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The Revolutions of 1848
I. Background: 0verview of European Politics in 1815-1847
The Congress System (Congress of Vienna, 1815; Metternich); the Holy Alliance (Prussia, Russia, Austria), and conservative stability
From Louis XVIII to Charles X in France
The 1830 Revolution in France and the "bourgeois" constitutional monarchy of Louis Phillipe (1830-48)
II. 1848 in France
A. Developments leading to the Revolution
Failed Liberal efforts to gain constitutional reform (expand voting rights) 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)
B. The February Days and the Second Republic
The 22-25 February Paris uprising: overthrow of Louis Phillipe and creation of a Republican Provisional government
Provisional government = a coalition of liberals and socialists (liberals in majority, but strong minority socialist influence, including Louis Blanc)
In addition to the idea of a republic based upon universal manhood suffrage, many political leaders talk about the need to create a "social republic," which will institute fundamental social reforms. That idea had great support from the working class
One of the first "new" institutions formed by the Provisional government was a commission to study the problem of unemployment (headed by Louis Blanc)
The new government quickly declared that people had the "right" to work and the right to form unions, and announced that it would open "natoinal workshops" to provide work for the unemployed
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 regarding the "right to work".
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)
C. The "coalition" splits, March-May 1848
The main issues leading to conflict between liberals and socialists were:
the timing of elections to the Constituent Assembly (should they be delayed, or held right away?)
the costs and implications of government social programs (was it proper for workers to be able to form unions, or did it violate laissez-faire; were the national workshops a violation of laissez-faire; were new social reforms threatening capitalism; should taxes on the middle class pay for these programs?)
whether it was possible to have liberty for all men and still have a system based upon private property (or, conversely, whether the social reforms that socialists demanded were themselves violating liberties and rights of property owners)
Linked to these debates was growing social class tension between the "working class" and the "bourgeoisie" [the middle class], especially over questions regarding work, the right to unionize, and pay levels.
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)
A series of events then led these latent tensions to erupt into open conflict:
Elections were held in April and resulted in conservative majority in the National Assembly
The conservative majority in the Assembly immediately began debating the fate of social programs, such as the national workshops
The conservative majority in the Assembly demanded the removal from the government of the "radicals" like Blanc
When, in May, Blanc was removed from the government, radical workers' groups all over France staged protest demonstrations
D. The June Days and the Election of Louis Napoleon as President of the Second Republic
In early June, the new government majority shut down the national workshops, which further 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)
On 22 June 1848, workers' groups in Paris rose up in insurrection against the government. The 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. Liberals and conservatives both greeted these measures as "protecting" the republic against criminals.
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)
The June Days resulted in creation of a new liberal-conservative coalition, formed in opposition to lower class radicalism. The National 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, a "law and order" candidate who had not been taken seriously months before, now emerged as the leading contender for the presidency, representing a shift in middle class opinion to the "right"
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)
In December 1848, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte of the "The Party of Order" was elected President of the Second Republic
LNB immediately began purging the government of all Republican officials, replacing them with ultra-conservatives and monarchists
His new government administration quickly disbanded the National Assembly and held new elections, which resulted in a huge conservative majority in the new Assembly
While LNB presented himself as a "man of the people" (and as all things to all people), the government regularly used force against dissenters
E. 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 leftist (and monarchist) demonstrations, Liberals, Conservative, and the French middle class in general silently accepted the destruction of their own Republic
Many public figures argued that the new political regime under Louis Napoleon would bring stability and economic growth, and that this was worth sacraficing the Republic and giving up some liberties
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.
II. 1848 elsewhere in Europe
A. Common Issues in the 1848 Revolutions across Europe (e.g., in the German states, in Austria, in Poland, in the Italian States):
Broad, cross-class demands for constitutional and representative government and for extension of equal civil rights and voting rights
Social class tensions between urban workers and propertied elites
Urban vs rural social tensions
B. Issues particular to certain countries:
Demands for national autonomy or national independence of the national groups that were subject to rule by multi-national empires (e.g., the Czechs, Slovaks, and Hungarians in the Austrian Empire; the Poles in the Russian Empire)
Demands for national unification in places where people sharing common "national characteristics" were divided into many "small" kingdoms and principalities (e.g., Germany and Italy)
C. Basic pattern of events in 1848:
1. Spring 1848:
formation of Center-Left coalitions for political reform (constitutional and representative government, legal equality, civil rights, etc.), which united liberals and radicals as well as workers and the middle class in the cause of creating representative, constitutional governments
formation of coalitions the united people from different ethnic/national groups, who joined together to push for reform in the Austrian Empire
In several places, the revolutionary coalitions succeeded in taking power and created new "reform" governments
2. Summer 1848:
these "revolutionary coalitions" split along lines of class (as in France, for instance), as a result of conflicts of aims between workers and the middle class, socialists and liberals
disputes over which ethnic groups had "claim" to govern which territories contributed to the breakdown of revolutionary coalitions in the the Austrian Empire
in late summer, open conflict (e.g., battles in the streets) between worker/leftist groups and government forces/the governments' middle class supporters
the government forces always win these conflicts, which result in the creation of new "Center-Right" (Liberal-Conservative) political coalitions
3. Fall 1848-1849:
Everywhere, the revolutions are defeated and conservative-monarchical authority is restored
D. As a Result of 1848:
In reaction to their common fear of lower-class rebellion (and especially to the threat rebellion poses to property rights), the Right and Center begin working together in political coalitions
Liberals abandon the idea of using revolution as a tool for change, and instead being promoting government intervention in social affairs to reduce tensions that might otherwise create revolutions
Conservatives begin to realize that nationalism can be mobilized to preserve the power of elites, even in the context of democratic politics
In many places (e.g., Prussia), the monarchies now look for a way to use create "safe" constitutional regimes, that will maintain order and will not threaten the rule of elites
In Russia, the monarchy becomes even more hostile to the idea of constitutional rule