French Second Republic
|From the start, the French Second Republic was
unstable. Though the Republicans has won their victory and had
created their republic, they hardly agreed on what sort of Republic it
was to be. The old "Bloody Ditch" between Monarchists and
Republicans quickly turned into a much bloodier ditch between Liberal
and Radical Republicans. By the time it was all over, they had chosen
as President a Bonaparte--Louis Napoleon--a man nearly all
expected to kill the Republic. When Louis Napoleon did so, very few
From its creation, the Republic split between Liberals, who followed the ideas of John Locke, and the Radicals, who wanted various socialisms and differing degrees of violence to attain them. However, all was well for the first few months as Liberals went along with Radical Louis Blanc's idea of National Workshops. The workshops were to provide work for any jobless person. Part of the problem was that there was not enough work for them to do. As a result, the workshops soon became a place for radical agitation and plotting to depose the Liberals and to create a "social" republic. Liberals were distressed at this turn of events. Most felt that the workshops were a violation of property (one of the three key rights of man) to begin with. But to subsidize sedition and violate a tenet of Liberalism was increasingly viewed as too much of a compromise of principle.
Radicals attempt a coup d'etat
Finally, in June 1848, Radicals attempted a coup d'etat and occupied the assembly in a bold attempt to create a social republic. The attempted coup of 1848 was quickly defeated. However, a dangerous wedge had been driven into the heart of the Republic. Liberals immediately began to demand the end of what they viewed as the money-wasting and sedition-breeding workshops.
With the end of the workshops, the Radicals were themselves incensed. Not all the workshops were involved in the attempted coup and it was unfair that all were to be punished in this way. In addition, the workshops were the only major concession to a "social" republic to which radicals could point. With their end, there was nothing in the Second Republic for radicals. They viewed the deal between radicals and liberals to be at an end. So, they rebelled in open warfare with the liberals. The Republic would now be either liberal or it would be social. No more compromises.
The June Days
The Republic called out the army to put down the rebellion. Careful to avoid any Monarchist generals, the Republic chose Cavaignac as the commander of the army to put down the rebellion. As a republican, Cavaignac could do something no King could do: he could order the army to fire on a crowd and they would fire. The radicals expected the army to refuse to fire as they usually did in a rebellion situation. However, if the army did fire, the soldiers were so badly outnumbered by the mobs that the soldiers would lose anyway. The radicals were wrong on both counts.
In the fighting later called, "the June Days", the army not only fired on the crowds, but aggressively went after the radicals in a way no monarchist army ever could. The soldiers and Cavaignac viewed themselves as protecting the Republic--something republicans had waited decades to get. They also greatly feared the bloodthirstiness of the radicals if they took power. The Reign of Terror was fresh in the minds of all. To the army, they were saving the Republic and they were not firing on "the people" at all: they were firing on traitors to the Republic.
As a result of the resolute nature of the army the radicals were crushed quickly and, as time went on, mercilessly. The huge numbers of untrained radicals in the streets were no match for the organization and leadership of the army. Though outnumbered sometimes by more that ten to one, the army cleared the streets of the rebels and reestablished the authority of the Republic. Some estimates of the number of people killed, injured or imprisoned as a result of what became known as the June Days ran to upwards of 10,000 people. The Republic was able to crush the rebellion because, as said by Louis Philippe, "The Republic can fire on the people!"
After the June Days settled the matter of a Liberal Republic, it was time to choose a president. The parliament wanted to be the one to choose the President. However, Lamartine, the certain choice for President, wanted to be elected by popular vote as George Washington had done. Many republicans were horrified at the prospect. At the least the Americans had an electoral college that would act as a check on demagogues, but Lamartine wanted a direct election. As a result, France would have a direct election of President.
In the election, Lamartine was the clear front runner. His main opponent would be the radical Louis Blanc. Monarchists could nominate the monarchist leaning MacMahon if they pleased, but he stood no chance. However, the June Days had changed things far more than Lamartine had realized. Radicals now did not care if the Republic was destroyed. There was nothing resembling a social republic at all for them. Plus the Republic had crushed them with horrific force. Monarchists gleefully welcomed the June Days as it showed that all the republican talk simply masked the low intentions of greedy liberals and bloodthirsty radicals. Among liberals, they had become divided. Some were horrified at how Lamartine had launched the violence, while others wanted Cavaignac to run due to his heroism in saving the Republic. It was likely a resolute man like Cavaignac would be needed again. Lamartine was too pie in the sky.
In the middle of this flux came Louis Napoleon Bonaparte. He had a history of supporting radical causes, had been arrested for revolutionary activity in Italy, had written books on socialism and had the great family name. However, he had a death sentence on his head if he ever returned to France. This did not stop him from going to France. Top republicans wanted him arrested immediately and executed before he could make any trouble. However, Lamartine and others felt they should not be afraid of such a pale imitation of the great Napoleon Bonaparte. Like most people, they viewed Louis Napoleon as something of a joke. There was nothing to fear.
They were wrong.
Louis Napoleon had instant appeal to many. His uncle had brought stability and glory to France only a few decades earlier. And he had done it without massacring his own people. Louis Napoleon also had appeal to the radicals based on his past writings and criminal record. Some Liberals actually likes his pronouncements on liberal reforms in government. Monarchists detested him, but in a strange habit of French monarchists, wanted to vote for him as a veritable joke on the whole democratic process. Plus, they viewed this fool of a Bonaparte as a good-natured temporary phase on the way back to a monarchy.
With this strange confluence of moods and events, Louis Napoleon suddenly became a realistic candidate for the Presidency. Lamartine was not worried, but Louis Blanc and MacMahon were worried. This was no passing fad. Louis Napoleon had real strengths to be taken seriously. However, by now it was too late. Louis Napoleon not only was getting serious support from monarchists and radicals, but now liberals began to speak well of him.
When the elections were finally held, Louis Napoleon won a smashing victory as President. Following behind him was Cavaignac, Louis Blanc and MacMahon. Finishing last was the "pie in the sky" Lamartine. As republicans had feared, Louis Napoleon was much more dangerous than he let on. He had allowed his opponents to underestimate him and then used it against them.
The Second Republic would have a Bonaparte as President.
The rest of Europe was shocked. France had followed a familiar, frightening pattern: depose a king, create a republic, have violence in the streets, and now have a Bonaparte take over. All that was left was the inevitable war with the rest of Europe. Louis Napoleon, however, had no intention of trying to conquer all of Europe. He knew that any aggressive moves on his part would meet with crushing resistance. He was quick to assure the British that he had no such intentions. On the other hand, nearly all of Europe had their own revolutions in 1848 and were in no shape to make trouble. He had a free hand to be President of France for the next four years. However, at the end of his term, he could not run again.
With that in mind, the enemies of the Republic simply waited. Monarchists were gaining in political strength through 1851. After Napoleon left, the Monarchists would elect a monarchist-friendly president who would then create a monarchy. It was a sure thing. Radicals wanted anyone but the Liberals to win the presidency and would suffer another King instead. Liberals were simply demoralized. A man hostile to the Republic was the president and his elections was viewed a repudiation of the liberals. What you had was a Republic that had no support. Only liberals wanted to keep it and they were dwindling in numbers and morale.
With this situation developing Louis Napoleon was just waiting for the clock to run out. Or so his enemies thought. Louis Napoleon knew the monarchists would take over after he left office. Neither the radicals nor the liberals could win. However, the republicans of both stripes did not want to see a monarchist victory. Another Bourbon or even an Orleanist on the throne was too much for them. Perhaps they would prefer a Bonaparte as Emperor? After all Napoleon Bonaparte had embodied much of the French Republic without all the attendant barbarism.
Louis Napoleon and his allies then began to plot an overthrow of the Second Republic to create a Second Empire. Republicans would want to avoid a Monarchy, but might they tolerate an Empire? Louis Napoleon was still very popular and would win another election if only he could run again. So, it was decided. In December 1851, Louis Napoleon launched a coup d'etat that was nearly bloodless. Top liberals, radicals and monarchists were imprisoned and the police were ready for trouble. There was none. The streets did not erupt and Louis Napoleon released nearly all the prisoners after only a few days. The only people truly angry were the Bourbons and Orleanists who had not expected the "fool" Louis Napoleon to be able to do something so audacious and to succeed. The misery of the Monarchists at least gave some comfort to the republicans; though the liberal republicans were still rather distressed. Another French Republic had fallen to a Bonaparte.