of Napoleon Bonaparte. He allowed streets to be named after the battles of Napoleon. He persuaded the British Government to allow the dead body of Napoleon to be brought from St. Helena to Paris where it was buried with great ceremony. The Napoleonic Legend also gained in popularity on account of the writings of Louis Napoleon who was the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. The result of the Napoleonic legend was that the government of Louis Philippe became who compared his achievements with those of Napoleon Bonaparte and found practically nothing.

The Reformers Demands:

The Reformers also condemned the government of Louis Philippe. That was because in spite of their moderate demands for reforms like the broadening of franchise and the eradication of corruption, Guizot and Louis Philippe refused to move in the matter and continued to follow a policy of “do nothing.” They depended upon the use of the police, censorship of the press, and the banning of meetings.

Outbreak of the Revolution:

In 1847, the liberal reformers began to arrange banquets in which questions of reforms were discussed and efforts were made to mobilize the public opinion. On some occasions, glasses were raised “to the amelioration of the lot of the working classes.” On one occasion, Lamartine predicted the fall of monarchy. The Reformers fixed“ a monster banquet” for 22 February 1848, but the government banned the same and that precipitated matters. On the appointed day, workers and students assembled and shouted for reforms. The Marseillaise was sung and bonfires were lighted in the streets. On 23 February 1848, the National Guards were ordered to restore order, but instead of doing so they joined the people. The people shouted “Down with Guizot” and the king asked Guizot to resign. The affairs might not have taken a serious turn had not a detachment of soldiers guarding the residence of Guizot fired on the demonstrators and 23 of them were killed and 30 were injured. The demonstrators put the dead bodies on a wagon and displayed the same to the people of Paris in the glaring torch-lights. The result was a revolution. Barricades were put up in the streets of Paris and placards with the following contents were fixed up in all parts of the city, “Louis Philippe massacres us as did Charles X, let him go to join Charles X.” Louis Philippe tried to handle the situation but failed. Ultimately he abdicated in favour of his grandson, the Count of Paris, and left for England as Mr. Smith.

The manner in which the Revolution of 1848 took place has been described thus: “I had not yet completed my fourth year when one morning my mother took me out of bed, and my dear father, who had put on his National Guards’ uniform, embraced  me tenderly. He had on his shako, with a golden cock and a red tuft. The call to arms sounded from the street and the gallop of horses echoed from the pavement. Now and then we heard the sound of shouting, and, in the distance, of the crackle of musketry. My father went out. My mother went to the window, lifted the muslin curtains, and burst into tears. It was the revolution.”( Anatole France).

Results of 1848 Revolution:

Louis Philippe fell because he failed to win over all the sections of the country. He merely depended upon the support of the middle class which was very small in number and which had no moral or historical right to control the government which was hated by the aristocracy and the masses. If Louis Philippe had made reforms in the social and political fields, there is every reason to believe that he would have been able to win over the support of the people, but he did not do so. He could have appealed to the patriotism of the French people by following a vigorous foreign policy, but even that was not done by him. The result was the fall of the July monarchy.

As Louis Philippe faded out of France, Louis Bonaparte stepped in, a man of forty, at once mystic and Lothario, looking like an opium eater and speaks French like a foreigner. A little later, finding the moment unpropitious, but having ably advertised his existence, he withdrew to England to await his call. For the second time a revolution in Paris had determined the fate of France, but now it was a revolution which liberalism was unable to capture or direct. Under the violent pressure of the mob a Republic was proclaimed, and pending the summoning of a constituent assembly a provisional government was named in two newspaper offices, one socialist, the other radical, to administer the affairs of the country.

The difficulties of the situation which confronted this small body of untried and widely differing men were immense. The city was in state of delirious excitement, vast schemes of social organization being demanded by some, while others with equal fury and insistence called for an instant war against the tyrants of Europe. It is to the credit of Lamartine, the pacific foreign minister, that he refused to substitute the red flag for the tricolor and in place of a dangerous military crusade contented himself for the moment with a liberal  manifesto. The social revolution was kept at bay by a brave but disastrous promise of employment for all, and by the establishment of national workshops for the relief of the unemployment.

The new assembly was to be elected by universal suffrage. A truth was then discovered which, had it been divined by Louis Philippe and his ministers, might have saved the monarchy. In a land of peasant proprietors universal suffrage may well yield not a radical but a conservative result. An electorate of two hundred thousand well-to-do  bourgeois guaranteed neither loyalty in the Chamber nor confidence in the country, encouraged corruption, aroused jealousies, deadened enthusiasm. But universal suffrage would have been for the monarchy a gilt- edged investment.

On its first application after the revolution of February, the poll being the heaviest on record, it returned a Chamber of bourgeois, in which the republicans were only as one to eight. To the members of this Parliament, the first to be elected in France on such a system and therefore the first to reflect in adequate measure the antique pieties of the countryside, it was a matter of life and death to conquer the red peril in Paris. How precarious their position was, despite the tremendous weight and authority of the provincial vote, revealed itself on May15, when a mob invaded the Chamber, decreed its dissolution, and declared war against the Kings of Europe.

A desperate situation was then saved by the timely appearance and correct behavior of the National Guard; but what if the attack was repeated? It was decided to grapple firmly with the evil at its source and, as a first step, to close the national workshops which had been running at a ruinous loss and had been the means of attracting a vast concourse of unemployed men into Paris. Upon that stern and necessary decision there ensured a struggle in the streets of Paris which suffices to explain, such was the deep horror which it inspired, the surprising political manifestations of the ensuing months. For four torrid Junedays the regular and National Guard under General Cavaignac fought an insurrection, so formidable and desperate, though it was conducted without leaders and apparently without contemplations, that ten thousand casualties were the price of victory. The vast majority of the French population, having property in land or in the funds, acclaimed the triumph of the army, noted the scale of the peril and demanded of their future governors so to rule that the red specter should not again dare to raise its head.

In the midst of these dreadful anxieties the Assembly produced a preposterous constitution, organizes for deadlock and manacled against change. The new Republic was equipped with the rival autocracy of a single Chamber and a President, each elected by universal suffrage. The inspiration of America was oblivious; but it was forgotten that while the powers of the American President are limited by the rights of the States of the Union, the new President of the French Republic, who was to be chosen for four years and not to be re-eligible, would be master of a bureaucracy which interfered with the life of every town and village in the land.

In the plebiscite which ensured (December 10, 1848) Louis Bonaparte was returned head of the poll, by more than four million votes, above Cavaignac the savior of society, above Lamartine the orator, and despite his thirty-nine years of shabby inglorious exile. The name of Bonaparte was enough standing in every cottage of the land for discipline, power and renown.

Yet he was not a free agent, but confronted by a Chamber, fresh from the polls, conservative in complexion, and prepared, if Legitimists and Orleanists could compose their differences, to restore the monarchy; a Chamber in which he had no personal following and from which he could expect no loyal or enduring support. A liberal and nationalist by temperament he was compelled to trim his sails to clerical and conservative winds, and abjuring his past as an Italian Carbonaro, to send aid to the Pope against the Roman Republic. The coup d’état of December 2, 1851, was his stroke for liberty and power. By that contrivance of consummate force and fraud, breaking an oath, violating a constitution, imprisoning many leading soldiers and politicians, and shooting some twelve hundred innocent citizens in the streets of Paris, Louis Bonaparte made himself master of France. The Chamber was dissolved, its members were imprisoned or dispersed, his own lease of power was prolonged; and yet, though the coup was denounced by Victor Hugo and Tennyson, on “the morrow of it,” as has been well said, “Louis Napoleon appeared not as a tyrant but as a tyrannicide”. As against the Chamber which had voted itself a salary, disfranchised three million electors by an electoral law the full consequences of which were perhaps not perceived, and refused revision, the President appeared well justified. “The people,” said Broglie, “has the government it prefers and the bourgeoisie the government it deserves.” To the Sardinian Minister the Prince President, who was now Emperor in all but name, observed, “Now I can do what I want. I shall do something for Italy.’’