France 1815-1852

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L'Arc de Triomphe

With the final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, France ended a long period of revolution, terror, and interminable wars.   Over the next few decades France ushered in three kings and one president while having two revolutions.  France would never regain the glory (la gloire!) of Napoleon; though most of the 1800s would be spent trying to do that and with some notably disastrous results later in the century.

The Restoration

 The victorious Austrians, British, Prussians and Russians met in Vienna to decide what to do with France.  Certainly, the rightful heir to the the throne of France would be placed back on the throne.  That man was Louis XVIII.  All of Europe had been outraged by the execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  The execution of the Queen was especially felt in Austria where her brother lived on and finally exacted his revenge on the people who had killed his sister.   To restore order and to maintain peace, the four Powers would also be ready to intervene with troops if France had another revolution and tried to establish another bloody Republic.


Louis took over in a very precarious situation.  He dared not try to reestablish the old privileges of Louis XVI, nor to try to rule as  a divine-right king.  He was fairly moderate and accepted some of the constitutional restrictions that were typical of a British monarch.  However, Louis knew he had to be careful as evidenced by how quickly his nation went over the Napoleon in 1815 after his escape from Elba and the Hundred Days.

One thing Louis did tolerate was the White Terror.  The White Terror was a bloody period of recrimination when royalist men began a campaign of murder and intimidation against the Republicans and Bonapartists who had killed or insulted the royalists.  Provoking much of this were the women relatives of the men who were killed during the previous two decades.  These women had waited sometimes twenty years for their revenge and they sent out their sons, fathers and brothers to restore the family honor by shedding the blood of their enemies.

However, with this exception Louis mostly ruled well, though very unimpressively.  He had little choice:  restore royal privilege and provoke revolution, or stop the White Terror and be overthrown by his own supporters.

Charles X

On taking power from Louis XVIII in 1824, Charles X was clearly not afraid to take action on what he wanted to do.  Charles clearly wanted to undo the minor reforms accepted by Louis.  He also was the leader of the White Terror and, as King, was not afraid of using brutality toward his enemies.  He was a classic example of the mentality of the Restoration, "They learned nothing and forgot nothing."  Charles was unwilling to accept the changes wrought by the Revolution and wanted to go back to the rights of the Kings of France before the Revolution.

However, though obstinate, Charles wasn't a fool and ruled for several years before he began a campaign of making trouble for the very small parliament and to periodically try to step on whatever freedoms the French might have.  By 1833, Charles had began to issue further restrictions on civil liberties (especially freedom of the press) and to not accept the results of elections.  Finally, he reduced the number of people in the electorate.  Soon after, Paris rose up in rebellion and Charles had to flee Paris when his "loyal" troops would not move to crush the rebellion.

Louis Philippe

The Revolutionaries knew fully well that they wanted to establish a Republic.  However, to do so would cause the Austrian, Russians and Prussians to immediately intervene.  It was still too soon for Europe to tolerate another Republic.  So, the revolutionaries chose Louis Philippe of the House of Orleans (not the legitimate line of the Bourbons).  The Orleanists had been the part of the royal family which had voted to kill Louis XVI during the Republic--a fact never lost of the Bourbons who always considered Louis-Philippe to be a usurper (in fact, so did his own wife!).

His July Monarchy was known for its liberal nature and resembled the constitutional monarchy used in Britain.  Louis-Philippe accepted the Tricolor as the national flag and is known to sing the Marseillaise. He becomes known as the Citizen King.  He also accepted the title "King of the French" rather than the Bourbon "King of France."  His foreign policy was to keep England friendly and to cooperate with the British as much as practical.  He also expanded the number of people in France who would vote for Parliament and greatly expanded civil rights and liberties in France.  However, though Louis Philippe was popular, he did not have great support from the French.  The radicals wanted a republic, the Bourbons viewed the July Monarchy as totally illegitimate and Liberals accepted him since he brought liberalism to France, though they preferred a Republic.

On of Louis Philippe's greatest accomplishments was in economics as France greatly expanded its economy as factories, railroads and trade all grew dramatically.  Even the civic improvements by Adolph Thiers such as the l'arc de triomph  and the completion of the champs elysees were not enough to create satisfaction among the French.  They still sought to regain "la gloire" and Louis Philippe was not able to do that.  The subservience to Britain precluded a role for French greatness. 

The Revolution of 1848

In the Anglo-Saxon world, peace and prosperity are tickets to remaining in power for a political party.  However, in France it was not enough.  At the height of the Romantic era, people wanted nobility, greatness, "la gloire."  As a result, by 1848 the French politician Lamartine remarked that, "France is bored," and it became a major headline. 

In 1848, Liberals and Radicals met at many pro-Republican meetings which were simply banquets where speeches were given (ironically, often about the condition of the poor and hungry in France).  These banquets were increasingly viewed as a threat by Louis Philippe.  The final straw was when a major banquet was called for February 22, 1848--George Washington's birthday.   To the King, the date was ominous and threatened rebellion.  A banquet to be held on the birthday of the most successful revolutionary of the period could not help but be provocative.  As a result, Louis Philippe banned the meeting.  Lamartine announced that he would attend.  When soldiers tried to prevent the meeting the crowd rebelled and threw up barricades in protest and drove the soldiers from the area after the soldiers were reluctant to fire on the mob.  Soon the disturbances had spread through much of the city and Louis Philippe found himself taking the same road as had Charles X to exile.  The victorious rebels declared the French Second Republic.