24.2.4: The Second French Republic
On February 26, 1848, the liberal opposition from the 1848 Revolution came together to organize a provisional government, called the Second Republic, which was marked by disorganization and political ambiguity.
Break down some of the challenges faced by the Second French Republic
- The 1848 Revolution in France ended the Orleans monarchy (1830–48) and led to the creation of the French Second Republic.
- Following the overthrow of King Louis Philippe in February, a provisional government (Constituent Assembly) was created, which was disorganized as it attempted to deal with France’s economic problems created by the political upheaval.
- Frustration among the laboring classes arose when the Constituent Assembly did not address the concerns of the workers, leading to strikes and worker demonstrations.
- Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was elected president on December 10, 1848, by a landslide; his support came from a wide section of the French public.
- Because of the ambiguity surrounding Louis Napoleon’s political positions, his agenda as president was very much in doubt.
- The 1850 elections resulted in a conservative body, which renewed the power of the Church, especially in education.
- As 1851 opened, Louis-Napoleon was not allowed by the Constitution of 1848 to seek re-election as President of France; instead he proclaimed himself President for Life following a coup in December that was confirmed and accepted in a dubious referendum.
- National Workshops
- Areas of work provided for the unemployed by the French Second Republic after the Revolution of 1848. The political issues that resulted in the abdication of Louis Philippe caused an acute industrial crisis adding to the general agricultural and commercial distress which had prevailed throughout 1847. It greatly exacerbated the problem of unemployment in Paris. The provisional government under the influence of one of its members, Louis Blanc, passed a decree (February 25, 1848) guaranteeing government-funded jobs.
- French Second Republic
- The republican government of France between the 1848 Revolution and the 1851 coup by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte that initiated the Second Empire.
- French Revolution of 1848
- Sometimes known as the February Revolution, one of a wave of revolutions in 1848 in Europe. In France the revolutionary events ended the Orleans monarchy (1830–48) and led to the creation of the French Second Republic.
The French Revolution of 1848 had major consequences for all of Europe; popular democratic revolts against authoritarian regimes broke out in Austria and Hungary, in the German Confederation and Prussia, and in the Italian States of Milan, Venice, Turin and Rome. Economic downturns and bad harvests during the 1840s contributed to growing discontent.
In February 1848, the French government banned the holding of the Campagne des banquets, fundraising dinners by activists where critics of the regime would meet (as public demonstrations and strikes were forbidden). As a result, protests and riots broke out in the streets of Paris. An angry mob converged on the royal palace, after which the hapless king abdicated and fled to England. The Second Republic was then proclaimed.
The revolution in France brought together classes of wildly different interests. The bourgeoisie desired electoral reforms (a democratic republic); socialist leaders (like Louis Blanc, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, and the radical Auguste Blanqui) asked for a “right to work” and the creation of national workshops (a social welfare republic) and for France to liberate the oppressed peoples of Europe (Poles and Italians). Moderates (like the aristocrat Alphonse de Lamartine) sought a middle ground. Tensions between groups escalated, and in June 1848, a working class insurrection in Paris cost the lives of 1,500 workers and eliminated once and for all the dream of a social welfare constitution.
The constitution of the Second Republic, ratified in September 1848, was extremely flawed and permitted no effective resolution between the President and the Assembly in case of dispute. In December 1848, a nephew of Napoléon Bonaparte, Charles Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, was elected as President of the Republic, and pretexting legislative gridlock, in 1851 he staged a coup d’état. Finally, in 1852 he had himself declared Emperor Napoléon III of the Second Empire of France.
Founding of the Second Republic
The French Second Republic was the republican government of France between the 1848 Revolution and the 1851 coup by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte that initiated the Second Empire. It officially adopted the motto Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. The Second Republic witnessed the tension between the “Social and Democratic Republic” and a liberal form of Republic, which exploded during the June Days Uprising of 1848.
On February 26, 1848, the liberal opposition came together to organize a provisional government. The poet Alphonse de Lamartine was appointed president. Lamartine served as a virtual dictator of France for the next three months. Elections for a Constituent Assembly were scheduled for April 23, 1848. The Constituent Assembly was to establish a new republican government for France. In preparation for these elections, two major goals of the provisional government were universal suffrage and unemployment relief. Universal male suffrage was enacted on March 2, 1848, giving France nine million new voters. As in all other European nations, women did not have the right to vote. However, during this time a proliferation of political clubs emerged, including women’s organizations.
Naturally, the provisional government was disorganized as it attempted to deal with France’s economic problems. The conservative elements of French society were wasting no time in organizing against the provisional government. After roughly a month, conservatives began to openly oppose the new government, using the rallying cry “order,” which the new republic lacked.
Frustration among the laboring classes arose when the Constituent Assembly did not address the concerns of the workers. Strikes and worker demonstrations became more common as the workers gave vent to these frustrations. These demonstrations reached a climax when on May 15, 1848, workers from the secret societies broke out in armed uprising against the anti-labor and anti-democratic policies being pursued by the Constituent Assembly and the Provisional Government. Fearful of a total breakdown of law and order, the Provisional Government invited General Louis Eugene Cavaignac back from Algeria in June 1848 to put down the worker’s armed revolt. From June 1848 until December 1848 General Cavaignac became head of the executive of the Provisional Government.
Additionally, there was a major split between the citizens of Paris and citizens of the more rural areas of France. The provisional government set out to establish deeper government control of the economy and guarantee a more equal distribution of resources. To deal with the unemployment problem, the provisional government established National Workshops. The unemployed were given jobs building roads and planting trees without regard for the demand for these tasks. The population of Paris ballooned as job seekers from all over France came to Paris to work in the newly formed National Workshops. To pay for these and other social programs, the provisional government placed new taxes on land. These taxes alienated the “landed classes”—especially the small farmers and the peasantry of the rural areas of France—from the provisional government. Hardworking rural farmers were resistant to paying for the unemployed city people and their new “Right to Work” National Workshops. The taxes were widely disobeyed in the rural areas and the government remained strapped for cash. Popular uncertainty about the liberal foundations of the provisional government became apparent in the April 23, 1848 elections. Despite agitation from the left, voters elected a constituent assembly which was primarily moderate and conservative.
Election of Napoleon III and a Short-Lived Republic
The election was keenly contested; the democratic republicans adopted as their candidate Ledru-Rollin, the “pure republicans” Cavaignac, and the recently reorganized Imperialist party Prince Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte. Unknown in 1835 and forgotten or despised since 1840, Louis Napoleon 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 with recollections of the Empire, and partly to Louis-Napoléon’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 million votes to Napoléon, who stood for order at all costs, against 1.4 million for Cavaignac.
Louis Napoleon’s support came from a wide section of the French public. Various classes of French society voted for him for very different and often contradictory reasons; he encouraged this contradiction by “being all things to all people.” One of his major promises to the peasantry and other groups was that there would be no new taxes.
The new National Constituent Assembly was heavily composed of royalist sympathizers of both the Legitimist (Bourbon) wing and the Orleanist (Citizen King Louis Philippe) wing. Because of the ambiguity surrounding Louis Napoleon’s political positions, his agenda as president was very much in doubt. For prime minister, he selected Odilon Barrot, an unobjectionable middle-road parliamentarian, who had led the “loyal opposition” under Louis Philippe. Other appointees represented various royalist factions.
In June 1849, demonstrations against the government broke out and were suppressed. Leaders were arrested, including prominent politicians. The government banned several democratic and socialist newspapers in France; the editors were arrested. Karl Marx, who was living in Paris at the time, was at risk so he moved to London in August.
The government sought ways to balance its budget and reduce its debts. Toward this end, Hippolyte Passy was appointed Finance Minister. When the Legislative Assembly met at the beginning of October 1849, Passy proposed an income tax to help balance the finances of France. The bourgeoisie, who would pay most of the tax, protested. The furor over the income tax caused the resignation of Barrot as prime minister, but a new wine tax also caused protests.
The 1850 elections resulted in a conservative body. As 1851 opened, Louis-Napoleon was not allowed by the Constitution of 1848 to seek re-election as President of France. Instead he proclaimed himself President for Life following a coup in December that was confirmed and accepted in a dubious referendum.
- The Second French Republic
“France in the long nineteenth century.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/France_in_the_long_nineteenth_century. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
“French Revolution of 1848.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Revolution_of_1848. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
“French Second Republic.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Second_Republic. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
“DaumerHugoLouisNapoleon1848.jpg.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:DaumerHugoLouisNapoleon1848.jpg. Wikipedia Public domain.