French Second Republic - History - Formation

Formation

The Republic was then proclaimed by Alphonse de 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-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 the 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, 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). The other party wished to maintain society on the basis of its ancient 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.

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 manhood suffrage of an insufficiently educated people? 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 till 26 April. 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 4 May 1848. The provisional government having resigned, the republican and anti-socialist majority on the 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. 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.

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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 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 labour; and, lastly, by the decree of 8 March, 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 organisation and an armed force.

In the circumstances, a conflict was inevitable; and on 15 May, 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 nonetheless 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 15 May, 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 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.

The June Days Uprising broke out at once, during 24—26 June, when the eastern industrial quarter of Paris, led by Pujol, fought the western quarter, led by Cavaignac, who had been appointed dictator. The socialist party was vanquished by fighting and afterwards by deportation, but they dragged down the Republic in their ruin. It 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. 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, 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.

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