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France: Women in the Revolution

Revolutions in France: 1789, 1830, 1848

Sackett & Wilhelms Litho. Co. A Protester during the Riots of February 1848. 1848. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

General Timeline of the Long-19th Century

  • French Revolution of 1789 (1789-1792)
  • First Republic (1792-1799)
  • First Empire under Napoléon (1804-1814)
  • Haitian Revolution (1804)
  • Bourbon Restoration under Louis XVIII and later Charles X (1814-1830)
  • July Monarchy under Louis-Philippe (1830-1848)
  • Second Republic under Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (1848-1852)
  • Second Empire under Napoléon III (1852-1870)
  • Third Republic (1870-1940)
  • Paris Commune (March-May 1871)
  • Belle Époque (1871-1914)

The three major revolutions in France occurred in the years 1789, 1830 and 1848. There is the French Revolution of 1789, which brought down the Monarchy and the ancien régime — and resulted in the beheading of King Louis XVI and his famous wife, Marie Antoinette. The Revolution lasted until 1792 at which point the National Assembly abolished the monarchy and declared the First Republic (1792-1799.) The bloodshed and devolution into extremism that marked this period was called the Reign of Terror, where Jacobins — the left wing radical revolutionaries — and the Committee of Public Safety executed anyone deemed an enemy of the revolution (usually they were members of the nobility, the clergy, or were counter-revolutionaries.) These radical forces ultimately turned on themselves when even their leader Maximilien de Robespierre himself was executed in 1794. It was a messy and bloody time with estimates of deaths reaching 20,000.

After this period the Directory was established wherein Napoléon Bonaparte proved his worth and loyalty. As a savvy young general, he took control as First Consul in 1799 in the Coup of 18 Brumaire — a quickly organized and bloodless coup. His rule was marked by military ambitions and Imperial expansion, but he also created a Civil Code (the Napoleonic Code) that among other things reformed education and allowed for meritocratic promotion in the officer corps. In fairly short order he crowned himself Emperor (taking the crown from the Pope to put it on his own head) in Notre Dame Cathedral in 1804. Napoléon's grand aspirations (particularly the disastrous Russian Campaign) brought about his downfall. He had a brief return to power in France after escaping exile (on the island of Elba) during the "Hundred Days." In 1815 he was defeated at Waterloo and exiled for good on the Island of Saint Helena. The Bourbon Restoration (one in 1814 and another in 1815) brought France back under control of the Monarchy under Louis XVIII. Other monarchies of Europe were keen for stability to return to France and were hoping to prevent more revolutionary fervor from disturbing their own thrones. As the following decades would show, their efforts were in vain.

The Revolution of 1830, also called the July Days, brought about another change in regime for France. King Charles X (brother to Louis XVIII) and his repressive "July Ordinances" revived the opposition of liberals and moderates, many of whom felt the gains of the Revolution had been entirely lost. This rebellion would result in Charles' abdication. Louis-Philippe, the Duc d'Orléans, was installed as a sort of Roi Citoyen or Citizen King. While this revolution essentially just replaced a Bourbon King with a Orléanist King, Louis-Philippe was loved by republicans and had the support of the Marquis de Lafayette (commander of the National Guard at that time, and a man with bona fide liberal chops). He walked the line between a very complicated array of political factions, the monarchists, loyalists and royalists (sometimes called "ultras") on the right, the Bonapartists still loyal to Napoléon, and the republicans and socialist on the left. He tried to present himself as one of the people, but managed to disappoint all. Ultra-royalists found his approach as a citizen insulting and a betrayal to the monarchy. The demands of the urban working class were too radical and proved shocking to Louis-Philippe. Never winning the support of the working industrial classes, he was often called the "King of the Bourgeoisie." His efforts as a "reformist king" following the juste milieu (middle of the road) ultimately failed. Forces beyond his control such as industrialization and urbanization created economic and social unrest that he was not able to quell, leading to yet another revolution roughly two decades later. Saint Simonianism was gaining traction at this time. This branched out to create some of the first feminist movements in France with radical thinkers such as Claire Démar, who questioned the social conventions of the day with her writings. Victor Hugo's famous novel, Les Misérables takes place in the years leading up to this Revolution, depicting the struggles of the working class. The climax of this novel actually takes place during the "June Rebellion" of 1832 which was a sort of finale to the Revolution of 1830.

The Revolution of 1848, or February Revolution, ended the Orléanist rule and brought in the period of the Second Republic. During this time, many countries in Europe were undergoing revolutions that sought to topple conservative monarchies with liberal democracies. Despite the efforts of Louis-Philippe to balance tradition with the gains of the Revolution, he seemed to disappoint all sides. This era also coincided with a deep interest in socialism in France. The Saint Simonian movement was at its height by now. There was a mood of general discontent, especially among the famous writers and thinkers of the day such as Alexandre Dumas and George Sand. The pretext for the Revolution was seemingly trivial, more or less a matter of granting permission for a political banquet to take place (political gatherings, as such, were not permitted.) A combination of poor management, bad weather, discontent and hesitation on the part of Louis-Philippe led the crowds who had been denied entrance into their (paid-for) banquet, to become violent. Faced with the prospect of calling in the army, he abdicated (supposedly in favor of his grandson — which did not come to pass.) Paris became a battleground between numerous factions — basically radicals and moderates — equally opposed to one another. Election results were not to the satisfaction of the radicals (the popular vote elected moderate and conservative candidates) and as a result the so-called "June Days" erupted, a short-lived civil war in Paris. The rebellion was put down by General Cavaignac, but it took months for the Assembly to come up with a constitution. When it was finally agreed upon it was quite liberal and provided a four-year term President chosen by universal male suffrage.

They chose Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (nephew to Napoléon I) to be president of the Second Republic. However, the conservative-leaning political chameleon would soon pull off a coup d'état wherein he would eventually manage to extend the presidency, and then parlay his power into becoming Emperor of France — by popular election no less. Within the period of one year Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte had become Napoléon III (1852.) Although this obviously changed the balance of power in France, because there was no regime change and no serious grass-roots violence that either triggered it or protested it, historians call it a coup d'état (Coup of 1851) rather than a rebellion or revolution. Napoléon III would rule the Second Empire as King until his humiliating capture during France's 1871 war with Prussia. During his reign Paris would be totally revamped by the famous Georges-Eugène Haussmann, or Baron Haussmann, and French culture would flourish despite the miserable treatment of many of the poorest members of society.

The French Revolution of 1789

You can identify additional material by searching the Library of Congress Online Catalog using the following headings:

France--History--Revolution, 1789-1799
France--History--Revolution, 1789-1799--Causes
France--History--Revolution, 1789-1799--Biography
France--History--Revolution, 1789-1799--Fiction

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

The French Revolution of 1830

You can identify additional material by searching the Library of Congress Online Catalog using the following headings:

France--History--Restoration, 1814-1830
France--History--July Revolution, 1830
France--Politics and government--1814-1830
Saint-Simonianism

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

The French Revolution of 1848

You can identify additional material by searching the Library of Congress Online Catalog using the following headings:

France--History--February Revolution, 1848
France--History--Second Republic, 1848-1852

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.