V. The Modern Period, 1789–1914 > B. The French Revolution and Europe, 1789–1914 > 5. Revolutions in Europe, 1848–1852
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1847–48)
5. Revolutions in Europe, 1848–1852
Causes. Between 1848 and 1852, revolutions rocked most of western and central Europe with exceptions such as the Netherlands, Belgium, and Britain. The immediate cause was the economic hardship of 1846 and 1847. This hardship stemmed from the failure of the potato and wheat crops throughout much of Europe. The consequent rise in food prices drove demand for other products down and thus hurt the emerging industrial sectors as well. In addition, cholera spread through Europe in 1848 and 1849. Early industrialization strengthened the middle classes, who embraced liberalism and nationalism. Industrial developments also threatened the livelihoods of the many craftworkers who became instrumental in the early phases of the revolutions. Industrialization and economic hardships were not sufficient causes, however. Britain and Belgium, the most advanced industrial nations, avoided revolution by adopting liberal forms of government in the years preceding 1848 and expanding the franchise to include many of the industrialists and other members of the middle classes. The third factor, therefore, was a state that continued to resist liberal and nationalist reforms.  1
Chronology. Unrest actually began in Italy and Switzerland, but historians usually consider the Parisian revolution first, because it sent the widest signals. The revolutions then moved to Austria-Hungary, Italy, and finally north through Germany.  2
a. France
The banquets. A series of political banquets (See 1847–48) planned by Liberals and Republicans throughout France aimed at gaining support for opposition parties. The government let these banquets proceed until Feb. 22, 1848, when it stopped one scheduled in Paris that was to be preceded by a public procession. Students and workers gathered to march despite the prohibition. The police dispersed the marchers, but the workers and students began erecting barricades throughout Paris. The National Guard joined the cause, and the revolutionaries controlled Paris by Feb. 24. They chose a red banner as their flag—a banner that came to represent the left wing of the Second Republic.  3
1848, Feb. 23
The king appeased the middle class by replacing conservative prime minister Guizot with Molé, but revolutionaries in Paris continued to mount the barricades.  4
Feb. 24
Faced with continued activity in Paris, Louis-Philippe replaced Molé with Thiers, abdicated in favor of his grandson the comte de Paris, and fled Paris. The comte's mother, Hélène Louis of Mecklenburg-Shwerin, was dissuaded from showing herself and her children to the people and instead went before the Chamber of Deputies. Many of the rioters had entered the chamber and called for the comte to be dethroned. As a result, a provisional government was chosen and a republic proclaimed. The romantic poet Alphonse-Louis-Marie de Lamartine dominated the right wing of the government, and Louis Blanc, a socialist, dominated the left wing.  5
Workers' demands. The economic hardships of the 1840s had left many people without employment. Workers and the socialists demanded that workers be guaranteed the right to work, the right to a minimum wage, and the right to be provided for in the case of illness and old age.  6
Feb. 25
The government recognized the right to work, the right to a living wage, and the right of workers to organize.  7
Feb. 26
National Workshops were decreed to provide work or relief to all the unemployed.  8
Feb. 27
Following abortive attempts to overthrow the provisional government and place a Paris commune in its stead, the government attempted to appease demands that they adopt the red flag as an indicator of their commitment to democracy by declaring the tricolor of the Revolution of 1789 the national flag and ascribing to the belief in liberty, equality, and fraternity.  9
Feb. 28
The Luxembourg Commission was established by the provisional government under the direction of Albert (a worker) and Blanc to develop a permanent plan for the organization of labor. The Luxembourg Commission had little authority and suffered from a lack of staffing and funding. It managed to produce a “General Survey of Works,” which never received a first reading within the government. The failure of the commission to gain any real attention from the government resulted in the resignation of Albert and Blanc (May 8), who had represented the workers' concerns in the provisional government.  10
Women. The year 1848 saw the proliferation of women's political newspapers. These newspapers generally connected women's rights with workers' rights by focusing on the many women in France who worked. Both women and workers failed to gain their objectives in a revolution dominated not by democrats and socialists but by liberals.  11
April 23
The elections to the national (or constituent) assembly, which was to give France a new constitution, were a victory for the moderate Republicans (Lamartine) with some 500 seats; the left wing (Louis Blanc) had fewer than 100; the Legitimists (seeking the return of the Bourbon line) had about 100; the Orléanists (supporters of the fallen dynasty of Louis-Philippe), about 200.  12
Social legislation. The provisional government had abolished sweated labor (March 2) and reduced workers' hours to 10 per day in Paris and 11 per day in the provinces. It also set up free labor exchanges in town halls and stopped work projects in prisons and barracks because the latter were considered to be in competition with workers.  13
Perhaps the biggest piece of social legislation was also the most flawed—the National Workshops were inundated with the unemployed, who were attracted by the promise of 2 francs per day when they worked and 1½ francs when they did not. They were organized along military lines and put to work two days per week. The strict discipline and hard, often pointless labor, inflicted in the workshops led to worker demonstrations, including a riot on May 15. Not only artisans but also some factory workers participated, marking a change in the social base for urban political protest in France.  14
June 21
The government abolished the workshops. As a result, many workers in Paris participated in the June Days Rebellion.  15
June 23–26
THE JUNE DAYS REBELLION. The workers set up barricades while Gen. Louis Cavaignac, in charge of the army, became dictator pro tempore. Cavaignac waited until he had mustered all of his troops in Paris, including reinforcements from the National Guard from outside Paris, to march on the barricades rather than take each barricade down as it was being erected. Cavaignac's strategy inflicted heavy casualties but also cleared the streets of Paris.  16
Reaction followed the June Days. The government repealed the limitations on working hours, adopted legislation regulating the press, suppressed secret societies, and dictated rigid control for clubs and political associations.  17
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.