The Revolutions of 1848

The Revolutions of 1848

[Authors: Pat Murray and Daniel Harnett]

[Author: Pat Murray] Throughout Europe, 1848 is regarded as a year plagued by social unrest triggered political turmoil that redefined the socio-political relations that had been established by previous ruling dynasties in several countries. France spearheaded this wave of revolutions that overcame Europe. In February 1848 misrepresented French citizens enraged by 18 years of King Louise-Philipe’s July Monarchy (La Monarchie de Juillet) revolted against the crown. France’s civil society was dissatisfied by its constitutional monarchy and an elite-run national assembly, which was only representative of France’s privileged minority. Due to the 1835 Act prohibiting public assemblies, the French people could not gather in protest, so in turn they (mostly members of the Parisian middle class) developed a politically oriented, fund-raising dynamic called the Campagnes des Banquets in mid 1847 to destabilize Louise-Philipe’s monarchy. These banquets spread to other provinces and in turn were banned by the monarchy in December 1847. On January 27, 1848 French political thinker and historian Alexis De Tocqueville addressed the French Chamber of Deputies and predicted the coming revolution in his speech: “I am told that there is no danger because there are no riots; I am told that, because there is no visible disorder on the surface of society, there is no revolution at hand.... This, gentlemen, is my profound conviction: I believe that we are at this moment sleeping on a volcano. I am profoundly convinced of it ...”[1] One month after De Tocqueville’s address, on February 22, 1848, the crowds, enraged by the banning of the banquets, took to the streets in riot calling for reform and demanding that the “Bourgeois Monarch” Louis-Philippe and his prime minister Francois Guizot step down. Louis-Philippe abdicated and Guizot resigned as Prime Minister on February 24, 1848.
The riots of February 1848 gave way to the Second Republic, a transient government proclaimed by Alphonse de Lamartine. In an abrupt effort to satisfy the demands of the outraged and unemployed citizens, the Second Republic created the National Workshops, a program that guaranteed employment to French citizens. Yet these national workshops were not designed properly and required taxes on land to be raised, which alienated land owners who did not benefit from the workshops and therefore refused to pay. Funding did not meet the employment demands of the workshops and the incomes they generated for the workers were barely enough to survive. On June 23, the government decided to close the workshops. In response to this, from June 24 to June 26, enraged members of these workshops revolted once again in what is now known as The June Days (Les Journées de Juin). Approximately 10,000 people were either injured or killed in this three day period of social unrest between insurgents and members of the National Guard. As a result of the flawed beginnings of the Second Republic, a new Constitution was enacted that called for an elected President of the Republic which would hold office for a four year period. After the June Days during which the revolution was quelled, France re-established its government and in December of that year elected Louis Napoleon Bonaparte as President of the Republic. Four years later, in 1852, he would establish the Second French Empire and proclaim himself Emperor for life.
            The year 1848 proved to be a difficult one for the whole of the European continent, especially for France. The French Revolutions of 1848 were a clear indicator that change was necessary in a French society troubled by flourishing at the expense and churning of its citizens in a socio-political machine triggered by modernization. In a speech to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1848 Revolutions, Lewis Namier concludes “1848 remains a seed-plot of history. It crystallized ideas and projected the pattern of things to come; it determined the course of the century which followed.”[2]

Full Text Scholarly Essay

The Mobile Guard in the French Revolution of 1848
By Mark Traugott
Theory and Society, Vol. 9 – No. 5

Archival Materials

The Nation Vol. 2 – No. 35, March 1, 1866
Literature Section, Page 278 (PDF: pp. 247-248)
De Tocqueville as a Legislator
Description: This article was published by The Nation, a weekly journal still active today, on March 1, 1866. It talks about  Alexis De Tocqueville’s address to the French Chamber of Deputies on January 27, 1848 one month prior to the February revolutions in France. De Tocqueville was a very influential French historian and politician who was extremely concerned with the state of social unrest that inevitably gave way to revolution. It is worthy to mention that this article was published 20 years after the fact because it sheds light on the importance and significance of the events that unfolded in France in 1848 and on one of France’s influential actors of the time.

Lamartine devant l’Hôtel de Ville de Paris, le fevrier 25 1848, by Félix Philippoteaux
Description: This image is a painting by Félix Philippoteaux of Alphonse de Lamartine standing at the steps of City Hall in Paris. It is a significant image to consider since it is emblematic of the Second Republic under Lamartine’s direction and how he refused to adopt the “drapeau rouge” or red flag which was symbolic of the socialist revolutionaries. Lamartine instead opted to defend the tricolore drapeau (red, white and blue flag) and keep it as the French symbol of “LIBERTE EGALITE FRATERNITE” (Liberty, equality, fraternity).

Barricade, Rue Soufflot, Paris, June 1848, painting, Horace Vernet
Description: The events of the June Days in 1848 is immortalized in Horace Vernet’s painting  Barricade, Rue Soufflot, Paris. This image depicts the revolutionary members of the National Workshops rebelling against the authorioties. A typical scenario of the June Days involved “insurgents” blocking the streets with barricades to disrupt the roadways and confront the members of the police. It is important to note the Pantheon, the greatest symbol of the Republic,  in the background since the insurgents considered the area their stronghold.

French Color Print of "Republique Francaise. Combat du Peuple Parisien dans las Journees des 22, 23 et 24 Fevrier 1848"
Description: This print of the February Revolutions of 1848 was the fron cover of the newspaper Republique Francaise. It was like this that news about the abdication of Louis-Philippe, the birth of the Second Republic, and the struggles of the people combating authority were published in the national paper. It is also a depiction of triumph in revolution and the need and urgency for reform in France at the time. 

Vanished Supremacies: Essays on European History 1812—1918
Chapter V: The Seed-Plot of History (pp. 21-30)
By Lewis Namier (1963)
Description: Chapter Five : The Seed-Plot of history is a facinating account given in 1948 by Lewis Namier on the 100th anniversary of the 1848 revolutinons. Not only is it an analytical recounting of what transpired during that year, it provides a valuable perspective of how significant those events were and how they have influenced the world up to 1948. It is interesting to consider how Namier puts into context the results of the revolutions of 1848 in a time when a World War had been waged in Europe and there was a sense of hope and reform, much like that experienced by the authors of the revolution in 1848.

 Links for Further Exploration


Recollections: The French Revolution of 1848 (Social Science Classics Series).
By Alexis De Tocqueville
1848: A Turning Point?
Publication Information: Book Title: 1848: A Turning Point?. Contributors: Melvin Kranzberg - editor. Publisher: D. C. Heath. Place of Publication: Boston. Publication Year: 1959. Page Number: v.
Melvin Kranzberg
The Class Struggles in France (1848-1850)
Publication Information: Book Title: The Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850. Contributors: Karl Marx - author. Publisher: International Publishers. Place of Publication: New York. Publication Year: 1964. Page Number: 3.
By Karl Marx
The Students of Paris and the Revolution of 1848
Publication Information: Book Title: The Students of Paris and the Revolution of 1848. Contributors: John G. Gallaher - author. Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press. Place of Publication: Carbondale, IL. Publication Year: 1980. Page Number: iii.
By John G. Gallaher
The French Revolution of 1848: Its Causes, Actors, Events and Influences (1848).
By George G. Foster, Thomas Dunn English
Vanished Supremacies Essays on European History 1812 1918 (1963).
Chapter V: The Seed-Plot of History
By Lewis Namier
1848: The Revolution of the Intellectuals (Raleigh Lectures on History).
Published March 12th 1992 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1964).
By Lewis Namier
1848: a European Revolution? International Ideas and National Memories of 1848.
Dr William Fortescue, review of 1848: a European Revolution? International Ideas and National Memories of 1848, (review no. 422)
Date accessed: 22 April, 2012
1848: The Revolutionary Tide in Europe
Publication Information:
Book Title: 1848: The Revolutionary Tide in Europe. Contributors: Peter N. Stearns - author. Publisher: W. W. Norton. Place of Publication: New York. Publication Year: 1974. Page Number: iii.

[1] Alexis de Tocqueville: Speech of January 29, 1848, delivered in the French Chamber of Deputies.
[2] Vanished Suypremacies: Essays on European History 1812-1918, Ch. 5: 1848: Seed-Plot of History.
Lewis Namier (1963)


The Revolutions of 1848: The Paris Insurrection

[Author: Daniel Harnett] In the year 1848, a series of revolutions swept the Earth and reconstructed the globe. These political upheavals occurred throughout Europe in order to bring about the collapse of traditional authority. The revolution in France, which began in February of 1848, was the first of many. It brought about the overthrow of the Orleans monarchy, the end of King-Louis Philippe’s reign, and the creation of the French Second Republic.
Over 50 countries were affected by the revolutions; however, these upheavals that spread throughout the continent were independent of one another. The revolution in France, in particular, was a social upheaval. “The attendant low wages, unemployment, miserable living conditions, hunger, disease, ignorance, and crime formed the nucleus of the social question.” (Fasel 655) The rural and agricultural workers of France were struggling and the government was not hearing their pleas. The poor members of urban society were also staging protests in the face of adversity and unemployment, “urban poverty plagued the ancient regime and appeared as a constant theme in the Great Revolution.” (Fasel 655) The scare of unemployment rattled the Paris workers, consequently leading them to gather angrily as a mob in the streets of the city. As a result, the government of France took a socialist approach in opening the “charity work houses”, also known as the National Workshops, where workers would be guaranteed employment.[1] The workshops proved to be a failure, however, due to the large number of workers that populated the establishments. This socialist failure, coupled with the economic hardships of the time, further compounded the tension that existed between those in power and the working class.[2]
The responsibility of the state to preserve its citizens from harsh economic conditions was failing; agricultural laborers, sharecroppers, and peasants of rural towns were being burdened by heavy taxation.[3]  In June of 1848, Parisians demanded aid from the government and the guarantee of a ten-hour workday within workshops.[4] The Paris Insurrection of 1848 was violent and chaotic as guards shot and killed several protestors. Louis Napoleon put down the insurrection, and, upon his election, established the Second French Empire.

Archival Elements

            The first picture is a depiction of the French Revolution. This hand-colored lithograph illustrates the violence that occurred during the Revolutions of 1848. Although an anonymous artist created this work, it was published by N. Currier in New York during the year of the Paris Insurrection. The picture depicts the Parisian mob acting out against the authority and their violent attempts at rebellion. It can be seen in the background that one of the revolutionaries is holding the nations flag in the air. The mob, therefore, symbolizes the Parisian worker and common man. The burning carriage possibly symbolizes the collapse of the Orleans monarchy. Some men have fallen in this picture and some are dead. A few individuals physically lie underneath the carriage, symbolizing the significance of the common man in establishing prosperity and luxury for the monarch. That is to say, the picture not only depicts the turbulent and chaotic climate of the time period, but also serves as a reminder that Paris’ wealth was founded on the backs of the poor.

            The second picture, the “Scene in the Throne-Room of the Tuileries,” is another historical print that succeeds in depicting the violence and the aggression of revolution. This lithograph, published by N. Currier in 1848, shows the anti-monarchist nature of the rebellion. The picture depicts the anger felt by the common Parisian worker during the revolution. Gathered in an angry mob, the revolutionaries dismantle and destroy an elegant room that represents the French aristocracy. Their restlessness is characterized through their actions; as they knock over the ornate and expensive furniture and rip apart the bourgeois curtains of the monarch, they actively seek change. The scene takes place within a throne room in order to demonstrate the Parisian worker’s attempt at occupying the space of authority. Through the destruction of material items, the artist has captured an anarchistic concept that was articulated by Proudhon in the 1930s: nobody owns the means of production.


Christofferson, Thomas R. “The National Workshops of 1848: The View from the Provinces.” French Historical Studies, Vol. 11, No. 4 (Autumn, 1980) 505-520, Duke University Press. JSTOR, 20 Apr. 2012

Fasel, George. “The Wrong Revolution: French Republicanism in 1848,” French Historical Studies, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Autumn, 1974) 654-677, Duke University Press, JSTOR, 21 Apr. 2012

Encyclopedia of 1848 Revolutions. Hubert Bonin. James Chastain, 1998. 22 Apr. 2012

N. Currier. The French Revolution: Burning the Royal Carriages at the Chateau d'Eu, Feby. 24, 1848. 1848. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Popular Graphic Arts. Web. 21 April 2012.

N. Currier. The French Revolution: Scene in the Throne-Room of the Tuileries, Feby. 24th, 1848. 1848. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Popular Graphic Arts. Web. 21 April 2012

Additional Sites:

[1] Hubert Bonin. “Employment and the Revolution of 1848 in France.” Encyclopedia of 1848 Revolutions. Krista Durchik. 1998. James Chastain. 21 Apr. 2012.
[2] R. Thomas Christofferson. “The National Workshops of 1848: The View from the Provinces,” French Historical Studies, Vol. 11, No. 4 (Autumn, 1980) 505-520, Duke University Press. JSTOR, 20 Apr. 2012
[3] George Fasel. “The Wrong Revolution: French Republicanism in 1848,” French Historical Studies, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Autumn, 1974) 654-677, Duke University Press, JSTOR, 21 Apr. 2012
[4] R. Thomas Christofferson. “The National Workshops of 1848: The View from the Provinces,” 517. 

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