1902 Encyclopedia > France > French History: The Second Revolution (1848)

(Part 19)


The Second Revolution (1848)

The agitation of the country at first was seen chiefly in speeches made at fervid banquets. When the session of 1848 opened, the opposition, led by Odillon-Barrot, showed itselfstrong and resolute; the interference of Government against a popular banquet in Paris led to the outbreak of the Revolution (22d February 1848). On the 23d the national guard took part with the populace against the troops, and the soldiers, unwilling to attack them, hesitated, and the day passed by. Guizot now yielded, and sent in his resignation; it was, however, too late; that evening, the troops having fired on and killed some of the mob, a ghastly procession with the bodies of the slain passed through the streets. The excitement redoubled; the troops refused to act; Louis Philippe even called on Thiers to form a libeal ministry with Odillon-Barrot. A proclamation was issued stating that the troops were ordered to withdraw. Forthwith the regular soldiers laid down their arms, and the people with the national guards marched on the Tuileries. Louis Philippe now abdicated in favor of his grandson the count of Paris, and, assuming the name of Mr William Smith, closed an inglorious reign by an inglorious flight in a hackney cab. He reached England, and died there in peace some two years later. Writers have called the Revolution of 1848 a mere trick, and have wondered how so mean an effort could have overthrown a constitutional and organized government. The truth is that France was weary of such a rule, that Paris wanted a republic, and that in the country generally the citizen-king was unpopular. In the chamber of deputies the republican party at once took the command, and established a provisional Government, which immediately proclaimed a republic, to be ratified by a popular vote; to be based on the sovereignty of the people; to re-echo the old watchwords, "liberty, equality, fraternity;" to secure a pure and liberal administration. The presidency of the new Government was given to Dupont de l’Eure; Lamartine had the porfolio of foreign affairs; Cremieux, justice; Ledru-Rollin, the home-office; Arago, the admiralty; Bedeau, the army; Carnot, education; Bethmont, trade; Garnier-Pages was named mayor of Paris; Louis Blanc, and three others, were first named as secretaries, and soon after became actual members of the Government. The decree which established the tricolor flag, with a red rosette, indicated, as trifles often will do, the position taken up by the administration. They would not accept the red flag of the Parisian communists, which Louis Blanc wished to take as symbol of a thorough republicanism; they added the red rosette to express a certain sympathy with that side; they kept the tricolor as the flag of the old Revolution. One step – and it was a great blunder-they did make under the influence of Louis Blanc; they issued a decree promising to provide work for all, - promising in fact to suspend the first laws of political economy on behalf of the working man.

Though the revolution had been a thorough Parisian surprise at the moment, all France was ready to accept it. From every side cheerful acquiescence came in; the army approved; the clergy were guided by the liberal archbishop of Paris, M. Affre, who three months later lost his life in the sacred attempt to stay bloodshed in the streets of the capital; politicians either were silent or joined the Government; the adventurer of Strasburg and Boulogne, who had escaped from Ham in 1846, offered his services to France, and was politely sent back to England. In April the elections to the new constituent assembly took place. They returned a body, of, on the whole, moderate republicans, not favorable to the extremer views, of Paris, and appointed an executi8ve commission of five members, Lamartine, Arago, Garnier-Pages, Marie, and Ledru-Rollin. A serious ourbreak was easily quelled in May; in June, however, things took a more alarming turn. The reaction, which had already begun in France, was supported by the conviction of moderate men that the "national workshop" system, a practical socialism, was too burdensome for the finances of the state, and that the country generally would not long subsidize the Parisian artisan. A decree ordering a portion of the working men to be enrolled in the army led to the terrible revolt of eastern Paris. The Government declared the town to be in a state of siege, and entrusted General Cavaignac with a dictatorship. For four days the battle of the barricades raged; the artisans did not yield till the last barricade of the Faubourg St Antoine had been stormed. Then Cavaignac laid down his dictatorship and was named president of the council, with right of naming the ministers. The national workshops were absolutely closed on the 3d of July, and thus the republic freed itself from the dictation of Paris. After the May disturbance the leaders of reaction had begun to pluck up courage, and to offer themselves for the elections; Thiers was returned for the Lower Seine, and became its political leader; Changarnier was its military chief. Louis Bonaparte was also among the elected. He veiled his ambition under popular phrases, and, as had been seen before, a Bonparte made ready to pass into absolute power by an alliance with the people and a seeming deference to its sovereignty. "My name," he said, "is the symbol of order, nationality, and glory." The Assembly next proceeded to do its work as a constitutional body, and organized the Government thus: - A president of the republic, elected for four years, and then not re-eligible till after four years more; a council of state, named by the assembly for six years, and charged with the drafting of all public acts, and other honorable functions; a legislative assembly of 750 members. The date of election of a president was fixed for the 10th of December. The true republicans failed to support their man, General Cavaignac; they also left Lamartine entirely out, in spite of his honorable services. The instincts of the nation turned towards one who bore the charmed name of Bonaparte, and the prince-adventurer was elected by a vast majority of votes, nearly five millions and a half supporting him against less than one million and a half who voted for Cavaignac. Thus the "Napoleonic idea," strong in the country-places, prevailed over the moderate republicanism of the Assembly, and the wishes of the chief towns of France. The new president was formally proclaimed, and took oath of office on December 20, 1848.

The first act of the new Government was the overthrow of the republic of Rome, and the military restoration of Pius IX. By this the president declared himself hostile to all the liberal movements of Europe, and won the firm gratitude and allegiance of the Catholic clergy of France. Before Louis Bonaparte had been in office a year, it was seen that he was preparing to move in the direction of absolute power. Stormy debates in the Assembly took place; a law was passed limiting the suffrage, as it was seen that in the existing temper of the country the ignorant peasant-vote was at the mercy of adventurers. Discussion also followed as to a revision of the constitution of 1848. At last, on December 2, 1851, the prince-president, guided by a group friends and brother-conspirators, ventured on his famous coup d’etat, and swept away the whole existing fabric of the constitution. In the most lawless manner sixteen prominent members of the Assembly were arrested, among them Cavaignac and Thiers; the Assembly itself was forcibly dissolved, universal suffrage restored, and a plebiscite on the new form of government was appointed to follow at once; the capital was placed in a state of siege; the council of state dismissed. A new ministry was also formed of the chief members of the successful conspiracy, -Morny for the home-office, St Arnaud for war; Fould, finance; Rouher, justice. A project for a tenure of the presidency for ten years, with ministers responsible only to the president, a council of state to draft and prepare laws, a legislative body, and a conservative senate, - this was the new constitution of 1852. It was clearly a reminiscence of that form of government which led to the first empire. Outburst of despairing resistance in Paris were sternly put down, with brutal severities, which aimed at striking terror into the capital; the men round Louis Bonaparte did not want for vigor; they had won power by conspiracy, and did not hesitate to keep it by a massacre. The new constitution was accepted by an overwhelming majority; it seemed as if the Napoleonic idea was omnipotent in France. The new government was, like that of the great Napoleon, the union of strong and arbitrary rule with an appeal to the ignorant passion of the populace. The burgher world acceded to it, because it was strong, and promised order and hopes of material prosperity, and because it was scared and puzzled by the fitful appearances of the "red specter" of eastern Paris.

Little trouble did the successful party take about the remaining step. The high tide of the popularity of Louis Bonaparte was still running up in flood; and in November 1852 an almost unanimous vote (7,824,129 against 253,149) accepted him as hereditary emperor of the French under the name of Napoleon III. Before the end of the year he made solemn entry into Paris.

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