Louis Philippe

The July monarchy fell on the 24th of February 1848, after Louis Philippe was forced to abdicate from the throne. This was caused by a mass protest on the streets of Paris, after a banquet was declared illegal. Situations escalated into a full revolution when republican broke into the hotel de ville, and held the king to account. There is still much discussion over how far this was intended to be a revolution, and to what extent it was just a protest which got out of hand and eventually escalated into a revolution which was unplanned and unexpected. There are three main views on why there was a revolution in 1848: the Marxist view, that it was a spontaneous working class uprising against the bourgeoisie; the ideological view, that middle class intellectual debating ideas such as republicanism started the revolution; and that it was a reaction to an old outdated regime, that failed to inspire people.

The banquet movement began in July 1847 and was organised by the central committee of the seine. It was created in response to the lack of reform created by Louis Philippe, and his first minister Guizot. Many people within the chamber were dissatisfied, and also many who weren’t, as they wished for the franchise to be extended to represent more of the bourgeoisie. It drew inspiration directly from the Anti-corn law league campaigning at the same time in Britain. There were about seventy banquets held overall; it began as a moderate movement run by the gauche dynastique, to display populous opposition to Guizot and Louis Philippe’s government, and to champion the cause of electoral reform. However, the moderate reformists lost control and it became a platform for republican extremists such as Ledru-Rollin who supported reforms to help the working classes and argued for manhood suffrage. He spoke in Lille in November 1847 after which the banquets became more and more radical. The Situation came to a head on 22nd February 1848 when the planned banquet in Paris was declared illegal; this was accepted by the moderate politicians, however, the republicans planned a protest of students and unemployed workers instead. Misjudging their loyalty, Louis Philippe attempted to use the National Guard who, in some places, handed their weapons over to the protestors. The next day Louis Philippe replaced Guizot with the more liberal Louis Mathieu Mole, which only made the republicans believe they had backed the king in to a corner, and on the twenty-fourth the captured the hotel de vile and forced Louis Philippe to abdicate.

During Louis Philippe’s reign the industrial revolution was creating great change in Europe, and although France was developing at a far slower rate, there were still major changes especially in large cities like Paris, which was growing at an incredible rate. This boosted the economy; however, it also caused huge problems of overcrowding, squalid living conditions and poverty. Unlike in other industrialising countries the French government failed to implement any social or economic reform, angering the working class.

A Marxist interpretation of the revolution would argue that this industrialisation led to the awakening of the working classes causing revolt. Marx argued that the industrial revolution created a greater awareness of class difference, as the workers could see the difference between them, and the bourgeoisie, as they were the ones who owned the factories and railways which they worked on. They saw the difference as unfair, as the factory owners appeared to have an easy luxurious life whereas the workers struggled to feed themselves, especially after the hit of the economic crisis, and the food shortages causing prices to fluctuate. Furthermore many of the people moving into the towns were poorly educated young men, who were easily persuaded to join any revolution, especially when conditions were so poor. Therefore, Marx believed that the working people of Paris massed together in a spontaneous rising against their bourgeoisie oppressors, rather than an orchestrated overthrow of the monarchy meaning it was accidental and unexpected, as the working people would have had little or not interest in the finer workings of government. Many of them were uneducated, and would have only concerned about their living and working conditions, and were angry as they wanted to overthrow their oppressors not the king.

However, there are also faults with the Marxist interpretation of the situation, as it neglects some very important facts, primarily that France was the only country to have a revolution at this time, even though it was less industrialised than other countries like Britain, which managed to avoid such an incident. According to Marxist views the British working class would have also become aware of their situation, and would have risen up, but they didn’t, for which Marx provides no explanation. Furthermore the economic problems were beginning to resolve themselves by 1848, meaning that food prices fell, and conditions for rural workers improved, and even when they had protested, most of the food riots had been localised and poorly organised events that posed no real threat to central government. Most of the organisation needed to organise a successful revolution was provided by the liberal middle classes, and educated students, who had also lost faith in government, leading historians to believe that it was less accidental than it may have appeared.

The lower middle classes were especially discontent with their situation, as even after persistent pressure on the government, they were still left out of the franchise. Also, many of them had invested in the railways, and they lost their money after the stock exchange collapsed leaving them even more aggravated by the situation. Some of the members of the banquet movement had been calling for a republic, and the banning of one of their event was the spark that started the protest. In addition to this, it was the middle classes who made up the national guard who crucially defected to the revolution by handing over their weapons, meaning it was less of a working class uprising than Marx argued. This would mean that it was far more ordered, and the discontent of the middle class meant that it was more predictable than some would argue.

An alternate interpretation of the 1848 revolution was that it was an ideological revolution, led by intellectuals, and that even though the workers did turn out in force; it seems unlikely they would have if it had not been for the intellectual questioning of the government. France had been through a turbulent political climate since the first French revolution in 1989, and the revolution of 1848 was the logical conclusion to be drawn from the development of new political ideas, Furthermore, the previous attempts to restore the bourbons with Louis XVIII and Charles X to the throne had resulted in failure, and there was no reason to believe that Louis Philippe would be any more successful. The ideas of the revolution had not been completely erased, and had challenged the rule of kings altogether, meaning it may only have been a matter of time before people got bored with Louis Philippe and replaced his reign with new and radical ideas like socialism, which appealed to many people excluded from the rule of Louis Philippe. This interpretation of the revolution would suggest that the revolution of 1848 was not at ul accidental or unexpected, and that it had been waiting to happen for a while, suggesting that Louis Philippe may not have been as secure on the throne as he may have liked to believe, this is supported by the fact that the banquet movement was set up by such educated intellectuals, and their opinions were also published in the liberal newspapers .Furthermore Ideas such as republicanism, and universal male suffrage became the subject of the later banquets which would have given optimism to the workers who turned out on the streets.

Opponents to this view would argue that although the ideas were being discussed, and many people were dissatisfied with the monarchy, the event that triggered it was not intended to be a revolution; rather it was a protest that got out of hand. This is because most of those who were running the protest within the chamber and through the press were looking to change the current system from within, rather than overthrowing it all together. Furthermore Socialism was not a new concept, and had been discussed for many years; there is also little evidence to say that it was the decisive political force in 1848, especially since those who took to the barricades were the working classes, who were least likely to understand the ideas of socialism fully. Meaning that although there were political stirrings the events that occurred in February were unintended, and most of those who were campaigning for change had not planned to overthrow the government.

The final interpretation of events is that it was a reaction to the stagnation of Louis Philippe’s reign, he had very few supporters left, as he had turned his back on the upper class by claiming he was a bourgeois monarch, he had failed to live up to the expectations of the middle class, who were his natural supporters, by failing to implement any reform, and refusing to increase the franchise to include lower middle class citizens. He had also lost any support he had had from the working class by claiming that the terrible living and working condition were not his problem. Furthermore he followed a very cautious foreign policy, often willing to play second best to Britain. This led to protest from Thiers and Barrot who maintained a campaign for reform within the chamber. There was also a lot of anti-establishment propaganda carried through the liberal news papers such as “le national” and “la reforme”. Additionally Louis Philippe was growing old, and was more and more dependent on his unpopular firs minister Guizot to make decisions, leaving him open to even more criticism. People who believe in this view claim that it was Louis Philippe’s in ability to foresee what his policy was creating that led to the revolution, meaning that it was not unexpected at all, but rather the result of a complacent leader, and first minister.However boredom alone has never caused teh doenfall of a regime before, and far more incompetent kings have managed to remain in power, and other forces were necessary to turn discontent into revolutionary anger.

It was clear that Louis Philippe’s reign was not as stable as he believed it to be, and that he had little support due to his weak and uninspiring policy, his cautions nature led to discontent with those who should have been his natural supports, meaning that when his reign was challenged there was no one who would actively defend his reign against attack. The Marxist view that the workers rose up to overthrow their oppressors may at first seem reasonable, as they were forced to endure terrible conditions, and they were the ones who manned the barricades, however it is unlikely that they would have had the ability to orchestrate the uprising effectively without the support of the middle classes, who made up the national guard who handed over their weapons. The middle classes were dissatisfied with their bourgeois monarch who failed to meet their needs, and many of the intellectuals among them had developed comprehensive alternative systems of republicanism, and socialism, which were debated in full throughout his reign, and were reminiscent of the first revolution. These ideas however had been around for a while, and their level of influence may have been exaggerated, and the main middle class supporters of reform wanted to alter the current system not create a new one. Therefore the revolution of 1848 was in a way accidental, as the events of the day were meant as not more than a protest against the banning of the banquet movement, however in the long term it looked like there was widespread support for change, and those who desired a new system of government took the opportunity to make a move while the king was on the back foot, and as the king had no real supporters everyone just allowed him to be overthrown, meaning a revolution could hardly have been called an unexpected even.