Photographic book

France in 1848


Second Republic
Second Republic

The Second Republic lasted only four years, due chiefly to the inability of the regime to reconcile widely divergent political agendas. The provisional government responded to the crisis of unemployment by establishing national workshops to provide jobs in Paris. But the workshops were quickly dismantled after a relatively conservative government was elected in April 1848. This election was the first held in France on the basis of true universal male suffrage, and France was still overwhelmingly a country of relatively conservative peasants.

Parisian workers rose in revolt, barricading themselves in the streets. The government responded by sending in troops, who bloodily repressed the revolt in what is known as the June Days of 1848. This repression marked a major breakdown in the loose alliance of workers and bourgeois that had underpinned revolutionary movements since 1789. A new republican constitution was enacted in November, but it left unclear the respective powers of the unicameral assembly and the executive president. In the presidential elections of December 1848, the overwhelming winner was a nephew of the great Napoleon, Louis Napoleon, who had previously tried to overthrow the July Monarchy and had served time in jail for it.

Louis Napoleon’s appeal lay not only in his prestigious dynastic background but also in his fuzzy political platform, which allowed people of different parties to see in him a fellow spirit. In May 1849 a new legislature was elected. The big winners were right-wing monarchists and, to a lesser extent, left-wing radicals; moderate republicans went down to defeat. Exploiting ambiguities in the constitution regarding the limits of his power, Louis Napoleon at first favored the right. He agreed reluctantly to a restriction of the suffrage and to a law that increased church influence in education.

But by 1851, the president fell out with the assembly over his demands for funds to pay his debts and for a constitutional revision that would allow him to serve a second term. On December 2, Louis Napoleon had assembly leaders arrested and then altered the constitution so that he could have a ten-year term.

This change was approved overwhelmingly by the voters, and a year later he followed in his famous uncle’s footsteps by making himself emperor as Napoleon III. This move was also approved by a wide margin, demonstrating what many liberals, such as the historian Alexis de Tocqueville, feared—namely that democracy in France would lead to the end of liberty. The republic had given way to the Second Empire. "France" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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