Monday, 9 February 2015

France: the July Monarchy

Louis-Philippe by Winterhalter
Public Domain


On 31 July, following three days of fighting in Paris, the veteran general Lafayette, appeared on the balcony of the Hôtel de Ville with Louis-Philippe, the 57-year-old head of the Orléanist family. Both men were holding a large tricolour flag. When Lafayette embraced Louis-Philippe, the crowd gave both men a prolonged ovation. On 3 August Louis-Philippe opened the new session of the Chamber of Deputes as Lieutenant-General of the Kingdom. On 9 August he accepted the deputies’ invitation to be King of the French. He then mounted the throne, acknowledging that ‘the will of the nation has called me’.  This was the closest he got to a coronation. 

Supporters of the July Revolution compared it to Britain’s Glorious Revolution of 1688-9.  It was not a divine right monarchy and Louis-Philippe was designated king of the French not king of France. According to Lafayette, whose support was crucial, this was
‘a popular monarchy surrounded by republican institutions’.  
The tricolore replaced the white flag of the Bourbons as a sign that Louis-Philippe, who had fought at Jemappes and was the son of the revolutionary Philippe Égalité, was a ‘Citizen King’. He stood between France and a republic.

The nature of the reign

The regime had many liberal aspects. Louis XVIII’s Charter was retained and strengthened. The principle of popular sovereignty was tacitly acknowledged, as it was not a concession granted by the king but a declaration of the rights of the nation.  The king remained head of state though he could not suspend laws nor prevent them from being carried out. He could still nominate peers, though these were to be life peers only. This was a decisive blow to the political power of the nobility. Catholicism was no longer ‘the religion of the State’ but, as with Napoleon’s Concordat, ‘the religion professed by the majority’. Censorship was abolished. The king retained the right to choose his ministers and Louis-Philippe was determined to conduct his own foreign policy. 

The new government was a combination of bureaucracy and plutocracy, and France was governed by the class of landed proprietors who had done well out of the Revolution.
‘You’re deluding yourself … if you imagine that it’s King Louis-Philippe that we’re ruled by, and he has no illusions himself on that score. He knows, as we all do, that above the Charter there stands the holy, venerable, solid, the adored, gracious, beautiful, noble, ever young, almighty franc.’ Honoré de Balzac, Cousin Bette (1846).

The weaknesses of the regime

It has often been argued that the regime of Louis-Philippe was conservative but that it lacked the legitimacy which was essential to true conservatives: too monarchic to be republican, and too republican to be monarchic.  This view has recently been disputed. Louis-Philippe eventually fell from power, but there was arguably nothing inevitable about his fall. Yet the regime had serious weaknesses. The National Guard - the citizen’s militia - had re-formed during the July Revolution and many of its poorer members were republicans, who could not be relied upon to support the government. 

It is not surprising that the early years of Louis-Philippe’s reign were marked by social disturbances, royalist plots, a republican assassination attempt, and unstable ministries. The liberal newspaper, Le National, founded in January 1830 to oppose Charles X, remained the chief opposition journal under the July Monarchy. Other opposition was provided by the caricaturists.

In 1831 the regime faced weavers’ demonstrations in Lyon and anti-clerical riots in Paris. In 1832 the duchess de Berry launched an unsuccessful uprising in the Vendée on behalf of her son. In July 1835 a Corsican named Fieschi attempted to assassinate Louis Philippe by an ‘infernal machine’ (25 musket barrels mounted on a wooden frame). Several National Guards and spectators were killed. 

Nevertheless,  after ten years the dynasty seemed secure. The king had five sons so there was no succession problem. Hopes of a Napoleonic restoration seemed to have ended with the death of the young duc de Reichstadt, Napoleon’s son, in 1832. In 1836 and 1840 Napoleon’s nephew, Louis Napoleon, son of Louis, king of Holland and Hortense de Beauharnais (Josephine’s daughter) attempted coups at Strasbourg and Boulogne, but these were fiascos. The Bonapartist legend now seemed so innocuous that the regime tried to exploit it. In 1840 Louis-Philippe’s son the prince de Joinville was sent to fetch Napoleon’s remains from St Helena for reburial in the Invalides.


François Guizot’, Licensed under
Public Domain
via Wikimedia Commons 

In 1840 the former history professor, François Pierre-Guillaume Guizot (1787-1874), was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and became the dominating figure in the government.  In 1833 as Minister for Education he had passed a law that required every commune in France to establish a government-funded primary school for boys and each department or group of departments a training college for elementary school-teachers, the école normale primaire. This was a step forward from the Napoleonic regime, which had established secondary schools (lycées) but ignored primary education. 

France industrializes

The reign of Louis Philippe saw the beginnings of industrialization in France. In 1841 France’s industrial production leaped to 16% above the average annual rate for the century and between 1839 and 1846 production in the most dynamic and innovative sectors of industry – cotton and silk textiles, mining, metals and chemistry – rose by 61%.  The law of 11 June 1842 laid the foundations of the railway system by using a combination of state, local and private resources to finance a network radiating from Paris to Belgium, the Channel coast, Strasbourg, Marseille, Nantes and Bordeaux. The law of 22 March 1842 banned children under eight from working in factories and restricted the working hours of children under twelve to eight hours a day and to twelve for those under sixteen. However, the lack of a central inspectorate meant that this law was patchily enforced. 

The growth of socialism

This is the background for Guizot’s famous (if apocryphal) exhortation: ‘Enrichessez-vous’. The words underlined his failure to address the problems of working-class poverty as well as the government’s laissez-faire ideology. Louis-Philippe said in March 1835,
‘The best charity is to provide work; it gives useful results, and combats idleness, and in some cases hypocrisy.’
Louis Blanc
Public Domain
It is in this period that socialist ideas began to make headway in France. In 1839 the socialist theoretician and historian, Louis Blanc, published his L’Organisation du Travail, which proposed the establishment of workers’ co-operatives with the state providing start-up capital to be repaid by profits which in turn would fund social insurance and finance new co-operatives. 

An unreformed political system

 The French political system contained significant structural flaws, having failed to keep up with huge demographic and social changes. Major population centres were now seriously under-represented – Paris contained a tenth of the electorate but returned only 3% of the delegates. The 200 francs tax qualification had meant that only five per cent of adult men had the vote. This tiny parliamentary electorate was isolated not only from the population as a whole but from the municipal electorate of about three million voters and the National Guard, which included many people who did not have the vote.  

Guizot refused to concede parliamentary reform along the lines of the British reform of 1832 – possibly because, as the son of a guillotined father, he had been so traumatized by the Revolution.  He had come to see reform in apocalyptic, Calvinist terms and refused to yield to what he saw as diabolical pressures. The king was reluctant to abandon his foreign secretary, and he too was becoming increasingly inflexible with age. 

The opposition mounts

In the middle of 1846 the economic boom of the previous years came to an abrupt end with harvest failures putting up the price of bread. This led to a slump in manufacturing and a rise in unemployment. A financial crisis led to the collapse of the railway boom and to a series of bank failures. In September 1847 Guizot became prime minister, and this proved the last straw for the parliamentary opposition. 

The political banquets: In July 1847 the opposition organized the first of a series of political banquets, where tickets were sold for a nominal sum and equally nominal amounts of food and drink provided.  Leading orators denounced government corruption and called for (modest) parliamentary reform. At a banquet in Lille on 7 November 1847 the radical deputy for Le Mans, Alexandre Ledru-Rollin, advocated manhood suffrage. In January 1848 the king and Guizot prohibited further banquets. The opposition backed down rather tamely but their newspapers took up the cause. 

The end of the July monarchy

On 22 February a large crowd began to gather in Paris. On the following day most of the middle-class National Guard sided with the crowds. The king dismissed Guizot but later that day nervous soldiers fired into a crowd at the Boulevard des Capucines, killing over sixty demonstrators and wounding over eighty. Barricades were put up, gunsmiths’ shops were looted and Paris was in the grip of a full-scale insurrection. On 24 February Louis-Philippe abdicated in favour of his grandson the count of Paris and left Paris. After riotous scenes in the Chamber, the duchess of Orléans and her children were forced to go into hiding. One of the deputies, the poet and historian, Alphonse de Lamartine, announced a list of liberal parliamentarians to form a new provisional government. 

Louis-Philippe and his family were evacuated from Le Havre by the British. He died at Claremont in Surrey in 1850.

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