to syllabus

Reaction, Revolution, and Reaction in the mid-1800s


Overview of European Politics in 1815-1847


    The Congress System, the Holy Alliance, and conservative stability


    From Louis XVIII to Charles X in France


    The 1830 Revolution in France and the "bourgeois" constitutional monarchy of Louis

            Phillipe (1839-48)


The Revolutions of 1848


1848 in France


>Developments leading to the Revolution


     Failed Liberal efforts to gain constitutional reform through legal means, 1846-1847


     Economic crisis triggered by failed harvest, 1847 into 1848


     Liberal  "banquet campaign" to push for constitutional reform, winter 1847-48 


Document 1. From La Gazette de France, 16 January 1848.


There is great disquiet in Paris. The [stock MH] funds are falling every day. In politics, people have stopped being reasonable. They are overcome by the consequence of their principles and dragged along in the wake. Now it is events that speak loud. For seventeen years, efforts have been made to stop revolution breaking out in France, and now revolution is feared everywhere. (Price, p. 52)


 >The February Days and the Second Republic


        The 22-25 February Paris uprising--overthrow of Louis Phillipe and creation of a

            Provisional government       


        The revolutionary coalition ---liberal and socialists  (liberals in majority, but strong

            minority socialist influence) 


        The "social republic"--the workers' expectation of fundamental social reforms






Document 2. From Le National (a newspaper closely connected to the new Provisional Government), 26 February 1848.


The French republic has an obligation to organize society on a totally new basis…Nobody can raise any objection to so just a duty. The classes that for so long have been deprived of their birthright are entitled to work, education and a life that includes all the advantages of civilization. (Price, p. 64)



Document 3. Government decision of 25 February 1848.


The provisional government of the French Republic undertakes to guarantee the workers’ livelihood through work.

It undertakes to guarantee work for every citizen.

It recognizes that workers should form associations [unions MH] so that they may enjoy the proper profits arising from their toil. (Price, p. 68)



Document 4. From the newspaper Le Constitutionnel, 29 February 1848


When as a result of abnormal conditions large numbers of workers lose their normal jobs, the opening of temporary national workshops appears a natural expedient both as a means of helping those in misfortune and of maintaining order in society. It is a measure that has always been turned to in times of public disturbance. (Price, p. 68)


>The coalition splits, March-May 1848


        Issues leading to conflict: 


debate over timing of elections to the Constituent Assembly


debates over costs and implications of government social programs


growing social class tension between the "working class" and the

"bourgeoisie" [the middle class]


Document 5. From the daily journal (diary) of Joseph Bergier, a member of the middle class in the city of Leon, written on 24 March 1848.


Despite all the patience and gentleness of the authorities toward the workers, I think that stern measures will be needed, and perhaps fighting, too, eventually. The workers abuse their position to bring in completely arbitrary laws, and everybody is getting tired of backing down all the time on everything. (Price, p. 80)




Document 6. From the anarchist newspaper Le Peuple Souverain, 26 March 1848.


Where is the madman…who claims that liberty of the people can be assured without the reorganization of property? What produces civil and political liberty, what makes it a real thing…is property. It follows that all men must be made property-owners or that property must be socialized in such a manner that no citizen depends materially on any other. There is no other road to salvation…. (Price, p. 76)


>These steps by the government led to demonstrations by leftists and workers' groups in May:


       Elections lead to a conservative majority to the National Assembly in April   


       The conservative majority then began debating the fate of social programs, such as

            the national workshops


       The conservative majority then demanded the removal of the "radicals" from the



>The June Days and the end of the Second Republic


      In early June, the new government majority shut down the national workshops, which

            heightened class tensions


Document 7. A petition signed by the workers of the 19th brigade of the national workshops; undated, but most likely around 4 June 1848.


We are not asking for charity. The republic promised work to provide a livelihood for all its children…. So give us work so that we may live like free men….

Do not forget, Monarchists, that it was not so that we could remain your slaves that we brought about a third revolution….. (Price, p. 104)


      >Workers' insurrection of 22 June


Rebel workers argued that the government had betrayed the revolution   


            The government called out the army to repress the rebellions, crushed the

                        demonstrations, and placed restrictions on civil liberties


Document 8. From Le National, 29 June 1848.


The struggle these last few days [the June uprising in Paris MH]… has been clearly and forcefully delineated. Yes, on one side there stood order, liberty, civilization, the decent Republic, France; and on the other, barbarians, desperados emerging from their lairs for massacre and looting, and odious partisans of those wild doctrines that the family is only a word and property is [nothing MH] but theft. (Price, p. 117)

>These events resulted in a new liberal-conservative coalition (in opposition to lower

class radicalism), and the assembly went on to draft a new constitution that

emphasized "order" more than "liberty"


In the election campaign for the new Parliament and for the new post of President, the

            "left" and even the moderate Republicans almost vanished from politics


Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, who had not been taken seriously months before, now

            emerged as the leading candidate, representing a real shift to the right in middle

            class opinion


Document 9. From Le Constitutional, 5 December 1848.


What we--the moderates, the immense majority of Frenchmen--need is the Republic and order [emphasis in the original, MH].  That is to say, no more [political] clubs that stir up and deprave the people day after day...  The Republic with a system of taxes that will not ruin the rich or well-to-do citizens--a ruin detrimental to the poor because it makes it impossible for the rich to employ them--and that will not cause the disappearance from our country, together with all wealth, of our luxury industries which are the staple of our export trade. (Price, 127)


>December 1848, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte of the "The Party of Order" elected President of the Second Republic


LNB immediately began purging the government of all Republican officials, replacing

            them with ultra-conservatives and monarchists


The new government quickly disbanded the National Assembly and held new elections

            that resulted in a huge conservative majority


While LNB presented himself as a "man of the people" (and as all things to all people),

            the government regularly used force against dissenters


>Louis Napoleon's Coup D'Etat


The new constitution limited the president to 1 four year terms; LNB tried but failed to

            change this through legal means


Louis Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the government of the Republic in a coup on 2

            December 1851, then declared himself Emperor


Although there were some serious workers', leftist, and monarchist demonstrations, the

            French middle class silently accepted the destruction of their own Republic



Document 10. Declaration of the chamber of commerce of the city of Gray, 10 December 1851.


When, as a result of these steps [Louis Napoleon Bonaparte’s coup MH], security is solidly re-established, the funds which have been hoarded out of fear will come back into circulation. Credit will be re-established; speculation will dare play its role again; big business will pick up; long-term operations will start upon again because there is no longer any uncertainty about the future. Production will increase, and building will start again, the activity of one industry will have good effect upon the next and this one on the next. Thus business activity will become general.

(Price, p.179).                                                 



1848 elsewhere in Europe


Issues in common across Europe:


            Broad, cross-class demands for constitutional and representative

                        government, extension of equal civil rights and voting rights


Social class tensions between urban workers and propertied elite


            Urban-rural social tensions


Issues particular to certain countries:


            Demands for national autonomy or national independence of the "minority"

                        nations in the multi-national empires (Austrian Empire, Russian



            Demands for national unification in countries that were divided into many

                        "small" kingdoms and principalities (Germany, Italy)


Basic pattern of events:


Spring 1848: Center-Left coalitions for political reform (constitutional and representative

government, legal equality, civil rights, etc.), unite liberals and radicals, workers and

the middle class


Summer 1848: the revolutionary coalitions split along lines of class (as in France, for

            instance) and along lines of nationality/ethnicity (in the Austrian Empire)


Fall 1848-1849: restoration of conservative-monarchical authority and/or creation of new

            Right-Center political coalitions