French Second Republic

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The French Second Republic (French: Deuxième République Française or La IIe République), officially the French Republic (République française), was the republican government of France that existed between 1848 and 1852. It was established in February 1848, with the Revolution that overthrew the July Monarchy, and ended in December 1852, after the 1851 coup d'état and when president Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte proclaimed himself Emperor Napoleon III and initiated the Second French Empire. It officially adopted the motto of the First Republic, Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.

French Republic
République française
Motto: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité
"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity"
Anthem: Le Chant des Girondins
"The Song of Girondists"
The French Republic in 1848
The French Republic in 1848
Common languagesFrench
Roman Catholicism (majority religion)
GovernmentUnitary semi-presidential republic (1848–1851)
Unitary authoritarian presidential republic (1851–1852)
• 1848–1852
Prince Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte
Vice President 
• 1849–1852
Henri Georges Boulay de la Meurthe
Prime Minister 
• 1848 (first)
Jacques-Charles Dupont
• 1851 (last)
Léon Faucher
LegislatureNational Assembly
23 February 1848
27 April 1848
4 November 1848
2 December 1851
• Establishment of the Second Empire
2 December 1852
CurrencyFrench Franc
ISO 3166 codeFR
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Kingdom of France
Second French Empire
Today part ofFrance

Revolution of 1848Edit

Variant of the French tricolor flag used by the Republic for a few days, between 24 February and 5 March 1848[1]

The 1848 Revolution in France, sometimes known as the February Revolution, was one of a wave of revolutions across Europe in that year. The events swept away the Orleans monarchy (1830–1848) and led to the creation of the nation's second republic.

The Revolution of 1830, part of a wave of similar regime changes across Europe, had put an end to the monarchy of the Bourbon Restoration and installed a more liberal constitutional monarchy under the Orleans dynasty and governed predominantly by Guizot's conservative-liberal centre-right and Thiers's progressive-liberal centre-left.

But to the left of the dynastic parties, the monarchy was criticised by Republicans (a mixture of Radicals and socialists) for being insufficiently democratic: its electoral system was based on a narrow, privileged electorate of property-owners and therefore excluded workers. During the 1840s several petitions requesting electoral reform (universal manhood suffrage) had been issued by the National Guard, but had been rejected by both of the main dynastic parties. Political meetings dedicated to this issue were banned by the government, and electoral reformers therefore bypassed the ban by holding a series of 'banquets' (1847–1848), events where political debate was disguised as dinner speeches. This movement began overseen by Odilon Barrot's moderate centre-left liberal critics of Guizot's conservative government, but took on a life of its own after 1846, when economic crisis encouraged ordinary workers to demand a say over government.

On 14 February 1848 Guizot's government decided to put an end to the banquets, on the grounds of constituting illegal political assembly. On 22 February, striking workers and republican students took to the streets, demanding an end to Guizot's government, and erected barricades. Odilon Barrot called a motion of no confidence in Guizot, hoping that this might satisfy the rioters, but the Chamber of Deputies sided with the premier. The government called a state of emergency, thinking it could rely on the troops of the National Guard, but instead on the morning of 23 February the Guardsmen sided with the revolutionaries, protecting them from the regular soldiers who by now had been called in.

The industrial population of the faubourgs was welcomed by the National Guard on their way towards the centre of Paris. Barricades were raised after the shooting of protestors outside the Guizot manor by soldiers.

On 23 February 1848 premier François Guizot's cabinet resigned, abandoned by the petite bourgeoisie, on whose support they thought they could depend. The heads of the more left-leaning conservative-liberal monarchist parties, Louis-Mathieu Molé and Adolphe Thiers, declined to form a government. Odilon Barrot accepted, and Thomas Robert Bugeaud, commander-in-chief of the first military division, who had begun to attack the barricades, was recalled. In the face of the insurrection that had now taken possession of the whole capital, King Louis-Philippe abdicated in favour of his grandson, Prince Philippe, Count of Paris claimed by Alphonse de Lamartine in the name of the provisional government elected by the Chamber of Deputies 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-Pagès was mayor of Paris.

But, as in 1830, the republican-socialist party had set up a rival government at the Hôtel de Ville (city hall), including Louis Blanc, Armand Marrast, Ferdinand Flocon, and Alexandre Martin, known as Albert L'Ouvrier ("Albert the Worker"), which bid fair to involve discord and civil war. But this time the Palais Bourbon was not victorious over the Hôtel 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 uncertain what the policy of the new government would be.

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, which they viewed as the only obstacle to equality, and as an emblem hoisted the red flag (the 1791 red flag was, however, the symbol not merely of the French Revolution, but rather of martial law and of order[2]). The other party wished to maintain society on the basis of its traditional institutions, and rallied round the tricolore. As a concession made by Lamartine to popular aspirations, and in exchange of the maintaining of the tricolor flag, he conceded the Republican triptych of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, written on the flag, on which a red rosette was also to be added.[2]

The first collision took place as to the form which the 1848 Revolution was to take. Lamartine wished for them to maintain their original principles, with the whole country as supreme, whereas the revolutionaries under Ledru-Rollin wished for the republic of Paris to hold a monopoly on political power. On 5 March 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 until 26 April. This added the uneducated masses to the electorate and led to the election of the Constituent Assembly of 4 May 1848. The provisional government having resigned, the republican and anti-socialist majority on 9 May entrusted the supreme power to an Executive Commission consisting of five members: Arago, Pierre Marie de Saint-Georges, Garnier-Pagès, Lamartine and Ledru-Rollin.

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 "tri-colour" 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 disproportionate to their relative numbers. By the decree of 24 February, 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 labor; and, lastly, by the decree of 8 March, the property qualification for enrollment in the National Guard had been abolished and the workmen were supplied with arms. The socialists thus formed a sort of state-within-a-state, complete with a government and an armed force.

1848 uprisingsEdit

On 15 May, an armed mob, headed by Raspail, Blanqui and Barbès, and assisted by the proletariat-aligned Guard, attempted to overwhelm the Assembly, but were defeated by the bourgeois-aligned battalions of the National Guard. Meanwhile, the national workshops were unable to provide remunerative work for the genuine unemployed, and of the thousands who applied, the greater number were employed in aimless digging and refilling of trenches; soon even this expedient failed, and those for whom work could not be invented were given a half wage of 1 franc a day.

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

After this, the June Days Uprising broke out, over the course of 24–26 June, when the eastern industrial quarter of Paris, led by Pujol, fought the western quarter, led by Louis-Eugène Cavaignac, who had been appointed dictator. The socialist party was defeated and afterwards its members were deported. But the republic had been discredited and had already become unpopular with both the peasants, who were exasperated by the new land tax of 45 centimes imposed in order to fill the empty treasury, and with the bourgeoisie, who were intimidated by the power of the revolutionary clubs and disadvantaged by the economic stagnation. By the "massacres" of the June Days, the working classes were also alienated from it. The Duke of Wellington wrote at this time, "France needs a Napoleon! I cannot yet see him..." The granting of universal suffrage to a society with Imperialist sympathies would benefit reactionaries, which culminated in the election of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte as president of the republic.


The chamber of the National Assembly of the Second Republic, in 1848

The new constitution, proclaiming a democratic republic, direct universal suffrage and the separation of powers, was promulgated on 4 November 1848.[3] Under the new constitution, there was to be a single permanent Assembly of 750 members elected for a term of three years by the scrutin de liste. The Assembly would elect members of a Council of State to serve for six years. Laws would be proposed by the Council of State, to be voted on by the Assembly. The executive power was delegated to the President, who was elected for four years by direct universal suffrage, i.e. on a broader basis than that of the Assembly, and was not eligible for re-election. He was to choose his ministers, who, like him, would be responsible to the Assembly. Finally, revision of the constitution was made practically impossible: it involved obtaining three times in succession a majority of three-quarters of the deputies in a special assembly. It was in vain that Jules 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.

Presidential election of 1848Edit

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, filled as it was 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 10 December the peasants gave over 5,000,000 votes to a name: Napoléon, which stood for order at all costs, against 1,400,000 for Cavaignac.

Henri Georges Boulay de la Meurthe was elected Vice President, a unique position in French history.

Presidency of Louis NapoléonEdit

For three years, there was an indecisive struggle between the heterogeneous Assembly and the President, who was silently awaiting his opportunity. He chose as his ministers men with little inclination towards republicanism, with a preference for Orléanists, the chief of whom was Odilon Barrot. In order to strengthen his position, he endeavored 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, to restore the temporal authority of the Pope Pius IX, who had fled Rome in fear of the nationalists and republicans. (Garibaldi and Mazzini had been elected to a Constitutional Assembly.) The Pope called for international intervention to restore him in his temporal power. The French President moved to establish the power and prestige of France against that of Austria, as beginning the work of European renovation and reconstruction which he already looked upon as his mission. French troops under Oudinot marched into Rome. This provoked a foolish insurrection in Paris in favor of the Roman Republic, that of the Château d'Eau, which was crushed on 13 June 1849. On the other hand, when the Pope, 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 the French ministry, the President replaced it on 1 November, by the Fould-Rouher cabinet.[4]

This looked like a declaration of war against the Catholic and monarchist majority in the Legislative Assembly, which had been elected on 28 May in a moment of panic. But the President again pretended to be playing the game of the Orléanists, as he had done in the case of the Constituent Assembly. The complementary elections of March and April 1850 resulted in an unexpected victory for the republicans which alarmed the conservative leaders, Thiers, Berryer and Montalembert. The President and the Assembly co-operated in the passage of the Loi Falloux of 15 March 1850, which again placed university instruction under the direction of the Church.[5]

A conservative electoral law was passed on 31 May. It required each voter to prove three years' residence at his current address, by entries in the record of direct taxes. This effectively repealed universal suffrage: factory workers, who moved fairly often, were thus disenfranchised. The law of 16 July 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 behavior. Finally, a skillful 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.

Coup d'état and end of the Second RepublicEdit

However, 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-Napoléon 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 Orléanists, in spite of the death of Louis-Philippe in August 1850.

Louis-Napoléon 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 8 August to 12 November 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 Napoléon!" showed that the army was with him; he superseded General Changarnier, on whose arms the parliament relied for the projected monarchical coup d'état; he replaced his Orléanist 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 31 May 1850, 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 6 May 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-Napoléon saw his opportunity, and organised the French coup of 1851. On the night of 1/2 December 1851, the anniversary of his uncle Napoleon's coronation in 1804 and his victory at Austerlitz in 1805, 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 Mairie of the 10th arrondissement to defend the constitution and proclaim the deposition of Louis Napoleon were scattered by the troops at Mazas and Mont Valérien. 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 20 December, 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.[6]


  1. ^ "Les couleurs du drapeau de 1848". Revue d'Histoire du Xixe Siècle - 1848. 28 (139): 237–238. 1931.
  2. ^ a b Mona Ozouf, "Liberté, égalité, fraternité", in Lieux de Mémoire (dir. Pierre Nora), tome III, Quarto Gallimard, 1997, pp. 4353–4389 (in French) (abridged translation, Realms of Memory, Columbia University Press, 1996–1998 (in English))
  3. ^ Arnaud Coutant, 1848, Quand la République combattait la Démocratie, Mare et Martin, 2009
  4. ^ Maurice Agulhon, The Republican Experiment, 1848–1852 (1983)
  5. ^ Alec Vidler (1990). The Penguin History of the Church: The Church in an Age of Revolution. Penguin. p. 86. ISBN 9780141941516.
  6. ^ Roger D. Price (2002). Napoleon III and the Second Empire. Routledge. pp. 1834–36. ISBN 9781134734689.


Further readingEdit

  • Agulhon, Maurice. The Republican Experiment, 1848–1852 (The Cambridge History of Modern France) (1983) excerpt and text search
  • Amann, Peter H. "Writings on the Second French Republic." Journal of Modern History 34.4 (1962): 409-429.
  • Furet, François. Revolutionary France 1770-1880 (1995), pp 385–437. survey of political history by leading scholar
  • Guyver, Christopher, The Second French Republic 1848-1852: A Political Reinterpretation, New York: Palgrave, 2016
  • Price, Roger, ed. Revolution and reaction: 1848 and the Second French Republic (Taylor & Francis, 1975).
  • Price, Roger. The French Second Republic: A Social History (Cornell UP, 1972).

In FrenchEdit

  • Sylvie Aprile, La Deuxième République et le Second Empire, Pygmalion, 2000
  • Choisel, Francis, La Deuxième République et le Second Empire au jour le jour, chronologie érudite détaillée, Paris, CNRS Editions, 2015.
  • Inès Murat, La Deuxième République, Paris: Fayard, 1987
  • Philippe Vigier, La Seconde République, (series Que sais-je?) Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1967

Coordinates: 48°49′N 2°29′E / 48.817°N 2.483°E / 48.817; 2.483