French Revolution of 1848

French Revolution of 1848
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Lamartine in front of the Town Hall of Paris rejects the red flag on 25 February 1848 by Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux
Date22 February – 2 December 1848
Also known asFebruary Revolution
ParticipantsFrench citizens
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The 1848 Revolution in France, sometimes known as the February Revolution (révolution de Février), was one of a wave of revolutions in 1848 in Europe. In France the revolutionary events ended the Orléans monarchy (1830–1848) and led to the creation of the French Second Republic.

Following the overthrow of King Louis Philippe in February 1848, the elected government of the Second Republic ruled France. In the months that followed, this government steered a course that became more conservative. On 23 June 1848, the people of Paris rose in insurrection,[1] which became known as June Days uprising – a bloody but unsuccessful rebellion by the Paris workers against a conservative turn in the Republic's course. On 2 December 1848, Louis Napoléon Bonaparte was elected President of the Second Republic, largely on peasant support. Exactly three years later he suspended the elected assembly, establishing the Second French Empire, which lasted until 1870. Louis Napoléon went on to become the de facto last French monarch.

The February revolution established the principle of the "right to work" (droit au travail), and its newly established government created "National Workshops" for the unemployed. At the same time a sort of industrial parliament was established at the Luxembourg Palace, under the presidency of Louis Blanc, with the object of preparing a scheme for the organization of labour. These tensions between liberal Orléanist and Radical Republicans and Socialists led to the June Days Uprising.


Under the Charter of 1814, Louis XVIII ruled France as the head of a constitutional monarchy. Upon Louis XVIII's death, his brother, the Count of Artois, ascended to the throne in 1824, as Charles X. Supported by the ultra-royalists, Charles X was an extremely unpopular reactionary monarch whose aspirations were far more grand than those of his deceased brother. He had no desire to rule as a constitutional monarch, taking various steps to strengthen his own authority as monarch and weaken that of the lower house.

In 1830, Charles X of France, presumably instigated by one of his chief advisors Jules, Prince de Polignac, issued the Four Ordinances of St. Cloud. These ordinances abolished freedom of the press, reduced the electorate by 75%, and dissolved the lower house.[2] This action provoked an immediate reaction from the citizenry, who revolted against the monarchy during the Three Glorious Days of 26–29 July 1830.[3] Charles was forced to abdicate the throne and to flee Paris for the United Kingdom. As a result, Louis Philippe, of the Orléanist branch, rose to power, replacing the old Charter by the Charter of 1830, and his rule became known as the July Monarchy.

Louis Philippe I, the last King of the French

Nicknamed the "Bourgeois Monarch", Louis Philippe sat at the head of a moderately liberal state controlled mainly by educated elites. Supported by the Orléanists, he was opposed on his right by the Legitimists (former ultra-royalists) and on his left by the Republicans and Socialists. Louis Philippe was an expert businessman and, by means of his businesses, he had become one of the richest men in France.[4] Still Louis Philippe saw himself as the successful embodiment of a "small businessman" (petite bourgeoisie). Consequently, he and his government did not look with favour on the big business (bourgeoisie), especially the industrial section of the French bourgeoisie. Louis Philippe did, however, support the bankers, large and small. Indeed, at the beginning of his reign in 1830, Jaques Laffitte, a banker and liberal politician who supported Louis Philippe's rise to the throne, said "From now on, the bankers will rule."[5] Accordingly, during the reign of Louis Philippe, the privileged "financial aristocracy", i.e. bankers, stock exchange magnates, railroad barons, owners of coal mines, iron ore mines, and forests and all landowners associated with them, tended to support him, while the industrial section of the bourgeoisie, which may have owned the land their factories sat on but not much more, were disfavoured by Louis Philippe and actually tended to side with the middle class and laboring class in opposition to Louis Philippe in the Chamber of Deputies.[5] Naturally, land-ownership was favoured, and this elitism resulted in the disenfranchisement of much of the middle and working classes.

By 1848 only about one percent of the population held the franchise. Even though France had a free press and trial by jury, only landholders were permitted to vote, which alienated the petty bourgeoisie and even the industrial bourgeoisie from the government. Louis Philippe was viewed as generally indifferent to the needs of society, especially to those members of the middle class who were excluded from the political arena. Early in 1848, some Orléanist liberals, such as Adolphe Thiers, had turned against Louis Philippe, disappointed by his opposition to parliamentarism. A Reform Movement developed in France which urged the government to expand the electoral franchise, just as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland had done in 1832. The more radical democrats of the Reform Movement coalesced around the newspaper, La Réforme.[6] However, the more moderate republicans and the liberal opposition rallied around the Le National newspaper.[7] Starting in July 1847 the Reformists of all shades began to hold "banquets" at which toasts were drunk to "République française" (the French Republic), "Liberté" (Liberty), "Egalité" (Equality) and "Fraternité" (Brotherhood), etc.[8] However, Louis Philippe turned a deaf ear to the Reform Movement, and discontent among wide sections of the French people continued to grow. Social and political discontent sparked revolutions in France in 1830 and 1848, which in turn inspired revolts in other parts of Europe. Workers lost their jobs, bread prices rose, and people accused the government of corruption. The French revolted and set up a republic. French successes led to other revolts including those who wanted relief from the suffering caused by the Industrial Revolution and nationalism sprang up hoping for independence from foreign rulers.

Alexis de Tocqueville observed, "We are sleeping together in a volcano. ... A wind of revolution blows, the storm is on the horizon." Lacking the property qualifications to vote, the lower classes were about to erupt in revolt.[9]

Economic and international influences

Frédéric Bastiat, one of the most popular political writers of the time, who took part in the Revolution

The French middle class watched changes in Britain with interest. When Britain's Reform Act 1832 extended enfranchisement to any man paying taxes of £10 or more per year (previously the vote was restricted to landholders), France's free press took interest. Meanwhile, economically, the French working class may perhaps have been slightly better off than Britain's working class. Still, unemployment in France threw skilled workers down to the level of the proletariat. The only nominally social law of the July Monarchy was passed in 1841. This law prohibited the use of labor of those children under eight years of age, and the employment of children less than 13 years old for night-time work. This law, however, was routinely flouted.

The year 1846 saw a financial crisis and bad harvests, and the following year saw an economic depression. A poor railroad system hindered aid efforts, and the peasant rebellions that resulted were forcefully crushed. According to French economist Frédéric Bastiat, the poor condition of the railroad system can largely be attributed to French efforts to promote other systems of transportation, such as carriages.[10] Perhaps a third of Paris was on social welfare. "Dangerous" writers proliferated such as Louis Blanc ("The right to work") and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon ("Property is theft!").

Louis Blanc, one of the two workers' representatives in the Assembly of the Second Republic

Bastiat, who was one of the most famous political writers of the 1840s, had written countless works concerning the economic situation before 1848, and provided a different explanation of why the French people were forced to rise in the revolt. He believed that the main reasons were primarily the political corruption, along with its very complex system of monopolies, permits, and bureaucracy, which made those who were able to obtain political favors unjustly privileged and able to dictate the market conditions and caused a myriad of businesses to collapse, as well as protectionism which was the basis for the French foreign trade at the time, and which caused businesses along the Atlantic Coast to file for bankruptcy, along with the one owned by Bastiat's family. Indeed, most of Bastiat's early works concern the situation in Bayonne and Bordeaux, two large merchant harbors before the Napoleonic Wars, gradually devastated first by Bonaparte's continental blockade, and later by the protectionist legislation of the nineteenth century. According to Bastiat's biographer, G.C. Roche, just prior to the revolution, 100,000 citizens of Lyon were described as "indigent" and by 1840 there were at least 130,000 abandoned children in France. International markets were not similarly troubled at the time, which Bastiat attributed to the freedom of trade. Indeed, a large part of French economic problems in the 1830s and 1840s were caused by the shortage and unnaturally high prices of different products which could have easily been imported from other countries, such as textiles, machines, tools, and ores, but doing so was either outright illegal at the time or unprofitable due to the system of punitive tariffs.

Bastiat has also noted that the French legislators were entirely unaware of the reality and the effects of their radical policies. One of the members of the French Chamber of Deputies reportedly received a standing applause when he proposed that the depression of 1847 was due primarily to "external weakness" and "idle pacifism". Nationalist tendencies caused France to severely restrict all international contacts with the United Kingdom, including the ban on importing tea, perceived as destructive to the French national spirit.[11] As the United Kingdom was the largest economy in the world in the nineteenth century, France deprived itself of its most important economic partner, one that could have supplied France with what it lacked and bought surplus French goods.

Such governmental policies and obliviousness to the real reasons of economical troubles were, according to Bastiat, the main causes of the French Revolution of the 1848 and the rise of socialists and anarchists in the years preceding the revolution itself.

Other Languages
norsk nynorsk: Februarrevolusjonen
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Francuska revolucija 1848.