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French Second Republic

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The French Second Republic (often simply Second Republic) was the republican regime of France from February 25, 1848 to December 2, 1852. It came to power as a result of the 1848 Revolution and is counted as the second republic because the government during the French Revolution is counted as the first, although the revolutionary government is more often discussed as three periods: the National Convention, the Directory, and the Consulate. For the history of France during this period, see Mid-nineteenth century France.

The monarchy which for fifteen years had overcome its adversaries collapsed on February 24, 1848 to the astonishment of all.

The industrial population of the faubourgs on its way towards the centre of Paris was welcomed by the National Guard. Barricades were raised after the unfortunate incident of the firing of February 24.

On the 23rd Guizot's cabinet resigned, abandoned by the petite bourgeoisie, on whose support they thought they could depend. The heads of the Left Centre and the dynastic Left, Molé and Thiers, declined the offered leadership. Odilon Barrot accepted it, and Bugeaud, commander-in-chief of the first military division, who had begun to attack the barricades, was recalled. But it was too late. In face of the insurrection which had now taken possession of the whole capital, Louis Philippe decided to abdicate in favour of his grandson, the comte de Paris. But it was too late also to be content with the regency of the duchess of Orleans.

It was now the turn of the Republic, and it was proclaimed by Lamartine in the name of the provisional government elected by the Chamber under the pressure of the mob.

This provisional government with Dupont de l'Eure as its president, consisted of Lamartine for foreign affairs, Crémieux for justice, Ledru-Rollin for the interior, Carnot for public instruction, Goudchaux for finance, Arago for the navy, and Burdeau for war. Garnier-Pages was mayor of Paris.

But, as in 1830, the republican-socialist party had set up a rival government at the Hotel de Ville, including L Blanc, A Marrast , Flocon , and the workman Albert, which bid fair to involve discord and civil war. But this time the Palais Bourbon was not victorious over the Hotel de Ville. It had to consent to a fusion of the two bodies, in which, however, the predominating elements were the moderate republicans. It was doubtful what would eventually be the policy of the new government. One party, seeing that in spite of the changes in the last sixty years of all political institutions, the position of the people had not been improved, demanded a reform of society itself, the abolition of the privileged position of property, the only obstacle to equality, and as an emblem hoisted the red flag. The other party wished to maintain society on the basis of its ancient institutions, and rallied round the tricolore.

The first collision took place as to the form which the 1848 Revolution was to take. Were they to remain faithful to their original principles, as Lamartine wished, and accept the decision of the country as supreme, or were they, as the revolutionaries under Ledru-Rollin claimed, to declare the republic of Paris superior to the universal suffrage of an insufficiently educated people? On the March 5 the government, under the pressure of the Parisian clubs, decided in favour of an immediate reference to the people, and direct universal suffrage, and adjourned it till April 26. In this fateful and unexpected decision, which instead of adding to the electorate the educated classes, refused by Guizot, admitted to it the unqualified masses, originated the Constituent Assembly of May 4, 1848. The provisional government having resigned, the republican and anti-socialist majority on the 9th of May entrusted the supreme power to an executive. The commission consisting of five members: Arago, Executive Marie, Garnier-Pages, Lamartine and Ledru-Rollin. Conimis. But the spell was already broken. This revolution which had been peacefully effected with the most generous aspirations, in the hope of abolishing poverty by organizing industry on other bases than those of competition and capitalism, and which had at once aroused the fraternal sympathy of the nations, was doomed to be abortive.

The result of the general election, the return of a constituent assembly predominantly moderate if not monarchical, dashed the hopes of those who had looked for the establishment, by a peaceful revolution, of their ideal socialist state; but they were not prepared to yield without a struggle, and in Paris itself they commanded a formidable force. In spite of the preponderance of the "tricolour" party in the provisional government, so long as the voice of France had not spoken, the socialists, supported by the Parisian proletariat, had exercised an influence on policy out of all proportion to their relative numbers or personal weight. By the decree of February 24, the provisional government had solemnly accepted the principle of the "right to work," and decided to establish "national workshops" for the unemployed; at the same time a sort of industrial parliament was established at the Luxembourg Palace, under the presidency of Louis Blanc, with the object of preparing a scheme for the organization of labour; and, lastly, by the decree of March 8, the property qualification for enrolment in the National Guard had been abolished and the workmen were supplied with arms. The socialists thus formed, in some sort, a state within the state, with a government, an organization and an armed force.

In the circumstances a conflict was inevitable; and on May 15, an armed mob, headed by Raspail , Blanqui and Barbès , and assisted by the proletariat Guard, attempted to overwhelm the Assembly. They were defeated by the bourgeois battalions of the National Guard; but the situation none the less remained highly critical. The national workshops were producing the results that might have been foreseen. It was impossible to provide remunerative work even for the genuine unemployed, and of the thousands who applied the greater number were employed in perfectly useless digging and refilling; soon even this expedient failed, and those for whom work could not be invented were given a half wage of 1 franc a day. Even this pitiful dole, with no obligation to work, proved attractive, and all over France workmen threw up their jobs and streamed to Paris, where they swelled the ranks of the army under the red flag. It was soon clear that the continuance of this experiment would mean financial ruin; it had been proved by the émeute of May 15, that it constituted a perpetual menace to the state; and the government decided to end it. The method chosen was scarcely a happy one.

On June 21, M. de Falloux decided in the name of the parliamentary commission on labour that the workmen should be discharged within three days and such as were able-bodied should be forced to enlist.

A furious insurrection at once broke out. Throughout the whole of the 24th, 25th and 26th of June, the eastern industrial quarter of Paris, led by Pujol , carried on a furious struggle against the western quarter, led by Louis Eugène Cavaignac, who had been appointed dictator. Vanquished and decimated, first by fighting and afterwards by deportation, the socialist party was crushed. But they dragged down the Republic in their ruin. This had already become unpopular with the peasants, exasperated by the newland tax of 45 centimes imposed in order to fill the empty treasury, and with the bourgeois, in terror of the power of the revolutionary clubs and hard hit by the stagnation of business. By the "massacres" of the June Days the working classes were also alienated from it; and abiding fear of the "Reds" did the rest. "France," wrote the duke of Wellington at this time, "needs a Napoleon! I cannot yet see him . . . Where is he?" France indeed needed, or thought she needed, a Napoleon; and the demand was soon to be supplied. The granting of universal suffrage to a society with Imperialist sympathies, and unfitted to reconcile the principles of order with the consequences of liberty, was indeed bound, now that the political balance in France was so radically changed, to prove a formidable instrument of reaction; and this was proved by the election of the president of the Republic.

On the November 4, 1848 was promulgated the new constitution, obviously the work of inexperienced hands, proclaiming a democratic republic, direct universal suffrage and the separation of powers; there was to be a single permanent assembly of 750 members elected for a term of three years by the scrutin de liste, which was to vote on the laws prepared by a council of state elected by the Assembly for six years; the executive power was delegated to a president elected for four years by direct universal suffrage, i.e. on a broader basis than that of the chamber, and not eligible for re-election; he was to choose his ministers, who, like him, would be responsible. Finally, all revision was made impossible since it involved obtaining three times in succession a majority of three-quarters of the deputies in a special assembly. It was in vain that M. Grévy, in the name of those who perceived the obvious and inevitable risk of creating, under the name of a president, a monarch and more than a king, proposed that the head of the state should be no more than a removable president of the ministerial council. Lamartine, thinking that he was sure to be the choice of the electors under universal suffrage, won over the support of the Chamber, which did not even take the precaution of rendering ineligible the members of families which had reigned over France. It made the presidency an office dependent upon popular acclamation.

The election was keenly contested; the socialists adopted as their candidate Ledru-Rollin, the republicans Cavaignac, and the recently reorganized Imperialist party Prince Napoleon Bonaparte, Louis Napoleon, unknown in 1835, and forgotten or despised since 1840, had in the last eight years advanced sufficiently in the public estimation to be elected to the Constituent Assembly in 1848 by five departments. He owed this rapid increase of popularity partly to blunders of the government of July, which had unwisely aroused the memory of the country, filled as it was with recollections of the Empire, and partly to Louis Napoleon’s campaign carried on from his prison at Ham by means of pamphlets of socialistic tendencies. Moreover, the monarchists, led by Thiers and the committee of the Rue de Poitiers, were no longer content even with the safe dictatorship of the upright Cavaignac, and joined forces with the Bonapartists. On December 10, the peasants gave over 5,000,000 votes to a name: Napoleon, which stood for order at all costs, against 1,400,000 for Cavaignac.

For three years there went on an indecisive struggle between the heterogeneous Assembly and the prince who was silently awaiting his opportunity. He chose as his ministers men but little inclined towards republicanism, for preference Orleanists, the chief of whom was Odilon Barrot. In order to strengthen his position, he endeavoured to conciliate the reactionary parties, without committing himself to any of them. The chief instance of this was the expedition to Rome, voted by the Catholics with the object of restoring the papacy, which had been driven out by Garibaldi and Mazzini. The prince-president was also in favour of it, as beginning the work of European renovation and reconstruction which he already looked upon as his mission. General Oudinot's entry into Rome provoked in Paris a foolish insurrection in favour of the Roman republic, that of the Château d'Eau, which was crushed on June 13, 1849. On the other hand, when Pius IX, though only just restored, began to yield to the general movement of reaction, the president demanded that he should set up a Liberal government. The pope's dilatory reply having been accepted by his ministry, the president replaced it on November 1, by the Fould-Rouher cabinet.

This looked like a declaration of war against the Catholic and monarchist majority in the Legislative Assembly which had been elected on May 28, in a moment of panic. But the prince-president again pretended to be playing the game of the Orleanists, as he had done in the case of the Constituent-Assembly. The complementary elections of March and April 1850 having resulted in an unexpected victory for the republicans, which struck terror into the reactionary leaders, Thiers, Berryer and Montalembert, the president gave his countenance to a clerical campaign against the republicans at home. The Church, which had failed in its attempts to gain control of the university under Louis XVIII and Charles X, aimed at setting up a rival establishment of its own. The Loi Falloux of March 1x, 1850, under the pretext of establishing the liberty of instruction promised by the charter, again placed the teaching of the university under the direction of the Catholic Church, as a measure of social safety, and, by the facilities which it granted to the Church for propagating teaching in harmony with its own dogmas, succeeded in obstructing for half a century the work of intellectual enfranchisement effected by the men of the 18th century and of the French Revolution.

The electoral law of May 31, was another class law directed against subversive ideas. It required as a proof of Electors three years' domicile the entries in the record of direct taxes, thus cutting down universal suffrage by taking away the vote from the industrial population, which was not as a rule stationary. The law of July 16, aggravated the severity of the press restrictions by re-establishing the "caution money" (cautionnement) deposited by proprietors and editors of papers with the government as a guarantee of good behaviour. Finally, a skilful interpretation of the law on clubs and political societies suppressed about this time all the Republican societies. It was now their turn to be crushed like the socialists.

But the president had only joined in Montalembert's cry of "Down with the Republicans!" in the hope of effecting a revision of the constitution without having recourse to a coup d'état. His concessions only increased the boldness of the monarchists; while they had only accepted Louis Napoleon as president in opposition to the Republic and as a step in the direction of the monarchy. A conflict was now inevitable between his personal policy and the majority of the Chamber, who were moreover, divided into legitimists and Orleanists, in spite of the death of Louis Philippe in August 1856.

Louis Napoleon exploited their projects for a restoration of the monarchy, which he knew to be unpopular in the country, and which gave him the opportunity of, furthering his own personal ambitions. From August 8, to November 12, 1850 he went about France stating the case for a revision of the constitution in speeches which he varied according to each place; he held reviews, at which cries of "Vive Napoleon" showed that the army was with him; he superseded General Changarnier, on whose arms the parliament relied for the projected monarchical coup d'etat; he replaced his Orleanist ministry by obscure men devoted to his own cause, such as Morny, Fleury and Persigny, and gathered round him officers of the African army, broken men like General Saint-Arnaud; in fact he practically declared open war.

His reply to the votes of censure passed by the Assembly, and their refusal to increase his civil list was to hint at a vast communistic plot in order to scare the bourgeoisie, and to denounce the electoral law of May 31, in order to gain the support of the mass of the people. The Assembly retaliated by throwing out the proposal for a partial reform of that article of the constitution which prohibited the re-election of the president and the re-establishment of universal suffrage (July). All hope of a peaceful issue was at an end. When the questors called upon the Chamber to have posted up in all barracks the decree of May 6, 1848 concerning the right of the Assembly to demand the support of the troops if attacked, the Mountain, dreading a restoration of the monarchy, voted with the Bonapartists against the measure, thus disarming the legislative power.

Louis Napoleon saw his opportunity. On the night between December 1 and 2, 1851, the anniversary of Austerlitz, he dissolved the Chamber, re-established universal suffrage, had all the party leaders arrested, and summoned a new assembly to prolong his term of office for ten years. The deputies who had met under Berryer at the Maine of the 10th arrondissement to defend the constitution and proclaim the deposition of Louis Napoleon were scattered by the troops at Mazas and Mont Valérian. The resistance organized by the republicans within Paris under Victor Hugo was soon subdued by the intoxicated soldiers. The more serious resistance in the départements was crushed by declaring a state of siege and by the "mixed commissions." The plebiscite of the December 20, ratified by a huge majority the coup d'état in favour of the prince-president, who alone reaped the benefit of the excesses of the Republicans and the reactionary passions of the monarchists.

See also: The Revolutions of 1848 in France

Last updated: 08-29-2005 00:22:30
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