• J.S. Mullen

Rise, Fall, Repeat: France and the coming of the Second Emperor

An excerpt from the Failed Brumaire (forthcoming).









Political Transformations:

The Case of France, 1814-1851


The Bourbon Restorations: Louis XVIII and Charles X


The nature of the political struggle during the period 1815-1830 can be summarized as the conflict between privilege and merit, and between landed and financial capital, with the question being decided in qualified favor of both the latter with the conclusion of the July Revolution (Hobsbawm 1996). Attempting to assert kingly hegemony under the aegis of the Charter of Government, the permanent rule of the aristocratic landed elites in the Chamber of Deputies, and the social and statutory preeminence of the Catholic Church, Charles Phillipe, first in his capacity as the duc d’Artois, then as King Charles X, and his ultra-royalist colleagues were attempting to restore as far as possible the political and social order of the Ancien Regime. Their unwillingness to open up political space for the rising upper bourgeoisie, large merchants, landholders, and financiers, or to accept the legitimacy of the conservative liberalism of the Doctrinaires with respect to limitations on royal authority, particularly with respect to civil liberties and the prerogative of the Chamber of Deputies with regard to ministerial tenancy, created conditions under which the regime tended toward crisis. That it took fifteen years to successfully erupt owes much to the policies of Louis XVIII, the childless older brother and predecessor of Charles X (Sauvigny 1967).


The first restoration of the Bourbons following Napoleon’s 1814 abdication saw more or less immediate attempts by ultra-royalists to reassert their former feudal privileges and to acquire their old lands that had been confiscated and sold during the French Revolution. Additionally, the levying of new taxes to stabilize state finances, unemployment resulting from the rapid demobilization of the massive French armies fielded under Napoleon, and halts to all hiring into the civil service meant that when Napoleon landed in France for his Hundred Days campaign the unpopular Bourbons were quickly pushed aside. French society had been too radically transformed by the years of the Republic and Empire to suffer the pretensions of the most conservative elements of the former Second Estate. For one thing, merit rather than birth was a respected first order principle among the army and liberal elite; while in the countryside many noble estates and church lands that had been confiscated during the revolution were now in the hands of millions of freeholders, and attempts by the ultra-royalists to reclaim those lands sparked backlash. However, following Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo in 1815 the Bourbons were again restored to the French throne and given a second chance by their fellow European heads of state, who desired nothing more than a return to the previous great powers balancing act, and which required a strong, stable, monarchical France.


When he had returned from exile in England and assumed the throne, Louis XVIII had done so under the auspices of a charter of government. Though not a constitution per se, it did not recognize national or popular sovereignty, but rather was rooted in royal sovereignty, the Charter of 1814 extended to his subjects the respect of certain rights and liberties, such as equality before the law, freedom of religion and of the press. It established a bicameral legislature, with a lower Chamber of Deputies and an upper Chamber of Peers, though suffrage would be extremely limited; only those who paid five hundred francs a year in taxes were eligible to vote, while only those who paid one thousand francs in taxes a year were eligible to stand for election, and so both bodies were substantially dominated by the landed aristocracy. The real power, however, in the new government resided with the crown. The king appointed ministers, peers, controlled the army, foreign policy, and managed the domestic affairs of the state. Despite the broad scope of his power, however, from the very beginning Louis XVIII was careful never to allow the aims of his government and those of the chambers to come into conflict, likewise his own authority and that of the legislature (Artz 1963).


The second restoration of 1815, following Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo, did not bring with it another attempted return to a France pre-1789. Though the ultra-royalists initially had a significant majority in the Chamber of Deputies, their absolutist policies, as well as their desire to renounce all French state debt incurred since the declaration of the first French Republic, were opposed by the king and his ministry and so they were dismissed. This early rebuke of the ultra-royalists set the tone for the first half of Louis XVIII’s reign. He was a pragmatic ruler, and while the new regime was one in which national sovereignty had been replaced by royal sovereignty, King Louis XVIII was determined to reconcile the old with the new, as he recognized the success of the Restoration depended on it. He left in place the popular Napoleonic Code, made peers in the upper house of the Deputy Assembly many who had been Senators under Napoleon’s Empire, retained the civil service, and kept the army from being turned back into the preserve of the aristocracy—with the latter two continuing to operate, in general, on the basis of promotion by merit. Following the dismissal of the ultra-royalist Chamber of Deputies in 1815, the king and his subsequently elected deputies tried to follow through on the promises of the Charter of 1814 and to fuse the reintegrated aristocracy with the modernized society that had developed in the thirty years since the start of the French Revolution.


Louis XVIII’s effort to the make the Bourbons kings of “one people” rather than two would be cut short, however. The murder of the Comte d’Artois’ eldest son, the duc d’Berry, by a disgruntled or insane Bonapartist, coincided in 1820 with the mutiny at Cadiz, and shortly thereafter the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence, both of which threatened to plunge the monarchies of Europe back into republican nightmare. Civil liberties were promptly curtailed, and the more liberal government of Ely Descazes was replaced by a new right-wing Assembly of Deputies under the duc d’Richelieu, who had led the original “incredible chamber” of ultra-royalists in 1815 after the second Restoration. The law of the “double vote” was passed shortly thereafter, a measure meant to disenfranchise all but the wealthiest and conservative landowning elite. The law increased the size of the Assembly of Deputies at the same time providing that these new members, who would constitute two-fifths of the Chamber, would be solely elected by those who paid the absolute highest amount in taxes. This measure had its intended effect, packing the Assembly of Deputies, guaranteeing conservative control of the body.[1]


Though ultra-royalists and their presses had begun circulating lurid rumors of a vast liberal conspiracy since the assassination of the duc d’Berry, none had actually existed before the new government’s preemptory domestic crackdown. As a consequence, liberal conspiracies did form in the aftermath of this reactionary backlash, both in 1820 and 1821 (Sauvigny 1967). Though both of these broke down before coming to fruition, the threat of liberal revolution would remain a constant in the runup to the July Revolution in 1830. In the meantime, however, the liberal faction would suffer repeated blows under the conservative government of the very capable Villele, who replaced the more moderate duc d’Richelieu in 1821. Propelling support for this conservative turn, in 1823 the French army invaded and crushed the Spanish republicans, leading to a dramatic rise in patriotism and support for the monarchy domestically, as evidenced in the elections the following year. Where just four years earlier the liberals had held a working majority in the Chamber of Deputies, by 1824 only 19 of the deputies elected were liberals.


The “Restored Chamber,” as it was called, would put pressure on the deteriorating King Louis XVIII, and shortly before dying he decreed the reimbursement of the nobility for their property confiscated during the Revolution, something it had been implied under the Charter of Government that he would not do. It was a sign of things to come. King Louis XVIII would die that September, and being childless the crown passed to his brother, the focal point of the ultra-royalists, the Comte d’Artois, Charles Phillipe. The ascension of Charles X to the throne following his brother’s death had been recognized by Louis XVIII while he was alive as likely to spell the end of the Restoration, his brother’s ultra-royalist policies being likely to reignite the conflagration of revolution. It would take only six years for his prognostication to be proven prescient. While Louis XVIII had recognized and accepted that the Ancien Regime could not be recreated, the rights, privileges, and property of the old nobility and Catholic church fully restored, Charles X believed no such thing. Believing the fundamental mistake of both his deceased brothers, the late Louis XVIII and the guillotined Louis XVI, had been giving ground to liberal demands, he took the opposite course, determined not to yield an inch, determined to restore the balance of power of the former trifunctional inequality regime of the feudal Three Estates (Hobsbawm 1996; Picketty 2020). However, though he inherited a staunchly conservative Chamber of Deputies, a split quickly developed between those ultra-royalists who wanted the full restoration of their property and privileges and those, like the former King Louis XVIII and his Interior Minister the duc d’Richeliu, who believed such acts were likely to result in revolutionary upheavals. These “defectors,” as they were called, were willing to work with King Charles X and the ultras to further some of their aims, however, and they quickly passed laws to the benefit of the old First and Second Estates, such as the laws on sacrilege and indemnities, which benefited the church and nobility respectively, in the latter case granting compensation to the nobility for their property that had been confiscated during the royal interregnum, 1789-1814.

The following year, 1826, would bring problems for the agenda of King Charles X and his ultra-royalist supporters. Already faced with the opposition of the defectors in the lower chamber, the upper Chamber of Peers had enough ex-Bonapartists and liberal carryovers from his brother’s reign that they voted down a pair of laws desired by the king and his ministry. The first was a provision in favor of increasing the rights of the eldest, a law allowing a larger portion of a father’s inheritance to be allotted to his eldest son, and then allowing for entailment of those holdings, both of which were intended to help rebuild the old nobility by keeping estates together. The second was the so-called “love and justice” bill, meant to censor the liberal opposition press. Their rejection infuriated the king. Then, believing the National Guard, a middling and petit bourgeoisie institution, to be hostile to his rule, in 1827 Charles X abolished it overnight. From 1828-1829 the King’s position would only worsen. In 1828, an attempt to further squeeze the liberal faction by suppressing their vote backfired tremendously, leading to the electoral takeover of the Chamber of Deputies by a combination of liberals and defectors, who together promptly re-liberalized the press laws. Frustrated, while he desired to reject the Charter of Government outright, Charles X first opted for a surreptitious approach, engaging in electioneering, patriotic propaganda, and attempts at voter suppression—all of which failed, as he had by now thoroughly alienated the bourgeoisie, a key group whose loyalty was required for the maintenance of the existing regime.[2] His options exhausted, faced with either submitting to the authority of the Chamber of Deputies or fighting, Charles chose the latter, and a plan was put in place. Had it been successful it would have permanently silenced the opposition press and ensured both a compliant Chamber of Deputies and Peers for his government. Instead, the publication of the Four Ordinances would spark an immediate revolution, known as the Three Glorious Days.


Attempting to assert his prerogative, the Four Ordinances simultaneously shuttered unfriendly presses and effectively disenfranchised the liberal bourgeoisie while expanding the chamber of Peers, thereby permanently packing both electoral chambers with conservatives. A poorly planned and thinly disguised absolutist coup, the fierce resistance of elements of the liberal press incited violence in the streets among the working-class artisans and laborers. The liberal opposition, whose combativeness in the Chamber of Deputies and in the press had inadvertently sparked this undesired mob violence, attempted to steer the political direction of the decentralized opposition forming in blocks across Paris. Mormont’s attempt to militarily pacify and occupy Paris having failed spectacularly, Napoleonic veterans leading and directing the street fighters at the barricades, Charles X was deposed, and in his place the liberal opposition was able to elevate his cousin Louis Phillipe, the duc d’Orleans.


To summarize the political progression of the Bourbon Restorations then, during the reign of King Louis XVIII the ultra-conservatism of the initial Chamber of Deputies gave way to a more moderate conservatism under the duc d’Richelieu, which in turn gave way to the conservative liberalism of Descaze. This trend toward the left was reversed beginning around 1820, which brought the return of Richelieu and eventually led to the promotion of Villele and the return of ultra-conservatism by 1824. The ascension of Charles and the initial rightward thrust of the Villele government were blunted by increasing opposition in the Chamber of Deputies and Chamber of Peers, battling the king and his ministry over freedom of the press and fighting attempts to strengthen the landed aristocracy through the legislative body. Increasingly at odds, the growing strength of the liberal monarchists, the “Doctrinaires,” combined with an economic downturn, opened up political space to such an extent that Charles X was forced into using openly repressive measures or else yield a part of his royal prerogative to the Chamber of Deputies. Invocation of the emergency powers granted by the Charter of 1814 to the King under Article 14, publication of the Four Ordinances, which among other things suspended freedom of the press, further limited suffrage to exclude middle class voters such as merchants, doctors, and lawyers, as these had just turned out in force for the opposition in the recent election of the Chamber of Deputies, and also dissolved that unfriendly Chamber of Deputies before it even had a chance to sit, combined to spark a revolution in the streets of Paris. At the same time this violence was erupting, a coup began to be plotted in the salons of the Parisian elite. The first was the work of artisans, printers, and Napoleonic veterans, while the latter was the product of an assortment of Doctrinaire liberals, wealthy landowners, and financiers. With the backing of the recalled National Guard, which drew its ranks from the petit and middling bourgeoisie, and with the endorsement of its reinstated leader, the Marquis d’Lafayette, King Louis Phillipe was placed on the throne, marking a reshuffling of the political landscape to be discussed in greater detail in the following section. For the moment, the dreaded democratic republic had been avoided and further social revolution successfully forestalled.




The July Monarchy: Louis Phillipe


As we have already discussed, Marx referred to the July Monarchy as the “bourgeois monarchy,” but it must be understood that those responsible for its creation in the tumult of the July Revolution, as well as the principal beneficiaries of its period of rule, 1830-1848, were members of a very thin slice of the upper bourgeoisie (Marx 2017). This haute, or upper, bourgeoisie consisted of large landowners, merchants, and increasingly bankers and financiers. Their maneuvers to put Louis Phillipe on the throne represented an attempt to safeguard property and the social order in the face of a revolutionary Paris and crumbling Bourbon monarchy. None of them wanted a republic, including Lafayette, and worked to ensure that a proper constitutional monarchy was the result of the July Revolution. Though Louis Phillipe would wield substantial powers, there was no doubt that in the July Monarchy the King’s ministries were now answerable to the Chamber of Deputies—one of the inciting incidents of the July Revolution, when Charles X refused to dismiss Polignac following a vote of no confidence by the Chamber of Deputies.


As such the Charter of 1814 was quickly revised by the Chamber of Deputies and accepted by Louis Phillipe as a condition of his assuming the throne. Crowned the first “King of the French,” unlike all his predecessors styled “King of France,” the Charter of 1830 expurgated Article 14 of the king’s sweeping emergency powers, liberalized suffrage requirements, eliminated the law of the Double Vote, (theoretically) abolished censorship of the press, and while recognizing Catholicism as the religion of the majority of French inhabitants did not recognize Catholicism as the official religion of the state (Collingham and Alexander 1988). While these changes may seem sweeping, in fact they changed little, as we shall see, particularly as the more conservative elements of the coalition that brought Louis Phillipe to power, and who wielded power in his subsequent Ministries, quickly came to dominate their more liberal colleagues. This division, between the so-called Party of Movement and the Party of Resistance, decided decisively by 1832 in favor of the latter, meant that restrictions on the press, civil liberties, and on the rights of workers would be gradually enacted, while any further reforms would be blocked (Bezucha 2014).[3] For the Party of Resistance, initially led by Casimir Pierere and later by Francois Guizot, any further reform invited the slide toward a republic, which all of them feared and deplored because of its association with the terror of the original French Republic, as well as the redistributive threat of democracy. Despite the hopes of Lafitte and Lafayette, who had hoped for a “monarchy surrounded by republican institutions,” one where the authority of the king was closely circumscribed and representation derived from a larger electorate, the July Monarchy would remain rigidly inflexible on the march toward the revolutions of 1848, with the social question increasingly exacerbating political debate (Collingham & Alexander 1988).


However much de Tocqueville’s comment that the July Monarchy was characterized by “impotence, languor, stagnation, and boredom” was true by the end of its life, the rule of Louis Phillipe did not begin that way. Indeed, until the long reign of Guizot during the 1840s, first as Foreign Minister then as Prime Minister, the July Monarchy saw more than a half dozen governments in its first ten years, combatted liberal uprisings and crushed worker unrest, destroyed Legitimist plots, and nearly sparked a new pan-European war over Egypt. Trouble began for Louis Phillipe and his government almost immediately, with unrest filling the streets of Paris over the fate of Polignac, the hated minister justly presumed to be responsible for the bloodshed of the July Revolution. Though this would subside after he was disappointingly spared execution by a sentence of life imprisonment by the Chamber of Peers, more serious threats loomed. Apart from the withdrawal from political life of many aristocratic notables, who refused to take an oath of allegiance to the new king, attempts were made on behalf of Henri V, grandson of the now exiled Charles, to put him on the throne, the most concerted of which was put down in 1832 (Hobsbawm 1996). In the same year, the government was forced to confront a growing threat from the left in the form of worker and radical uprisings in Lyon, Paris, and elsewhere. These violent repressions of the working classes, which would be repeated in 1834 and 1839, destroyed any credit the new regime may have retained following the forced resignation of its two most liberal members, Jacques Laffite and the Marquis d’Lafayette—the first having been forced out over his taking a stand for the Italian nationalists, and the latter for demanding an increase in suffrage and further liberal reforms.[4] In addition to the threat of Bourbon Legitimists, reform liberals, moderate republicans, and the more radical student and working class democratic republicans and burgeoning socialists, there was also the threat of Bonapartism. Although dealt a blow with the death of Napoleon’s son in 1832, his nephew, Louis Napoleon, ensured by his exploits that the Bonapartist flame would remain alive. By this time Bonapartism had come to stand for an ideal, of a proud, dominating France internationally and a well-ordered and competently run administration domestically, and although Louis Napoleon’s first two attempted coups were comic failures Bonapartism would remain ideologically relevant throughout the July Monarchy, particularly in the rural departments and among the army.


Considering the scope of the forces arrayed against him, it is perhaps unsurprising Louis Phillipe faced numerous assassination attempts, the most notorious and consequential being that of 1835, Fieschi’s Infernal Machine, which would lead to passage of the repressive September Laws aimed at silencing all opposition from the hitherto freed press—public criticism of the king, the policies of his ministry, and of private property being made all but illegal thereafter.


Between the unrest in Paris stirred up by the trial of Polignac, a cholera epidemic, worker uprisings in Lyon, Paris, and elsewhere, the Duchess du Berry’s aggressive attempt in the Vendee to incite a Legitimist rebellion, and the attempted Republican uprising of 1832, it is not surprising that the July Monarchy turned increasingly toward repression. That it did not result in reform, but rather reached the level of full-fledged reactionism with the September Laws, was in large part due to the early exodus of the more liberal elements of the early July Monarchy ministry. Conservatives held a majority in the Chamber of Deputies and were more amenable to working with the conservative Pierere, whom they trusted as a committed monarchist and defender of order, law, and property, than they had been with the more liberal Lafitte. It is little surprise then that an already predominantly conservative Chamber of Deputies, paired with an increasingly conservative regime, met political and social unrest with attempts at repression—all, in fact, successful. Using mainly the middling and petit bourgeois National Guard, the July Monarchy would survive the Parisian insurrections of 1832, 1834, and 1839. Not until 1848 would the National Guard, as it had in the July Revolution, abandon the regime and side with the lower-class artisans, students, radical republicans, and socialists manning the barricades, by so doing sealing Louis Phillipe’s fate.

Fear of further popular participation in politics by the members of the Party of the Resistance, i.e. broadening the electorate more than had already been granted by the Charter of 1830, the men running the July Monarchy resisted any changes to the political order; this at the same time that socioeconomic changes were combining to make such changes necessary to secure the survival of a cycle of contention by the regime. It is quite likely that England avoided being caught up in the revolutions of 1848, despite having by far the most advanced industrial society and capitalist class relations of any country, because the government had already successfully cleaved the apparent interests of the working and middle classes with the 1832 Reform Act, thereafter uniting the bourgeoisie against the Chartists. In the case of Louis Philippe, it was precisely this loss of the lower and middle bourgeoisie that spelled the end of his government. Once they had been absorbed into the body politic following the February Revolution, many of these became moderate republicans or reform liberals and backed the Party of Order during the June Days. In short, extending suffrage to these classes would not have endangered Louis Phillipe’s regime. In fact, it would have strengthened it.


There are several possible explanations for why the regime did not expand suffrage to the middle and lower bourgeoisie, as they were aware of agitation for it, and of the regime’s reliance on those classes for its survival. Petitions were submitted to the Chamber of Deputies and the republican press, such as The National, regularly demanded it. A Metternichian fear that reform led inexorably to republican anarchy united men like Guizot and Thiers against these reforms, yes. But on a more self-interested level, Guizot understood that electoral reform of any kind was likely to spell the end of his essentially eight-year tenure as de facto head of government. According to Louis Phillipe, who is said not to have opposed expansion of suffrage on ideological grounds, but rather on its likely outcome in a given moment, he, like Guizot, feared reform would lead to the fall of Guizot’s ministry, and specifically that it would give rise to that of Thiers’, whose foreign policy was so bellicose he had when last in power nearly brought on another round of pan-European war over the balance of power crisis brought about by the military victories of Muhammad Ali’s Egyptian forces over the Ottoman Sultanate (1839-40). So as pressure mounted on the regime during the agricultural, manufacturing, and financial crises of the later 1840s, Guizot’s government stubbornly resisted political reform as calls for social reform grew ominously louder. After the latest movement for political reform was rejected in early 1847, some members of the opposition began planning the Banquet campaign that culminated in the February Revolution the following year (Guyver 2016).


While the 1840s would mark a period of political stability for the regime and its ministries, who controlled majorities in the Chamber of Deputies, this apparent public support and stability was misleading. First, though the July Monarchy had expanded suffrage they had done so only marginally. Dropping the tax requirements from three hundred francs per year to two hundred resulted in over doubling the total number of voters, though this still constituted only a fraction of the nearly thirty million inhabitants of France. From a total of around one hundred thousand at their height during the regimes of the Restoration, under the July Monarchy the rolls had been expanded to encompass close to a quarter million. Apart from seeking to illegally exclude those members of the qualifying middle-class whose politics did not suit the regime, many of the representatives in King Louis Phillipe’s amenable Chamber of Deputies came from rotten boroughs, particularly depopulated regions of the south of the country whose few qualifying voters and their deputies could be bought off to support Guizot (Collingham & Alexander 1988). So, despite the apparent hegemony of the Doctrinaire values animating the Party of Order, it is clear that support for the regime came almost exclusively from a narrow group of wealthy merchants, financiers, and liberal nobles, with the increasingly begrudging support of the middle and lower middle-class bourgeoisie, who resented being excluded from government. This meant that when the agricultural crises of the latter half of the 1840s struck, social discontent quickly translated into political discontent and wider instability, particularly as the high prices stemming from the agricultural crisis precipitated a manufacturing downturn, which in turn triggered a financial recession. Given the proximity of economic crises to the revolutions of both July 1830 and February 1848 it seems reasonable to attribute a period affect to the events, making contentious politics more likely, and cycles of sustained contention to erupt.


Public political clubs of more than a handful of members having been made illegal, members of the opposition skirted this prohibition by hosting a series of ostensibly a-political banquets, at which members of the opposition, press, and their supporters would give political speeches demanding reform. In fact, there came to be essentially two types of banquets being hosted simultaneously throughout 1847 into 1848, neither with much overlap in notable attendees. On one side were Odilon Barrot and the liberal monarchists who sought expansion of suffrage; on the other were Ledru Rollins and Louis Blanc, who championed universal suffrage. It was an attempt by Guizot’s government to prevent one of the latter banquets which precipitated the February Revolution.[5] Until that point, the regime had officially ignored the banquets. However, this banquet, to be held in Paris, was the work of radical members of the Parisian National Guard and students recently disaffected by the dismissal of the historian Jules Michelet from the college de France, had a low price of admission, and was slated to be held in the heart of the 12th Arrondissement, old Sans-Coulotte territory, and a hotbed of radical republicanism and socialism. In the face of ministerial prohibition, a constitutional crisis erupted as the opposition in the Chamber of Deputies held that the ministry had no right to prevent the hosting of these public gatherings. And though they would pull back, fearing the provocation of further political instability, the Parisian working class had already been stirred to action. When the barricades went up the National Guard, who had long favored the expansion of suffrage, defected to the people. Louis Phillipe, besieged in the Tuileries and unwilling to attempt to use the regular army against them, abdicated in favor of his grandson.

Unlike the July Revolution, the February Revolution would not see parallel revolutionary movements in the streets and in the salons. Caught off guard, the liberal opposition was unorganized and divided, as were the Orleanists. However, split by the question of regency over Phillipe VII, between those who supported his mother, the Duchesse Helene of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, and Louis Phillipe’s other son Louis, duc d’Nemours, even had the Orleanists already been coalesced behind either candidate it is difficult considering what transpired in the chaotic aftermath of Louis Phillipe’s abdication, particularly in the Chamber of Deputies, to imagine things having gone differently for young Phillipe’s claim to the throne. Invading the Chamber, the Parisian street fighters had shouted down the liberal monarchist Odilon Barrot, promoting instead their own champions, especially Ledru Rollins, a radical democrat, and with the help of the famed poet and author Lamartine, at this point acting as a liberal, a provisional government was declared, thus beginning one of the most chaotic politics of the period, the Second French Republic.



The Second French Republic


The provisional government that took power following the fall of the July Monarchy consisted largely of liberal reformers and moderate republicans, though they would be joined by the radical democrat Ledru Rollins, the socialist Louis Blanc, and the labor leader Alexandre Martin, the last two serving as prominent secretaries to the government, and which had been forced on the provisional government at its inception by pressure from a delegation of Parisian workers at the Hotel de Ville. This tension between the more radical elements of the revolutionary forces of the February Revolution would manifest itself in confrontations between those who had desired simply to answer the political question and those who demanded the addressing of the further social question. The right to work, national government workshops, and the creation of a Ministry of Progress, devoted exclusively to addressing the concerns of the working class, were all opposed by the more moderate elements of the provisional government, and they were supported in their confrontations with the left by Ledru Rollins, who quickly revealed himself to be a social conservative at heart. As the Minister of the Interior his deployment of the National Guard to stop a march of workers on the Hotel de Ville, where they intended to pressure for these further demands, presaged the forgone conclusion of the June Days, with the more conservative republicans siding with the liberals and monarchists to help maintain the existing inequality regime (Price 1972, 1975).


A republic had not been officially declared at the news of Louis Phillipe’s abdication; rather, the provisional government issued a decree that it was the intention of that governing body to declare a republic if that course of action were ratified by a referendum to be held as soon as possible (Guyver 2016). And, indeed, the members of the provisional government, with the exception of Louis Blanc and the few other more radical members, all wanted to transfer power to the new government as quickly as possible. They understood acutely the anxiety the prospect of a republic raised among all but the most radical of the left not just domestically, but internationally, memory of the terror and constant military conflict overhanging the political crisis, and for this reason the members of the provisional government desired to put fear of revolutionary dictatorship to rest by making the election quick and the transfer of power orderly—particularly as all of them could feel confident in their inclusion in whatever popular government were elected. The objection to this course of action by the radical elements of the provisional government was because they recognized electoral realities—so too probably did the other members of the provisional government, who had not been eager to include Blanc and Martin. For as things stood, the more radical republicans and socialist left were poised to do very poorly in the upcoming elections. Large political clubs having been illegal, their own presses suppressed, and many of their leaders killed, exiled, or imprisoned over the years, socialism was also understood by every level of the property-owning classes as a threat to property and relentlessly propagandized against it in the moderate and conservative presses as such. Members of the far left also had no electioneering apparatus and no time to set one up. Besides which, they argued, rightly as it turned out, the population being inexperienced with democracy and traditional social relations still remaining so strong in overwhelmingly rural France, they feared the former peasants would simply follow the lead of the local landlord or the clergy in casting their ballots. While this turned out to be true, and monarchists would be sent to the first National Constituent Assembly, particularly in the south and heavily Catholic west, there was even more support for the restoration of French nationalism and universal suffrage, which led to the election of an overwhelming number of reform liberals and moderate republicans, and the newly elected National Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of the republic, officially ratifying the result of the February Revolution.


The political left of Paris was displeased at the result of the election; more displeased, that is, than it already had been. Following the incident at the Hotel de Ville in March, which had seen Ledru Rollin call out the National Guard to potentially defend the government against the workers, twice more the left had tried to push their demands on the provisional government yet were rebuffed. This cycle of contention escalated in the wake of the unfavorable election, first with an attempted coup in May, which saw the invasion of the National Assembly by the radical left and their proclamation of a new provisional government, with all participants being arrested shortly thereafter, and then a month later with a full-blown insurrection. Because the new National Assembly was overwhelmingly moderate to conservative, the existence of the national workshops was quickly called into question. Representatives of the radical left argued that by having ratified all the decrees enacted by the provisional government during its brief tenure, the new chamber was bound to respect the right to work, and by extension the national workshops, which had been decreed by the provisional government. To conservatives, however, the workshops represented the state rewarding slothfulness, and were an unwise strain on the already stretched finances of the government; while more moderate republicans and liberals argued likewise that there should be no government interference in the market, some were amenable to the existence of the workshops, if only temporarily, as a means for the government to attempt to alleviate suffering during times of crisis, but virtually all agreed that the crisis had now passed, and that keeping so many agitated and unemployed people in Paris was a potential crisis in itself.


It was decided, therefore, in June that the workshops would be closed. Men aged eighteen to twenty-five were given the option of joining the army or returning to their place of origin, as the creation of the national workshops had acted as a magnate, drawing in the unemployed of the surrounding areas; of the rest, meanwhile, many were intended to be enlisted in helping to construct the Paris-Lyon railway, which had received a grant from the state for that purpose. Beyond the matter of employment, however, was the deeper principle. For the more radical elements of the political left, the workshops were all that the Parisian working classes had left of the gains they had won in the Revolution of 1848 and the negotiation of its aftermath. Their political clubs and presses had been shuttered following the invasion of the National Assembly in May, while the workers Luxembourg commission had turned out to be only a token offering, and the election had either been needlessly or, more sinisterly, purposefully rushed to their disadvantage. The national workshops were all they had left, and when news came that they were to be closed, the descendants of the Sans Coulotte took it as the final evidence that the new regime was as unconcerned about the social question as the July Monarchy, and that 1830 was happening all over again. They had died on the barricades only to trade one regime hostile or indifferent to their interest for another, and word went around. Protests were held throughout the following day. On the next, the June Days began. Consisting of many of those who had so recently toppled the July Monarchy athwart the barricades, the Parisian working class artisans, craftsman, and students, the June insurrection would mark the last serious contentious thrust of the left during our period (Marx 2017).


Though territorially the most successful insurrection of the Parisian working classes since the French Revolution proper, the June Days were more reminiscent of 1832 than either 1830 or February 1848. The National Guard, consisting of the middle and lower bourgeoisie, did not defect, nor did any of the opposition members of the National Assembly, and the government had already ordered additional regular troops to the city in expectation of events coming to a head. Further, the government had managed to temporarily coopt and militarize a significant sector of the Parisian working classes and the unemployed. Organized as the Mobile Guard, these elements of the lumpenproletariat, whom many in the National Assembly feared would go over to the streets, actually remained loyal to the government. And together with the army and National Guard, they crushed the radical left. Led by Eugene Cavaignac, the attempted revolt was bloodily suppressed, with a death toll in the thousands, and the deportation of thousands more without trial in the aftermath, as a state of emergency was declared (Hobsbawm 1996).


When it had been elected the National Assembly had narrowly made the decision to delegate the day-to-day business of governing to an executive committee, while the members of the Assembly focused on writing a constitution for the new government. However, the events of May and June had the effect of discrediting the executive committee, which was perceived to have done little to prevent these aggressive moves by the radical left, and in the event of the June Days, been paralyzed by its occurrence. With the start of the June Days the Assembly had voted to give virtually all the powers of the executive to General Cavaignac, and after crushing the uprising he would remain in place as a Roman-style dictator, maintaining order until the first French Presidential election that November following promulgation of the constitution. Adopted after much debate in the Assembly, the constitution ultimately adopted by the National Assembly contained provisions for a single chamber presidential system, one with codified respect for universal suffrage and civil liberties (Guyver 2016). With its promulgation, the elections for the president proceeded apace.

It was officially a six-way race for president, though even at the time it was recognized that there were only two real possible outcomes. These were General Cavaignac and Louis Napoleon Bonaparte. As for the other candidates, briefly, there was General Changarnier, a Legitimist; running from prison, the socialist Raspail, jailed after the invasion of the Assembly in May; the leader of the provisional government and executive committee, the generally liberal Lamartine; and the radical democrat Ledru Rollin, the latter two among the most critical figures of the July Revolution. As to the lack of popularity of the first two, there were simply not enough Legitimists or socialists to propel their mutually opposing candidates to the presidency. As to the failure of the latter, Lamartine had been fatally discredited by the impotence of the executive committee and its unpopular policies, with which he was closely associated personally; while Ledru Rollin was tainted on the left by his having sided with the provisional government against the workers both before and during the June Days, and was thought of by conservatives as a political and social radical, only the first of which was really true. Between General Cavaignac and Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, Cavaignac had impeccable republican credentials, was a social moderate, and had steered the country effectively through the crisis of the June Days and after, casting the critical deciding vote against going to war with Austria on behalf of the independent Venetian Republic over that summer. As for Bonaparte, he was the great nephew of the first Emperor, son of Napoleon’s brother Louis, and boasted time in an Italian charbonari lodge, writings on political economy and the extinction of poverty, as well as two failed coups on his resume. In the end, Napoleon’s success can be perhaps best explained by the fact that his name was the most famous France had ever produced, and because of his diverse background, along with the fact that he had played no part in the February Revolution, provisional government, or any of the events that followed, he drew support from across the political spectrum; as diverse a political set as Chateaubriand, Thiers, Barrot, Rollin, and Louis Blanc all publicly voted for him (Price 1975). Meanwhile the moderate republican Cavaignac, son of a regicide and brother to one of the radical republican revolutionaries of the 1832 uprisings, had only recent credit with the more conservative forces of order, while at the same time that credit had come at the expense of any support from the far left, coming as it did from his bloody suppression of the June Days.


Well before this first presidential election, events since the February Revolution had already caused the legitimists, reemerging Orleanists, conservative liberals and constitutional monarchists, as well as moderate republicans, to all coalesce into what would eventually become known as the “Party of Order” against the more radical republicans and proto-socialists (Cobban 1977). The election of Bonaparte would cement its hold on power. Because despite the hopes of the radical workers and students, Bonaparte would fill his many subsequent ministries with prominent representatives of the Party of Order. Among the most notable were Changarnier as head of the army, Odilon Barrot, and Alexis de Tocqueville (Guyver 2016). Reflection as to why Napoleon proceeded to turn rightward at this moment produces a few possible explanations, though we do not know for certain. First, it is possible that these choices simply represented the men Louis Napoleon really felt were most capable of carrying out his preferred policies. Louis Napoleon was, after all, a social conservative at heart, and a popular authoritarian governmentally. Second, political opportunism; Louis Napoleon simply felt public opinion and political momentum favored these particular ministerial compositions. This, too, is possible as both General Cavaignac and Louis Napoleon had drawn from this deep and diverse pool aligned against the left, and together had accounted for over ninety percent of the vote. But third, it is possible, as Hecht suggests, that Bonaparte preferred putting these notable conservatives, potential, and in the case of Chagnarier, recent, political rivals in his ministry and in high positions of military command in order to discredit them by dismissing them, by firing them both diminishing his rivals and enhancing his own power and prestige on the way to claiming the supporters, and members, of the Party of Order for himself. When it came time, what few members of the political establishment who had utterly refused cooption, such as Cavaignac, were all easily arrested during his seizure of power in the coup of Brumaire. There would not be many that needed arresting, of course, as the next few years would see Bonaparte wrestle with the leading representatives of the Party of Order that had put him in power for control over the state, its future direction, and the Party of Order itself, with the contest being decided decisively in favor of the President, with the help of a particularly aggressive, and largely autonomous, foreign policy.


Seeing the rightward turn of the incoming President and his ministries, along with the conservative National Assembly, dominated by the Party of Order, the radical Parisian republicans and socialists did attempt one last in uprising in 1849, but it was a meager affair. The bloody suppression of the June Days had effectively destroyed the revolutionary potential of the radical Parisian working class for a generation, and the brief attempt in 1849 was effectively and swiftly crushed. That after 1849 socialism and radical republicans were no longer to pose a serious political threat did not stop fear of social revolution pervading the atmosphere in the runup to Napoleon’s effective dictatorship. From personal correspondences to the National Assembly, pamphlets and the conservative press, fear of social revolution being unleashed by political events was a concern throughout Napoleon’s time as President, 1848-1851 (Guyver 2016; Price 1972). As Merimee, a writer and public official noted at the time, the perspicacious among the conservative elements feared putting too much pressure on Bonaparte as President, for they feared that by doing so they might hurry him into another of his disastrous and ill-conceived attempts at a coup d’état, an attempt that because hurried would be somehow bungled, thereby opening the door for a socialist takeover of the government. This fear, which though widespread was unfounded, made it difficult for the forces of order to oppose Louis Bonaparte’s coup as it would inevitably bring with it more political instability than were they simply to accept it as a fait accompli, which they ultimately did. And as Napoleon’s regime would continue to stand for the rights of property under the Empire, they did well, especially during the booming economic period of the 1850s.


Throughout the latter half of his four-year Presidential tenure, Louis Napoleon was busy trying to have the constitution amended so he could serve more than his single term. That provision having been purposefully inserted into the constitution at the eleventh hour by Lamartine in response to his candidacy for the presidency in that first presidential election, the measure to repeal the article still gained a majority in the National Assembly when presented, though not the two-thirds majority necessary for the measure to have passed. The majority obviously wanted to avoid any potential constitutional crisis arising from Napoleon not desiring to leave office after a single term. As his weapon against the unyielding minority opposition in the National Assembly, Louis Napoleon invoked democratic principles, namely that he had been overwhelmingly elected by universal manhood suffrage, while after taking power the National Assembly had immediately moved to restrict suffrage for the poor and frequently uprooted working classes by way of imposing a three-year residency requirement. Positioning himself as their champion, and filling the military and civil apparatus with loyalists, Louis Napoleon, along with those elements of the political order who had come to tacitly recognize in him the only viable and reliable path forward for the forces of order, launched a coup, which ended with Louis Napoleon subsuming all power to the office of the president, and abolishing any restrictions on an incumbent running for the office again (Campbell 1978).


That Napoleon was able to do this is largely the product of three causes: first, he was the single most popular politician in France; in his election to the Presidency he had won seventy-five percent of the vote, and he remained popular; second, by late in his administration he had succeeded in filling up the top ranks of the army and civil service with people loyal to him personally, or who at least would not object to his overriding the constitution; and third, he was helped by the fact that the politics of the Second Republic were largely those of the later years of the July Monarchy, which is to say fragmentary, conflict-prone, and personality driven. A look at each of the six candidates for president of the Second Republic in the first election reveals an approximation of the internal politics of the coalition that composed the Party of Order, which while propelling Louis Napoleon to power were themselves powerless to effectively oppose his coup only a few short years later. Other than Louis Napoleon the candidates for president had been a legitimist, a moderate republican, a radical democrat, a socialist, and, in Lamartine, a life-long monarchist turned temporarily moderate republican, with the temporarily disaffected and unpopular Orleanists, the conservative liberals and constitutional monarchs, unrepresented. However, the numerical results of the election present a distorted picture of stable popular political opinion in France during the period. Louis Napoleon and Cavaignac combining for ninety percent of the total between them was a result of pragmatic electoral politics, dictating that anyone conservative voted for the popular authoritarian Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, as none of these minority factions had a candidate broadly popular enough to pose a realistic chance of winning the election. So too with the small bloc of socialist voters, who threw their lot behind Napoleon if they did not vote for Raspail, hoping that the author who had given so much thought to ameliorating poverty would use his avowed tendency toward popular authoritarianism to do just that. He would instead use his power as president, and then as Emperor, to reconstitute the upper bourgeois oligarchy that had come to dominate the state under the July Monarchy (Price 2007).


So came to pass the death of the French Second Republic and the rise of the Second French Empire

[1] While the assassination of the duc d’Berry by a Bonapartist and the liberal mutiny of Cadiz likely fueled the reactionary turn of the later part of the rule of Louis XVIII, in truth the turn had already begun following a series of elections that had moved the Chamber of Deputies decisively leftward, the chambers increasingly populated by Bonapartists and liberals. In order to safeguard against any potential danger resulting from this increasing trend toward liberalism, should it have continued, Descazes was already working on the law of the Double Vote, which would be passed shortly after he resigned as Prime Minister following the death of the duc d’Berry in 1820. [2]All failed, that is, with the exception of the invasion of Algeria, which resulted in immediate tactical success even if it failed to achieve Charles’ broader strategic aim of generating enough patriotic support behind his government to keep it in power as it attempted its coup. This, of course, was what led to Algeria’s annexation. [3]A note here on terminology: though referred to as “parties,” like the ultra-royalists, republicans, socialists, et cetera, these political entities were nothing so formal or organized as what we associate the label with today. Rather, these were more loosely ideologically aligned individuals that tended to cooperate or oppose one another in relatively predictable blocs.

[4]Whether Louis Phillipe made the promises of further republican reforms, as Lafayette claims to have understood from his conversations with the king prior to giving his seal of approval to the creation of the July Monarchy – whether King Louis Phillipe accepted the so-called “programme of the Hotel de Ville” – he insisted he had not, and the historical record offers no accord between their mutually exclusive claims. Speculating, it would seem such a political pragmatist as Louis Phillipe would have honored any such commitments he had made, especially as it was realized early on that the National Guard was the key to his regime, and that the promises Lafayette alleged Louis Phillipe had made to him in order to secure his approval would have specifically benefited them, and Louis Phillipe by extension. The tumult that followed his ascension, the uncertainties of political instability that threatened from both the right and left, may, however, have prompted a real politick evaluation of his position on the part of Louis Phillipe, and its precariousness convinced him that the abrogation of what seems to have been essentially a handshake deal was necessary.

[5]With regard to Thiers, who by the time of the February Revolution was leading opposition to the ministry in the Chamber of Deputies along with Odilon Barrot, though he avoided publicly associating himself with the banquet campaign, according to de Tocqueville, Talleyrand’s protege was working behind the scenes with Odilon Barrot in this attempt to stimulate public pressure on Guizot, as he believed, rightly as it happened, that the fall of Guizot’s government would lead to the rise of his own, with Barrot being brought in as his principle collaborator. Though as the February Revolution began this is indeed what transpired, the King’s only other plausible alternative, Mole, having failed to form a government, events would overtake them, and they would be swept aside by the liberals, republicans, and their more radical allies.

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