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Revolutionary France, Part 1
Adele Hugo

The French Revolution of 1789 was such a monumental marker in history that it is easy for the casual historian to forget that there were two other noteworthy revolutions that were to unfold in France during the 19th century: that of 1830 and that of 1848. After Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo in 1815, through foreign efforts and to the great relief of the old French aristocracy (at least those that had survived the reign of terror which succeeded the beheading of Louis XVI in 1793) the throne of France was dusted off and there was restored to it Louis' brother, Louis the XVIII. While constitutional provisions were put in place to check the power of the monarchy (a two house legislature with full authority to make laws) the feel of France was much like it had been before 1789, before twenty-six years of war and misery were unleashed. For the ordinary Frenchman it didn't seem that anything at all had changed: aristocratic privileges of property and class took its place once again, without, it seems, a beat being missed on the drum-heads of state. Things carried on without too much trouble for a number of years; the people were wearied because of the revolution. Louis the XVIII died in 1824 and yet another brother took his place, Charles X and things carried on much in the same old way. France, and in particular, Paris, all through this interval was seething with discontent. A wiser man might have spotted the conditions as precursors of revolution and might have taken steps to soothe the population by admitting the monarchical weaknesses and taking steps to wash out the abuses; but Charles X was not a wise man. In 1830, elections, for which provisions had been made in the constitution of 1815, were held in France. The results were generally considered as a repudiation of Charles X. Charles thought he knew how to deal with a troublesome house (the reading of history was not high on his list). On July 26th, 1830, by royal fiat, Charles dissolved the new legislature and declared that there should be no discussion about royal authority. This act was enough to cause the sleeping dogs of revolution, which in France had been so much exercised, to stir; Parisians came to the streets with their guns. Charles departed hastily for England. The revolution of 1830 "was largely the work of the Parisian middle class,"3 the bourgeoisie; it was over almost as quickly as it began. The bourgeoisie could put up with a monarchy, but one (as was then the case in England) that was thoroughly tied to the representatives of the bourgeoisie, viz. the members of the legislature. And so it was, though there was some discussion on the merits of a republic, that another king -- it was thought, a more controllable one -- was to be put on the French throne. Enter the "Citizen king," Louis Philippe and the era of the bourgeois monarchy.

I have no space here at this place to go into the details of the reign of Louis Philippe. What is clear, in short order, the same old monarchical abuses were again to be observed. The legislature was to become a preserve "limited to the aristocracy of wealth and their hangers-on."4 However, Louis Philippe, unlike his predecessors had a way about him which made him attractive to the people of Paris, and, this attraction, was to keep him in power for a number of years. During his reign, as Chambers simply states, the "country prospered." This French prosperity which made itself felt through the years 1830-45, was, however, felt only by the French middle class. The proletariat, the people of the working class, as always, it seems, were miserable. In the years leading up to the Revolution of 1848, a cry went up from the political agitators for electoral reform. Louis Philippe fearful that his reputation with the people would be lost started to muzzle the newspapers, an action which was to lead to the end of his reign.

During February of 1848 things came to a head, and remembering all too well what can happen to a French monarch when he quarrels with a Parisian mob, Louis Philippe slipped out of Paris, never to return. By June of 1848, the barricades were up once again and the Parisian streets became bloodied. Many of the houses in Paris were left in smoking ruins and debris filled the streets.

In all of this, there was a large underclass that had no say, those who in the community who have no claim to any property and who are dependent on daily labor for subsistence, the laboring class, the proletariat. Paris had its Proletarian rabble, but France being an agricultural nation had far greater numbers of working class people out in the countryside. The revolution was almost exclusively Parisian and almost, too, exclusively undertaken to advance the interests of the bourgeoisie. The people of France were upset to think things should be turned on their head for the sake of the Parisian middle class. The people of the provinces came, seemingly all at once, to an understanding that the revolt at Paris had to be put down. Order was soon restored and the leaders of the various factions casted about for a new leader, one that would be recognizable by all and which might be controlled by the elected assembly. Enter Louis Napoleon, "Napoleon-the-Little." Louis Napoleon's father was Louis Bonaparte (1778-1846) who fought in the French wars with his famous brother, Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821). An election was held on December 10th, 1849, which swept Louis Napoleon into office. The magic name of Napoleon had done the trick; the people of France had once again visions of prestige, glory, and order. Within two years, with the help of the military, "Napoleon-the-Little," got rid of the French constitution and proceeded to imprison or deport any person who opposed him.5

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Peter Landry
2011

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