Skip over navigation

Europe (1815-1848)

1848 Revolution: Paris

Bourgeoisie and Chartism (1830s and 1840s)

1848 Revolutions: The Austrian Empire

Summary

In France, Louis Philippe's government remained a bourgeoisie-dominated affair, disappointing to the workers who had manned the barricades in 1830. Only a thirtieth of adult males could vote, and Louis Philippe staunchly opposed enlarging the voting base. Popular discontent finally resulted in the February Revolution of 1848. The working classes again put barricades up in the streets, and an unruly Paris mob frightened Louis Philippe into abdicating. The Radical Republicans then managed to get the provisional government to pass socialist programs. This included the creation of National Workshops, which were centralized, state-owned manufacturing establishments where workers would be guaranteed work. In the National Workshops, however, there wasn't any real work for the workers to do, since the government did not take their establishment very seriously. The National Workshops, promising employment, soon became jam- packed with thousands of discontented workers, fermenting still more agitation. In May, the military turned against the lower class agitators. In late June, three days of especially violent class warfare broke out in Paris. The army soon restored order, but the political landscape had changed.

After June 1848, the French began to draw up a new constitution. The constitution included provisions for a strong president, who would be elected via universal male suffrage (all adult males would vote). Four candidates entered the election, which was the first election most of the uneducated, newly enfranchised voters had ever experienced as active participants. The most ambiguous candidate was Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon I's nephew. He had no real platform, and few knew his leanings. He merely said that his uncle, Napoleon, had been liberal, and that he would be liberal. Since the name Bonaparte still resonated so strongly among the general population of France, Louis Napoleon won the election over the other, more experienced candidates.

Though claiming to be liberal, the newly elected President was mostly interested in reestablishing order. After gaining support by promising universal male suffrage, he promptly got rid of socialists in the government. He encouraged religious influence in school teaching, and then, after becoming confident of his support base, he declared himself Emperor Napoleon III. The revolution in France ended with a new government, but once again a new dictator.

Like the July Revolution of 1830, the February Revolution of 1848 reverberated throughout Europe, resulting in a series of revolutions, most powerfully in Germany and Vienna. In Britain, the French upheaval revived the Chartist Movement. In London, however, no barricades went up in London's streets. Instead, a new petition went to Parliament.

Commentary

The years from 1815 to 1848, although free of major wars, were the site of a different conflict, between Reaction and Revolution. As 1848 approached, Revolution had been brewing, but the Reactionary forces led by Metternich had been successful in preventing any major revolutionary "disasters." The boundaries established by the 1815 Congress of Vienna, if a little worse for the wear, remained for the most part standing by the opening of 1848.

There have not been many years like 1848, for 1848 was the ultimate year of Revolution throughout Europe. The Revolutionary forces made a concerted push throughout the continent in even greater force than in 1830. Among the major European powers, only Great Britain, where some reforms had blunted the wrath of the working class, and Russia, where the monarchy still held firm control, escaped from 1848 without undergoing a revolution. Was the simultaneity of the revolutions a product of an international conspiracy? Probably not, though the revolutionary groups throughout Europe were transnational and did communicate. More likely, Metternich's hypothesis that revolution could spread from one country to another was proven true. Revolution in Paris served as the signal for revolutions throughout Europe.

In France itself, the February Revolution's radical socialist changes were doomed from the start. Outside of Paris, the people in the countryside (the majority of France) were much more conservative than the workers in the city, and were generally anti-socialist. After the Paris reformers went beyond what the country was willing to accept, it was only a matter of time before their revolutionary changes were reversed. Furthermore, by 1848 France had had so many governments in the past 50 years that new governments were easy to bring down. This was very much unlike Britain, whose government had been so stable for so long that discontented people were hesitant to overthrow it, merely because it had such a long tradition behind it. In Britain, reforms would pass gradually within the system rather than by violent rebellions.

Regarding the Paris barricades, it is interesting to note that an angry mob of civilians really could stand up against the French army. Today, in the age of tanks, civilians have no real hope fighting against tanks, bombs, and rocket- launchers. In 1848, however, there were no tanks, and the army's victory over the Paris mob was no sure thing. Throughout Europe, rulers were tremendously frightened by the revolution in Paris. To many in the upper classes, it seemed as though civilization itself might be crumbling.

Louis Napoleon appealed to the "Napoleon Legend" that was starting to take force in France around this time. In 1836, the Arch-de-Triumph had been completed, and in 1840, Napoleon's remains had been brought back to France from Saint Helena. All France now remembered Napoleon as a great hero, and Louis Napoleon cashed in on his family's "name recognition" to gain control of France. With Napoleon's assumption

More Help

Previous Next

Follow Us