What have the circumstances led to the outbreak of the Revolution of 1848?

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After the downfall of Charles X in July 1830 the constitutional monarchy was established in France and Louis Philippe, the Duke of Orleans, was made the king.

Since he had played an important role in the July Revolution against the Bourbons, it was expected that he would rule according to the aspirations of the people of France.

But soon the people became bored with his administrative policy. His adviser and Prime Minister Guizot, who was a great reactionary, advised him not to introduce any reform or to accept the demands of the people.

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Consequently, the people became dissatisfied with his administration. His failures in the field of foreign affairs added fuel to the fire of this dissatisfaction.

At last, the revolution again broke out in France in February 1848 against Louis Philippe and he had to flee to England.

The following circumstances led to the outbreak of the Revolution of 1848 in France:

Influence of the Middle Class over the Government

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After the success of the July Revolution in 1830, Lafayette, an old and prominent leader of the Revolution of 1789, persuaded all the leaders of the different political groups and struck a compromise among them.

According to this compromise, he established the constitutional monarchy in France and Louis Philippe was made the king. Soon after his accession to the throne he declared a moderate constitution which was a modified form of the constitutional Charter of 1814.

In this constitution, he relaxed the eligibility conditions of the voters and consequently the number of voters was doubled. But even then only two lac people out of the population of twenty-eight million could get the voting right.

Owing to the rigidness of the voting conditions, only the rich people of the middle class could vote in the elections. When the elections were held the wealthy people of the bourgeois class got the majority in the Chamber of Deputies.

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The common people could neither get the right of becoming a candidate of the Chamber nor could get the voting right. The members of the Chamber of Deputies belonging to the middle class framed the legislations keeping in view their own interests.

The interests of the peasants, workers, artisans, craftsmen and other people belonging to the common class were always ignored.

In fact Louis Philippe had made a pact with the people of the middle class because they supported his policy. In support of this view, Ferdinand Schevill comments:

“The surest supporters of Louis Philippe’s throne were the property owning middle classes. For this reason the July Monarchy is often called the reign of the bourgeoisie and Louis Philippe himself the king of the middle class.”

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In this way, the masses of the people suffered at the hands of the government which was established by the rich and for the rich. The common people of France did not get any benefits from the Government of Louis Philippe.

In their opinion, there was no difference between the policies of Charles X and those of Louis Philippe. Naturally, the July Monarchy soon became unpopular among the masses of the people and they resolved on a plan to overthrow Louis Philippe, so that a new system of administration might be introduced.

The Rise of Socialism

The most important factor responsible for the downfall of Louis Philippe and the outbreak of the Revolution in 1848 was the growth and propagation of socialistic ideas among the people of France.

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A remarkable upheaval in the social and economic fields took place in the reign of Louis Philippe. That was called the Industrial Revolution. It was an offspring of science. A revolutionary change was introduced in the field of industries.

Many big factories were established in the country on a large scale. With the help of the machines, the factory owners could be able to multiply production.

The advent of the machines had undoubtedly boosted the industrial production and improved the social and economic condition of the country but on the other hand, it created many problems for the labourers.

The society was divided into two economic groups the capitalists and the labourers. The capitalists became gradually richer while the labourers had to live from hand to mouth due to the unemployment they had to face with the introduction of machines.

They had to work hard in the factories under harsh working conditions. In short, they were totally at the mercy of the factory owners.

At the same time, some writers, patriots and thinkers came ahead to lift the economic status of the labourers. They preached new doctrines concerning the organisation of industry and the critical question of relations between capital and labour.

These doctrines were based on a new idea that was called the idea of socialism. Saint Simon and Louis Blanc were the prominent socialistic thinkers of the day, who propagated their ideas among the common people of France.

They made an appeal to the labourers to organise their trade unions for their good. Saint Simon was the first thinker who announced a new scheme, based on socialistic principles, for the reorganisation of society in the interest of the most numerous classes.

He was the first who laid down the principle of “labour according to capacity and reward according to services”. He was the first to make an appeal that the state should own the means of production.

His principles were adopted by Louis Blanc who bitterly criticised the economic and industrial policy of the government of Louis Philippe. He advised that the industries should be nationalised and the labourers should be given the right to manage these industries.

In his opinion, it was the duty of the state to provide employment to every man. In the words of C.D. Hazen:

“Such a man was Louis Blanc, who was destined to play a part in the overthrow of the July Monarchy and in the Republic that succeeded.

In his writings he tried to convince the labourers of France of the evils of the prevailing economic conditions, a task which was not difficult.

He denounced in vehement terms the government of the bourgeoisie as government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. It must be swept away and the state must be organised on a thoroughly democratic basis.”

Being influenced by the ideology of the socialist leaders, the labourers came to realise their real status. They established the trade unions for the sake of their interests. They put their demands before the factory owners in a united way for granting necessary facilities to them.

Thus, the conflict began between the capitalists and the labourers. Louis Philippe, under the influence of his prime minister, Guizot, favoured the capitalists.

Consequently, the labourers and the common people turned against his government. They determined to replace the July Monarchy with a new government which was to be formed by them.

Weak Position of Louis Philippe

Before the accession of Louis Philippe to the throne of France, a meeting of the Chamber of Deputies was held in order to take a decision about his enthronement. Out of the 430 members of the Chamber, only 253 members came to attend the meeting and out of these, 219 members supported the resolution.

Although the resolution was passed, it became clear at that time that nearly half of the members were not in favour of his accession. Thus, Louis Philippe could not get sufficient majority in the Chamber of Deputies from the very beginning of his reign.

Almost all the political groups were his opponents. The legitimists wanted to make the grandson of Charles X, the king of France. They were of the opinion that Louis Philippe had treacherously stolen the crown of the Duke of Bordeaux.

The Bonapartists defended the claim of Louis Napoleon, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. The Republicans wanted to form the democratic government. They argued that only the government elected by the common people would adopt a broad, liberal and national policy and it would consider the interests of all sections of the population.

In the beginning, the Republicans supported the rule of Louis Philippe on the assurance of their favourite leader Lafayette.

But soon it became clear that the government of Louis Philippe would not favour a democratic evolution of the country. In this way the Republicans were disappointed with the July Monarchy and they turned into opponents of Louis Philippe.

Owing to lack of sufficient majority in the Chamber of Deputies, the Position of Louis Philippe was very weak.

He could not be popular among his countrymen. His opponents had made six attempts at his assassination. It shows that he was not in a position to become a successful king.

Unsuccessful Home Policy of Louis Philippe

The policy adopted by Louis Philippe in the domestic affairs was also an important factor leading to the outbreak of the Revolution of 1848. The king was quite aware of the strength of the opposition.

In order to convince the political parties of his sincerity, he adopted the policy of ‘Golden Mean’. Its aim was to satisfy all. It was based on the policy of appeasement. But he failed in his aim. He could not satisfy all the opposing groups.

During his reign, he also adopted some constructive measures in the field of trade, industry, transport, education and religion. But his home policy was criticised because it was based on the interests of the middle class and capitalists. His industrial policy adversely affected the interests of the labourers.

In the field of parliamentary reforms and the extension of the franchise also, the policy of Louis Philippe failed to satisfy the common masses of the country.

Although some relaxations were provided in the eligibility qualifications of voters, in spite of these, only 2, 00,000 people could get the voting right out of a population of 2,28,00,000.

Only the rich people belonging to the middle class could get this right. Hence the functioning of Louis Philippe in the domain of domestic affairs was centralised on the interests of the rich people. His policy was bitterly criticised by the general mass of people.

Failure of Louis Philippe in the Domain of Foreign Affairs

The foreign policy of Louis Philippe failed in all quarters. It was based on many sound principles. It was neither moderate nor reactionary. Louis Philippe failed to take proper decisions in the matters pertaining to Italy, Poland and Switzerland.

He proved himself to be a great coward by foolishness of his actions in case of Egypt and Belgium. He could not maintain the prestige of France in the international arena. In the beginning of his reign England was friendly to France.

But Louis Philippe failed to maintain the relations of friendship with this great country. Lord Palmerston, the foreign minister of England, thwarted Louis Philippe at every occasion.

The problem of Egypt and Turkey was solved by England with the help of other countries without consulting Louis Philippe.

In this way, he was greatly humiliated by England but he never dared to take revenge due to his pusillanimous nature. In the matter of Spain, the selfish attitude of Louis Philippe detracted from the prestige of the country.

Owing to these failures, the people of France got dissatisfied with the administrative policy of Louis Philippe. Almost all the political parties of France criticised his foreign policy.

In fact, Louis Philippe was made the king of France with the hope that he would adopt such a policy as could enhance the international prestige of France in the manner of Napoleon Bonaparte.

But he failed to fulfill the expectations of the people. They had wearied at the inefficiency of the king. Thus, the failure of Louis Philippe in the realm of foreign affairs played an important role in the outbreak of the Revolution.

Repressive Policy of Guizot

In 1840 Louis Philippe appointed Guizot as his prime minister. He was the second name of autocracy and reactionism. He did not believe in the parliamentary system of government.

He was of the opinion that the king should not only be the ornamental head of the state, but he must be the monarch in the real sense. He supported the autocracy of the king and declared that “the throne is not an empty chair.”

He was not ready to recognise any alteration in the political system of the country. He thought that there was no need of any further reform and the demands of the people were unnecessary. His policy was one of stiff, unyielding conservatism.

According to his political ideology, he always advised Louis Philippe not to devote his attention to the demands of the people. He always opposed the agitations of the people for the extension of the suffrage or for any reform.

His main aim was to maintain the policy of ‘status quo’ in France. With the policy of Guizot, the people of France were greatly dissatisfied because he was a great stumbling block in the path of the introduction of any reforms.

When the people started placing their demands before the king through the meetings, newspapers and the ‘reform banquets’, Louis Philippe, on the advice of Guizot, imposed restrictions on these meetings, speeches and newspapers.

That was the direct attack on the freedom of thinking of the people. The atmosphere of France was thus perverted due to the repressive policy of Guizot.

The anarchy and discontent could be seen everywhere in France. In this way, Guizot and his repressive policy added fuel to the fire of the discontent of the people and revolution broke out in France in 1848.

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