In 1848, agitation arose surrounding Louis Philippe, which led to his abdication later that year and the setting up of a republic in his departure. The ‘Second Republic’ was fated for failure and only reigned for an ineffective four years- between 1848 and 1852- before Louis Napoleon destroyed the republic in order to declare himself Emperor. I am going to discuss the combination of factors which contributed to the collapse of this flawed republic.
In early 1848, under the government of Louis Philippe agricultural and industrial problems resulted in rioting, unrest and unemployment. Louis’ legitimacy as king was beginning to be challenged and the middle class, eager for reforms caught hold of a revolutionary spirit performing in demonstrations including that of the 23rd February, where nearly 50 people were killed. Louis, feeble in the face of a revolution, abdicated and fled to Britain on the 24th of February 1848.
The abdication of Louis-Philippe left a vacuum or power and authority. The legislative authority which was in session at the time would willingly have declared regency for the ex-King’s mother until his son was of sufficient age to rule, had not the Republicans inside and outside the Assembly acted so swiftly. The middle class became worried as they were in the minority compared to the working class and feared them. The middle class were accepting of the decision of regency but the ‘Paris mob’, the working class, were furious at the prospect of their uprisings being ignored. They wanted a total change, not another monarch. A part of the armed mob which had in fact caused Louis’ abdication, successfully burst into the Chamber of Deputies as the arrangements for the succession were being discussed and to prevent any conclusion being decided. It was clear to those deputies who dared remain, that a republic was not in order because most of the people wanted it, but that only a republic would calm the mob down.
A primary reason for the failure of the republic was that it was only set up in response and placation of the working class, or the ‘Paris mob’. The Paris mob was not the majority of the population therefore; support for the republic was thin from the beginning. Sufficient resistance was not raised opposing its creation however, because the monarchists were far too divided to unite. For example, even if the Orleanists and Legitimists did unite to overthrow the republic, there would then be a state of anarchy as they both wanted such different ideals for France.
A provisional government was set up with 4 Socialists and 7 Republicans. Controversy arose, thus hindering the success of the republic, as both the Republicans and Socialists wanted a republic but entirely different ones. The Socialists were unlucky in the majority of the government being Republican as it meant they were ousted on most occasions. For example, it was decided to set the election date on Easter Sunday; a set-back for the Socialists.
This was because the Catholic Church disliked the Socialists and a majority of their supporters, the urban working class, would attend mass, hear a biased sermon (in those days the church was permitted to interfere politically) and thus vote against the Socialists. The election results for the now ‘Executive Committee’ reflected this, with 5 moderate Republicans, and no Socialists. The situation was not dissimilar to that in the period Louis Philippe and much of the constituent in the Assembly were lawyers, professionals and landowners. In fact, 165 of the 900 of them had been in the July monarchy under Louis Philippe. This enraged the Socialists who were desperate for reformation. They attempted an uprising but were quickly crushed and their leaders imprisoned.
The first reformation made by government was concerning unemployment and they gave money, buildings and tools in hope people would create jobs for themselves and become self sufficient. The revolution however, increased unemployment and the government themselves developed economic problems. They needed to either cut spending or raise taxes, which would be a danger for their popularity. The Committee was emboldened by the settled state of Paris brought around by the payment of the ‘dole’ by National workshops and with their conservative nature of the moderate Republicans it was decided it was time to put the ‘masses’ back in their proper place and assert dominance once more.
Thus, the ending of National Workshops came around as they had cost the country a great deal of money and attracted the poorest of society from everywhere in Paris in efforts to receive handouts. Men were instructed either to join military service or go to Algeria to work. The Republicans motives were clear; they felt threatened by the large number of able-bodied poor in Paris and feared the only way to prevent a potentially revolutionary group was to disperse them into the army or to do work in various provinces, forcing them to comply if they objected. Their reaction was predictably infuriated at the audacity of the Republicans and 20,000 armed rioters took to the street in a resistance known as the ‘June days’ which was regarded as more commanding than the one that forced Louis-Philippe into abdication.
The government was prepared to use any force that was required in order to crush the revolt. General Cavaignac, with calculated and cold-hearted efficiency brought upon his troops and begun the task of quiet literally ‘clearing away’ the barricades street by street. Troops roamed the quarters in which the barricades had been and killed anybody whom they thought had been involved in the fighting against them. Ironically, thousands of the protestors were imprisoned or deported to Algeria in the end anyway. The June days were a landmark of the republic, four days of brutal fighting clearly revealed to all the violent nature of the republic. The Republicans felt they now had power over the Socialists and decided to crush them once and for all. Newspapers and clubs run by the Socialists were closed. The working-class became anti-Republican as they saw them now as oppressive and manipulative, both to the Socialists and also to themselves. The Republicans were doomed. They were upholding a flawed government with diminutive support.
In November discussions of the Constituent Assembly finished and it was decided there would be a president elected for four year periods and of universal male suffrage. In December 1848 the elections were held for presidency. It was an impossible task to appeal to any more than a small minority of the electorate as a candidate due to the obvious lack of media facilities. Louis Napoleon Bonaparte spent most of his personal fortune however, in one of the first attempts at a national scale campaign. Local newspapers, badges, pictures and Napoleonic mementos were widely distributed. Napoleon had come to claim what he believed, by birth, to be his right.
Used to Lamartine’s dreamy romantic idealism, France needed someone new and decisive which was a windfall for Napoleon. Many had believed the election to be a foregone conclusion and that the presidency would certainly go to Cavaignac. However, he had made enemies whereas Napoleon’s reputation remained untarnished. Despite lacking in charisma and being a poor public speaker, the leading politicians appeared fond of him and in a bid for power thought that they would be able to manipulate him as a puppet.
His policies were of a strong government inside a democratic framework, his strong self image and his uncle’s Napoleonic legend appealed to all and most importantly, he had no association with the June days. He allured the masses in differing ways; The Royalists wanted him as a temporary monarch until the Legitimists and Orleanists resolved their differences; the clergy and army men thought he would uphold their privileges; the working class were enthusiastic on his ideas of social reform; the Frenchman thought he would reverse the Vienna settlement and the peasants wanted protection from the Republicans who were associated with violence.
Napoleon becoming president was of no advantage to the republic and it could not last long under his power. Once president, Napoleon became greedy in his desire for power and decided his position was not authoritative enough. He wanted to remain in presidency longer than the four year stint and also demanded an increased wage. On the 2nd December 1851, after his demands were not met, Napoleon staged a coup to gain support and brought in troops to quash the opposition. An overwhelming ‘yes’ vote secured Napoleon with a ten year rule and another for France to become an Empire with Napoleon as emperor. On the 2nd December 1852 Napoleon declared himself Emperor and therefore dissolved the Second Republic of France.
After less than 5 years the Second Republic had been brought to an end. The republican form of government had such revolutionary overtones inducing political, economic and social turmoil that it is not surprising that the men of property and power throughout Europe regarded Republicanism as a danger. The Second Republic had been established through public acclaim in Paris although had there not been a split of the Orleanists and the Legitimists and the Constituent Assembly a Republican constitution, then a Republic would never have emerged. Thus the republic had such few positive adherents that it was unlikely to survive any determined and well-organised attempt to overthrow it. The Second Republic failed to survive once a suitable solution had been found, in the Emperor of Napoleon. However, we should not credit Napoleon’s rise to Emperor as all due to the situation; he had made skilful and determined use of all that had been handed to him.
I believe the failure of the Second Republic to be one of inevitability as it was too diverse in comparison to the previous reign of the monarch, to be wholly accepted. A plethora of hindrances faced the success of the Second Republic but I believe it to be mainly due to 4 factors; the sparse support for the republic in the first place (only the Paris mob), the Republicans destroyal of their own reformation, the workshops, the French people’s need for stability and Louis Napoleon’s overriding determination for power, which was the ‘final nail in the coffin’; of the Republic.